The recent US-Russia summit between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin suggests that a controversial Russian natural gas pipeline, Nord Stream 2, is a done deal.
If completed as planned by the end of this year, Nord Stream 2 will convey 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea and thence to the rest of Europe. It is expected to bring US$3.2 billion to Russia annually.
Construction had been halted for over a year by US sanctions passed in 2019 on the pipeline’s construction and financing. Sanctions were later expanded in 2020.
Some Russia experts expected those sanctions to be a bargaining chip for Biden at the recent Geneva summit to pressure Putin over Russian occupation of territories in Ukraine and Georgia; support for Belarus’ dictatorial regime; violation of human rights within Russia; and the poisoning, jailing and outlawing of political opposition.
The pipeline project is a joint venture between a handful of European gas companies and Russian giant Gazprom, a majority state-owned company that is the largest gas supplier in the world.
For Putin, the pipeline is an opportunity to increase his influence in Europe by deepening the region’s dependence on Russian energy.
Natural gas has been the bedrock of Putin’s power both domestically and internationally for decades. Nord Stream 2 gives the Russian leader a new direct and powerful line of control in Western Europe.
How Putin controls Russian oil
Since taking office in 2000, Putin began seizing control of the Russian gas and oil industry. He renationalized Gazprom, the state oil company that had been privatized after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Scholarly research has demonstrated that regaining government control over the gas and oil industry contributed to consolidation of authoritarianism in Russia. And it coincided with crackdowns on Putin’s political opposition.
In 2003 Mikhail Khodorkovsky, owner of the Yukos oil company and a vocal critic of Putin’s growing authoritarianism, became the regime’s first famous political prisoner, after he was arrested at gunpoint and imprisoned for 10 years for tax evasion.
Yukos was eventually seized by the government and absorbed into the state-owned companies.
By the end of his first term in office in 2004, Putin’s government had significant control over oil and gas production in Russia, which is the one of largest producers and exporters in the world.
Proceeds collected from oil and gas sales allowed Putin to pay for his domestic agenda and boost military spending. It also gave him extraordinary leverage over neighboring countries that relied on Russia for their energy needs.
For example, in 2006 and 2009, when the Ukrainian government adopted more pro-Western policies and upset the Kremlin, Russia outright shut off the country’s gas supply – and by extension, shut off the gas of countries down the supply line in Central and Western Europe, including Germany.
Russia versus Europe
As a direct line of supply from Russia to Europe, Nord Stream 2 could avoid such problems for Western Europe in the future.
But it also opens Western Europe to the same kind of direct Russian pressure it has used to punish Ukraine. So the proposed pipeline has been divisive.
Nord Stream 2 has already produced a rift between NATO allies, even before its completion.
Sweden, Poland and the Baltic countries, for example, have all raised concerns, citing environmental problems related to construction and maintenance of the pipeline. They worry that Russia will use its new pipeline infrastructure to increase its military naval presence in the Baltic Sea. That would increase Russia’s intelligence-gathering capacity.
Further “crumbling NATO,” as Putin puts it – sowing divisions in the alliance – would be a win for his regime.
The Russian leader sees NATO, which he calls a Cold War relic, as the greatest threat to Russian security. Disunity in Europe allows Russia to continue pursuing political repression of its own citizens and territorial aggression against neighboring nations with less foreign interference.
For Ukraine, Nord Stream 2 presents both a security and financial threat.
Ukraine largely stopped buying gas from Russia in 2015 following Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea and support for a still-deadly Russian-sponsored separatist war in Donbas, in eastern Ukraine.
However, Ukraine still collects up to $3 billion in annual fees because Russian gas currently runs through a pipeline in Ukrainian territory to get to Europe.
Nord Stream 2 will deprive Ukraine of this income. According to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, the money lost in gas transit fees will mean Ukraine will have “nothing to pay for the Ukrainian army” to defend Ukraine from further Russian aggression.
In April 2021, observers documented a build-up of Russian military at Ukraine’s border with Russia, as well as in the waters of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.
Zelensky says the pipeline has become a “real weapon” against Ukraine. In Kyiv, fears are that once Russia stops relying on Ukraine for transit to Europe, Putin will begin to exert more pressure on the Ukrainian government over the warring Donbas region or resume military aggression.
The risk may not be worth the reward of cheaper gas prices for European consumers. The economic boost that Russia will likely receive from capturing the European gas market will further enrich Putin’s kleptocratic regime – and, history shows, finance his undemocratic projects in Eastern Europe and beyond.
This story originally appeared on The Conversation website and is republished with permission. To see the original, please click here.
American Journalist Killed Near Kiev
The Videographer Brent Renaud, a well-known war journalist and a former New York Times correspondent, was shot dead on Sunday in Ukraine, near the capital Kiev, the regional police chief has reported. The newspaper has clarified that it hadn’t sent him on assignment.
The circumstances surrounding Renaud’s death are unclear, but Irpen, the scene of the incident, has seen heavy fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces in recent days.
The journalist “paid with his life for trying to highlight the aggressor’s ingenuity, cruelty and ruthlessness,” Andrey Nebytov wrote on Facebook, referring to the Russian military. In another post shortly afterwards, the police chief shared an image of a bloodied corpse with a bullet wound near the ear, presumably that of Renaud.
In addition to the 51-year-old reporter’s killing, two more correspondents were injured, Nebytov further claimed, adding that they were “rescued from the scene” and taken to a hospital in Kiev.
At the time of writing, the White House had not confirmed reports of Renaud’s death, and said it was consulting with the Ukrainians, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan explained.
Renaud was a well-known war correspondent and had reported from conflict zones in the Middle East and Latin America. While he was identified in several reports as a New York Times correspondent, the newspaper on Sunday put out a statement saying that “he was not on assignment for any desk at the Times in Ukraine,” and that he “was wearing a Times press badge that had been issued for an assignment many years ago.” Renaud had last worked for the New York Times in 2015.
Situated on the outskirts of Kiev, Irpen has been the scene of intense fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces for several days, and it is unclear how or even if Renaud got caught in the middle. Likewise, Nebytov is the only official to have blamed Russia for the shooting.
An unverified video shared by Italian journalist Annalisa Camilli purportedly shows one of Renaud’s companions, who identifies himself as “Juan,” lying on a hospital bed. “Juan” tells Camilli that the journalists were taken past a checkpoint by someone who offered them a ride, when their car was fired upon.
The Guardian named him as Juan Arredondo, a Colombian-American photographer. He can be seen in the video wearing a badge of the American Spanish-language network Telemundo, but the network has not yet commented on the incident.
According to the man, the driver turned around, but Renaud was shot in the neck and left behind as the man was taken to hospital, possibly in an ambulance. The man did not say who did the shooting, or whether their ride past the checkpoint was in a civilian or military vehicle.
It is unclear whether anyone else was injured, as Nebytov originally stated that “two more correspondents” had been hit, yet the man named only himself and Renaud as traveling in the vehicle.
Ein 51-jähriger US-Journalist ist heute in Irpin, einem Vorort von Kyiv, getötet worden. Sein Kollege, mit dem er unterwegs war, konnte verletzt gerettet werden. Das Video, das wir unter der Brücke aufgenommen haben, zeigt die Evakuierung des verletzten Kollegen. pic.twitter.com/TemuQaUL50
— Paul Ronzheimer (@ronzheimer) March 13, 2022
Several international journalists were nearby at the time of the shooting, and Bild journalist Paul Ronzheimer shared footage apparently showing the man being evacuated on a stretcher by several men in Ukrainian military and emergency services uniforms.
MSNBC Deletes Tweet After ‘Inaccurate’ Hitler Comparison
MSNBC’s top-rated news program, The Rachel Maddow Show, had to delete a tweet and issue a correction after the Auschwitz Memorial pointed out that it contained a false claim about the Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.
The tweet in question, which was deleted late on Friday, included a quote from McFaul, a Stanford University professor in international studies and US ambassador to Moscow between 2012 and 2014, who had earlier appeared on the program.
While criticizing Moscow’s recent military attack on Ukraine, McFaul drew comparisons between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Adolf Hitler, with Hitler apparently coming off more favorably.
“One difference between Putin and Hitler is that Hitler didn’t kill ethnic Germans, German-speaking people. Putin slaughters the very people he said he has come to liberate,” McFaul said.
There were no quote marks to accompany the statement posted on the ‘Maddow Blog’ Twitter account, but the tweet included a video clip of McFaul making the comment.
The tweet remained on The Rachel Maddow Show’s page for hours and drew harsh reactions from many in the replies.
Eventually, the Auschwitz Memorial in Poland stepped in to set the record straight.
“On a factual note: Hitler did kill ethnic Germans & German-speaking people: those who opposed the Nazi regime, those who resisted, those who did not fit into the ‘Weltanschauung’ (world-view). He ordered the murder of people with different disabilities & finally the murder of German Jewry,” the institution wrote.
That comment prompted the show to delete the initial tweet and issue a correction. It acknowledged sharing “an inaccurate statement” and expressed regret over the blunder.
McFaul himself tweeted that he “deeply regrets” his comment and acknowledged that “German Jews were a vibrant part of the German population.”
He promised to “never make comparisons to Hitler again” and insisted he would focus only on Putin “the present evil” from now on.
Bob Dylan Book on ‘Modern Song’ to Come Out in November
Bob Dylan has a new book coming out this fall, a collection of more than 60 essays about songs and songwriters he admires, from Stephen Foster to Elvis Costello.
The new book, “The Philosophy of Modern Song,” is his first release of new material since the acclaimed memoir “Chronicles, Volume One” was published in 2004. “The Philosophy of Modern Song” is scheduled for Nov. 8.
“He analyzes what he calls the trap of easy rhymes, breaks down how the addition of a single syllable can diminish a song, and even explains how bluegrass relates to heavy metal,” according to an announcement issued Tuesday by Simon & Schuster. “And while they (the essays) are ostensibly about music, they are really meditations and reflections on the human condition. Running throughout the book are nearly 150 carefully curated photos as well as a series of dream-like riffs that, taken together, resemble an epic poem.”
The 80-year-old singer-songwriter won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2016 and has continued to tour and record, his most recent album, “Rough and Rowdy Ways,” was released in 2020.
Western Media Pull Out of Russia
Several Western news organizations halt operations after Moscow criminalized the spread of ‘fake news’
The BBC, CNN, ABC News, CBS News, and Bloomberg have suspended operations in Russia after President Vladimir Putin enacted a law that makes the deliberate spread of disinformation punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
After the anti-fake news law was approved on Friday, CNN said it would “stop broadcasting in Russia while we continue to evaluate the situation and our next steps moving forward.”
Bloomberg – the news agency founded and owned by US billionaire Michael Bloomberg – similarly said it would “temporarily suspend the work of its journalists inside Russia” and accused Moscow of criminalizing “independent reporting.” The New York-based outlet claimed that the crackdown on disinformation would make it “impossible to continue any semblance of normal journalism inside the country.”
Like Bloomberg, the UK state-funded BBC argued that the law “appears to criminalize the process of independent journalism,” and announced that its Russian-language coverage would continue only from outside Russia.
Spokespersons for ABC and CBS News announced that the networks would not broadcast from Russia while they “assess the situation,” with ABC News calling the legislation a “censorship law.”
The Washington Post responded to the introduction of the new law by removing authors’ names and other data from their Russia-originated publications.
“Some internal news: In response to Putin’s threats against reporters in Russia, The Washington Post will remove bylines and datelines from stories produced by our journalists in Russia. Goal is to ensure staff’s safety,” Paul Farhi, one of its writers, said on Twitter, adding that he had “never seen anything like this” during his career.
An hour later, Farhi amended his last statement, recalling that, during the First Gulf War, Post reporter Caryle Murphy had got trapped in Kuwait and had therefore covered the Iraq invasion while in hiding.
“Her stories were published w/o bylines, for obvious reasons. Caryle won a Pulitzer for her work,” Farhi said.
Those charged under the new media law could be imprisoned for up to 15 years if they are found guilty of knowingly and deliberately spreading false information about Russia’s conflict with Ukraine in a way that significantly damages national security. Anyone found guilty of defaming the Russian army could also receive a fine of up to $13,500 or three years in prison, while those who call for anti-Russian sanctions could receive fines of up to $5,000.
Vyacheslav Volodin, the chairman of the State Duma, argued that the law was necessary “to protect our soldiers” and “protect the truth.”
“American social networks, controlled by Washington, launched an information war against Russia,” Volodin declared, adding, “It is necessary to make a decision to combat the spread of fake information.”
Moscow maintains its military offensive in Ukraine is a “special operation” aimed at the “demilitarization” and “denazification” of the country in the name of protecting the people of the two Donbass republics Russia recently recognized. Kiev said the attack was unprovoked, insisting it had not been seeking to retake Donetsk and Lugansk by force. The two republics split from Kiev back in 2014 in the aftermath of the Maidan coup, which ousted Ukraine’s government, with intermittent fighting continuing in the years since.
Girlfriend’s ‘heart torn in two’ as ‘stuntman’ knifed to death while filming music video
A stuntman’s girlfriend has revealed her heartbreak after he was knifed to death while filming a music video.
Devastated Seleka Gathercole said “my heart’s been torn in two” after her partner Shane Jerome, 23, was attacked during a music video shoot.
Shane had been on Brixton High Street shooting the rap video with Lamborghini sports cars, people in balaclavas and a quad bike before a confrontation between two groups broke out.
The victim was rushed towards an ambulance clutching his chest following the savage attack, horrified witnesses said.
Police said Shane was found suffering from a stab wound but a post-mortem examination will be conducted in due course.
Paramedics worked to save Jerome, from Thornton Heath, but he was pronounced dead at the scene half an hour later.
Grief-stricken Seleka said: “My heart’s completely torn in two.
“I will never ever ever get over the loss of you – you mean more to me than I could ever explain.”
The bloke’s devastated pals also paid tribute to “one of the best guys they knew”.
Courtney Young wrote: “RIP Shane. I honestly can’t believe it.
“Life is too short, it’s always the least expected. Fly high friend.”
Rebecca Newell added: “Rest in perfect peace to one of the best guys I knew.
“Was always there just a phone call away, forever and always in my heart.”
A 19-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm but was released with no further action.
Authorities have appealed for any information from people who were in the area at the time.
Detective Chief Inspector Kate Blackburn, leading the investigation said: “Brixton Road near to the tube station is a busy area of London and there were many people in the street, on buses and in cars yesterday evening.
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“We have spoken to a number of witnesses already and I am asking for anyone who was in the area and who may have seen anything, or have footage on their phone or dashcam, to please contact us.
“A young man has tragically lost his life in an attack on a busy high street, I am asking anyone with any information to call the police.”
They can be contacted via 101 quoting reference Cad 7056/21Jul, or to remain anonymous contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
‘Time traveller’ claims 7ft aliens will land on Earth next year and spark war
A “time traveller” who claims to be from the year 2491 reckons there will be giant aliens with a”distorted appearance” arriving on Earth in 2022.
The adventurer, who goes by the name “futuretimetraveller” on TikTok, revealed some of the details of the “extraterrestrial species” and bizarrely claimed they will “spark war” with humans.
The video shows a blue sky in the background with large-font captions, which read: “What you call Aliens will make their first appearance on Earth next year.
“The exact date they are first sighted is May 24, 2022.”
The “traveller” then explains that in 2491, there are various types of aliens and the group that live on Earth “as citizens” are called “Nirons”.
Do you believe time travellers exist or are they complete nonsense? Let us know in the comments below
“[They] come in peace and don’t mean harm but the US attack them and begin in the first of many inter-dimensional wars,” they added.
“They are about 7ft 4in and have long shaped skulls, dark grey and distorted appearance. They do not come to be harmful but are extremely dangerous when provoked.”
As with all so-called time travellers, the TikToker provided absolutely zero evidence for his bombastic claims – but that didn’t stop the video being seen more than 94,000 times.
Many viewers were dubious about the theory and they tried to ask for more details about the alien’s arrival.
One said: “So do humans and Nirons procreate and create a new race?”
A second added: “I’m so hooked on your account and scared at the same time.”
“I heard the government is already working with them,” another suggested and the adventurer replied: “I want to tell you because I know but am scared for my own safety.”
“Futuretimetraveller” is not the first TikTok influencer who posts bizarre warnings of events from the future. Another recently made a bonkers claim that there would be pyramids in the sky and warned viewers to “not look up at them” when, or if, his outrageous prediction occurs.
And TikTok account “Time Voyager”, who claims to have arrived in real-time Earth in December, 2020, posted on social media that there will be a great wave hitting in the summer of 2021.
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