Confirmed: Siberian methane oozing up

This scares me shitless.

Methane gas oozing up from Siberian seabed: Swedish researcher

1 hour ago

STOCKHOLM (AFP) — Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is leaking from the permafrost under the Siberian seabed, a researcher on an international expedition in the region told Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter on Saturday.

“The permafrost now has small holes. We have found elevated levels of methane above the water surface and even more in the water just below. It is obvious that the source is the seabed,” Oerjan Gustafsson, the Swedish leader of the International Siberian Shelf Study, told the newspaper.

The tests were carried out in the Laptev and east Siberian seas and used much more precise measuring equipment than previous studies, he said.

Methane is more than 20 times more efficient than carbon dioxide in trapping solar heat.

Scientists fear that global warming may cause Siberia’s permafrost to thaw and thereby release vast amounts of methane into the atmosphere. The effects of global warming are already most visible in the Arctic region.

the Dagens Nyheter article, in Swedish. The Swedish team had better instruments than earlier Russian researchers whose findings were mostly ignored.

If I ever have kids it’s going to be fairly late in life, when I can better gauge the chance that they or my possible grandchildren will live through an apocalypse.

Dushanbe Diplomacy

At this week’s summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Russian president Medvedev was reportedly seeking support for his country’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. If that’s true, he can’t be the mastermind he’s sometimes alleged to be in the conflict between Russia and Georgia.

Surely he knows that “territorial integrity” is one of the PRC’s favorite phrases in the lexicon of contemporary diplomacy. Surely he knows that China sees Tibet as a matter of territorial integrity. Surely he knows that the PRC sees Taiwan as a matter of territorial integrity. He may not know that one of the recurring themes of Chinese history is territorial breakup, but surely he has advisors who do, and who should have told him that asking China to back the undoing of territorial integrity as a norm of interstate relations is asking for a rebuff.

The Organization’s communique split the difference, saying “[We] urge the sides to solve existing problems peacefully, through dialogue, and to make efforts facilitating reconciliation and talks.” They added, “The SCO states welcome the adoption in Moscow on August 12 of six principles of settling the conflict in South Ossetia and support Russia’s active role in contributing to peace and cooperation in the region.” The “active role” has to count as a win for Russia, but the absence of any hint of recognition or support for recognition must surely count as a loss. It’s surprising that Russia sought it at all.

The Greeks of Burundi

There’s a Greek deli in central Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi.

It’s hard to overstate how odd this is. Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world. Bujumbura, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, is… basic. The roads are mostly unpaved. Much of it has no electricity; the parts that do, are subject to regular blackouts. Armed militia groups still lurk in the hills just a few miles from the city. Malaria and yellow fever are issues.

But, you know, Greek deli. Black and green olives floating in tanks. French wine; Greek wine. Good bread and rolls. Spinakopita. Salami. The feta cheese was pretty horrible, but I think that can be forgiven.

Bujumbura also has a Greek consulate. And right in the middle of town there’s a big, really big Greek Orthodox church.

Why? Continue reading

Lisbon treaty ratification still in the doldrums

With all attention on Georgia it’s easy to forget that the European Union remains mired in the institutional crisis created by the Irish No on the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon. With Irish ministers drifting back from their holidays, the issue will be getting more attention. Today’s Irish Times reports on what the Irish officials trying to deal with the crisis will view as an unwelcome leak: that a delegation visited Denmark to understand the technical details of Denmark’s opt-outs from the Treaty of Maastricht — opt-outs which, ironically, the Danes had hoped to unwind by referendum to be a full player in Lisbon implementation until they got uneasy following the Irish vote.

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Just Foolish

There are a lot of bad things about the Georgia-Russia conflict, but this is just foolish: Nearly all Russia-based web sites seem to be blocked from Georgia, and by the Georgian side. Trying to surf to the Moscow Times gets me a domain-parking site, while, just for example, yields a four-line message in Georgian. (Whatever Great Firewall of the Caucasus technology they’re using spills over in weird ways. Yesterday there were periods where I couldn’t get facebook (my productivity soared!) and couldn’t get but could get

C’mon guys, you’re the underdogs here. The free flow of information is your friend. Cut it out already.

How Frozen is Your Conflict?

At their meeting in Sochi — planned home of the 2014 Winter Olympics and just a hop, skip and APC ride from Abkhazia — Russia’s president Dmitri Medvedev warned Moldova’s president not to repeat the “Georgian mistake.”

Moldova, of course, claims Transnistria as part of its internationally recognized territory, but has never exercised actual control since the collapse of the Soviet Union. A Soviet Army, the 14th iirc, commanded at the time by Alexander Lebed, helped the Transnistrians enforce their counter-secession from Moldova. Since then, it’s continued its odd trajectory, something of a black hole in international legal term, reputed to be a haven for all manner of criminality and, not incidentally, an irritant to both Moldova and Ukraine.

“After the Georgian leadership lost their marbles, as they say, all the problems got worse and a military conflict erupted,” Medvedev told Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin.

“This is a serious warning, a warning to all,” he added. “And I believe we should handle other existing conflicts in this context.”

Which context? Issuing Russian passports to anyone who asks and then claiming the right to intervene to protect “Russian citizens”?

Message received:

“Frozen conflicts are a real volcano which can blow up anytime,” Voronin added. “That is why taking into account what had happened elsewhere it would be useful if we exercised again such wisdom not to allow such things to repeat in our country.”

The ripples from Georgia are just starting to spread.

The road to peace in the Caucasus runs through … Rome?

It’s no surprise that George Bush is sending Dick Cheney to the Black Sea region next week.  If media accounts are to be believed, and they are plausible, the Cheney faction in the administration had long pushed for a much harder anti-Russian line and may still be advocating more aggressive moves in the coming weeks.  But here is Cheney’s official itinerary

The Vice President will meet with President Aliyev of Azerbaijan, President Saakashvili of Georgia, President Yushchenko of Ukraine, and President Napolitano and Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy, as well as senior officials of their respective governments. In addition to meetings with foreign leaders, the Vice President will attend and address the Ambrosetti forum entitled, “Intelligence on the World, Europe and Italy” in Lake Como, Italy.

The forum is apparently an Italian-centric mini-Davos but it’s perhaps of interest that no other western European leader is deemed worthy of the Cheney pop-in despite the continuing gravity of the situation.  Or because of the continuing gravity?   One wonders if a new parallel strategic track on Georgia is being opened via Silvio while the main channel continues with Condi’s interactions with France.

Dans la Francophonie

So now I’m in Burundi for a couple of weeks, on business.

I’ll probably do most of my Burundi-blogging over at my home blog. But here’s a thing: Burundi is part of La Francophonie and, yup, everyone here speaks French.

Okay, not everybody. French is introduced in primary school, but it’s not taught intensively until secondary school. Since only about 10% of Burundian kids finish secondary school, French is very much the language of the educated elite. (Which in Burundi is disproportionately ethnic Tutsis. But that’s another story.) But French is the language of law and government and formal public discourse and, up until now, it’s how Burundi talks to the world. It’s everyone’s second language here; English is, so far, a pretty distant third. Continue reading

Eastern Europe: slowing growth?

Something other than Georgia for a change. Via the 8th Circle, here’s a recent article in the Economist about a possible economic downturn in Eastern Europe:

The party is nearly over

After a good run, Eastern Europe faces an economic slowdown

IT HAS gone on splendidly for years, and the party isn’t quite finished yet. For a decade or more eastern Europe has benefited from exceptional (and mostly unforeseen) good fortune. Economic and political stability, including for ten countries membership of the European Union, has boosted investors’ confidence and cut borrowing costs. A big pool of cheap and diligent workers, along with the unleashing of entrepreneurial talents, has produced thriving new private businesses. In most countries, growth rates have been stellar (see chart).

Inevitably, it could not last. Wage costs are creeping up. Labour shortages are biting. Out-of-date infrastructure, such as Poland’s notorious roads, is clogging trade. In several countries inflation is rising. And world markets, both for raising capital and for exporting, are looking tougher.

Well… perhaps. Continue reading

Russia has BFFs too

Not many, but some.

One is Armenia. The Armenians are annoyed at the Georgians for their generally shoddy treatment of the Armenian minority in Georgia. More to the point, Armenians generally look down their magnificent noses at Georgians, considering them self-indulgent, emotional, shrill, slovenly, unreliable, and just generally second-rate. Georgians don’t love Armenians either — they consider them sly, stuck-up and grasping. There are no exactly equivalent Western European stereotypes, but if you think “dour Scots versus hand-waving Italians” you’ll get the general idea.
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