Russia

Ice Age fears: don't believe the hype

Russia Today on July 12 announces breathlessly: "Earth is facing the prospect of a 'mini ice age' this century, with our sun's activity projected to fall 60 percent in the 2030s, British astrophysicists say, based on the results of new research that they claim allows exact predictions of solar cycles." The scientists in question are a team from Northumbria University led by a Professor Valentina Zharkova. While the lead researcher's nice Russian name must be appealing to RT, there are other aspects of the story that doubtless make it even more irresistible. We smell Putin propaganda to allow him to go on exploiting Arctic oil without having to worry about contributing to global warming. Why have we seen this reported in few sources other than the unreliable (and state-controlled) RT? 

Srebrenica at 20: 'door open for a new war'?

At the July 11 ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic was chased off by stone-throwing protesters—the first violence at the annual commemoration. He later said he was hit in the face with a rock (although he was not injured) as the crowd chanted "Kill, kill" and "Allahu Akbar!" At issue is Serbia's official denialism on whether the massacre of more than 8,000 unarmed Bosnian Muslims after the town fell to Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995 constituted "genocide." Vucic wrote up a open letter for the ceremony that said: "Serbia clearly and unambiguously condemns this horrible crime and is disgusted with all those who took part in it and will continue to bring them to justice." But it (pointedly) did not use the word "genocide." The New York Times notes that Bosnian Muslims still recall Vucic's bloodthirty statement during the 1992-95 war that for every dead Serb, 100 Muslims should be killed. But much more to the point is that Serbia's government last week asked Russia to veto a UN Security Council resolution that would formally designate the Srebrenica massacre an act of genocide. (Jurist, July 5) On July 8, Russia obliged, with Moscow's Ambassador Vitaly Churkin calling the UK-drafted text "confrontational and politically-motivated." In Sarajevo, Munira Subasic, the head of Mothers of Srebrenica, told AFP that Russia's veto made "trust and reconciliation impossible." She added: "Russia is actually supporting criminals, those who killed our children. By deciding [to veto] Russia has left the door open for a new war." (Al Jazeera, July 9)

Doomsday Clock: three minutes of midnight

More than 25 years after the end of the Cold War, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists security board announced Jan. 29 that the probability of global catastrophe is very high, and set the hands of its iconic Doomsday Clock at three minutes to midnight—two minutes closer than in 2014. "Despite some modestly positive developments in the climate change arena, current efforts are entirely insufficient to prevent a catastrophic warming of Earth," the statement read. "Meanwhile, the United States and Russia have embarked on massive programs to modernize their nuclear triads—thereby undermining existing nuclear weapons treaties." The BAS Timeline shows that the last time the clock stood at three minutes to midnight was in 1984, at the height of the Reagan arms race. The only previous time was in 1949, two years after the Clock was unveiled at seven to midnight in 1947. In 1953 it was moved to two minutes of midnight in response to development of the hydrogen bomb—the closest it has ever stood. The most relaxed positioning was 17 to midnight in 1991, after the Cold War ended. The clock was last moved—from six to five minutes of midnight—in 2012.

Europe: destroying freedom to save it

European Union government ministers met in Paris Jan. 11 to condemn the attack on Charlie Hebdo. But there is an Orwellian aspect to their reaction. A joint statement (PDF) issued by twelve EU interior ministers, including Bernard Cazeneuve of France and UK Home Secretary Theresa May, included the following text: "We are concerned at the increasingly frequent use of the Internet to fuel hatred and violence... With this in mind, the partnership of the major Internet providers is essential to create the conditions of a swift reporting of material that aims to incite hatred and terror and the condition of its removing, where appropriate/possible." In other words, pressure on ISPs to shut down websites deemed objectionable by EU ministries, and rat out their producers to the Euro-cops—a notion rendered especially problematic due to the elastic nature of the word "terrorism." (To provide just a few examples, see here and here and here and here and here and here and here.) The statement was signed in the presence of US Attorney General Eric Holder. (Global Guerrillas, Jan. 12; The Register, Jan. 11)

Behind oil slump: shale boom or geopolitics?

As we noted in September (when the price had just dipped below $100 a barrel), after an initial price shock when ISIS seized northern Iraq, the world oil price has since slumped. It now stands at around $60 a barrel. Recall that way back in late 2001, when the US was invading Afghanistan, it stood at a lowly $11. At that time, we predicted an imminent price shock to jump-start the planned industry expansion—both in the Caspian Basin and here at home, overcoming environmental concerns. Boy, were we right. The price of a barrel first broke the $100 mark in 2008, and has frequently crossed it in the years since then, although it never quite hit the much-feared $200-a-barrel. But now the petro-oligarchs are talking like $100 may be the new $200. Saudi Arabia's oil minister Ali al-Naimi last month answered "we may not" when asked if markets would ever lift prices to $100 again. (CNN, Dec. 23) How much of this are we to believe, and what is really behind the slump?

ISIS hand in Chechnya attack?

Gunmen attacked a police checkpoint and stormed a media building in Grozny, capital of Russia's southern republic of Chechnya, Dec. 3. At least 20 were killed in the attacks and ensuing clashes—10 militants and 10 police. Authorities said no militants escaped. Chechnya's worst fighting in months erupted a few hours before President Vladimir Putin said in a speech in Moscow he would defend Russia against what he called attempts to dismember it, accusing the West of seeking a "Yugoslav scenario," and a "policy of containment" that it has pursued "for decades if not centuries." The Chechen insurgent underground, calling itself the Caucasus Emirate, took credit for the attack in a statement on its website, Kavkaz Center, improbably claiming over 80 "puppet soliders" were killed. The statement said the assault was revenge for "oppression of Muslim women." Media accounts interpreted this as a reference to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov prohibiting local women from wearing the hijab—an accusation he has denied. The Kavkaz Center statement also refered to Grozny as "Jokhar," part of the alternative nomenclature the "Emirate" has for the Russian territory it claims. The Russian policy establishment is already hypothesizing an ISIS hand in the attack. "I suspect ties to the Islamic State, even if they have not commented on it so far," said Alexei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center. (Reuters, BBC News, Moscow News, RFE/RL, ITAR-TASS, Dec. 4)

Nicaragua: opposition mounts to canal scheme

The Nicaraguan government and Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. (HKND) will soon publish the "exact and definitive map” of the interoceanic canal, with construction slated for begin by year's end. In televised statement, project spokesperson Telemaco Talavera said details will also follow on feasibility and environmental impact studies, which involved a census of 29,000 people in the catchment area of 1,500 square kilometers. The canal will join the Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean through a 278-kilometer trench, including 105 kilometers through the southern part of Lake Nicaragua, or Cocibolca (Sweetwater) as it is known in the local indigenous language. (TeleSUR, Nov. 12)

Kurds as pawns in Turko-Russian game?

Bashar Assad can only be taking perverse joy at Turkey's attempt to play an Arab-versus-Kurdish divide-and-rule card, seeking to isolate the Kurds from the Arab-led Syrian opposition. There was an advance for this stratagem today, as a Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander said it was wrong to send rebel forces to the ISIS-besieged Kurdish town of Kobani when Aleppo was besieged by Assad regime forces. Nizar al-Khatib told a group of journalists at a press conference in Istanbul: "I am criticizing this decision because we need these forces in the other fronts in Aleppo. The situation is very critical in Aleppo right now, regime forces have been surrounding the city for some time." (Hurriyet Daily News)

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