This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Canadian Focus on the Arctic

"I've been asked if I'm worried about one of those Russian Arctic battalions marching in here. I am worried -- but its because if they did that we would have to launch the biggest search-and-rescue mission we've ever done."
"If that was my sovereign territory [where about 12 million Russian citizens live near or in its Arctic region] I'd do the same."
"It's not about 'fixed bayonets' in the North."
"Operation NUNALIVUT 2018 is more than winter warfare training. It is a unique opportunity for deployed members to conduct sovereignty patrols, ice diving activities and support the scientific community. Regular and Reserve members of the Canadian Armed Forces will come together with other government departments and agencies to cooperatively work on multiple objectives during the coldest period of the year in the Arctic."
Brig.-Gen. Mike Nixon, commander, Joint Task Force North, Operation Nunalivut

"We're learning a lot from the Rangers."
"It's wild here. It's a big eye-opener to see the High Arctic."
Major Jason Hudson, Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry
Canadian Forces Capt. Phillip Jones surveys the military camp established at Intrepid Bay during Operation Nunalivut. The camp was home for members of the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, the Arctic Response Company Group from 38 Canadian Brigade Group and the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group. David Pugliese/Postmedia

"The Arctic is unforgiving" says Captain Shawn Claire of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, a unit among others taking part in this year's Operation Nunalivut, a month-long annual exercise in Canada's Arctic. "She will claim lives and she will claim limbs", he stated. The Arctic Response Company Group from 38 Canadian Brigade Group and the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group along with the PPCLI, some 350 members of the Canadian military in all, are at Resolute Bay conducting Arctic survival training, sovereignty patrols and scientific research.

All are also testing their ability to survive in the Arctic.

Temperatures at Resolute Bay during the months of January and February drop to around -65C to -70C at night, a temperature where it takes all of two minutes for exposed skin to succumb to frostbite. Wearing goggles and face masks the troops are equipped to withstand the extreme temperatures. At the time of their deployment from the end of February to March 22, the temperature hovered around -40C. Trucks must be kept running full time to ensure they can be operative; it is too problematic to start them in the frigid extremes.
Master Corp. Matthew Manik teaches soldiers how to build a snow wall to block the wind from their tent. David Pugliese/Postmedia

The month was spent conducting Arctic survival techniques among other concerns, and gave navy personnel the opportunity to test their ability to dive under ice. International interest in the far North has accelerated in the last few years. China released an official Arctic strategy, with plans to spend up to $1-trillion, in the development of polar regions in their eagerness to develop new trade routes as well as ports in the Arctic. It has no territorial claims, however, on the oil, gas or mineral resources known to be present in the area.

Russia does have such claims. And it is busy expanding military bases in their own northern territory to the extent of creating new battalions to operate in the Arctic. Brig.Gen. Nixon is convinced the Russian investments geared toward renewed infrastructure and bases as broad as it seems, is in reality a fraction of what it spent during the Cold War. An unsettled dispute around Russian claims to the Continental shelf just happens to coincide with Canada's claims to much of that same area.
Researchers surveyed and mapped Canada's northern continental shelf aboard CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent.
Researchers surveyed and mapped Canada's northern continental shelf aboard CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent. (Natural Resources Canada)
Logistics represent another giant challenge to operating in the Arctic, beyond survival, but inextricably linked to survival. Giant C-17 and Boeing 737s along with C-130 Hercules aircraft are utilized in the transport of equipment and food. The Arctic Training Centre in Resolute Bay would be incapable of operating without its needs being filled where each summer ships carry in 60,000 litres of fuel to operate military snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles.

Opened in 2013, the training centre represents a major hub for northern military operations. Hugely and solely dependent on large diesel-powered generators to provide electricity needed not only for the military bases but for the 24 residential communities in Nunavut. And those generators, needless to say, require hundreds of thousands of litres of fuel. The deployment of the annual military mission takes eight months in the planning stages.

Canada's northern population is a little over 200,000, most located in a few population centres like Yellowknife and Whitehorse, the remainder in small communities. Cambridge Bay has a population base of around 1,700 while Resolute Bay's population is roughly 200 people. North of Resolute at Intrepid Bay, soldiers have established a small camp where they conduct patrols out of and test the resupply system. Patrols are carried out on snowmobiles to prevent an energetic buildup of perspiration that can result in frostbite.

Military mechanics must deal with constant mechanical breakdowns of machinery in this extreme climate. Reliance by regular troops on the Canadian Rangers cannot be overstated. The Rangers are comprised largely of Indigenous people, along with 4,000 reservists operating across the Canadian North. The Rangers teach soldiers, among other skills of northern survival techniques, how to build  wind blocks from snow, and best practices in maintaining snowmobiles running in extreme cold.

Also deployed are scientists from Defence Research and Development Canada and from Natural Resources Canada, who are examining whether batteries that can be recharged from a snowmobile could help make life less complicated for troops for the provision of light, heat and cooking. In a ten-person military tent at present, a Coleman gas stove and lantern are kept on all night so that while it is -55C outside the tent, heat from stove and lantern raise interior temperature in the tent to around freezing.

The Canadian Rangers -- like Master Corporal Matthew Manik, 36, an Inuit whose long traditions and lifestyle skills are so valuable to understanding how to survive in the North -- are regarded as the critical eyes and ears for the Canadian Forces.
Canadian troops operating in the far North rely on Canadian Rangers, such as Master Corp. Matthew Manik, who taught soldiers how to survive in the Arctic. David Pugliese/Postmedia

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

"Marielle Presente" (Marielle Is Here)

"Her bloodshed can't be used as an opportune moment to talk about hate."
"When you talk about a black-white divide, you are contributing to this division."
Ana Amelia, white Brazilian, Rio de Janeiro state senator

"A black woman was speaking out and calling for rights, and she was killed because she could be."
"It is time to speak out. It is time to talk about race, because we are the ones suffering."
Rubia Augusta Gomes, 38, Afro-Brazilian dancer
Marielle Franco … fearless, charismatic and popular
Marielle Franco -- fearless, charismatic and popular. Photograph: Mídia Ninja
Brazil has a long familiarity with racism. And a complex one. It stands out as a country that brought in four million African slaves. That number represents more than ten times the number of Africans brought to the United States to become agricultural, production and domestic slaves. And while in the United States a strict view was taken separating black and white, where interbreeding was strictly prohibited by law, in Brazil a more relaxed attitude was prevalent, where Portuguese settlers surrounded by a plenitude of black slaves did mix with a view of "whitening" the entire population.

Brazil takes pride in its belief that it is not a racist society, but rather a post-racial culture. The existing deep- rooted societal and cultural discrimination and violence is not a topic for polite conversation. Nor is the fact that it is denied. The national identity was forged through miscegenation, with 53 percent of the population of Brazil viewing themselves as either black or of mixed-race. And they tend to represent those living in poverty, discriminated against, with far fewer opportunities than their white counterparts.
Demonstrators participate in a protest against the murder of Rio de Janeiro City Councilor Marielle Franco. The sign reads: 'Marielle, we will be your voice everywhere' [Jose Cabezas/Reuters]
Demonstrators participate in a protest against the murder of Rio de Janeiro City Councilor Marielle Franco. The sign reads: 'Marielle, we will be your voice everywhere' [Jose Cabezas/Reuters]
Racism is alive and well in Brazil. The sole black woman on the city of Rio de Janeiro's city council of 51 members, 38-year-old Marielle Fraco was frank, outspoken and combative, elected a year ago. A week ago she gave a fiery speech at the House of Black Women, urging a greater impetus to achieve empowerment for blacks. Police brutality and extrajudicial killings taking place in the slums called out for push-back. In city council she didn't mince words, directing them toward the source warring on blacks, making for some very uncomfortable confrontations.

She left that meeting and as she approached her awaiting white Chevy, according to an aide in her car, two vehicles converged and gunfire rang out. Accustomed as she was to the reality of death stalking her people, she was not anticipating she was next in line. Her body absorbed nine bullets, four to the head, killing her. As Latin America's largest nation and one seen as the most influential in the region, this black activist, a lesbian with full-throated accusations, labelled her country a global symbol of racial persecution and oppression.
Marielle Franco protest in Rio de Janeiro (picture-alliance/AP/)
Protesters hold a banner that reads "Marielle lives" in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday

Her death by authorized assassination has empowered her Rio base to march in her name and demand justice. Crowds protesting her violent death assembled on the streets of New York, London, Paris, Munich Stockholm and Lisbon, to also celebrate her courage and determination in a life too short-lived and in that short time making an important impression and calling out for social change. Millions of people who had never heard her name before, have now, and social media is alive with her battle and her death.

Pointing out that her death represented a highly professional execution, the federal prosecutors' office in Rio speaks of evidence that points to a planned hit by corrupt police officers. The bullets that were retrieved from the scene and from her body came from police ammunition stocks. According to a spokesperson for the civil police, the investigation is 'ongoing'. The white community, on the other hand, would prefer to consider her death resulted from graft and violence, not representative of a racial issue.

Activists and blacks point instead to an outdated social belief pretending race has no relation whatever to the violence imposed disproportionately on Brazilians of colour, and more particularly by the law enforcement agencies of the nation. Police themselves, underpaid and pressured to perform face their own threats, with at least 120 officers killed in 2017, many while confronting drug traffickers. Last year, according to the Igarape Institute in Rio, 1,125 people died as a result of police violence, 80 percent of them black or mixed-race.

This is a state where one in ten homicides results in a conviction. Marielle Franco, a black, left-wing lesbian was the ultimate representative of an intersection of movements all of which are now coalescing in response to her death. Tens of thousands have taken to the streets to protest and demand justice, for Marielle Franco and for all black and mixed-race Brazilians. Most Brazilians are unused to and uncomfortable with these overt racial overtones, the accusations and demands; this not the Brazil they prefer to believe exists.

But reality is there, recognized by some, shunted aside by others. Though blacks and mixed-race Brazilians make up 54 percent of the nation, they represent 71 percent of all homicides. Daily, 112 blacks or mixed-race Brazilians are killed,according to figures supplied by the Igarape Institute. Marielle Franco, in mourning and highlighting the untimely deaths of too many young blacks resident in poverty-0stricken favelas became yet another victim, her powerful voice stilled.

The Intercept

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Royal House-Cleaning

"The investigations, led by the Attorney General, were conducted in full accordance to Saudi laws."
"All those under investigation had full access to legal counsel in addition to medical care to address pre-existing, chronic conditions."
Government of Saudi Arabia
A picture taken on November 5, 2017 in Riyadh shows a general view of the closed Ritz Karlton hotel in Riyadh.
A day earlier Saudi Arabia arrested 11 princes, including a prominent billioniare, and dozens of current and former ministers, reports said, in a sweeping crackdown as the kingdom's young crown prince Mohammed bin Salman consoliates power. / AFP PHOTO / FAYEZ NURELDINE        (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)
Riyadh Ritz-Carlton, Saudi Arabia
Crown Prince Mohammed has been one very busy man, deciding that Saudi Arabia would lead a military mission to Yemen to destroy the Houthi uprising against the legally constituted government which had sent its president into exile; in this way prosecuting its proxy war for influence, authority and power in the majority-Sunni Islam Middle East against its Shiite rival the Islamic Republic of Iran which it accuses of supporting terrorism, among other disturbing issues.

Iran, which has manoeuvred itself into a place of power virtually annexing Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen to its power base does indeed support terrorism. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia,through its oil-financed largess in building religious academies (madrassas) and mosques all over Europe and North Africa which became breeding grounds for extremist, volatile Islamist militias like al-Qaeda and Islamic State, cannot be held to be innocent of those same charges.

However, it is the nuclear and international ballistic missile aspirations of Iran that concerns the world order and which has brought Saudi Arabia closer to the West and to its hitherto nemesis Israel, to balance its fears over Iranian plans to eclipse Saudi Arabia from its position of preeminence now motivating the Kingdom. Under these stresses, it hardly seems credible that the Crown Prince would turn his attention to his royal relatives and wealthy Saudi businessmen, claiming they have looted the Saudi treasury, lately in a depleted position resulting from plummeting oil prices and excess capacity.

As though the Middle East is not sufficiently roiled by tribal and interreligious strife, there is the added conflict of a family feud of inheritance where Prince Mohammed insists King Abdullah's children return billions they swept into their personal accounts on the death of King Abdullah.
American and Saudi officials at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh last year during a visit by President Trump. Credit Giuseppe Cacace/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

To that end, 200 wealthy Saudis, among them eleven Saudi Princes were taken into custody back in November, installed in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton as guests of the government. The princes had staged a palace sit-in before the mass arrest to protest a royal order that "halted payments by the state to members of the royal family to cover their electricity and water utility bills", according to Sheikh Saud Al Mojeb. As well, they insisted on compensation for the 2016 state execution of a cousin convicted of murder. Informed these were unlawful demands, the princes refused to leave.

Since fhen most of arrested have been released to what amounts to house arrest. But not before some were subject to coercion and physical abuse, according to witnesses. Early in their imprisonment, 17 of the detainees had been hospitalized after being physically abused, one of whom died at a later date while in custody. Desperate to leave their Ritz custody, the detainees were forced to surrender a ransom, signing over to the government control of real estate and company shares, with no legal process involved.
A picture taken on Sunday shows the main entrance of the Ritz Carlton hotel in the Saudi capital Riyadh following its reopening for business, three months after it became a holding place for princes and ministers detained in the biggest anti-graft purge of the kingdom's elite in its modern history. (Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images)

"Even the house I am in, I am not sure it is still mine", one former detainee said.  "We signed away everything." The man has sunk into a depressive state while watching the collapse of his business, while he has been forced to wear a tracking device. This, at the hands of the modernizing Crown Prince who has promised that Saudi Arabia is prepared for foreign investment, and welcomes it, even while it plans to open once-forbidden entertainment opportunities in the country to encourage that foreign investment.

Steadfastly insisting it has no plans to publicly release details of any charges brought against anyone, either while in custody or following their release, or to pronounce any of the detained either guilty or innocent of whatever charges were brought against them, the government cites privacy laws. "At the start of the crackdown they promised transparency, but they did not deliver it", explained former American ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Robert Jordan who served under President George W. Bush

As for the Saudi who died in custody, he was a high-ranking military officer. He had been treated in hospital for severe wounds somehow attained while at the Ritz-Carlton, and then returned to custody at the hotel, where he later died. Ostensibly of natural causes. Even while one individual who saw  his corpse described that Major General Ali al-Qahtani's neck appeared unnaturally twisted, as though broken, his body bruised and badly distended. Two others, including a doctor briefed on the body's condition added there were burn marks, evidently from electric shocks.

The Saudi Binladen Group, the fabulously wealthy construction giant founded by Osama bin Laden's father has been taken into the management control of government. Still detained is its chairman, Bakr Binladen. All the members of the family, once gloriously rich, must now accustom themselves to the fact that they have lost much of their private wealth. "No one can talk about what happened in the Ritz. In the end, they all have to live in Saudi Arabia", cautioned a former detainee's associate.

The report was published shortly before Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrives in the US for meetings with the Trump administration
The (New York Times) report was published shortly before Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrives in the US for meetings with the Trump administration Credit: AFP PHOTO / Saudi Royal Palace / BANDAR AL-JALOUD

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Monday, March 19, 2018

Nurturing The Good Life

For nearly 30 years Canada has tried to rid itself of Hussein Ali Sumaida, 54, who wrote about being a double agent in his 1991 autobiography, The Circle of Fear, A Renegade’s Journey from the Mossad to the Iraqi Secret Service.

"So by day I went around with the Da'wah putting up stickers that said Saddam [Hussein] was a new Hitler, and by night I went around with Saddam's agents taking them down."
"Spying, I was to learn, was not so much derring-do as it was banal snooping. I wasn't a trained commando, or a specialist in any sensitive area like weapons. My special talent was people. Talking to them, getting them to talk to me. I became a chameleon."
"I began to see how easy it was for Saddam to create his goon squads. I hated the man, and yet look how his ways had seduced me!"
"It's been 28 years. I have my life, I have my family, I have my business. I've established myself in Canada.  ... It's home."
Hussein Ali Sumaida, autobiography, Circle of Fear
Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein on trial in December 2008 in Baghdad, Iraq. (Photo by Nikola Solic-Pool/Getty Images)
Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein on trial in December 2008 in Baghdad, Iraq. Photo by Nikola Solic-Pool/Getty Images)

 More than once a double agent, never, it would appear, certain what he should do, with whom he should ally himself but involving himself in human intelligence gathering, for none other than the Baathist regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, known as the "Butcher of Baghdad" for good reason. His was a governance of psychopathic hatred replete with atrocities committed against minority groups in Iraq; Jews and Kurds in particular. Saddam was a Sunni and under his rule the minority Shiite Muslims fared ill indeed.

Of Tunisian parentage, Sumaida's father was an Iraqi diplomat, a senior member of the Iraqi regime and that meant that he himself had a privileged upbringing, chauffeur-driven to school, never wanting for anything. But, he recounts in his memoirs, "I turned my hatred of him (his father) into hatred of Iraq's rulers". Sumaida considered his father to be abusive, such that he detested him. It was his father's coldness and neglect of his son that turned Sumaida against the Iraqi tyrant, not necessarily as a reaction to Saddam's penchant for mass slaughter.

Sumaida came to Canada in 1990, having decided to leave his country of birth, once he had taken, as he implied, a dislike to Saddam. He presented himself as an asylum seeker. Canadian immigration authorities identified him as a double agent working both for the dread Iraqi secret police and at one time as an infiltrator agent for the Israeli Mossad. At one juncture he also joined a secret opposition Shia group seeking to unseat the dictator Saddam, before turning away from them too, and rejoining the Iraqi secret police.

It takes no active imagination to understand that in his double roles, switching allegiance from one to another, the betrayals of identity that he was responsible for led to arrests, torture and death of those who had trusted that he was on their side, only to discover that he had no loyalty to any side, but his own self-interests. He was found inadmissible to Canada as a result of his involvement in espionage. But because he was deemed susceptible to arrest and possibly torture if he was returned to Iraq or Tunisia he was allowed to remain in Canada.

He lives in Hamilton, Ontario, where he operates a construction company. He has grown children and is himself married, and has no wish to depart Canada, though he has no legal status there. A Federal Court of Canada ruled in March upholding the refusal of the government of Canada to grant him permanent residence. He has been refused status time and again over the years. The choice he made to become a member of the Mukhabarat, the Iraqi secret security apparatus, carrying out clandestine  work for an agency known for its brutality and violence speaks volumes about this man's morals.

He claims to have felt troubled eventually, "working for the monster Saddam and his killing machine", which led him to join the Israeli intelligence agency for whom he gathered intelligence on the Iraqi embassy in Brussels and also spied on Palestine Liberation Organization members. Then he switched again, confessing to the Iraqi secret service who decided to recognize his father's position with Saddam and grant him a pardon, conditional on Sumaida agreeing to take up status as a double agent with the Mukhabarat.

He aided an arms deal with the one-time leader of the Palestine Liberation Front terrorist group, stating he hated his job but loved its "special powers". Which could be translated as having the power of life and death over those whose trust he chose to betray. Even though his application for status in Canada was denied, he remained in Canada until 2005 following years of appeals and court challenges and tribunals. He was finally deported to Tunisia.

There, he claimed, he was tortured by officials who took him in custody as he got off his flight.
"Life in Tunisia was intolerable, I couldn’t see what was going to happen one day to the next. By the summer of 2006, I made the decision to find a way to flee Tunisia", he wrote. On a "no fly" list, he drove to the border with Algeria, walked through it, arrived in Algiers, boarded a flight to Amsterdam, assumed a false identity and applied at the Canadian embassy in The Hague to issue an emergency passport under that false identity, enabling him to return to Canada.

Seeking asylum once again, claiming his life would be forfeit if he were to be once again expelled, the Immigration and Refugee Board concluded that though he failed to qualify for protection on the basis of his informing that had exposed people to torture or execution -- constituting crimes against humanity -- the puzzle was left; what to do with this man? A pre-removal risk assessment agreed he might be tortured if returned to Tunisia or to Iraq.

His prior removal to Tunisia in 2005 had not resulted in anything as drastic as Sumaida claimed would happen to him; he was simply interrogated and allowed to go on his way. He didn't enjoy living in Tunisia, claiming his future there was an unknown; in the back of his mind concern that he would be taken back into custody. However, he is a Tunisian by birth, an Iraqi by circumstances. He had chosen to embroil, integrate and soil himself with a regime infamous for crimes against humanity, of which he became a part.

Canadians have no need to burden themselves with the presence of such a specimen of a man without conscience, such as he has proven himself to be, much less one who carried out orders imperilling the lives of others, becoming responsible as he did so, of the tragedies imposed upon vulnerable people whom he betrayed. That he remains in Canada is a travesty. He plans to once again challenge this new deportation order.
Twenty-eight years after he claimed refugee status in Canada — and failed — Hussein Ali Sumaida, an ex-double agent with the Iraqi secret police and Israeli intelligence service, is still fighting for permanent residence in Canada.  Handout / National Post

"I can find no basis for overturning the [Immigration] officer’s decision. The officer reasonably concluded that Mr Sumaida’s activities on behalf of the Mukhabarat amounted to membership in an organization involved in espionage. Therefore, I will dismiss his application for judicial review."
"The Mukhabarat used torture and the murder of children to suppress opponents of the Hussein regime. The Al Da’wa was outlawed in Iraq and a death sentence was imposed on all persons affiliated with it."
Justice James O’Reilly, Federal Court of Appeal, March 2018

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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Murder Incorporated

"After Putin came to power, we saw all of these different killings of people who were critics of Mr. Putin and critics of the Kremlin."
"The Kremlin was caught red-handed, as it were."
Amy Knight, Russia specialist, author: Orders to Kill: The Putin Regime and Political Murder

"The view inside our agency [Russian secret service FSB] was that poison is just a weapon, like a pistol."
"It's not seen that way in the West, but it was just viewed as an ordinary tool [and the FSB would never approve a political murder without consulting Putin]."
Alexander Litvinenko, dissident Russian intelligence officer, 2004 interview

"This image of a good retirement they [retired Russian secret service agents, wealthy oligarchs] see as a model. It is a desirable lifestyle for their children to go to good schools. Russian people like to live in London."
"It becomes like a signature. A weapon only used by the state leaves no doubt that it is revenge by the state, that it can only be the government."
"This sends them [dissidents, political opponents] a message: we will kill you. Don't be a traitor."
Tonia Samsonova, Echo of Moscow Radio correspondent, London
Hospitalized Russian spy linked to Russia-UK spy wars

Mysterious and sudden, inexplicable deaths by peculiar means taking place inside and outside Russia targeting opponents of Vladimir Putin, be they journalists or politicians, businessmen or members of the Russian secret service establishment, are often noted and then set aside, no further deep investigation since it seems obvious what the source of the assassination is and why it has been ordered. As long as it is discreet enough and no diplomatic applecarts are upturned, the events are considered unfortunate and written off.

With the recent, audacious attack on father and daughter Skripals, 66 and 33 respectively, rogue secret service agent and family member, and a follow-up murder within the same week of another Putin detractor, (businessman Nikolai Glushkov, 'compression to the neck' death) there is no hushing up the situation since the nerve chemical was used indiscriminately and took victims other than the Skripals; innocent bystanders and a police officer, with the total extent of the fallout not yet quite fully understood, but requiring a massive response to mitigate.

Russian spy attack nerve agent was rare, dangerous and sophisticated

The previous, ghastly, prolonged murder of former Russian intelligence officer Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 ended with strained relations between Whitehall and the Kremlin. This time the estrangement is deeper and more volatile, with Russia, as usual, denying any and all accusations that it is somehow involved in killing off dissidents on foreign soil and suggesting that the U.K. has indulged in a false flag event, producing a deadly chemical itself and adducing its effects to innocent Russia. This is a skill that Russia has perfected, as flaccidly improbable and cynical as it is, to defend itself.

As far as the government of Britain is concerned, the attempted assassination of the Skripals by Russian agents represents the "only plausible explanation" imaginable, "heightened against the background of a pattern of earlier irresponsible Russian behaviour", which has led critics to link over three dozen deaths and near-assassinations taking place in several countries, of politically-motivated revenge-operations in recent years. Britain has the support of other NATO and G7 countries.

The death of influential Putin critic Boris Nemtsov, shot to death while standing on a bridge in sight of the Kremlin in 2015, and the killing of Denis Voronenkov, formerly a member of the Russian parliament, killed while he stood in front of a Kiev hotel represent two of the most shocking among the many. Russian agents have made use of radioactive tea (Litvinenko), umbrella tips with deadly poison installed, letters tainted with deadly chemicals (ricin), stabbings, sharp-shooters, hanging and whatever else is  handy.

"Traitors don't live long", Putin stated tellingly, when he welcomed back to Moscow the Russian sleeper agents that U.S. intelligence had unmasked in 2010. It was, in fact, in trading those agents that Mr. Skripal, then in a Russian prison as a convicted traitor for working with MI6, was exchanged and returned to London to live. Left behind were his wife and son, both of whom died under mysterious circumstances. In the death of Litvinenko, the medium used to kill him could only have been produced by a state; it was deadly polonium derived from Russia's nuclear program.

In the attempted assassination of the Skripals the nerve chemical that was used was laboratory-identified as being one that the Russian military had developed; the scientist that had produced it had himself identified it as Novichok, a deadly, military grade chemical assumed now to have been slipped into Yulia Skripals luggage as she left Moscow for London to see her father, domiciled there.  And they are assumed to have left a deadly trail of the chemical agent wherever they went, until its effects overtook them.

UK's Johnson says it's 'overwhelmingly likely' Putin ordered nerve agent attack
"[Russia's reaction to the incident] was not the response of a country that really believes itself to be innocent. This is not the response of a country that really wants to engage in getting to the bottom of the matter."
"We gave the Russians every opportunity to come up with an alternative hypothesis, such as the one that you have just described, and they haven't. Their response has been a sort of mixture of smug sarcasm and denial, obfuscation and delay."
"[It is] overwhelmingly likely [that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally gave the order to use the nerve agent to attack Skripal. Britain is not alone in facing Russia's 'reckless behavior'."
"[The Salisbury poisoning was the] latest brazen defiance of international rules [given the Crimea annexation, cyberattacks in Ukraine, and Russia's interference in European elections]."
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson

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Saturday, March 17, 2018

Refugees With Deadly Baggage

"Now, when I think of the future, I am afraid. I am afraid for Europe."
Paulus Borisho, 55, Kebab shop owner, Stockholm Sweden 

"I don't know of any Western country with a similar use of hand grenades. Our hypothesis is that they are used to send a message. Not so much as a weapon, as a tool for intimidation."
"You don't need perfect aim. You are not trying to kill a particular person."
Manne Gerell, lecturer in criminology, Malmo University

Recently a 63-year-old Stockholm resident on his way home from work in the evening, cycling through a Stockholm suburb stopped momentarily when he saw a round object on the pavement, and reached down to lift it. That would be his final act in life for what he stopped to observe at closer hand killed him and also incidentally his wife, who had been with him. Manufactured for the Yugoslav national army, taken by paramilitaries during the 1990s civil war, it was a M-75 hand grenade, a long way from that distant conflict, ending up in Stockholm.

These are plastic-explosives-packed grenades, stuffed with 3,000 steel balls each, meant for attack on enemy bunkers. And they're cheap to acquire in Sweden, the going price is about $12.50 a grenade. Who might be interested in acquiring them? Well, gang members, it seems. In nice, civil, socialized and peaceful Sweden. Who might imagine it! Gang-related assaults and shootings are on the increase. And though Sweden balks at the merest suggestion of areas of the country that are 'no-go zones', the police speak of neighbourhoods "marred by crime, social unrest and insecurity".
Malmö police worry about wave of violence
Swedish police investigate a hand grenade attack in Malmö. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
"We have lost the trust from the people who lived and worked in this area", Gunnar Appelgren, specialist in gang violence as a police superintendent said. Those neighbourhoods that are not 'no-go zones' but rather areas that crime, social unrest and insecurity have marked are on the rise, and they are linked to immigration. It is low-income suburbs which have been blighted by growing gang violence where hospitals have been reporting armed confrontations in emergency rooms, where school administrations claim threats and weapons are now commonplace.
Police officer Ted Eriksson is treated in Stockholm last summer after he was stabbed in the neck by an asylum seeker
Police officer Ted Eriksson is treated in Stockholm last summer after he was stabbed in the neck by an asylum seeker     LISA MATTISSON/TT NEWS AGENCY

Two 20-year-old men from Uppsala were arrested on charges recently that they tossed grenades at a bank employee's home. A new sophistication in intimidation techniques, it would seem. Rival gangs seem to target one another with grenades. Likely accounting for the one lying in the street at night that killed that unfortunate couple simply bicycling back to their home, never suspecting it would be their last cycle together. With deadly events such as this, little wonder that people no longer trust that their local police can deliver security.

On the wall in Mr. Appelgren's Stockholm Police Headquarters office hangs a chart indicating the increase in the prevalence of hand grenades. In 2015, 45 grenades were seized by police, ten others detonated in the commission of a crime, and by the following year those numbers rose to 55 and 35 respectively. Police officials largely claim a failure of integration has led to increased gang violence. A recent study of a Swedish street gang concluded 24 percent of its membership to be ethnic Swedes; 42 percent born in Sweden (emanating elsewhere by heritage).

When the Bosnian war ended, paramilitaries were required under the peace agreement to decommission arsenals. the arms in possession of sellers in Bosnia and Serbia making their way to the diaspora in Sweden through active networks that throw in excess grenades as a free bonus with the purchase of AK-47s, explained Mr. Appelgren. Explaining just why the street price of a hand grenade is 100 kroner ($12.50) in Sweden.

Sweden: Grenade damages to police van

Kebab shop owner Mr. Borisho found asylum in Sweden escaping war as a commando in a Lebanese militia -- who had himself a familiarity with handling grenades. He never imagined grenades ending up in the street close to his shop. The 160-kilometer Oresund Bridge linking Malmo to Denmark is the entry point for illegal weapons. Vehicle searches are desultory; personnel are in short supply and until recently hand grenades had the classification of "flammable products", not weapons.

Two 18-year-old men have been arrested in the investigation of that grenade death of the two cyclists, originally from Chile. The area of Stockholm they lived in, Varby Gard, has its own street gang, the Varby Gard Network, whose membership is comprised of first- and second-generation immigrants from Finland, the Balkans and Africa. Immigrants and Refugees have transformed this once-Christian heritage nation rather considerably.

This nation of close to ten million people has almost two million derived of immigrants and refugees.
Immigrants and refugees to Sweden come from many nations of the world, included among them nations which form a very large proportion of those now residing in that country; from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Turkey, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. A dynamic admixture, to be sure, of polarized and polarizing societies whose religion, culture, heritage and politics is so unlike Sweden's and quite transformative.

But, evidently, no "no-go zones" whatever.

The blue line represents refugees, the red line immigrants

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Friday, March 16, 2018

Russian Sports and Politics

"You don't need to be a rocket scientist to understand that Putin will win]."
"My choice, who I was willing to give my voice to at the election, he was not allowed to run for the presidency."
"After two days thinking [on being approached with an invitation to take a parliamentary seat for United Russia party in parliament], I thought something is a bit dodgy and I don't want to be involved."
"My voice isn't going to be counted as whatever I think. So I said I don't want to be there just for pressing the button [to vote]."
"I always thought sports and politics should not collide together on the same path, should be completely separate. Unfortunately as of late, someone's using the professional athletes for their own benefit."
"I've always been open-minded and people obviously know that Yevgeny Kafelnikov is not for sale. There is no chance that I could sell myself for something like this."
"I'm sure other athletes who are supporting so-called Putin's team, they do have a choice but they've chosen the path which they're comfortable with. I'm not going to judge each one, why they did this."
Yevgeny Kafelnikov, formerly ranked No.1 tennis player backing Alexei Navalny

"I just support my country, you know? That's where I'm from, my parents live there, all my friends."
"Like every human from different countries, they support their president."
Alex Ovechkin, NHL player, Washington Capitals
Russian President Vladimir Putin during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia.  (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia. (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

Vladimir Putin who fancies himself an equal of just about any sport figure and who himself once practised competitive judo in his younger years, and still enjoys a game of competitive hockey, playing against NHL-competitive-grade Russian hockey players and manages to score (if, on the other hand, he's not allowed to score), has a passion to display Russian sport prowess through the expertise of his countrymen. Trouble is, he is so passionate about it that he ordered the Russian sports federation to pull out all the stops.
Vladimir Putin Apologises To Athletes Banned Over Doping, Orders Alternative Olympic Games
Vladimir Putin with ice hockey players during a meeting with athletes ahead of Winter Olympics (AFP)

And their pulling out all the stops resulted eventually in Russia being blackballed out of the wold's premier sport venues, like the Olympics, as a penalty for state-sponsored doping and other malfeasance unbecoming the dignity and reputation of a state. Russian athletes were permitted in some fields of endeavour, to compete in the latest Olympics events held in South Korea, as individuals, unrepresentative of their country, whose flag was not flown nor national anthem heard with wins.

One might logically think that Russian athletes would be resentful that their president feels that they cannot compete successfully on the world stage in their fields of sport-competitive excellence without cheating. And that state manipulation resulted in being shamed on the world sporting stage, along with their exclusion from international competition events. Evidently not, not if people like Olympic gold medallist, NHL player Alex Ovechkin's position can be judged. And it's not only this man but many other Russian sport figures that have signed on to Ovechkin's "Putin Team" social media campaign.

They're all boosting Vladimir V. Putin for re-election as Russian president. Actually unneeded since he is expected to win 70 percent of the vote, if state polls can be believed. Mr. Putin removed his only serious political adversary from contending for the presidential election, Alexei Navalny, who, unable to contend in a clearly thuggish, illegal move on the part of the current president, has urged his supporters to boycott the election.
The Capitals' Alex Ovechkin has long been a polarizing figure in the world of hockey. His recent support of Russian  president Vladimir Putin will only add fuel to the fire.
The Capitals' Alex Ovechkin has long been a polarizing figure in the world of hockey. His recent support of Russian president Vladimir Putin will only add fuel to the fire.  (John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

There is nothing new, evidently, in Russian sport figures being allied with government, since sport is controlled by government agencies which also dispense funding. Some elite Russian sport figures get involved in political campaigns, and become sitting members of parliament in Mr. Putin's United Russia party. And although Yevgeny Kafelnikov won't support Putin, he uses his social media presence (24,000 Twitter followers) for exposure to political commentary on his part, including banter passing between himself and Navalny, alongside chatter about Spartak Moscow soccer team.

Alex Ovechkin, on the other hand, launched an athlete and other celebrity social media campaign in support of Vladimir Putin, complete with a rally in Gorky Park, central Moscow. A non-governmental organization monitoring potential election violations -- Golos -- took especial note of the Putin Team rally where promises of free gifts on attendance clearly violates a bribery code. It's unknown who funds the Putin Team organization with its valuable prizes for supporters.

At a March 3 rally at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow where the soccer World Cup final will take place in July, Putin held a rally. Accompanying him on stage was 15-year-old figure skating gold medallist Alina Zagitova, as well as the gold medal-winning men's hockey team. The Russian Sports Ministry with its wide-ranging power in funding and hiring of coaches is inextricably linked with Vladimir Putin, as president of Russia in perpetuity.

State-controlled companies fund Russia's top sport clubs in soccer and hockey.

Kafelnikov has contact with other Russian athletes as opposition minded as he is, but who take care not to openly discuss politics. "I'm sure there are plenty. I'm hoping so. There are some who share my thoughts toward what's happening and what's going to happen. I do have some supporters", he said in an interview.

The Canadian Press

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