"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" (Lao Tzu, the Tao Te Ching)
Myself ad my sweet wife, Grazia, on an all-electric, battery powered motorcycle. No pollution and no noise, and recharging it with my solar panels costs almost nothing. The hell with crude oil!
This post was prompted by something very silly that Bjorn Lomborg said about electric vehicles; something like: "A million electric vehicles would only slow global warming of about one hour." But if a million electric vehicles are not the solution, they would still be doing something good for the climate. And don't forget that to reach one million vehicles you need to start with one. You can see that one in the picture above.
A post in Italian about this motorcycle is here. The light blue thing in the foreground of the picture above is my 1965 Fiat "500" vintage car. Not an electric vehicle, but it could still become one!
The the third post of a series on the crisis in Ukraine by Tatiana Yugay, Professor at the Moscow State University of Economics.
war is like committing suicide for fear of death”
While the U.S. and the EU
entertain themselves introducing more and more sanctions against
Russia, their target doesn't participate in this petty game. If I were
the Western leaders, I would be worried, why Putin does not respond
to their attacks? From the recent events, they might know that
Putin's silence is a frightening sign. Yes, they are rather nervous
that the Russian bear would come to Ukraine and bite off its
eastern and southern provinces. At the same time, some of them have
been actively provoking Russia, possibly in order to step into a military conflict. Though the atmosphere is very tense there, I
strongly believe that Russia won't provide military aid to the
east-Ukranian federalists. All this anxiety about Russian possible
invasion of Ukraine are caused by the incapability of the West to
think strategically and foresee Putin's geopolitical moves, even though
they are very obvious.
Russia's U-turn to a
a Eurasian superpower, Russia, as
has been looking to the West
and to the East
throughout its history. During two decades
collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Janus
with hope to the West. Janus's
turn to the East
has been developing gradually as Russia has gradually realized
that the West would never regard the country as an equal partner, but will rather continue treating
it as a mere source
of raw materials. The
recent US hysteria about Putin's
letter to the EU leadershiphas
made it particularly clear. Putin has
warned the EU about possible difficulties of gas transit
from Russia due to Ukraine's $2.2
billion debt to Gazprom.
Furthermore, the West has become less attractive for Russia from
an economic point of view, since it has
been weakened by the Great Recession.
Meanwhile, the emerging
markets have been
demonstrating dynamic economic growth. Thus, the imprudent Western sanction
policy has served as a strong catalyst for
Russia's geopolitical shift to the East. In my opinion, we are
observing not only a temporary turn, but a long-term
U-turn of Russia
toward the East.
On March 18, the
spokesperson for the Kremlin, Dmitry Peskovvoiced the Russian position,
"If an economic partner on the one
side of the globe imposes
sanctions, we will pay attention to new partners from the globe’s
other side. The world is not monopolar, we will concentrate on other
In fact, Russia's
new partners aren't
that new. Russia has been gradually
strengthening economic and political ties
with two mighty non-Western clubs - the Association of Southeast
Asian Nations (ASEAN) and BRICS. According
Likhachev, Russia's Deputy Minister of Economic Development,
“the ASEAN countries are attractive for Russia because their
markets are "complementary" to the Russian economy unlike
the European ones. Though the trade volume with Europe is
significant, European exports don't contribute to the creation of
high-tech jobs in Russia. Concentrating on Asia is warranted because
exports in this region include high tech machinery and military
equipment not only hydrocarbons. Also, Asian markets, unlike the
markets in Europe, have a tremendous growth potential and significant
synergies with Russian economy”.
AFP Photo / Sergei
During the past 13 years, Russia has been developing close
relations within BRICS
organization, consisting of Brazil, Russia,
India, China and South Africa. Currently,
BRICS represents 42 percent of the world’s
population and about a quarter of the world’s economy, which means
that this bloc of states is an important global actor. Today, in
total, there are more than 20 formats of cooperation within the
February, the member-states came to an agreement about 11 possible
projects of scientific and technical cooperation, from aeronautics to
bio- and nanotechnology. Last year, Russia's
with BRICS has reached $105 billion. One
of the most potent Russia's partners, which holds a membership in both clubs (ASEAN
and BRICS), is China.
During the Direct
April 17, Vladimir Putin, responding to
a question about the Russian-Chinese relations, admitted that ”they
are progressing very successfully in terms of trust and
collaboration, which are unprecedented. This includes political
cooperation and our shared views on international affairs and global
security, which is the basis for these intergovernmental
relations... We have never had such trust-based
relations in the military industry. We began holding joint drills at
sea and on land, in both China and the Russian Federation. This gives
us reason to assume that Russian-Chinese relations will be a
significant factor in global policy and will substantially influence
modern international relations”.
In 2013, the trade
volume between Russia and China has
Leaders of two
states called for annual bilateral trade between the two countries to
be boosted to $100 billion by 2015. Meantime,
China has already overtook
Germany as Russia's biggest buyer of crude oil this year, thanks to
Rosneft securing deals to boost eastward oil supplies via the East
Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline and another one
through Kazakhstan. Last year, relations
between Russia and China have been actively
developing in different fields. In particular, in 2013 the states
signed 21 trade agreements, including a new 100 million ton oil
supply deal with China’s Sinopec. On October 2013, the two
governments signed an agreement to build, jointly an oil refinery in
Tianjin, east of Beijing. In addition, China is
ready to invest $20 billion in domestic
projects in Russia, focusing on transport infrastructure, highways,
ports, and airports, and it hoped to increase investment in Russia
fourfold by 2020.
However, a millennium
deal between the two giants is still to be concluded, though, it is
already nicknamed as "Holy
Grail" by the media. The
National Petroleum Corporation (CNOOC) are ready to strike a
thirty-year gas dealonsupplies
of 68 billion cubic meters per
year by two routes. Fast growing China
desperately needs Russian gas. According to expert assessments,
for gas will reach 300-350 billion cubic meters per year by 2020.
China's own production can provide about 115 billion cubic meters.
Experts predict that by 2030 total gas consumption in China will
exceed the European one, which now makes about 600 billion cubic
meters. Russia and
China have been
negotiating on gas
deal since 2004.A
stumbling block in the negotiations has been a
basic price. Recently a high-level Russian delegation visited China.
Following the talks, Chairman of OAO "Gazprom" Alexey
"During this round of negotiations, we agreed on all technical
issues of the project. Progress has been made in the negotiations on
the price of gas. The parties agreed that the contract will enter
into force before the end of 2014”. It is expected that the
long-awaited contract will be signed during Putin's May visit to
China (in Russia, we keep fingers crossed!).
Currently, Russian gas is
not supplied to China, though in 2013 Russia’s biggest independent
natural gas producer, Novatek, signed preliminary memorandums with
CNPC to sell at least 3 million tons of LNG per year between Yamal
LNG and PetroChina International. Another Russian company, Rosneft,
which is 75 percent state-owned, is vastly expanding its LNG projects
to diversify its portfolio, and is focusing heavily on eastern
markets, like Japan and China.
Besides the energy sector,
the two countries look forward for further partnerships in the
defense sphere. It is expected that Moscow and Beijing will sign a
billioncontract on the sale of 100 Su-35
fighters to China ahead of Putin's visit to Beijing in May. In 2014,
Russia and China have got a full agenda for bilateral cooperation,
which includes not only trade but also such spheres as energy,
aircraft building, mechanical engineering, military and science
cooperation, tourism, etc.
is India. In 2012, the
trade reached $11 billion,
which is rather modest in comparison with China. In
2013 this index slightly decreased. It
is expected that in the near future India
the Economic Cooperation Agreement with the Customs Union of Russia,
Belarus and Kazakhstan.
case of joining India
trade zone, its
trade with the members of the Customs
particularly, with Russia will boost.
Traditionally, Russia and India have been closely cooperating in the
defense sphere. At that, almost every defense contract provides
of joint ventures or licensed production. In 2013, India’s import
of Russian weapons reached $4.78 billion. Another industry which
attracts India is computer-guided weapons, produced by the Russian
In February, the two states confirmed
their plans to boost cooperation in nuclear energy, with the
former backing the construction of more units at the Kudankulam
Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) and other parts of the country. Besides,
India and Russia are set to sign an agreement aimed at productive
cooperation in many spheres: space and military cooperation, trade,
construction of a pipeline from Russia to India, and plans to set up
a Joint Study Group to look into the scope of the CECA (Comprehensive
Economic Cooperation Agreement) with member-countries of the Customs
Union (the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan and Belarus).
smaller trading partner for Russia. The total trade volume
between Russia and Brazil made $5.7 billion in 2013, however, the two
states seek to increase it up to $10 billion in the near future.
Russia imports Brazilian meat, coffee, sugar, juices and alcohol; and
exports mainly fertilizers. However, in December 2012 the states
signed a treaty on supplies of Russian helicopters to Brazil.
to the dollar
trade relations with non-western partners would inevitably raise a
problem of currency for
mutual settlements. Up to date, Russia has
been using US dollar in its oil and gas trade by
default. However, in a situation where the
western partners have becomeless reliable
and, moreover, are
threatening with trade and financial sanction the
instinct of economic self-preservation
demands to use more secure means of payment.
Since Russia sells its own raw materials, it can change the rules. In
2013, Russian exports of crude oil and oil
products accounted for$283
gas exports made $67
LNG - $5.5billion. Taking
into account the future gas deal with China and other hydrocarbon
projects, Russia can count on a big chunk of
the pieon the global
fuel and energy market which can be
nominated in any type of liquid assets.
Besides, Russia is
close to entering a
goods-for-oil swap transaction with Iran that
will give Rosneft around 500,000 barrels of Iranian oil per day to
sell in the global market.
Instead of feeding the U.S. with petrodollars,
Russia can switch to petrorubles, regional currencies and even gold.
In addition to the oil and gas trade,
state company specialized in weapon exports, can start trading in
rubles. Prominent US trader
Jim Sinclair believes that Russia can easily
cause the collapse of the US economy.
The economist, famous for his forecasts, explains that the strength
of the dollar is based on the US agreement with Saudi Arabia that all
contracts for fuel deliveries be in the US dollars. Now, Moscow can
petrodollar and bring
downa colossus with
feet of clay.
Durden justly admits,"If
it was the intent of the West to bring Russia and China together -
one a natural resource (if "somewhat" corrupt) superpower
and the other a fixed capital/labor output (if "somewhat"
capital misallocating and credit bubbleicious) powerhouse - in the
process marginalizing the dollar and encouraging Ruble and Renminbi
bilateral trade, then things are surely "going according to
countries have been repeatedly expressing their determination
to abandon the dollar in their
is not a threat which
the U.S. can easily ignore.
In 2012, the mutual trade between BRICS member states was about $280
has an ambitious task to raise
the trade volume up to $500 billion in 2015. One
more bad news for the buck is in the air. It
is expected that in the nearest future China will declare the
currency. These expectations are heated by China's recent activity in
accumulating monetary gold and its huge official
international reserves, which reached $3,7 trillion at the end of
2013. China’s central bank may have stocked up heavily on gold in
the past few years, and might own about 2,710 tons as of the end of
2013, according to an industry
According to Jim
will shock the world announcing
that it has accumulated 5,000 tonnes of gold.
shifting away from the
emerging markets have
for redesigning the global finance. In
order to modernize the global economic system, which now
created the BRICS Stock Alliance and are working
their own development bank to finance large infrastructure projects. One
more direct consequence of ill-considered US sanctions is Russia's
strong decision to create its own payment processing system. As a
result of financial sanctions imposed by the
U.S. on Russian financial
institutions over Crimea, Visa and MasterCard stopped processing
transactions for several Russian banks. Currently, Visa and
MasterCard control about 85 percent of all card transactions in
Russia. At that, 90 percent of transactions are carried out within
Russia's territory. Recently, Russia’s biggest financial institute
said the PRO 100 payment system, that’s been in development for a
couple of years, will be launched on a massive scale within months.
Russian banking community presumethat
Russia can develop its own
digital card payment system in cooperation with China, particularly,
on the basis of the UnionPay
processing system. When the
national payment processing system will be created Visa and
MasterCard would lose a big piece of Russia's market.
really the West is to gain at the end of the
Now it's pretty
clear, why Russia doesn't participate in ridiculous
sanctions game notwithstanding US never-ending threats. Putin and his
partners are busy reconfiguring the global political and economic
landscape. The biggest loser will be the U.S. since its brand new
American dream or long-declared pivot
would be hardly realized. Partly,
has too much bogged down in Ukraine and, mainly, because Russia
but not the U.S. has been pivoting to Asia just
Obama can enjoy
of cardsfromtons of dollars which the FRS has been printing
EU can lose its loyal
and reliable partnerand
get instead struggling
of the Ukraine.
It is clear that the Russian economy would suffer a serious damage if
the EU were to introduce a
However, far-reaching consequences of the above-mentioned
geopolitical shifts would more than compensate
leaders and ordinary people are fully aware of future difficulties
and are ready to pay the price for regaining Crimea. When I
returned from Italy to Moscow at the end of March, I spoke with a
taxi driver who met me at the airport. He was very enthusiastic about
the Crimea story and told me that he
and his family weren't afraid of any future sanctions. “The main
thing is that the Crimea is again ours.
We, Russians, are accustomed
to difficulties. But we don't want war”. In fact, I've never seen
such a unanimity of opinions during all post-communist period. It
seems that the Russian people have finally restored its self-esteem
and identity. For the first time since the collapse of the USSR, we
are proud of our country. I believe that further sanctions would only
reinforce these feelings. Following the successful Olympic and
Paralympic Games and the peaceful reintegration of Crimea with
Russia, Putin's rating has skyrocketed. According to the
VCIOM All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center,
since the beginning of 2014, Vladimir Putin’s rating has risen 15
percent and stands at 75.7 percent – the highest in the last five
the powerful support of his citizens, Putin can proceed with geopolitical
redesigning together with the ASEAN and BRICSpartners.
For the Easter of 2014, let me repropose my post on the dynamic modelling of the Easter egg hunt which, for some reason, has been the most successful post ever to be published (in 2012) on the former "Cassandra's Legacy" blog, now known as "Resource Crisis." -Happy Easter, everyone!
is a little Easter post where I try to model the Easter Egg hunt as if
it were the production of a mineral resource. A simple model based on
system dynamics turns out to be equivalent to the Hubbert model of oil
production. We can have "peak eggs" and the curve may also take the
asymmetric shape of the "Seneca Peak."
So, even this simple model confirms what the Roman Philosopher told us
long ago: that ruin is much faster than fortune. (Image from uptownupdate)
those of you who may not be familiar with the Easter Bunny tradition,
let me say that, in the US, bunnies lay eggs and not just that: for
Easter, they lay brightly colored eggs. The tradition is that the Easter
Bunny spreads a number of these eggs in the garden and then it is up to
the children to find them. It is a game that children usually love and that
can last quite some time if the garden is big and the bunny has been a
little mean in hiding the eggs in difficult places.
curious facet of the Easter Egg hunt is that it looks a little like
mineral prospecting. With minerals, just as for eggs, you need to search
for hidden treasures and, once you have discovered the easy minerals
(or eggs), finding the well hidden ones may take a lot of work. So much
that some eggs usually remain undiscovered; just as some minerals will
never be extracted.
Now, if searching for minerals is
similar to searching for Easter Eggs, perhaps we could learn something
very general if we try a little exercise in model building. We can use
system dynamics to make a model that turns out to be able to describe
both the Easter Eggs search and the common "Hubbert" behavior of mineral production. The exercise can also tell us something on how system dynamics can be used to make "mind sized" models (to use an expression coined by Seymour Papert). So, let's try.
dynamics models are based on "stocks"; that is amounts of the things
you are interested in (in this case, eggs). Stocks will not stay fixed
(otherwise it would be a very uninteresting model) but will change with
time. We say that stocks (eggs) "flow" from one to another. In this
case, eggs start all in the stock that we call "hidden eggs" and flow
into the stock that we call "found eggs". Then, we also need to consider
another stock: the number of children engaged in the search.
make a model, we need to make some assumptions. We could say that the
number of eggs found per unit time is proportional to the number of
children, which we might take as constant. Then, we could also say that
it becomes more difficult to find eggs as there are less of them left.
That's about all we need for a very basic version of the model.
are all conditions that we could write in the form of equations, but
here we can use a well known method in system dynamics which builds the
equations starting from a graphical version of the model. Traditionally,
stocks are shown as boxes and flows as double edged arrows. Single
edged arrows relate stocks and flows to each other. In this case, I used
a program called "Vensim"
by Ventana systems (free for personal and academic use). So, here is
the simplest possible version of the Easter Egg Hunt model:
you see, there are three "boxes," all labeled with what they contain.
The two-sided arrow shows how the same kind of stock (eggs) flows from
one box to the other. The little butterfly-like thing is the "valve"
that regulates the flow. Production depends on three parameters: 1) the
ability of the children to find eggs, 2) the number of children (here
taken as constant) and 3) the number of remaining hidden eggs.
model produces an output that depends on the values of the parameters.
Below, there are the results for the production flow for a run that has
50 starting eggs, 10 children and an ability parameter of 0.006. Note
that the number of eggs is assumed to be a continuous function. There
are other methods of modeling that assume discrete numbers, but this is
the way that system dynamics works.
production goes down to nearly zero, as the children deplete their egg
reservoir. In this version of the model, we have robot-children who
continue searching forever and, eventually, they'll always find all the
eggs. In practice, at some moment real children will stop searching when
they become tired. But this model may still be an approximate
description of an actual egg hunt when there is a fixed number of
children - as it is often the case when the number of children is small.
can we make a more general model? Suppose that there are many children
and that not all of them get tired at the same time. We may assume that
they drop out of the hunt simply at random. Then, can we assume that the
game becomes so interesting that more children will be drawn in as more
eggs are found? That, too can be simulated. A simple way of doing it is
to assume that the number of children joining the search is
proportional to the number of eggs found (egg production). Here is a
model with these assumptions. (note the little clouds: they mean that we
don't care about the size of the stocks where the children go or come
model is a little more complex but not so much. Note that there are two
new constants "k1" and "k2" used to "tune" the sensitivity of the
children stock to the rest of the model. The results for egg production
are the following:
egg production shows a very nice, bell shaped peak. This shape is a
robust feature of the model. You can play with the constants as you
like, but what you get, normally, is this kind of symmetric peak. As you
probably know, this is the basic characteristic of the Hubbert model
of oil production, where the peak is normally called "Hubbert peak".
Actually, this simple egg hunt model is equivalent to the one that I
used, together with my coworker Alessandro Lavacchi, to describe real
historical cases of the production of non renewable resources. (see this article published in "Energies" and here for a summary)
can play a little more with the model. How about supposing that the
children can learn how to find eggs faster, as the search goes on? That
can be simulated by assuming that the "ability" parameter increases
with time. We could say that it ramps up of a notch for every egg
found. The results? Well, here is an example:
still have a peak, but now it has become asymmetric. It is not any more
the Hubbert peak but something that I have termed the "Seneca peak"
from the words of the Roman philosopher Seneca who noted that ruin is
usually much faster than fortune. In this example, ruin comes so fast
precisely because people try to do their best to avoid it! It is a
classic case of "pulling the levers in the wrong direction",
as Donella Meadows told us some time ago. It is counter-intuitive but,
when exploiting a non renewable resource, becoming more efficient is not
a good idea.
There are many ways to skin a
rabbit, so to say. So, this model can be modified in many ways, but
let's stop here. I think this is a good illustration of how to play with
"mind sized" models based on system dynamics and how even very simple
models may give us some hint of how the real world works. This said,
happy Easter, everyone!
(BTW, the model shown here is rather
abstract and not thought to describe an actual Easter Egg hunt. But, who
knows? It would be nice to compare the results of the model with some
real world data. My children are grown-ups by now, but maybe someone
would be able to collect actual data this Easter!)
As you probably know, the scholarly publisher "Frontiers" recently decided to retract an already approved and published paper ("Recursive Fury") on the subject of conspiratorial attitudes in the debate on climate change. This action prompted the resignation of some of Frontiers' editors, including myself, as I described in a previous post. Here, I return to this subject with more details.
When I was contacted by the staff of "Frontiers" and asked to become "chief editor" with them, I thought it was an excellent idea. I was attracted, first of all, by the fact that the journal was completely "open access," an idea that I have always favored (I was probably one of the first to experiment with open access publishing in chemistry). So, I accepted the offer with considerable enthusiasm and I started to work on a journal (actually a section of a journal) called "Frontiers in Energy Systems and Policy".
Once an editor, I discovered the peculiar structure of the Frontiers system. It is a giant pyramidal scheme where each journal has sub-journals (called "specialties" in Frontiers' jargon). The pyramid extends to the people involved with the scientific editing: it starts with "chief editors" who supervise "chief specialty editors", who supervise "associate editors", who supervise "reviewers". Since each steps involves a growth of a factor 10-20 in the number of people, you can see that each journal of the Frontiers series may involve a few thousand scientists. The whole system may count, probably, tens of thousands of scientists.
Why this baroque structure? The official explanation is that it makes the review process go faster. In this, the pyramidal structure of Frontiers looks somewhat like a military "command and control" system which is, indeed, designed to speed up the communication/action process. Of course, if you enlist as an editor in Frontiers, you are not given orders by the layers above; nevertheless you are continuously pestered by communications and reminders about what you have to do and you are supposed to pass these communications to the layers below you. All these messages do push you to complete your assignments.
But my impression is that the pyramidal structure of Frontiers was not created just for speed; it had a a marketing objective. Surely, involving so many scientists in the process creates an atmosphere
of participation which encourages them to submit their papers to the
journal and this is where the publisher makes money, of course. This is a strategy typical of pyramidal marketing schemes, such as "multi-level marketing" I cannot prove that the structure of Frontiers was conceived in these terms from the beginning, but, apparently, they are not alien to use aggressive promoting tactics for their business.
As you may imagine, such a complex system brings many problems. First, the plethora of
sub-journals makes the whole Frontiers system look like Borges' Chinese "Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge"
- in short, a mess. Then, in the case of very large systems the problem
of control is practically unsolvable: see Reagan's "Star
Wars" as an example. Maybe Frontiers is not so complex as the old
strategic defense initiative, but the problems are the same. Their
Internet site is supposed to manage the activity of thousands (or perhaps
tens of thousands) of scientists but, in my experience, it never really worked. And managing the whole system must require a considerable number of permanent staff. As a result, publishing with "Frontiers" doesn't come cheap.
So, after nearly one year of work with Frontiers, I was growing more and more perplexed. I had this feeling of being just a cog in a giant machine that didn't work very well and which had the only purpose of making money for the top layers of the pyramid. Please, do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with the idea of making money in the publishing business: absolutely not. It is also clear to me that if the publisher is a commercial enterprise, then it is their right to decide what to publish and what not to publish. The way Frontiers behaved with "Recursive Fury" shows this attitude in a crystal clear manner. Their management listened only to their lawyers and they took the decision that involved the lowest financial risk for them. It was not just an occasional blunder, it was the consequence of the decisional structure of the publisher.
Once this point was clear, it appeared also clear to me what the problem was: granted that a commercial publisher can publish what they want, who defends science (and in particular climate science) against special interest groups, lobbies, assorted anti-science groups and single madmen? You can't ask to do that to a commercial enterprise which is (correctly) focused on profit. But you can ask why so many scientists should give their time and their work for free to a commercial enterprise which doesn't appear to be really interested in defending science. At this point, my choice was obvious. I resigned as an editor of "Frontiers." Others did the same for similar reasons.
I hope that these notes help clarify my position in this story. As I said in my previous note, my resignation had nothing to do with the virtues (or the defects) of the paper titled "Recursive Fury." I am not qualified to make a judgment in that field and, anyway, this is not the point. The point I wanted to make - and I hope it is understood - is that we have to react against the climate of intimidation which is engulfing science, and in particular climate science. This climate of intimidation takes many forms and the case of "Recursive Fury" shows that it has now reached also scientific publishing. The problem, here, is not with a specific publisher. It is that we are stuck with a century old model of
communication: expensive and ineffective and, worse, easily subverted by
special interest groups (on this point, see for instance this post by Dana Nuccitelli).
So, what can we do? Initially, open access seemed to be a good idea to improve on the publishing process, but it is becoming increasingly clear that it may be causing more harm than good. In addition of having generated hundreds of low quality "predatory publishers," it is being appropriated by traditional publishers and turned into a way to extract even more money from scientific research budgets.
I still believe in open access publishing, but I think we have a lot of work to do if we want it to become the revolution in scientific communication we hoped it would be. That will take time and, for the time being, we are stuck with a system based on commercial publishers who are not necessarily keen to defend science in this difficult moment. But we can at least fight back if we refrain from publishing with journals which fail to defend science and even walk away from them as editors, as I did with Frontiers. That should give them at least a nudge in the right direction.
wrote earlier on about the first level of
sanctions against Russia imposed on individual businessmen. At present, “All Quiet on the Western Front” (Im
Westen nichts Neues)
but it seems
before the storm (note by UB: this sentence was written a few days ago and it seems to have been prophetic).
main geopolitical actors are staying in full alert anticipating
further steps of each other. After a certain agitation caused by
first sanctions tool kit, the West is watching Russia's reaction (a
disappointing one) and making guesswork about Putin's next move. Now
it is more
or less clear
that the West and the Ukraine have
integration with Russia.
seems that they are going to continue with sanctions only in case
of a Russian invasion of mainland Ukraine, which is highly
to avoid the boomerang effect
main reason behind the pause taken
by the West is the understanding
that after undertaking clearly political individual sanctions the law
of consequences demands more comprehensive economic sanctions to be imposed
on the most sensible sectors of the Russian economy. The
conflict of mighty economic interests serves as
watershed between the U.S. and the EU, which separates them in the form of no less
than the AtlanticOcean.
for the U.S.,
sanctioning is their
favorite game. At present, the U.S. has
24 different sanction regimes on different countries from the Balkans
to Zimbabwe. Moreover,
a strong warning to China not to escalate territorial tensions in
the Asia-Pacific region if it doesn’t want to face American
retaliation. In his statement, a US official used sanctions on Russia
over Crimea’s accession as an example. However,
politicians and analysts express strong doubts about sanctions'
efficiency. Even a rather hawkish Paul Pillar writes in his post
sanctions habit has persisted because imposing sanctions is a
primitive, easy way to “do something” about difficult problems on
which there is an urge to do something. It is a gesture. Congress
needs to decide whether gestures are more important than making
progress in getting out of the current crisis”.
fact, there are very limited trade relations between Russia and the
USA and therefore economic sanctions
can't cause much harm to the Russian
to the Federal Customs Service,
trade turnover with
the U.S. in
than $28 billion,
Russia's foreign trade. Russian
exports to the US accounted for $11.2 billion
while imports were $16.5 bn, so the balance is more favorable for the U.S. than
week, NATO and NASA created a rather comic
they want to sanction Russia, too. The fact is that Russia has very
limited relations with both organizations.
posted on its Twitter and Facebook accounts a statement announcing
the suspension of cooperation with Russia. NASA’s statuson Facebook stated:
“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.” I
was rather surprised by this bold declaration and
even thought that NASA'a accounts
had been hacked. Ironically,exactly
this same periodNASA’s
astronaut Steven Swanson has
been staying at the
International Space Station together
with two Russian
Aleksandr Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev. It
isn't very reasonable to turna
US citizen into
a hostage of the Ukranian crisis. I tried to imagine possible ways
out of this awkward situation. I could think of only two opportunities: Swanson
be deported from the station to extra vehicular activity (EVA)
quite the contrary, would be granted Russian citizenship.
Luckily for the
a little bit later that they wouldn't suspend theISS
Prime Minister Dmitriy
in his tweet, “NASA suspends cooperation with Roscosmos (Russian Federal
Space Agency) with the exception of work on the ISS. Yet, apart from the
ISS we didn't cooperate with NASA in any other way”. As
a matter of fact, NASA's
pompous declaration appeared to be much
ado about nothing.
director of the Johnson Space Center, said
in his interview to “Russia Today” that “the United States
right now are
totally dependent on our Russian partners. When we stopped flying the
space shuttle, we did away with our access to take humans to space
and we rely completely upon Russia. Russia does a very good job
flying our crewmen up to the space
so if that were to end, the US human flight program would not really
be implemented in any fashion until 2017 or much later”. OK,
what about NATO's
demarche? Maybe itrepresents
a real threat to Russia's national security? Actually,
the only field where NATO and Russia have been fruitfully cooperating
as I wrote in my previous post, NATO had already declared that it had unilaterally
suspended all cooperation with Russia on drug trafficking. This
display of political muscles takes place
precisely at the
is preparing to conclude the withdrawal of the last 50 thousand
troops from Afghanistan. The infamous retreat of NATO's
forces will take place this summer and the Command of International
Forces will be badly in need of Russia's assistance,
transit services for troops
that, NATO hurried to precise that it didn't mean suspending
the cooperation onAfghanistan.
a communiqué where it declared that it would restrict
the access for
Russian diplomats in its headquarters.
A very good
what if Russia
"northern corridor" for the transit of
troops through its territory?!In
this case, the
international troops wouldbe
forced to march
through Pakistan, which is much more dangerous because of the
activity of the Pakistani Taliban in the country's northern
groups of vehicles carrying military personnel and cargo could become
an easy target for ambushes, terrorist and mine attacks. Thus,
be fraught with greater
losses of manpower and military equipment.
their NASA's and NATO's colleagues, Russian
officials seem to be maintaining a more mature position. Russia's
space agency is not preparing to retaliate against NASA in connection
with the latter's imposition of sanctions. Deputy head of Roskosmos
Denis Lyskov said, "All the projects that have significance for
Roscosmos are running in international format in the first place.
NASA sanctions do not apply to them," he reiterated. The
International Space Station is not a bilateral program, although the
USA and Russia are among the key participants. "Suspending work
within the framework of this program would result in serious
consequences for everybody," Lyskov said.
Foreign Ministry Lavrov
decision to limit the access for
Russian diplomats to its headquarters in Brussels as reflecting the
persistent "Cold War" mentality among the alliance's
officials. "We noted that information about the move was posted
on the main page of NATO's official website. It looks like access by
Russian diplomats to the NATO office is the North Atlantic alliance's
number one problem," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a
the best traditions of political farce, US senators Dan Coats and
Mark Kirk sent a letter to FIFA requesting the international
governing organization for soccer to strip Russia from its right to
host the World Cup in 2018 and also ban it from this year's edition
of the event which will be hosted by Brazil.
FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke
explained US lawmakers in his
response letter that FIFA rules and regulations do not apply to a
"entities outside the pyramidal structure of the game of
football". He added that individual teams could not be banned
from a competition because of actions by their parent states.
Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, commenting
on US, NATO's and NASA'sfeverish
activity to threaten
sanctions, gave them a very helpful recommendation. “What
can we advise our American colleagues to do? Spend more time
outdoors, do some yoga, have healthy food, probably, watch more
comedy series on TV. That would be better than working yourselves and
others up, knowing that the train has already departed and that no
tantrums, crying and hysterics can help”.
the American public gives little support to USA's engagement in Ukraine. According to a new
percent of the 1,003 respondents said they do not want America to be
involved in the crisis whatsoever–not economic sanctions, not
military action. This may be indicative of weariness about adding a
new chapter to America's legacy of international entanglements. Only
eight percent of respondents considered sending military troops and
assets to be the right course of action for America; and
only thirty-one percent think the U.S.
should continue imposing economic sanctions on Russia. "If
Russia attempts to invade additional parts of Ukraine, would you
favor or oppose [sending US troops to Ukraine]?"
non-interventionist sentiments remained high. Sixty-two percent of
people polled would still be opposed to sending military aid and
weapons. Though, when asked a similar question about stricter
sanctions, 61 percent said they would approve.
discord in the European communal home
Obama's tour was dedicated to rally the international community
in order to isolate Russia, but the European leaders are reluctant to
punish themselves together with Russia. It
isn't at all surprising since, unlike the U.S., the European Union
strong economic ties with Russia. The
EU trade turnover with Russia stands at almost $410
billion euros, or nearly
times more than the Russia-US trade turnover. According
third most important trading partner, behind the USA and China and
accounts for 7 percent of imports and 12 percent of exports of
the EU. The introduction of sanctions may lead to a considerable
financial losses for the EU while
the region is slowly coming out from the Great Recession.
aftermath of the EU
summit on March 20th and 21st, European
Commission President Jose
European Union has not yet made a decision on possible practical
trade and economic sanctions against Russia. He said the European
Commission (EC) was considering all economic sectors, but had not
reached an agreement on the specific economic measures against
timeframe for the coordination of these measures had not been
European countries opposed trade war with Russia during the
EU summit on March 20th and 21st.
"Escalating the conflict around Ukraine would have catastrophic
consequences both for the parties to the conflict and Europeans",
Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo
even accord among the EU's main stakeholders. Angela
Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, made
strong political statements,
threatening Russia with "massive political and economic damage".
At the same time Merkel
that the West “has
not reached a stage that requires the imposition of economic
against Russia, as advocated by US President Barack Obama. “And I hope
we will be able to avoid it,” she said. Germany
is very much involvedin
with Russia with trade
76 billion euros in 2013. The
6,000 German firms and over 300,000 jobs are dependent on Russian
partners with the overall investment volume of 20 billion euros. In
addition, Germany heavily relies
on Russian energy with around 35 percent of its natural gas imports
coming from Russia.
The discord between
the EU members is based on their unwillingless to hit Russia's
sector of economy which is more connected with their own economy.
have exchanged unpleasantries over the fact that Paris was not strict
enough in regard to Moscow as it had not refused to sale helicopter
carriers to Russia. In its turn, London was unable to show the French
an example and freeze multibillion assets of Russian businessmen.
A hint made by French FM Laurent Fabius that Paris
may give up the contract for building Mistral-class amphibious
assault ships for Russia as part of the western countries' economic
sanctions against the Russia, caused
a strong discontent in France. Apart from damaging
600 workers occupied
in the manufacturing, the
collapse of the deal can
negatively affect the financial soundness of DCNS (Direction
des Constructions Navales).
Moscow has already paid 1.2 billion euros to Paris, or more than a
half of the contract sum. If breach of contract is also included in
the economic sanctions package against Russia, France will have to
pay the break fee. Russian
Deputy Defense Minister Yury
course, Russia will defend its right to the end in accordance with
the agreements concluded and will demand repayment of all damages we
could sustain in the case that the Mistral contract is broken off".
best kept secret about these Mistrals is in the fact that ahead of
concluding the contract in 2011,
there were hot debates in the Russian defense sphere about
appropriateness of commissioning these vessels abroad whereas the
national defense industry was quite capable to build aircraft
on its own. The Russian United
Shipbuilding Corporation (USC)
has already noticed that it would finish building the ships in case
of cancellation of the contract, taking
into account that the USC had already received the most part of the
technical documentation on the "Mistral" from the French
President Francois Hollande hurried
that France will continue implementing the contract on supplying the
two Mistral vessels to Russia. France is complying with the
conditions of the agreement signed, the parties are not at a stage of
dissolving the contract and it is hoped that this will be avoid. This
little story with happy end illustrates how the boomerang effect
only the big
economies express their concern but also the smaller ones. Latvia
has so far voiced the biggest concern over sanctions against Russia,
as the adverse effect would hit it
the hardest compared to all the EU member states. The country could
lose up to 10 percent of its GDP, as the action against Russia could
have a big adverse effect, according to the country’s Prime
Latvia also said that the EU should compensate any countries hurt by
sanctions against Russia.
missesto hit back
The European leaders are seeking how to punish Russia and at
the same time not to hit their own economies. In
fact, Russia shouldn't
work very hard
in order to retaliate against its European counterparts. As
a prominent US trader Jim
Sinclair ironically said, slapping of sanctions on Russia is
tantamount to shooting oneself in the foot. On a more serious tune, Euro
Arlacchi admitted, “The EU sanctions against Russia would
cripple the European economy instead. The position of the European
Union should be different from the US position. Europe should not
insist on the extension of sanctions. These sanctions are unwise. In
fact, they are directed against us".
point in the
EU-Russian relations is
is currently the world’s largest crude producer and second-largest
gas producer. In 2012, the European Union’s bill for Russian oil
and gas amounted to $156.5 billion, says the
International Trade Centre’s Trade Map.
European members of the Paris-based International Energy Agency
imported 32% of their raw crude oil, fuels and gas-based industrial
feedstocks from Russia that same year. According to the U.S. Energy
Department in Washington, collectively, the EU, Turkey, Norway,
Switzerland and the Balkan countries got 30% of the natural gas they
burned from Russia last year. The
EU as a whole accounts for about one-third of Russia’s exports, 40
percent of which pass through Ukraine.
The picture bellow clearly shows the dependence of
individual EU countries on Russian gas, varying from zero in
case of the UK and to 100% (Finland, Lituania, Latviya, Estonia). In the case of
Italy, which depends for 90 percent on imports for its gas needs; 29% of the supplies
come from Russia, which is the biggest.
I'm not a fan of
The Economist's biased attitude towards Russia but as an economist
I'm fond of maps, tables and charts etc. So I highly recommend to
read an article with an eloquent title “Reducing
Europe’s dependence on Russian gas is possible—but it will take
time, money and sustained political will“.
The author studies the case of high indebtedness of Ukraine to
Russia's energy company Gazprom. “Ukraine already owes Gazprom $1.7
billion, according to Mr Miller. If Ukraine continues failing to pay its
bills—and without outside help, it can't pay—Gazprom can cut it off.
Such a dispute need not, in principle, have any effect on the gas
that flows through Ukraine to other countries farther west. But if
Gazprom reduces the flow of gas to reflect the fact that Ukraine no
longer has a right to its 28bcm, and Ukraine takes some of that gas
anyway, or if Gazprom shuts down the pipelines going through Ukraine
completely, Europe’s supplies get hit. Europe gets 24% of its gas
from Russia, and half of that—80bcm a year—passes through
I'd like to admit
that The Economist doesn't consider EU sanctions or Russia's
retaliation but only apossibility
gas supplies to Ukraine. The
different opportunities, such as gas sharing among the EU consumers,
Norwegian exports, American shale gas, imports of LNG from the
Middle East and even... Russian supplies via the Nord Stream.
Finally,The Economist makes
a rather ambivalent conclusion, “Though making a real dent in
Europe’s reliance on Russian gas will take political will, money
and the best part of a decade, merely moving in that direction will
shift the balance of power, because it will signal a fundamental
truth: in the end, the Kremlin needs its European customers at least
as much as they need Russian imports”.
financial research company Sanford
C. Bernstein & Co,
Europe will have to spend up to $215 billion through investments if
it decides to stop buying Russian natural gas. The
company considered "various scenarios of Europe
refusing Russian gas supplies but none of them seem attractive"
and arrived at conclusion that "the
cure is worse than the illness".
Danny Vinik reasonably
writes in “New
EU can impose its own sanctions against Russian individuals and
entities. They will carry much more force than anything the U.S.
does, because the EU does more than $400 billion of trade with Russia
each year. This is a double-edged sword, though. For instance, if the
EU prohibits Eurozone businesses from purchasing Russian natural gas
and oil, it would significantly impact the Kremlin’s finances. But
it would also leave the Eurozone nations without a vital energy
supply, increasing the price of gas and oil and potentially leading
to shortages. That's made countries like Germany hesitant to support
cure from the Russian gas addiction
I first heard an interview by Giulietto
said that all the Ukranian crisis was inspired by the U.S. in order
to sell shale gas to Europe, I decided that the whole idea was a
little bit exaggerated. Being
a follower of Ugo Bardi's blog, I know that the American
is well over. You
can imagine my surprise when Obama in his Hague speech declared the
shale gas as
panacea from Europe's dependence on Russian gas. I asked Ugo to
As I expected, he called the American idea
to sell gas to Europe a mad one and advised me to read Gail
Tverberg's articles. In her article “The
Absurdity of US Natural Gas Exports”,
Tverberg gives a comprehensive analysis explaining
why America's gas crusade
to Europe is ill-intentioned not only against Russia but Europe, as
issue is that with shale gas, we are the high cost producer. There is
a lot of natural gas production around the world, particularly in the
Middle East, that is cheaper. If we add our high cost of shale gas to
the high cost of shipping LNG long-distance across the Atlantic or
Pacific, we will most definitely be the high cost producer. Other
producers with lower costs (even local shale gas producers) can
undercut our prices. So at best those shipping LNG overseas are
likely to make mediocre profits. And there would
seem to be great temptation to stir up trouble, to encourage Europe
to buy our natural gas exports, rather than Russia’s. Of course,
our ability to provide this natural gas is not entirely clear. It
makes a good story, with lots of “ifs” involved: “If we can
really extract this natural gas. If the price can really go up and
stay up. If you can wait long enough.” The story makes the US look
more rich and powerful than it really is. We can even pretend to
offer help to Ukraine”.
level: the credibility
of the Iranian model
the beginning of sanctions' hysteria, there was much talk about
applicability of Iranian type of sanctions against
Iranian sanctions regime
had three components. First, it included prohibitions on oil, tanker
fleets, and the insurance industry, which grounded the Iranian oil
trade to a halt and cost the country many billions of dollars in
export revenue. Second, banking sanctions cut off Iran from the
international banking system, making it virtually impossible for the
country to engage in any form of international commerce. And third,
Obama invoked the U.S. International Emergency Economic Powers Act
(IEEPA), which allowed him to block Iranian assets subject to U.S.
jurisdiction (such as those belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary
Guard Corps and its various commercial and logistical affiliates) and
made it illegal for U.S. citizens to do business with designated
persons or companies.
US hawks were citing US
success which forced Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to start talks
with the U.S. on the Iranian nuclear problem. The
reality was quite different,
September 27, 2013, after the
General Assembly meeting
Syria where he failed to promote military intervention to Syria.
best traditions of the US propaganda,
his call to Rouhani
declared as a big strategic victory of the US sanctions'
more sober researchers question the efficiency of
the Iranian model.
Joint Plan of Action agreed to last fall between Iran and the
so-called P5-plus-1 negotiating team — the five permanent members
of the U.N. Security Council and Germany — stipulated that Iran
would not continue to enrich uranium to levels above 5%, implicitly
recognizing that Tehran can enrich uranium. All those years of
throttling the Iranian economy, impeding even shipments of food and
medicine, for this?”
S. Wolosky in his article “How
to Sanction Russia: And Why Obama's Current Strategy Won't Work”
sanctions against Russia would be missing two components that made
the ones on Iran work: energy and banking. Energy accounts for 70
percent of Russia’s annual exports, so energy sanctions could, in
principle, be a meaningful tool for rebuking Russia. But much of
Russia’s oil and natural gas (unlike Iran’s) goes significantly
to Europe, and Europeans have not been willing or eager to change
that quickly. And without adequate preparation, such sanctions could
cause a shock to world oil markets that could undermine the global
economic recovery”. In his interview to
Dimitri K. Simes at The National Interest, Sergey
Glazyev, an adviser on
Ukraine to President
Putin estimated the possible consequences of
Iranian type sanctions.
we assume that they would adopt sanctions against Russia similar to
those against Iran, according to our calculations, this would cost
the EU 1 trillion euro. The sanctions would disproportionately affect
the Baltic republics: for example, the potential losses for Estonia
are estimated at the size of Estonia’s annual GDP; Latvia and
Lithuania would incur losses the size of half of their annual
respective GDPs; Germany would incur a loss of 200 billion euro”.
all crazy suggestions which has been overflooding these days the
Western mass media, I really liked only one reasonable idea. Juan
C. Zarate calls to “a broader effort that marginalizes illicit
and suspect financial behavior — not just those activities tied to
the invasion of Ukraine. This should be a conduct-based campaign that
moves banks and companies to reconsider doing business and investing
in Russia... Such a campaign would entail aggressive investigations
of illicit financial activity of Russian interests globally — tied
to concerns about money laundering, corruption, tax evasion and links
to Russian organized crime”. Why do I appreciate this proposition?
Mainly, because it coincides with Putin's struggle against offshores
and corruption. If the international community would take part in
this fight, then illegal businesses would really feel that they won't
find refuge in safe havens under US and UK jurisdiction and return in
Russia. Such kind of sanctions would turn into a real benefit for
the time being, Europe resorts to toothless political bites which are
intended to rise its own self-esteem but, instead, exposesit
rather unflattering light.
Council of Europe (PACE) passed a resolutionthat
puts all the blame for the Ukrainian crisis on Moscow and
also deprived the Russian delegation of voting rights and the right
to participate in the governing bodies of the Assembly til the end of
can notice that currently Russia
has been restraining from backbites. Meantime,
scope of more
efficient means of retaliation...