The Arctic disconnect


If long-term climate disruption is a reality, so is the prospect of short-term benefit for states such as Canada and Russia. But their governments’ denial of climate change looks back not forward.

The merging of climate change into climate disruption is creating asymmetric effects  worldwide. This is seen with particular clarity in the near-Arctic, especially Greenland.  As the icecap melts and dense sea-ice gives way to potentially navigable waters, it will  become feasible – both onshore and offshore – to conduct exploitation of hydrocarbons and minerals.

The islanders are addressing this reality. Greenland’s prime minister Aleqa Hammond accepts that retreating ice will make the territory a significant player in global affairs. “Climate change and this resultant new industrialisation brings new risks”, she says. “We must understand that the effects will be both positive and negative” (see (John Vidal, “Climate change brings new risks to Greenland…”, Guardian, 23 January 2014)

The same trends of new sea routes and the massive new hydrocarbon exploitation are also set to occur in the north of Canada and Russia (see Øyvind Paasche, “The new Arctic: trade, science, politics”, 7 April 2011). This is reflected in both Russia and Canada’s new focus on enhancing naval forces suited to the Arctic, not least icebreakers.

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) has belatedly realised its own need for more and larger icebreakers. Its sole large ship at present is the Polar Star, constructed in 1976 and therefore well past its thirty-year expected lifespan. At the same time it is probably the most powerful non-nuclear icebreaker in the world, and has recently undergone a $90-million overhaul (and was involved in a major Antarctic rescue operation) (see Marianne Lavelle, “U.S. Icebreaker Polar Star: Explaining the Ship in Antarctic Rescue”, National Geographic Daily, 6 January 2014). The Polar Star’s sister ship, Polar Sea, is inactive because of engine failure in 2010. The USCG thus has to manage amid severe constraints, while financial pressures make replacing both ships unfeasible.

Yet the pace of climate change is putting such an expansion on the agenda. The USCG is acutely aware that the Russian fleet includes five much more powerful nuclear-powered icebreakers; one of these, the huge 25,000-tonne 50 Let Pobedy, was completed only in 2007.

The power of denial

This injection of new interest in the Arctic also produces a striking disconnect.

The climate is clearly changing worldwide (see “2014, a climate emergency”, 10 January 2014). The near-Arctic illustrates this more vividly than any other area. Yet the two largest countries bordering the region, Russia and Canada, are set to be beneficiaries from climate change, in two ways. First, as already major producers of fossil fuels, they will gain access to new resources in their Arctic regions. Second, a warming climate will allow their agriculture and people to “move north”. The counterpart is that the governments of both countries, led respectively by Vladimir Putin and Stephen Harper, refuse to accept that climate change is human-induced; both too want to intensify the exploitation of their own hydrocarbon resources, even though climate scientists overwhelmingly believe that this will make matters worse (see Carol Linnitt, “Harper’s attack on science: No science, no evidence, no truth, no democracy”,Academic Matters,  May 2013).

The attitude of Ottawa and Moscow echoes that of the fossil-fuel industry, which equally refuses to accept the human-climate change link while happily seeing the Arctic opening up for business. The only small concession made by the industry and producer countries in recent years – taken with little fuss or public acknowledgment – is acceptance that the climate is changing, though the link is still a complete taboo.

The powerful combination of political obduracy and industrial influence is matched by a dip in renewable and energy conservation.  In 2013, global investment in alternative energy decreased by 12%; in Europe it fell by half and in China there was no growth in the sector for the first year in a decade (see Samuel Oakford, “Clean Energy Investment Sags Amid Mounting Climate Risks”, TerraViva/IPS, 16 January 2014).

The dangerous cycle

The reality, then, has five aspects:

* The Arctic is probably changing faster than anywhere

* Canada and Russia are among the very few countries to benefit from climate change, at least in the short term

* They are also big hydrocarbon producers

* Therefore, they can “win” on both counts

* They must deny the carbon emissions / climate change link.

To states and the fossil-fuel industry steeped in refusal, their own stancepresents no problem. But it ensures two troubling consequences for everyone. First, many others will suffer right across the world, in a continual process with no end in sight. Second, the effects of carbon emissions accumulate (unless they are curbed rapidly). It not just that the global climate will warm by a couple of degrees and get more disruptive and then reach a new plateau – but that it will go on getting warmer and warmer and yet more disruptive. The longer the cycle goes on, over perhaps two or three decades, the more difficult it will become to turn things around.

For the current leaderships of Russia and Canada, denial is the only way to proceed. Since decarbonisation has to happen on a worldwide basis they are not the only ones culpable, but the influence they wield means they will draw particular blame. They may be unconcerned, and it seems unlikely that either government will soon come to its senses. But as climate disruption accelerates, in the Arctic and elsewhere, a global shift of perception and attitude could yet occur with a rapidity that will startle everyone. The denialists most of all.


Why Russia No Longer Fears the West

The West is blinking in disbelief – Vladimir Putin just invaded Ukraine. German diplomats, French Eurocrats and American pundits are all stunned. Why has Russia chosen to gamble its trillion-dollar ties with the West?

Western leaders are stunned because they haven’t realized Russia’s owners no longer respect Europeans the way they once did after the Cold War. Russia thinks the West is no longer a crusading alliance. Russia thinks the West is now all about the money.

Putin’s henchmen know this personally. Russia’s rulers have been buying up Europe for years. They have mansions and luxury flats from London’s West End to France’s Cote d’Azure. Their children are safe at British boarding and Swiss finishing schools. And their money is squirrelled away in Austrian banks and British tax havens.

Putin’s inner circle no longer fear the European establishment. They once imagined them all in MI6. Now they know better. They have seen firsthand how obsequious Western aristocrats and corporate tycoons suddenly turn when their billions come into play. They now view them as hypocrites—the same European elites who help them hide their fortunes.

Once Russia’s powerful listened when European embassies issued statements denouncing the baroque corruption of Russian state companies. But no more. Because they know full well it is European bankers, businessmen and lawyers who do the dirty work for them placing the proceeds of corruption in hideouts from the Dutch Antilles to the British Virgin Islands.

We are not talking big money. But very big money. None other than Putin’s Central Bank has estimated that two thirds of the $56 billion exiting Russia in 2012 might be traceable to illegal activities. Crimes like kickbacks, drug money or tax fraud. This is the money that posh English bankers are rolling out the red carpet for in London.

Behind European corruption, Russia sees American weakness. The Kremlin does not believe European countries – with the exception of Germany – are truly independent of the United States. They see them as client states that Washington could force now, as it once did in the Cold War, not to do such business with the Kremlin.

When Russia sees Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal outbidding each other to be Russia’s best business partner inside the EU (in return for no mention of human rights), they see America’s control over Europe slowly dissolving.

Back in Moscow, Russia’s hears American weakness out of Embassy Moscow. Once upon a time the Kremlin feared a foreign adventure might trigger Cold War economic sanctions where it hurts: export bans on key parts for its oil industry, even being cut out of its access to the Western banking sector. No more.

Russia sees an America distracted: Putin’s Ukrainian gambit was a shock to the U.S. foreign policy establishment. They prefer talking about China, or participating in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Russia sees an America vulnerable: in Afghanistan, in Syria and on Iran—a United States that desperately needs Russian support to continue shipping its supplies, host any peace conference or enforce its sanctions.

Moscow is not nervous. Russia’s elites have exposed themselves in a gigantic manner – everything they hold dear is now locked up in European properties and bank accounts. Theoretically, this makes them vulnerable. The EU could, with a sudden rush of money-laundering investigations and visa bans, cut them off from their wealth. But, time and time again, they have watched European governments balk at passing anything remotely similar to the U.S. Magnitsky Act, which bars a handful of criminal-officials from entering the United States.

All this has made Putin confident, very confident – confident that European elites are more concerned about making money than standing up to him. The evidence is there. After Russia’s strike force reached the outskirts of Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, in 2008, there were statements and bluster, but not a squeak about Russia’s billions. After Russia’s opposition were thrown into show trials, there were concerned letters from the European Union, but again silence about Russia’s billions.

The Kremlin thinks it knows Europe’s dirty secret now. The Kremlin thinks it has the European establishment down to a tee. The grim men who run Putin’s Russia see them like latter-day Soviet politicians. Back in the 1980s, the USSR talked about international Marxism but no longer believed it. Brussels today, Russia believes, talks about human rights but no longer believes in it. Europe is really run by an elite with the morality of the hedge fund: Make money at all costs and move it offshore.

Ukraine says it ‘will never give up’ Crimea

Ukrainian soldiers guard a gate of an infantry base in Privolnoye, Ukraine

Ukraine’s prime minister said on Monday the country would “never give up” the Crimean peninsula to “anyone” as the west rounded on Russia, the rouble tumbled and Russian equities lost a tenth of their value.

Leaders of the G7 nations – the US, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada – released a joint statement “condemning the Russian Federation’s clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”, in a sign that a more co-ordinated international response to Russia’s creeping invasion of Crimea was beginning to take shape.

A Russian flag flies behind armed personnel on top of a Russian army vehicle outside a Ukrainian border guard post in Balaclava

As EU foreign ministers prepared to gather for an emergency meeting, the crisis prompted Russia’s central bank to raise interest rates 1.5 percentage points to 7 per cent, after the rouble fell 2.9 per cent early on Monday to a low of Rbs36.90 to the dollar. The RTS index of Russian equities fell 10 per cent. Gazprom, the gas group, shed 10.7 per cent.

The Russian central bank said its rate rise was “directed at preventing the emergence of risks for inflation and financial stability associated with the recently observed increased levels of volatility in financial markets”.

Although Russian forces have effectively taken control of the Crimea, which is part of Ukraine but has a majority of Russian speakers living in it, Arseniy Yatseniuk, the Ukrainian prime minister, said: “No one will give up Crimea to anyone.”

The G7 leaders on Sunday said they were suspending their participation in the G8 summit scheduled to take place in Russia in June. They added, however, they supported the idea of sending international mediators to Ukraine to deal with Moscow’s complaints about threats to the Russian-speaking population there.

Ukrainians hold placards as they gather near the US consulate in Kiev

The G7 statement came after Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Nato’s secretary-general, and Angela Merkel, German chancellor, accused Russia of violating international law. Mr Fogh Rasmussen said Moscow’s de facto seizure of the majority ethnic Russian peninsula in southern Ukraine threatened “peace and security in Europe”. He condemned Russian military action and called on Russian forces to return to their bases.

But on Monday Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said he had discussed Ukraine with his Chinese counterpart, saying there was a “broad convergence of opinion” between them on the situation.

Ms Merkel accused President Vladimir Putin of breaching international law with “unacceptable Russian intervention” in Crimea, a German government spokesman said.

A Russian convoy heads towards Simferopol, the regional capital of Ukraine's Crimea region

David Cameron, the UK prime minister, said he and US President Barack Obama agreed that there must be “significant costs” to Russia unless it changed course on Ukraine.

“The Russians have miscalculated here,” said a senior US administration official. “Their economy is quite vulnerable” to sanctions, including Russian banks, the official added. “You are seeing the US, the rest of the G7, the rest of Nato and a broad section of the rest of the world acting together and beginning to isolate Russia.”

The condemnation came as Mr Yatseniuk accused Mr Putin of declaring “war on my country” after he requested and received permission to use the Russian army anywhere in Ukraine.

John Kerry, US secretary of state, warned that Russia’s actions could rebound on it economically, and hinted that Moscow could be ejected from the G8 group of leading economies.

Mr Kerry, who will arrive in Kiev on Tuesday, condemned what he called an “incredible act of aggression” by Moscow. “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in a 19th century fashion by invading another country on a completely trumped-up pretext,” he told CBS’s Face the Nation.

Mr Kerry added that Mr Putin “may find himself with asset freezes on Russian business. American business may pull back, there may be a further tumble of the rouble.”

The US has cancelled trade talks, scheduled for this week, on a bilateral investment treaty and another set of talks with Russia on energy issues.

Ukraine mobilised its army for war and said it would call up reserves as the crisis sparked by the overthrow of Mr Yanukovich a week earlier escalated into the biggest threat to European security since the end of the cold war.

Both Nato and the US support international monitors being sent to Ukraine. The US is also pushing for a team from the OSCE, Europe’s human rights watchdog, to travel to the country to report on threats to Ukraine’s Russia-speaking population.

President Barack Obama talks on the phone in the Oval Office with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin about the situation in Ukraine

In Brussels, one Nato diplomat said there was no discussion of military planning or moves on Nato’s side. “That’s not on anyone’s mind,” said the diplomat. “We need to contribute to the de-escalation of the crisis.”

However, Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s prime minister, said on Sunday that Ukraine’s new leaders would not last because they had come to power illegally. “Such order will be extremely unstable. It will end in a new revolution. New blood,” Mr Medvedev said on his Facebook page.

Alexander Yakovenko, Russian ambassador to London, reiterated that, although Mr Putin had been granted wide powers to use the army, “that doesn’t mean that the president will use his powers immediately”.

Meanwhile Russia on Monday reportedly said it was investigating the leader of the far-right Ukrainian group Right Sector for alleged public calls for terrorist and extremist activities.

Moscow’s Investigative Committee said it had opened a criminal case in absentia against Dmytro Yarosh. Right Sector played a key role in the breakdown of the EU-mediated agreement between then Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich and opposition leaders on 21 February.

Moscow refuses to acknowledge the Ukrainian government formed after that breakdown as legitimate, and has partly justified its military intervention in Crimea with claims that Russians in Ukraine are at risk under the new authorities.

Russia began its incursion into Crimea, home of its Black Sea Fleet, on Thursday when armed men seized the autonomous region’s parliament and installed a pro-Russian prime minister.

In the peninsula on Sunday, hundreds of armed Russian soldiers swarmed around in unmarked army uniforms, patrolling outside all of the region’s air, sea and military bases.

You just don’t in the 21st century behave in a 19th century fashion by invading another country on a completely trumped-up pretext– John Kerry, US secretary of state

In what would be a highly dangerous escalation, Russian media and officials appeared to be trying to build a case for military intervention in eastern Ukraine, by claiming that Kiev’s new government was violating the rights of the mostly Russian-speaking population in the east.

Many claims could not be verified and some proved unfounded, with guards on the Russian-Ukrainian border telling the Financial Times that a report of thousands of Ukrainian refugees crossing into Russia was “nonsense”.

However, in Kharkiv, the east’s largest city, thousands of pro-Russian demonstrators opposed to the Kiev government on Saturday stormed a regional administrative building, briefly hanging a Russian flag from the building.

In Kiev on Sunday, tens of thousands of citizens gathered in the main square voicing solidarity with Crimeans and condemning Moscow’s intervention.

In what seemed a blow to Kiev late on Sunday, Ukraine’s recently appointed navy commander Denis Berezovsky pledged allegiance to the new leadership in Crimea. But Ukraine’s defence ministry quickly announced Mr Berezovsky had been fired earlier in the day due to ineffective leadership, and insisted that the navy at large remained loyal to Kiev.

In Ukraine, Privatbank, the largest commercial bank, announced temporary limits on cash withdrawals for account holders and suspended writing new loans, saying the measures were intended to “stop those undermining the political situation in the country”.

Privatbank’s co-owner Igor Kolomoisky is one of several Ukrainian oligarchs who have pledged to support the defence of the country, in a sign Russian pressure may be uniting Ukraine, rather than dividing it.

Additional reporting by Jack Farchy in Moscow, Geoff Dyer in Washington and Jan Cienski in Kharkiv

Ellen sets new retweet record with Oscars selfie, shoots past 2m mark

retweet record oscars

A group selfie posted to Twitter by Ellen DeGeneres during the Oscars Sunday night has become the most retweeted post of all time, by a looong way.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised that DeGeneres’s tweet took off in the way it did; after all, a message from an account with 26.7 million followers that combines the selfie phenomenon with a bevy of Hollywood stars at an event with a massive global audience is hardly going to pass by unnoticed.

But two million retweets?!? That’s going some. Especially when you consider the record previously belonged to Barack Obama, whose ‘victory’ tweet from 2012â€Čs presidential election got more than 300,000 retweets in its first 40 minutes (it now has a mere 780,000 retweets).

Actor Bradley Cooper used DeGeneres’s Samsung Galaxy Note 3 to grab the shot, which included stars such as Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey, Julia Roberts and Lupita Nyong’o, as well as DeGeneres herself, of course. Look at ‘em all, crowded together in front of the lens, carefully making sure their heads don’t touch.

“If only Bradley’s arm was longer,” DeGeneres tweeted with the selfie, adding, “Best photo ever.”

If only Bradley’s arm was longer. Best photo ever. #oscars

— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) March 3, 2014


russia market

Russia is already paying an economic price for its actions in Ukraine.

The Russian Central Bank was forced to hike interest rates over night from 5.5% to 7% in order to stem the plunging Russian ruble.

And the stock market has crashed.

The MICEX index, the country’s benchmark index, is now down nearly 10%.

Screen Shot 2014 03 03 at 6.13.03 AMThe market has already been quite bearish on Russian assets this year, particularly the ruble. But the prospect of sanctions and an expensive conflict are leading to swift punishment in the market.

Meanwhile, markets are in selloff mode everywhere. US futures are down about 1%. Germany is down 2.7%. And gold is surging.

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