Category - Russian Federation

Are Siberia’s mysterious craters caused by climate change? Scientists find four new enormous holes in northern Russia

The Daily Mail (UK), By Will Stewart, February 23

Moscow – Four new mysterious giant craters have appeared in the Siberian permafrost in northern Russia, sparking fears that global warming may be causing gas to erupt from underground.

Scientists spotted the new holes, along with dozens of other smaller ones, in the same area as three other enormous craters that were spotted on the Yamal Peninsula last year.

The craters are thought to be caused by eruptions of methane gas from the permafrost as rising rising temperatures causes the frozen soil to melt.

[…]

‘We know now of seven craters in the Arctic area,’ Professor Bogoyavlensky told The Siberian Times.

‘Five are directly on the Yamal peninsula, one in Yamal Autonomous district, and one is on the north of the Krasnoyarsk region, near the Taimyr peninsula.

‘We have exact locations for only four of them.

‘The other three were spotted by reindeer herders.

‘But I am sure that there are more craters on Yamal, we just need to search for them. I would compare this with mushrooms.

‘When you find one mushroom, be sure there are few more around. I suppose there could be 20 to 30 craters more.’

The Siberian Times: Dozens of new craters suspected in northern Russia

Ukraine preparing for ‘full-scale war,’ says former envoy to Canada

Vadym Prystaiko, now deputy foreign minister, calls on the West to ‘stiffen up in the spine’

CBC News, February 21

Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister says he is preparing for “full-scale war” against Russia and wants Canada to help by supplying lethal weapons and the training to use them.

Vadym Prystaiko, who until last fall was Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada, says the world must not be afraid of joining Ukraine in the fight against a nuclear power.

In an interview with CBC Radio’s The House airing Saturday, Prystaiko says the ceasefire brokered by Germany and France was not holding.

“The biggest hub we ever had in the railroad is completely destroyed and devastated,” he told host Evan Solomon about Debaltseve, captured by Russian-backed rebels after the terms were to have taken effect earlier this week.

Ukraine: UK and EU’s ‘catastrophic misreading’ of Russia

BBC – The UK and the EU have been accused of a “catastrophic misreading” of the mood in the Kremlin in the run-up to the crisis in Ukraine.

The House of Lords EU committee claimed Europe “sleepwalked” into the crisis. The EU had not realised the depth of Russian hostility to its plans for closer relations with Ukraine, it said… The committee’s report said Britain had not been “active or visible enough” in dealing with the situation in Ukraine. It blamed Foreign Office cuts, which it said led to fewer Russian experts working there, and less emphasis on analysis. A similar decline in EU foreign ministries had left them ill-equipped to formulate an “authoritative response” to the crisis, it said.

The report claimed that for too long the EU’s relationship with Moscow had been based on the “optimistic premise” that Russia was on a trajectory to becoming a democratic country. The result, it said, was a failure to appreciate the depth of Russian hostility when the EU opened talks aimed at establishing an “association agreement” with Ukraine in 2013.

Mr Cameron rejected claims Britain “sleepwalked” into the crisis in Ukraine.

Russia Launches Own ‘SWIFT’ Service, Links Up 91 Credit Institutions

Almost 91 of Russia’s credit institutions have been incorporated into a newly launched Russian domestic ‘SWIFT’ analogous.

Sputnik News, By Ekaterina Blinova, February 13

Almost 91 domestic credit institutions have been incorporated into the new Russian financial system, the analogous of SWIFT, an international banking network.

The new service, will allow Russian banks to communicate seamlessly through the Central Bank of Russia. It should be noted that Russia’s Central Bank initiated the development of the country’s own messaging system in response to repeated threats voiced by Moscow’s Western partners to disconnect Russia from SWIFT.

SWIFT (The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) is a Belgium-based international organization that provides services and a standardized environment for global banking communicating that allows financial institutions to send and receive messages about their transactions.

Joining the global interbank system in 1989, Russia has become one of the most active users of SWIFT globally, sending hundreds of thousands of messages per day. In general, SWIFT provides a secure communication network for more than ten thousands of financial institutions around the world, approving transactions of trillions of US dollars.

Via Ian Welsh: Russia Creates Its Own Payment System

Ukraine’s warring parties agree to February 15 ceasefire

France24, February 12

The warring parties in Ukraine agreed Thursday to a February 15 ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front lines in a deal French President François Hollande called a “comprehensive political solution” after marathon talks in Minsk.

Speaking to reporters after almost 16 hours of talks between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany in the Belarusian capital Minsk, Putin said: “We have managed to agree on the main issues,” adding that a ceasefire would come into effect at midnight on February 15.

“The second point, which I believe to be extremely important, is the withdrawal of heavy weapons from today’s line of contact for Ukrainian troops and from the line stipulated in the September 19 Minsk agreements for Donbass rebels,” he said.

French President François Hollande called the deal a “comprehensive political solution” and said it provides “serious hope, even if all is not done”.

Ukraine War: Get in Before it’s Gone

Ukraine: Who Wants War? And Who Doesn’t?

By William Boardman – Reader Supported News [2.9.15]

“Russian aggression” – the bad faith mantra of dishonest brokers

Just as NATO allies Germany and France were undertaking a peace initiative with Russia and Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry turned up in Kiev at the same time, seeking to poison the talks before they started by spouting yet again the ritual U.S. accusation of “Russian aggression.” The incantation is meaningless without context. Its purpose is mesmerize a false consciousness. “Russian aggression” may or may not exist in the events of the past year, just like “Russian self-defense.” Reporting on the ground has been too unreliable to support any firm analysis, never mind the provocative “Russian aggression” the U.S. brandishes as a virtual call for war.

Western aggression, political and diplomatic more than military, is a cold reality and has been for two decades. The West, and especially the U.S. has yet to accept responsibility for 20 years of anti-Russian aggression, much less pull back from such perennial hostility. The Obama administration (parts of it at least, given the incoherence of the “administration”) has acted as if its pulling off an only-slightly-violent coup in Kiev in 2014 was a grand triumph. Worse, having grabbed a government on Russia’s borders, the Obama hawks carry on as if the only reasonable choice for Russia is to accept the success of this Western aggression.

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As leaders gather to discuss Ukraine peace, war intensifies

Washington Post, By Michael Birnbaum, February 11

Moscow — Pro-Moscow rebels and Ukrainian forces waged intense battles over strategic ground Wednesday as leaders gathered for high-stakes talks seeking to quell the escalating conflict and close rifts between Russia and the West.

“This is really a last-chance negotiation,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told France Inter radio before the meeting in Belarus to try to restore a collapsed cease-fire in eastern Ukraine. “There is a risk of war a three-hour flight from Paris.”

But fighting has spiked even as the peace bids look for footing.

Russian-backed rebels massing to attack key Ukrainian towns: Kiev

Reuters, By Aleksandar Vasovic, February 7

Donetsk, Ukraine – Pro-Russian separatists have intensified shelling of government forces on all front lines and appear to be amassing forces for new offensives on the key railway town of Debaltseve and the coastal city of Mariupol, Ukraine’s military said on Saturday.

Five Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and 26 wounded in fighting in the past 24 hours, spokesman Volodymyr Polyovy told a briefing in Kiev.

The center of the main regional city of Donetsk echoed on Saturday with the sound of artillery blasts coming from the north and east. “The situation inside the city is tense and we can hear powerful artillery fire … but we have no immediate information about casualties and damages,” an official of the rebel-controlled city administration said by phone.
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Ukraine civilians suffer in renewed fighting as truce talks collapse

At least 19 soldiers and civilians killed since peace negotiations broke down Saturday.

Al Jazeera, February 1

At least 19 soldiers and civilians have been killed in clashes across eastern Ukraine as peace talks collapsed amid renewed fighting between government forces and pro-Russian rebels.

Ukraine’s military said Sunday that 13 soldiers had been killed over the past 24 hours, raising the military death toll to 28 in the last two days, according to the AFP news agency. Six civilians died in fighting in rebels’ self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic and in towns that remain under Kiev’s control in the Luhansk region, both sides said.

Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, who is in Donetsk, reported hearing a “barrage of shelling” on Sunday that forced people to take cover.

[…]

The deaths followed the collapse of truce talks on Saturday in the Belarusian capital, Minsk. Ukraine’s representative and separatist envoys each accused the other of sabotaging negotiations.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which took part in the Minsk negotiations, along with envoys from Ukraine and Russia, said rebel delegates had not been ready to discuss key points of the peace plan.

“In fact, they were not even prepared to discuss implementation of a ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons,” the OSCE said in a statement.

CNN: Ukraine talks in Minsk yield no deal, source says – autostart video…
Zero Hedge: Ukraine “Truce”? Tanks Are Rolling In Poland As NATO Plans Permanent Eastern European Bases
World Socialist: Gorbachev warns Ukraine could ignite World War III
Paul Craig Roberts: Delusional America
Vineyard of the Saker: Novorussia SITREP: Debaltsevo cauldron *not* closed yet

Ukraine battle rages for key town of Debaltseve

Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels are exchanging heavy tank and artillery fire in and around Debaltseve, a strategic town in eastern Ukraine.

BBC, January 30

There are reports – not independently confirmed – that the rebels have seized the nearby village of Vuhlehirsk.

Many civilians remain trapped in Debaltseve, while others – including people with shrapnel wounds – have managed to reach the town of Artemivsk.

Russian media say shellfire has killed seven people in the city of Donetsk.


Ceasefire no more

The Economist, January 31

Donetsk – Amid the rubble of eastern Ukraine lie traces of life before the war: a pair of broken sunglasses, a stuffed pink unicorn, a roll of undeveloped film. In Dokuchaievsk, south of Donetsk, where a rocket recently ripped into an apartment block, a lonely dog, Virma, sits by the rubble, paws shaking. Virma’s owner, like the other 5,000 people killed in Ukraine since last April, will not be back. Despite hopes that the conflict was edging towards resolution, Ukraine’s war has entered its deadliest period since a nominal ceasefire halted a Russian-led advance in September. Dokuchaievsk is just one of many small towns and cities caught up in the latest violence.

The ceasefire unravelled when rebel forces renewed their siege of Donetsk airport. President Petro Poroshenko threatened to “hit the rebels in the teeth”; the rebels’ leader, Alexander Zakharchenko, promised to attack Kiev’s troops until he reached “the borders of the former Donetsk region.” But mostly both sides hit civilians, fighting at a distance with heavy artillery. In the nine days to January 21st, at least 262 people were killed in eastern Ukraine, an average of 29 a day. A rocket strike on a bus killed 12 civilians in Ukrainian-controlled Volnovakha on January 13th; nine days later another 13 were killed in Donetsk. On January 24th a barrage of Grad rockets fired from rebel-held territory into Mariupol, a port, killed another 30.

[…]

Abroad, Mr Poroshenko warns of a continental war, evoking the spectre of Nazism while visiting Auschwitz to rally support against Mr Putin. Yet he has resisted calls officially to acknowledge that Ukraine is at war. Some officials fear that putting the country on a war footing would spook Ukraine’s Western creditors, especially the IMF, which recently promised a new loan package. Others note that martial law would bring restrictions on political and media freedoms. Instead, Ukraine’s parliament has voted to label Russia as “an aggressor country”.

Ukrainian officials are calling for new sanctions. A “deeply concerned” Barack Obama has promised to consider all measures “short of military confrontation”. He could even begin supplying defensive weapons under a power recently given to him by Congress. But sending weapons Ukraine would also fuel Mr Putin’s feverish talk of Russia being at war with NATO’s foreign legions.

Distortions, lies and omissions: The New York Times won’t tell you the real story behind Ukraine, Russian economic collapse

International papers will cover America’s role in the world honestly. Only our best paper willingly blinds itself.

Salon.com, By Patrick L. Smith, January 20

A note arrived a few days ago from one of my best informants in Europe. He had just met across a hotel dining table with a senior German executive, and the topic quickly turned to the crisis in Ukraine and the sanctions regime Washington has imposed on Russia.

I can do no better than give you the pertinent passage in the note:

“… I spoke … breakfast time in Europe… with the head of one of the largest companies in Germany. This declaration was one of the first items he mentioned. I took notes—because it is one of my clients—and here is what he said: ‘It is urgent for Europe to bring Obama and the people making the decisions behind him back to reality. If not, this will spiral first into a financial collapse, which will slam into all of Europe, and then who knows where it goes after that? Everywhere, far-right nationalist forces are building. Look at the last U.S. Congressional elections, and think what is coming. Will America ever have had a more nationalist Congress? Le Pen would be right at home in this crowd. The course we are on now is folly. Can’t they see that?’”

I wish I could say the German exec’s question is a good one, but the grim answer is too obvious. They can see nothing in Washington. We witness the single most reckless, destructive foreign policy this administration has yet devised, comparable in magnitude to Bush II’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

[…]

Last week Fitch, the credit-rating agency, downgraded Russia’s status to BBB, putting it a few notches away from junk status. This is hardball, we had better recognize: You cannot shove the world’s No. 8 economy into the gutter and expect it to land there alone. A lot of suffering beyond Ukraine’s borders, where it is awful enough already, is frighteningly near.

Via Empire Burlesque: Necks and Nostrils: The Murderous Folly of the New Cold War


Slatest: Eastern Ukraine Is Once Again in a State of “All-Out War”
The Economist: No exit – At some point the fighting in Donbas became a war. Now there is no going back
New York Times: Ukrainian Forces Struggle as Fighting Flares in East
The Vineyard of the Saker: Europe’s addiction to Russian gas: How long before withdrawal symptoms set in?

Russia identifies NATO as its biggest military threat

Aiming a barb at NATO, Putin’s new military doctrine says Russia could use precision weapons as ‘strategic deterrent’.

AP, December 26

Russia identified NATO as the nation’s No. 1 military threat and raised the possibility of a broader use of precision conventional weapons to deter foreign aggression under a new military doctrine signed by President Vladimir Putin on Friday.

NATO flatly denied it was a threat to Russia and accused Russia of undermining European security.

The new doctrine, which comes amid tensions over Ukraine, reflects the Kremlin’s readiness to take a stronger posture in response to what it sees as the U.S.-led efforts to isolate and weaken Russia.

The paper maintains the provisions of the previous, 2010 edition of the military doctrine regarding the use of nuclear weapons.

It says Russia could use nuclear weapons in retaliation for the use of nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction against the country or its allies, and also in the case of aggression involving conventional weapons that “threatens the very existence” of the Russian state.

For the first time, the new doctrine says Russia could use precision weapons “as part of strategic deterrent measures,” without spelling out when and how Moscow could resort to them.

Ukraine and rebels trade prisoners in Donetsk

Pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine have exchanged scores of prisoners with the Ukrainian government near the rebel-held city of Donetsk.

BBC, December 26

The rebels were due to swap 150 soldiers for 225 people held by the government.

It appears that most of the captives were exchanged, with the remaining releases due to take place on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Ukraine froze vital bus and rail links with Crimea, its southern territory annexed by Russia in March.

In another move, the world’s two largest credit and debit card companies, Visa and Mastercard, said on Friday they could no longer support bank cards being used in Crimea, following fresh US sanctions imposed this month.

Three Members of Congress Just Reignited the Cold War While No One Was Looking by

TruthDig/Common Dreams, By Dennis Kucinich, December 16

Late Thursday night, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a far-reaching Russia sanctions bill, a hydra-headed incubator of poisonous conflict. The second provocative anti-Russian legislation in a week, it further polarizes our relations with Russia, helping to cement a Russia-China alliance against Western hegemony, and undermines long-term America’s financial and physical security by handing the national treasury over to war profiteers.

Here’s how the House’s touted “unanimity” was achieved: Under a parliamentary motion termed “unanimous consent,” legislative rules can be suspended and any bill can be called up. If any member of Congress objects, the motion is blocked and the bill dies.

At 10:23:54 p.m. on Thursday, a member rose to ask “unanimous consent” for four committees to be relieved of a Russia sanctions bill. At this point the motion, and the legislation, could have been blocked by a single member who would say “I object.” No one objected, because no one was watching for last-minute bills to be slipped through.

Most of the House and the media had emptied out of the chambers after passage of the $1.1 trillion government spending package.

The Congressional Record will show only three of 425 members were present on the floor to consider the sanctions bill. Two of the three feigned objection, creating the legislative equivalent of a ‘time out.’ They entered a few words of support, withdrew their “objections” and the clock resumed.
According to the clerk’s records, once the bill was considered under unanimous consent, it was passed, at 10:23:55 p.m., without objection, in one recorded, time-stamped second, unanimously.

No mention of the Senate…

Ruble Collapses, Russians Yawn

Bloomberg View, By Leonid Bershidsky, December 9

With the ruble down 40 percent against the dollar so far this year, and down more than 14 percent in the last 30 days, one might have expected widespread economic panic among Russians. But there’s been nothing of the kind. It’s been business as usual in Moscow: no bank runs, no desertion of retail stores, no sign of consumer hoarding. Only expensive cars and luxury items are selling better than usual, and that’s evidence only of bargain-hunting among the Moscow elite.

When you expect panic, it’s easy to pick up signals that match those expectations: store and restaurant closures, long lines for good that suddenly became scarce, ATMs routinely running out of cash. Sure enough, observers have found plenty of alleged evidence for economic distress. Fashion Consulting Group, a Moscow consulting company, estimated that fashion sales in Russia dropped 7 to 8 percent year on year in the first six months of 2014, and predicted they would be down 20 percent for the full year. Mexx, the Dutch mid-range clothing brand with 100 stores in Russia, cited ruble devaluation and Eastern European political unrest among the reasons for its bankruptcy filing last week. Zara, the biggest brand of Spanish fashion group Inditex, closed its Moscow flagship store a stone’s throw from the Kremlin this month.

Still, Moscow malls — at least the three I visited today — appeared neither deserted nor feverish. The activity was normal for this time of year, most stores doing reasonably brisk business. A Mexx store in a below-ground mall near the Kremlin was rather quiet, but then the prices, marked up in line with the ruble’s devaluation, were unattractive compared with those in neighboring shops. And the Zara store closure — for which Inditex gave no explanation — appeared to have more to do with the city authorities’ ill-considered decision to ban parking on the main shopping street, Tverskaya. (Retailers complain that foot traffic in their stores has dropped 25 percent since the 2010 ban.)