Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

Several news articles caught my eye today, especially in light of Russia’s recently re-opened military base in the far north — the Artic Circle north.

NorthEast Passage tumblr_mtxud0Ed0h1qgpcs1o1_500

Arctic Assembly meets to set rules for exploration, Mineral wealth, shipping lanes coveted as icecap melts
The Washington Times
October 10, 2013

“The Arctic is America’s backyard. It is one of the most resource-rich areas in the world. American companies and the [its] economy need to have a strong Arctic” plan, says Iceland President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, co-founder of the Arctic Circle Assembly.

Seeking to avoid a polar free-for-all in one of the planet’s last untapped economic frontiers, representatives from more than three dozen nations will gather in Reykjavik, Iceland, starting Saturday to try to set some rules for tapping the natural resources and navigating new shipping lanes opening in the Arctic.

Reflecting the intense interest in the frozen north’s economic potential, the inaugural gathering of the Arctic Council Assembly has attracted delegates not only from the United States, Canada, Russia and other border nations, but from countries as far as way as China, Brazil and Pakistan.

Alice Rogoff, publisher of the Alaska Dispatch and a member of the new assembly’s advisory panel, said she expects the Arctic to become an economic powerhouse in the coming years, comparing its potential to China’s economic growth since 1980.

The Arctic is “going from very little, virtually nothing in terms of the world’s large capital flows, to what will become the dominant region of the Earth within 50 years,” she said. “The U.S. could be more engaged and could be more involved,” Mr. Grimsson said. “The Arctic is America’s backyard. It is one of the most resource-rich areas in the world. If America wants to continue to be a big economy in the 21st century, American companies and the American economy need to have a strong Arctic” plan.

In 2012, the Arctic lost more sea ice than had ever been recorded. Since 1980, the Arctic has lost approximately 40 percent of its sea ice cover, according to NASA glaciologist Walt Meier. One upshot from the receding ice is the opening of the Northeast Passage, a shipping lane connecting South Korea to northwest Russia. With up to four ice-reduced months during summer, shipping companies hope more cargo that once had to navigate the Suez Canal can be shipped along this route.

Polar scientists believe 20 percent to 25 percent of the undiscovered oil and natural gas in the world is in the Arctic region. In addition to the oil, natural gas and rare minerals, the Arctic holds rich fishing regions and potential new clean-energy sources.

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/oct/10/arctic-assembly-meets-to-set-rules-for-exploration/?page=2#ixzz2hPdhbjqV

northwest-passage-mapNorthwest Passage crossed by first cargo ship, the Nordic Orion
Reuters 27/09/13

LONDON — An ice-strengthened sea freighter has become the first bulk carrier to traverse the Northwest Passage through Canada’s Arctic waters, heralding a new era of commercial activity in the Arctic. Traveling with a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker, the 75,000 deadweight-tonne Nordic Orion left Vancouver on Sept. 17 carrying 15,000 metric tons of coal.

Canada’s enthusiasm for developing a time-saving route in global trade through the Northwest Passage arises from a rivalry with Russia, which has developed at least 10 ports on the competing Northern Sea Route, or Northeast Passage.

“The Northwest Passage is more than 1,000 nautical miles shorter than the traditional shipping route through the Panama Canal and will save time, fuel and reduce carbon dioxide emissions,” said Nordic Bulk Carriers, the Danish owner of the ship. The Nordic Orion’s route will shave an estimated four days of travel time.

http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/09/27/northwest-passage-crossed-by-first-cargo-ship-the-nordic-orion-heralding-new-era-of-arctic-commercial-activity/

nordicorionCommercial Arctic shipping a long way off, Maersk boss says
NUNATSIAQ NEWS / News Around the Arctic
October 11, 2013

Head of global shipping firm not keen on Northern Sea Route, Northwest Passage. Despite all the hype that attended the recent voyage of the Nordic Orion through the Northwest Passage last month, the chief executive officer of Maersk, the world’s biggest container shipping line, says Arctic sea routes won’t carry large volumes of commercial shipping any time soon.

“We will see some single ships sailing through the Arctic… But the reality is, for commercial shipping such as container shipping, this is not something that will happen within the next 10 to 20 years,” Nils Andersen, the head of the huge Moller-Maersk shipping conglomerate, told the London-based Financial Times Oct. 6.

The Nordic Orion, a 225-metre vessel owned by Nordic Bulk Carriers of Denmark, generated many headlines across Canada recently when it carried 15,000 tonnes of coal from Vancouver through the Northwest Passage to a steel plant in Finland.

Because the Nordic Orion’s owners sought and received Canadian permission, the voyage did not affect Canada’s legal position that the Northwest Passage is an internal Canadian waterway.

But the head of Maersk, which carries about 15 per cent of the world’s marine cargo, said he doesn’t expect to see much commercial shipping through routes like or Northern Sea Route north of Russia or the Northwest Passage. “The way global warming is going, of course there is the opportunity in a very far, very distant future that the northern sea route will open up and it will be a major shipping route. But it will definitely not be within the next 15 to 20 years in our opinion so it’s far too early to start constructing vessels for it,” Andersen told the Financial Times.

http://www.nunatsiaqonline.ca/stories/article_print/35582/

Rosneft gets access to $100bn gas and oil field in Alaska
15 Feb 2013

exxonmobil-rosneft-company-president.nImage: Russian President Vladimir Putin and ExxonMobil Exploration Company President Stephen Greenlee.

Rosneft has reached an agreement with Exxon Mobil to acquire a 25% stake in the Point Thompson Alaska oil and natural gas field. The deal is part of the larger cooperation on exploring the Russian Arctic shelf.

­The head of Rosneft Igor Sechin and the President of ExxonMobil Stephen Greenlee have signed an agreement on joint exploration of new sectors of the Russian Arctic shelf, expanding the 2011 strategic partnership agreement.

Under the deal Rosneft gets access to one of the largest fields in Alaska which is currently operated by ExxonMobil. Participation in the project will let Rosneft develop up to a quarter of the proved gas resources of the Alaska North Slope, as well as get the latest technology for exploiting liquid gas fields in bad weather conditions, according to Igor Sechin.

In return, ExxonMobil gets the rights to explore 600,000 acres of land in the Russian Arctic, including the Severo-Karsky block in the Kara Sea, three blocks in the Chukchi Sea and two in the Laptev Sea, all of which are “among the most promising and least explored offshore blocks in the world.

According to Sechin, the agreements “take the unprecedented Rosneft and ExxonMobil partnership to a completely new level.” “The acreage in the Russian Arctic subject to geological exploration and subsequent development increased nearly six-fold,” Sechin added.

Point Thompson is a large oil and gas field in the Northern part of Alaska, which was discovered in the 1960s, which has been recently cleared for development after a legal battle between ExxonMobil and the State of Alaska. In 2012 the State, Exxon Mobil and other Point Thomson stakeholders agreed that natural gas production can begin by spring 2016, or the State could begin to take back leases.

The field is estimated to hold a potential 8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas which is a quarter of the known reserves in the region, and also hundreds of millions of barrels of oil. If the estimates are correct the area could be worth more than $100 billion.

http://rt.com/business/news/rosneft-exxonmobil-field-alaska-322/

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Russia plans $25-$30 billion oil-for-loans deal with China
14 Feb 2013

Rosneft2_1804180bAn oil production platform at the Sakhalin-I field in Russia, partly owned by ONGC Videsh Ltd., Rosneft Oil Co., Exxon Mobil Corp. and Japan’s Sakhalin Oil and Gas Development Co.

Rosneft is seeking to borrow up to $30 billion from China in exchange for possibly doubling oil supplies, making Beijing the largest consumer of Russian oil and further diverting supplies away from Europe.

Four industry sources familiar with the situation told Reuters that Rosneft was in talks with Chinese state firm CNPC about the borrowing, which would echo a $25 billion deal the two companies clinched last decade.

Rosneft said it was not currently in talks about obtaining a loan from China but declined to comment when asked whether it may enter in negotiations at a later date.

In the previous deal, Rosneft and Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft borrowed money to help Rosneft acquire the assets of nationalized oil producer YUKOS while agreeing to build a pipeline to supply China with 300,000 barrels per day for 15 years.

This time, Rosneft wants to borrow money as it is close to completing a $55 billion acquisition of rival TNK-BP to become the world’s largest listed oil producer.

Entire article: http://chinadailymail.com/2013/02/14/russia-plans-25-30-billion-oil-for-loans-deal-with-china/

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BP-Rosneft deal: Who are Rosneft?
16 Feb 2013

RosneftOilBack in 2003 few people had ever heard of Rosneft. A state-owned (Russia), relatively minor player in Russia’s oil industry, the 10 year old company was dwarfed by its privately owned rival Yukos, which was controlled by the country’s then richest man Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

That all changed in December of that year. A $27bn tax claim against Yukos set off a chain of events that would eventually lead to the bankruptcy of the company and the jailing of Mr Khodorkovsky, who was last month sentenced to a further eight years in prison for tax evasion.

But, it was 12 months later with the auction of Yuganskneftegaz, the main production facility of Yukos’s empire, that Rosneft was propelled into the big time as the business was sold off to help settle the Yukos tax debt.

Despite Yuganskneftegaz being one of the most attractive oil assets put up for sale in Russia, bidders proved elusive and in the end only two offers were made for the business; one from Gazpromneft, the oil business of state gas company Gazprom, the other from Baikalfinansgrup.

If the second name is not familiar this is no surprise – the company was only set up two weeks before the date of the auction. Even more bizarrely, the company was registered in the Russian city of Tver in a building that otherwise housed a vodka bar, a mobile phone retailer, a travel agent and a handful of other small local companies.

Yet this improbable bidder won the day, offering $9.3bn after securing a multi-billion dollar letter of credit from Sberbank, a state-owned bank. Four days later Baikalfinansgrup was bought by Rosneft.

Entire article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/oilandgas/8261264/BP-Rosneft-deal-Who-are-Rosneft.html

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Maybe related, maybe not… hmmm.

More noise from China: Submarines
16 Feb 2013

chinese-submarinesOver the last five years, Chinese submarines have been going to sea a lot more, at least the diesel-electric boats have been.

This is worrying to other nations in the region, and the U.S. Navy, because it means China is training its submarine crews for war.

Previously the Chinese kept their fleet in port most of the time. This was cheaper, although in wartime it meant that Chinese warships would not last long in combat against a better trained fleet (like the Americans, Japanese, South Koreans, or Taiwanese). Now the Chinese are building better quality subs and feel they may have a fighting chance, if they have better prepared crews as well.

Pretty noisy and easy to find

For China one downside of all this training is that the U.S. Navy has more opportunity to practice hunting Chinese subs. This is particularly true for American subs, which are well equipped with passive (listen only) sonar and are even more effective if they have a lot of sound samples for enemy subs operating underwater or on the surface.

The U.S. has discovered that Chinese diesel-electric boats are rapidly getting quieter, apparently because the Chinese have learned more about advanced techniques for “silencing” subs. Still, most of the 60 Chinese subs in service are pretty noisy and easy to find.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Navy has been designing and building a rapidly evolving collection of “Song” (Type 39) class diesel-electric submarines that emphasize quietness. The changes have been so great that the latest four Songs have been called Yuan class (Type 39A or Type 41). The original design (Type 39) first appeared in 2001, and 13 have been built.

Entire article: http://chinadailymail.com/2013/02/16/more-noise-from-china-submarines/

Several articles about Bangladesh and Russia caught my attention today.

Russia grants Bangladesh $1 billion loan for weapons
MOSCOW | Tue Jan 15, 2013

PutinBangladeshPM(Reuters) – Russia, the world’s second-largest weapons exporter, has granted a $1 billion loan to Bangladesh for arms purchases, President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday after talks with the country’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina. (She is a fascinating person in her own right; daughter of the country’s founder.)

“Our countries intend to broaden military-technical cooperation,” Putin said, referring to weapons sales and servicing. He did not specify what weapons or military equipment Bangladesh would buy from Russia.

Russia will provide a separate $500 million loan to Bangladesh to help build its first nuclear power plant, Ruppur, under an agreement signed after the meeting, Putin said. (See more below)

“We will not only provide the most up-to-date technology … but we will also provide financial support for the construction of the nuclear power plant at the initial stage,” he said.

The head of Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom, Sergei Kiriyenko, said technical and environmental assessments would be carried out this year for the plant, which is to have two 1,000-megawatt reactors and be completed in the early 2020s. He told reporters more loans would be required at later stages.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/15/us-russia-bangladesh-idUSBRE90E0HM20130115

“A separate part of the agreements saw Russia assign $500 million to finance the construction of Bangladesh’s first nuclear power plant.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Jan. 15 met the prime minister of Bangladesh for talks that included the signing of a $1 billion arms contract, the Asian nation’s biggest since its 1971 independence.

Bangladesh has recently been expanding its defense capabilities, building a new air base close to neighboring Myanmar and adding frigates to its navy.

“Our countries intend to expand their military and technological cooperation,” news agencies quoted Putin as telling Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during a Kremlin ceremony. “Russia will extend Bangladesh a credit of $1 billion, which will be spent on the purchase on Russian weapons and military technology,” the Russian leader said.

The arms purchase agreement included orders for armored vehicles and infantry weapons, air defense systems and Mi-17 transport helicopters, a source close to Russia’s state arms export agency told the Vedomosti business daily. The source said the purchase did not include any tank orders because Bangladesh had earlier obtained those from China.

Bangladesh also opted out of its initial plans to purchase eight advanced Mig-29 fighter jets because of their $500 million price tag.

A separate part of the agreements saw Russia assign $500 million to finance the construction of Bangladesh’s first nuclear power plant, to be built at a site called Rooppur. The two planned Rooppur reactors are expected to cost $4 billion, with Russia also agreeing to continue financing construction after the first phase of the project is complete, news reports said.

Bangladesh’s military spending spree follows the recent discovery of offshore natural gas deposits (see next article), which Russian officials believe means it will have no problems repaying the credit.

A.N.M Muniruzzaman, an analyst at the Dhaka-based Institute of Peace and Security Studies, told AFP it was the biggest defense deal ever to be signed by Bangladesh, which gained independence in 1971.

http://www.defensenews.com/article/20130115/DEFREG03/301150005/Russia-Bangladesh-Seal-1-Billion-Arms-Deal?odyssey=tab|topnews|text|FRONTPAGE

This follows Bangladesh’s recent purchase of tanks from China; click this link to read that article: http://thediplomat.com/flashpoints-blog/2011/06/30/bangladesh-eyes-china-arms/

Gazprom International to start drilling in Bangladesh
Voice of Russia, RIA

Gazprom International, an overseas subsidiary of Russia’s Gazprom energy holding, will begin commercial extraction at the Titas and Shrikail gas deposits in Bangladesh in the coming weeks.

The last preparations are being completed. A total of 10 boreholes will be drilled in Bangladesh under a $193-million deal between Gazprom and two local companies, BAPEX and BGFCL/SGFL (subsidiaries of the PetroBangla state-owned national oil company).

http://english.ruvr.ru/2013_01_15/Gazprom-International-to-start-drilling-in-Bangladesh/

Apparently Russia is expanding its trade with Bangladesh on several fronts, including the above. Read more:

Russia to expand trade with Bangladesh to $1 bln
Jan 15, 2013

Speaking after talks with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Moscow on Tuesday, Putin said that bringing bilateral trade to $1 billion was not unachievable, given last year’s increase of 20% to $700 million.

The two leaders issued a joint statement with Russia pledging to consider tariff privileges for Bangladeshi imports within the framework of the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

The document emphasizes the need for broader cooperation in the energy sector, including oil and gas exploration and development. Russia will loan Bangladesh $500 million for the construction of a nuclear power plant and $1 billion for the purchase of Russian weapons.

http://english.ruvr.ru/2013_01_15/Russia-to-expand-trade-with-Bangladesh-to-1-bln/

asia-map2So – what is the strategic importance of Bangladesh to Russia and others? Location, location, location, maybe? Click on the map to enlarge. Look south of China, between India and Burma.

This paragraph from the Wikipedia entry on Bangladesh may contain more clues:

The United States is a major development partner of Bangladesh, giving over six billion dollars in aid since 1972. American companies are the largest foreign investors in the country, and the US is also the largest market for Bangladeshi exports.

The Bangladesh government is planning construction of the largest deep sea port in South Asia at Sonadia Island. The 500 billion taka project will be completed in multiple phases and enable Bangladesh to service the whole region as a maritime transport and logistics hub.

India, China, Bhutan, Nepal and other neighbouring countries (and Russia?) will be able to take full advantage of the strategic location and Bangladesh’s LDC (least developed country) status for exporting their goods, which are manufactured in Bangladesh.

Furthermore, with $7.5 billion a new international airport will be constructed.

Additional expressways, freeways, fly-overs, overhead rapid transit system, high-speed modern trains, metro rail system, and high-speed electric powered intercity rail network are all planned.

Several other points of interest to me from Wikipedia:

Bangladesh is the most densely populated large country in the world.

60% of the population are aged 25 or younger.

Bangladesh is the second largest Muslim populated state after Indonesia with over 150 million. Islam is the state religion.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bangladesh

(Did you ever wonder about scriptures suggesting Russia will come against Israel in the last days? Here are some clues as to why that might be: Tamar, Dalit and Leviathan Mediterranean gas fields. Be sure to read both articles below.)

Russian President Medvedev to visit Israel in mid-January
DEBKAfile December 15, 2010

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s first visit to Israel in mid-January, part of a Middle East tour, is intended to signify a major switch in Kremlin Middle East policy to warmer relations with Israel and correspondingly less intense ties with Iran, Syria and the radical Palestinian Hamas….

Furthermore, the Russians have got two bids in play for a slice of the as-yet untapped Mediterranean gas. While offering to partner Lebanon in exploring the oil and gas potential opposite its shores earlier this month, Debkafile’s sources report that the Russian energy giant Gazprom sent secret envoys to Tel Aviv at the same time.

They came to discuss investment opportunities with the Israeli firms holding the concessions for the Tamar, Dalit and Leviathan Mediterranean gas fields off the Israeli shore and a possible partnership in Israel’s Ashkelon-Eilat oil and gas pipelines.

According to our sources, Russian energy experts calculate that Israel’s offshore gas reserves, currently estimated at about 25 trillion cubic feet, are in fact much bigger, and maintain they could be better explored with Russian professional assistance. Leviathan is seen as the most promising of the three strikes….

Moscow sent five messages to Jerusalem:

1. For the purchase of military UAVs for the Russian army – for which an agreement will be signed – Moscow will guarantee to withhold advanced weapons, such as the sophisticated S-300 interceptor missile systems, from Iran and Syria. By this move, the Medvedev-Putin administration is drawing a line limiting Russia’s vital contribution to their military buildup and upgrade.

2. Moscow shares Israel’s view that any hi-tech Russian military hardware sold to Damascus or Tehran would eventually reach Hizballah. The Russians have no wish to upgrade Hizballah’s arsenal and therefore has a further incentive for keeping this weaponry out of Iranian and Syrian hands.

3. The Kremlin has recently shifted ground on the Palestinian issue and is no longer willing to automatically endorse Palestinian demands of Israel. Unlike Palestinian negotiators headed by Mahmoud Abbas, Moscow is prepared to look at interim solutions for the Palestinian-Israel dispute. The Russians say the Palestinians are aware of the new winds blowing in Moscow….

4. The Russians ask Israel to take note of another change in its favor: Hamas’s Damascus-based leader Khaled Meshaal is no longer welcome in Moscow.

5. Moscow is seeking to exploit the deepening strategic ties between Israel and Greece to jump aboard their plans to build an underwater gas pipeline linking Greece to the Israeli Mediterranean port of Ashkelon. This would link up with the existing Ashkelon oil and gas pipeline to Eilat, Israel’s Red Sea port.

Russian energy strategists are eyeing the planned and existing segments of this route with great interest, having calculated that the quickest and cheapest outlet for marketing Russian gas to the Far East is through Eilat.

Israeli leaders, President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu have high hopes of the Medvedev visit.

http://www.debka.com/article/20457/

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Moscow, Ankara move in on Lebanon’s offshore energy potential
DEBKAfile December 8, 2010

Photo: An effusive Kremlin welcome for Lebanese PM Hariri. With his sharp instincts for chances in the field of energy, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was stirred into discreet action by Israeli entrepreneurs’ discovery in the past year of a gas bonanza – three fields, dubbed Tamar, Dalit and Leviathan, off Israel’s Mediterranean coast, Debkafile’s Moscow sources report.

Their currently estimated reserves of 25 trillion cubic feet would more than cover Israel’s energy needs and enable it to become a gas exporter, revolutionizing an economy which has developed despite a paucity of natural resources.

Neither did Putin miss Beirut’s claim that Israel was “looting” Lebanese gas resources, or that Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri had encountered a polite rejection when he travelled to Nicosia on Oct. 21 to ask Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias for help in mapping the borders of oil and gas fields in the Mediterranean.

Moscow accordingly went into action by inviting Hariri for a visit, which took place Nov. 16-17. With his back to the wall in a life-and-death struggle to save his government from falling into the hands of Hizballah, the Lebanese prime minister was granted the rare honor of an elaborate welcome by both Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev.

The Russian prime minister then pitched into his spiel: Moscow could help Lebanon place itself on the map of oil and gas fields and pipelines in the eastern Mediterranean. But to exploit its oil and gas wealth under the sea, Lebanon needed Russia as energy partner and provider of funds, equipment and skilled labor.

Russia would reciprocate with heavy investments in the Lebanese economy that would restore Beirut to its former prestige as financial capital of the Middle East and an assured supply of advanced weapons at token prices to secure those investments.

None of this prevented the Russian prime minister from sending a delegation to Tel Aviv last week to sound out Israel’s gas new tycoons for opportunities. On offer were Russian investments in funds and equipment and a Russian-Israeli partnership in laying the gas pipeline which Israel and Greece are planning as part of their evolving strategic alliance.

The Lebanese prime minister left Moscow with an understanding in his pocket on three points. As a mark of Russian goodwill, he was promised the gift of six MI 24 helicopters 31 T-72 tanks, 36 130 mm cannons complete with half a million shells and thirty thousand artillery shells – an unprecedented donation to a country outside Moscow’s sphere of influence. Their understanding extended to three key areas:

1. They would discuss big Russian firms building a number of gas-powered electricity plants in Lebanon, backed by Kremlin guarantees and financing – against a Lebanese guarantee to purchase their output over a 30-year period.

2. The Russian-built Arab Gas Pipeline Project Phase II, designed to bring gas from Egypt and run through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey, would grow a Lebanese branch. On Dec. 5, a Kremlin official said: “We want to study a possibility of gas shipment from Syria to Lebanon, for example, by using the Arab Gas Pipeline capacity.”

3. Moscow offered to build three nuclear power plants in Turkey.

The second understanding was the real reason for Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Beirut Wednesday, Nov. 24 and his talks with Hariri. Erdogan now has a new interest in defusing the tensions in Lebanon and keeping Hariri in power.

Debkafile’s military sources say that, in addition to his abiding interest in energy, Vladimir Putin keeps his eye on the big Russian naval base going up in Tartous, Syria. As headquarters of the Russian Black Sea and Mediterranean fleets, this base will also guard Moscow’s investments and holdings in gas and oil fields in the Mediterranean.

http://www.debka.com/article/20435/

Flames travel along the floor of the forest near the town of Voronezh: AP/Mikhail Metzel

Reuters Africa online, 1 August 2010:

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill asked Russians to pray for rain on Sunday as wildfires raged across the European parts of the vast country, sweltering since June in an unprecedented heatwave.

The hottest weather since records began 130 years ago has withered crops and pushed thousands of farmers to the verge of bankruptcy.

“Grief has come to our nation, human lives have been lost, hundreds have lost shelter and thousands have been left without sustenance, including many children,” national media quoted Patriarch Kirill as saying in a prayer during a visit to the Nizhny Novgorod region, one of the worst hit by fires.

“I call upon everyone to unite in a prayer for rain to descend on our earth.”

At least 28 people have died in wildfires in European Russia in the last few days, the Emergencies Ministry said, adding that by Sunday morning a total of 774 fires had been registered, including 369 ones that occurred since Saturday.

More than 5,200 people have been evacuated from disaster-stricken regions, it said.

“The threat of new fires has increased sharply due to unfavourable weather in a number of regions in the Central and Volga federal districts, with temperatures soaring to up to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and winds of up to 20 metres per second,” the Emergencies Ministry said.

The drought in Russia, one of the world’s biggest wheat exporters, has sent global prices soaring to year highs. U.S. wheat futures rose more than 5 percent on Friday and posted the biggest monthly percentage gain since at least 1959.(emphasis added)

Around 240,000 people were battling the flames, the Emergencies Ministry said. Army units, including elite paratroops, were taking part in the fight. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has ordered his government to allocate 5 billion roubles (105.2 million pounds) to help fire victims.

(Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

http://af.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idAFTRE66T0SW20100801?pageNumber=2&virtualBrandChannel=0

Reuters 29 July 2010

Photo: People walk along Red Square, with St. Basil’s Cathedral seen through heavy smog caused by peat fires in out-of-city forests, in Moscow, July 26, 2010.

NOVO-OGARYOVO, Russia (Reuters) – A leading politician said hundreds of people could die as smog from peat fires blanketed a sweltering Moscow for a second day on Tuesday.

Moscow region chief Boris Gromov asked Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to allocate 25 billion rubles ($827 million) to fight the fires smoldering in the forests around Moscow.

Alexei Yablokov, a leading biologist who heads Russia’s Green Party, said air pollution caused by the smog’s high amount of carbon dioxide could kill hundreds more people than usual in the Moscow region.

“There will be at least 100 additional deaths per day this time round,” Yablokov told Reuters, referring to the last such smog cloud in 2002 in which he calculated 600 people had died each week.

The Moscow government agency overseeing air pollution, Mosekonomonitoring, said the levels of carbon monoxide in the air on Tuesday shot up by 20-30 percent more than normal levels.

Russia’s senior public health official suggested on Tuesday employers free their staff while the thick smog and record-breaking heat in the Russian capital surged.

“Employers, if there is a possibility, could allow people to not come to work,” Gennady Onishchenko, head of Russia’s health protection agency, told Interfax news agency.

Peat, used in the past to produce heat and electricity, smoulders deep underground in winters and summers. Gromov said the only solution to the fires was to pour water over deposits.

“According to preliminary estimates, only in one district where fires are now most severe, over 4.5 billion roubles is needed. We have five such districts,” Gromov told Putin during an emergency video conference.

Putin said he would ask the emergency and economy ministries to examine the request. The emergencies ministry said that in the last 24 hours there had appeared 58 new fires in the Moscow region, 30 of them at peat deposits.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=moscow-smog-deaths

Shades of Gog and Magog…

AP Photo: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, left, meets with Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, at the presidential palace, in Damascus, Syria, on Tuesday May 11, 2010.

DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 11, 2010, 9:29 PM (GMT+02:00):

The US and Israel were unpleasantly taken aback to find Russian president Dmitry Medvedev receiving a pack of Hamas leaders, including political secretary Khaled Meshaal, Monday May 11, on the second day of his Damascus visit. Syrian president Bashar Assad was also present. Apparently unaware of this turn of events, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu welcomed Medvedev’s offer of a role in Middle East peacemaking.

Before Israel’s president Shimon Peres had time to unpack his bags from his Moscow visit, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was closeted with the Palestinian terrorist leader, Hamas’ Khaled Meshaal in Damascus, Tuesday, May 11. Present too were Syrian president Bashar Assad and leaders of the extremist Palestinian organization in Syria and Lebanon.

In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, apparently unaware of the Russian president’s plan to meet the heads of Israel’s arch-foe Hamas, referred earlier to Medvedev’s comment that Moscow seeks a role in Middle East peacemaking by welcoming any constructive contribution to the effort. He also accused Tehran of warmongering between Syria and Israel.

Monday, the day the Russian leader arrived in Damascus, debkafile’s sources predicted his visit would be the occasion for a weapons deal which might even be a secret back door for Iran to acquire the sophisticated weapons Moscow has denied to date.

http://www.debka.com/#8777