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#Russia: Images of Giant #Sinkhole Linked to #Uralkali Mining Accident


An aerial view shows a sinkhole 3.5 km (2 miles) to the east of Solikamsk-2 mine in Perm region on Nov. 20, 2014. Press service of Uralkali company / Reuters.An aerial view shows a sinkhole 3.5 km (2 miles) to the east of Solikamsk-2 mine in Perm region on Nov. 20, 2014. Press service of Uralkali company / Reuters.

Jennifer Monaghan, The Moscow Times.

Photos of a sinkhole that appeared in the Perm region after a mining accident this week have been published online, as local emergency services strive to contain the expansion of a giant crater that is threatening global supplies of the crop nutrient potash.

The sinkhole, which initially measured 20 by 30 meters, appeared after high levels of brine inflow forced the closure of the Solikamsk-2 mine on Tuesday. The mine is operated by Uralkali, the world’s largest potash company, whose shares dipped on news of the closure.

Shares in Uralkali have fallen 28 percent since Tuesday amid fears the mining accident could reduce global potash supplies and inflate prices of the nutrient worldwide.

While some fear the mining accident could deal yet another blow to Russia’s economy — already under duress due to Western sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine and a struggling ruble — Uralkali’s CEO downplayed the fears.

“The accident is not catastrophic for the company’s operations or people living in the area,” Chief Executive Dmitry Osipov said, Reuters reported Tuesday.

Since its discovery, the sinkhole has stretched from about 30 meters to 40 meters, local news site V Kurse reported Friday, posting images of the hole taken by an emergency services’ drone.

The hole is located on the site of an abandoned mine, 3,5 kilometers away from the nearest settlement, the regional emergency services said Wednesday in an online statement.

The site also once housed a cooperative of summer residences, or dachas, which was abandoned in 2005 following concerns that the ground was sinking, V Kurse reported. According to local residents, one of the dachas was swallowed up by the hole, the report said.

Aerial photos of the giant sinkhole taken by the emergency services show the crater surrounded by properties.

The images recall photographs of a giant crater that appeared in the Yamal-Nenets autonomous district in mid-July, before a second hole was discovered several days later.

Scientists later tied the appearance of the hole to a discharge of gas hydrates deep beneath the surface of the Yamal Peninsula, resulting in an underground explosion that formed the crater.

Emergency Ministry researchers are carrying out tests around the sinkhole in Solikamsk to determine whether any gas is being released at the site. Seismic sensors have also been placed near the crater, V Kurse reported.

About 1,300 miners working at the Solikamsk-2 mine have been sent home on two-thirds of their pay until January following the mine’s closure, the report said.

It remains to be seen whether the situation at Solikamsk will be as serious as that experienced at Uralkali’s Berezniki-1 site, also located in the Perm region, which was closed in 2006 after becoming completely flooded following a brine inflow.

The Solikamsk-2 mine accounts for a fifth of  Uralkali’s output and 3.5 percent of global capacity.

This article has been corrected to state that about 1,300 miners have been sent home. An earlier version incorrectly put that figure at 3,500.


The Moscow Times.

#Russia’s Igor #Strelkov: I Am Responsible for War in Eastern #Ukraine


Igor Strelkov, a former separatist commander in eastern Ukraine.Igor Strelkov, a former separatist commander in eastern Ukraine. Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters.

Anna Dolgov, The Moscow Times.

Russian national Igor Strelkov, a former commander of pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine, has claimed “personal responsibility” for unleashing the conflict across the border, in which 4,300 people have been killed since April.

“I was the one who pulled the firing trigger of this war,” Strelkov said in an interview published Thursday with Russia’s Zavtra newspaper, which espouses imperialist views.

“If our unit hadn’t crossed the border, in the end everything would have fizzled out, like in [the Ukrainian city of] Kharkiv, like in Odessa,” Strelkov, also known as Girkin, was quoted as saying.

“There would have been several dozen killed, burned, detained. And that would have been the end of it. But the flywheel of the war, which is continuing to this day, was spun by our unit. We mixed up all the cards on the table,” he said.

Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea this spring, clashes between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Moscow activists broke out in the cities of Kharkiv and Odessa, with more than 40 people killed in a fire in Odessa in early May.

Since then, the two cities have remained largely peaceful, and most of the fighting between rebels and government forces has been limited to the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

Strelkov’s interview was published the same day the UN released a report highlighting the involvement of Russian fighters in the eastern Ukraine conflict, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 4,300 people since mid-April.

“The continuing presence of a large amount of sophisticated weaponry, as well as foreign fighters that include servicemen from the Russian Federation, directly affects the human rights situation in the east of Ukraine,” the report said.

Reluctant

Strelkov also told Zavtra that at the beginning of the conflict, Ukrainian separatists and government forces were reluctant to start fighting one another and that the main opposition to the rebels came from Ukraine’s ultra-nationalist militants such as the Right Sector.

“At first, nobody wanted to fight,” he was quoted as saying. “The first two weeks went on under the auspices of the sides trying to convince each other to engage.”

But Strelkov claimed Kiev became emboldened after seeing that Russia was refraining from openly interfering in eastern Ukraine, as it did in Crimea, or from sending in large-scale forces.

He added that the lack of large-scale support from Russia was a major disappointment for the separatists, which lacked the manpower or weapons to combat government forces.

“Initially I assumed that the Crimea scenario would be repeated: Russia would enter,” he told Zavtra. “That was the best scenario. And the population wanted that. Nobody intended to fight for the Luhansk and Donetsk republics. Initially everybody was for Russia.”

Russian Involvement

Strelkov also gave an account of the degree of Russia’s involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

At the start of this summer, 90 percent of rebel forces were made up of local residents, Strelkov was quoted as saying. However, by early August, Russian servicemen supposedly on “vacation” from the army had begun to arrive, he said.

According to Strelkov, the assault on the Black Sea town of Mariupol in September, which prompted concerns in Ukraine and the West that Russia has entered the conflict on a large scale, was conducted mostly by the Russian military “vacationers.”

The rebel forces advancing on Mariupol at that time met with little resistance from government troops and “could have been taken without a fight, “but there was an order not to take it,” he was quoted as saying.

While Moscow has repeatedly denied supplying the rebels with weaponry and manpower, Strelkov said the assistance offered to rebels remains significant: “I can’t say that we fully provide for them. But we are really helping them,” he said, noting that half of the rebel army was kitted out with winter clothes sent from Russia.

Shock Decision

After Donetsk and Luhansk held “referendums” on their independence from Ukraine in May, separatist leaders appealed to Moscow to accept the territories as Russian regions but Moscow responded with vague statements calling for “dialog” between rebels and Kiev.

Separatist had not contemplated building functional states and had pinned their hopes on being absorbed by Russia, Strelkov said, reasoning that Moscow needed a land connection to Crimea, which it had annexed in March.

“And then, when I understood that Russia was not going to take us in — I associated myself with the resistance — for us that decision was a shock,” Strelkov was quoted as saying.

Strelkov has been living in Russia since early this fall, when he said he was moving to Moscow to protect President Vladimir Putin from enemies and traitors.

While he seems to have fallen out of favor with Russia’s state-run media, having disappeared from their newscasts, he has taken to YouTube and fringe publication to issue an occasional appeal for increased Russian military involvement in eastern Ukraine.

“From the very beginning we started to fight for real — destroying raiding parties of the Right Sector,” Strelkov told Zavtra. “And I take personal responsibility for what is happening there.”

According to a UN report released Thursday, at least 4,317 people had been killed in eastern Ukraine by mid-November, and 9,921 have been wounded. The casualties include nearly 1,000 who have perished since “a tenuous cease-fire” was established earlier this fall.


The Moscow Times.

Mikhail #Gorbachev talks to The Moscow Times about #Putin and the media


Mikhail Gorbachev on Putin and Freedom of the Press (Part 2) English subtitles.

You can find part 1 here


The Moscow Times.

Mikhail #Gorbachev: ‘Nobody Will Shut My Mouth’ (Video)


Mikhail Gorbachev, first and last president of the Soviet Union, is defiant at 83 over his role in the breakup of the Soviet Union and its ongoing fallout.Mikhail Gorbachev, first and last president of the Soviet Union, is defiant at 83 over his role in the breakup of the Soviet Union and its ongoing fallout. Pascal Dumont / MT

Ivan Nechepurenko, The Moscow Times.

Many people who send letters to the first and last president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, still write on the envelope: “To the Secretary General of the Communist Party, Kremlin.” The Russian postal service is used to this and redirects the mail to the Gorbachev Foundation, headquartered in a modern building about seven kilometers north of the Kremlin.

Some of those letters are harshly critical of Gorbachev, who is regarded as a traitor by many Russians who regret the demise of the Soviet Union and the shocking economic transformation that followed. Some of the more vitriolic missives even encourage him to commit suicide. But at 83, Gorbachev is defiant and determined.

“I live and will continue to live according to my conscience and principles. Everyone else can go crazy,” he told The Moscow Times in an extensive interview this week.

Despite saying he is “already a part of history,” Gorbachev said he cannot simply observe passively what is happening in Russia today.

“I need to participate, and I will. Nobody will shut my mouth, even though people wanted me to emigrate. I don’t want to leave, let those people leave,” Gorbachev said, banging his hands on the table for emphasis.

Gorbachev, who in recent months underwent treatment at a hospital in Moscow, said he has been reported dead at least 10 times.

“I am called a traitor because I destroyed so many nuclear arms. The second treachery is that we built good relations with the U.S.,” he said.

For those who address their letters to Gorbachev at the Kremlin, time has clearly stood still. And today, when President Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the West find themselves at odds once again, the time when secretary generals in the Kremlin were engaged in an ideological rivalry with the West seems closer than ever.

Seeds of Discord

During the festivities marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall this month, Gorbachev warned that the world risks a new Cold War. As someone who worked his way up through the Communist Party at a time when the Soviet Union and the U.S. were ready to destroy each other in a nuclear war and who then worked hard to eliminate divisions in Europe and the world at large, Gorbachev is better qualified than most to offer insight into the strikingly similar issues the world faces now.

Today, Gorbachev argues that the problems in Ukraine and the world at large are in part due to errors made during the collapse of the old system.

“What is happening now in Ukraine is in many ways due to the mistakes of the breakup of the Soviet Union. Once they decided to dissolve the union, they should have agreed on territories and borders,” Gorbachev said.

“Crimea was Russian, and most people in Crimea voted in favor of joining Russia [in the recent referendum]. I supported this move from the beginning, and I am half-Ukrainian. I worry about what is happening in Ukraine. … It might not be a scientific fact, but we are the same people,” he said.

Gorbachev believes that the Soviet Union collapsed mainly due to the political self-interest of local leaders — above all, the first Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who, Gorbachev said, wanted to “get rid” of him.

Gorbachev has never communicated with Yeltsin since. “There was nothing to talk about with this usurper who went behind my back,” Gorbachev said.

Gorbachev says he supports Putin, despite having criticized previously.Gorbachev says he supports Putin, despite having criticized previously. Pascal Dumont / MT

The Gift of Hindsight

At the same time, Gorbachev does not believe that the Soviet Union should have been preserved in its old form as a repressive state.

“We could not live like we did before, when people would make a joke and find themselves in jail the next day. There were so many problems, but society did not discuss them,” he said.”

“People had been breaking each other’s bones in lines for Italian shoes in our country,” he said.

Gorbachev said the union should have been preserved “with a new essence that would consist of independent sovereign states.”

The West, according to Gorbachev, used the resulting chaos in Russia to its own advantage.

“The West, especially the Americans, applauded Yeltsin. A half-suffocated Russia was ideal for them. Much of the mess we are in today is due to what happened then,” Gorbachev said.

“The main thing is that trust has now been broken. Everybody was losing because of the Cold War, and everybody won when it ended,” he said, referring to the ongoing rift between Russia and the U.S.

The U.S. felt triumphant and justified to expand NATO into Eastern Europe, Gorbachev said.

“It is true that the spirit of these German unification agreements were broken because we agreed that NATO infrastructure would not expand into East Germany, which creates a certain spirit. When they began to accept new countries into NATO in the 1990s. That violated the spirit of the agreements,” he said.

Broken Promises?

The question of the promise allegedly made to Russia by the West not to expand NATO eastward is often mentioned by Putin in his foreign policy speeches, with NATO expansion used to justify Russia’s actions on the world stage.

Gorbachev said that when he was in office the issue of expansion was not discussed, as Eastern European countries had not signaled any desire to join NATO.

“The main idea was that both NATO and the Warsaw Pact would gradually transform from military-political into political organizations,” he said.

“We pledged not to aim to seek military superiority over each other. Is this the case now? No. We destroyed so many weapons, tanks and so forth, and now it is all coming back,” he said.

The tense relations between Russia and the U.S. are also created by certain groups in both countries in favor of confrontation, Gorbachev said.

“There is the same type of public both in the U.S. — including the military-industrial complex that cannot imagine its life without weapons and war — and here in Russia too. Every U.S. president feels obliged to wage a war during his term or, even better, two — as the saying goes. I am serious. It’s not a joke. This idea has survived, and that is very bad.”

Putin the Statesman

Gorbachev, who on Thursday presented his new book about his life after leaving the Kremlin, said he supports Putin and ranks him with the political leaders of his own rule, such as then U.S. President Ronald Reagan and U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

“He is a statesman. I can say one thing: Despite all the criticism, I strongly supported him, especially during his first term, because Russia was disintegrating. He has done a lot. I said the president is successful. I criticized him too because you have to criticize leaders,” Gorbachev said.

He accused Putin of saying “what suits him” about the Soviet Union’s collapse, which Putin famously described as the 20th century’s greatest geopolitical tragedy.

“Doesn’t he know how it all happened? He knows, but says what suits him,” Gorbachev said, adding that Putin is currently “under attack” by media that are “not free.”

“There are no free media, either in Russia or the West. Everybody is dependent and works for the benefit of their own states. That is beyond doubt. For instance, I was in a hospital, where I had to do everything as prescribed. This reminds me of the press: It is free, but follows orders,” he said.


The Moscow Times.

#Ukraine’s Slow Collapse


Pro-Russian militant ride on a tank taken from Ukrainian forces during fighting in August, on their way to test fire in open fields, in the eastern Ukrainian town of Ilovaisk, some 40 kms east of Donetsk, on Nov. 18.Pro-Russian militant ride on a tank taken from Ukrainian forces during fighting in August, on their way to test fire in open fields, in the eastern Ukrainian town of Ilovaisk, some 40 kms east of Donetsk, on Nov. 18. © AFP

The Editorial Board, The New York Times.

The crisis in Ukraine has reached an impasse. The cease-fire signed in Minsk, Belarus, in September never really took hold, but at least it provided a cover for efforts to reduce the level of fighting and focus on stabilizing and reforming the Ukrainian economy as a prelude to a serious, long-term search for a resolution of the crisis. Now even the fig leaf of cease-fire is gone. Russian armored vehicles are rolling into eastern Ukraine — disowned, of course, by Moscow.

Gunfire is exchanged constantly in and around Donetsk, and Kiev has basically disowned residents of territories claimed by separatists by cutting most government services, benefits and pensions. And though elections to the Ukrainian Parliament on Oct. 26 brought in a new, pro-Western legislature, Kiev is still far from forming a government or producing a viable program of reforms.

The United States and the European Union have made clear, and correctly so, that they hold President Vladimir Putin of Russia largely responsible for this state of affairs. He was snubbed at the Group of 20 meeting in Brisbane, Australia. Then Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, once the European leader deemed most cautious in relations with Moscow, assailed him for reviving a Cold War atmosphere 25 years after the Berlin Wall fell.

There is no question that by annexing Crimea and arming separatists in eastern Ukraine, Mr. Putin has done great damage to East-West relations — and to his country, which finds itself isolated and in economic trouble. The decision on Monday by the European Union to add more separatist leaders to the list of Mr. Putin’s allies barred from Europe may be largely symbolic, but along with the cold reception in Brisbane, it does let the Russian leader know that the West is not about to let him off the hook.

That said, it is important to acknowledge that officials in Kiev, and more specifically President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, have responsibilities they must live up to. Ukraine has been plagued by corruption since it became independent, and the current crisis has made it even more imperative for the leaders to form a government and come up with a credible economic and political strategy.

The Ukrainian economy is in terrible shape — the currency has lost almost half its value against the dollar in 2014, the industrial centers of Donetsk and Luhansk are in separatist hands, coal mines have shut down. The International Monetary Fund has provided emergency aid, but the hard fact is that the European Union and the United States cannot be expected to make substantial commitments until Ukraine provides a clear reform plan and priorities for outside investment. Johannes Hahn, the new European Union commissioner for enlargement, is right to insist that the union will not hold a donors’ conference without this.

In addition to an economic strategy, Kiev needs to prepare a plan for loosening central control in a way that might satisfy residents of the eastern provinces. The decision by President Poroshenko to cut government benefits and pensions to residents of areas under the control of Kremlin-backed separatists, though understandable in the circumstances, has left those unable to flee feeling betrayed by Kiev, creating a vacuum for Moscow to fill.

There is no question that ordering painful reforms when a country is already on its knees is asking a lot. That is why it is imperative that Western leaders make clear that they will give Kiev substantial assistance only after it embarks on a serious program of economic and political reform. After all, that was what the Ukrainians who took to the streets in December 2013 fought for.


The New York Times.

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