Tag Archives: Russia

The information war – The NZ Listener takes up arms

First – have a look at this satirical programme from Germany. It has English captions but is worth watching a few times for the subtleties.

I have commented before about the information war going on around the Ukrainian conflict. It might seem like a distant issue here (and it usually doesn’t get much coverage). But I believe the biassed propaganda we are exposed to is dangerous because of its jingoism.

And this week the NZ Listener brought the conflict right into our living rooms with an editorial which uses the same innuendo and unconfirmed claims that feeds this jingoism (see Alarmed World).

Out of the blue in a piece seeming to be about Islamic State and the conflict in the Middle East we get this:

The West faces a similar test of its resolve in Ukraine, where attempts to deter Russian-backed aggression have been largely ineffectual. The world knows that Russia supports the separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine, that it has troops on Ukrainian soil and that it probably supplied the missiles that brought down a Malaysian airliner. Yet the European Union’s sanctions against Russia have succeeded only in provoking economic counter-measures that have hurt European food producers, for whom Russia was a $19 billion export market, and threats to ban “unfriendly” airlines from Russian airspace.

The assertion the “world knows” has become a substitute for evidence! The world certainly knew when the USSR invaded Hungary and Czechoslovakia, or the US invaded Iraq. We could see the evidence. Tanks surging across borders, planes bombing, troops on the ground. But nothing of that here (except the occasional soldier who claims to have lost his way – or fuzzy satellite photos of combine harvesters*).

[Yes, I know the presence in Ukraine of Russian and other voluntary (or even mercenary) fighters is well established - fighting on both sides. But that is not the same as invasion of a foreign army the media often claims.]

The “world knows” that Russia “probably” supplied missiles used to shoot down Malaysian airline MH17 – when the world knows nothing of the sort! At this stage this issue is wide open (see MH17 – Preliminary report leaves most conspiracy theories intact) - but it seems our media thinks we don’t deserve anything better than unwarranted claims on such a serious matter.

That shows no respect for the victims of this tragedy.

As for the danger of this sort of biased reporting and media manipulation, and the jingoism it promotes, we can read the last paragraph in the Listener editorial.

“What has become painfully apparent, in both the Middle East and Ukraine, is that the democratic West is susceptible to paralysis and self-doubt when confronted with the forces of totalitarianism and autocracy. Perhaps it’s time to consider what the world’s fate might have been without the moral resolve exhibited by Churchill and Roosevelt in World War II.”

Isn’t this the sort of talk used to prepare a population for war?


UPDATE

* Of course I have taken poetic license here about these fuzzy photos. After all,  whether these were photos of artillary or combine harvesters is not evidence for or against an invasion. We know that both sides in Ukraine have plenty of artillery weapons and are using them. But for the pedantic, and those confused by my aside, here are some links to the combine harvester/artillery story:

Dave Lindorff writes about it in his article Satellite Images of Alleged Russian Artillery in Ukraine Come A-Cropper. He produced this photo below:

combines.preview

And commented:

“In the ongoing propaganda campaign mounted by the Obama administration to claim that Russia has “invaded” Ukraine from the east, it offered up some grainy black-and-white satellite images purporting to show heavy Russian military equipment inside Ukraine.

I earlier noted how unlikely it was that heavy mobile artillery pieces would be set up in a perfect line in what appeared to be a field of crops, with, as the government claimed, cannons aimed towards Ukrainian positions in toward the west. As I pointed out, there was no sign of piles of ammunition alongside these “units” as we routinely see in closeups of heavy mobile artillery — for example in photos of IDF pieces positioned outside of Gaza. I also noted the unlikelihood that such equipment would have been set up in an open field, unprotected by trees or other cover, and lined up to make for easy targeting by enemy artillery or air attack.

Now an alert reader from the agricultural state of Texas (Laredo, TX to be precise), has sent a note suggesting out that what the supposedly incriminating images most likely show are combines in a field of grain or some other crop planted in rows. He sent along photos showing harvesters, which of course feature a long, straight “cannon-like” tube which is used to shoot the harvested grain up and into an accompanying truck to be hauled off to market or to a storage silo.”

Here is a higher resolution of the satellite photo which, I understand, came from the US State Department:

artillery_2

(from European Union Court of Justice Imposes Anti-Rasmussen Rule – Sanctions Cannot Be Imposed by Reason of Fabrication, Lies, Dissimulation)

I wouldn’t pretend to draw any definite conclusions from these photos but I think Dave Lindorff  has a point:

“Now maybe the released satellite images do show Russian artillery, but given Washington’s extensive history of abject lying in the interest of promoting its war agenda (think Gulf of Tonkin, Iraq WMDs and mobile poison gas factories, Assad gas attacks in Damascus, etc.), it’s worth taking the claim with a “grain” of…well, in this case actual grain.”

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Some answers to the confusion about the #MH17 crash site

Given my comments yesterday (see Making political capital out of the deaths of innocents) I thought it worth sharing this video. It is of a press conference in Donetsk given by  Alexander Borodai, one of the leaders of the anti-Kiev forces in eastern Ukraine. Its about 30 minutes long, including the extensive Q&A. Video quality is not the best but there are English captions.

Personally I think it helps address some of the avalanche of  misinformation we are getting at the moment. And it is far more respectful to the innocent victims.

Alexander Borodai 19 Jul press conference about Malaysian #MH17 crash – YouTube.

Important Note: To activate subtitles, click on the (cc) button in the dashboard at the bottom of the video, then, in the Captions menu, select English or French.

Thanks to Sonya Roussina

The first victim!

It is well established that the first victim in war is truth. Mind you the dispatch of truth usually comes well before the shooting starts.

I have a personal interest in Ukraine and the dispatch of truth occurred for me straight after the February 21st agreement signed by the then President, the opposition leaders and representatives of the European Union. The very next day there was a coup, the opposition leaders came to power and they (together with the EU politicians) immediately abandoned the agreement – before the ink was dry!

A real pity, as they had signed up to consitutional reform involving the whole country before elections later this year. Seems to me consitutional reform is exactly what the country is crying out for. Instead we have had Orwellian doublespeak and cynical geopolitical maneuvering by the major powers, as well as the Ukrainian politicians while the people have been ignored.

Well, not quite ignored because now the acting president has taken to calling protesters “terrorists.” (This is a guy who was put into power by a coup precipitated by violent protesters in Kiev). You can understand the reaction of people to this – if not have a look at this video. Here local people protesting at the Karamtorsk airstrip in eastern Ukraine captured by military units from Kiev argue with Uranian Gen. Vasily Krutov who was attempting to defend the “anti-terrorist” action.

They ask – “Who is the terrorist here?”

via На Краматорском аэродроме высадился десант. “Генерал” дает интервью – YouTube.

Yes, it sounds mad for a president, even just an acting president, to describe his people as terrorists. But there is a cynical logic here. Appa=rently by law the Ukrainian military cannot be used against protestors unless a state of emergency is declared – or protester are redefined as terrorists, I guess.

Mind you – it’s not only the politicians who have dispatched with truth. Seems to me that many of the journalists on the ground are also distorting the situation. Compare these Twitter reports from Ilya Azsar at the airfield with the evidence of the video! This from the Pro-Kiev  The Interpreter.

Screenshot-2014-04-16-11.32

I can understand the anger of people in eastern Ukraine being described this way. However, I myself also feel violated by the misrepresentations that seems to count for news in the midst of such conflicts. I feel I am being denied my right to information and treated like an idiot.

See also: Tensions Boil Over on Camera in Ukraine’s East and West for more on the above incident and also the mob attack on Oleg Tsarov - one of the candidates in the planned presidential elections – who spoke up for the  east Ukrainians.

International cooperation in space serving humanity

Sentinel-1A_Liftoffw

Photo credit: SENTINEL-1 LIFTS OFF

This morning I watched the launch of the Sentinel 1A satellite. The launch was perfect and the coverage on Spaceflight Now excellent with plenty of explanation along the way.

The satellite was launched aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket from the European Space Agency (ESA) launch pad Kourou near the town of Sinnamary, French Guiana, on South America’s northern Atlantic coastline. Sentinel 1A was built by Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy. The satellite is now being managed from a mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

International cooperation important

Viewing this event I couldn’t help noticing the programme is a result of cooperation between several countries. First of all, countries in the European Commission and ESA, but also Russia which provided the launcher and whose companies were involved in the launch. That cooperation is obvious from the fact that English, French, German, Italian and Russian languages were being used.

I think there are two important points about this cooperation in our modern world:

  1. International cooperation is vital to the success of these scientifically important projects. They are just too big and complex to be handled by single nations.
  2. Scientific success is not an end in itself – is the basis for humanitarian success. international cooperation is vital for solving environmental, economic and security problems all countries face today.

So, alongside this good news of the Sentinel 1A success I am concerned about the bad news that NASA is to take part in the politically initiated sanctions against Russia. Yesterday, NASA released this statement:

Given Russia’s ongoing violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, NASA is suspending the majority of its ongoing engagements with the Russian Federation. NASA and Roscosmos will, however, continue to work together to maintain safe and continuous operation of the International Space Station. NASA is laser focused on a plan to return human spaceflight launches to American soil, and end our reliance on Russia to get into space. This has been a top priority of the Obama Administration’s for the past five years, and had our plan been fully funded, we would have returned American human spaceflight launches – and the jobs they support – back to the United States next year. With the reduced level of funding approved by Congress, we’re now looking at launching from U.S. soil in 2017. The choice here is between fully funding the plan to bring space launches back to America or continuing to send millions of dollars to the Russians. It’s that simple. The Obama Administration chooses to invest in America – and we are hopeful that Congress will do the same.

Any long-term operation of these sanctions, despite the exclusion of the International Space Station work, will inevitable have a negative effect on international scientific cooperation. And will inevitably retard humanity’s work on alleviating our environmental, economic and security problems.

Frankly I think these sanction are cynical measures resulting from inevitable geopolitical frictions and should only have a relatively short lifetime.

Let us hope so.

Copernicus and Sentinel 1A

Sentinel 1A is the first of 17 satellites to be launched over the next decade in the Copernicus programme – described as “the largest Earth-observation program in history.”

“When all of the Sentinel satellites have been launched, they will form a network tasked with gathering an unprecedented amount of data regarding the planet. . . Using a wide variety of instrumentation, the Copernicus program will be able to provide scientists, government agencies and other parties with the necessary data to precisely determine the exact current state of the planet. Moreover, the data will also be useful in creating simulations and predictions of future climate and weather trends.”

Have a look at this infographic for a summary of the Copernicus programme and the satellites involved.

airbus_infographic

Click on image to enlarge

An overview of the Copernicus programme describes it this way:

“Copernicus provides a unified system through which vast amounts of data, acquired from space and from a multitude of in situ sensors, are fed into a range of thematic information services designed to benefit the environment, the way we live, humanitarian needs and support effective policy-making for a more sustainable future.

These services fall into six main categories: land management, the marine environment, atmosphere, emergency response, security and climate change.

In essence, Copernicus will help shape the future of our planet for the benefit of all. ESA is contributing by providing a proven framework for the development of operational systems on behalf of the user community, paving the way for investment in future generation systems. ESA is exploiting its 30 years of expertise in space programme development and management to contribute to the success of Copernicus.”

See also: European Earth observing craft prepared for launch.

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Scientific cooperation despite political posturing

I find it heartening scientific cooperation continues (so far) despite all the political posturing going on down here over the Ukraine political crisis.

Here we see the arrival of Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev and NASA astronaut Steven Swanson at the  International Space Station (ISS). This brings the ISS to its full capacity of six people. The arriving astronauts were welcomed by three astronauts on board the ISS, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Koichi Wakata, NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin.

Soyuz docks succesfully, astronauts meet

Collapse of Arctic sea ice

News that Russian scientist had to evacuate a scientific research station based on an ice floe – North Pole-40 -  is another sign of how climate change is influencing the Arctic (see Floating research station in need of evacuation). The researchers had intended to stay until September but the floe started to break up earlier this month.

This short video from Climate Denial Crock of the Week illustrates how Arctic ice has decreased over the period 1979 – 2012.

Arctic Sea Ice Collapse 1979-2012 (PIOMAS)

Thanks to Arctic 2013.

See also: The Making of a Classic Climate Graph

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The Russian meteor – what we know

Here is a nice infogram summarising information on the meteor which exploded over the Urals, in Russia, last Friday. Click twice to enlarge.

Meteor5

Credit - UK Telegraph: Meteor5.png .

But talk about a cosmic coincidence. here we were looking in one direction to watch the flyby of asteroid 2012 DA14 (see Should we be prepared?) when another one, previously undetected, scores a direct hit coming form another direction. Imagine if the Russian one had flown by while the larger asteroid 2012 DA14 hit directly. The damage would have been far greater.

Sort of underlines the need for humanity to develop better systems for early detection of near earth objects, and the ability to divert them where necessary.

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Who were Stalin’s victims?

I hate it when people talk about persecution of their ideological comrades whilst ignoring persecution of other people. Especially when their comrades may be only a small part of the total persecution.

This happens a lot with religious apologists who distort history to claim that repression by dictators like Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot were examples of atheists suppressing believers. Unfortunately, it’s not only the religously motivated who distort history this way. I mentioned an example of this in my review of James Berlinerblau’s book How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom. In this Berlinerbalue wrote of the Stalin Terror as if it was a case of atheists persecuting Christians. I wrote:

“”It is just too simplistic (if ideologically satisfying to many historians) to present the myth of a persecuted and banned religion and Orthodox Church during the period of communist power. After all, the most dangerous organisation to belong to during the Stalin Terror of the 30s was the Communist Party – half its Central Committee disappeared in the space of a few years between two Congresses so imagine what it was like in the ranks. Persecution at that time was widespread so it is wrong to draw general conclusions only from persecution of church members then.”(see Secularism – its internal problems).

So, I was intrigued to find a database prepared by the Russian Memorial Society itemising specific cases of executions in Moscow at the height of the Stalin terror. The database has an associated map function – seen pictorially it does show how bad that period was.

As expected such a database may never be complete – but this one is detailed. The Memorial Group has obviously worked hard to ensure the victims of this repression won’t be forgotten. But because of the detail it’s possible to actually quantify to some extent the claim I made in the above review.

There are 11,170 names in this database. Quite a number. I spent some time searching through the details and identified 28 names of priests. Twenty eight! I tell you they were few and far between. Then I searched for communists – specifically members of the CPSU(B). They were everywhere. I counted about 5450!

I agree – a very amateurish search. After all there will be believers who were not identified as priests. Maybe some of the CPSU members were believers. And there were members of other communist parties – such as the Lithuanian, Latvian and Polish parties. But the figures give some idea.

Frankly, I think it was far more dangerous to be a communist in the Soviet Union during the Stalin Terror than it was to be a Christian.

BBC News – In Moscow, history is everywhere.

Here are the details of a few of the priests:

Vasily Karpov, born. 1901, Mordovia reg., Krasnoslobodski district, p. Spruce, Russian, b / n, the priest. Location: st. Novobasmannaya, 11, Apt. 4. Executed 11/19/1937. Place of burial: Butovo.

Zorin Dmitri Pavlovich, born. 1883, Nizhny Novgorod Province., Lukoyamsky county, p. Kemlya, Russian, w / n, the priest. Location: st. B. Vorobiev, 2. Executed10/12/1937. Place of burial: Butovo.

Kwiatkowski Vasily Yakovlevich, b. 1887, Volyn province., Zaslavsky county seats. Sudilkov Ukrainian, b / n, a priest in the Church of Danilovsky cemetery. Location: st. Don, 1, Apt. 105. Executed 11/28/1937. Place of burial: Kommunarka.

And these three from one residence:

Shekhovtsev Onesiphorus A., b. 1881, Voronezh, Russian, b / p, priest, deacon Sorokasvyatskoy church. Address: Dinamovskaya st., Building 28. Executed 10/12/1937. Place of burial: Butovo.

Tryganov Leont’ev, b. 1882, Vladimir Province., P. Butylitsy ex., Russian, b / n, the priest Dorogomilovsky cemetery. Address: Dinamovskaya st., 28, a church lodge. Executed 10/12/1937. Place of burial: Butovo.

Peter N. Mikhailov, born. 1877, Kuibyshev Region., Ulyanovsk, Russian, b / n, a priest, a deacon. Address: Dinamovskaya st., Building 28, apt. 3. Executed 10/12/1937. Place of burial: Butovo.

And here are a few of the others:

Samulenko Arseny Gerasimov, b. 1905, the Western Region., Pochinok district, etc. Glumaevo, Russian, member of the CPSU (B), Deputy. Chairman of the State Bank. Location: st. Serafimovich, 2 (Government House), app. 34. Executed 07/30/1941. Place of burial: Kommunarka.

Frost Gregory S., b. 1893, Shklov, a Jew, a member of the CPSU (b), the chairman of the Central Committee of Trade Union of Government Commerce. Address: ul.Serafimovicha, 2 (Government House), kv.39. Executed 11/02/1937. Place of burial: Don.

Israel Kleiner M., b. 1893, in Chisinau, a Jew, a member of the CPSU (b), (former anarchist), chairman of the Committee for the procurement of agricultural products at SNK. Address: ul.Serafimovicha, 2 (Government House), kv.46. Executed26/11/1937. Place of burial: Don.

Krejci Fritz R., b. 1897, Budapest, Hungary, a member of the German CP, political editor Glavlit. Location: st. Kalyaevskaya, 5 Blvd. 9. Executed 16/06/1938. Place of burial: Kommunarka.

Vintser-Vaytsner Martsellish-Joseph-Samuel Genrikhovich 1886, Poland, Petroc, a Jew, a member of the CPSU (b) authorized USSR Trade Representation in Spain. Location: st. Kalyaevskaya, 5 Blvd. 16. Executed 08/28/1938. Place of burial: Kommunarka.

Fishzon Abraham G., b. 1893, Rostov-on-Don, a Jew, a member of the CPSU (B), head of Gosplan. Location: st. Kalyaevskaya, 5 Blvd. 21. Executed 01/08/1938. Place of burial: Kommunarka.

Reinhold David Aaronovitch, b. 1900, s.Znamenka Irkutsk Province. Jew, b / n, head of the transport department in the office “Mospodsobstroy” in 1932-1937. Head of Sector in V / O “Sovmongtuvtorg.” Address: ul.Kalyaevskaya, 5, kv.22. Executed 31/07/1939. Place of burial: Don.
kv.23

Fritz Sauer Adolfovich, b. 1904, Germany, was Cheperfeld, a German member of the German CP 1927-1931, member of the CPSU (b) 1931-1933, Training industrial “Mosoblozet”: working. Address: B. Athanasian per., 17 a / 7, apt. 32. Executed 28/05/1938. Place of burial: Butovo.

Lewites Natalia L., b. 1903, Voronezh, Russian, b / n, a typist in the Moscow office of the newspaper “Leningradskaya Pravda”. Location: Greater Athanasian per., 22, Apt. 11. Executed 14/06/1938. Place of burial: Kommunarka.

Lukichev Alexander, b. 01.02.1906, Moscow, Russian, b / n, a professor at the Moscow Institute of Electrical Engineering of energy. Address: ul.Zhukovskogo, 5, kv.21. Executed 07/02/1937. Place of burial: Don.

Baron Mikhail B., b. 1884, Tobolsk, a Jew, a former Menshevik, a member of the VKP (b) in 1919, the chief of the locomotive department st.Moskva-sorting Lenin railway Location: st. Zhukovsky, 7, Apt. 4. Executed 09/20/1938. Place of burial: Kommunarka.

Sheyhyants Vladimir G., b. 1912, Turkey city of Kars, Armenian, b / p, Deputy. Chap. engineer of the Capital Construction Stalinogorsk nitrogen fertilizer plant. Location: st. Zhukovsky, 7, Apt. 13. Executed 09/16/1938. Place of burial: Kommunarka.

Thanks to Daniel Sandford, BBC, In Moscow, history is everywhere

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The mini-iPad and original sin

Ever thought about the religious significance, or imagined significance, of trade mark logos?

I was reminded of this recently when I saw the above image on Facebook (Thanks to Atheists of New Zealand). It brought to mind a recent article about controversy in Russia with the current move to strengthen anti-blasphemy legislation. Titled Russian Christians boosted by Pussy Riot law spank ‘sinful’ Apple logo, it had the subtitle Nuts replace fruit with crosses.

“Apparently some “Russian Orthodox Christians have defaced the logos on Apple products because they consider the bitten Apple to be anti-Christian, says Russian news agency Interfax (in Russian).”

These characters choose to see the Apple logo as promoting original sin.

“The radical Christians have replaced the Apple logo with a cross, claiming that the current Apple logo – well-known around the world and often voted one of the world’s most popular logos – symbolises the original sin of Adam and Eve and is generally insulting to the Christian faith.”

The work of the devil, and it’s not just fandroids who think so

The article, in The Register, suggests that although this could be “an unusual example of grassroots marketing by a rival mobile-marker, it seems to be a genuine concern for these believers, who according to the reports include members of the Orthodox clergy.”

And it suggests there could be commercial impact, even a sales ban, if Apple fell on the wrong side of the new anti-blasphemy law.

Apparently Apple is a little unsure of how to respond. The Register’s article finishes with:

“We’ve asked Apple if it considers its logo to be promoting original sin, but it has declined to reply.”

Selling the family silver!

Vostok-1 recovery capsule

Bloody hell – this was a shock. Sotheby’s has auctioned  Vostok: Earth’s First Spaceship!

I got this in a tweet from fellow SciBlogger Aimee. But would the Russians be selling of Yuri Gagarin’s space capsule? And on the 50th anniversary of his historic flight?

Possibly. Anyone familiar with the Rogernomics period in New Zealand knows we have done such things. And the ACT Party would willingly do that again. But the Russians selling of such a historic trophy? Sure they have had their economic problems but even so.

These sort of treasures shoulkd not be in private hads. They should be available to the public.

I know that the capsule was still in Moscow in the 1980s – I saw it at the Cosmos Pavilion in the Economic Achievements Exhibition. (It was well-padded but very pokey. And burned on the outside).

After checking that it wasn’t April 1 I read some of the information supplied in the Sotheby’s catalogue. And information on the item itself  THE VOSTOK 3KA-2 SPACESHIP.

Well it did sell – for 2,882,500 USD. And the sales information had quite an interesting history of the spacecraft and Gagarin’s lauch. However, it was only after I had read through a bit before I got to the relevant information:

“The Vostok spaceship flown with the cosmonaut-mannequin Ivan Ivanovich, 25 March 1961, as the final fail-safe and test mission prior to Yuri Gagarin’s first manned space flight just eighteen days later.

Vostok 3KA-2 is not a prototype but an exact twin of Gagarin’s Vostok 3KA-3 capsule, which was later designated Vostok 1.

Vostok 3KA-2 was a critical linchpin of the world’s first manned space program, not only providing the “green light” for the first manned space flight, but afterwards serving for training at the Cosmonaut Training Center, Star City, and later providing the design model for Zenit and other spy satellites manufactured at the Central Specialized Design Bureau in Kuybyshev.

This is the only Vostok spaceship outside of Russia and the only one in private hands; all other surviving Vostok capsules are in permanent Russian museum collections.”

So – that’s a relief! It was Vostok 3KA-2 that was auctioned – not Gagarin’s Vostok 3KA-3 capsule – later renamed Vostok-1.

Yuri Gagarin with daughters

Vostok 3KA-2 was launched about 3 weeks before Gagarin’s flight as a test run. It carried a mannequin Ivan Ivanovich. And there is a bit of a story about the local peasants’ who came on the scene as it was being recovered.

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