Belarus Presidency On The Path Of Russia?

Belarus Presidency On The Path Of Russia?

With the recent elections in Belarus being declared by many as “rigged“, the country took a step towards matching the Russian elections, described in equal terms at the international level.

Crux of the Matter

Recent “Victory”
Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus recently won the Presidential elections, with more than 80% of votes going in his favour. Lukashenko has been the President since 1994, and was described by the former US President George Bush as the “last dictator in Europe”.

Opposition And Rigging
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya became the main candidate against Lukashenko after the other two opponents had their candidacies rejected. The first, Viktor Babariko, was arrested, while the other candidate Valery Tsepkalo fled to Russia fearing action by Lukashenko. In his statement, Lukashenko claimed that people supporting the rallies of Tikhanovskaya would be treated as terrorists.

After the results, the elections were declared “rigged” by most of the opposition leaders and experts. Tikhanovskaya fled the country, citing threat to her whole family as the reason for the escape.

About Lukashenko
After becoming the President in 1994, Alexander Lukashenko dismantled the parliament in 1996 and reappointed it in 2000 with his “handpicked” members. In 2004, he removed the limit of “two-terms” on Presidents.

All elections since Lukashenko came into power have been declared unfair and rigged by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and several sanctions have been levied on him by the UN, the US and several other powers over human rights violations and unfair elections.

Covid-19 Dealing
Lukashenko is among the leaders who have chosen ‘unusual’ measures to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. No lockdown was imposed in the country, with Lukashenko claiming instead that the virus can be cured by “sauna and vodka”.

On The Russian Path?
In July, 2020, Russia passed a referendum enabling Vladimir Putin to continue his reign as the President till 2036. The amendment allows him the chance to contest in Presidential elections of 2024 and 2030. The referendum was supported by over 78% of the Russian voters, while the opposition leaders claimed that the elections were rigged and unfair.

The referendum also banned same-sex marriages in Russia, with Putin, who associates himself with the Russian Orthodox Church, declaring that gay marriage wouldn’t be allowed as long as “he is in the Kremlin”.

A Short History Of The Nation

  • Belarus was under the rule of several countries before World War I.
  • 1918: It was declared as the independent Belarusian National Republic.
  • 1919: Russia annexed it.
  • 1922: Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (Byelorussian SSR) became the founding member of the USSR.
  • 1930s: More than 100,000 people executed in Belarus by orders of Joseph Stalin, with several thousands being sent to forced labour camps.
  • 1941: Nazi Germany invaded Belarus and killed more than 1 million people, eliminating most of the Jews in the region.
  • 1945: Most of Belarus was merged into the Soviet Union after World War II ended.
  • 1986: More than 20% of agricultural land in Belarus was “contaminated” by the Chernobyl explosion in neighboring Ukraine.
  • 1991: Belarus declared independence as the Soviet Union was dissolved.
  • 1994: Alexander Lukashenko became the President.


Relationship With Russia

  • Belarus and Russia have shared a cordial relationship since the independence of the former.
  • 2002: First conflict between the two was observed when Belarus rejected the Russian proposal of a union.
  • 2010: A tussle over the supply of oil and electricity from Russia has been going since 2010.
  • January 2020: Lukashenko accused Putin of attempting to merge Belarus back into Russia. In return, Russia withdrew its oil subsidies to Belarus.
  • July 2020: Belarus got 33 “private military contractors” of Russia arrested on the charges of inciting riots. Russia declared that the contractors were present there only due to missing a connecting flight back to their country, and warned it of “grave consequences”.
Curiopedia
  • Little Russia is a geographical and historical term used to describe the modern-day territories of Belarus and Ukraine. The term was first used by Galician ruler Bolesław-Jerzy II in 1335.)
  • The Pahonia is the historical coat of arms of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It was also the official emblem of the Belarusian Democratic Republic in 1918 and of the Republic of Belarus from 1991 to 1995. On May 14, 2007 the Pahonia was declared cultural heritage of Belarus.
  • The cultural heritage of Belarus includes both material and immaterial assets, in accordance with the Law on Protection of Historical and Cultural Heritage of the Republic of Belarus. In 2007 a total of 4,811 objects of heritage were listed.

Vaccine Claims By Russia – How True Are They?

Vaccine Claims By Russia -  How True Are They?

Russia made claims of the first Covid-19 vaccine recently, though the fact was proved otherwise. With allegations of hacking also coming, the incident added to Russia’s history of hacking and interference.

Crux of the Matter

Russian Vaccine Claims
Russia recently claimed success in finding the Covid-19 vaccine and declared it the “first vaccine” of Coronavirus in the world.

Sechenov University has successfully completed tests on volunteers of the world’s first vaccine against Covid-19. The vaccine is safe.

Russian Embassy in India

How True Is It?
Only the Phase-I of the Covid-19 vaccine trials has been completed in Russia. Phase-I involves administering the vaccine to a small group of people – 30 to 80 – to evaluate drug’s safety and toxicity at different levels of doses. To compound the troubles, Russians are facing the allegation of “hacking” from the UK, Canada, and the US.

In its latest statement, the British National Cyber Security Centre claimed that APT29, a Russian hacking group, also allegedly a part of the Russian intelligence, attempted to steal data of the Covid-19 vaccine development research.

It is completely unacceptable that the Russian Intelligence Services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary, the UK

Russia has denied the claims, labeling them as “nonsense” in its official statement.

Russian History Of Hacking
Russian hackers, allegedly supported by its government, have hacked into other countries’ systems multiple times with different motives.

  • 2007: Estonia, earlier under Soviet rule, planned to shift a Russia World War II memorial. However, Russia reportedly disabled Estonia’s internet and spread false images, which triggered violent protests.
  • 2008: Russia invaded Georgia and reportedly hacked its internet system.
  • 2014: Ukraine’s election commission was taken down 3 days prior to its national elections. Police reports claimed that the hackings were done to make the Pro-Russia candidate win.
  • 2015: Attempts were made to hack into Germany’s parliamentary network. Germany blamed Russia for the attempts.

Every day I try to build a better relationship with Russia and on the other hand there is such hard evidence that Russian forces are doing this [the hackings].

Angela Merkel, Chancellor, Germany
  • 2015-16: The campaign of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic party candidate, and other candidates were hacked multiple times. These hacks were reportedly done by Russia to aid Donald Trump in winning the 2016 Presidential elections in the US.
  • 2016: Russian interference through cyber portals was alleged by politicians during the Brexit movement.
  • 2019: Several pro-Russia propaganda and fake news portals were discovered in Poland by investigative journalists.
Curiopedia
  • Fancy Bear is a Russian cyberespionage group which is known to target government, military, and security organizations, especially NATO-aligned states. Cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike has said with a medium level of confidence that it is associated with the Russian military intelligence agency GRU.
  • Federal Compulsory Medical Insurance Fund is one of the state extra-budgetary funds established to finance medical services to Russian citizens. The activities of the fund are governed by the Budget Code of Russia and Russian law.
  • The financial crisis in Russia in 2014–2015 was the result of the sharp devaluation of the Russian ruble beginning in the second half of 2014. A decline in confidence in the Russian economy caused investors to sell off their Russian assets, which led to a decline in the value of the Russian ruble and sparked fears of a Russian financial crisis.

History of Space Faring Nations – US & Russia

History of Space

Even as the number of countries with space programs has increased rapidly, US & Russia remain the space frontiers. With their hot and cold relations on earth, how far have they come in this race and how long do they go back?

Crux of the Matter

The First Race
The official space competition started between the US and USSR (Soviet Union) during the cold war period (1947 -1991) when the technological advantage was seen as necessary for national security. Mixed with the patriotism, efforts began from both sides to achieve spaceflight milestones

My rockets work perfectly, except for landing on the wrong planet.

Wernher von Braun, German Scientist

Reports suggest that Wernher von Braun, the student of the rocketing pioneer Hermann Oberth, was the public face and chief architect of the American space program, helping launch their first space satellite Explorer 1. This detached him from the consequences of his earlier work on the V-2 missile for Hitler and his continued interest in space travel. Till date his liquid-fueled engines are used as the basis for modern space travel via LOX (Liquid Oxygen).

The Vostok 1 Capsule that toured Yuri with one full orbit of Earth

During the International Geophysical Year that marked the scientific exchange between East and West, Soviet Union achieved a successful launch of the first artificial satellite in the world, with the orbiting of Sputnik 1 in 1957.

Followed by cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova becoming the first man and woman in space. Not wanting to be left behind in the race, the US made Astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon with Apollo 11. Thus the US chose the moon’s orbit to excel in while the Soviet concentrated on Earth orbitals.

The Apollo 11 marked the lunar success of NASA’s Apollo program

Efforts To Collaborate With Apollo – Soyuz
In 1962, a period of détente, which is easing of strained relations, started when POTUS John F. Kennedy and Soviet Union’s Premier Nikita Khrushchev exchanged letters about working together on simple space matters like weather satellites. The US and Russia agreed that an international space project would be a political win-win. According to historians, this idea got further highlighted with the release of Marooned, the film in which Soviet cosmonauts rescue stranded American astronauts.

Apollo-Soyuz was the first international mission, carried out jointly by the Americans and Russians in July 1975. As US Apollo module docked with a Soviet Soyuz capsule, millions of people worldwide watched on T.V, the test project wherein two nations worked together with their own spacecrafts.

Mir for Russia and Skylab for USA
Skylab
was the first space station operated by the United States from 1973-1979. It spent six years orbiting Earth until its decaying orbit caused it to re-enter the atmosphere. The station had a workshop, a solar observatory, a multiple docking adapter, and systems to allow three crews to spend up to 84 days in space comfortably. It’s major operations included acting as an orbital workshop, a solar observatory, and Earth observational arena.

NASA’s Skylab

The Space Station Mir served as a microgravity research laboratory in which crews conducted experiments in biology, human biology, physics, and astronomy. It endured 15 years in orbit from 1986 to 2001, three times its planned lifetime. It outlasted the Soviet Union and was later handled by Russia.

US got concerned that with the fall of the Union, funds might get short for the Russian Space Program, and thus the Shuttle-Mir program was started. It flew several American astronauts to Mir between 1995 and 1998 and laid the groundwork for the ISS collaboration.

ROSCOSMOS’s Mir

Formation Of Global Space Station – ISS
After an MoU between the US and Russia, the modular space station ISS was formed in 1998 with an intent to proceed with worldwide cooperation for space exploration. It was divided into two sections : Russian Orbital Segment (ROS), operated by Russian ROSCOSMOS and the United States Orbital Segment (USOS), shared by NASA (US) and other nations including JAXA(Japan), CSA(Canada) and ESA (Europe).

ISS Space-environment research laboratory

Good-bye Shuttle, Hello Again Soyuz & Dragon
NASA’s Space Shuttle program was launched in 1972 with the vision of a reusable space shuttle system. True to its mission, the Shuttle became the only winged reusable shuttle to achieve orbit and landing with a crew that made multiple flights into an orbit. Russian shuttle Buran was similar in design and capabilities but it could make only one uncrewed space flight before it got scrapped.

The Space Shuttle Program, composed of an orbiter with two reusable solid rocket boosters and external fuel tank

However after spiralling costs to manage the shuttle beyond it’s envisioned 15 year span, and arising safety issues due to criticism faced for the two major disasters – Challenger and the Columbia vehicles, US retired its Space Shuttle fleet after 135 missions in 2011.

The Soyuz spacecraft was launched on a Soyuz rocket, still known for being one of the most reliable launch vehicles in space

This made Russian Soyuz rockets the only way to shuttle crew and cargo to and from the ISS, which in turn led to NASA paying ROSCOSMOS $2.5 billion+ for its space services ever since. Though in 2014, the condemnatory international reaction of the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia, made the US rethink about their space cooperation with them. Later in a meeting, NASA reaffirmed its commitment to extend the station use from 2020 to at least 2024.

Finally Elon Musk’s SpaceX became a game changer for NASA in May this year, as astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley travelled to the ISS in their Dragon 2 crew spacecraft, making it the first public-corporate space collaboration to launch humans into orbit. Under this Commercial Crew Program, a NASA audit found out that the cost per seat for each astronaut was significantly lower than Soyuz, Apollo and other space programs in 60 years.

What Next?
Currently, the two nations’ have a differing role in space, where the US is helping private companies like SpaceX and Boeing to fuel the next generation of space exploration with flashy new technologies, Russia is investing in stable provision of decades-old yet reliable designs and equipment, busy finding replacements for the Soyuz program. Hopefully, the next goal for both would be Mission Mars!

Curiopedia
  • Before humans went into space in the 1960s, several other animals were launched into space, including numerous other primates, so that scientists could investigate the biological effects of space travel. The first primate astronaut was Albert, a rhesus macaque, who on June 11, 1948, rode to over 63 km on a V-2 rocket. Albert died of suffocation during the flight.
  • The Orbital Piloted Assembly and Experiment Complex (OPSEK) was a 2009–2017 Russian proposed third-generation modular space station for Low Earth orbit. In early plans, the station was to consist initially of several modules from the Russian Orbital Segment of the International Space Station (ISS). However, in September 2017, the head of Roscosmos Igor Komarov said that the technical feasibility of separating the station to form OPSEK had been studied and there were now “no plans to separate the Russian segment from the ISS”.
  • Gravity is a 2013 science fiction thriller film starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as American astronauts who are stranded in space after the mid-orbit destruction of their Space Shuttle and attempt to return to Earth. Upon its release, Gravity was met with widespread critical acclaim, including its direction and visuals. Visual effects company Framestore spent more than three years creating most of the film’s visual effects, which make up over 80 of its 91 minutes.

Oil Spill In Arctic, Russia Declares Emergency

Oil Spill in Russia

Oil spill from a power plant in Russia compelled President Vladimir Putin to declare a state of emergency. The incident comes at a time when the entire world is fighting Coronavirus while also attempting to cut environmental hazards.

Crux of the Matter

Leakage
20,000 tonnes of diesel leaked into the Ambarnaya river near Norilsk city of Russia which flows into the Arctic Ocean. The leakage occurred in the power plant of Norilsk Nickel, which is the world’s largest producer of nickel and platinum. By expert analysis, it is the 2nd biggest oil leak in Russian history.

How Did It Leak?
The power plant was based on the top of permafrost, which is ground in a frozen state for more than 2 years. The permafrost weakened due to climate change and made the foundation unstable. On 29 May, pillars of the fuel tank in the powerplant collapsed which spilled the diesel in the river. Experts have predicted the duration of the clean-up process to be 5-10 years. The reason for such elongation is the shallowness of the river as well as the amount of diesel leaked.

Impact
As the oil drifted 7.5 miles, President Putin declared an emergency as the oil would contaminate groundwater used for human consumption. A major portion of the river has turned crimson red by the mixture of diesel and water.

A major threat is posed to the wildlife species in the Arctic region, which is considered a vital belt in the ecosystem. The Arctic region hosts several endangered species like the Arctic fox, polar bears, Beluga whales, etc. Experts have predicted a severe loss for aquatic life as the diesel would create respiratory problems in aquatic life.

Recent Spills In Russia And Arctic

  • 1994: Oil pipeline rupture in Pechora river
  • 2007: Oil leak from ship crash by storms in Kerch strait
  • 2014: Oil pipeline leak in the Black sea
  • 2016: Daldykan river spill by Norilsk Nickel
  • 2020: Ambarnaya river spill by Norilsk Nickel


Summachar Coverage: Oil In Assam Continues To Leak

Curiopedia
  • Lakeview Gusher Number One was an eruption of hydrocarbons from a pressurized oil well in California, in 1910. It created the largest accidental oil spill in history, lasting 18 months and releasing 9 million barrels of crude oil. It was one of the largest oil reserves in the United States.
  • The International Association of Independent Tanker Owners is a membership association for owners of independent tankers throughout the world. It has observed that “accidental oil spills this decade have been at record low levels—one-third of the previous decade and one-tenth of the 1970s—at a time when oil transported has more than doubled since the mid 1980s.
  • The Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE was a challenge award offered by the X PRIZE Foundation for efficient capturing of crude oil from ocean water. Inspired by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster, the award was announced on July 29, 2010, and the official one-year competition began on August 1, 2010. The first two teams were awarded $1 million and $300,000 respectively.

Russia and Saudi Weaponize Oil Prices

Russia, in a move to gain US oil share, dumped OPEC’s proposal for slashing oil production. In retaliation, Saudi began lowering oil prices by $8-$14 per barrel and proposed an increase in oil production. Global markets came tumbling down but opportunity lies ahead for India to buy cheap oil, reducing its import bill.

Crux of the Matter

The Domino Effect
Russia and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) have been in alliance since 2017 for jointly deciding oil prices. They held a meeting to cut down on oil supply amidst the slowing demand due to Coronavirus. The deal collapsed and Russia denied any subsequent supply cuts before assessing the complete impact of the virus. In retaliation, Saudi Arabia, the highest oil producer among OPEC nations, began offering oil to Asia, US, and Europe at an unprecedented low price. Shocking the oil market across the globe, financial markets toppled in response to Saudi’s rate cut.

Oil price here means the price of a barrel of crude oil. With oil prices plummeting nearly 30%, US oil benchmarkWest Texas Intermediate (WTI) plunged by $10.15 to hit $31.13 per barrel, and Brent Crude Oil benchmark plunged by $10.91 to touch $34.36 per barrel. Brent Crude Oil soared at around $68 at the beginning of the year. As the scare of Coronavirus grew, global trade and travel began to slip. So did the oil prices because of the tepid demand.

Saudi Wants to Show Muscle
Saudi’s retaliation displays that it has enough capacity to increase oil production more quickly than any other country. Some years ago, Saudi had decided that it will not increase oil production beyond 12 million barrels per day (bpd). However, Aramco said that it has been directed by the Ministry to increase oil production to 13 million bpd. Russia’s Energy Minister, Alexander Novak also hinted at another increase of 500,000 bpd. It remains to be seen how will Russia sustain the increment because unlike Saudi which had created reserves for a situation like this to quickly increase oil production in a week or fortnight, Russia does not have that much capacity.

Saudi Arabia’s show of muscle will also come at a cost. The oil-dependent kingdom was expected to have a wider deficit in 2020. With the addition of the price war and anticipation that the crude prices will hover around $35, Saudi’s economic output of 2020 may fall by nearly 15%.

Russia Aims for the Top Spot
US Shale Oil Industries have been thriving since the 2014-16 oil price skid, making US the world’s largest producer of Crude Oil. It produced the world’s 18% oil in 2018. However, the key parameter that drives the growth of American Shale companies is the high price of crude oil. A cheaper crude means that US shale entities would be forced to slash production to sustain.

Russia’s move can be seen in the light of burgeoning American Shale Oil share, which as per Russia, is replaceable. This could also be in retaliation to the US sanction on Nord Stream 2 pipeline that enables Russia to supply gas to Germany at first, and eventually to Europe. Another US sanction on Rosneft subsidiary’s support of the Maduro government in Venezuela may have triggered the Russian price war to capture the share of American shale oil companies.

US oil majors like Chevron and ExxonMobil saw its stock plummet by 12%. Whereas stocks of Pioneer Natural Resources and Occidental Petroleum lost 37% and 52%.

“State actors” are attempting to “manipulate and shock” oil markets…the United States can and will withstand this volatility.

– US Energy Department

Oil Loses, India Wins
Saudi’s retaliation to bring Russia on the negotiation table can benefit India, which is the world’s fourth-largest oil importer. With Saudi Arabia offering oil at $8-$14 less and also increasing its production by 2.5 million barrels per day, India has the opportunity to procure crude oil cheaply. One dollar fall in the price of crude oil reduces India’s import expense by an estimated Rs. 3,000 crores. This could have a large impact on India’s Current Account Deficit (CAD). Inflation in India could also get adjusted as transport expenses gradually come down with cheap crude oil.

Other OPEC and non-OPEC nations that are dependent on oil such as Iran and Venezuela may be worse hit due to the price slash. Oil-dependent emerging economies like Brazil and Nigeria may see a cut in their oil revenue. However, China has stockpiled oil at low prices so that it can avoid buying during times when prices soar. This could also be an opportunity for the second-largest oil consumer China to start stockpiling oil at a cheap rate.

Curiopedia

What are Shale Companies?
The oil shale industry is an industry of mining and processing of oil shale—a fine-grained sedimentary rock, containing significant amounts of kerogen (a solid mixture of organic chemical compounds), from which liquid hydrocarbons can be manufactured. The industry has developed in Brazil, China, Estonia and to some extent in Germany and Russia. The major shale oil producers are China and Estonia, with Brazil a distant third, while Australia, USA, Canada and Jordan have planned to set up or restart shale oil production. More Info

What is WTI?
West Texas Intermediate (WTI), also known as Texas light sweet, is a grade of crude oil used as a benchmark in oil pricing. This grade is described as light crude oil because of its relatively low density, and sweet because of its low sulfur content. It is the underlying commodity of New York Mercantile Exchange’s oil futures contracts. More Info

What is Brent Crude?
Brent Crude is a major trading classification of sweet light crude oil that serves as one of the two main benchmark prices for purchases of oil worldwide, the other being West Texas Intermediate. This grade is described as light because of its relatively low density, and sweet because of its low sulphur content. Brent Crude is extracted from the North Sea and comprises Brent Blend, Forties Blend, Oseberg and Ekofisk crudes. The Brent Crude oil marker is also known as Brent Blend, London Brent and Brent petroleum. Brent is the leading global price benchmark for Atlantic basin crude oils. It is used to price two thirds of the world’s internationally traded crude oil supplies. More Info