Double standards for second-rate citizens

EU’s hypocrisy has come to the fore once more, what with the recent outcry from a number of Central and East European countries against the double standards in many products, and not just food products, that are being sold at one quality in West Europe, while its lesser quality versions are being dumped onto “second-hand”, “New” Europe for the same price or even more:

“Bulgaria and Romania have joined an outcry against multinational food companies, accused of selling lower quality products in Eastern Europe compared to those offered in the Western supermarkets.”

In a nutshell, the same product, produced by the same company, advertised in the same way and supposedly being produced in the same manner with the same ingredients, has turned out to be quite different in, say, Germany, Austria and France on one side, and Hungary, the Czech Republic and Romania on the other.

A large investigation spanning several countries has included dozens of products from 5 major groups, including foods and home items such as dish-washing and clothe-washing detergents, etc. The same product has been compared in the markets and shops at the two sides of the now supposedly removed Iron Curtain. The most prominent examples being chocolate, non-alcoholic beverages, meat, dairy products, fruit juices and children’s foods.

The comparative research has found out that identical products of the same brand have vast differences in their ingredients, their quality and even the terms of duration. As soon as they get labeled, the same product receives a different label, depending on their destination. The ministers of foods and agriculture of Romania, Bulgaria and a number of other East European countries are now planning to refer the matter to the EU commissioner for consumer rights. These governments have also called urgent meetings of their ministers to address the issue, so it’s not like this isn’t a biggie, and is just some sort of conspiracy theory being floated around the yellow press.

Central European governments have issued official protests, and are now calling for the EU to take action against these double standards:

Just a couple of examples. In Germany, a non-alcoholic beverage that contains sugar has been labeled accordingly, because it contains sugar. In Bulgaria, the very same product is made with fructose-glucose syrup instead. The “natural” juices in Germany contain 100% fruit, at this side of the divide, not so much. The same brand and same model of product has different contents. Some would say, “but it’s cheaper!” Well, guess what? It isn’t. Often, it’s even more expensive.

Children’s foods are another example of these discrepancies. A fruit mash contained 1.5% proteins per 100 g in Germany, and 1% per 100 g here. And this isn’t just about quality and ingredients, it’s about the prices too. The most striking discrepancy in the whole research came exactly from two types of children’s mashes, by the way. One was 90% more expensive than its West European counterpart (supposedly same ingredients and quality), the other by 107% (that one was established to be of lower quality). The same price gap is observed in the dairy products, between 20% and 70% more expensive in East Europe (supposedly lower living standard, so prices should be lower, not higher there, right?)

While these foods may not be harmful or poisonous (God forbid!), they’ve often been incorrectly labeled as identical everywhere, and these discrepancies are not just incidental, they’re endemic. So people have become very suspicious, and the question naturally arises, what gives!?

Mind you, even local products show such discrepancies, and these go way beyond the possible statistical error. The research included 6 types of local products, from hams to canned food to some sorts of sausages. There are uniform EU standards about these things, right? Or at least there are supposed to be. Well first, the experts investigated if we’re talking of the same type of meat. They established there were noticeable differences in the physical and chemical properties of the meat. They were examined for soy proteins, water concentration, proteins, fats, etc. Some sausages showed water contents that were by 3.2% and more higher than their German counterparts. We can’t be just talking of artificial pumping of water into the meat to make it heavier – not after the technological time for its maturing had passed.

Fat contents in the Bulgarian products was 1,2% lower on average. Salt, on the other hand, was way higher than in the EU product.

Noticeable differences were also observed in the same chocolate products (mostly in their outer looks), and also some sorts of cheese (including color, texture, etc).

The issue will be put for discussion at the upcoming meeting of the EU council of ministers on July 17/18. Officially, Slovakia will be the one to present the question, although it’ll be speaking on behalf of at least half a dozen countries. This is a major cause for concern, because it’s an issue that’s not just about the rules of the market, it’s also political. East Europe is feeling slighted, overlooked, bypassed, betrayed. It’s not helping the European cause, what with all the Euroskepticism that’s been on the rise, including in countries that have joined the union relatively recently (and where sentiments of regret for that decision have been rising lately).

In some countries like mine, there’s also been a wide-spread sentiment that joining the EU came at a huge cost: while we’re now being granted scraps in the form of EU funds, we’ve had to dismantle much of our agricultural, food and clothing industry in favor of our West European brethren, much of it supposedly privatized, then sold for coins like junk, never to be re-opened again. In its place, various imported goods have flooded our markets, of much lower quality (now proven), for higher prices, and not benefiting our economy or our labor market in any way whatsoever – save for lining the pockets of the big international trade chains who’ve pushed our local smaller producers into a corner, forcing them to sell their produce for a fraction of its real value, just barely allowing them to make ends meet.

This can’t continue much longer. The people are not that stupid. They’ve started to notice that they’re being played. And unless something is changed, sooner or later the critical point will come when they’ll have to say enough is enough. And then the EU would be in big trouble.


For whom do the tomahawks fly

When in the early morning hours of April 7 the US destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross fired 59 Tomahawk missiles against Syrian air base Shayrat, the big question wasn’t if the US had violated international law (which they had). What was of real concern to most analysts was if a military operation by a nuclear superpower could bring the death of military personnel of another nuclear power, thus creating a classical casus belli, or case for war. It seemed, though, that the Russian command in Syria had been warned in advance before the attack, so the chances of direct confrontation and spiraling escalation in the Cuban crisis sort of way was prevented pretty neatly.

Now the more interesting question about this attack is different, and it could have serious consequences for Russia both in geopolitical and military sense. I’m talking of the widely heralded myth about the impenetrable air defense system, the last-generation C-400. Elements of that system are installed around the air bases in Tatrus and Lattakia, hosting the Russian warplanes in Syria. In theory, C-400 is an air defense system with mid- to long-range that could intercept targets within 600 km and destroy them at a 400 km distance. It should be able to destroy planes, drones, ballistic and other missiles. But during the Tomahawk assault in Shayrat, for some reason all C-400 stations remained silent. All 59 missiles, based on 40-year old technology, flew unimpeded across the entire defense line. So far no one has come up with an official explanation of what really happened.

These systems have a special place in the modern Russian doctrine for military dominance. By installing C-400 in a zone, the Russians are capable of isolating huge chunks of air space, where any movement of enemy aircraft could be blocked at any given time. And if they put such a system near the border with another country, they can control all air traffic up to 400 km inside that country’s territory. It was the Russian air defense system that has forced Daesh to review their plans for air support of allied units on the ground.

In NATO language, such zones of blocked access are called Anti Access / Anti Denial or A2/AD. Such “domes” of blocked airspace are currently present not just over Syria but also Kaliningrad (covering parts of Poland and the Baltics), and Crimea (reaching as far as the shores of Romania and Bulgaria). Because of these zones, the NATO strategists were forced to seriously re-think their defense plans in case of aggression on the eastern flank of the alliance. Practically, the presence of such air defense systems seriously undermines the allies’ ability to quickly deploy reinforcements by air in case of sudden crisis, or to support the logistical networks of their defense forces in case of a protracted conflict.

The fundamental problem with C-400 is that so far no one has seen its true capabilities in real battle conditions. So any future customers of the Russian military-industrial complex would surely be looking very closely into what happened during the US air strike against Syria. There are military giants like China and India among those customers, and soon Turkey could also join that list (itself a NATO member). That’s probably the reason for the strange and enigmatic statement by the Russian chiefs of command, which said only 23 out of the 59 Tomahawk missiles had reached their target, without specifying why exactly. If that’s a hint that the remaining 36 missiles had been downed by C-400, the Russians might still be having a problem: this way they’re admitting their system is too porous in case of a swarm-like attack of low-flying missiles.

Still, the likeliest explanation is that the Russian air defense system in Syria was merely kept inactive – partly to conceal its true capabilities, partly to deliberately allow an escalation of tensions with the US. An argument in support of this assumption is the “evolution” of statements coming from various Russian officials. For instance, the chairman of the defense committee at the Russian parliament Victor Ozerov said the C-300 and C-400 systems are in Syria “to guarantee the safety of our armed forces”. In other words, about a fortnight ago Assad’s army might have suddenly found itself outside the list of Russian-protected puppet regimes, at least as far as attacks from the sky are concerned. Whatever the Russian military officials say from here on, there’ll always be a question hanging around the qualities of the “impenetrable” C-400 system: could it really eliminate a 40-year old US Tomahawk missile flying at subsonic speed – or not?

The big chemical lie

The wheel of history turns and turns, but we the people don’t seem to change too much, do we? It’s as if only the stage set occasionally changes a bit around us. We’ve replaced the carts and wagons with cars, instead of shacks we live in shiny buildings of glass and metal, and our brains we’ve trapped inside plastic boxes and connected them digitally. And that’s about it, as far as change goes. Everything else remains: wars, resources, politics, easily controllable masses, trade and consumption.

In the late 3rd century AD, Roman emperor Diocletian established a tetrarchy, and he appointed one Gaius Galerius to rule Egypt and Syria on his behalf. In 303, encouraged by Galerius, Diocletian burned his own imperial palace in Nicomedia, then accused the Christians for it and used the opportunity to demonize the Christian community based around Antioch. Terrible persecution ensued, torching, pogroms, beheadings, massacres of Christians (St. George and St. Panteleimon were among the more famous victims).

This propaganda tactic has been used for centuries. And for some unknown anthropogenic reason, it always works without fault. It worked for Hitler when he burned down the Reichstag and blamed the communists. It’s obviously working today for the US too, their main tool for well crafted blame being the “use of WMDs” and the “killing of innocent small children” (think about the children, you heartless automatons!) This worked flawlessly for both their wars in Iraq. First they brought a 15 year old girl to the international human rights committee, and she told the jury, with tears in her eyes and a touching trembling voice, how she had witnessed the murder of babies in incubators by blood-thirsty Iraqi soldiers. Years later it turned out she was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US and the whole story had been forged, but what does it matter. The case for Iraq War 1.0 had already been made, it was a done deal at this point.

Next up, Iraq War 2.0 and the “chemical weapons” that Saddam presumably had in his possession. Those were probably meant to be the same WMDs the US had supplied him with for his prior fight with the Iranians. At the end of the day, no such weapons were found and everything turned to have been mere propaganda. Too bad for the hundreds of thousands of killed Iraqi, their ruined country, and the chaos in the region that persists to this day. What does it matter? The ends justify the means. After all, who would’ve dared to question the testimony of a sobbing little girl about bad evil soldiers slaughtering little babies?

Oh, and how are we supposed to question and criticize the good intentions of the global spreader of democracy and all that is good in the world? Yeah, the only country in history to use nuclear WMDs for the mass murder of entire cities. Now this paragon of peace again seems utterly “concerned” with the presence of chemical weapons in a war-torn region. And sure, they should have a good reason to be worried about chemical weapons: traces of them are still affecting the biospheres in Vietnam, right? So, America must know a thing or two about chemical weapons. Therefore we should trust their judgment when they have to say something on the matter.

As much as we might be tempted to accuse the US administration (not just this one, all previous administrations too) in a lack of imagination and creativity, at the end of the day, the tasteless propaganda they’re so eager to employ over and over again, seems to be working just fine. Every single time. The accusations against Assad have been flowing in for more than 6 years now, maybe several times a month, every month. The first accusation was back in 2013, when chemical weapons were used in Khan Al-Assal, near Aleppo. But in that case something didn’t click right into place with the whole story, and the “moderate rebels” were exposed as the likeliest culprit. Things went as far as former UN prosecutor Carla del Ponte saying herself that it was most likely that the rebels had used the chemicals. She was fired the very next day for this sudden, unsolicited burst of sincerity. We can’t allow some narratives to be challenged now, can we?

Mind you, if you think this is some crazy-ass conspiracy theory, I’ll have to disappoint you. This is actually closer to fact than the stories the media had been spreading, at least initially (when it most mattered). The Syrian government invited international inspectors to investigate the case openly, but for “administrative reasons” they somehow came a few months late, on August 20, 2013. On August 21 (the next day), as the international delegation were already in their Damascus hotel, the next accusation came in: in Eastern Ghouta, a region in the Damascus suburbs, another chemical attack. The delegation instantly packed up and left Syria without even setting foot in Khan Al-Assal. And Obama started declaring left and right that Assad had crossed the imaginary “red line” the US had set for him.

Thus, we get to this month’s new accusation, the one from April 4. The whole thing looks like a belated April Fools prank when you look a bit closer at it. From Khan Sheikhoun, a town under the firm control of Al Nusra, Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, a string of footage came of gassed dead children. Just a day earlier, Al Qaeda had kidnapped scores of people from nearby Khattab, their whereabouts still remaining a mystery now. Local news outlets report that these were the same people who were shown in the footage of the chemical attack. The Syrian and Russian military claims a weapons storage was hit, stuffed with ammo from Turkey. As we’ve mentioned here, any motivation of the Syrian military to use chemical weapons at a time they’ve almost won the battle in North Hama, remains a mystery too. It sounds illogical and absurd, stupid even. We should be asking ourselves, who actually wins from the whole story? Assad, who had his foes stuck into a corner and would’ve suffocated their resistance if he had kept the course for another few weeks without any sharp moves – or his desperate opponents who were near done and finished, unless something new and drastic happened (like a chemical attack, and the direct involvement of the world’s greatest military power)? Are there any critically-thinking people still around?

But let’s face it. None of this really matters. It’s quite telling that Israeli prime-minister Netanyahu seems so utterly concerned for the well-being of the Syrian people, and Turkish president Erdogan (this paragon of humility and humanity), and also Boris Johnson, Francois Hollande and a dozen other friendly US minions who’ve piled onto the bandwagon, and crawled into the media and social networks, as if prompted by command, to raise a chorus of condemnations to the evil Syrian government.

No direct and undeniable proof, no UN resolutions this time, no verifiable information. We don’t need them to start bombing someone at this point. So the US did just that. In a display of decisiveness, strong will and sympathy for the dead little children and their sobbing surviving siblings, Trump ordered the bombing of a Syrian air base near Homs. The stated reason was the “chemical attack” that Assad had somehow done in an Al Qaeda controlled town, based on footage sent by the omnipresent White Helmets – the ones who probably deserve more Oscars than Meryl Streep for their artistic renderings of events (not that anti-Syrian propaganda wasn’t present at the Oscars). As some of us may be aware, the so called White Helmets are exclusively active in regions controlled by Ahrar Al Sham and Al Nusra. The reason for this I leave to your imagination to deduce.

Whether the world is standing at the precipice of WW3 or this is all just some re-shuffling of the chess pieces, the more important question is, why is all this needed? Who gains from it? Well, we’ve already talked about this part here already. As funny and simplistic as it may sound to some, it’s mostly about gas. Gas pipes, to be more precise. If you look at the map of Syria, you’d realize America’s main problem and that of their good buddies Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Jordan, is the advance of the Syrian military towards Palmyra and Deir Ez-Zor. If Assad takes these territories, he’d shut the gates to the Gulf pipes from Qatar to Turkey, and render the splitting up of Syria meaningless. Splitting Syria up has been America’s plan B since they realized nearly 3/4 of the Syrian population actually supports a secular government rather than the US-preferred Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamized metastases.

Of course, we shouldn’t forget the newly-found fossil fuel deposits in the Levantine basin if we want the whole picture. Everyone knows the US and their minions want to put a friendly puppet in Damascus, and they’re using radical Islam as a tool for pressuring the current regime there. If they genuinely wanted democracy, they would’ve focused on the most obvious elephant in the room first, Saudi Arabia. After all, any dissident thought, especially in terms of religion, is punished by jail and even death there, and women have close to zero rights. It seems to me Saudi Arabia (and Kuwait, and Qatar, etc) are in urgent need of freedom and democracy, no? Or maybe having mindless, easily controllable consumers is more convenient to both sides of this awkward West/East symbiosis?

And to those ultra-nationalist neocon hawks on both sides of the aisle praising Trump’s sudden “presidential aura” and his unilateral actions in Syria, I’d just as this one question. You folks are very fond of Jesus, right? So why doesn’t anyone try to find a surviving Christian town or neighborhood in the “rebel”-controlled parts of Syria that still has population and is not completely destroyed? Come on, find me one!

Why does your Jesus-loving government support (and in some occasions, indirectly sponsor) genocide against Christians? Why am I not hearing anything on the Trump-praising, airstrike-contemplating, “beautiful”-poetry-reciting media about the systematic exterminations of the Christian population in towns like Maharde by “moderate” monsters like Jaish al Izzah? Who funds those monsters? Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t the US supplying them with equipment and money? How did they end up in possession of brand new US weapons? In fact, when you’re attacking the Syrian government, who are you really attacking? Syrians, Christians, Alawites and Sunnis. In other words, to use the nationalist rhetoric you’re so accustomed to, “Real Syrians”.

Also, could you point me to a single square inch of rebel-controlled territory where a Wahhabi and Salafi Sharia quasi-caliphate hasn’t been imposed? Would you be so kind to explain to me how come Daesh has attacked the Syrian bases instantaneously after the US and Israeli strikes in Der Ez-Zor, Homs and Palmyra? Whom were those strikes meant to help really? Would you tell me how come Idlib is simultaneously the capital of Al Nusra controlled territory and of the Free Syrian Army territory? And why is Idlib full of signs banning women from walking outdoors without a niqab? Are these the people you want to replace Assad with?

Would someone tell me why we’re constantly seeing US weapons and TOW missiles in the hands of Al Nusra? And why isn’t anyone admitting that Ahrar al Sham is a terrorist organization, its founder is a former Al Qaeda member, and the current Al Nusra chief (or Tahrir al Sham chief if you like), the so called Abu Jaber is a former chief in Ahrar al Sham? Would you tell me why the cousin of the founder of the FSA is actively spreading radical Islam around the Balkans?

See, I can recall of a certain former great power that in a similar fashion liked surrounding itself with servile, docile, unscrupulous propagandists and manipulators. Well, that system came crumbling down and has been thrown to the scrapheap of history, being totalitarian and unsustainable. It’s a failed system. And it would be nice to consider raising your level a bit, and starting to give way to critically thinking, autonomous people who are prone to looking for actual facts rather than ones slavishly licking your… boots. Because those who surround themselves with sticky trash, sooner or later start reeking themselves.

Re: The whole Syria thing

I’m hearing opposing accounts from Syrian expats living here. Granted, most Syrian expats, being dissident refugees from the Assad regime, tend to support the official international position that Assad is evil, he’s killing his own people, and he should be removed from power by God’s blessing and the strong hand of the resolute president Trump who’s now acting like a true Dear Leader.

However, one Syrian analyst argued the chemical attack was a false-flag, staged by the extremist “rebels” (there are indications that Assad had given up all his WMDs years ago, and that the WMDs used in this attack had a different signature from the ones Assad used to have). The idea was to get the US involved in the war and tip the scales away from Assad, who’s been winning since the Russians got involved. That makes a lot of sense, frankly. After all, Assad has no interest to antagonize the whole world by using WMDs now, when he has almost won. In the past, maybe. Things were looking rather grim for him a few years ago, and he could’ve had a rationale for using WMDs back then. But now?

Besides, where’s the proof that he had WMDs in that particular air base? Are we again jumping into a conflict based on an insinuation, like in Iraq? The media are cumming all over president Trump now, praising him for being presidential and even describing the bombing of that air base as “beautiful” and “poetic”. Are we going to play this game again now? And how many times can the same mistake be repeated?

The scramble for the Mediterranean (revisited)

This piece is about the new gas (and possibly also oil) discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean, which could explain a lot about the ongoing geopolitical shifts in that region.

There can be no coincidence. Two important events took place just within hours apart from each other on March 17. First the Cyprus government decided to grant drilling licenses for gas and oil to several multinational energy giants: Exxon Mobil, Qatar Petroleum, Total and ENI. On that very day, Turkey announced they’d be starting a navy exercise with live rounds just a few days later in Cypriot territorial waters, just 30 nautical miles off the SW coast of the Island of Aphrodite. Turkey said their patience was running out. Much in line with a visit a month earlier by their foreign minister Cavusoglu to the Turkish part of the island, where he warned the Greek Cypriots against any unilateral actions on the oil/gas issue.

Whoever was hoping that the gas off the Cyprus shores could serve as a platform for unification and cooperation between the two communities there, was being naive. Oil and gas are much more likely to stir up conflict, and the latest events are yet another evidence of that. The tension started to escalate instantaneously after the Cypriot move on the gas. The Greek/Turkish negotiations were halted, and the leaders of the two communities started hurling accusations at each other for this failure. Turkey used the opportunity to sharpen the tone and start issuing ultimatums and threats (they’ve been rather active in that regard lately).

The deepening conflict between Turkey and the EU, combined with increased interest by US and EU companies for drilling in the region are tightening the energy knot in the Eastern Mediterranean even more. The big discoveries in 2009 have turned the region into a key strategic hub that’s very important for the energy diversification of Europe. There’ve been arguments that this is the main reason behind all the shit-stirring in the Levant and across the Maghreb, aka Arab Spring. This includes Syria too, of course.

The thing is, the Eastern Mediterranean is the new place to be if you’re a big oil company, or a big geopolitical player. Ever since the discovery of the Egyptian oil field in Zohr, things have changed for the region – for the better or worse, depends on your perspective. But the fact that big energy giants from around the world are scrambling to invest in Cyprus, is presenting both promising prospects for development for the island, and giving sleepless nights to many leaders. If the gas treasure also turns out to be accompanied by the vast oil deposits that experts are predicting, the geopolitical situation would totally change.

Turkey is a big factor in that respect. Some major drilling activity inside the Cypriot exclusive zone is expected to commence later this year, and continue through 2018. In June, Total is planning to drill in Block 11, which could become a second Zohr field because it’s located under the same sea ridge. The first French drilling operation is anticipated with great interest, not least importantly because it had been cancelled four times in a row already. Lastly, it was scheduled for April, but now it’s been postponed for July, just days after the latest conference on the Cypriot issue ended in failure in Geneva in January. This meant pushing the deadline for a possible agreement and unification of the divided island to a unspecified future time.

Italian company ENI is also planning to make two drills by the end of the year, and US company Nobel Energy also has one drill scheduled. Exxon Mobil is also in the game, planning drills in 2018. But despite this tight schedule, any technical preparation before a possible agreement on the Cypriot issue would more likely stumble upon problems and obstacles. Without a political settlement, any drilling would make Turkey react with hostility. And this is not just a prediction, it’s what has actually happened before. Turkey has sent navy forces to the region on four occasions up till now, in a clear demonstration of force. The latest occasion was in 2014 when a seismologist research vessel entered the Cypriot exclusive zone, which made the Cyprus president Anastasiades to suspend the negotiations with the leader of the Cypriot Turks, Eroglu.

So, any attempt to proceed with drilling, despite the Cypriot Greek claim that they’ve got sovereign rights to do that, is bound to bring further tensions. Exploiting the carbon riches under the sea floor would only be possible after a wholesome political agreement that would satisfy the interests of both sides. And this is not just the opinion of some experts and the leaders of the two sides most directly involved – the special advisor to the UN Secretary General on the Cypriot question, Espen Eide has also said that first an end has to be brought to all this uncertainty on the reunification issue. The deadline he has given? This summer.

The question here is whether despite his aggressiveness and unpredictability, Erdogan would really risk sending military flotillas against the oil and gas corporations and have a direct standoff with the countries behind them (UK, US, France, Italy). Hey, Cypriot president Anastasiades has even gone as far as to declare the presence of Exxon Mobil a guarantee for the Cypriot interests. And let’s not forget that the former Exxon CEO, Rex Tillerson under whom the company applied for drilling license in Cyprus, is now Trump’s secretary of state.

All in all, the situation is not easy at all. On one side, there’s rising tension with Turkey. On the other hand, the companies who are pushing for drilling rights represent the major world players. Any conflict in that regard would be extremely risky for any of the sides.

But that’s not all. There’s also the question about the potential routes that would deliver all that fuel, once it’s extracted. There are huge interests there too. We’ve already talked about Iran’s geopolitical plan to establish a friendly corridor from Pakistan across Iraq and Syria giving them access to the Mediterranean. They want this corridor to bypass the Gulf states, mainly their biggest rival Saudi Arabia. If this happens, the Straits of Hormuz would stop being so important, and the Saudis would take a big geopolitical tumble.

As for Cyprus, there are several scenarios for them to export the gas to the European markets. Of course, the final decision mostly depends on the quantities that are discovered there. Right now they’re not sufficient, but in the future the Cypriot fields could be combined with their Egyptian and Israeli counterparts, which would grant access to much bigger markets. Granted, Cyprus still lacks the needed infrastructure for this, like tanker terminals, ports, etc. But that would be built in the future.

The main gas route to possibly connect the countries in the region currently is the EastMed Pipeline, terminating at the Greek shore. The pipeline could connect Israel and Cyprus to Greece and hence Europe, supplying Israeli and Cypriot gas. The project is technically doable and economically viable, but they need to add more gas fields first to bolster its total capacity.

Naturally, the Turks are not happy because this totally bypasses them. The Russians are not happy either, because if Europe diversifies its energy sources, it would remove Putin’s only tool for geopolitical pressure. The Russians are already planning a geopolitical expansion across the southern periphery of the Eastern Mediterranean, as has been recently mentioned here before: they’ve fortified Assad in Syria, they’ve made friends with El Sisi in Egypt, and they’re now pursuing a military presence in East Libya. This is all for a reason: they want to be part of the game too.

Another option is building a liquid natural gas (LNG) terminal in Cyprus itself, which again requires boosting the gas output, i.e. adding more gas fields to the mix. Part of this plan is to use the vacant facilities at the two LNG terminals currently existing in Egypt: Cypriot gas would be transported via pipeline running on the sea floor (total distance: 180 km), and then exported. If Total’s drills are successful this year, another good opportunity for export to Europe and Asia would be to use floating LNG (FLNG).

Turkey and the Cypriot Turks insist that the shortest, safest and most beneficial route to Europe would be a pipeline connection from Cyprus to Turkey (but of course!) Except, until the Cypriot question still lingers, such a project is absolutely impossible. Right now, when the Turkey-EU relations are getting worse, not better, it would be a huge political risk to give all the taps and keys to Erdogan. That would be a geopolitical suicide for Europe, and the gas/oil corporations know this.

So it’s not just about financial and economic expedience. In fact, it all mostly depends on geopolitics. Because of all the political conflicts, the prospect of building pipelines from the Egyptian and Israeli gas fields to Turkey remains questionable. Turkey and Israel used to like this idea until about a year ago, when their relations were still kind of warm(ish). Finding a mutually acceptable solution to the Cypriot issue would be of big help in that respect of course. But right now, that seems very unlikely. So the gas scramble for the Eastern Mediterranean will continue to be hostage to politics for a long time. And maybe even more so, once the fields are operational and the cards are laid on the table.

Meet the new master of the Middle East

There are indications that Russia is planning a military intervention in Libya. On March 13, Russian special units and drones were spotted in the Egyptian coastal town of Sidi Barrani, just 100 km east of the Libyan territory that’s controlled by the Russia-supported Gen. Khalifa Haftar.

If Russia is really working to change the balance of powers in Libya as they did in Syria, Turkey’s positions in the Eastern Mediterreanean will be threatened (not to mention America’s). Establishing a military presence there is aimed to stabilise the Sisi regime in Egypt against the Islamists. That’s in line with the traditional Russian policy since the Soviet times when they were in alliance with Egypt. Now they’re conducting joint military exercises, and Russia is actively helping Egypt to guard its vulnerable western border.

These movements have the long-term goal to support Gen. Haftar in Libya, who’s facing Jihadist threats against the territories he controls, including the important oil ports in Ras Lanuf and Es Sider. Haftar is a former Gaddafi loyalist who’s now ruling from Tobruq and has been a key player in the Libyan civil war. He now controls most oil fields in Libya, with a daily output of 700K+ barrels.

Last month, the Russian oil giant RosNeft signed an agreement with the Libyan national oil corporation for the delivery of raw oil, plus some further investment in Libya. And last December, the Russian deputy foreign minister Gatilov harshly criticised the special UN envoy to Libya, German diplomat Martin Kobler, for his statements in support of Haftar’s opponents.

In January, Haftar was invited on board the Russian carrier Admiral Kuznetsov in the Mediterranean, where he had a video meeting with Russian defense minister Sergey Shoigu. And a month later, Shoigu warned his British counterpart Michael Fallon against meddling in Russian affairs in Libya (“Don’t tell a bear what to do!”)

There’s no doubt at this point that Russia is trying to restore its previous military alliances.

Meanwhile, Turkey is not sleeping either. They’re also trying to assert their positions in Libya after the failed attempt to prop up the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt a couple of years ago. Last summer, during his visit to Libya, Turkish foreign minister Cavusoglu managed to snatch an agreement for the completion of 304 abandoned projects worth $18.5 bn. The deal was done with Haftar’s rivals, however. The Turks are concerned that after Syria and Egypt, Libya could be Russia’s next prize, and Putin might be trying to create a Russian ring to control the southern flank of the Eastern Mediterranean – which would practically mean the encirclement of Turkey, and its geopolitical isolation.

Let me remind that vast new oil deposits have been found off the Cyprus coast, conveniently situated well in range of at least half a dozen countries, so the scramble for access to that new treasure will be very fierce. Some have even argued that this is at the core of all the recent conflicts in the region, including the string of Arab Spring events across the Maghreb and the Levant. Iran is also a factor, trying to establish a Shia-controlled corridor spanning Iraq, Bahrain and Syria and allowing them to gain access to the Mediterranean and control the crucial trade and pipeline routes crossing the region. And Saudi Arabia wouldn’t allow that. So there are more than 4 or 5 big players, plus about a dozen other secondary participants involved in this whole mess. And the knot doesn’t seem likely to be untied any time soon. Worse, it’s only just beginning to get tightened.

More on this Erdogan guy

Herkese merhaba! Greetings, all! I’mma occupy you with this Turkish issue once more. The Sultan keeps being on top of the news these days, so I figured I could tune in as well, what with living just next door to him, and being able to personally smell the scent coming out of his smelly ass.

See, Erdogan was, at least on paper, democratically elected. Sure, the election was partly rigged, in that he had conveniently removed most of the serious opposition to himself well in advance. Still, he wasn’t supposed to be a dictator – at least not of the Kim type. Let’s not succumb to populist temptations and media propaganda and try to view things a bit more impartially (which admittedly is not that easy, given the emotional charge of the current political situation). Erdogan is not exactly Satan, he may have some redeeming qualities, like his pragmatism (which may’ve remained in the past, granted – but more about that a bit further down). The one thing that sticks out about him is his determination, I’ll have to give him that.

Also, he was, at least initially, a genuine reformist. By the way, and this is a little-known fact particularly in the West, he actually initially expanded women’s rights – and for a time, the freedom of the press as well. As shocking as it may sound to those who’ve only been fed what the Western media deign to serve to us all. He also led Turkey towards the EU, he created a middle class where none existed, and he vastly improved the social system of his society. Those are all things that have hugely contributed to his success at home, and to his popularity. During his rule, the Turkish economy grew and expanded almost exponentially for many years in a row, where it had always lingered in the backstage before. We shouldn’t ignore any of this if we want proper context about Turkey. Because when I’m reading most analyses these days, they all seem to have converged around the notion that he’s a malevolent despot who’s leading his country towards collapse.

So far so good. But the good news end there, I’m afraid. There’s not much left of that pragmatic, albeit a bit autocratic, strong-hand leader any more. He has become much darker these days, as he has become more and more immersed in his own story of the great Neo-Ottoman Empire that he now sincerely believes is his mission to restore. If anyone still believes he’d somehow decide to get back to democratic ways sometime in the future, is fooling themselves. The Turkey of 2017 is not what it used to be – now it’s a country full of fear. People are afraid they’d be stripped of their citizenship, or intimidated, or fired, or even jailed and made to disappear, for the mere act of thinking the wrong way – Allah forbid speaking the wrong way. Criticism of your own government is no longer considered the highest form of patriotism in Turkey, rather it’s seen as treason – and this is now an official policy.

Erdogan has always been touchy. Very touchy – probably the same level of touchy as Trump. Except, he’s been in power for much longer, and has had much more tools to take petty revenge against anyone who has slighted him over the years. Journalists included. Especially journalists. But also political opponents, civil activists, military people and now foreign diplomats and even entire countries.

His relations with the press have always been at war. Especially with the Kemalist press (the old establishment), which used to be very strong before he started taking the rug from under their feet. They were always very critical of him, and for a good reason. His political philosophy is fundamentally hostile and incompatible with anything the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustaffa Kemal Ataturk stood for. And they never spared him that fact. So now he’s using his power to take revenge for that. It started from day one of his political career, back in the mid 90s when he was mayor of Istanbul. Back then, he used to constantly complain that whatever he said, it would be used by the mainstream Kemalist press. Sound familiar? In return, the press would always mock him for various things, including his poor origins (that’s a mean thing to do, I admit). They mocked him for his wife and his daughters who all wore hijabs. That was wrong too, of course. But the fact is, Erdogan himself has always resented free speech – he was just compelled to tolerate it at the time. And for a long time, all he was able to do was to sue anyone who offended him. But now, after last year’s failed coup attempt, he’s had his hands completely untied, and he has snatched the opportunity to do a sweeping clean-up against everyone and everything that doesn’t agree with him and doesn’t obey him.

And now, so emboldened, he has taken a look at Europe, and has spotted a weakness, which he’s now eager to exploit to further his Neo-Ottoman agenda. He has tested the tolerance of several countries, trying to provoke them by sending members of his government to various West European cities to rally the local Turkish diaspora in support for his planned referendum that would give him almost Sultan-like powers if it succeeds. Naturally, these countries have opposed those activities (although they’ve cited stupid excuses to block them, like “security concerns”, etc – typically half-assed stance from the hypocrite West). Erdogan has responded with his typical bombastic rhetoric, equating that opposition to “Nazi methods” and “fascism” (coming from a guy like him, that’s kind of rich). He’s also threatening with serious retaliation, both diplomatic and economic. And Europe is hardening its stance further in response. Things are not going in a good direction, but will it escalate into something truly damaging, or it’s just another episode of skillfully used PR strategy meant for distraction?

Well, given past experience, I’d bet on the latter. Erdogan’s absurd accusations sound much in the same vein as his entire election (now: referendum) strategy. The internal unrest that now exists in some Western societies (Germany, especially) about their relations with Turkey (mostly because of the migrant card that Erdogan is constantly shoving into Europe’s face for blackmail), is serving both Erdogan and the various xenophobic populists in Europe itself. The Sultan wants to impose a Dear Leader sort of “presidential” system at home, so he’s hunting for voices in the right-wing corner of the political spectrum. He needs the European nationalists to get even louder in order to invigorate his own base in Turkey. Germany and the Netherlands have so far refrained from getting tricked into that trap. Whatever you may think about those leaders, they’re not stupid or inexperienced, and they’ll do their best to preserve a level head, and try to be civil and objective, but they should also name things with their true names, and tackle the issue head-on, and put a finger on the wound. Because any other course of action would only allow it to fester even further.

The wound I’m talking about? The dismantling of what’s left of Turkish democracy. Europe should monitor the situation very closely and oppose any further persecution of other-thinkers with all means possible, wherever possible. Otherwise there’ll come a time when the rule of law will count for nothing in our south-eastern neighbor, and having an Iran-style quasi-theocratic autocracy of that caliber just next door would inevitably pose an existential threat to Europe itself in the long run. Not to mention his uneasy, yet potentially very efficient partnership with the other Tzar in the East.

The balkanization of Europe

Exactly a quarter of a century ago, in a small Dutch town called Maastricht, the European community was renamed to the European Union. The beginning of this union became a tale that everyone kept telling their kids as an example of economic and political success. But the downsides of that success that few people used to talk about until recently, which remained largely ignored for the last quarter of a century, are now threatening the future of the union more and more.

In the first years after Maastricht, these flaws might have been too difficult to spot, granted. But they remained there to linger, never to be addressed, and it took a lot of time for them to come to the surface and start threatening the unity of the union in a noticeable way. That time has come now.

One of those flaws that were put in the very foundations of the EU from day one was its inability to adequately assess the crisis in Yugoslavia and prevent the escalation of the conflicts among the warring sides. It later transformed into an inability to pacify the region in a meaningful way.

Practically, Maastricht was Germany’s way of transferring its economic power onto a larger scale – but also one of its inherent flaws: the EU became just like West Germany at the time of the Cold War. An economic giant that was simultaneously a political dwarf. That dwarf has almost stopped growing for the last quarter of a century. All temporary therapies with growth hormones in the area of foreign policy and security policy have proven futile. No coherent foreign-policy strategy towards the West Balkans ever came to be for that long period. And the region has remained engulfed in political instability.

The EU has also proven incapable of achieving consensus on its foreign policy. The fact that Germany has shown stringent firmness towards the crisis-stricken economies from the southern periphery, while towards the refugees it showed an inexplicably lax generosity, could’ve been excused with some sort of humanitarian or financial logic. But both policies were poison to the EU’s unity. Furthermore, these decisions were pushed through with force, without consulting with the public or with the sides involved in the respective problems. As were a number of prior decisions before that. When Greece was getting ushered into the Euro zone, all Western EU members chose to turn the other way to the fact that Greece wasn’t ready. The same happened when Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia were getting accepted. The story repeated over and over.

The Dublin rules which says the refugees should remain or be returned to the country where they first entered the EU territory, serves Germany and the other wealthy North European countries well, but it puts a huge pressure on the Mediterranean countries. The stubborn neglect of the migration pressure coming like a wave from the south, has turned the Mediterranean Sea into a mass grave, and the Syrian tragedy, into an all-European drama.

America’s military logic, which has always served the EU’s interests, has brought a series of interventions in foreign lands. They’ve not only caused unimaginable destruction and the collapse of entire states, but it has eroded the solidarity between the EU members. Now there’s no trace left of the solidarity towards the weaker countries or migrants. Which is why the Brexit happened, why Kaczinski rules in Poland and Orban in Hungary, and why Le Pen and Wilders are charging for power in France and the Netherlands, respectively. As if the situation wasn’t already complicated enough, what with the growing assertiveness of the likes of Putin, Erdogan and now Trump.

The current situation in the EU is starting to resemble the pre-collapse era in Yugoslavia. The catastrophe in Tito’s former dreamland happened in result of an explosive mix of economic crisis and rapidly growing ethnic tensions. Thus, all political and economic cracks that had already been there, quickly became huge rifts, and grew into ethnic conflicts that saw the disintegration of that state.

In the eyes of the Western analysts, that sort of development looked like an outdated remnant of times long past at the time – more like a sad deviation from the general trend of unstoppable progress towards “the end of history” (as per Fukuyama). But now, 25 years later, unfortunately we’re compelled to realize that the collapse of Yugoslavia was just a minor precursor to what’s now starting to increasingly look like an inevitable end of an entire process that has passed through all stages of its life cycle.

Evidently, the neo-liberal elites in the Western societies have completely underestimated people’s fears. Which is why nationalism is rearing its head back again, and taking over the public discourse, including in the Western European countries which were supposed to be nearing the coveted stage of eternal and unshakable peace and prosperity. Austria almost elected an ultra-nationalist president, and what’s going to happen in France, no one can predict at this point.

So all that said, what can be done? As simple as it sounds, the way out of this predicament may not be that easy to implement: the EU has to behave as a team at the international scene, firmly united around a certain set of values. As for domestic policy, it has to really be a solidary society. Not just on paper and in words. It’s far better and cheaper to invest into early efforts than later do politically and economically expensive damage-control interventions after the fact.

Whether Europe would re-invent its failed idea for a European Constitution, or it’ll ultimately split into a “Europe of two speeds”, is of secondary importance in that respect. What’s of crucial importance is if the EU would work as a capable, solidary union internationally, a team that has a clear and solid strategy that it has discussed openly, understood completely, and decided to defend unfalteringly – or it’ll just keep floating along with the current, only to sink further down into irrelevance and obscurity. Time is running out. We must decide.

The problem with science

I’d argue that the current anti-scientific trend among modern societies largely comes from the fact that science is not about knowing “The Truth”(TM), it’s about looking for a better understanding of reality. Which implies a great deal of uncertainty, and the acknowledgement that we don’t possess the monopoly on “Truth”, but rather we’re on an eternal journey towards it. At least that’s what the scientific method is about. And there’s the problem: people want to have a sense of certainty, security, a feeling that they’re stepping on firm ground. Which is where superstition comes from, and irrationality, and religion, etc.

And I’m not talking about usual fringe battle-fronts like creationism or flat-Earthers, I’m actually talking of much more down-to-Earth topics like climate change for example. The fact that we might be fast approaching an era where the staple defenses such as evidence and not being suddenly censored are probably going to be under increased threat, is not helping much in that respect, either. Something tells me it’ll be ever harder to argue with people who don’t even know the full extent of what they don’t know – and on top of that, do not want to know.

A recent (and quite intriguing) paper called “When science becomes too easy: Science popularization inclines laypeople to underrate their dependence on experts” argues that it’s the rise of science communication that might be the cause of rising distrust in experts, which is quite a unusual thought, but it may have a point when you think of it. Again, the disadvantage of science communication is that it’s full of words like probably, maybe, possible, roughly, estimated, hypothesized – which hardly sounds convincing enough to the layperson, who, like I said, would rather deal in absolutes. Be it due to intellectual laziness or some other reason.

So how do we deal with this problem? Now. First off, I think it’s become evident by now that science in school should be less about teaching kids to recite dates and numbers in order to get good marks. The end of the last ice was how long ago? 10 thousand years is the “normal” way to “teach” it. A number that started off from varve counting in the Baltic Sea – later “more or less” confirmed by C14 dating. But a carbon-year is not the same as a calendar year – so when you take 10K C14 years and calibrate it to Earth orbits, you get a number that is well in excess of 11K. But when you start to think about it, the North American ice-sheet kept melting until 7K years before present. And the modern ocean circulation can be described as leaving the glacial mode as late as 6K years ago. We know for example that the “8,200 year event” is linked to glacial modus operandi. What to learn from this? That science does not know when the last ice age cycle ended within error bars covering 5-6K years? HELL NO! That’s not what I just said.

Science is not a place for those who demand “the answer” (which of course is 42). Which is why it tickles certain religious groups in need for absolute truth so much. Deniers will use rhetoric such as “what is the exact climate sensitivity of one CO2-molecule”, knowing full well that science only can give the unsatisfying answer “it is probably”, .and, “it depends”. Then they can play their smug gotcha game and feel good about themselves.

Science in school should teach that probability and uncertainty is not the same as not knowing. Probability and uncertainty is in fact how knowing is described. Science in school should teach philosophy of science: The difference between an analogue and a homologe. The difference between induction and deduction. The difference between a scientific hypothesis and a theory. The difference between falsification and verification, or indeed, what “proof” is. It should teach the structure of logic. It should teach the demarcation line. To make kids aware of the need to question the premise.

Kids do not necessarily need to learn how to solve diff-equations. But they do need to understand how to separate information. They must learn about fallacies that come in so many forms (even fun tricks allowing “proof” that 1=2 or that 1+1=1). Because these building blocks of science are publicly unknown, deniers and “alternative truths” can roam public space. They can troll – by sharing information (that per se can be correct) that seemingly falsify or significantly “weaken” any theory.

Admittedly, it’s too tempting to blame the ever changing education targets for this as well. It’s easy to measure “targets” by teaching kids to answer yes/no or multiple-choice questions. So kids grow up with thinking they understood the topic by 56%, 78% or 96%. The entire population is learning that there is some 100% answer key that science possesses. This is of course wrong.

In mathematics, because it is (most likely) a human construct (though some philosophers argue that mathematics is a real entity that can be discovered – similar to a fossil) this might be true to an extent – until one buries themselves deep into number-theory and starts to understand that there’s some pretty interesting epistemological stuff at the bottom of it – called axioms. Epistemology, even though it at first glance provides information that makes any idea look as likely as any other idea, is quite important to be aware of. These inner structures of knowledge are seldom discussed in scientific papers. They are treated as shared by all by default. They’re usually silently represented by how science is done/acted out – simply because they’re known by everyone else, and they “stand to reason”. Even mathematical papers don’t start with proving that 1+1=2 (Whitehead and Russell spent 400 pages of set-theory in an attempt to prove it to be true in the early 20th century, and besides, one really needs to get back to the axioms of Peano to truly start to appreciate that 1+1 is 2.

So here is what science is like – and to many people, it doesn’t look good. It’s hardly satisfying. Particularly because we use all these words that are the same as used in daily speak. Theory, for example. Error, for example. And if no one ever explains what is meant with a scientific theory or what error-bars (or residuals) mean in science – all they hear is that some scientist has a theory with lots of errors and unexplained residuals hanging around!

Finally, culture has developed a certain liking of the myth of the lone brilliant genius. You know, Einstein, who according to popular culture did not understand math and was rejected from science, thus discovering truth without any links to science itself in a patent office. These myths are harmful and wrong. Einstein knew math very well – and he was updated very well on the current science. He actually based his work on the current science at the time. He communicated massively with other scientists. Science is a web. It’s a deeply structured global collaboration. It’s a ladder – you can’t leap from the base straight to some abstract highest point that you can call truth. You need to step on the preceding steps first. And start climbing.

Reality check

Yes indeed, these posts will keep coming at a thick rate. It’s inevitable.

Israeli Settlements ‘May Not Be Helpful’ for Middle East Peace, Trump Administration Says

UN Ambassador Haley hits Russia hard on Ukraine

So what happens in week two of Trump’s term? He warns Israel that building more settlements isn’t going to be helping. Which is essentially the line Obama kept for 8 years. While he eases some sanctions on Russia, Trump refuses to unblock Russian assets in the US until Russia removes its paramilitary troops from Crimea and returns Crimea to Ukraine. Which is the line Obama kept for 8 years. And finally, Trump continues to shift America’s focus to the Pacific, particularly towards efforts to counter China’s expansionist aspirations. Which is the line Obama kept for 8 years (the Pivot to Asia).

I’d say spending some time in office tends to temper even the fringest of people, and get them back in line with the mainstream realities, at least as far as foreign policy is concerned.

There are differences, for sure. And significant ones, at that. The sharp tone he has taken towards China and Mexico, to begin with. It’s part of his “tough guy” and “business approach to diplomacy” image that he has crafted for himself (there was an insightful piece about this at CNN). The demand that Europe should contribute more fairly to its own security (fair point, by the way), and the insistance that America shouldn’t be funding everyone else’s defense (NATO) – which is an argument I’ve been hearing from left and right all over the place long before Trump appeared. The scrapping of the TTP, and possibly the blocking of TTIP until fairer deals are struck – which is what many people from both the left and right demanded for years. And then there’s that pipeline of course. Still, the overall trend points to something very different from what some alarmists are, well, alarming about, namely an almost-World-War-Three state of affairs, and the end of the world as we know it, to use that worn-out cliche.

Now, as for domestic policy, there’s no argument there – I’m afraid America is truly fucked.