INTL Europe: Politics, Economics, Military - November 2021

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EU's Beleaguered Immigration Policies Will Be The Sword On Which It Falls
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MONDAY, NOV 22, 2021 - 02:00 AM
Authored by Martin Jay via The Strategic Culture Foundation,
The Belarus border is just the most recent in a long list of examples how Brussels cannot fight back countries who use refugees as a weapon against the EU’s failed hegemony...

For many erudite commentators who know the EU well, the scenes on the Poland-Belarus border felt a bit ‘déjà vu’.

Once again, the EU’s failed policies when tackling immigration flows — which in many cases are as a direct result of propping up dictators or for dabbling in geopolitics — comes right back and smacks Brussels in the face. Perhaps Belarus is using Syrian refugees as a tool to hit back at Brussels and its bellicose sanctions-based so-called foreign policy. For journalists and analysts who lead with this argument, we can assume that many will be supporters of the EU project itself and are unable to see a bigger picture.

Such a panorama can be summed up in the old English saying “you reap what you sow”. For decades, or certainly since the EU metamorphosised into a geopolitical player since the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty — which signed off on Brussels having over 120 “ambassadors” around the world and a more beefed up foreign policy narrative — we have seen such a doctrine be a rod for its own back. In Libya, in recent years, journalists have seen some of the most barbaric acts of human cruelty known to man with modern day slavery and sexploitation carried out on African migrants fleeing their own countries, run by tyrants whose human rights atrocities frighten them so much, they make the trip for a better life. The irony of this is that those same despots are supported by the EU, sometimes to the tune of hundreds of millions of euros, just as long as they show respect to the EU, its flag and its delusional hegemony. Syria is another example.

In 2007, the EU was ready to accept Assad as a new partner in the region but then felt obliged to follow the U.S. in ostracising him later on after he was linked to the assassination of Rafiq Hariri in 2005 and he had the cheek to hit back at what was essentially a western-backed Muslim Brotherhood attempted coup d’etat in 2011. In Libya itself, EU countries were happy to bomb the country in the name of a so-called peace initiative signed off by the UN Security Council — which in the end, secured not a peaceful transition to a more western-style democratic apparatus but the ugly assassination of Ghaddafi himself and a decade of civil war leaving the country divided. Even in Morocco, where old allies like France and Germany are giving up on Rabat, we see the Moroccans respond to EU bullying by opening the gates to thousands of illegal African immigrants who entered Spain — a stunt, not unlike the one from Belarus to send a signal that there is a limit to how much poorer countries on the periphery of the EU country will take from threats from the EU executive in Brussels which of late is in a panic mode.

The refugee flows are nothing new. And the games that poorer, weaker countries play by using them, have also been around for a while. But the EU only has itself to blame when it allowed itself to be blackmailed by Turkey’s maverick president who took money off the EU to not allow them to leave and enter the EU at the Greek border. This was an error and it showed how weak and ineffective the EU project is as what we’re seeing today on Poland’s border finds its roots in the Turkey deal of just a couple of years ago.

Sanctions threats are really all the EU has. But with diminutive growth and a political crisis which sees countries like Poland regularly mulling the idea that the project is not worth the hassle, some might argue that this is a threat from a toothless tiger anyway. U.S. sanctions against Iran, in the end, didn’t amount to the leverage that was hoped. Tehran is moving ahead with a new economic model which involves China and Russia on a grand scale and is almost reaching its pre-2015 oil revenues with black market sales which the Biden administration refuses to tackle head on.

And so these threats are met head on by immigration stunts, which harms the EU project’s credibility as once journalists start writing about immigration, we are reminded that the Schengen Treaty is something that EU member states switch on and off at will without the EU executive even issuing so much as a vexing press release. The Belarus immigration story is really about a country standing up to EU sanctions on the regime and a bigger disingenuous show to supposedly get tough with Russia. Today, it’s Poland on the front line and facing the numbers, which is ironic given that Poland has its own “push back” laws which EU chiefs deem illegal and have been the basis of talks about Warsaw leaving the EU altogether. Before it was Greece on its Turkish border when the policy of Brussels failed spectacularly and we saw right-wing militias “hunting” for Syrian refugees who managed to get across. Slowly, the whole world is waking up to this new retaliation against Brussels as the EU has let its weakest pressure become clearly visible. Even the EU’s own policies on how it controls its own citizens leaves a lot to be desired.

But on immigration, there is only dithering, confusion and chaos. If Brussels continues to peddle this fatuous idea that it’s a super power and can make threats to countries that it once called friends in euro-jargon called the ‘network neighbourhood’, then we can only expect more countries to hit it where it hurts.


Veteran Member

Bulgarians Block Checkpoint on Turkish Border to Protest 'Election Tourism'

ROME (Sputnik) - The Kapitan Andreevo checkpoint on the Bulgaria-Turkey border has been blocked on Sunday morning by people protesting the so-called election tourism, which entails short-term travel of Turkish-based Bulgarian voters across the border to cast ballots in the presidential election, the Bulgarian News Agency (BTA) reported.

About 50 people blocked traffic on the highway through the checkpoint, holding placards that read "No to Turkish intervention in Bulgaria," according to the report.

The rally was initiated and coordinated through social media. Organisers were cited as saying that their goal was to prevent the Turkish government from manipulating the results of the election of the Bulgarian head of state.

Polling stations for the runoff presidential vote opened across Bulgaria at 7 a.m. (05:00 a.m. GMT). The Bulgarian interior ministry said that the voting proceeds unhindered and no serious incidents had taken place the night before.


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NOVEMBER 22, 2021

All the critics are wrong. Under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development party, Turkey has never been better. In fact, it continues to improve! The economy is thriving, and is projected to become one of the top 10 in the world by 2023, which is not only the centennial of the Republic of Turkey but also an election year. Don’t listen to the doomsayers: Almost all households in Turkey (and their doormen) have a car of their own. The economy is so good that people can’t find enough cars to buy. While Western countries from France to Germany, from the United States to the United Kingdom, are struggling with shortages, Turkey passed the pandemic test with flying colors — in fact, it set a model of success for the rest of the world. A “world leader” himself, Erdoğan’s strong and ethical leadership has garnered admiration in the eyes of the oppressed, and drawn jealousy and fear from the oppressors. Things are not good — they are great, all thanks to Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (popularly known by its Turkish acronym, AKP).

Tune into the (AKP-controlled) mainstream media in Turkey, and you will immediately be exposed to these narratives. “Narrative” is the operative word here. In reality, as almost all Turkey-watchers would agree, Erdoğan and the AKP are at a crossroads seemingly not of their own choosing, and most certainly not of their liking. The AKP can no longer deliver as it did in the past and is increasingly proving itself to be borderline incompetent across a range of activities, from providing basic public goods to handling the refugee crisis and managing a modern economy.

This is not the first time that the AKP has hit a rough patch. In the past, it could make it through troubled times with audacity, determination, and intimidation. But this formula isn’t working today, not least because it is unclear if Erdoğan knows where he wants to go. For example, he may wait until 2023 for general elections, when they are currently scheduled. Alternatively, he may press the button for early elections tomorrow. No one really knows, which is nothing new. What is new is that the AKP is acting as if it doesn’t know either.

How did we get here? Where do we go from here? The answer to the first question entails a paradox. In order to rise to the top and make sure it stayed there, the AKP “hollowed out” Turkey’s institutions, from the bureaucracy and the judiciary to the central bank and the national media. The AKP has succeeded in cementing its hegemonic status in Turkish politics, but at the cost of undermining the very same institutions through which it is supposed to govern. The result is an institutional decay that is gradually but surely transforming the Turkish political landscape.

The second question is much harder to answer. In order to reverse — or at least slow down — its decline, the AKP is increasingly focusing on creating an alternative reality of some sort for its core constituents. It is thereby, and rather ironically, institutionalizing the existing polarization and societal tensions in the country. The result is a “clash of realities” that is bound to tear apart the very fabric of Turkish society. Whether Turkey can pull out of this spiral is an open question. If it cannot, darker days are ahead.

This Time It’s Different
“New directions in Turkish politics” is a catchphrase probably as old as the first English-language commentary ever published on modern Turkey. What is special now? The AKP has long relied on three key mechanisms to sustain its position as a “unipole” in Turkish politics, and these mechanisms no longer seem to be working. This dysfunction emboldens the opposition while weakening the AKP.

The first part of the AKP’s strategy is the provision of public goods, enough to keep most of the public content, if not ecstatic. Most notably, the AKP went to great lengths to provide social welfare benefits to middle- and low-income families, while also revitalizing the healthcare system. This dynamic, usually lost in conventional debates over “culture wars,” “identity politics,” and “secularists versus Islamists,” has long played an important role in allowing the AKP to cement its relationship with its core constituents.

However, due to a declining economy and poor governance (which are closely related), the AKP has become incapable of providing these benefits. More importantly, its failings in governance have now become too visible to either ignore or deny. First and foremost, Turkey is bedeviled by economic problems, with no apparent recovery on the horizon. The Turkish lira has lost almost half of its value in the span of three years. While the economy is still growing, rising prices are affecting middle- and low-income households significantly. “Escaping” (migrating) to Europe has become a dream for countless youth, who see no real future for themselves in Turkey.

The COVID-19 pandemic also hit the country hard, and the AKP failed to provide the kinds of subsidies and funds that many Western governments provided to their citizens for relief. Furthermore, the AKP even faltered in an area where it was supposed to be strongest: healthcare. Turkey’s healthcare system is one of its core strengths, and probably one of the ruling party’s biggest accomplishments. When it came to vaccinations for COVID-19, however, the government put all its eggs in one basket: China’s Sinovac vaccine. The promised vaccine did not show up in sufficient numbers, leading to a crisis. Facing criticism, the minister of health declared in May that 100 million Sinovac vaccines were on their way. However, the government then abruptly turned to BioNTech in June and rapidly vaccinated a substantial proportion of the population. Still, the botched Sinovac episode cost Turkey some critical months, and what happened remains a mystery.

This summer’s wildfires in the forests along the Aegean coast offer yet another example of failure. The public learned that Turkey lacked sufficient working firefighting aircraft. It turned out that the government had chosen to allow its existing aircraft to rot in their hangars while outsourcing the relevant services to private purveyors, whose assistance was neither satisfactory nor timely. This obvious failure created a public outcry. The AKP responded as it always does, announcing that its management of the disaster was nothing but superb, and that those who criticized the government were in fact harboring malign and shady intentions.

Perhaps the single biggest problem facing the AKP in terms of domestic support is the refugee crisis. Estimates differ, but most concur that Turkey now hosts somewhere between four and seven million refugees, primarily from Syria. This influx has created many societal tensions in the country. The government’s refugee policy also lacks institutional transparency and attracts considerable criticism from the party’s own base, making it one area where, arguably, the AKP’s infallibility narrative has very limited mileage — even for the party’s staunchest proponents.

The second leg of the AKP’s strategy of domination involves Erdoğan himself. His antics may appear repulsive to his domestic and foreign critics, but that is largely irrelevant. Like it or not, Erdoğan holds a special appeal for his followers. This special “bond” has allowed Erdoğan to signal strength, willpower, and determination in times of crises. A master orator, his discourses and behavior have spoken directly to the hearts and minds of his core supporters.

However, especially in the last couple of years, he looks less like the Erdoğan of the past. Some have argued that his health and mental capacity are rapidly declining. Such rumors have long been in circulation and cannot yet be verified — but still, something about him is off. Recently, he has taken some measures that appear rather odd, particularly if his intent is to launch a charm offensive. For example, the president has developed a habit of throwing bags of Turkish tea on unsuspecting crowds at random occasions. The criticism peaked when he was seen doing so from his bus during his summer visit to the fire-hit Aegean region. It isn’t clear why he distributes tea in this way, and obviously no-one on his team has had the courage to tell him that even some of his core supporters are not very enthusiastic about the practice.

Furthermore, Erdoğan has also engaged in certain public stunts that do not necessarily speak to his strengths (to say the least). For instance, he recently went on live television, singing with a choir of youngsters. On paper, such actions might show that he is still in touch with the country’s youth. In practice, however, a televised concert showing Erdoğan singing lethargically in front of a less-than-enthusiastic crowd only signals how far he and his team have strayed from their core constituents.

The third part of the AKP’s strategy involves efforts to keep the opposition divided. The logic is straightforward: The AKP can still claim the single largest voter bloc. As long as the opposition does not unite, the AKP can preserve its status as a unipole. However, the old tricks do not work as well anymore, especially after recent public policy failures and with Erdoğan’s image as a declining leader. Most notably, in the municipal elections of 2019 the AKP lost its quarter-century-long hold on Turkey’s two major cities, Istanbul and Ankara. In a parallel universe where the AKP could actually engage in self-critique, these electoral losses might have served as a wake-up call. Instead, the AKP responded by challenging the Istanbul elections, claiming that the opposition had somehow cheated. The elections were repeated, and the AKP suffered a crushing and humiliating defeat at the hands of Ekrem Imamoglu, now the mayor of Istanbul.



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What happened in Istanbul did not stay in Istanbul. Their victories in the municipal elections only encouraged the main opposition parties to cooperate even further. In addition, more and more political and social actors are now speaking out against the AKP despite their full knowledge that the government can target them for retribution. The result is a snowball effect: Allegations of corruption and nepotism are skyrocketing, and each act of defiance encourages the next.

The AKP still tries to silence its critics through various measures, but in doing so it delves deeper and deeper into a confusing narrative. The AKP presents itself as the best thing to happen to humanity since sliced bread. Turkey’s problems follow not from the AKP’s failings, but from its stunning victories. More precisely, foreign powers are attacking Turkey (so the story goes) simply because the government has done such a marvelous job at making Turkey great again, triggering jealousy and fear in the Western world. For Turkey to survive this attack, the AKP is the country’s only hope, and if someone fails to see this irrefutable fact, they must be pawns of foreign interlopers. These narratives are still influential among the AKP’s core supporters. However, for the opposition, they are merely sweet nothings that the party whispers into the ear of a weakening electoral base.

Increasingly, the AKP acts as if it has given up the idea of fixing real problems and instead hopes to create an alternate universe for its core constituents. For example, the AKP appears as if it is battling the criticism that points out the existence of economic troubles in Turkey instead of addressing the economic troubles themselves. In this scenario, the main problem becomes not the economy per se, but those who blame the government for the state of the economy. Recently, for example, the government accused a number of supermarket chains of artificially inflating prices and then slammed them with fines totaling $300 million. This act speaks volumes about how the government is — or rather, isn’t — dealing with the economic problems of the country. According to the government, there is no problem to speak of — and if there were, the party that has ruled for two decades would be the last actor responsible for them.

Of course, none of this is particularly new. What is new, however, is that the AKP now looks as if it has made managing the perceptions of its core constituents a key — perhaps even the key — priority. This signals the utmost desperation. As reality proves too difficult to deal with, the AKP opts instead to create an alternate reality of its own.
Overall, Turkish politics is undergoing yet another “great transformation.” However, the transformation itself is not akin to an earthquake — that is, a massive, instant, and discrete event that changes the landscape in a single stroke. Instead, it is more like the melting of the ice caps, triggered by a series of long-term trends and occurring gradually. In the case of Turkey circa 2021, the main underlying cause is institutional decay.

Victory Is Defeating the AKP
The present situation is in fact the story of a paradox inherent within the AKP’s strategy of domination. From its early years, the AKP believed that the existing personnel in the country’s leading institutions did not share the party’s “vision” of government. Hence, in order to rise to the top and stay there as long as possible, the AKP hollowed out Turkey’s institutions. It did a stunning job, increasingly displaying a preference for loyalty over merit and filling the country’s institutions with those whose abilities were overshadowed by their devotion to the party — to put it mildly.

In addition, Turkey’s new and controversial presidential system linked the country’s entire political system to one human being, with two important consequences. First, when Erdoğan sneezes, the entire country catches a cold. In other words, tying all important decisions to the president leaves the country at the mercy of one individual. Plus, having surrounded himself with “yes men,” Erdoğan is unlikely to hear even constructive criticism from his minions — a dynamic that only perpetuates the cycle.

Second, the “personalized” nature of Erdoğan’s rule has turned out to be contagious within the AKP ranks. Countless corruption allegations and the AKP’s barely hidden penchant for nepotism paint an interesting, if not necessarily surprising, picture: So-called patronage networks have taken over most institutions, ranging from various bureaucracies to the national Wushu federation. Of course, this observation does not implicate everyone affiliated with the AKP. Still, the AKP’s patronage networks have become too visible and salient for anyone to claim that they don’t exist in the first place.

The AKP is being defeated by its own victory. Over the last two decades, the party has proven itself to be a master at breaking existing institutions and norms. However, when it comes to building (or rebuilding) institutions — which is not to be mistaken for building roads and bridges — the AKP has failed, partially due its overwhelming success at breaking the very institutions it aimed to control in the first place. Paradoxically, as the AKP reaches the peak of its institutional control, it also weakens as a political actor. Perhaps the AKP broke Turkey’s institutions a little too much.

Where Do We Go From Here?
The dominant inclination within Turkey’s opposition is rather optimistic: that the AKP is going away. This sentiment, however, leaves out two key dynamics. First, the AKP is not merely a collection of politicians operating in a societal vacuum. It is also a political movement that can still claim the unyielding support of tens of millions of Turkish citizens. The AKP is well aware of this support and is banking on it to prolong its reign. In fact, the AKP’s strategic communications machine has long invested in constructing an alternate reality for its constituents, wherein the AKP under Erdoğan is Turkey’s only hope in the face of threats emanating from foreign powers. Given this scenario, the party and Erdoğan must be defended at all costs.

Second, it would be a mistake to underestimate the AKP. The AKP is not “out” yet — it is not even down for the count. Instead, the party circa 2021 is like an aging professional boxer whose past bad habits are finally catching up with him. The party looks tired, confused, disoriented, and angry, which makes it easier for political rivals to land blow after blow. Still, the AKP has long proven itself to be a rather flexible and nimble political actor, with a certain talent for thinking (and acting) outside the box. That Turkey’s institutions have been gutted may weaken the AKP in conventional politics, but the situation also makes it possible for the AKP to react in unexpected and unconventional ways.

A most important dynamic to watch for will be the clash of realities. Pro-AKP segments of society and the anti-AKP opposition are looking at the same country, but they see two different Turkeys. To the AKP’s critics, Turkey is in freefall in almost all relevant domains, and the AKP — now almost a synonym for corruption, nepotism, and incompetence — is responsible for all of Turkey’s ailments. The AKP’s staunchest supporters, though, maintain that Turkey has never been better, stronger, and more democratic, and even questioning this can be seen as direct evidence of treachery. When AKP leaders speak, the party’s core constituents hear Mehter, or the traditional songs of the Ottoman military band, signaling that Turkey’s glorious past is now finally meeting its glorious future. Listening to the same speeches, the AKP’s discontents hear only a symphony of destruction. These two realities may co-exist for a while but, paradoxically, as long as they do even a modicum of societal and political reconciliation will be out of reach — with or without the AKP.

Turkish politics have always been complicated. It may be difficult to offer detailed predictions about Turkey’s future, but one thing is certain. The weaker the AKP gets in domestic politics and the more visible its governance failures become, the more it will push its Manichean narrative of the opposition as an ungrateful and potentially seditious group that does not belong with the nation. This will further ossify the existing clash of realities. Unless Turkish politicians and citizens — regardless of their political convictions — address this slow-burning problem, it is bound to create significant political and social tensions down the road.

As for those watching Turkey from afar, this may be the best time to wake up and smell the coffee. Just like Turkish coffee itself, the coming transformation may be sour. We may all need to update our existing assumptions about how Turkish politics really work to embrace the coming transformation and better understand it.


Burak Kadercan is an associate professor of strategy and policy at the U.S. Naval War College. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect those of the Naval War College, the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Image: Xinhua (Photo by Mustafa Kaya)

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Russia rejects Western concerns about Ukraine as smokescreen

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov holds a joint news conference with his Lebanese counterpart Abdallah Bou Habib in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. (Evgenia Novozhenina/ Pool Photo via AP)
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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov holds a joint news conference with his Lebanese counterpart Abdallah Bou Habib in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. (Evgenia Novozhenina/ Pool Photo via AP)

MOSCOW (AP) — The Kremlin on Monday strongly rejected the U.S. claims of a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine, saying it could be a ruse intended to cover up what it described as Ukrainian leadership’s aggressive intentions.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed U.S. media allegations of Moscow’s purported plans to invade Ukraine as part of efforts to discredit Russia. He insisted that troop movements on Russia’s own territory shouldn’t concern anyone.

Ukraine complained earlier this month that Russia has kept tens of thousands of troops not far from the two countries’ borders after conducting war games in an attempt to further pressure its ex-Soviet neighbor. Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and has supported a separatist insurgency that broke out that year in eastern Ukraine.

Speaking to Ukraine’s foreign minister this month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted that Russia’s “playbook” was to build up forces near the border and then invade, “claiming falsely that it was provoked.”

Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, said in an interview with the Military Times over the weekend that Russia has concentrated 92,000 troops near Ukraine and could launch an attack from several directions, including from Belarus, in late January or early February.

Amid the tensions, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said Monday it conducted drills in the northern Zhytomyr region that borders Belarus.

Russia has maintained close political and military ties with Belarus, and the two countries held massive joint war games in September.

Peskov sought to turn the tables on Ukraine and the West, arguing that the expressions of concern by the U.S. and its allies may “camouflage aggressive intentions in Kyiv to try to solve the problem of the southeast by force.”

He accused the Ukrainian military of increasingly frequent shootings across the tense line of contact in the east and added that Moscow is strongly worried about the the U.S. and other NATO countries providing Ukraine with weapons.

“The number of provocations has been growing, and those provocations have been conducted using the weapons that NATO countries sent to Ukraine,” Peskov said in a conference call with reporters. “We are watching it with a grave concern.”

Russia has cast its weight behind the separatist insurgency in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland known as Donbas that has left more than 14,000 people dead. But Moscow has repeatedly denied any presence of its troops in eastern Ukraine.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday also criticized what he described as “bellicose rhetoric” by Ukrainian military officials, charging that it could “reflect a desire to conduct provocations and turn the conflict into a hot phase.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba rejected the Russian allegations of Ukraine’s plans to launch an attack on Donbas as part of Moscow’s “disinformation.”

“Let me state it officially: Ukraine does not plan a military offensive in the Donbas,” Kuleba said on Twitter. “We are devoted to seeking political & diplomatic solutions to the conflict.”
In a strongly-worded statement, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) scathingly criticized the U.S. State Department of spreading “absolute lies” about a purported Russian buildup near Ukraine.

“The Americans are painting a horrible picture of Russian tank armadas crushing Ukrainian cities,” it said in Monday’s statement. “It’s surprising to see a speed at which a formerly respectable foreign policy agency is turning into a mouthpiece of mendacious propaganda.”

The SVR alleged that it was Ukraine that was beefing up its forces near Russia and Belarus.
The Russian spy agency also accused the U.S. and the European Union of encouraging “the sense of permissiveness and impunity” in Ukraine, comparing the situation to Western expressions of support to Georgia before the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia.

Russia routed the Georgian army in the brief conflict that erupted when Georgia attempted to reclaim control over a Russia=backed separatist province. Moscow then recogrnized the independence of Georgia’s two separatist provinces after the war.
Yuras Karmanau in Kyiv, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

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Gazprom Will Halt Gas Flows To Moldova In 48 Hours Over Non-Payment
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TUESDAY, NOV 23, 2021 - 05:45 AM
European natural gas prices could surge as new reports indicate Gazprom will halt all natural gas flows to Moldova, an Eastern European country, in 48 hours over non-payment for its gas consumption. The news follows Germany's energy regulator, which suspended the approval process for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline last week. Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to exert pressure on Europe with declining gas flows amid the onset of the Northern Hemisphere winter.
The crux of the issue is that Moldova has yet to pay its energy bill to Gazprom. "Today is the scheduled date of payment. Yet, there is no payment," Sergey Kupriyanov, Gazprom board chairman's spokesman, said in a statement, according to RT News. He said the company is "extremely disappointed" in Moldova's failure to fulfill its obligations on its recently extended energy contract.

Gazprom was expecting payment for Moldova's gas usage on Monday (Nov. 22). This comes after Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, struck a 5-year deal with the gas producer on Nov. 1.

Kupriyanov said Gazprom attempted to set "market gas price" for Moldova but had to then take into account the "difficult economic and financial situation" in the country and Putin's position. In the deal, he said most of Chisinau's terms were reached, including a special discounted price.

Moldova was only to pay for its current consumption, the spokesman said, adding that Chisinau is in breach of contract, forcing Gazprom to suspend gas flows. The contract extension comes as Chisinau has mounting unpaid gas bills with Gazprom.

According to RT, before the Nov. 1 deal was signed, "Chisinau was close to introducing a state of emergency in case of failed talks. The tense situation also sparked some allegations that Moscow sought to exert pressure on Chisinau to break up its deal with the EU. Gazprom repeatedly denied such claims, arguing that it simply can't afford to make a loss on the deal."

Moldova not paying its bills comes as Germany's energy regulator unexpectedly suspended a crucial step in the approval process for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline last week. Dutch month-ahead gas, the European benchmark, soared last week on the news as that Nord Stream 2 pipeline might not get approved by the expected January timeframe but more likely after the cold season.

The scarcity of gas in Europe continues to place a bid under prices as it deals with some of the lowest gas storage levels since 2013, ahead of what could be a nasty winter. As much as European officials oppose Russian gas, the continent desperately needs Gazprom to survive this winter. As for Moldova, if gas is shut off in the next 48 hours, the country might declare a state of emergency.

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Poland Plans To Add Another 100 Tons Of Gold To Its Reserves

TUESDAY, NOV 23, 2021 - 04:15 AM

During a recent interview, Bank of Poland President Adam Glapiński said the central bank plans to add 100 tons of gold to its reserves in 2022.

As details below, the National Bank of Poland began aggressively adding gold to its reserves in 2018. Through the first half of 2019, the Polish central bank added more than 100 tons of gold, nearly doubling its reserves.

The Bank of Poland currently holds around 230 tons of gold. The country’s gold holding rank as the 23rd largest in the world. Gold makes up about 6.5% of the Bank of Poland’s total assets. That is similar to the percentage of gold held by the US and Germany.

Why does the Bank of Poland hold gold?

In a nutshell, Glapiński said it is a matter of financial security and stability.

Gold will retain its value even when someone cuts off the power to the global financial system, destroying traditional assets based on electronic accounting records. Of course, we do not assume that this will happen. But as the saying goes – forewarned is always insured. And the central bank is required to be prepared for even the most unfavorable circumstances. That is why we see a special place for gold in our foreign exchange management process.”
He went on to discuss some of the benefits of gold as a monetary asset.
After all, gold is free from credit risk and cannot be devalued by any country’s economic policy. Besides, it is extremely durable, virtually indestructible.”
A World Gold Council survey found that there is deteriorating faith in the US dollar and a continuing trend toward de-dollarization.

Respondents continue to foresee long-term structural changes in the international monetary system, continuing a trend indicated in last year’s survey. Views toward the US dollar trended downward, with half of respondents saying the greenback will fall below its current proportion. Central banks continue to think that the Chinese renminbi’s proportion will increase, with 88% saying that it will grow beyond current levels.”
Glapiński hinted this was one of the reasons Poland continues to add gold to its reserves.

Gold is characterized by a relatively low correlation with the main asset classes – especially the US dollar dominating the NBP reserve portfolio – which means that including gold in the reserves reduces the financial risk in the process of investing them.”
Glapiński said the scale and pace of future gold purchases “will depend, inter alia, on the dynamics of changes in official reserve assets and current market conditions.”

Net gold buying by central banks globally reached 393 tons at the end of Q3. Central banks have already bought more gold this year than they did in the entirety of 2020 (255 tons) with one quarter left to go. The World Gold Council says net gold purchases are “poised to reach a significant total in 2021.

Poland Plans To Add Another 100 Tons Of Gold To Its Reserves | ZeroHedge

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US, Russia Military Chiefs Hold Urgent "Deconfliction" Call As Ukraine Crisis 2.0 Looms
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TUESDAY, NOV 23, 2021 - 11:20 PM
The heads of the Russian and United States militaries held a rare and urgent phone call on Tuesday in efforts to deescalate soaring tensions in eastern Europe, with both sides cryptically confirming it was to discuss "current" international security issues.

Russia's most senior military general, Valery Gerasimov, held the call with US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, in which the two top generals talked about "pressing issues of international security". The past days have witnessed heightening rhetoric and threats being exchanged between Moscow and Washington over tensions in Ukraine and Belarus, especially given recent reports from US media over a Russian force build-up and planned "invasion" of eastern Ukraine, reports which the Kremlin has vehemently denied.

The US side's readout of the call acknowledged it was for the purpose of rapid "de-confliction" between the two superpowers, also coming the same day CNN reported the Biden administration is now mulling additional weapons and military trainers for Ukraine.

Image via AFP
No additional details or specifics of the military-to-military call were revealed; however, it was without doubt related to a building new Ukraine crisis, following the US allegations of a massive Russian troop build-up near Ukraine for a potential imminent invasion.

At the start of this week it was revealed that the Biden administration was reported to have briefed the European partners that Russia on the supposed planned invasion of eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin has been fierce in its response rejecting the accusations, with some thinly-sourced Western reports suggesting as many as 100,000 active duty Russian troops and reservists were being mustered for a major offensive operation.

A report in US News and World Report that tensions are fast approaching a breaking point, leading to the potential for a 'Ukraine crisis 2.0' amid the tit-for-tat accusations:
Through a series of public statements and posts through its state news services, leaders in Russia on Monday presented the unified case that Ukraine was needlessly deploying its military forces to challenge Russia’s sovereignty and its nearby interests, that rising concern in the West of military action by Moscow represents only an attempt by Kyiv to mask its own intentions to do so, that the Western-backed peace process for the conflict in Ukraine is broken and that Kyiv’s allies in Europe and North America are not prepared to back up their pledges of support.
Just prior to the Tuesday military deconfliction phone call between the US and Russia being revealed, on Tuesday Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said that US nuclear-capable bombers had drastically ramped up their flights across Eastern Europe, close to Russia's border.

Earlier this month, on Nov.10, Russia had sent its own strong message by flying a pair of Tu-22M3 bombers along Belarus' border with the EU, amid the ongoing migrant crisis standoff between Belarus and Poland. This was combined with verbal warnings from Putin and Kremlin officials that NATO must not cross Russia's "red lines" in Ukraine.

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US concerned by Bulgarian president's remarks about Crimea
Bulgarian President Rumen Radev has drawn criticism from the United States for his remarks about the status of the Crimean Peninsula
By The Associated Press
22 November 2021, 08:55

SOFIA, Bulgaria -- Bulgarian President Rumen Radev drew criticism from the United States on Monday for his remarks about the status of the Crimean Peninsula — a day after he secured his second term with a landslide victory in a runoff election.

The U.S. Embassy released a statement voicing “deep concern” over Radev’s recent comments in which he referred to Crimea as Russian
. The peninsula was annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014, and NATO and the European Union both consider it still to be part of Ukraine.

In a presidential debate with his center-right opponent Anastas Gerdzhikov on Thursday, Radev insisted upon having pragmatic ties with Russia, adding that the EU should restore its dialogue with Moscow.

“The sanctions that were imposed because of Crimea and Ukraine are not yielding results,” Radev said. He said the Crimean Peninsula was “currently Russian,” adding, “What else can it be?”

These remarks had already prompted protests from the Ukrainian government.

“The United States, G-7, European Union, and NATO have all been clear and united in our position that, despite Russia’s attempted annexation and ongoing occupation, Crimea is Ukraine,” the U.S. Embassy said.

“All of us, including Bulgaria, declared at the Crimea Platform Summit in August that Crimea is an integral part of Ukraine and that we do not and will not recognize Russia’s efforts to legitimize its illegal seizure and occupation of the peninsula,” the statement said.

Also on Monday, Radev’s press office recalled that the president has repeatedly said that Crimea’s annexation violated international law.

US concerned by Bulgarian president's remarks about Crimea - ABC News (
“This is a position which Bulgaria has expressed clearly in all international organizations,” the press office said and added that from a legal point of view Crimea belongs to Ukraine, and Bulgaria has repeatedly declared its support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“As President Radev said in the campaign debate, ‘currently’ Crimea is controlled by Russia and it is crystal clear that the problem cannot be solved by force,” his office said and added that Radev has expressed concern about this factual situation “which creates tension in international relations, particularly in the Black Sea region, which has a direct bearing on the security of Bulgaria and its allies.”

Bulgaria is very divided in its loyalties. While it belongs to NATO and the EU, many Bulgarians still feel a cultural and historical affinity with Russia. The Black Sea country remains heavily dependent on Russian energy and has been exposed to growing tensions between Russia and the West.

With nearly all ballots counted, Radev had 66% of the votes in the runoff election, the country’s central electoral commission said Monday.

His opponent, Anastas Gerdzhikov, conceded defeat and congratulated Radev, who will begin his second term on Jan. 22.

US concerned by Bulgarian president's remarks about Crimea - ABC News (

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Has No Life - Lives on TB
Dutch police arrest more than 30 amid ongoing unrest
Dutch police have arrested more than 30 people amid unrest in The Hague and other towns in the Netherlands that followed violence that erupted the previous night at a protest against coronavirus restrictions
By MIKE CORDER Associated Press
21 November 2021, 04:30

People gather on Dam Square in front of the Royal Palace to take part in a demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

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The Associated Press
People gather on Dam Square in front of the Royal Palace to take part in a demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

EDE, Netherlands -- Dutch police have arrested more than 30 people during unrest in The Hague and other towns in the Netherlands that followed an “ orgy of violence ” the previous night at a protest against coronavirus restrictions.

The violence by groups of youths in The Hague and elsewhere Saturday night wasn't as serious as Friday night in Rotterdam, where police opened fire on rampaging rioters and arrested 51 people

Police said Sunday that they arrested 19 people in The Hague and used a water cannon to extinguish a fire on a street.

Two soccer matches in the country's top professional league were briefly halted when fans — banned from matches under a partial lockdown in force in the Netherlands for a week — broke into stadiums in the towns of Alkmaar and Almelo.

In The Hague, police said five officers were injured as they tried to break up unrest by a group of youths who set at least two fires on streets and threw fireworks. Police said in a tweet that one rioter threw a rock at an ambulance carrying a patient to a hospital.

In the southern towns of Roermond and Stein, police said they arrested a total of 13 people for setting fires and throwing fireworks, and in the fishing village of Urk police arrested eight people for public order offenses, Dutch broadcaster NOS reported.

Earlier Saturday, two protests against COVID-19 measures proceeded peacefully in Amsterdam and the southern city of Breda. Thousands of people marched through Amsterdam to protest COVID-19 restrictions.

Tens of thousands of protesters also took to the streets of Vienna on Saturday after the Austrian government announced a nationwide lockdown beginning Monday to contain skyrocketing coronavirus infections.

There were also demonstrations in Italy, Switzerland, Croatia and Northern Ireland.

Police in Rotterdam said that three rioters were hit by bullets and investigations were underway to establish if they were shot by police on Friday night. The condition of the injured rioters wasn't disclosed.

Officers in Rotterdam arrested 51 people, about half of them minors, police said Saturday afternoon. One police officer was hospitalized with a leg injury sustained in the rioting, another was treated by ambulance staff and “countless” others suffered minor injuries.

Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb called the rioting in his city an “orgy of violence" and said that “on a number of occasions the police felt it necessary to draw their weapons to defend themselves.”

Dutch police arrest more than 30 amid ongoing unrest - ABC News

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

Sweden's first female prime minister resigns hours after appointment
Rejected budget plans have spelled disaster for Sweden’s government, resulting in the resignation of the newly elected prime minister.

Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has stepped down
Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has stepped down hours after being voted in
Sweden's newly elected Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson stepped down just hours after being voted in on Wednesday.

The move came after the Green Party announced that it would be leaving the coalition government. The Green Party decided to leave government when the country's parliament rejected spending plans in favor of those proposed by opposition parties, spelling crisis for the new administration.

Andersson says legitimacy cannot be in question
Speaking at a news conference Andersson said: "For me, it is about respect, but I also do not want to lead a government where there may be grounds to question its legitimacy."

Andersson also pointed out that "a coalition government should resign if a party chooses to leave the government. Despite the fact that the parliamentary situation is unchanged, it needs to be tried again."

The speaker of parliament Andreas Norlen confirmed receipt of Andersson's resignation and indicated that the path ahead would be discussed according to local news agency TT.
The budget proposal was rejected in favor of budget plans mooted by opposition parties which include the right-wing Sweden Democrats.

Per Bolund who is spokesperson for the Green Party said there was deep regret over parliament's decision to vote for a spending plan "negotiated by a right-wing extremist party." The party said on Twitter: "The Green Party will not take office in a government that is forced to control a budget negotiated by the Sweden Democrats."

Short-lived term in office
Earlier on Wednesday Andersson became the first female prime minister of Sweden following a parliamentary vote.

The result was tight with the leader of the minority government clearing the winning post by just one vote.

Andersson previously served as finance minister and took over as leader of the Social Democrats earlier this month.

The country's outgoing prime minister, Stefan Lofven, resigned on November 10 after seven years in office after losing a parliamentary vote of confidence. Lofven and Andersson are both Social Democrats.
kb/aw (Reuters, AP)


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Croatia signs purchase of French jets during Macron visit
Croatia has signed a deal to buy 12 Rafale fighter jets from France worth nearly 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion)
By The Associated Press
25 November 2021, 05:07

Two Dassault Rafale fighter jets fly next to a church after a signing ceremony between French President Emmanuel Macron and Croatia's Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic in Zagreb, Croatia, Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021. Croatia's government has approved the p

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The Associated Press
Two Dassault Rafale fighter jets fly next to a church after a signing ceremony between French President Emmanuel Macron and Croatia's Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic in Zagreb, Croatia, Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021. Croatia's government has approved the purchase of 12 used Rafale fighter jets from France worth about 1 billion euros to replace its aging fleet of Soviet-era aircraft and strengthen its air force amid lingering tensions in the Balkans. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

ZAGREB, Croatia -- Croatia on Thursday signed a deal to buy 12 Rafale fighter jets from France worth nearly 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) that officials said will considerably strengthen its air force amid lingering tensions in the Balkans.

The contract for the used combat aircraft was signed during the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to Croatia. It was the first visit by France’s head of state to Croatia since it split from the former Yugoslav federation in the 1991-95 war.

“The purchase of the planes strategically is what we see as a game changer for Croatia,” Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said at a joint press conference with Macron after the signing ceremony.

“This will not only give us the ability to avert those who have any aspirations toward our territory but also to become the so-called exporters of security … of stability in southeastern Europe,” he said.

Macron said the aircraft deal will strengthen bilateral ties between the two countries and contribute to European defense.

Two Rafales made a low pass over the Croatian capital after the signing ceremony.

The selection of the French aircraft, announced in May, followed a long bidding process that was plagued by delays. Other offers had included new F-16s from the United States, new JAS-39 Gripen planes from Sweden, and used F-16s from Israel.

Eric Trappier, CEO of Dassault Aviation, which makes the fighter jets, said they "will give the Croatian Air Force complete satisfaction, while actively contributing to the exercise of Croatia’s national sovereignty.”

Croatian officials said earlier that the purchase is worth 999 million euros and will involve 10 single-seater and two 2-seater F3R Rafale twin-engine aircraft. The first six Rafales are scheduled to be delivered in 2024, with the rest due the following year.

The French jets will replace a few still operational Soviet-era MiG-21s — first developed in the 1950s. Most of the MiGs were originally snatched from the Yugoslav military which tried to stop Croatia’s secession from the former Serb-dominated federation.

Croatia, which is a member of NATO and the European Union, is in a mini arms race with neighboring Russian ally Serbia, which has recently received six used MiG-29 fighter jets from Russia and four more of the type from Belarus.

Croatia signs purchase of French jets during Macron visit - ABC News (

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Has No Life - Lives on TB
Swedish lawmakers to vote next week on Andersson after chaos
Sweden's parliament speaker says lawmakers will vote Monday on whether Magdalena Andersson, who briefly became the country’s first female prime minister before resigning after a budget defeat, can form a minority government
By The Associated Press
25 November 2021, 06:38

Swedish Social Democratic Party leader and newly appointed Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson during a press conference after the budget vote in the Swedish parliament in Stockholm, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021. Hours after being tapped as Sweden’s prime

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The Associated Press
Swedish Social Democratic Party leader and newly appointed Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson during a press conference after the budget vote in the Swedish parliament in Stockholm, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021. Hours after being tapped as Sweden’s prime minister, Magdalena Andersson resigned Wednesday after suffering a budget defeat in parliament and coalition partner the Greens left the two-party minority government. ”For me, it is about respect, but I also do not want to lead a government where there may be grounds to question its legitimacy,” Andersson told in the news conference. (Pontus Lundahl/TT via AP)

COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- Swedish lawmakers will vote next week on whether Magdalena Andersson, who briefly became the country's first female prime minister before resigning after a budget defeat, can form a minority government, the parliament speaker said Thursday.

Andersson served as prime minister for seven hours before stepping down Wednesday after the Greens left her two-party coalition. Their move followed the rejection of her government’s budget proposal — in favor of one presented by opposition parties including the right-wing populist Sweden Democrats, which is rooted in a neo-Nazi movement.

Andersson, leader of the Social Democratic party, decided then that it was best to step down from the post. She informed Parliament Speaker Andreas Norlen that she was still interested in leading a Social Democratic single-party government.

He was expected to formally nominate Andersson again later Thursday and a vote in the 349-seat Riksdag was set for Monday.

Norlen who oversees the government-building process, said Thursday that he “deeply regrets the course of events.” He said it could have been avoided “if I had received a message from the Green Party" that they would withdraw from the coalition before the vote that made Andersson prime minister. "Then I would not have nominated Magdalena Andersson.”

“This makes politics seem unreasonable and unpredictable,” he said, adding he believed it damaged trust in Swedish politics.

“I ... expect that we can deal with this urgently now and get a government in place next week,” Norlen said, adding that after consultations with Sweden's eight parties on Thursday he came to the conclusion that support for Andersson had not changed.

Under the Swedish Constitution, prime ministers can be named and govern as long as a parliamentary majority — a minimum of 175 lawmakers — is not against them.

The Social Democratic Party currently holds 100 seats. Together with their allies — including 16 for the Greens — they have a total of 174 seats. One independent lawmaker is likely to support Andersson.

The right wing of the Riksdag is divided. Ulf Kristersson, head of the opposition Moderate party — Sweden’s second largest — repeatedly has said that a center-right government is not feasible because no mainstream party wants to cooperate with the third-largest party, the right-wing populist Sweden Democrats.

Andersson's predecessor as prime minister, Stefan Lofven, is still leading the Swedish government in a caretaking capacity until a new one is formed.

Swedish lawmakers to vote next week on Andersson after chaos - ABC News (


Veteran Member

Serbia President Hails ‘Incredible’ Gas Deal With Russia

Milica Stojanovic Belgrade BIRN
November 25, 202117:31

After meeting Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Aleksandar Vucic said Russia had agreed to peg Serbia's current gas price for another six months, calling it a gesture of friendship towards his country.

Serbia will continue to pay $270 per 1,000 cubic metres of natural gas for the next six months, President Aleksandar Vucic said after a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The two presidents met in Sochi, Russia, where the renewal of a deal about natural gas deliveries was one of their topics. Vucic said: “Putin has shown friendship towards Serbia.”

“We managed to get… for the next six months a gas price of an incredible $270, so that our price does not change; we also got an increase in the amount of gas in those six months and we got flexibility [in monthly delivery], for which I especially begged President Putin,” Vucic told media after the meeting, Radio Television of Serbia reported.

Serbia imports almost all of its gas from Russia’s energy giant Gazprom, with domestic production covering only roughly 15 per cent of its needs.

According to Bloomberg, in October Serbia was paying $270 per 1,000 cubic metres, far less than the benchmark rate that has recently soared.

Serbia’s current deal with Gazprom, signed in March 2013, will expire on December 31.

Vucic said that he and Putin “also talked about a long-term contract and left certain elements, but until I sign it, I have no right to say that”.

According to the meeting’s transcript, published on the Russian president’s official website, Putin told Vucic that “will come to an agreement on that; we will instruct our relevant companies to finalise this work; at any rate, we will find a solution that will undoubtedly be acceptable to our Serbian friends.

Putin also said: “We expect Prime Minister of Serbia [Ana Brnabic] to visit Moscow in December”. Vucic announced that Putin will come to Serbia “between May and September next year”.

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

Survivor found in coal mine accident in Russia’s Siberia

A Russian Emergency Ministry truck is parked at the Listvyazhnaya mine, right, near Belovo, in the Kemerovo region of southwestern Siberia, Russia, Friday, Nov. 26, 2021. A devastating explosion in the Siberian coal mine Thursday left dozens of miners and rescuers dead about 250 meters (820 feet) underground, Russian officials said.(AP Photo/Sergei Gavrilenko)
1 of 2
A Russian Emergency Ministry truck is parked at the Listvyazhnaya mine, right, near Belovo, in the Kemerovo region of southwestern Siberia, Russia, Friday, Nov. 26, 2021. A devastating explosion in the Siberian coal mine Thursday left dozens of miners and rescuers dead about 250 meters (820 feet) underground, Russian officials said.(AP Photo/Sergei Gavrilenko)

MOSCOW (AP) — Rescuers have found a survivor in a Siberian coal mine where dozens of miners are presumed dead after a devastating methane explosion, a top local official announced Friday.

Sergei Tsivilyov, governor of the Kemerovo region where the mine is located, said on the messaging app Telegram that the survivor was found in the Listvyazhnaya mine in southwestern Siberia, and “he is being taken to the hospital.”

Acting Emergency Minister Alexander Chupriyan said the man found in the mine was a rescuer who had been presumed dead.

The authorities had confirmed 14 fatalities on Thursday — 11 miners were found dead and three rescuers died later while searching for others who were trapped at a remote section of the mine. Six more bodies were recovered on Friday morning, and 31 people remain missing.

Gov. Tsivilyov said finding other survivors at this point was highly unlikely.

Hours after a methane gas explosion and fire filled the mine with toxic fumes on Thursday, rescuers were forced to halt the search because of a buildup of methane and carbon monoxide gas from the fire. A total of 239 people were rescued from the mine; 63 of them, as of Friday morning, have sought medical assistance, according to Kemerovo officials.

The state Tass and RIA-Novosti news agencies on Thursday had cited emergency officials as saying that there was no chance of finding any more survivors, and put the death toll at 52 on Thursday evening. Rescuing a survivor on Friday morning brings that down to 51.

It appears to be the deadliest mine accident in Russia since 2010, when two methane explosions and a fire killed 91 people at the Raspadskaya mine in the same Kemerovo region.
In 2016, 36 miners were killed in a series of methane explosions in a coal mine in Russia’s far north. In the wake of the incident, authorities analyzed the safety of the country’s 58 coal mines and declared 20 of them, or 34%, potentially unsafe.

Regional officials declared three days of mourning. Russia’s Investigative Committee has launched a criminal probe into the fire over violations of safety regulations that led to deaths. It said the mine director and two senior managers were detained.

One more criminal probe was launched Friday into the alleged negligence of state officials that inspected the mine earlier this month.

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

Ukraine president alleges 'coup plot' in media briefing
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told journalists that Kyiv had information about a coup plot involving people in Ukraine and Russia and seeking to supplant him with a media oligarch. However he offered few details.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gestures while speaking to the media during a news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Nov. 26, 2021.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke at length with reporters at a conference marking the mid-point of his presidential term

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday said that Ukraine had uncovered a plot for an attempted coup, which he said was planned for December 1.

Zelenskyy told reporters that authorities had "not only intelligence, but also audio recordings" in which people from Russia and representatives of a media oligarch were planning an attempted coup.

The Ukrainian president did not directly accuse the Russian government of involvement, and he also said it was possible that businessman and former parliamentarian Rinat Akhmetov was unaware of the discussions. He said that he would invite Akhmetov to listen to the recordings. The media oligarch and owner of football club Shakhtar Donetsk in the wartorn east of Ukraine is a former member of the Party of Regions of former President Viktor Yanukovych, and is still thought to have close ties to the party.

Zelenskyy made the comments during a lengthy press conference with select media marking the mid-way point of his term as president. Journalists who were not invited staged a small protest outside.

Russia says it was not involved
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed Zelenskyy's comments, with news agency Interfax quoting him as saying, "Russia had no plans to take part. And Russia never gets involved in such affairs."

Akhmetov is seen as an opponent of a recently-passed law in Ukraine designed to limit the political influence of the country's wealthy elite. Since the law passed, Zelenskyy has faced staunch criticism on the oligarch's television channels. The president complained during the media briefing that he had few friends in domestic media at present owing to his anti-corruption efforts.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy listens to media questions during a news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Nov. 26, 2021.
When asked to clarify whether he had indications of Russian state involvement, Zelenskyy said he could not comment further

Tension high amid troop buildup near border
The conflict in eastern Ukraine has come into renewed focus in recent weeks, amid Western warnings of Russian military activity near Ukraine's border. As earlier this year, amid similar warnings, Russia has dismissed the concerns as "hysteria," saying troop movements on its own territory are its own business and no cause for alarm.

Watch video02:49
Estonian FM talks about Russia's military buildup near Ukraine border
Both Ukraine and Russia have been staging military exercises this week.
"We are in full control of our borders and are fully prepared for any escalation," Zelenskyy said on Friday. "We need to depend on ourselves, on our own army. It is powerful."

The conflict in eastern Ukraine with Russian-backed separatists began in early 2014, around the same time that Russia annexed Crimea, and has claimed more than 13,000 lives.

Watch video03:38
Russian troop buildup raises fears of Ukraine invasion
msh/aw (AFP, Reuters)

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

Austrian police arrest 15 suspected people smugglers
The Syrians, Lebanese, and Egyptian migrants had planned to reach Germany after being dropped off in Austria, police said. Hundreds of migrants paid up to €5,000 each ($5,600) for the ride.

Austrian police are seen near the Austrian-Hungarian border near Siegendorf, Burgenland, Eisenstadt district
Austrian police have arrested over 330 people smugglers so far this year

Austrian police have arrested 15 people accused of being part of a criminal group that made €2.5 million ($2.8 million) for smuggling 700 migrants into the country.

The group allegedly drove the migrants from the Serbian-Hungarian border to the north of Vienna from where they could travel onward to Germany.

How were the smugglers discovered?
Austrian authorities first opened an investigation into the criminal network last month.
Police said they arrested the 15 smugglers on November 16 when 25 vehicles carrying 200 to 300 migrants were intercepted in vehicle checks in Lower Austria and at a Vienna hotel. Police seized 14 vehicles in the operation.

The investigation found the ring removed the back seats and sprayed over the back windows to conceal the 12 to 15 people they carried in each car or van.

Drivers were recruited in Moldova, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan through social media ads offering up to €3,000 (about $4,000) in monthly wages. The drivers were all said to have tried to escape upon capture.

The Syrian, Lebanese and Egyptian migrants each paid €4,000-€5,000 (about $4,500 to $5,600) to be driven from the Serbian-Hungarian border through Slovakia and the Czech Republic to northeastern Austria.

Watch video02:28
Migrants in Belarus torn between hope and resignation
Where did the migrants want to go?

Most of the migrants said they intended to then travel to Germany.

A third of them decided to apply for asylum in Austria, police spokesman Johann Baumschlager told the German press agency. The rest had probably traveled to Germany already, he added.

The EU introduced a new migration pact in October that tightens up on illegal entry into the bloc while allowing skilled workers greater access to the job market.
Authorities have arrested over 330 people for trafficking people in Austria this year.
jc/rc (AP, dpa)

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

Serbia: Protesters block roads over new mining laws
Scuffles broke out between protesters and police in Belgrade and Novi Sad while organizers said several activists had been detained. Activists argue new laws are damaging to the environment.

Serbia | Protests in Belgrade
Citizens are protesting against new laws they say favor the interests of foreign investors devastating the environment

Hundreds of protesters blocked major roads and bridges in Serbia on Saturday as they rallied against new laws that green activists argue will give free rein to foreign mining companies, causing irreparable damage to the environment.

The Balkan country's government has offered mineral resources to firms such as China's Zijin copper miner and the Anglo-Australian company Rio Tinto, sparking outrage among environmentalists who say the projects would pollute land and water.

Watch video05:07
Chinese copper mine brings more pollution to Serbia
Skirmishes erupted between police and anti-government protesters who chanted slogans against conservative President Aleksandar Vucic. Demonstrators brought traffic to a standstill in downtown Belgrade and blocked a stretch of a main highway through the capital. Vucic has called China a "savior" for its copper mine projects. The people around the Bor copper mine, however, fear for their future, as Bor is part of the strategic investments around China's New Silk Road to Europe.
Serbia | Protests in Belgrada
Protesters managed to block a major highway in Belgrade

Protesters detained
In Novi Sad, dozens of protesters briefly scuffled with police.
Protest organizers said several activists had been detained in both the northern Serbian city and in Belgrade.

A recent reform will effectively stop popular initiatives against polluting projects by establishing hefty administrative fees, green activists argue.

The activists also oppose a new expropriation law, which allows the acquisition of private land by the state within eight days.

Serbia is one of Europe's most polluted countries and will need billions of euros to meet the European Union's environmental standards. It is proving a major stumbling block to any ambitions the Balkan country has of joining the EU.

Just the beginning, say activists
Rio Tinto has said it would adhere to all domestic and EU environmental standards at its lithium mine in Serbia. Populist Vucic's government said it would arrange a referendum to test support among Serbians for Rio Tinto's project.

Activists have threatened further action if the laws on property expropriation and referendum aren't withdrawn.

Environmentalists and civil society groups have expressed dismay that authorities have lowered the referendum threshold.

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

France Escalates Feud With UK As BoJo Waffles On Brexit "Fisheries" Deal
Tyler Durden's Photo

SUNDAY, NOV 28, 2021 - 07:35 AM
It appears the Brexit fisheries dispute is flaring back up. After what has been a rocky year of near-confrontations between France (which is leading the EU parties concerned about access to nominally "British" fisheries) and the UK over fisheries access, a key compromise included in the UK-EU post-Brexit trade treaty.

For those who need a reminder, the EU's fishing industry is entirely dependent on access to British waters, as we recently explained.

Infographic: Brexit: European Fishing's Dependence on British Waters | Statista

You will find more infographics at Statista

On Friday, French fishermen blockaded the port of Calais, temporarily preventing two ferries carrying trucks and passengers from entering, in protest against the UK's failure to issue more licences to fish in British waters. In an effort to disrupt trade, several trawlers maneuvered to force the DFDS and P&O ferries to reduce speed and hold outside the port, a major entry point to the continental market for British goods.

It might not seem like much, but the blockade, which lasted 90 minutes, marked an escalation in the post-Brexit row between London and Paris over fishing rights in Britain's coastal waters. Ever since the deal was struck, British PM Boris Johnson has raised fears that he might not comply.

Britain says any licences that are being withheld lack the correct documentation to issue them, Reuters reports.

The two ferries outside the port on Friday reduced their speed until their path was clear, the MarineTraffic app showed. Afterward, the protest shifted to the Channel Tunnel where the fishermen held up goods moving to and from Britain through the Channel Tunnel rail link.

Before Brexit and the pandemic, 1.8M trucks per year were routed through Calais.

Earlier in the day, fishermen blocked a small British cargo, the Normandy Trader, from docking in the Brittany port of Saint-Malo. France says Jersey, a British Crown Dependency, has also failed to issue licences due to its fishermen under a post-Brexit deal.

While we are sure the British would love to dismiss this latest flareup, according to Reuters, the one-hour Saint-Malo protest and the larger action further east along France's coast could risk reigniting a dispute between Britain and France over the mutual licensing system for fishing vessels.

Put another way: this definitely isn't the best time for the British to be confronted with the next vaccine variant threat.

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

Frontex plane to patrol English Channel after Calais emergency talks
France called for crisis talks after the recent deaths of 27 people attempting to cross the English Channel. France rescinded the invite to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel after a row broke out late last week.

A group of more than 40 migrants with children get on an inflatable dinghy, as they leave the coast of northern France to cross the English Channel, near Wimereux, France
Thousands hope to make the perilous journey across the English Channel

France concluded talks in the northern city of Calais on Sunday to address the issue of human trafficking gangs, after the recent drowning death of 27 people who were attempting to cross the English Channel in an inflatable boat.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said Frontex would deploy a plane to "fly day and night" over English Channel European coasts to spot migrant crossings.

Immigration ministers from Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, but not the United Kingdom, attended.

On Wednesday, a total of 17 men, seven women and three children died. Migrants still hoping to make the journey across the Channel told the AFP news agency that most of the victims were Iraqis, Iranians and Afghans.

Watch video01:52
Dozens drown in English Channel after migrant boat sinks
What measures were agreed?

French, Belgian, Dutch and German officials agreed to work together to fight the growing menace of migrant smuggling gangs in Calais.

From December 1, the European Union would deploy a plane operated by Frontex that would monitor the shores of France, Belgium and the Netherlands for smuggling networks.
The officials will keep a closer eye on the trade of inflatable boats used to transport desperate migrants fleeing war and poverty in countries like Afghanistan, Sudan and Syria.

"We have to prevent lives being lost. We have to prevent chaos coming to our external borders," EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva said.

Darmanin said European countries "want to work with our British friends and allies" despite their absence from the emergency meeting.

"This meeting was not anti-English. It was pro-European," added Darmanin.

Why did France disinvite the UK?
France opted to rescind the invitation it had extended to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel in the aftermath of the tragedy, after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson shared on Twitter a letter to French President Emmanuel Macron, which was criticized for deflecting the blame to France for the tragedy.

Macron reacted to the open letter with personal criticism of Johnson, calling him "not serious."

Patel said Sunday her absence at the meeting was "unfortunate."

Earlier Sunday, Patel met with Dutch Migration Minister Ankie Broekers-Knol and stressed "the need for European partners to work together" by sharing intelligence and police information, according to her office.

An aide to French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin called the public letter outlining demands of Paris "unacceptable."

Both countries have faced criticism for bickering in the face of human tragedy.
Officials from the EU and EU border agency Frontex, as well as police agency Europol, also took part in Sunday's meeting.

On Saturday, European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas told reporters during a trip to his native Greece that the UK needs to deal with its own migration issues after Brexit.
"I recall well the main slogan of the referendum campaign is 'we take back control,'" Schinas said. "Since the UK took back control, it's up to them now to find the necessary measures to operationalize the control they took back."

What has the UK proposed on migration?
In the part of the letter perhaps most contentious to Paris, Johnson proposed sending those migrants who cross the Channel back to France in the hopes of destroying the business model for human traffickers.

He also proposed joint police and coast guard patrols on the northern French coast, which France has said is a violation of its sovereignty.

UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Sunday "it wasn't wrong" of Johnson to disclose the diplomatic note as a public letter instead.

"We all need to be doing what we can to break the business model of these people smugglers. That does mean working closely with our friends, France," Javid said.

"Our policy is very clear: these boats must stop. We can't just do it on our own. We do need the cooperation of the French," he added.

Watch video01:58
Migrants risk their lives to get to the UK
ar/wmr (AFP, AP)


Veteran Member

26 NOV, 09:58
Moldova repaid debt to Gazprom for current gas supplies — Moldovagaz
The debt to the Russian gas holding totaled $74 mln

CHISINAU, November 26. /TASS/. Moldovagaz repaid the current debt to Gazprom after the warning on potential termination of supplies, the press service of the Moldovan gas distributing company said on Friday.

"Moldovagaz transferred payment for natural gas consumed in October and the first half of November of this year to Gazprom," the company said.

The debt to the Russian gas holding totaled $74 mln. On Thursday, the Moldovan legislative assembly introduced amendments to the budget and approved urgent allocation of funds.

northern watch

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Russian navy test-fires hypersonic missile in the White Sea
Russia's navy has successfully test-fired a prospective hypersonic missile
By The Associated Press
29 November 2021, 07:16

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. (Evgeny Paulin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Image Icon

The Associated Press
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. (Evgeny Paulin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

MOSCOW -- Russia's navy has successfully test-fired a prospective hypersonic missile, the military said Monday.

The Defense Ministry said the Admiral Gorshkov frigate in the White Sea launched the Zircon cruise missile, hitting a practice target 400 kilometers (215 nautical miles) away. The launch was the latest in a series of tests of Zircon, which is set to enter service next year.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Zircon would be capable of flying at nine times the speed of sound and have a range of 1,000 kilometers (620 miles). Putin has emphasized that its deployment will significantly boost the capability of Russia's military.

Zircon is intended to arm Russian cruisers, frigates and submarines. It is one of several hypersonic missiles under development in Russia.

The Kremlin has made modernizing the country’s arsenals a top priority amid the tensions with the West that followed Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

Russian navy test-fires hypersonic missile in the White Sea - ABC News (


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Latvia calls for permanent U.S. troops to guard against Russia threat

Sabine Siebold Publishing date: Nov 29, 2021 • 2 hours ago

ADAZI MILITARY BASE — Latvia needs a permanent U.S. military presence to deter Russia and wants to boost its defenses with U.S. Patriot missiles, Defence Minister Artis Pabriks said on Monday as NATO’s chief visited allied troops in the Baltic country.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to arrive in Latvia’s capital Riga late on Monday before a meeting on Tuesday with 29 NATO counterparts. The alliance is alarmed by a Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s borders.

“We need additional international assistance,” Pabriks told Reuters. “We would like to have a permanent United States (military) presence in our country. And sea and air defense means basically going down to such systems as Patriot (surface-to-air missiles).”

NATO troops were rehearsing battle skills in a snowy Latvian woodland with camouflaged tanks and live rounds, with 1,500 troops seeking to stop an attack on Riga by disrupting and stalling the unidentified adversary’s advance north of the city.

“Deterrence is critical,” said Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John Benson, commander of the NATO battlegroup in Latvia.

Prompted by Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and Moscow’s support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, NATO has deployed four multinational battalion-size battlegroups to defend Poland and the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia since July 2017.

Moscow says it has no intention of invading the Baltics or Poland and accuses NATO of destabilizing Europe by moving troops closer to Russia’s borders. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said there was “no imminent threat” against NATO.

In May, Russia amassed 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine, the highest number since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Western officials say. NATO says there was another large military build-up on Ukraine’s border this month.

The Baltic states are seen as NATO’s most vulnerable flank as they are linked to the alliance’s main territory only by a land corridor of around 60 km (37 miles) between Poland and Lithuania known as the Suwalki gap.

Military experts warn that Russia, via Belarus, might capture the gap, gaining a land corridor to its heavily fortified exclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea.

U.S. troops are stationed in Germany but might not reach the Baltics fast enough in the event of such an attack, experts say.

“We have revisionism at this moment going on in Russia … from that perspective we cannot be late here,” Pabriks said, referring to a statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin that he would reverse the collapse of the Soviet Union if he had a chance to alter modern Russian history.

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

"Slow Disaster Playing Out" As Germany Moves To Shut Down 8.5 GW Of Baseload Nuclear Capacity
Tyler Durden's Photo

TUESDAY, NOV 30, 2021 - 03:30 AM
Authored by P Gosselin via,
At Facebook, Danish observer Peter Bardland presents a chart and commentary on Germany’s upcoming rapid nuclear power phaseout.
By the end of 2022, the government will have shut down another 6 plants with a total (baseload) capacity of 8.54 gigawatts!

Chart: Presented by Peter Bardland
Yesterday we commented here that Germany will in fact be shutting down all the baseload power sources, which ironically kept the country from blacking out in 2021 because wind and solar power failed to deliver as expected.
“Disaster playing out”…”pretty crazy”
Bardland writes:
In just over a month, Germany will close 3 of its newest and best nuclear power plants and more than 4050 MW of electricity will disappear from northern Europe’s power grid. 4050 MW is equivalent to the average electricity consumption of all of Denmark.
It will put supply security further under pressure and them choosing to do so in the middle of winter is pretty crazy.
Not only will the 4050 MW of shut off nuclear power lead to more CO2 emissions, but it will cause much more pollution from the burning of biomass and fossil fuels. Next winter, Germany will close the last 3 nuclear power plants, also 4000 MW.
Anyone who has followed the energy and climate political debate, even superficially, over the last 10-20 years can see that Germany, Denmark and other ‘green crazy countries’ are doing it vigorously AGAINST what logic and science dictates.
We see a slow disaster playing out with The Greens in the lead role as the crazy villain, hell-bent in their eagerness to wipe out life and prosperity.
(PS. Buy warm clothes, food, water and candles, for the coming winter).”

On top of the baseload power shutdown madness, German Health Minister Jens Spahn said he favored a one-year complete lockdown of unvaxxed Germans. There’s definitely something in someone’s water.


Veteran Member

Germany has to decide on gas-to-power plants quickly - grid operator, NGO
Vera Eckert Reuters PUBLISHED NOV 30, 2021 4:54AM EST

FRANKFURT, Nov 30 (Reuters) - German power grid operator TenneT IPO-TTH.AS and environmental group Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) on Tuesday united to call for more clarity over new gas-to-power plant capacity, which TenneT said is needed to stabilise supply once coal-fired plants close.

DUH said however while more visibility was needed to help power providers plan, gas should not be relied upon to provide baseload power, and should over time be switched to hydrogen.

Gas, while less polluting than coal, still emits carbon when burned and is linked to potent methane emissions.

Germany's incoming government last Wednesday presented climate protection plans with far-reaching reforms, including a faster expansion of renewables and an accelerated exit from coal, ideally by 2030.

But Germany, which supplies one fifth of European Union electricity, will still need to use gas to keep the lights on and its businesses competitive until the switch to greener power happens, TenneT said.

"We will need gas capacity in future when supply cannot be met 100% by renewables," said TenneT Chief Operating Officer Tim Meyerjuergens in a joint call by the two organisations.

"We must set the framework for gas plant investors to assure them they can reliably operate these plants for 10 to 15 years."

DUH managers said Germany should not rush into greater use of gas, as stability could be provided by existing capacity overhangs and import and storage options.

"We will be able to steer demand in the power networks of the future," its Head of Energy and Climate Protection Constantin Zerger said.

Last year, the power system held capacity of 43 gigawatts (GW) of brown and hard coal, 25 GW of gas, 8 GW of nuclear, which is disappearing by 2022, and 130 GW of renewables.

Think-tanks and political lobbies predict that new gas-fired capacity in a range of 18 and 44 GW will be required by 2035, yet there is no noticeable investment activity while prices of gas and mandatory carbon emissions certificates are sky-high.

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

Zemmour’s fall in polls signals ‘lack of presidential credibility’ amid campaign launch
Issued on: 30/11/2021 - 21:51

French far-right polemicist turned presidential candidate Eric Zemmour announces his run for the Élysée Palace in a video broadcast on YouTube. © YouTube, AFP
Text by:Tom WHEELDON
5 min

A new poll showed a significant drop in support for far-right polemicist Eric Zemmour – just days before he officially launched his presidential campaign on Tuesday after anticipation of his bid hung over French politics for months. Analysts say a failure to look presidential combines with a weak point on economics to limit his appeal.

Flash back to 2017 to understand the spectre haunting France’s ascendant far right. It is the spectre of Marine Le Pen nervously looking up dubious economic figures in a pile of chunky colour-coded folders as she faced a polished Emmanuel Macron in the final 2017 presidential election debate.

Le Pen’s presence in those second-round debates confirmed the French far right’s steady rise. When her father Jean-Marie astounded France by reaching the face-off in 2002, then president Jacques Chirac declined to debate him.

Yet Le Pen’s anxious consultation of those folders showed how – even if she had detoxified her party, now called the Rassemblement National – she had failed to win credibility. Macron defeated her with two-thirds of the vote. “Le Pen’s lack of credibility on economic issues, glaringly exposed in her run-off debate with Macron, confirmed that she had not made the transition from protest candidate to potential president,” noted Jim Shields, a professor of French politics at Warwick University.

‘Zemmour’s peak’?
Flash forward to the 2022 campaign. The centre ground of French politics has shifted to the right and centrist Macron has moved with it. Over the past few months, even apolitical people in Paris would note that “everyone is talking about Zemmour” – the ex-journalist twice convicted for inciting racial hatred, who outflanked Le Pen as an even more far-right candidate and surged in the presidential polls. On Monday, a YouTube video officially launching his Élysée Palace run confirmed what everyone anticipated.

But Zemmour’s announcement followed a bad omen for the far-right pundit. A poll published by Le Journal de Dimanche on Sunday showed him sinking from second to third place, at 14 to 15 percent of voting intentions – with Le Pen leapfrogging ahead to 19-20 percent and Macron way ahead at 25 percent. This came after a string of influential Zemmour backers signalled disillusionment with his campaign – including one of his biggest donors, multimillionaire businessman Charles Gave, who announced last week he was withdrawing his support.

Experts say Zemmour’s flagging poll ratings show that – like Le Pen last time, rifling through her folders for answers – he has failed to make that shift from protest vote to plausible head of state.

“What seemed an advantage for Zemmour at first – his anti-system, anti-political appeal – has not stood up so well to the bigger question of whether he has the makings of a president,” Shields said. “His reduced momentum is due to his lack of credibility as a presidential candidate.

“The problem with momentum is that, once lost, it is difficult to recover; so it’s hard to see how Zemmour can regain the strong upward momentum that once had him ahead of Le Pen in some polls,” Shields continued.

“I think the latest poll represents Zemmour’s peak as a presidential candidate,” agreed Andrew Smith, a professor of French politics at the University of Chichester. “His crassness might appeal to a certain section of voters, but most of the electorate looks to presidential candidates to display a certain august aspect and sees Zemmour’s venomous quality as incompatible with the office.”

‘Not interested in the numbers’
In addition to the personality factor, that old question of economic credibility threatens to torpedo Zemmour’s efforts to present himself as a serious candidate to lead the French Republic.

In his previous role as a political commentator on TV channel CNews, Zemmour was able to reach millions of viewers while keeping the discussion on his favoured terrain of cultural and identity issues, seldom venturing into economic policy.

This will put him at a disadvantage in a presidential campaign where he will have to face tough questions on economic details, Smith said: “It’s evident that he doesn’t particularly care about economics – and that’s going to be a real issue for him; he’s not interested in the numbers, the kind of thing on which Le Pen looked out of her depth in the debates against Macron in 2017.”

Although economics is not his priority, Zemmour has set out a broadly neoliberal platform, in line with his long-running ambition to bring France’s traditional right into the far-right fold. The ex-journalist has lambasted Le Pen as a “leftist” for her economic agenda, which includes lowering the retirement age from 62 to 60 and raising taxes on the wealthy. Zemmour vows to drastically reduce business taxes and raise France’s pension age to 64.

Contrary to a certain Anglophone stereotype of France as an avowedly socialist country, a sizeable proportion of the French electorate is keen on liberal economics. After all, France elected Macron on a platform of streamlining the state and creating a “start-up nation” – and he only superseded Les Républicains’ Thatcherite candidate François Fillon in the 2017 polls after a financial impropriety scandal kyboshed the latter’s campaign.

But analysts say that far from turbocharging his campaign by attracting mainstream right-wingers, Zemmour’s combination of far-right social and cultural positions with neoliberal economic proposals imposes a ceiling on his support.

Le Pen’s pivot from her father’s largely free-market stance to leftist economics has helped her party win over swathes of working-class former Socialist and Communist voters, especially in France’s deindustrialised north. Zemmour has made “few inroads” with these voters, Shields observed.

At the same time, Smith suggested, Zemmour is too toxic for many mainstream conservatives – thanks to declarations like his infamous falsehood that France’s collaborationist Vichy regime “tried to save” French Jews from the Nazis.

“France has historically voted to the centre-right,” Smith concluded. “It’s conservative on cultural issues; again and again France returns to these centre-right values, Republican values, at election time. Zemmour traduces them; he moves beyond defending Republican values to something very undesirable, for example with his revisionist views on Vichy. These statements mark him out as a provocateur – and that role of provocateur is at odds with any potential to look presidential and win over those centre-right voters.”