Russia counts economic cost of Crimea intervention

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<Elderly people crowd outside the post office to receive their pensions in the Crimean capital Simferopol, on March 28, 2014 (AFP Photo/Dmitry Serebryakov)> 

Russia has started counting the cost of seizing Crimea from Ukraine to its already stuttering economy, anxiously hoping that the West will refrain from implementing a second wave of sanctions that would cause even greater damage.

Moscow, already excluded from the G8, is planning for at least economic semi-isolation from the world for the next years with President Vladimir Putin this week saying Russia should create its own credit card system.

Western sanctions have so far only imposed visa bans and asset freezes on senior officials — some close to Putin — but the fear of further action hurting the wider economy is already causing damage with the stock market down 6 percent in March.

The most immediate hit has been on capital outflows which are estimated by economists and officials to have surged to $60-70 billion for the first quarter, more than for all of 2013 combined, as investors took fright at the uncertainty.

~ AFP

-Knowingly paying the price-

Russian Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev last week became the first top official to admit the Crimea intervention would badly hit GDP, slashing to ribbons the government’s previous 2014 growth estimate of 2.5 percent.

He said growth would be a measly 0.6 percent in 2014 if capital flight was around $100 billion for the full year, a figure that some economists see as wildly optimistic given the current trends.

The economy would contract by 1.8 percent if capital flight reached $150 billion for the year due to a projected eight percent decline in investment, he added, echoing a prediction by the World Bank.

“The key discussion on the market now is whether Russia can maintain a positive growth rate, or will it slide into decline,” said economist Natalya Orlova at Alfa Bank.

Alexei Kudrin, the long-serving finance minister who resigned in 2011 but is known to retain Putin’s trust, said that Russia was knowingly paying a colossal economic cost for a political decision.

North Korea condemns U.N., threatens a ‘new form’ of nuclear test

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North Korea threatened on Sunday to conduct what it called “a new form of nuclear test”, raising the level of rhetoric after members of the United Nations Security Council condemned the North’s recent ballistic missile launch.

“It is absolutely intolerable that the U.N. Security Council, turning a blind eye to the U.S. madcap nuclear war exercises, ‘denounced’ the Korean People’s Army (KPA)’s self-defensive rocket launching drills and called them a ‘violation of resolutions’ and a ‘threat to international peace and security’ and is set to take an ‘appropriate step’,” the North’s foreign ministry said in a statement on the official KCNA news agency.

The statement said KPA drills to counter the U.S. will involve “more diversified nuclear deterrence” that will be used for hitting medium- and long-range targets “with a variety of striking power”.

“We would not rule out a new form of nuclear test for bolstering up our nuclear deterrence,” the North’s statement said, without giving any indication of what that might entail.

After Pyongyang fired two medium-range Rodong ballistic missiles into the sea off the east coast of the Korean peninsula on Wednesday, the 15-member Security Council on Thursday condemned the launches violating U.N. resolutions.

North Korea’s first firing in four years of mid-range missiles that can reach Japan followed a series of short-range rocket launches over the past two months.

In defiance of U.N. resolutions, North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in February 2013 and declared it had made progress in securing a functioning atomic arsenal.

It is widely believed the North does not have the capacity to deliver a nuclear strike on the mainland United States.

 ~ reuters

Russia criticizes U.N. resolution condemning Crimea’s secession

 Russia said on Friday a U.N. resolution declaring invalid Crimea’s Moscow-backed referendum on seceding from Ukraine was counterproductive and accused Western states of using blackmail and threats to drum up “yes” votes.

The non-binding resolution passed with 100 votes in favor, 11 against and 58 abstentions in the 193-nation U.N. General Assembly on Thursday, in a vote that Western nations said highlighted Russia’s isolation.

“This counterproductive initiative only complicates efforts to resolve the domestic political crisis in Ukraine,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

It accused Western states of using the “the full force of the unspent potential of the Cold War-era propaganda machine” to whip up support for the resolution.

~ reuters

“It is well-known what kind of shameless pressure, up to the point of political blackmail and economic threats, was brought to bear on a number of (U.N.) member states so they would vote ‘yes’,” the ministry said.

Several Western diplomats, however, have said Russia’s U.N. envoy led an aggressive lobbying campaign against the resolution in what they said showed how seriously Moscow took the U.N. vote condemning a referendum that led to its annexation of Crimea.

Planes spot objects after search for lost Malaysian jet shifts north

 

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An air and sea search for a missing Malaysian passenger jet moved 1,100 km (685 miles) north on Friday, after Australian authorities coordinating the operation in the remote Indian Ocean received new information from Malaysia that suggested the plane ran out of fuel earlier than thought.

The dramatic shift in the search area, moving it further than the distance between London and Berlin, followed analysis of radar and satellite data that showed the missing plane had traveled faster than had been previously calculated, and so would have burned through its fuel load quicker.

Australia said late on Friday that five aircraft had spotted “multiple objects of various colors” in the new search area.

“Photographic imagery of the objects was captured and will be assessed overnight,” the Australian Maritime and Safety Authority (AMSA) said in a statement.

“The objects cannot be verified or discounted as being from MH370 until they are relocated and recovered by ships.”

~ Reuters 

World Water Day 2014

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March 22 is the official date assigned by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993 as International World Water Day. On this day we focus on raising awareness world-wide about problems with water and sanitation. This is also the “time to celebrate global efforts to bring clean water to the 800 million people who still don’t have it,” according to the Huffington Post news report on March 21.

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(<man washes his clothes in a polluted river on World Water Day March 22, 2014 in Surabaya, Indonesia, [Getty Images] >)

 

Every year the emphasis is placed on a “different aspect of freshwater,” and this year it will be on Water and Energy according to the Dutch Water Sector News.

The objective this year is to raise awareness on how “water and energy are fundamentally interlinked,” and how most forms of energy production rely on water, such as hydroelectric, nuclear and thermal energy.

This becomes critically important for the ‘bottom billion’ of the population who do not have access to “clean drinking water, proper sanitation, and adequate food and energy sources.” Child mortality rates, maternal health issues, and overall poverty are all attributed to lack of access to clean water.

Putin completes Crimea’s annexation as Russia investors take fright

Image ( Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) signs documents as Sergei Naryshkin (R), speaker of the State Duma, Russia’s lower parliament house, and Valentina Matviyenko, head of the Federation Council)

 

President Vladimir Putin signed laws completing Russia’s annexation of Crimea on Friday, as investors took fright at a U.S. decision to slap sanctions on his inner circle of money men and security officials.

Putin promised to protect a bank partly owned by an old ally, which Washington has blacklisted, his spokesman said Russia would respond in kind to the financial and visa curbs, and his allies laughed them off.

But shares on the Moscow stock exchange – which have lost $70 billion of their value this month – fell sharply after President Barack Obama also threatened on Thursday to target major sectors of the economy if Russia tried to move on areas of Ukraine beyond the Black Sea peninsula.

~ reuters

US and EU impose sanctions as Crimea turns to Moscow

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The United States and Europe hit Vladimir Putin’s inner circle with sanctions but failed to dissuade the Russian leader from pursuing his apparent goal of annexing Crimea.

The White House said the measures were the toughest against Russia since the Cold War and warned it would target economic power brokers in Moscow if the Kremlin does not change course.

There was no sign of Putin backing down, however, and Crimea’s pro-Moscow authorities made plans to swiftly honor Sunday’s 96 percent referendum vote to return to the Russian fold.

Putin took a step closer to formally annexing the territory by recognizing its independence from Ukraine, opening the way for Russian lawmakers to later endorse its accession.

Monday’s dramatic developments marked the most direct clash between the West and the Kremlin in decades.

Sanctions also came from Canada and Japan, which denounced Russia’s “deplorable” move in recognizing the breakaway vote.

~ AFP