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Russia’s Insidious Epidemic

By Cesar Chelala | CounterPunch | July 29, 2015

The prevalence of diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes, is rapidly increasing in most countries in the world. The increase of cases in Russia is a cause for concern –one out of every two people do not know they have the disease–, as initially it does not show any symptoms. Four million people have been diagnosed with diabetes in Russia, and almost six million people are unaware of their disease.

According to the International Diabetes Federation, there are 387 million people living with diabetes worldwide today, and it is estimated that by 2035, some 592 million people will be living with it. The burden on the economy is considerable. In Russia, the annual cost of caring for diabetic patients is $12.5 billion.

According to statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO,) there are 60 million people with diabetes in the European Region, or about 10.3% of men and 9.6% of women aged 25 years and over. In the U.S., 29 million people have diabetes, up from the previous estimate of 26 million in 2010.

Between 40 to 50 percent of newly diagnosed people have one or more complications. Kidney disease, one of diabetes most common complications, may lead to kidney failure. Other complications are diabetic retinopathy which affects blood vessels in the retina, damage of lower-extremity blood vessels, which may lead to gangrene and amputations, and arteriosclerotic changes of the major blood vessels, which increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

These complications are important not only from the point of view of people’s health but also for their economic impact. More than 90 percent of diabetes expenditures are for the treatment of diabetes-related complications. Russia’s Federal Targeted Programme on Diabetes states that earlier diagnosing diabetes and treating its complications earlier can result in significant savings.

If one takes into consideration the increase in the number of cases of diabetes and the increase in life expectancy, one can predict that there will also be a steady increase in the number of diabetes patients who have complications. This is particularly true in the case of people living in big cities, where the lifestyle is more sedentary, stress levels are higher and there is greater consumption of foods rich in fast-absorbing carbohydrates.

These changes in lifestyle are probably the reason why diabetes is now being seen at earlier ages. Until recently, mostly people who were 50 years of age or older were diagnosed with the disease. However, more patients in their 30s and 40s now have diabetes, probably as result of those unhealthy lifestyles. It is estimated that more than 66,000 people die from diabetes-related causes every year in Russia.

In recent years, several public health campaigns have been conducted to teach people some basic health lifestyle principles. However, more programs, particularly in smaller cities, are needed that specifically target diabetes awareness and prevention issues, since these are the most effective ways of addressing the disease.

Approximately 26 percent of the population over the age of 15 is obese in Russia. This figure will increase to 30 percent in 2030. Because being overweight or obese affects the body’s ability to properly adjust blood sugar levels –thus increasing the risk of diabetes by up to 20 times– dealing with the issue of obesity is another way of keeping diabetes under control.

What is needed is a wide spectrum public health government-sponsored program that will 1) raise awareness about diabetes, 2) improve data collection and analysis, 3) increase access to knowledge about diabetes both among patients and also among doctors, particularly on how to deal with its complications, 4) facilitate screening of patients and accessibility to treatment, 5) provide financial support for basic and applied research on diabetes. Diabetes in Russia today should be treated as the serious threat it really is.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is an international public health consultant.

July 29, 2015 Posted by | Economics | | 2 Comments

US, Russia Should Overcome Tensions, Cooperate – Presidential Candidate

Sputnik – 29.07.2015

WASHINGTON — Restoring US relations with Russia should be among the top priorities for the newly elected president, US Democratic presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee told Sputnik.

“I would make it one of my top priorities to do everything possible to find common ground, areas where we can build on and reestablish relationships with Russia, make them better,” Chafee said in an interview.

The presidential candidate noted that there are areas where Russia and the United States still agree and cooperate, including on the Iran nuclear issue.

“I know we worked on the Iran deal together, but just keep building on that, areas where we both agree as countries, and then broaden those out, areas where we somewhat agree, and then tackle those areas where we have disagreements and work together,” Chafee said.

“There is just no room for escalation of military options in this world we live in today,” Chafee said when asked to comment on mutual accusations by Washington and Moscow of violating the INF Treaty.

Chafee noted that cooperation between the United States and Russia should be concentrated on more important issues rather than bashing Russia.

“There are many other challenges we should be tackling rather than the Russians in the West, a saber rattling,” he added.

The United States and Russia signed the INF Treaty in 1987, banning nuclear and conventional ground-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500-5,500 kilometers (300-3,400 miles).

Last summer, Washington accused Moscow of not complying with the treaty by testing a ground-launched cruise missile. Russia dismissed the claims, stating that the United States had violated the deal earlier by placing missile defense launchers in Poland and Romania.

According to recent media reports, US authorities are considering the deployment of missiles to Europe to defend against supposed advantages gained by Russia’s alleged treaty violation, or the possibility of a more aggressive “counterforce” of ground-based strategic weapons or cruise missiles.

Chafee also underscored that Washington and Moscow should cooperate in resolving the Ukrainian crisis, and ensure the European markets continue to receive Russian energy.

“The immediate area that we [US, Russia] should be finding areas to resolve is, of course, Ukraine, and…with the sanctions, and how we can get the Ukrainian situation resolved, and get the European markets and the Russian energy working together,” Chafee said in an interview.

Chafee added that US-Russia cooperation is “in everybody’s best interest.”

Moscow should participate in international discussion on all world issues, the candidate continued.

“That strong country, energy-rich country, such as Russia, should be part of all our global discussions,” Chafee said in an interview.

The presidential candidate stressed that there are many areas where Russia and the West could cooperate, including the Iran nuclear program and space industry.

July 29, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Militarism | , , | Leave a comment

Putin blames US for ‘spiral of arms race’

Press TV – July 28, 2015

489e3c3f-8890-4323-a490-405c874d3efbRussian President Vladimir Putin has blamed the United States for the current round of arms race in the world.

“This new spiral of the arms race was prompted by the United States’ unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty,” Putin said in an interview with Swiss broadcaster RTS on Monday.

On December 13, 2001, Washington withdrew from the treaty, which had been signed in 1972 between the US and the Soviet Union, on the limitation of the anti-ballistic missile systems used in defending areas against ballistic missile-delivered nuclear weapons.

“This treaty was a cornerstone of the entire system of international security,” he said.

According to a report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a leading think-tank focusing on international security, Washington in 2014 spent USD 581 billion, the highest amount of military expenditure last year.

China, Saudi Arabia and Russia are the countries coming after the US with USD 129, 81 and 70 billion in military expenditure respectively, the British institute’s report said.

Putin also said that US officials should rethink their policies and stop “acting in a way ‘who-in-not-with-us-is-against-us.’”

“Undoubtedly, the United States is a great power. But it doesn’t mean that the current US authorities have any right to move around the world, seizing people and taking them to their prisons,” he added.

Elsewhere in the interview, the Russian president said that Moscow is ready to negotiate with the US and Europe on a host of issues including the situation in Ukraine.

“Russia takes no interest in seeking confrontation with other countries. But sometimes we simply have to defend our interests. And we will undoubtedly do it, but not in a confrontational manner but through finding compromises and mutually acceptable solutions,” he said.

The US and its European allies have imposed economic sanctions on Russia, accusing Moscow of being involved in the Ukrainian conflict that broke out last year. Russia has repeatedly denied the accusation and has imposed retaliatory sanctions against many Western countries.

July 28, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Militarism | , | 2 Comments

UK government spent 13 times more bombing Libya than securing peace

‘UK Govt priorities were wrong over Libya’

Scottish National Party | July 26, 2015

The UK government spent 13 times more bombing Libya than securing peace in the years afterwards, it has been revealed.

The House of Commons library has released information which shows the UK government spent around £320 million in a bombing campaign against Libya, and just £25 million in re-building programmes following the conflict.

The revelations follows serious concerns raised by the SNP over the UK’s current involvement in Syria -which had been taken forward despite a vote against bombing Syria in the House of Commons two years ago.

Stephen Gethins MP said:

“These figures are eye-watering. The amount of money the UK government will spend bombing a country dwarves the re-building programme thirteen to one.

“The lessons of Libya, like Iraq, is that you cannot just bomb somewhere and move on. The figures are especially alarming given the UK government’s current involvement in Syria.

“The case for bombing in Syria has simply not been made – and the involvement of British service personnel in bombing without the approval of Parliament clearly flouts the democratic decision taken by the House of Commons.

“We urgently need honesty and transparency about the UK intentions in Syria- and a strong commitment to the country following the conflict.”

Commenting on UK intervention in Syria on the Marr show this morning, SNP Foreign Affairs spokesperson Alex Salmond said:

“Parliament has to be consulted and Parliament would have to be persuaded. And I’ve heard nothing yet from the Prime Minister that would persuade me that there’s an integrated strategy that would justify a bombing campaign.

“Spending £320m on a bombing campaign and £25m to help restore the country is one reason perhaps that we have a failed state in Libya.”

July 28, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Militarism | , , , , | 1 Comment

Germans Resoundingly Saying “No!” To Clearing Forests To Make Way For Wind Parks

No Tricks Zone | July 24, 2015

A survey conducted by the German Emnid polling institute found that 79% of Germans reject the installation of wind turbines in forests. That’s the result of a survey commissioned by the Deutschen Wildtier Stiftung (German Wildlife Foundation).

Lowell Mountain Daniel F July 2015

Not only are there plans to disfigure and destroy forest regions in Germany, it is already a sad reality in Vermont (New England). Here an aerial photo of a portion of the Lowell Mountain wind park shows how the once natural mountain was blasted with dynamite and forests cleared and industrialized. Photo: courtesy of Daniel F.

When asked if they agreed with the statement: “For the construction of more wind energy, in general no forest areas should disappear or be cut down.”, 79 percent replied with: “I agree!” Only 11% agreed with: “for additional wind parks also forest areas should be cleared away or cut down.” The Emnid Institute survey also determined that the public’s interest in the issue of wind parks in forests is very high. Only 8% said that the issue did not interest them.

For the Deutsche Wildtier Stiftung, the Emind results prove that a large majority of the German population reject wind parks in forests. “Wind power at any cost must not be the result of the Engergiewende,” emphasized Prof. Dr. Fritz Vahrenholt, Chairman of the German Wildlife Foundation. “The citizens of Germany do not want forests to become the victims of a one-dimensional climate policy.“ People think it is important to keep forests and biodiversity intact. Even 65% of those responding said: “In the case of any doubt, the construction of wind turbines must yield to the protection of birds and other animals”.

The thoughtless construction of wind energy in the forest is a serious threat. “Opening up forests to allow wind parks leads to the endangerment of rare species,” Prof. Dr. Vahrenholt criticized. Every year in Germany up to 240,000 bats are killed by wind turbine rotors. Although they are able to dodge the moving rotors, the negative pressure in the rotor’s wake causes the bats’ lungs to burst. Most of the domestic bats are on the endangered species list.

Bird species like the rare lesser spotted eagle, the red kite and the black stork are especially sensitive to turbines. For example half of the breeding population of the black stork disappeared in just 6 years at the Vogelsberg site in the state of Hesse after 125 wind turbines were constructed. Many predatory birds die in collisions with rotors.

“So far only the state of Saxony Anhalt has opted not to allow wind parks in forests,” says Prof. Vahrenholt. In German states with large forest areas, such as Baden-Wuerttemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate, North Rhine Westphalia, Hesse and Brandenburg, there are already decrees to allow the construction of wind parks despite regional resistance to them,” said Vahrenholt.

Moreover Emnid found that among those surveyed, wind energy in forests is not a matter of personal preference, but one of a greater good – namely forest as a space for life. On the question: “Would you feel disturbed about wind turbines in the forest?”, 43% answered with “yes”.

July 25, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Environmentalism | | Leave a comment

The Increasing Burden of Diabetes in China

By Cesar Chelala | CounterPunch | July 24, 2015

China’s economic growth in the last three decades has dramatically transformed the nation’s economic landscape, removing 500 million people from poverty. This progress, however, has been accompanied by an increase in some diseases –such as diabetes– notably associated with increased urbanization and changed lifestyles. Twenty-five years ago, the number of people with diabetes in China was less than one percent. Today, China has more than 114 million people suffering from the disease, the highest number of any country in the world.

It is estimated that 11.6 percent of Chinese adults have diabetes, a proportion higher than the U.S. with 11.3 percent. Experts blame the increase in sedentary lifestyles, high consumption of sugary and high-calorie Western diets, excessive smoking and lack of exercise. According to some experts, India and China will have an increase of an additional 48.5m people with diabetes between 2007 and 2025.

Because the number of people suffering from this disease in China is increasing rapidly, the cost of treating diabetes and its complications can reach extremely high levels, and have a significant impact in the country’s economy. According to the International Diabetes Federation, 13% of medical expenditures in China are directly caused by diabetes. The yearly costs are US$25 billion. It is estimated that these costs will increase substantially, and reach more than $47 billion in 2030. In China, lost productivity costs alone are equivalent to 0.6% of GDP as reported by The Economist Intelligence Unit in 2007.

Both types of diabetes exact three kinds of economic costs: direct, indirect and those resulting from lost productivity. The direct costs include medical visits and treatment, medications and hospitalization for the disease and its complications. Indirect costs, which include informal care by relatives and paramedical personnel, constitute almost half the total cost of diabetes. Loss of productivity costs include those due to the consequences of the disability caused by the disease and its complications.

Diabetes also places a heavy toll on household income. People with diabetes spend 9 times more money in health care than healthy people of the same age and sex without diabetes. Those who have had diabetes for more than 10 years spent an estimated 22% of their household income for health care.

The total estimated cost of diabetes in the U.S. was estimated in $245 billion in 2012, of which 43 percent was for hospital inpatient care, 18 percent for prescription medications to treat the complications of the disease and 12 percent was for anti-diabetic agents.

People with diabetes report 3-4 times more in-patient care, out-patient visits and emergency room visits than people without diabetes of the same age and sex. In addition, health expenditures for people who have had diabetes for 10 or more years are 460% higher than for people who have had diabetes for 1-2 years.

Of the two kinds of diabetes, Type 1 is diagnosed primarily in children and young adults, and has probably genetic and environmental components. Type 2 diabetes, which probably has also a small genetic component, is mostly caused by unhealthy lifestyles and obesity. Type 1 diabetes accounts for approximately 5 percent of all cases.

Before a person develops diabetes Type 2, they frequently have a condition called pre-diabetes, which has no symptoms. In pre-diabetes, blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to qualify people as diabetics. It is estimated that 493 million people -or one in two adults- in China has pre-diabetes. Without treatment, those with pre-diabetes will develop full-fledged diabetes in 10 years or less.

What makes this condition particularly serious is that it is frequently ignored, and those affected by it are at a 50% higher risk of heart disease and stroke than those who don’t have pre-diabetes. According to some estimates, each year six to seven percent of those with pre-diabetes will be added to the diabetes population.

In diabetes Type 1 the body doesn’t produce enough, or in many cases any insulin, while in diabetes Type 2 the body still produces insulin but has lost the capacity to make use of the insulin it makes. Because of increasing rates obesity, children are now more affected by this last type of disease. In Japan, for example, Type 2 diabetes is now more common among Japanese children than diabetes Type 1 and in China type 2 diabetes is now being seen at younger ages.

Increased awareness and education about the disease’s damaging effects is critical. In October 2012, the Chinese government launched a three-year project called China National Plan for Non-Communicable Disease Prevention and Treatment (2012-2015) to train 100,000 community-level doctors in diabetes prevention and treatment.

To improve the results of this plan, however, teachers in primary schools must also be trained and special classes should be devoted to this problem. Awareness should be raised in the general population about the importance of addressing risk factors, such as having poor eating habits, smoking in excess and having unhealthy lifestyles. If this serious crisis is not properly faced, it can provoke a most damaging effect on the country’s economy and on the health status of the population.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is an international public health consultant.

July 24, 2015 Posted by | Economics | , | Leave a comment

US Concerned About Increased Russia-Iran Trade Cooperation – Senator

By Leandra Bernstein – Sputnik – 24.07.2015

WASHINGTON — On July 14, the P5+1 countries — the United States, Russia, France, Britain, China, and Germany — reached an agreement with Iran to relieve economic sanctions in exchange for assurances that it will not seek to develop or acquire a nuclear weapon.

“We know, though, under the terms of this agreement, that Russia will have no hesitancy to be involved in Iran’s economy, and that is a concern.”

Cardin, ranking member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, noted that regardless of the nuclear agreement, the expansion of trade between Russia and Iran “has always been a concern.”

The United States has already expressed disapproval over Russian plans to deliver a S-300 air defense system to Iran, fulfilling a contract from 2007. Washington, however, has acknowledged the legality of the deal.

Enhanced Russian-Iranian trade could also result from future Iranian membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a proposition discussed on the sidelines of the recent SCO meeting in Ufa, Russia earlier in July.

July 24, 2015 Posted by | Economics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Single Payer and the Revolving Door

By Russell Mokhiber | CounterPunch | July 22, 2015

Another benefit of a single payer national health insurance system is that it gets rid of the obscenity of the revolving door between the health insurance industry and the government payer.

There is no revolving door because there is no door.

There is no door because the health insurance companies are put out of their misery.

One public payer. Everybody in. Nobody out.

If we had single payer, we wouldn’t be witnessing the obscenity we witnessed this month.

Take the case of Marilyn Tavenner.

She’s the Obama official who was in charge of the rollout of Obamacare.

She stepped down from her job in February and will become president of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) — the insurance industry lobbying group representing the likes of Aetna, Anthem, Humana, Kaiser Permanente and many Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies.

Taking her place at the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is former UnitedHealth executive Andy Slavitt.

Don McCanne of Physicians for a National Health Plan (PNHP) says that Karen Ignagni, AHIP’s previous president and CEO, essentially had carte blanche in the White House as Obamacare was being crafted.

“She also was very influential in obtaining the concessions that protected the excess payments to the Medicare Advantage plans, measures which greatly benefit UnitedHealth Group and others,” McCanne says. “It seems more than a coincidence that UnitedHealth Group dropped out of AHIP shortly after the resignation of Karen Ignagni.”

“Without insider information, it is very difficult to determine the degree of control held by each of the players, but there is no question that HHS/CMS, AHIP, and UnitedHealth and the other insurers are all participating in advancing the privatization of Medicare by enhancing the private Medicare Advantage plans with our taxpayer dollars,” McCanne says. “It is particularly disconcerting that this agenda is supported by Congress and the Obama administration.”

“Imagine what those excess funds could do for our traditional Medicare program, especially in reducing out-of-pocket expenses for premiums, deductibles, coinsurance and catastrophic losses,” McCanne says.

“That would be far better than wasting them on the administrative excesses of the private insurers and on the dishonest activities they engage in to increase their profits by measures such as upcoding or gaming risk adjustment.”

Why is there no public outcry?

“It is simply because the Medicare Advantage plans are able to use about one-third of the extra funds to reduce deductibles and coinsurance, making them appear to be superior products, plus there is no need to purchase supplemental Medigap plans,” McCanne says. “Most of the beneficiaries who are satisfied with their private plans would not be inclined to support increased taxpayer funding of the traditional Medicare program since it doesn’t concern them anymore. And efforts to reduce Medicare Advantage funding to the same levels as traditional Medicare are met with loud protests orchestrated by AHIP. Those in the traditional Medicare program usually have supplemental retiree or Medigap plans with which they are satisfied, and thus they are not advocates for change either.”

“It is really difficult to explain to people that what is a good deal for them is a bad deal for all of us together since it perpetuates high costs and extraordinary administrative waste,” McCanne says. “If their programs seem to be working for them, they don’t want change.”

McCanne says that we need to improve the traditional Medicare program so that it is more comprehensive and provides greater value, and then use it to cover everyone.

“Our task is made much more difficult by the powerful forces that support corporate control of our healthcare system,” he says. “After all, they are the ones with the money. And Tavenner and Slavitt will be there as their agents, working inside and outside of the government. And most people won’t care.”

July 22, 2015 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Corruption, Economics | , , | Leave a comment

Global One Percent Celebrate at the Bohemian Grove

By Peter Phillips | Dissident Voice | July 20, 2015

July 18th 2015 was the first day of this year’s summer camp for the world’s business and political aristocracy and their invited guests. 2,000 to 3,000 men, mostly from the wealthiest global one percent, gather at Bohemian Grove, 70 miles north of San Francisco in California’s Sonoma County—to sit around the campfire and chew the fat—off-the-record—with ex-presidents, corporate leaders and global financiers.

Speakers this year giving “Lakeside Chats” include past Secretary of Defense and the CIA Leon Panetta, Paul Volcker Jr. former Federal Reserve Chairman, retired Admiral Mike Mullen former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, NYU Law Professor Bryan Stevenson, producer Norman Lear, the founder of AOL Steve Case, and Christopher Hill former US Ambassador to Iraq.

The Bohemian Grove summer encampments have become one of the most famous private men’s retreats in the world. Club members and several hundred world-class guests gather annually in the last weeks of July to recreate what has been called “the greatest men’s party on earth.” Spanning three weekends, the outdoors event includes lectures, rituals, theater, camp parties, golf, swimming, skeet shooting, politics, sideline business meetings and feasts of food and alcohol.

One might imagine modern-day aristocrats like Henry Kissinger, the Koch brothers, and Donald Rumsfeld amid a circle of friends sipping cognac and discussing how the “unqualified” masses cannot be trusted to carry out policy, and how elites must set values that can be translated into “standards of authority.”

Private men’s clubs, like the San Francisco Bohemian Club, have historically represented institutionalized race, gender and class inequality. English gentlemen’s clubs emerged during Great Britain’s empire building period as an exclusive place free of troublesome women, under-classes, and non-whites. Copied in the United States, elite private men’s clubs served the same self-celebration purposes as their English counterparts.

The San Francisco Bohemian Club was formed in 1872 as a gathering place for newspaper reporters and men of the arts and literature. By the 1880s local businessmen joined the Club in large numbers, quickly making business elites the dominant group. More than 2,500 men are members today. Most are from California, while several hundred originate from some 35 states and a dozen foreign countries. About one-fifth of the members are either directors of one or more of the Fortune 1000 companies, corporate CEOs, top governmental officials (current and former) and/or members of important policy councils or major foundations. The remaining members are mostly regional business/legal elites with a small mix of academics, military officers, artists, or medical doctors.

Foremost at the Bohemian Grove is an atmosphere of social interaction and networking. You can sit around a campfire with directors of PG&E, or Bank of America. You can shoot skeet with the former secretaries of state and defense, or you can enjoy a sing-along with a Council of Foreign Relations director or a Business Roundtable executive. All of this makes for ample time to develop personal long-lasting connections with powerful influential men.

On the surface, the Bohemian Grove is a private place where global and regional elites meet for fun and enjoyment. Behind the scene, however, the Bohemian Grove is an American version of building insider ties, consensual understandings, and lasting connections in the service of class solidarity. Ties reinforced at the Grove manifest themselves in global trade meetings, party politics, campaign financing, and top-down corporatism.

Peter Phillips is a Professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University, and President of Media Freedom Foundation/Project Censored. He wrote his dissertation on the Bohemian Club in 1994.

July 21, 2015 Posted by | Corruption, Economics, Supremacism | , | Leave a comment

Government commission green lights reciprocal impounding of foreign nations’ property in Russia

RT | July 21, 2015

The governmental commission for legislation has approved a bill that if passed would allow Russia to impound property of foreign states, so long as Russian courts rule these countries are infringing the sovereignty of Russian jurisdiction.

According to business daily Kommersant, the government will shortly look into the draft and then it will be submitted to the parliament.

The current draft, developed by the Justice Ministry, would give Russian courts more powers to impound the property of foreign states. Currently such steps are only allowed on condition the government of the country in question agrees. The new rules would cancel this stipulation and introduce another – impounding would only be possible as a reciprocal measure after a court decides that a nation has damaged the economic or other interests of the Russian Federation.

The Justice Ministry said in comments that the main idea behind the bill was to ensure a “jurisdiction balance” between Russia and foreign states. “The number of lawsuits against the Russian Federation is constantly growing and this happens without asking for our agreement for participation in these processes,” ministry sources told Kommersant. Therefore, recognizing the ruling of foreign courts is equal to conceding national sovereignty, they added.

In early July, mass media reported that several European countries, such as Belgium and France had frozen Russian state companies’ assets and curtailed their agencies in these countries. The move was in connection with the June 2014 ruling by the International Court in The Hague that ordered Russia to pay compensation of $39.9 billion, $1.85 billion and $8.2 billion to three companies connected with Yukos. The oil giant was dissolved in 2007 after its top managers and key owners were jailed for tax evasion.

The Russian Foreign Ministry described these steps as blatant violation of international law and promised to contest these decisions. President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with the heads of international news agencies that Russia would challenge the decision to seize its assets. The president added that the country didn’t recognize the ruling of the Hague court, as it doesn’t participate in the European Energy Charter.

Earlier this month, the Russian Constitutional Court decided that no international treaty or convention has precedence over national sovereignty, and decisions by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) should be upheld only when they don’t contradict basic Russian law. The judge who announced the ruling explained that Russia can now refuse to fulfill the obligations imposed by the ECHR rulings, when such a refusal is the only way to prevent the violation of the basic law.

The same judge also told reporters there was a possibility the Constitutional Court would investigate the Yukos case, but only if it is taken to court by the plaintiffs. Besides, the Justice Ministry issued a statement saying all its actions connected with the ECHR’s ruling on the ‘Yukos vs. Russia’ case would be based on the ruling establishing the priority of the Russian Constitution.

These comments apparently concerned the ECHR’s ruling in July 2014 that ordered Russia to pay $2.5 billion in compensation and legal expenses to former Yukos shareholders.

READ MORE:

Constitutional Court rules Russian law above European HR Court decisions

Russia will ‘protect its interests’ in European assets freeze – Putin

July 21, 2015 Posted by | Economics | , | Leave a comment

Eastern Ukraine – A Frozen War

While full-scale fighting has not returned, neither side accepts the status quo or wants to put the conflict aside

It’s rather the negotiated path to peace that has been put aside, particularly by Kiev

By Alexander Mercouris | Russia Insider | July 20, 2015

Contrary to my expectations — and those of most other observers — the situation in eastern Ukraine has not so far spiraled into renewed war.

The reason for this is the deteriorating financial situation in Ukraine itself.

Despite pressure from the IMF talks between Ukraine and its private creditors remain deadlocked. This has led some of the ratings agencies to predict that Ukraine will fall into formal default this month.

The IMF’s indication that it would maintain its support for Ukraine has simply triggered a demand from the Russians that the next $5 billion tranche of IMF funding Ukraine should be used to repay the $3 billion Ukraine owes Russia, which is due for repayment this year.

It seems that the IMF’s staff is now increasingly leaning to the Russian view that this debt is indeed public debt. If so, then unless the IMF Board is willing to overrule the opinion of its own staff – which would be extremely controversial and might have serious legal consequences, Ukraine might shortly find itself cut off from private lending and in receipt of only limited funding from the IMF.

As for other alternative sources of Western funding, the EU’s commitment to provide Greece with a third 86 billion euro bailout further reduces the funds available for Ukraine.

It is nonetheless likely that it has been the need to bring the negotiations with the IMF and with Ukraine’s private creditors to a successful conclusion that has been the key factor in deterring Ukraine from resuming the offensive in eastern Ukraine. Back in the winter the IMF warned that any program to support Ukraine would fail in case of a renewal of the war, which all but confirmed that the IMF would halt its programme if the war resumed. With Ukraine becoming increasingly dependent on the IMF as alternative sources of external funding are closed off, this has become a major obstacle to a renewal of the war.

None of this however is to be taken to mean that the situation in eastern Ukraine is stable.

As predicted, the Ukrainian government has reneged on the commitments it made in Minsk.

It refuses to negotiate with the leaders of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, whom it continues to call terrorists. It has maintained the economic blockade.

There has been no negotiated law granting special status, no elections held in accordance with such a law and no discussions for a new constitution. On all these questions Kiev has purported to legislate unilaterally, imposing on the Donbass its own conceptions, which continue to reflect its unitary ideology.

Though there has been no general offensive, there is also no peace. Shelling of the Donbass towns continues at various levels of intensity and fighting between the Ukrainian army and militia units repeatedly takes place.

Meanwhile, much as he did before the resumption of the fighting in January this year, Poroshenko has again been bragging about the revival of the Ukrainian army, with claims that the number of Ukrainian troops on the front line has once again been brought up to 60,000 – which was roughly their number at the start of the offensive on 30th June 2014.

These claims, understandably enough, cause great alarm and are scarcely compatible with a sincere desire for peace. They are in fact as likely to be untrue as were the identical claims Poroshenko made before the resumption of the fighting in January. The reported mutiny of an entire Ukrainian tank battalion is almost certain to be a better reflection of the true state of the Ukrainian army than Poroshenko’s boasts.

The current situation is best described therefore not as a frozen conflict but as a frozen war.

A frozen conflict requires some degree of acceptance — however grudging — of the status quo.

In Ukraine that acceptance does not exist – on either side.

In the absence of the negotiations envisaged by the deal done in Minsk the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics exist in limbo – under blockade, facing current shelling, without a proper legal status and without full control of the territory they claim.

The Ukrainian government for its part cannot bring itself to recognize or accept the separate identities of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, but lacks the means to suppress them.

The situation is extremely unstable and very dangerous.

July 21, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Militarism | | Leave a comment

Syria wants to join Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union – prime minister

RT | July 21, 2015

Syrian Prime Minister Wael Halqi has said joining the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) will allow Damascus easier economic and trade cooperation with friendly nations. Russia and Belarus are also discussing a new loan to Syria.

“Negotiations with Russia on joining the Eurasian Union and customs-free zone are being held. We see this as a benefit and strengthening the relations with friendly states, which will facilitate economic and trade cooperation with them,” said Halqi in an interview with RIA Novosti Tuesday.

According to the prime minister, Russia and Syria have signed a number of contracts for the construction of gas processing plants, irrigation facilities and power stations. In 2013, an agreement was signed for Russian companies to develop oil fields on the Syrian coast. The first phase is worth $88 million and will last for five years.

The countries are also discussing the expansion of loans to Damascus.

“Negotiations with Russia and Belarus on the provision of new lines of credit continue. It will help to meet the needs of production, create new opportunities for the development of the internal market and economic process,” said the prime minister.

He expressed the hope that Russia would help the Syrian government “to cope with the brutal attacks, including the unjust economic sanctions imposed by the West.”

Halqi said that credits between Iran and Syria have already been implemented. The two countries have signed and implemented two lines of credit, of which $3.6 billion Tehran has allocated for projects related to oil and $1 billion for the delivery of humanitarian aid, including food, medicines, hospital equipment and components for power plants.

The prime minister said that Syria appreciates all the efforts made by the Russian leadership to maintain the policy and economy of Syria during the years of crisis, and specifically thanked Moscow for donating 100,000 tons of wheat as humanitarian aid to the Syrian people.

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July 21, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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