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Monday, October 20, 2014

What have we here?

Total CEO De Margerie Dies in Moscow Plane Crash, Interfax Says

Christophe de Margerie, chief executive officer at Total SA (FP)Europe’s third-largest oil company, died in a Moscow plane crash, Interfax reported.

The 63-year-old CEO died at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport when a business jet crashed, Interfax said citing an unidentified law enforcement official. All four people on the plane died and were French citizens, Interfax said.
De Margerie started his career in Total’s finance department in 1974 and took over as CEO at the French company in February 2007, when that post was split from the chairman’s.
Before becoming chief executive, de Margerie, known by the nickname “Big Mustache,” because of his curved mustache, oversaw exploration and production and headed up Total’s business in some of the world’s political hotspots including Iraq, Iran and Myanmar.
To contact the reporter on this story: James Paton in Sydney at jpaton4@bloomberg.net
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrew Hobbs at ahobbs4@bloomberg.net; Jason Rogers at jrogers73@bloomberg.net Peter Vercoe

    In October 2014, the Russian economy set a number of negative records. The ruble’s exchange rate against the U.S. dollar for the first time exceeded 40 and reached 52 against the euro, which forced the Central Bank to spend several billion dollars on intervention. Political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya analyzes the key risks currently facing Russia’s economy.
    Since the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s presidency, Russia has not faced such dangerous and destructive processes in the country’s economic and financial spheres. The country is currently entering a zone of economic turbulence, making it extremely difficult to make medium-term forecasts about its future. The year 2014 may turn out to be one of the most difficult in recent years from the point of view of the risks facing the country’s economy.
    Let us try to describe the five key types of risk the country is facing. The first category of risk is geopolitical, embracing the entire complex of sanctions against Russia and the “containment policy” adopted by the United States, the European Union, and a number of other countries with regard to Russia. Analysts from the Raiffeisen Bank, one of Russia’s major banks, expect that the sanctions will result in a fall in Russia’s GDP by 0.3 percent in 2014. According to the Russian Finance Ministry, Russia’s balance of payments has suffered a shock equal to 2 percent of GDP as a result of growing geopolitical tensions. Furthermore, the Russian government has as good as acknowledged that the country could fall into a recession.
    According to forecasts by Fitch Ratings, consumer price growth will reach 7 percent in 2014 before declining only slightly to 6.8 percent in 2015 and 6 percent in 2016. The ratings agency also says that the international restrictions introduced with regard to Russia and the measures the country has taken in response have negatively affected the business environment, resulting in a falling value of the national currency, accelerating inflation, rising interest rates, accelerating capital outflow, the aggravation of structural flaws, and an increasing risk of recession as well as of Russian companies being cut off from international capital markets. According to Fitch, the capital outflow from Russia in 2015 will reach $100 billion. On October 15, experts from the Center for Macroeconomic Analysis and Short-Term Forecasting declared that Russia is experiencing a systemic banking crisis that will likely only deepen in the coming year.
    These are only preliminary estimates. As became clear in late September, the European Union does not intend to review its sanctions against Russia despite the relative peace in Ukraine’s eastern regions. Russia still has not complied (and seems unlikely to comply) with the West’s primary demand that it pull its troops from Ukrainian territory. This means that geopolitical risks will remain the same and will produce further depreciation of the ruble, rises in inflation and capital outflow, and investor disappointment.
    The second type of risk currently plaguing Russia is systemic risk, which has only become more acute in the face of external shocks. Systemic risks include the country’s high corruption level, ineffective ruling system, weak government, poor quality of lawmaking, and lack of parliamentary, civil, and media control.
    For the last two years, Russia has been striving to implement Putin’s “May decrees,” issued once he was inaugurated as the country’s president for the third time. Crisis tendencies in the economy that were obvious even before the Ukrainian revolution and the annexation of Crimea have made this program impossible to implement. The government, however, does not seem able to come up with a different plan.
    “Oligarchic risks” are connected with the desire of the businessmen close to Putin to distribute assets among themselves and at the same time obtain privileged working conditions.
    The third category of risks is connected to the oligarchs. Western sanctions that have made it impossible for businesses to get long-term loans from abroad and have frozen relations with foreign investors have placed enormous pressure on businessmen from Putin’s close circle as well as on the state companies on which “Putin’s economy” is based. The U.S. energy giant ExxonMobil decided to withdraw from its joint ventures with Rosneft in the Arctic. Similarly, the French oil and gas company Total suspended its joint venture with Russia’s Lukoil to explore hard-to-recover oil in Western Siberia.
    Under these rapidly deteriorating economic conditions, Rosneft asked the Russian government for 1.5 trillion rubles from the National Welfare Fund (NWF), an account created to service the debts of the Russian Pension Fund. The Russian Ministry of Economic Development recently approved the allocation of 150 billion rubles ($3.75 billion) from the NWF to Novatek, Russia’s second-largest gas producer, for the development of the Yamal LNG project to tap the resources of the South Tambey gas field. Gazprom is also facing difficulties and has announced that it will considerably decrease its production in the coming year.
    The consequences of economic difficulties are not only financial. According to many observers, the much-publicized arrest of Vladimir Yevtushenkov, chairman of the Russian conglomerate Sistema, is connected with Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin’s ambitions to get his hands on Bashneft, an oil company owned by Sistema. The State Duma is considering a law that would allow Russian citizens whose foreign-held assets were frozen as a result of “unlawful decisions of foreign courts” to demand compensation from the Russian budget. This initiative, which was previously rejected in March 2013, was revived after the Italian government decided to freeze the assets of Arkady Rotenberg, an influential Russian businessman connected with Putin. If this law is adopted and all people blacklisted by the United States and the European Union seek compensation, it is hard to imagine the consequences for the Russian budget.
    In other words, “oligarchic risks” are connected with the desire of the businessmen close to Putin to distribute assets among themselves and at the same time obtain privileged working conditions. These measures are being offered as a sort of compensation for the damages caused by sanctions—compensation that would be paid by taxpayers who still believe that Russia is surrounded by enemies.
    The fourth category of risk is related to negatives conjunctures regarding energy markets. On October 16, Brent oil prices dropped below $83 a barrel, a historic low since 2010. Considering that Russia needs an oil price of around $90 a barrel to balance its budget, this low price poses a serious risk to the country’s economy. According to the Russian Finance Ministry, low oil prices could shave 2 percent off Russia’s GDP and reduce the value of its exports by $55 billion a year. “The current situation is the payment for the soft policy of the last few years,” said Maksim Oreshkin, head of the Finance Ministry’s Strategic Planning Department. He added that if the oil price was set at $80 a barrel when calculating the budget, the Russian economy would not notice any shocks when oil prices dropped.
    Finally, the fifth category of risk is sociopolitical. Polling and sociological research organizations, including the Levada Center, are not currently recording any shifts in public attitude that could provoke the government’s concern. However, sociologists note that the population sees the rise in prices as a major social issue. The effort to halt the rise in prices after the introduction of an embargo on products from the European Union and Norway proved impossible. The government keeps saying that this situation is only temporary, but Russians see a different picture in stores. The obvious weakening of the ruble has made things worse: the population’s profits and purchasing power are decreasing, while basic necessities are becoming more expensive.
    Former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin recently declared that the window of opportunity to introduce reforms and restore economic growth in Russia has closed under the pressure of Western sanctions and a new election cycle. The country is facing several years of stagnation on the brink of recession in the face of a lack of political will to generate change. However, stagnation is not the worst thing that the country might face if the current tendencies continue to develop. The inertia of Putin’s regime is becoming the main threat to its stability in the future, and if a social and economic crisis were to be provoked by the cumulative effect of the aforementioned risks, there exists no “vertical of power” that could prevent an internal explosion from happening.

    The Institute of Modern Russia (IMR) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy organization—a think tank based in New York. IMR's mission is to foster democratic and economic development in Russia through research, advocacy, public events, and grant-making. We are committed to strengthening respect for human rights, the rule of law, and civil society in Russia. Our goal is to promote a principles-based approach to US-Russia relations and Russia's integration into the community of democracies.
    IMR is a federal tax-exempt Section 501(c)(3) public charity, incorporated in New Jersey.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Turkey is anathema to US interests in the Middle East

Kurds in Turkey - a sad and painful history:

Turkey Would Oppose US Arms Transfers to Kurds

Turkey Syria
Turkey wouldn't agree to any U.S. arms transfers to Kurdish fighters who are battling Islamic militants in Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying Sunday, as the extremist group fired more mortar rounds near the Syrian-Turkish border.
Turkey views the main Syrian Kurdish group, the PYD — and its military wing which is fighting IS militants — as an extension of the PKK, which has waged a 30-year insurgency in Turkey and is designated a terror group by the U.S. and NATO.
Washington has said recently that it has engaged in intelligence sharing with Kurdish fighters and officials have not ruled out future arms transfers to the Kurdish fighters.
"The PYD is for us, equal to the PKK. It is a terror organization," Erdogan told a group of reporters on his return from a visit to Afghanistan.
"It would be wrong for the United States — with whom we are friends and allies in NATO — to talk openly and to expect us to say 'yes' to such a support to a terrorist organization," Erdogan said. His comments were reported by the state-run Anadolu agency on Sunday.
Turkey's opposition to arms transfers to the Kurdish forces is hampering the U.S.-led coalitions' efforts to fight the extremists and further complicating relations between Turkey and Washington. The countries are involved in negotiations about Ankara's role with the U.S. and NATO allies fighting the Islamic State group, which is attempting to capture the strategic town Kobani on the Syrian-Turkish border.
Turkey has demanded that the coalition widen its campaign against the militants by providing greater aid to Syrian rebels, who are battling both the IS and President Bashar Assad's forces. Turkey has so far provided sanctuary to an estimated 200,000 Syrians fleeing Kobani, and recently agreed to train and equip moderate Syrian rebel fighters trying to remove Assad from power.
The White House said President Barack Obama spoke with Erdogan on Saturday about the situation in Kobani and steps that could be taken to counter IS advances.
"The two leaders pledged to continue to work closely together to strengthen cooperation against ISIL," a statement said, using another name for IS militants.
Fighting between the militants and the Kurdish fighters defending Kobani continued on Sunday. Mortar strikes hit the town, sending plumes of smoke into the air. Three mortars also fell on the Turkish side of the border, landing in an open field where they caused no injuries. On Saturday and Sunday, IS appeared to be targeting the border crossing area, potentially in a bid to hamper Kobani's last link to the outside world.
In an attempt to stave off the advance, a U.S.-led coalition has been carrying out airstrikes on IS positions in and near the town, as well as in other parts of Syria, particularly in the oil-rich eastern province of Deir el-Zour, as well as in Iraq. Several airstrikes hit Kobani on Saturday evening.
The flow of migrants into Turkey has intensified since IS' push to take Kobani and cut access for Kurdish fighters to other areas of Syria they control.
On Saturday, IS fighters also weighed in on their attempts to take Kobani, arguing it wasn't a fight against the Kurds.
"We came to establish the laws of God — not to fight the Kurds," a fighter in army fatigues said on a video uploaded to YouTube. The video was uploaded by a user who appears to be embedded with the militants in Kobani. It appeared genuine and reflected Associated Press reporting.
But another fighter who appeared to be from a European country, judging from his accent in Arabic, described their aim "to liberate the land from the fifth of the apostates, the PKK and others," referring to Kurdish secular fighters — who are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim — as apostates.
The fighter said the U.S.-led coalition to fight the militant group was a sure sign of the justness of their cause.
"As for the planes that shell us 24 hours, day and night, by God we say: they increase our faith, assuredness and steadfastness. We know we are on the right path because all the (non-believers) of the world have gathered against us."
U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, visited one of the refugee camps set up in a school in the Turkish border town of Suruc.
While 900,000 people have been registered as refugees in Turkey since the Syrian crisis began four years ago, "the reality is that the numbers are nearer to 1.6 million," Amos said.
"Of course countries have concerns about security, and about the impact on their economies and on essential services like health and education. But it's also a crisis with a huge human impact," she said. "The international community has to continue to do all it can to find a political solution to this crisis."
Suzan Fraser reported from Ankara. Diaa Hadid in Beirut contributed to this report.

Senator David Norris’ Blistering Attack on Israel “No one believes Israel anymore.”

The case for recognising Palestine as a state - Ireland should follow Sweden

IRISH TIMES - Oct 16, 2014
But the mood music represents a significant racheting up of diplomatic pressure onIsrael, a sign of increasing exasperation in EU capitals at its perceived failure to engage in dialogue and particularly its continuing expansion of settlements – in recent weeks, the seizure of 1,000 acres of land near Bethlehem and plans to build 2,600 settler homes near Jerusalem.
That alienation was most strikingly expressed by Tory chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Richard Ottaway, who said he had stood by Israel “through the good years and the bad ... but such is my anger over Israel’s behaviour in recent months that I will not oppose the motion. I have to say to the government of Israel that if they are losing people like me, they will be losing a lot of people.”
Ireland, although among the EU states most supportive of the Palestinians, has traditionally been conservative about wielding the recognition card, whether to bestow or withdraw. In response to Dáil questions this week Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan echoed Fabius in linking recognition to assisting talks.
But perhaps the time has come to go further. The most recent US-mediated talks collapsed in April and Israel, whose diplomats are frantically lobbying against recognition, needs to be told that it can not hold the issue hostage while continuing to prevaricate on engaging in meaningful dialogue. Recognition would not do anything to copperfasten Palestinian sovereignty, but it would send an important message to Israel that there will be a diplomatic price to pay. Ireland should join Sweden in doing so.

Will Ireland Recognize Palestine?

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By Juan Cole
After Sweden recognized Palestine, the Irish government began considering doing so. On Thursday, the Irish parliament asked Irish Foreign Minister, Eamon Gilmore, questions regarding this plan.
Gilmore affirmed that the Irish government is planning at some point in the near future to move ahead with recognition.
A few European Union member states had recognized Palestine before joining the EU, such as Poland. Only Sweden has done so after joining the EU, with Iceland also recognizing Israel and being part of the Schwengen agreement. The action of Sweden’s leftwing government in this regard may set off an avalanche of similar recognition. The British parliament recently passed a non-binding resolution urging recognition of Palestine. Only 12 MPs voted against it, because even staunch supporters of Israel are exasperated by the boldness of the Likud Party in stealing land, blighting Palestinian lives, and flouting international law.
Ireland is a bellwether for European sentiment. The central narrative of Irish nationalism has been British colonialism and its atrocities in Ireland. After the Holocaust, many Irish intellectuals sympathized with Zionism, seeing it as similar to Irish nationalism.
But with the clearly colonial actions of Israel in the Palestinian West Bank and the brutality of Israeli Occupation of Gaza, Israel looks more and more to the Irish like the British colonialists who sold off Irish-grown food abroad in the midst of the potato famine.
This week the Irish Times urged the government to take the step of recognizing Palestine
Diplomatic recognition matters because it affects public opinion, including that of judges. Israeli firms on the Palestinian West Bank are increasingly in legal jeopardy in European courts.
Related video

Saturday, October 18, 2014

ISIS in Hell

This next video is in German. She is saying that ISIS was taking over but now the Kurdish fighters pushed back the jihadists aided by air power All the attacks are against ISIS. The tank is an ISIS tank trying to get out of Dodge.


Kurdish official: ISIS and their flag gone from Kobane

By RUDAW yesterday at 05:57
“YPG fighters are now searching the homes for bombs and explosives that the Islamist militants might have left behind,” Photo: AFP
YPG fighters are now searching the homes for bombs and explosives that the Islamist militants might have left behind,” Photo: AFP
KOBANE—Islamist militants have been pushed out of Kobane and fighters of the Peoples Protection Units (YPG) are now in control of the town, a Kurdish official in Kobane told Rudaw.

“There is no ISIS in Kobane now,” said Omar Alush, co-chair of the TEV-DEM movement in Kobane.

Alush said that following the recent air strikes on positions of the Islamic State (IS) militants in Kobane, the YPG managed to drive the rest of the jihadis out of town and that they are now in control.

“YPG fighters are now searching the homes for bombs and explosives that the Islamist militants might have left behind,” said Alush.

IS militants laid siege to the Kurdish town of Kobane on the Turkish-Syrian border last month, pounding the town with heavy artillery and tanks.

With support from US air strikes, the YPG held the town and eventually managed to turn the tide against the IS.

“Kobane is quiet now and the flag of ISIS is gone,” Alush maintained.

Alush said that the jihadis still hold Kani Arab and Gire Mishtanur, close to Kobane.

“Fighting is still going on between the ISIS and YPG on the eastern outskirts of the town,” he said.

Alush said that the air strikes were effective in pushing back the militants, however, he said, the coalition forces should cut off the ISIS supply route from other parts of Syria “because we have information that the group is preparing for another assault on Kobane.”