European Union member states have been preparing for Russia to cut gas supplies and are working to limit the impact on consumers, said Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, adding: ‘The era of Russian fossil fuel in Europe is coming to an end.’
In a move called out as “blackmail,” Russia cut off natural gas to NATO members Poland and Bulgaria on Wednesday and threatened to do the same to other countries, dramatically escalating its standoff with the West over the war in Ukraine.
A day after the U.S. and other Western allies vowed to send more and heavier weapons to Ukraine, the Kremlin used its most essential export as leverage against two of Kyiv’s staunch backers. Gas prices in Europe shot up at the news.
The tactic could eventually force targeted nations to ration gas and deal another blow to economies suffering from rising prices. At the same time, it could deprive Russia of badly needed income to fund its war effort.
Poland has been a major gateway for the delivery of weapons to Ukraine and confirmed this week that it is sending tanks.
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Bulgaria, under a new liberal government that took office last fall, has cut many of its old ties to Moscow and supported sanctions against Russia. It has also hosted Western fighter jets at a new NATO outpost on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast.
The gas cuts do not immediately put the two countries in dire trouble. Poland has been working for several years to line up other sources of energy, and the continent is heading into summer, making gas less essential for households.
Yet the cut-off — and the Kremlin warning that other countries could be next — sent shivers of worry through the 27-nation European Union.
The end of the era of Russian fossil fuel
Western leaders and analysts portrayed the move by Russia as a bid to divide the Western allies and undermine their unity in support of Ukraine.
“It comes as no surprise that the Kremlin uses fossil fuels to try to blackmail us,” said EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “Today, the Kremlin failed once again in his attempt to sow division amongst member states. The era of Russian fossil fuel in Europe is coming to an end.”
“This is unjustified and unacceptable,” von der Leyen said. “Our response will be immediate, united and co-ordinated.”
Von der Leyen said that following an urgent meeting of member states, both Poland and Bulgaria are now receiving gas from their EU neighbours.
A tanker loads its cargo of liquefied natural gas from the Sakhalin-2 project in the port of Prigorodnoye, Russia, on Oct. 29, 2021. In an abrupt move, Russian energy giant Gazprom said it would halt gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria. (The Associated Press)
State-controlled Russian giant Gazprom said it was shutting off the two countries because they refused to pay in Russian rubles, as President Vladimir Putin had demanded. A number of other gas-importing countries have also refused to do business in rubles.
The move is Russia’s toughest retaliation so far against international sanctions over the war in Ukraine.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki vowed that Poland would not be cowed by the gas cut-off. He said Poland was safe thanks to years of efforts aimed at securing gas from other countries.
While Poland is far more dependent on coal, with gas only accounting for nine per cent of the country’s overall energy use, Russia supplied about 45 per cent of the country’s gas.
Russian supplies to Poland were already due to end later this year and Poland had already made new plans. A new pipeline, The Baltic Pipe Project, is due to become operational in the fall.
A political tool meant to shatter unity
Bulgarian Energy Minister Alexander Nikolov said on Wednesday that the gas was still flowing for the time being, and that his country would be able to meet the needs of users for at least one month.
“Obviously gas is used as a political tool. As long as I am minister, Bulgaria will not negotiate under pressure. Bulgaria is not for sale and does not succumb to any trade counterpart.”
Russia’s energy exports have largely continued since the war began, an exception to sanctions that have otherwise cut off Moscow from much of its trade with the West.
Russian gas company Gazprom’s headquarters is seen at the Lakhta Centre business tower in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Wednesday. Polish and Bulgarian leaders have accused Russia of cutting gas supplies to blackmail their countries. (Dmitri Lovetsky/The Associated Press)
Ukraine has accused Russia of blackmailing Europe over energy in an attempt to break its allies as fighting in Ukraine entered a third month. Buyers say Moscow’s demands for payment in rubles violates contracts, which call for payment in euros.
Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, said Russia was “trying to shatter the unity of our allies.”
Bulgaria, which is almost completely reliant on Russian gas imports, said the proposed new payment scheme was in breach of its arrangement with Gazprom. It has held talks to import liquefied natural gas through neighbouring Turkey and Greece.
Kremlin denies using blackmail
Russia responded to the accusations and denied it was using natural gas supplies as a tool of blackmail.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: “Russia was and remains a reliable supplier of energy resources to its consumers and remains committed to its contractual obligations.”
He declined to say how many countries had agreed to switch to paying for gas in rubles after a decree was issued last month by President Vladimir Putin.
“When the payment deadlines approach, if some consumers decline to pay under the new system, then the president’s decree of course will be applied,” Peskov said.
Asked whether Russia was ready for the budget losses it could sustain if European countries declined to pay for gas in rubles, Peskov said: “Everything has been calculated, all risks have been forecast and necessary measures taken.”
Russia Launches Fresh Offensive, Wants Sanctions Relief to Free up Ukraine Food Supply Routes
Updates from Day 91 of the invasion
Severodonetsk remains under attack in the east, Ukraine officials say.
Zelenksy addresses Davos gathering, repeats willingness to negotiate with Russia.
Russia wants sanctions relief in exchange for access to food supply corridors.
Russia to eliminate upper age limit for military service.
U.S. won’t extend waiver that has allowed Russia to keep up with debt payments.
Russian forces launched offensives on towns in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday, with constant mortar bombardment destroying several houses and killing civilians, Ukrainian officials said, as Russia focuses its attack on the industrial Donbas region.
Russia has been focused on attempting to seize the separatist-claimed Donbas’s two provinces, Donetsk and Luhansk, and trap Ukrainian forces in a pocket on the main eastern front, according to Ukrainian officials.
In the easternmost part of the Ukrainian-held Donbas pocket, the city of Severodonetsk on the east bank of the Siverskiy Donets River and its twin Lysychansk, on the west bank, have become a pivotal battlefield. Russian forces were advancing from three directions to encircle them.
President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office said Russian forces launched an offensive on Severodonetsk early on Wednesday and the town was under constant fire from mortars.
Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said six civilians were killed and at least eight wounded, most near bomb shelters, in Severodonetsk.
Smoke rises above a weapon manned by pro-Russian troops toward the direction of Severodonetsk on Tuesday in the Luhansk region of Ukraine. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)
“At the moment, with the support of artillery, the Russian occupiers are attacking Severodonetsk,” Gaidai said.
Ukraine’s military said it had repelled nine Russian attacks on Tuesday in the Donbas, where Moscow’s troops had killed at least 14 civilians, using aircraft, rocket launchers, artillery, tanks, mortars and missiles.
Targeting unarmed civilians during war is ‘always criminal’ said Michael Newton, a law professor and former U.S. State Department official. There are dozens more war crimes trials to come out of the war between Ukraine and Russia, he said.
Reuters could not immediately verify information about the fighting.
The Donbas fighting follows Russia’s biggest victory in months: the surrender last week of Ukraine’s garrison in the port of Mariupol after a siege in which Kyiv believes tens of thousands of civilians were killed.
Three months into the invasion, Russia still has only limited gains to show for its worst military loss in decades, while much of Ukraine has suffered devastation in the biggest attack on a European state since 1945.
Zelensky said Wednesday that Russia must pull back to its prewar positions as a first step before diplomatic talks, a negotiating line that Moscow is unlikely to agree to anytime soon.
Speaking by video link to attendees at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Zelensky expressed a willingness to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin directly, but stressed that Moscow needs to make clear it, too, is ready to “shift from the bloody war to diplomacy.”
“[Diplomacy is] possible if Russia shows at least something. When I say at least something, I mean pulling back troops to where they were before Feb. 24,” Zelensky said, referring to the day Russia’s invasion began. “I believe it would be a correct step for Russia to make.”
Grain, food exports remain blocked
The war has also caused growing food shortages and soaring prices due to sanctions and disruption of supply chains. Both Ukraine and Russia are major exporters of grain and other commodities.
Russia said it was ready to provide a humanitarian corridor for vessels carrying food to leave Ukraine, in return for the lifting of some sanctions, the Interfax news agency cited Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko as saying on Wednesday.
Ukraine’s Black Sea ports have been blocked since Russia sent thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, and more than 20 million tonnes of grain are stuck in silos in the country.
The impact of the Ukraine war extends far beyond the country’s borders as Russian forces have destroyed crops and blockaded ports along the Black Sea, affecting the food supply in Africa and the Middle East.
Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies, and the lack of significant grain exports from Ukraine ports is contributing to a growing global food crisis.
Ukraine is also a major exporter of corn and sunflower oil.
Western powers have been discussing the idea of setting up “safe corridors” for grain exports from Ukraine’s ports, adding that any such corridor would need Russian consent.
“We have repeatedly stated on this point that a solution to the food problem requires a comprehensive approach, including the lifting of sanctions that have been imposed on Russian exports and financial transactions,” Rudenko was quoted as saying.
“And it also requires the demining by the Ukrainian side of all ports where ships are anchored. Russia is ready to provide the necessary humanitarian passage, which it does every day,” he said.
Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of planting drifting mines in the Black Sea.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday that Russia was using food supplies as a weapon with global repercussions.
“We are always ready for dialogue with all those who seek … peaceful resolution of all problems. I leave Ursula von der Leyen’s statement to her conscience,” Rudenko said.
He said that Russia would discuss the possibility exchanging prisoners with Ukraine once those who surrendered had been convicted. Russian and separatist officials have said some of those who surrendered should be tried for war crimes.
British military authorities say Ukraine’s overland export routes are “highly unlikely” to offset the problems caused by Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea port of Odesa.
The U.K. Ministry of Defence, in an update posted Wednesday morning, says there has been no “significant” merchant shipping in or out of Odesa since the start of the Russian invasion.
Defence Minister Anita Anand announced that the federal government is set to send Canada’s biggest single donation of military equipment to Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion.
The ministry says that the blockade, combined with the lack of overland routes, means that significant supplies of grain remain in storage and can’t be exported.
“While the threat of Russia’s naval blockade continues to deter access by commercial shipping to Ukrainian ports, the resulting supply shortfalls will further increase the price of many staple products,” the ministry said.
Russia could be squeezed by U.S. move on debt
The U.S. announced early Wednesday it would not extend a waiver set to expire on Wednesday that enabled Russia to bondholders.
The Treasury Department said on its website late on Tuesday it would not extend the waiver, set to expire Wednesday, which allowed Russia to make interest and maturity payments on its sovereign debt.
A boy plays in front of houses ruined by shelling in Borodyanka, Ukraine, Tuesday, near Kyiv. While the Russian military has largely abandoned that region at present, the damage from the earliest days of the invasion is apparent. (Natacha Pisarenko/The Associated Press)
That waiver has allowed Russia to keep up government debt payments, but its expiry now appears to make default inevitable — the country’s first major one on international sovereign bonds in more than a century.
Almost $2 billion US worth of payments on Russian international bonds fall due before year-end.
Unlike in most default situations, Moscow is not short of money. Russia’s debt repayment dues pale in comparison to its oil and gas revenues, which stood at $28 billion in April alone thanks to high energy prices.
The Russian Finance Ministry said it will pay in rubles and offer “the opportunity for subsequent conversion into the original currency,” but that could be viewed by foreign investors as a default.
Russia to amend military service age rules
Russia’s parliament approved a law on Wednesday removing the upper age limit for contractual service in the military, amid heavy casualties in Ukraine. The bill now needs only the signature of Putin to become law.
Currently, only Russians aged 18-40 and foreigners aged 18-30 can enlist as professional soldiers in the Russian military.
Russia’s defence ministry said on March 25 that 1,351 service personnel had been killed and 3,825 wounded since Moscow sent its armed forces into Ukraine on Feb. 24. It has not updated its casualty figures since.
Both Ukrainian and Western intelligence officials have said Russia’s losses in Ukraine were significantly higher at the time, and have risen sharply since March.
Original Post: cbc.ca
Earth’s Oceans Were the Hottest, Most Acidic on Record in 2021, UN Report Finds
The world’s oceans grew to their warmest and most acidic levels on record last year, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Wednesday, as United Nations officials warned that war in Ukraine threatened global climate commitments.
Oceans saw the most striking extremes as the WMO detailed a range of turmoil wrought by climate change in its annual State of the Global Climate report. It said melting ice sheets had helped push sea levels to new heights in 2021.
“Our climate is changing before our eyes. The heat trapped by human-induced greenhouse gases will warm the planet for many generations to come,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas in a statement.
The report follows the latest UN climate assessment, which warned that humanity must drastically cut its greenhouse gas emissions or face increasingly catastrophic changes to the world’s climate.
The world’s oceans are the most acidic in at least 26,000 years, the UN agency said. (J. Sumerling/Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority via Associated Press)
Taalas told reporters there was scant airtime for climate challenges as other crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine, grabbed headlines.
Selwin Hart, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on climate action, criticized countries reneging on climate commitments due to the conflict, which has pushed up energy prices and prompted European nations to seek to replace Russia as an energy supplier.
“We are … seeing many choices being made by many major economies which, quite frankly, have the potential to lock in a high-carbon, high-polluting future and will place our climate goals at risk,” Hart told reporters.
On Tuesday, global equity index giant MSCI warned that the world faces a dangerous increase in greenhouse gases if Russian gas is replaced with coal.
The WMO report said levels of climate-warming carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere in 2021 surpassed previous records.
Globally, the average temperature last year was 1.11 C above the preindustrial average — as the world edges closer to the 1.5 C threshold beyond which the effects of warming are expected to become drastic.
“It is just a matter of time before we see another warmest year on record,” Taalas said.
Oceans bear much of the brunt of the warming and emissions. The bodies of water absorb around 90 per cent of the Earth’s accumulated heat and 23 per cent of the carbon dioxide emissions from human activity.
The ocean has warmed markedly faster in the last 20 years, hitting a new high in 2021, and is expected to become even warmer, the report said. That change would likely take centuries or millennia to reverse, it noted.
The ocean is also now its most acidic in at least 26,000 years as it absorbs and reacts with more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Sea level has risen 4.5 centimetres in the last decade, with the annual increase from 2013 to 2021 more than double what it was from 1993 to 2002.
The WMO also listed individual extreme heat waves, wildfires, floods and other climate-linked disasters around the world, noting reports of more than $100 billion in damages.
Source Here: cbc.ca
NASA’s Mars InSight Mission Coming to an End As Dust Covers Solar Panels
A NASA spacecraft on Mars is headed for a dusty demise.
The Insight lander is losing power because of all the dust on its solar panels. NASA said Tuesday it will keep using the spacecraft’s seismometer to register marsquakes until the power peters out, likely in July. Then flight controllers will monitor InSight until the end of this year, before calling everything off.
“There really hasn’t been too much doom and gloom on the team. We’re really still focused on operating the spacecraft,” said Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Bruce Banerdt, the principal scientist.
Since landing on Mars in 2018, InSight has detected more than 1,300 marsquakes; the biggest one, a magnitude 5, occurred two weeks ago.
It will be NASA’s second Mars lander lost to dust: A global dust storm took out Opportunity in 2018. In InSight’s case, it’s been a gradual gathering of dust, especially over the past year.
NASA’s two other functioning spacecraft on the Martian surface — rovers Curiosity and Perseverance — are still going strong thanks to nuclear power.
The space agency may rethink solar power in the future for Mars, said planetary science director Lori Glaze, or at least experiment with new panel-clearing tech or aim for the less-stormy seasons.
InSight currently is generating one-tenth of the power from the sun that it did upon arrival.
Deputy project manager Kathya Zamora Garcia said the lander initially had enough power to run an electric oven for one hour and 40 minutes; now it’s down to 10 minutes max.
The InSight team anticipated this much dust buildup, but hoped a gust of wind or a dust devil might clean off the solar panels. That has yet to happen, despite several thousand whirlwinds coming close.
“None of them have quite hit us dead-on yet enough to blow the dust off the panels,” Banerdt told reporters.
Another science instrument, dubbed the mole, was supposed to burrow five metres underground to measure the internal temperature of Mars. But the German digger never got deeper than a half-metre because of the unexpected composition of the red dirt, and it finally was declared dead at the beginning of last year.
Original Article: cbc.ca
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