Russia accused of annexing the Arctic for oil reserves - May, 2008

Russia accused of annexing the Arctic for oil reserves

May, 2008

The battle for "ownership" of the polar oil reserves has accelerated with the disclosure that Russia has sent a fleet of nuclear-powered ice breakers into the Arctic. It has reinforced fears that Moscow intends to annex "unlawfully" a vast portion of the ice-covered Arctic, beneath which scientists believe up to 10 billion tons of gas and oil could be buried. Russian ambition for control of the Arctic has provoked Canada to double to $40 million (£20.5 million) funding for work to map the Arctic seabed in support its claim over the territory. The Russian ice breakers patrol huge areas of the frozen ocean for months on end, cutting through ice up to 8ft thick. There are thought to be eight in the region, dwarfing the British and American fleets, neither of which includes nuclear-powered ships.

Canada also plans to open an army training centre for cold-weather fighting at Resolute Bay and a deep-water port on the northern tip of Baffin Island, both of which are close to the disputed region. The country's defence ministry intends to build a special fleet of patrol boats to guard the North West Passage. The crisis has raised the spectre of Russia and the West joining in a new cold war over the Arctic unless the United Nations can resolve the dispute. Liam Fox, the shadow defence secretary, told Telegraph: "Four of the five Arctic powers are Nato members, yet Nato seems ill-configured to be able to respond to the sort of activities we have seen from the Russians. We need to ensure Nato has the will and the capability to deter Russian activity that contravenes international laws or treaties."

Jonathan Eyal, of the Royal United Services Institute, said the dispute could simmer for years. "The message from Vladimir Putin is that Russia will no longer be shackled to treaties signed by Yeltsin when he was half drunk or when Russia was on its knees," he said. "This dispute is not only about oil reserves which might or might not exist, it is about the control of sea lanes. Russia's movements could pitch it into a serious territorial dispute with the US for the first time." Tension in the Arctic is also being heightened by the revival of Russian Cold War-era manoeuvres. Hardly a week passes without Russian aircraft over-flying the North Pole, simulating strikes on "enemy" bases and shipping. The crisis erupted last year when a Russian submarine crew planted a flag on the Lomonosov Ridge, a 1,240-mile stretch of seabed that Moscow says is Russian. Derided at the time as a stunt, the move focused attention on the race for the Arctic's hidden treasures.

No country owns the Arctic Ocean or the North Pole, but under the 1982 UN Law of the Sea Convention, each country with a coast has exploitation rights in a limited "exclusive economic zone". On ratification of the convention – and America has yet to ratify it – each country has 10 years to make claims extending its zone. Russia rivals Saudi Arabia as the world's largest oil producer and is estimated to have the largest natural gas supplies. Energy earnings are funding a $189 billion (£97 billion) overhaul of its armed forces.


In other news:

Soros warns global boom is over

George Soros on why he believes the UK is in a fragile position Billionaire investor George Soros has given his gloomiest assessment of the state of the US and world economies. He told BBC business editor Robert Peston that the "acute phase" of the credit crunch may be over but effects on the real economy are yet to be felt. He warned the "financial bubble" of the last 25 years could be drawing to an end and the post World War II "super-boom" era could also be over. He predicted a "more severe and longer" US slowdown than most people expect. And he said that the UK was worse-placed than America to weather the coming economic storm, because it had such a large financial sector and has had the biggest increase in house prices.

Gloomy bankers

Mr Soros said that the current mandate of most of the world's leading central banks - where their main focus was fighting inflation - meant there was limited scope for cutting interest rates to help economies recover. As for the Bank of the England, he said, "it was like a Greek tragedy", because they "couldn't do a U-turn" until there was a full-blown recession, which would finally take away the price pressures. It was "inevitable" that they would keep rates too high for the good of the economy, he added. In part, Mr Soros is echoing the gloomy forecast of the world's central bankers in recent weeks. The head of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, recently told the BBC that the "market correction was still on-going". Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, warned in the Bank's inflation report that UK inflation would rise above its target while the economy would slow sharply.

Moral hazard

Mr Soros believes that central bankers are partly to blame for the credit crunch because of their past behaviour in bailing out the financial sector whenever it got into trouble for over-lending, the so-called moral hazard problem. He said that the central banks should explicitly target asset bubbles such as housing booms and try to stop them getting out of control, which is something they have resisted doing so far. And he said that tougher but smarter regulation would be needed in the future in order to reduce the excess supply of credit in the economy. These could include measures to force banks to put aside more reserves in good times to help cushion them in bad times.

Misguided markets

Mr Soros believes that oil and other commodities are over-priced, but he sees little chance of the price of oil coming down until there is a big slowdown in the richer economies. He sees the price of oil as being driven by higher demand in developing countries such as China, where subsidised energy costs mean there is less price-sensitivity. He also said that stock markets are still underestimating the severity and length of the economic downturn, especially in the US, and are now having a "bear market rally".

Profiting from the crisis

Mr Soros has credibility partly because he is prepared to invest his own money to back up his convictions. The private investment fund he has resumed managing made a return of 34% last year betting that the credit crunch was more severe than many people expected. Mr Soros was the man reported to have made $1bn in September 1992, betting correctly that the British currency would have to be devalued and leave the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. Mr Soros has devoted much of time since then to philanthropy, especially in Eastern Europe.


Soros: Trouble with Russia

Russia’s position on Kosovo is more dangerous than that concerning the U.S. missile defense shield, George Soros says. “The fact that Russia is trying to take over the Kosovo issue is more dangerous for Europe than Kremlin’s criticism and resistance to the U.S. plans to place components of its anti missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland,” the American billionaire told the Czech Radio in Prague. “If Russia really does veto [a UN Kosovo resolution], this will be a serious problem for Europe, causing divide within the EU as some countries favor Kosovo’s independence while others do not. Precisely this will demonstrate the lengths Russia will go to in order to create trouble in the world,” Soros was quoted as saying. “Kosovo needs calming down and consolidating. That is what people in Kosovo are demanding and unless they are granted independence, they will declare it unilaterally. That would create a really huge problem,” Soros continued. Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) vice president and cabinet minister Aleksandar Popović criticized the comments sharply, saying that Soros saw fit to engage in Serbian internal matters, advocating dismemberment of the state and snatching of 15 percent of Serbia’s territory. “Serbia never called on Soros to deal with her state borders or the issues of her territorial integrity. Perhaps Soros wishes to assume the role of the United Nations Security Council, carving up borders as he sees fit and as fits his capital,” Popović said.


Soros offices shut down in Moscow

November, 2003

Camouflage-clad men have forced staff to leave the Moscow offices of the Open Society Institute founded by the US billionaire George Soros. At least 30 men stormed the offices and seized computers and documents in the raid, which began late on Thursday, the foundation's lawyer Pavel Kuzmin said. Mr Soros' senior policy adviser Laura Silber told BBC News Online that the foundation had responded by filing criminal charges. She said the 100 staff were locked out and "it is impossible to work in Russia now". A Moscow firm called Sector-1 which owns the building said it acted because of a rent row. But the institute's Moscow chief said the raid could be related to the crackdown on Russian oil giant Yukos. Yekaterina Geniyeva, who is currently outside Russia, was quoted as saying she could see "a certain connection" with the Yukos affair.


Russian science in 2007 - some of the highlights

2007 was a happy year for Russian science. The country's leadership showed it understood that science and science-intensive industry were at the core of the economy and key to maintaining an independent foreign policy, sovereignty, and Russia's position in the world's league of nations. The Government allocated more than 250 billion rubles (over $10 billion) for a five-year program of fundamental research. Now all the novel ideas in the country will follow an established pattern from conception to commercial realization. In 2006, the government invested 2.86 billion rubles in 13 projects under the program, in addition to 3.6 billion rubles raised from private sources. Industry responded by turning out 12 billion rubles' worth of hi tech products. The 2007 figures are even more impressive. Business investment in science-intensive projects under the program jumped to 6 billion rubles, which the government matched. The development of unique building materials for use on the polar shelf and in pipelines is the most successful example of public-private cooperation. Private spending to these projects was three times the size of the public contribution. The following is a list of some of the achievements reported by Russian researchers in recent months. It should be remembered that the Academy of Sciences pursues fundamental studies practically across the whole range of science.

The following selection is therefore not exhaustive, and reflects achievements in fields most familiar to this writer or representing sufficient public interest.

* The St. Petersburg Influenza Research Institute and the Organic Synthesis Institute of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences in the Urals have developed a wide-spectrum anti-viral preparation called Triazoverin, which is also effective against the highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu virus. Clinical tests have shown it effectively suppresses virus reproduction. More than 240 chemicals were tested to develop the medicine, which has no equivalent abroad and is equally effective against infection whatever its gravity or stage. Professor Alan Hay, director of the WHO World Influenza Centre, considers the development of the preparation one of the greatest achievements of Russian science and believes it could be used to protect humankind against a coming flu pandemic.

* In 2007, the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Cytology was given official go-ahead to manufacture and use its newly developed dermal equivalent (DE), which has proved effective in healing derma (deep-skin) burns. The derma is a particularly important layer of skin that underlies the upper fabric. The DE is a combination of collagen gel (which acts as the "substratum") and skin-forming cells or fibroblasts. Its application has already saved people with 90% to 98% skin burns. The DE can also be used to treat trophic ulcers, fistulas and bedsores. Next on the agenda is the development of a full skin equivalent - a combination of the DE and a multi-layer package of ceratinocytes, which can effectively treat different skin lesions.

* In January, Sweden's Royal Academy of Sciences decided to award the Crafoord Prize (second in importance only to the Nobel Prize) to Rashid Syunyaev, chief researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Space Research Institute. The prize was given for his decisive contribution to high-energy astrophysics and cosmology, particularly a study of processes occurring in the vicinity of black holes and neutron stars. Among professionals Mr Syunyaev is known as the first person to "have seen" black holes. He showed that matter falling into a black hole or onto a neutron star forms a fast-rotating disk, and begins to emit high-energy photons as it accelerates. In recent years the team of Russian scientists led by Syunyaev has been able to practically double the number of previously registered neutron stars and black holes. Being the first to map three most interesting areas of the sky (within the Russian quota of the Integral observatory's observation time), they detected and identified 135 point sources of hard X-ray radiation. They have also discovered a specific population of X-ray objects wrapped up in a dense envelope of dust and gas. Their work has also revealed for the first time hard X-ray radiation from a gigantic molecular cloud in Sagittarius, which is most likely a light echo of the activity of a super-massive black hole. A new class of neutron stars, which absorb matter from super-dense stellar winds, has also been discovered.

* The American Astronomical Society (AAS) has awarded the Bruno Rossi Prize to Alexei Vikhlinin and Maxim Markevich, members of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Space Research Institute, for their work to determine the Universe's parameters from data on galactic clusters. This prize is awarded annually "for a considerable contribution to high-energy astrophysics". The focus is usually put on recent original studies. The Russian scientists have graphically demonstrated that so-called dark matter, which makes up more than 80% of the mass of galactic clusters, behaves almost like a non-interacting environment. X-ray and optical observations of two merging clusters have shown that galaxies and dark matter freely "interpenetrate" each other, whereas flows of gas consisting of conventional protons and electrons are braked to form a huge cloud of hot plasma between the clusters. Another important achievement has been exact measurement of the masses of galactic clusters at gigantic (~1029 km) distances from the Earth, and counting up the number of clusters of various masses in our closest neighborhood and in the "younger" Universe. These measurements are essential for calculating the parameters of the modern Universe and, specifically, the properties of "dark energy", which is supposed to determine the rate of the universe's expansion. The work done by the Russian scientists has graphically demonstrated the tremendous potential of X-ray cluster observations for "precision" cosmology - the measurement of the Universe's cosmological parameters with an accuracy of a few percentage points.

* New data has been obtained from the Venus Express mission. Russian scientists have taken the most direct role in devising observation instruments and programs for the mission. From orbit around Venus the apparatus made the first observations of the Venusian atmosphere from its upper layers practically down to its bottom. The results obtained suggest that Venus resembles Earth not only in size, but also in the processes that once took place on its surface. The structure and movement of the Venusian atmosphere are now understood so well that we can map its temperature chart to the highest modern standards. Instruments also determined the content of the atmosphere over different parts of the planet, and confirmed the presence of lightning on Venus, which may have a telling effect on atmospheric chemistry.

* Last year, St Petersburg's Ioffe Physics and Technical Institute reported further advances in improving the performance of one of the most important elements of a fusion reactor - a tokamak. Today, the world has 300 different tokamaks, built to study controlled thermonuclear fusion. This reaction is the opposite of what happens in traditional nuclear reactors: nuclei fuse rather than divide, releasing enormous amounts of energy. The Institute's tokamak is an experimental model. It cannot initiate fusion, but it gives scientists an opportunity to study the processes that occur in a tokamak, and to test structural components for a larger reactor. Specifically, scientists have devised a plasma gun, a device which injects the working gases - hydrogen and tritium - the fuel for the fusion reactor - into the tokamak. Their gun has already attracted worldwide attention, attracting several bids to buy it. But no one is going to sell the technology as yet: the current priority is to bring the research to its logical conclusion. The technology has not yet been pushed to its limit. If the plasma's injection rate is increased to 800 or 1,000 kilometers per second, the gun could rival the tried and tested, but less forward-looking, technology of fuel feeding at the $12bn International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor ITER in France.

* St Petersburg scientists have also been investigating the atomic structure of a new mineral (called krivovichevite) found in the Khibiny Mountains on the Kola Peninsula. A crystalline analysis of the mineral suggests that it is an intermediate form of lead. However, its instability (the mineral degrades on exposure to water) suggests that its next phase must be stable and highly toxic, in which lead is present in the atmospheric air and water. A study of the common features of krivovichevite and its atmospheric phase could show scientists how to "intercept" or "encapsulate" lead before it reaches the atmosphere (for example, from copper-nickel or sulphide deposits) and pollutes it.

* Scientists at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of High-Molecular Compounds have combined useful properties of two different polymer classes. In 2007, they synthesized a polyamide that enjoys both high temperature and crack resistance and the ability to crystallize. Unlike its American "rival" ULTEM, produced by General Electric, which begins to disintegrate above 2150C, the new polyamide is in crystalline state at low temperatures, starts to devitrify at 2150C and does not begin to melt until 3150C. It is the ability to crystallize, which the scientists "grafted" onto polyamide that helps it withstand elevated temperatures.

* Non-biodegradable synthetic polymers brought about a revolution in human life in the 20th century. But their application created a global ecological problem, that of "polymer junk", which can be solved only by adopting polymers able to degrade into benign by-products. Such polymers are currently being developed at the Biophysics Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Siberia.

Its scientists have shown that a bottle made from the biodegradable plastic they invented can "dissolve itself" in a water pond within three to four months (depending on water temperature and mineral content).

* Scientists from the Obukhov Institute of Atmospheric Physics and the Moscow Physics and Technical Institute have calculated the amount of methane released into the atmosphere in the second half of the 20th century. Methane is the third-ranking greenhouse gas in the world. A warmer climate could cause changes in the methane cycle with global effects. Permafrost, which covers some two-thirds of Russia's territory, is one of the main sources of methane. If it melts, excessive quantities of methane will enter the atmosphere, a situation scientists call a "methane bomb". A 1-degree change in temperature over the entire Earth's surface could increase methane release by an average of 7%. Increased oil and gas production could also lead to more methane emitted into the air.

Now, to sum up, two more events that can be highlighted either as major achievements for Russian science or sensational scandals.

* In July 2007, news broke that the Russian submersibles Mir-1 and Mir-2 had dived four kilometers below the North Pole, set up a titanium Russian tricolor on the ocean bed, and successfully resurfaced. "Our mission was to remind the world that Russia is a great polar and research power," said Artur Chilingarov, the expedition leader. In other words, it was to tell a special UN commission that the underwater Mendeleyev and Lomonosov ridges were a continuation of the Siberian continental shelf. In that way, Russia could extend the borders of its Arctic shelf and at the same time claim exclusive rights to 10 billion tons of hydrocarbons below the seabed. Russia would also retain full control of the Northern Sea Route, the shortest distance from Europe to America and Asia, which with continued warming could soon be free of ice all year round. But the world received Russia's "patriotic campaign" with mixed feelings.

* In September 2007, Russia tested a vacuum bomb containing an explosive developed with the help of nanotechnologies that is more destructive than TNT. Compared with an American device known as the "mother of all bombs", the Russian bomb contains less explosive (7.1 tons compared with 8.2 tons in the American weapon) but has four times more power, 20 times the area of destruction and twice the ground zero temperature. Its developers have dubbed it the "father of all bombs".


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