RFK Jr. And Elon Musk: Two Great Dicks That Taste Like Sh*t!

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. sure has come a long way from 2014, when he angered fossil fuel lobbyists by saying that climate change deniers should be jailed. Or maybe not such a long way; by 2005 he was already spreading the anti-vax gospel and falsely claiming that childhood vaccines cause autism. And now he’s running for president and everyone is reminding you what a complete freakass whackaloon he is.

We’ll do our part. Hey, remember that long-ago time in 2022 when he said, of COVID vaccine mandates, that at least in Nazi Germany “you could cross the Alps into Switzerland, you could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did.”

Kennedy did his part to help out that educational endeavor Monday night by sitting down with chief Twitter troll Elon Musk, who seems to love conspiratorial bullshit nearly as much as Kennedy does. He started out by thanking Musk for ending all the terrible “censorship” on the platform — by making it a free-for all for COVID and vaccine disinformation, not to mention for Nazis, far-Right conspiracy theories, and rampant hatred of transgender people, but also by actually censoring people on behalf of authoritarian governments. Kennedy also explained that in 2021, “the government pressured Mark Zuckerberg” to ban him from Instagram, although now his account has been restored because he’s running for president. Talk about ineffective censorship!

Rolling Stone reports that for the first 40 minutes of the Twitter Spaces chat, Kennedy barely talked about his candidacy, because he and Musk were too busy telling each other how much they admired each other for being courageous and shit, which is honestly what free speech is for.

At one point, Kennedy asked where Musk got the courage to be like one of America’s Founders by being “willing to take this huge, massive, unspeakable economic hit on behalf of a principle for a country in which you weren’t even born?” Musk, who does kind of have US citizenship after all, replied, “I should say I do very much consider myself an American.” Musk also acknowledged that advertisers had deserted the platform because he was so very committed to democracy, at least for people who think he’s cool, so it’s been “frankly a struggle to break even” (he is not breaking even) and then everyone with an $8 blue checkmark felt very warm that they had done their part to save America and/or Twitter.

After they both agreed that free speech is the very best, and that they both really love free speech the most, Kennedy bemoaned the sad fact that “we’re no longer living in a democratic system,” because Big Pharma controls the government and silences brave advocates of medical disinformation, which would explain why we only hear from anti-vaxxers everywhere on social media but not yet in (most) doctors’ offices.

Among other great trolls, Musk and Kennedy were joined by Tulsi Gabbard and Michael Shellenberger, author of books about how environmentalism is bad for everyone and global warming is happening but is honestly no big deal, yeesh, calm down. UPDATE/CORRECTION: I initially had a brain fart and confused Shellenberger with a different “contrarian” dipshit, Alex Berenson, formerly of the New York Times. Wonkette regrets the error.

Kennedy and Musk agreed that America shouldn’t be supporting the Ukrainian government, since as Kennedy put it, the Ukrainian people are “almost equally” victimized by America as by Russians. Musk added that the war was kind of our fault anyway, since “We are sending the flower of Ukrainian youth and Russian youth to die in the trenches, and it’s morally reprehensible,” and when you think about it, we probably shouldn’t be ordering Russia’s youth flowers around like that, how would we like it huh?

The conversation got even more sane when Gabbard added that

the U.S. had turned Ukraine into a “slaughterhouse” and blamed the conflict on an “elitist cabal of war-mongers” who had seized control of the Democratic Party.

Those war-mongers, Kennedy warned, hadn’t just taken control of the Democratic party: They were in control of the Deep State as well.

He recalled being told by Donald Trump’s former CIA Director Mike Pompeo that the “top layer of that agency is made up almost entirely of people who do not believe in the American institutions of democracy,” which is pretty rich coming from a top guy in the Trump administration.

Kennedy also said he opposed an assault weapons ban, because the Second Amendment is pretty awesome, and anyway, the problem isn’t guns, it’s antidepressant meds, which turn people into mass shooters, explaining that

“prior to the introduction of Prozac, we had almost none of these events in our country. […] The one thing that we have, it’s different than anybody in the world, is the amount of psychiatric drugs our children are taking.” He then alleged that the National Institutes of Health won’t research the supposed link between these drugs and shootings “because they’re working with the pharmaceutical industry.”

It’s pretty convincing until you remember that antidepressants are prescribed worldwide, but in countries where there aren’t more guns than people, there aren’t a bunch of school shootings. Also, maybe someone could have pointed out that only about a quarter of mass shooters use antidepressants, while 100 percent of them use firearms, albeit not usually with a doctor’s prescription.

Along the way, Kennedy also insisted that COVID was a “bioweapon,” lied that after the passage of the Affordable Care Act the “Democrats were getting more money from pharma than Republicans” (it’s the other way around, according to STAT News, but then STAT News believes vaccines work), and promised to go to the US-Mexico border to “try to formulate policies that will seal the border permanently,” so he really sounds like the mainstream Democrat that everyone on the far Right has been looking for, the end and OPEN THREAD.

[Rolling Stone / Insider / NYT]

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#RFK #Elon #Musk #Great #Dicks #Taste #Sht

‘Last French player standing’: Roland Garros crowd adopts Ukraine’s Svitolina

Elina Svitolina’s fairy-tale run at Roland Garros, her first Grand Slam tournament since becoming a mother, has inspired and enthralled a French Open crowd stripped of home players. With war still raging in her home country, she hopes her feats on the Paris clay can bring a little joy to Ukrainians, too.

When Anna Blinkova battled her way into the third round at Roland Garros, ousting the local favourite Caroline Garcia, the young Russian must have thought she had weathered the worst of the French Open’s raucous fans.

The crowd at her next match, however, turned out to be just as partisan.

There were no French players left in the draw by the time Blinkova took on Ukraine’s Svitolina on Court Simonne-Mathieu. But her opponent might as well have been sporting the French tricolour, such was the support she enjoyed.

Svitolina later credited the crowd, which included her husband and local favourite Gaël Monfils, with inspiring her thrilling 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 victory – her second fightback from a set down at this year’s French Open.

She did much the same two days later after ousting another Russian, the ninth seed Daria Kasatkina, in two hard-fought sets (6-4, 7-6), to the delight of a packed Court Suzanne Lenglen, the tournament’s second showpiece arena.

Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina thanks the crowd after her fourth-round win over Daria Kasatkina of Russia. © Benoît Teissier, Reuters

“I’m just thankful to the crowd to be there for me,” said the 28-year-old after the match. “In some matches I was a set down, but they were cheering me on and giving me this push and this hope that I can come back and win.”

She added, smiling: “Last French player standing.”

‘I’m 17 again’

Svitolina’s remarkable run at Roland Garros, just eight months after she gave birth, has provided the fairy tale French fans were craving after the latest dismal campaign by home players.

The host country fielded a total of 28 players in singles this year, none of whom made it past the second round. The debacle came as France marked 40 years since Yannick Noah’s 1983 triumph, the last time a Frenchman won on the Paris clay.

Svitolina got a taste of the French public’s affection in the run-up to Roland Garros, when home support carried her to victory at the Strasbourg Open, where she also defeated Blinkova in the final.

“I already knew from Strasbourg that a lot of people supported me,” she said at the French Open on Sunday, before touching on her relationship with Monfils, who gave home fans a night to remember with his thrilling first-round win over Argentina’s Sebastian Baez – only to pull out the next day with a wrist injury.

“We have been married for a couple of years now. I’ve been with Gaël for over five years. I didn’t expect that it would come like this year,” Svitolina said, referring to her surge in popularity among local fans.

Gaël Monfils, the showman of French tennis, has been a courtside presence throughout Svitolina's French Open campaign.
Gaël Monfils, the showman of French tennis, has been a courtside presence throughout Svitolina’s French Open campaign. © Pierre René-Worms, FRANCE 24

With 17 titles to her name, Svitolina was long tipped as a future Grand Slam title winner, though semi-final appearances at Wimbledon and the US Open, both in 2019, are the closest she has come.

A former world number three, the Odesa native is now ranked at a lowly 192, owing to the lengthy break she took from tennis, citing health problems and mental exhaustion over Russia’s invasion, followed by her maternity leave.

Reflecting on her fourth quarter-final appearance at Roland Garros, she said she was playing with the freedom of a teenager in her latest quest to break her Grand Slam duck.

“Right now, I don’t have that pressure that I used to have before,” she told reporters on Sunday, noting that expectations were low when she entered the tournament.

“I feel almost like I’m 17 again coming on the tour fresh,” she added. “I’m not defending any points. Not here, not next week. Yeah, I feel like more free.”

In the shadow of war

While Svitolina’s tennis comeback has captured imaginations in France, so has her activism in support of her war-torn home country, whose plight has been a recurrent subject of conversation – and controversy – at Roland Garros.

When asked what motivated her to return to the WTA Tour in April, Svitolina said she hoped to “bring moments of joy” to the people of Ukraine and the children in particular.

Since the start of Russia’s invasion last year, Svitolina has been at the forefront of charitable campaigns to help Ukraine. She donated her prize money from the Strasbourg win to charities helping Ukrainian children and has promised to do the same with her earnings from the French Open.

After her first-round win on Monday, Svitolina blasted the “empty words” being spoken about the war, calling for the conversation to focus on the suffering of Ukrainians and how the tennis world can provide concrete help.

“I want to invite everyone to focus on helping Ukrainians, to help kids, to help women who lost their husbands,” she said. “We are missing the main point that people at this time need help as never before. The kids are losing their parents, they are losing parts of their bodies.”

>> Read more: At French Open, Ukraine war shatters myth of sport as an apolitical bubble

Like her fellow Ukrainians at Roland Garros, she has refused to shake hands with players from Russia and Belarus, pointing to the optics of exchanging courtesies at the net at a time when Russian bombs are raining down on Ukrainian soldiers and civilians.

She did, however, exchange a thumbs-up with her opponent on Sunday, the most outspoken Russian player since the invasion of Ukraine, thanking Kasatkina for her words of support for Ukraine and describing her as “really brave”.

Next up for Svitolina is Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, the world number two, who has faced tough questioning over her stance on the war in Ukraine.
Next up for Svitolina is Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, the world number two, who has faced tough questioning over her stance on the war in Ukraine. © Pierre René-Worms, FRANCE 24

Svitolina will be the underdog on Tuesday when she faces Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, the world number two, in a politically charged battle for the semi-finals.

The Australian Open champion has found the press rooms at Roland Garros harder to manage than the clay courts, facing tough questioning over her individual stance on the war and her opinion of Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko, whose country served as a platform for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

As a result, she has refused to honour her media commitments following her last two wins, claiming she does not “feel safe” in the press rooms.

Sabalenka is likely to face a partisan crowd on Court Philippe-Chatrier, the French Open’s centre court, when she takes on the “last French player standing”. Whatever the outcome, Svitolina has already warned there will be no handshake at the net.

“I have played the last two matches against Russian players so it will not change, everything will be the same,” she said. “I’m used to it now; it’s going to be the same.”

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At French Open, Ukraine war shatters myth of sport as an apolitical bubble

From the war raging in Ukraine to the unrest in Kosovo, geopolitical crises have cast a pall over the Grand Slam tournament in Paris, challenging conventions and shattering the notion that sport and politics can be kept apart.

For the second year running, sport’s troubled relationship with politics has been a fiercely divisive subject at Roland Garros, heightening scrutiny of players’ behaviour on and off the court, as well as fans’ reactions from the stands.

Fifteen months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the war raging at the other end of the continent has been a recurrent topic of discussion, sparking press-room incidents, courtside jeers and talk of a poisonous atmosphere in the dressing room.

With Ukrainian players largely absent from the men’s game, the tension has centred mainly on the women’s draw, where top-ranking players from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus regularly cross paths in an increasingly strained cohabitation.

Their often dramatic confrontations have challenged tennis conventions, including the cherished values of sportsmanship and fair play. This has led to paradoxical situations in the stands, with the French Open’s notoriously fickle fans successively cheering on Ukrainian players against their Russian and Belarusian opponents – and then booing them for shirking a handshake.

“We’re witnessing a collision between two realities: the reality of sport, with its values of tolerance and sportsmanship, and the reality of war,” said Lukas Aubin, an expert in the geopolitics of sport at the Paris-based Institute for International and Strategic Studies (IRIS).

“Sports’ various governing bodies like to think that sport is inherently apolitical,” he added. “But in truth the two are increasingly inseparable.”

A model for other sports?

Contrary to many other sports, the WTA and ATP, which govern female and male tennis respectively, have resisted calls to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from international competitions, requiring them to compete as “neutrals” instead, with neither flag nor anthem.

“Tennis is a particular case, in that it has been more tolerant of Russian and Belarusian players since the start of the war – with the sole exception of Wimbledon,” said Aubin.

The British Grand Slam was stripped of its ranking points last year, and fined $1 million, over its decision to ban players from Russia and Belarus. It has renounced the ban this year, though players from the two countries will have to sign a declaration of neutrality in order to compete at the All England Club.

When stepping on the courts at Roland Garros, players from the two countries are introduced without a mention of their nationalities. On the scoreboards, their names appear without the customary three letters indicating the country of origin – an omission Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus said made her feel like she “comes from nowhere”.

Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus celebrates after winning her third-round match at the French Open on June 2, 2023. © Pierre René-Worms, FRANCE 24

It’s a model that the head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Thomas Bach would like to reproduce across all sports, in time for next summer’s Paris Olympics. Defending plans to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate in international competitions, Bach raised eyebrows in late March by citing tennis as an example of successful cohabitation between players from the three countries.

“The IOC is looking for a solution but hasn’t found a good one yet,” said Aubin. “There’s a form of hypocrisy in showcasing tennis as a ‘model’, when it’s obvious that confrontations between Ukrainian players and those from Russia and Belarus are increasingly politicised.”

Asked about Bach’s comments on the eve of the French Open, defending champion Iga Swiatek of Poland spoke of “tensions between players” and a “heavy atmosphere in the dressing room”. In an interview with French daily Le Monde, she also lamented a “lack of leadership from tennis authorities” on the issue.

“We weren’t brought together to explain how we were supposed to manage this complex situation and how we should behave,” said the world number one, who has been an outspoken supporter of Ukraine. “The Ukrainian players are in the worst position, and it would be good if more attention were paid to how they feel and what they are going through.”

The anguish experienced by Ukrainian players was on full display at Indian Wells earlier this year when 34-year-old Lesia Tsurenko, a veteran of the game, pulled out of her match against Sabalenka citing a “panic attack”.

“It’s an ethical conflict every time we have to play against them (Russian and Belarusian players),” Tsurenko told the Ukrainian website Big Tennis. She said she had been shocked by a discussion she had with WTA chief Steve Simon days before, adding: “He told me he was against the war, but that if players from Russia or Belarus supported the war it was their opinion, and I should not let it upset me.”

‘If Ukrainians hate me, what can I do?’

Sabalenka, the Australian Open champion and world number two, has spoken about the “hate” she encounters in the locker room amid strained relations between players over the war. Last month she said she feared the feeling would only increase after she was publicly praised in a speech by Belarus’s strongman Alexander Lukashenko, whose country has served as a platform for the invasion of Ukraine.

“If Ukrainians will hate me more after his speech, then what can I do? If they feel better by hating me, I’m happy to help them with that,” she said at the time, in remarks that did little to endear her to her Ukrainian adversaries.

On the opening day of the French Open, Sabalenka described her first-round clash with Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine as “emotionally tough” – largely because of the context of the war. “You’re playing against a Ukrainian and you never know what’s going to happen. You never know how people will (react),” she said.  “I was worried, like, people will be against me, and I don’t like to play when people (are) so much against me.

The French Open crowd duly rallied behind Kostyuk during the match, only to boo and whistle at her after she refused to shake hands with her opponent. There was more drama soon after, when the subject of the war came to dominate the players’ press conferences.

>> Read more: ‘They should be embarrassed’: Ukraine’s Kostyuk calls out French Open crowd after boos

In a tense exchange, a journalist from Ukraine pressed Sabalenka to be more specific about her stance on the war, noting that she could soon overtake Swiatek as the world number one and become a role model to many.

“I said it many, many times: nobody in this world, Russian athletes or Belarusian athletes, support the war. Nobody,” Sabalenka said. “If it could affect anyhow the war, if it could like stop it, we would do it. But unfortunately, it’s not in our hands.”

The same reporter pressed her again after her second-round win, challenging her to “personally” state her opposition to the war. The journalist also accused Sabalenka of supporting the “dictator” Lukashenko, until a moderator cut her off mid-question.

When Sabalenka won her third match two days later, the No 2 seed skipped the press conference altogether, saying she had felt “unsafe” at her previous presser and citing the need to preserve her “mental health”.

While all four Grand Slams have rounded on Japan’s Naomi Osaka in the past for skipping press conferences on similar grounds, French Open officials backed Sabalenka, in a measure of how much the war has challenged conventions.

Challenging dictators

Ukrainian players have repeatedly called for players from the aggressor countries to be banned from tournaments. They have made no secret of why they refuse to shake hands with them.

After walking off the court under a chorus of boos, Kostyuk said the French Open crowd “should be embarrassed” about its conduct. Her compatriot Elina Svitolina, the former world number three, pointed to the optics of exchanging courtesies with Russian players at a time when Russian bombs are raining down on Ukrainian soldiers and civilians.

Ukraine's Marta Kostyuk reacts after her defeat against the No 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.
Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk reacts after her defeat against the No 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. © Thomas Samson, AFP

“Can you imagine the guy or a girl who is right now in the front line, looking at me and I’m acting like nothing is happening,” she told a press conference at Roland-Garros. “I’m representing my country. I have a voice. I’m standing with Ukraine. What the Russian government, Russian soldiers are doing on our land is really, really terrible.” 

Like other Ukrainian players, Svitolina had a different stance regarding her fourth-round opponent on Sunday, Russia’s Daria Kasatkina, who has refused to return to her home country since publicly speaking out against the war.

Kasatkina has expressed support for Ukrainian players’ stance on shaking hands. She has also backed a decision by British tennis authorities to provide all Ukrainian players with hotel rooms throughout the forthcoming grass court season peaking at Wimbledon.

“I’m thankful to Dasha (Kasatkina) for taking this position. That’s what you expect from others, as well. It’s really brave from her,” Svitolina said of her Russian opponent, with whom she exchanged a thumbs-up after their fourth-round clash on Sunday. No such niceties are expected on Tuesday when Svitolina takes on Sabalenka in a politically charged quarter-final.

Kasatkina, who trains in Barcelona, has faced further criticism in her home country for coming out as gay and challenging Russian attitudes towards homosexuality. Her outspokenness means she is now unable to travel home safely, “at least until a change of regime”, said Aubin, the IRIS expert, flagging the cost of being a dissident athlete.

“Players are potentially at risk if they speak out against certain regimes, particularly in Belarus, where Lukashenko uses sport as a political platform,” he explained. “It is very difficult to oppose such regimes. Those who do so generally don’t go back.”

That argument has failed to impress the likes of Kostyuk, who bristled after her defeat to Sabalenka when a reporter suggested the Belarusian player was caught between a rock and a hard place.

“I don’t know why it’s a difficult situation for her,” said Kostyuk, who had previously recounted her sleepless night following reports of the latest Russian strikes on her hometown, Kyiv. She added: “I go back to Ukraine, where I can die any second from drones or missiles or whatever it is.”

The ongoing row over the war in Ukraine reflects another specificity of tennis, said Aubin, stressing its international dimension compared to other sports.

“This is a globe-trotter’s sport, in which athletes are seldom in their homes countries and have different experiences from athletes living in, say, the Russian or Belarusian bubble,” he said. “This means the players are both more aware of world affairs and able to see what is going on in their home countries from a different perspective.”

More drama for Djokovic

Many tennis players are also unusually outspoken about their opinions.

Earlier this week, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic kicked off a row at the French Open by scribbling a message about Kosovo on a TV camera lens, a day after NATO peacekeeping soldiers were injured in ethnic clashes in the Balkan state’s northern town of Zvecan, where Djokovic’s father grew up.

“Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence,” the 22-time Grand Slam winner wrote in Serbian, before speaking out about the matter at a news conference with reporters from his home country.

That drew a rebuke from France’s Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, who warned Djokovic not to wade into such international issues again at Roland Garros, saying his comments were “not appropriate”.

Serbia's Novak Djokovic is no stranger to Grand Slam controversy.
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic is no stranger to Grand Slam controversy. © Pierre René-Worms, FRANCE 24

Such controversies are hardly new for Djokovic, who missed the Australian Open and US Open in 2022 because he never received shots of the Covid-19 vaccine. When he returned to Melbourne this year, he faced questions about his father appearing with a group of people waving Russian flags – at least one showing an image of Vladimir Putin – outside the main stadium.

“Drama-free Grand Slam – I don’t think it can happen for me,” Djokovic said Wednesday. “You know, I guess that drives me, as well.”

This time, however, the former world number one received the backing of several fellow players, including Ukraine’s Svitolina, who defended his right to “say his opinion”.

“We are living in the free world, so why not say your opinion on something?” she said. “I feel like if you stand for something, you think that this is the way, you should say.”

Djokovic also avoided punishment from the International Tennis Federation (ITF), which said it had received a request from the Kosovo Tennis Federation demanding that the player be sanctioned over his actions.

“Rules for player conduct at a Grand Slam event are governed by the Grand Slam rulebook, administered by the relevant organiser and regulator. There is no provision in this that prohibits political statements,” an ITF spokesman told AFP.

Regardless of one’s opinions on the matter, the row over Djokovic’s Kosovo comments “proves that sports are indeed politicised and that some causes are more popular and acceptable than others”, said Aubin.

“There is a form of hypocrisy at the heart of sports’ governing bodies, which cling to the idea that politics should stay out of sport,” he said. “Athletes increasingly want to use their voices to support certain causes – and sports need to reconsider the way they approach such issues.”

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What is Poland’s ‘Russian influence law’ really about?

The US and EU have harshly criticised the new legislation, which the Polish opposition say amounts to a campaign of public humiliation.

“Poland is here!” opposition leader Donald Tusk shouted in front of a crowd of thousands of protesters gathered in central Warsaw on Sunday. “No one will silence us!”

Opposition parties and their supporters, including civil society organisations, marched through the Polish capital to mark the 34th anniversary of the first democratic elections held in Poland in 1989 since the communist party abandoned its monopoly on power.

“There are thousands of us, thousands of people with Poland in our hearts, millions of Polish women and men in front of TV sets who did not let themselves be broken, did not let themselves be intimidated,” continued Tusk.

Tusk was flanked by Lech Wałęsa, a former Polish president and renowned protest leader from Gdańsk who founded the Solidarność or Solidarity movement, often single-handedly credited for ending communist rule in Poland.

The subway in the capital was jam-packed as participants made their way to the march, which began on Plac Na Rozdrożu.

While the main demands of the protesters are “free and fair elections” and a “democratic, European Poland”, the march has brought together a diverse crowd of people affected by the decisions of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), including women’s rights groups and LGBT activists.

The protests come on the heels of a bill passed last week in the Polish Sejm and approved by President Andrzej Duda that will form a commission to investigate alleged Russian influence and collaboration with Russian authorities starting in 2007.

PiS, which is the largest party in the Sejm, sponsored the bill, and is aligned with Duda.

The commission, in its currently proposed form, will investigate Russian influence on the internal security of Poland, including public figures as well as businesses that have ties to Moscow that could be detrimental to Poland.

According to the text published by the parliament, the law will apply to “persons who, in the years 2007-2022, were public officials or members of senior management staff who, under Russian influence, acted to the detriment of the interests of the Republic of Poland”.

Additionally, the law ostensibly “aims at preventing them from acting again under Russian influence to the detriment of the interests of the Republic of Poland.”

This proposal has proved deeply controversial.

Duplication of powers

The commission has the power to enforce various penalties, among them a 10-year ban on obtaining a security clearance or assuming public office, as well as the revoking of firearms licenses.

Experts say these measures in fact fall within the jurisdiction of the courts and other government bodies in the country, not an ad hoc commission created to duplicate or replace the judicial process.

Ever since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began last year, countries along Ukraine’s border have worried about a spillover in the Kremlin’s covert or malign influence. Moscow’s influence operations have long been a source of concern for Poland, even before its first assault on Ukraine in 2014.

Many in Poland see the creation of the commission as an attempt by PiS to boost their standing with the public ahead of upcoming elections.

“While PiS is still leading the polls, there is a lot of fatigue, especially from their more moderate supporters,” explains Christopher Lash, a historian and professor at Lazarski University in Warsaw.

“Nobody is saying Russian influence should not be investigated. It’s precisely because there are already people out there whose job it is to investigate this that people are worried that this commission is part of a political game by the ruling party,” he continued.

For him, this is more akin to a “witch hunt”.

Sure enough, the bill has faced condemnation from the US and the EU, who said the commission could be used to block opposition candidates from assuming office.

“The US Government is concerned by the Polish government’s passage of new legislation that could be misused to interfere with Poland’s free and fair elections,” said US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.

He added that such a law “could be used to block the candidacy of opposition politicians without due process”.

In response to the deluge of criticism, Duda has proposed amendments to the law which would remove these powers from the commission and limit its ability to mete out punishments.

He also made clear that the commission would not feature sitting members of parliament.

Szymon Hołownia, the leader of the opposition Poland 2050 party, mocked the president’s statement, saying that he had basically walked back his own rhetoric from earlier in the week.

“President Duda today used the right of veto over his own signature. And the Sejm will now have a choice: it can choose the opinion of the president from Monday or the one from Friday,” Hołownia said on Twitter.

To win political power, criticising Russia is essential

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has revived historical grievances across the continent, not least from the countries that suffered the most at Russia’s hand.

Poland and Russia have been rivals over territories such as modern Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania in the past, and have had turbulent political relations.

“As Poland weakened over history, Russia gained a lot of territory and gobbled up about two-thirds of the old Polish commonwealth,” explains Lash. “So there’s this historic fear of Poland losing its sovereignty to Russia or being threatened by it.”

A fear, it seems, that PiS is happy to capitalise on.

Even before last year’s invasion, the Kremlin expended significant political capital trying to minimise its historical role in diminishing Poland’s power.

In 2020, Moscow launched a glitzy propaganda campaign trying to portray the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union for the partition of Poland – which led to Soviet troops entering the country 15 days after the Germans – as a necessary evil.

In turn, Poland has fiercely supported Ukraine and criticised Nord Stream 2, a pipeline that allowed Russia to deliver natural gas directly to Germany while circumventing its Eastern European neighbours.

“Criticising Russia is not controversial,” Lash confirms. “All shades of the Polish political sphere are anti-Russian except for very tiny fringe political actors.

“It seems as if the goal [of the commission] is to polarise the debate and label people as being pro-Russian or in league with the Kremlin.”

And from the point of view of most experts, top of the list of the commission’s expected targets is former Polish Prime Minister Tusk.

A meeting of hardened rivals

The leader of the opposition party Civic Platform (PO), Tusk was prime minister for two terms, from 2007 until 2014, when he left for Brussels to become the European Council president and, later, the head the European People’s Party (EPP), which is also the largest bloc in the European Parliament.

Some argue that it was Tusk’s move to Brussels that cleared the way for PiS to be elected to power in 2015. His experience in the EU hierarchy has been harshly criticised by the leader of PiS, Jarosław Kaczyński, who often portrays the EU as an enemy of a sovereign Poland and whose party has consistently been on a collision course with the EPP.

“Tusk and Kaczynski are two fundamental, central figures of Polish politics from the early 2000s onwards,” said Lash. “Tusk is seen as Kaczynski’s mortal enemy, and he is the only one who can stand up to him and his way of controlling Polish politics.”

Poland has openly coordinated its foreign policy aims with the US, and when Tusk was the prime minister, the administration of President Barack Obama was trying to navigate a middle course with Russia.

“Tusk, just like Obama did in the US, attempted some sort of reset with Russia in 2009 and 2010 because that was the general atmosphere and it was a different time. It is likely that this would be the main period the commission will focus on,” explained Lash.

On the other hand, PiS claims to have always warned about Russia’s expansionist project. Now that most Western powers have turned against Moscow, that supposed legacy is one they are keen to cash in on.

As Lash predicted: “They will try to paint themselves as the true patriots who were always fiercely critical of Russia.”

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#Polands #Russian #influence #law

Le Pen’s far right served as mouthpiece for the Kremlin, says French parliamentary report

Dogged by accusations of proximity to the Kremlin, Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party had hoped to clear its name by setting up a parliamentary inquiry to investigate foreign interference in French politics. But a draft report on the committee’s findings, which was leaked to the press this week, shows the move backfired spectacularly, finding instead that Le Pen’s policy stances sometimes echo the “official language of Putin’s regime”.

After a six-month inquiry and more than 50 hearings, the cross-party parliamentary inquiry found that the National Rally (RN) party, formerly known as the National Front, had served as a “communication channel” for Russian power, notably supporting Moscow’s illegal annexation of Crimea, according to the leaked report.  

The text, due to be published next week, was adopted on Thursday by eleven votes to five – to the dismay of the inquiry’s chair and instigator, RN lawmaker Jean-Philippe Tanguy, who promptly dismissed the process as a “farce”.

The vote came just days after Le Pen was grilled by members of the investigation, swearing under oath that she had no ties to the Kremlin while also reiterating her support for Moscow’s takeover of Crimea – which she referred to as a “reattachment”.  

That support is “visibly appreciated in Moscow”, wrote the report’s rapporteur Constance Le Grip, noting that the Russian press had given ample coverage to the far-right leader’s May 24 interview, “echoing with great satisfaction the assertion, in their view reaffirmed by Marine Le Pen, that Crimea is and always has been Russian”.   

Echoing Putin ‘word for word’ 

Twice a runner-up in France’s most recent presidential elections, Le Pen has in the past spoken admiringly of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his nationalist rhetoric. Prior to last year’s invasion – and despite Russian incursions into Georgia, Crimea and Ukraine’s Donbas – she laughed off suggestions that he posed a threat to Europe. 

In her 218-page report, Le Grip, a member of President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling Renaissance party, pointed to a “long-standing” link between Russia and the far-right party co-founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen, noting that the “strategy of political and ideological rapprochement” with Moscow had “accelerated” since his daughter became leader of the party in 2011. 

The report details frequent contacts between party representatives and Russian officials, culminating in the warm welcome Le Pen received at the Kremlin ahead of France’s 2017 presidential election, complete with a photo op with Putin. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Marine Le Pen at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 24, 2017, just weeks ahead of France’s presidential election. Mikhail Klimentyev, AFP

It also highlights the far-right leader’s “alignment” with “Russian discourse” at the time of Moscow’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, the year the National Front obtained a loan from a bank close to the Kremlin. 

“All [Le Pen’s] comments on Crimea, reiterated during her inquiry hearing, repeat word for word the official language of Putin’s regime,” Le Grip wrote, noting that the National Rally had fiercely opposed then-president François Hollande’s decision to scrap the sale of two Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia over its takeover of Crimea.  

The pro-Russian stance “softened” in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, the centrist MP conceded, noting that Le Pen and her party had “unambiguously condemned” Russian aggression – though without changing tack on Crimea.    

The Kremlin’s payroll 

Despite Le Pen’s efforts to distance herself from Moscow, the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine exacerbated scrutiny of her party’s links to Russia, handing her opponents a line of attack in the run-up to France’s presidential election later that year. 

During a bruising televised debate ahead of their April 24 presidential run-off, Macron launched a blistering attack on his far-right opponent, accusing her of effectively being on the Kremlin’s payroll owing to her party’s links with a Russian bank. 

“When you speak to Russia, you are not speaking to any foreign leader, you are talking to your banker,” Macron told Le Pen, arguing that her party’s loan from a Russian bank with links to the Kremlin made her “dependent on Vladimir Putin” and incapable of “defending French interests”.  

Le Pen has repeatedly argued that she had no choice but to seek creditors abroad because French banks are reluctant to deal with her party – some on ideological grounds, others due to the party’s chronically unstable finances. 

The controversial loan was once again in the spotlight during her audition last week, a testy, four-hour-long grilling that failed to produce evidence of a political service rendered in exchange for the credit. Likewise, Le Grip’s report dwells at length on the Russian loan, without demonstrating a return of favours. 

“There is nothing, not a shred of evidence that would prove Russian influence over the National Rally,” Le Pen told reporters on Thursday, as rumours about the leaked report began to swirl. “This report passes judgement on my political opinions, not on any form of foreign interference,” she added, blasting a “political trial”. 

>> Read more: Trump, Farage, Le Pen: Why the West’s right wing loves Vladimir Putin


By pushing for an inquiry late last year, the National Rally had hoped to deflect attention from its Moscow ties and put the focus on other parties’ links to foreign powers, whether Russia, the United States or China.  

Among the witnesses summoned to testify was François Fillon, the former conservative prime minister, who was quizzed on his role as an adviser to two Russian oil companies – one of them state-owned – after he quit politics in 2017. The former PM, who stepped down from both positions on February 25, the day after Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, testified that he “never took a single cent of Russian money”.  

Other witnesses included the head of the DGSI, France’s internal security agency, who told a closed hearing that French parliamentarians of all stripes were prime targets of Russian espionage.

Despite the National Rally’s best efforts to focus the attention on other parties, the inquiry frequently returned to figures from its own ranks – including EU lawmaker Thierry Mariani, a former conservative minister and longtime Putin admirer who, on a trip to Crimea in 2015, declared its annexation free and fair in line with Le Pen’s own stance on the matter. 

“The inquiry’s immediate political consequence is to highlight, once again, Marine Le Pen’s pro-Russian stance – particularly on the annexation of Crimea,” French daily Le Monde observed on Friday. 

Speaking to the newspaper, Tanguy, the National Rally lawmaker who chaired the inquiry, conceded that he had been “naïve” in expecting another outcome. He also claimed he had been “betrayed” by Le Grip.

As Greens’ lawmaker Julien Bayou quipped, “The (National Rally) launched this inquiry to clear its name, but ended up with a boomerang in the face.”   

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#Pens #served #mouthpiece #Kremlin #French #parliamentary #report

Huzzay! Debt Ceiling Raised, Catastrophe Averted, Republicans And Joe Manchin :(

The Senate passed the debt limit bill last night, raising the ceiling on how much the government can borrow to pay for spending it’s already done, and thereby avoiding a default on the federal debt and the attendant economic disaster that would follow. The bill now goes to President Joe Biden, who will sign it today and is scheduled to address the nation this evening at 7 p.m. Eastern. We expect the speech will say something along the lines of, “Now look, for cryin’ out loud, we need to pay our bills, I mean it! None of this was necessary, and that’s why I’m invoking the 14th Amendment, I’m not joking, to make the Supreme Court rule on whether the debt limit law is even constitutional. What a load of malarkey, goodnight.”

Following the Senate vote last night, Biden actually said in a statement, “No one gets everything they want in a negotiation, but make no mistake: This bipartisan agreement is a big win for our economy and the American people,” which was far nicer.

The bill passed in the Senate on a 63 to 36 vote, enough to avoid a filibuster. Five members of the Democratic caucus — John Fetterman (Pennsylvania), Ed Markey (Massachusetts), Jeff Merkley (Oregon), Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) voted nay. (They presumably would have voted for it if necessary.) The majority of Republicans, 31 of ’em, also voted against the bill albeit for very different reasons. Only 17 Republican senators voted for the bill. I’ll note that it was a rare thing for me to see both of Idaho’s senators, Mike Crapo and the other one, voting with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

Before the vote, the Senate debated and rejected 11 amendments to the bill, including Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine’s amendment to yeet Joe Manchin’s pet methane pipeline project out of the bill (which Manchin had somehow sneaked into the House version) and into the sun. That was the only amendment offered by a Democrat; the others were Republican attempts to demand deeper cuts to domestic spending programs than in the House bill, to increase military spending even more than the House bill did, to Git Tougher on the border, and the like.

During floor debate, several Republicans fretted that without unlimited Pentagon spending, the Russians, Chinese, or Martians might try something sneaky, or that the US would be unable to support Ukraine’s defense against Russian invasion (as far as we can tell, no Republicans rose to shout, “That’s the point!”). Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said that the defense hawks needn’t worry, and that the debt ceiling bill

does nothing to limit the Senate’s ability to appropriate emergency supplemental funds to ensure our military capabilities are sufficient to deter China, Russia and our other adversaries, and respond to ongoing and growing national security threats, including Russia’s evil ongoing war of aggression against Ukraine.

Schumer added that the bill wouldn’t limit Congress’s ability to pass emergency funding for disaster relief or other needs, either, although he failed to note that Republicans would certainly whine about such expenditures unless their own states were affected.

All told, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the spending caps in the bill would reduce federal spending by $1.5 trillion over the next decade. Reuters rather cheekily adds, “That is below the $3 trillion in deficit reduction, mainly through new taxes, that Biden proposed,” and we say good on you, Reuters.

Also, in a coda that gives us at least a satisfied smirk, Fox News reports that in an interview, Joe Manchin (D?-Methane) complained that Republicans were getting too much credit for his personal boondoggle in the bill, the fast-tracking of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The debt limit agreement forces an end to all regulatory and court challenges to Manchin’s pet project, which he has pushed since it was proposed in 2014, and by golly, Joe Manchin isn’t about to have any Republicans take the focus away from him and the ginormous favor he’s doing for the fossil-fuel industries (of which he’s not only the president, he’s also a client).

What’s the problem here? They’re afraid of who gets credit for it?” Manchin told Fox News Digital. “You know, what we said before — success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan. Well, I guarantee you, I was an orphan there for a long time because I was the only one on the front taking all the spears and everything, taking point on this.”

“But I’m happy to — everyone is happy — to share the success. I think everybody knows how this happened,” the West Virginia senator added. “I mean, my God, for the whole year I’ve had the living crap beat out of me, back and forth and everything.”

Now there’s a man who loves sharing the spotlight, as long as nobody else is right in the center. Manchin also whined that it really pissed him off something fierce that Republicans might get any credit (which he’s happy to share, but not) since it was his hard work and stubborn assholishness that won over or exhausted the White House in negotiations, and where were Republicans the other times he tried to ram through a bunch of fossil fuel projects, huh?

“It’s bulls— because they knew there was not going to be a problem on the Democratic Senate side or the Democrat president and his staff because they were the ones who supported it and got us 40 votes in the Senate when we voted,” Manchin said.

“It was the Republicans that killed us when we voted last time — only got seven votes. And the Republicans have always supported permitting. The only reason they wouldn’t support that is because of the Republicans being upset about the [Inflation Reduction Act]. That’s it. So it got caught in the politics.”

Still, you have to be impressed by the bipartisan outreach, calling Joe Biden a “Democrat president” just like the Fox News analyst he’s destined to become following his Senate career.

[CNBC / The Hill / Reuters / Fox News]

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#Huzzay #Debt #Ceiling #Raised #Catastrophe #Averted #Republicans #Joe #Manchin

A look at the Free Russia Legion, the pro-Ukrainian group that attacked Belgorod

A cross-border incursion into the Russian region of Belgorod on Monday put the Free Russia Legion under the spotlight, prompting questions about this mysterious paramilitary unit of anti-Putin Russians.

Russians fighting for Ukraine crossed the border north of Kharkiv into Russia’s Belgorod region on Monday night, prompting accusations from Moscow and denials from Kyiv. A paramilitary group called the Free Russia Legion (and another known as the Russian Volunteer Corps) later claimed responsibility for the incursion, prompting a new round of questions about the group: Who are they and what kind of weaponry do they have?

Russian authorities on Tuesday said they had eliminated the group of “saboteurs” responsible and injured several in the Grayvoron district 80 km north of Belgorod city, although the Free Russia Legion’s political representative told FRANCE 24 on Wednesday the group “didn’t lose a single soldier”.

>> Read more: Pro-Kyiv Russian group says it ‘didn’t lose a single soldier’ in cross-border raids on Belgorod

Significantly, Moscow did not refer to the unit directly. Admitting that Russian fighters had turned against the national army and were launching attacks on Russian territory would be “really bad for Putin and Russian propaganda”, said Huseyn Aliyev, a specialist in Russian and Ukrainian security at the University of Glasgow.

Such an admission could even pose a threat to those in the Kremlin. “It is their strongest possible way to make a point, to try to show to Russian audience they exist as an opposing force to Putin’s regime,” said Glen Grant, a senior analyst at the Baltic Security Foundation and a specialist in the Russian military.

A mysterious unit

The Free Russia Legion was established in March 2022 after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for volunteers days after the Russian invasion the previous month.

It’s just the same as all the other fighters in the international legion. They just happen to be Russian,” Grant said.

The unit has always been shrouded in mystery, but individual members are far less enigmatic. In Ukraine they are quite well-known because a lot of them have been interviewed by Ukrainian media or Russian opposition outlets,” Aliyev pointed out.

Some of them, especially in the beginning, were former PoWs who were given the choice to join this Legion. I don’t think most of them have a professional army background, but they have received decent training, and have combat experience because they fought in Donbas region and around Bakhmut,” Aliyev said.

A former vice-president of Gazprombank, Igor Volobuev, announced in April 2022 that he was going to joingiving the Free Russia Legion one of its most famous recruits.

The Legion makes much of its dual identity, sporting uniforms that display both the white, blue and white stripes of the Russian opposition and the blue and yellow colours of the Ukrainian flag.

Its fighters have also adopted a capital letter “L” – for “Legion” and “Liberty” – apparently in response to the “Z” that adorns Russian army tanks and uniforms.

Founded with just 100 fighters, it is difficult to know how large the Free Russia Legion is today or where it has been active. But some analysts believe it has grown significantly since its inception.

It could be up to two batallions, meaning around 2,000 men,” said Stephen Hall, a Russia expert at Bath University. 

Most members have been vague about numbers when speaking to the media, citing hundreds of fighters with support in most of Russia’s major cities.

Good propaganda for Ukraine?

It is unclear whether the Legion shares a common ideology.

In terms of ideology, it is confusing. They are nothing like the [Russian] Volunteer corps, a well known far-right, proto-Nazi militia, who they seem to have fight alongside during the Belgorod raid,” Hall said.

“They are driven by a broad anti-Putin ideology. It seems like they want more democracy, but maybe not in the purely Western sense of it. And let’s be honest, some of them have probably joined for the better pay,” Aliyev added.

Where the unit has deployed also remains unknown. They appear to have fought in eastern Ukraine as well as in Bakhmut. But according to Aliyev it is unclear how long they stayed in Bakhmut or where they were stationed in the Donbas. 

The group’s obscurity has prompted doubts as to whether it exists at all: It’s a common view in Russia, which is convenient for the Putin regime. 

“It’s very important for […] Ukrainian propaganda,” Hall said. Their mere existence shows that Russian are fighting directly Putin and it sends the message that the regime must be aware and fear possible action from inside the country. That’s why there are people saying it could be a PR op for Ukraine. It’s too perfect.

“One possibility is that the Legion does have some Russian fighters, mostly already leaving in Ukraine before the war, and the Legion was built around them,” Hall continued.

Plausible deniability                                                                                       

But most experts FRANCE 24 spoke to believe they really are Russian fighters. A phantom legion of Russian soldiers makes little sense, Aliyev said, given their active presence on social media and the fact that Ukraine “has heavily invested in this Legion, providing training and armoured vehicles. They really wanted them to be operational alongside the Ukrainian army.”   

I think they didn’t really know until now how to use this Legion. For exemple, they clearly didn’t want to send them for too long [to] Bakhmut and risk losing them. So that’s why there was little information about what was going on with them,” Aliyev continued. The Free Russia Legion was too valuable a propaganda instrument to be sent into the hell of Bakhmut, and too difficult to integrate into the chain of command for complex manoeuvres in the Donbas. 

The unit has a certain degree of autonomy, and it would very well be possible that they acted on their own. But nonetheless, some sort of non-official approval from Ukrainian army official has probably be given”, said Sim Tack, an analyst at Force Analysis, a US-based conflict monitoring firm.

Working separately from – but in coordination with – the regular Ukrainian army makes the Legion ideal for raids into enemy territory.

What this legion offers to Kyiv is plausible deniability when it comes to talking to western countries about what happened in Russian territory,” Hall said.

This would cross a red line with the United States and Ukraine’s other NATO allies, which do not want Ukraine to escalate the conflict by attacking Russian territory – and especially not while using Western weapons.

Nevertheless, incursions into Russian territory make sense as a military strategy.

“One outcome might be that Russia will feel obliged to move some troops to the northern part of the border in order to secure it, which could help a counter offensive if it happened in the south,” Tack said.

It also highlights that Russia has “poorly guarded” territory near the border, Grant added.

All of this makes the paramilitary units a dangerous complication for the Kremlin. And if Moscow is unable to acknowledge that pro-Ukrainian Russian fighters took the army by surprise, the Kremlin will need to find other culprits to blame.

© France Médias Monde graphic studio

This article was translated from the original in French.

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#Free #Russia #Legion #proUkrainian #group #attacked #Belgorod

Norway faces backlash from campaigners for ‘reckless’ pursuit of Arctic oil and gas

A view of fjords as they melt due to climate change near Svalbard Islands, in the Arctic Ocean in Norway on July 19, 2022.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The Norwegian government is calling on energy giants to ramp up oil and gas exploration projects in remote regions like the Arctic Barents Sea, defying a sense of palpable frustration among climate campaigners as the Nordic country seeks to shore up its position as Europe’s largest gas supplier.

The rethink in strategy comes as Norway strives to keep up with growing demand for its energy exports in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Norway last year overtook Russia as Europe’s biggest natural gas supplier and says it is now seeking to maintain Europe’s energy security by exploring the Barents Sea for further resources.

Speaking in the town of Hammerfest late last month, Norway’s Petroleum and Energy Minister Terje Aasland reportedly said that the industry should “leave no stone unturned” in their pursuit for fresh hydrocarbon discoveries in the Barents Sea.

Aasland even described this policy as the oil and gas industry’s “social responsibility,” according to Bloomberg, saying undiscovered resources could help to maintain the country’s future production levels.

Norway oil and gas giant Equinor and Vår Energi, one of the country’s largest exploration and production companies, confirmed to CNBC that the minister recently issued this call.

A spokesperson for Norway’s petroleum and energy ministry, meanwhile, said that the message to energy giants was “to explore all economic oil and gas resources within the available areas, including in the Barents Sea.”

Norway has pumped oil and gas from its continental shelf, a relatively shallow section of seabed off its coast, for more than 50 years and it currently has several oil and gas fields either in production or under development.

Oil drilling in the Arctic is like pouring gasoline on a fire.

Frode Pleym

Head of Greenpeace Norway

It is estimated that roughly two-thirds of the country’s undiscovered oil resources lies off the country’s northern coast in the Arctic’s Barents Sea. And yet, the desire among energy companies to explore the Barents Sea for oil and gas has been relatively subdued in recent years, in part due to high costs and limited opportunities to export gas to markets.

At the start of the year, however, Norway said it planned to offer energy firms a record number of oil and gas exploration blocks in the Arctic.

Environmental campaigners at Friends of the Earth Norway, WWF-Norway and Greenpeace Norway have described the country’s lobbying for continued oil and gas expansion as “embarrassing,” “extremely reckless” and “a middle finger to the Paris Agreement.”

“Oil drilling in the Arctic is like pouring gasoline on a fire,” Frode Pleym, head of Greenpeace Norway, told CNBC via email.

“Both Norway and the oil corporations need to stop cynically exploiting Russia’s war in Ukraine,” Pleym said. “The aggressive and greedy oil policy of Norway do not only consolidate Oslo’s position as a top energy supplier to Europe, it locks a whole continent into future dependency on fossil fuels. The alternative to oil and gas is not more oil and gas, it is more energy efficiency and renewable energy.”

The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas, is the chief driver of the climate crisis.

recently lamented the lack of exploration in the Barents Sea, saying its calculations show that such activity “is profitable in all ocean areas.”

Separately, a mid-April study from gas infrastructure operator Gassco said building a pipeline to transport gas produced in the Arctic Barents Sea could be worth re-examining due to the country stepping up its gas exports to Europe.

A spokesperson for Vår Energi described the Barents Sea as a strategic hub for oil and gas drilling, one that provides a “manageable, ice-free” part of the Arctic with weather and climate conditions like other parts of the Norwegian Continental Shelf.

It is for this reason, Vår Energi says, that the Barents Sea should not be compared to other Arctic regions characterized by harsher conditions, adding that the company abides by strict environmental regulations.

Climate campaign groups refute this logic, warning that any oil spill in this area would spell disaster to the rich but acutely vulnerable ecosystems and marine life.

‘A strong basis to lead on climate policy’

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#Norway #faces #backlash #campaigners #reckless #pursuit #Arctic #oil #gas

Moldova ramps up EU membership push amid fears of Russia-backed coup

CHIȘINĂU, Moldova — Tens of thousands of Moldovans descended on the central square of the capital on Sunday, waving flags and homemade placards in support of the country’s push to join the EU and make a historic break with Moscow.

With Russia’s war raging just across the border in Ukraine, the government of this tiny Eastern European nation called the rally in an effort to overcome internal divisions and put pressure on Brussels to begin accession talks, almost a year after Moldova was granted EU candidate status.

“Joining the EU is the best way to protect our democracy and our institutions,” Moldova’s President Maia Sandu told POLITICO at Chișinău’s presidential palace, as a column of her supporters marched past outside. “I call on the EU to take a decision on beginning accession negotiations by the end of the year. We think we have enough support to move forward.”

Speaking alongside Sandu at what was billed as a “national assembly,” European Parliament President Roberta Metsola declared that “Europe is Moldova. Moldova is Europe!” The crowd, many holding Ukrainian flags and the gold-and-blue starred banner of the EU, let out a cheer. An orchestra on stage played the bloc’s anthem, Ode to Joy.

“In recent years, you have taken decisive steps and now you have the responsibility to see it through, even with this war on your border,” Metsola said. “The Republic of Moldova is ready for integration into the single European market.”

However, the jubilant rally comes amid warnings that Moscow is doing everything it can to keep the former Soviet republic within its self-declared sphere of influence.

In February, the president of neighboring Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, warned that his country’s security forces had disrupted a plot to overthrow Moldova’s pro-Western government. Officials in Chișinău later said the Russian-backed effort could have involved sabotage, attacks on government buildings and hostage-taking. Moscow officially denies the claims.

“Despite previous efforts to stay neutral, Moldova is finding itself in the Kremlin’s crosshairs — whether they want to be or not, they’re party of this broader conflict in Ukraine,” said Arnold Dupuy, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington.

“There’s an effort by the Kremlin to turn the country into a ‘southern Kaliningrad,’ putting in place a friendly regime that allows them to attack the Ukrainians’ flanks,” Dupuy said. “But this hasn’t been as effective as the Kremlin hoped and they’ve actually strengthened the government’s hand to look to the EU and NATO for protection.”

Responding to the alleged coup attempt, Brussels last month announced it would deploy a civilian mission to Moldova to combat growing threats from Russia. According to Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, the deployment under the terms of the Common Security and Defense Policy, will provide “support to Moldova [to] protect its security, territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

Bumps on the road to Brussels

Last week, Sandu again called on Brussels to begin accession talks “as soon as possible” in order to protect Moldova from what she said were growing threats from Russia. “Nothing compares to what is happening in Ukraine, but we see the risks and we do believe that we can save our democracy only as part of the EU,” she said. A group of influential MEPs from across all of the main parties in the European Parliament have tabled a motion calling for the European Commission to start the negotiations by the end of the year.

But, after decades as one of Russia’s closest allies, Moldova knows its path to EU membership isn’t without obstacles.

“The challenge is huge,” said Tom de Waal, a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe. “They will need to overcome this oligarchic culture that has operated for 30 years where everything is informal, institutions are very weak and large parts of the bureaucracy are made viable by vested interests.”

At the same time, a frozen conflict over the breakaway region of Transnistria, in the east of Moldova, could complicate matters still further. The stretch of land along the border with Ukraine, home to almost half a million people, has been governed since the fall of the Soviet Union by pro-Moscow separatists, and around 1,500 Russian troops are stationed there despite Chișinău demanding they leave. It’s also home to one of the Continent’s largest weapons stockpiles, with a reported 20,000 tons of Soviet-era ammunition.

“Moldova cannot become a member of the EU with Russian troops on its territory against the will of the Republic of Moldova itself, so we will need to solve this before membership,” Romanian MEP Siegfried Mureșan, chair of the European Parliament’s delegation to the country, told POLITICO.

“We do not know now what a solution could look like, but the fact that we do not have an answer to this very specific element should not prevent us from advancing Moldova’s European integration in all other areas where we can,” Mureșan said.

While she denied that Brussels had sent any official signals that Moldova’s accession would depend on Russian troops leaving the country, Sandu said that “we do believe that in the next months and years there may be a geopolitical opportunity to resolve this conflict.”

Ties that bind

Even outside of Transnistria, Moscow maintains significant influence in Moldova. While Romanian is the country’s official language, Russian is widely used in daily life while the Kremlin’s state media helps shape public opinion — and in recent months has turned up the dial on its attacks on Sandu’s government.

A study by Chișinău-based pollster CBS Research in February found that while almost 54 percent of Moldovans say they would vote in favor of EU membership, close to a quarter say they would prefer closer alignment with Russia. Meanwhile, citizens were split on who to blame for the war in Ukraine, with 25 percent naming Russian President Vladimir Putin and 18 percent saying the U.S.

“Putin is not a fool,” said one elderly man who declined to give his name, shouting at passersby on the streets of the capital. “I hate Ukrainians.”

Outside of the capital, the pro-Russian ȘOR Party has held counter-protests in several regional cities.

Almost entirely dependent on Moscow for its energy needs, Moldova has seen Russia send the cost of gas skyrocketing in what many see as an attempt at blackmail. Along with an influx of Ukrainian refugees, the World Bank reported that Moldova’s GDP “contracted by 5.9 percent and inflation reached an average of 28.7 percent in 2022.”

“We will buy energy sources from democratic countries, and we will not support Russian aggression in exchange for cheap gas,” Sandu told POLITICO.

The Moldovan president, a former World Bank economist who was elected in 2020 on a wave of anti-corruption sentiment, faces a potentially contentious election battle next year. With the process of EU membership set to take years, or even decades, it remains to be seen whether the country will stay the course in the face of pressure from the Kremlin.

For Aurelia, a 40-year-old Moldovan who tied blue and yellow ribbons into her hair for Sunday’s rally, the choice is obvious. “We’ve been a part of the Russian world my whole life. Now we want to live well, and we want to live free.”

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#Moldova #ramps #membership #push #fears #Russiabacked #coup

Explained | Ukraine’s recent round of weapons acquisition

Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz, right, shakes hands with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy after addressing a media conference in Berlin on Sunday, May 14, 2023.
| Photo Credit: AP

The story so far: Germany on Saturday announced fresh military aid valued at around $3 billion as the country continues to fight against a Russian invasion that began in February 2022.

The move was announced by Germany right before Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was scheduled to visit Berlin for the first time since the Russian invasion. President Zelenskyy arrived in Germany on Sunday after meeting Italian leaders and Pope Francis in Rome.

The Hindu looks at recent military aid acquired by Ukraine.


According to German news organisation Der Spiegel, the new military aid package for Ukraine includes 30 Leopard 1 A5 tanks, 20 Marder armoured personnel carriers, more than 100 combat vehicles, 18 self-propelled Howitzers, 200 reconnaissance drones, four IRIS-T SLM anti-aircraft systems and other air defence equipment.

The Leopard tanks are manufactured by German defence equipment and technology company Krauss-Maffei Wegmann. The Leopard 1 tank was first manufactured in 1965 and its upgrades are still in use in nine countries. According to Army Recognition, the Leopard 1 A5 is an improved version of the Leopard 1A1A1 main battle tank (MBT) which was the first upgrade of the Leopard tank.

The Leopard 1 A5 tank was based on a research project undertaken in 1980. It has night vision, computerised fire control, and an automatic fire detection and extinguishing system.

Earlier this year, Germany had announced that it will provide Leopard 2 tanks – one of the most advanced MBTs in the world – to Ukraine.

The IRIS-T surface launch missile (SLM) system is manufactured by German weapons manufacturer Diehl Defence. It was successfully tested for the first time in 2014.

According to Army Recognition, IRIS-T SLM provides 360° protection against aircraft, helicopters, cruise missiles, and guided weapons. It can simultaneously engage multiple targets from very short to medium range within brief reaction times.

Each IRIS-T SLM system consists of three vehicles – a missile launcher, a radar, and a fire-control radar, with integrated logistics and support, as reported by Deutsche Welle. The missiles use infrared imaging to identify targets. They have a range of 40 kilometres (km) and an altitude coverage of 20 km.


The next stop on President Zelenskyy’s multinational Europe tour was France, where he spent three hours at the Elysee Palace meeting French President Emmanuel Macron. Although specific numbers were not disclosed, Mr. Macron’s office said that France will supply dozens of light tanks, armoured vehicles, and air defence systems to Ukraine. France is also aiming to train around 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers this year.

In the past, France has provided an array of weaponry, include air defence systems, light tanks, howitzers and other arms and equipment and fuel to Ukraine.

The United Kingdom

Ukrainian President Zelenskyy arrived in London on Monday to meet U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and secure more military aid for his country. The U.K. announced that over the next few months, it will send hundreds of air defence missiles and additional unmanned aerial systems, including hundreds of new long-range (greater than 200 km range) attack drones, to Ukraine.

A week before the meeting between Mr. Sunak and Mr. Zelenskyy, the U.K. had confirmed that it had provided Ukraine with Storm Shadow, a long-range cruise missile.

The Storm Shadow is an air-launched, long-range cruise missile designed by MBDA Systems for “pre-planned attacks against high value fixed or stationary targets”.

It weighs 1,300 kg and has a range more than 250 km. It is capable of being operated at all times of the day, and is not limited by weather. It combines inertial navigation system, global positioning system, and terrain referencing to achieve high accuracy.

On Saturday, Russia accused Ukraine of striking two industrial sites in the Russian-held city of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine with Storm Shadow. Right before Russia’s accusation, the U.K. had admitted that it supplied Ukraine with long-range missiles, becoming the first country to say so, news agency Reuters reported.

Despite his fast-paced Europe trip, Mr. Zelenskyy’s demand for fighter jets remained unfulfilled. The absence of NATO-compatible jets has been a significant disadvantage for Ukraine, whose pilots are used to flying MiG-29s and Sukhoi jets.

According to U.K.’s official statement, the country will start training Ukrainian pilots this summer while it works with other nations to provide Kyiv with F-16 jets.

So far, the U.S. has the largest country-wise share in aid provided to Ukraine since February 2022. According to an analysis by Kiel Institute for the World Economy, the U.S. has provided more than $75 billion in aid to Ukraine, which includes humanitarian, financial, and military support.

Country-wise support to Ukraine

Country-wise support to Ukraine
| Photo Credit:
Kiel Institute for the World Economy

In addition to the recently committed European military aid to Ukraine, the U.S. has promised its Abrams tank, Patriot missiles, NASAMS (National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System), Himars rocket launcher system (M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System), and Stryker armoured fighting vehicles, while the U.K. has promised Challenger tanks and Starstreak missiles.

  • Germany on Saturday announced fresh military aid valued at around $3 billion as Ukraine continues to fight against a Russian invasion that began in February 2022. The move was announced by Germany right before Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was scheduled to visit Berlin for the first time since the Russian invasion.
  • The new military aid package for Ukraine includes 30 Leopard 1 A5 tanks, 20 Marder armoured personnel carriers, more than 100 combat vehicles, 18 self-propelled Howitzers, 200 reconnaissance drones, four IRIS-T SLM anti-aircraft systems and other air defence equipment.
  • The Leopard 1 A5 tank was based on a research project undertaken in 1980. It has night vision, computerised fire control, and an automatic fire detection and extinguishing system.

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