Vladimir Putin: ‘the godfather of a mafia clan’ – Telegraph

‘He’s a tiny, mean guy who will bite you if you get too close; and that’s the kind of country he’s tried to build. And that’s been the extent of Russian foreign policy for the last 12 years. What is Russia’s foreign policy agenda? You can’t figure it out from who Russia becomes friends with or sells arms to or negotiates with, because it’s really simple. Russia wants to be feared. That’s it.’

Gessen likens Putin to ‘the godfather of a mafia clan’ ruling Russia. And ‘like all mafia bosses, he barely distinguishes between his personal property, the property of his clan and the property of those beholden to his clan.’

Corruption has been virtually institutionalised under his regime. Last year the Transparency International ‘Corruptions Perception Index’ ranked Russia joint 143rd out of the 182 countries listed, along with Nigeria and Mauritania.

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Putin’s own acquisitiveness is typified, Gessen says, in two apparently minor but telling incidents. In 2005, while hosting a group of American businessmen in St Petersburg, Putin pocketed a diamond-encrusted ring belonging to Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots American football team, after asking to try it on, and allegedly saying, ‘I could kill someone with this.’ After a flurry of articles in the US press, Kraft announced the ring had been a gift, preventing an uncomfortable situation from spiralling out of control.

Later that year, Putin was a guest at the Guggenheim museum in New York. At one point his hosts brought out a conversation piece – a glass replica of a Kalashnikov automatic weapon filled with vodka (which can be picked up in Russia for about $300). According to Gessen, Putin nodded to his bodyguards, who took the piece away, ‘leaving the hosts speechless’. ‘I do suspect it’s a compulsion,’ she says. ‘And another reason I suspect it’s a compulsion is because of the palace.’

Vladimir Putin: ‘the godfather of a mafia clan’ – Telegraph

Russia’s Dysfunctional Economy Fails to Attract Investment Vital for Energy Sector

Sergei Aleksashenko, a former deputy finance minister, said in an interview that Russian energy companies are routinely subjected to this “system of unofficial requests,” from the Kremlin — for financing everything from presidential palaces to ski resorts to military installations.

“It doesn’t really matter what it is for,” Mr. Aleksashenko said. “You receive a request and you cannot refuse.” _NYT

Mr. Putin and his friends have their fingers in all the concentrations of wealth and power inside the country. The corruption takes place overtly and covertly, legally and quasi-illegally. It is organised crime on a massive scale, and shows no sign of being curtailed

Russia is undergoing a demographic collapse of its core population. The country is a public health disaster. Its military and military-industrial infrastructures are rusting and crumbling under the weight of corruption, neglect, and nepotistic incompetence. And Russia’s energy infrastructure — desperately in need of foreign capital and expertise — is going the same way of slow motion collapse. Unless something of significance changes.

Russia’s Dysfunctional Economy Fails to Attract Investment Vital for Energy Sector

“SILEX”: Iran’s Undetectable Nuclear Enrichment Technology? :: Gatestone Institute

“Laser uranium enrichment is so attractive that that it will be implemented — and Iran will become the test case. What must be demanded is the complete opening of the country to appropriate inspection. Anything else would be too little – much too little.” Hans Ruhle

German nuclear weapons expert Hans Rühle warned in the daily Die Welt May 21 that Iran can enrich uranium using laser technology that is much harder to detect than centrifuges. Rühle headed the German Defense Ministry’s policy planning staff during the 1980s. In a widely-discussed commentary last February 17, he argued that Israel has the capacity to cripple Iran’s nuclear weapons program. He also presented evidence in Die Welt that Iran may have tested a nuclear weapon in North Korea.

Iran may have acquired laser enrichment technology from Russia, Rühle argues, starting with support for Iran’s nuclear weapons program under agreements dating back to the Yeltsin administration. “It was no great surprise,” Rühle argues, “that in the spring of 2000, America’s spy services discovered a pilot program for laser enrichment between Iran and the D.V.-Efremov Institute in St. Petersburg. American diplomats at the time demanded that Russia cease this activity, on the stated grounds that “there can be no doubt that this installation can and will be turned to military nuclear applications in no time at all.”

“SILEX”: Iran’s Undetectable Nuclear Enrichment Technology? :: Gatestone Institute

China does not have coherent global strategy: London School of Economics – The Economic Times

The report on China says that while China’s military might is expanding, according to author Jonathan Fenby, its policy towards its neighbours has been confused.

Sabre-rattling over control of the South China Sea has only alarmed neighbours such as Vietnam and the Philippines and led them to seeker closer alliances elsewhere, it says.

Fenby writes that China knows “the US will remain the principal military power in East Asia and that any serious attempt to challenge it will only drive other countries further into its arms… Even in its own backyard Beijing lacks strategic coherence”.

He adds: “That may reassure states which would fear a determined, coordinated Chinese approach, but it also opens up the possibility of miscalculations and makes dealing with the PRC more difficult.”

Another expert, Jie Yu, argues that this uncertainty also extends to commerce and overseas investment where the close relationships between the Chinese government and companies (even private companies) can stifle their effectiveness.

She writes: “Their close association and somewhat submissive relationship with the Chinese government have impeded their overall business plans. Chinese companies are particularly vulnerable – not to mention complacent when they operate abroad. China’s competence in ‘buying up the world’ has been grossly over-estimated by the West.”

The report’s editor, Nicholas Kitchen, concludes: “Not only is China not conducting a coherent geoeconomic strategy, it is often not in direct control of the policies it has. Nor is China necessarily that competent in the international economic arena. Significantly, these failings of foreign- economic policies are increasingly producing diplomatic difficulties for China.”

China does not have coherent global strategy: London School of Economics – The Economic Times

Japan to send destroyers to China’s doorstep

The Chinese government has yet to issue an official response, but it is more than likely to object if Japan sends Aegis destroyers into the West Sea [Yellow Sea]. “Japan’s Aegis destroyers have a very wide combat radius, so that China falls within it even when [the destroyers] are in international waters,” said Kim Jong-dae, editor of the online military journal Defense 21+. “Conflict may arise, because China’s official stance is that there are no international waters in the West Sea.”

The South Korean government’s stance is that there are no grounds to prevent Japan from sending its destroyers into the West Sea if they remain in international waters. An official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said, “We have not yet received notice of anything from Japan. We will try to determine whether or not this is true.”

Japan to send destroyers to China’s doorstep : International : Home

Notice how China’s core interests constantly seem to be expanding? Now the Yellow Sea is not international even though it is bounded on one side by North and South Korea? It is implied that navigation through the Yellow Sea is restricted. Japan may get into trouble with China by bringing its ships into the Yellow Sea.

China is also trying to restrict navigation through the South China Sea by restricting US intelligence operations in this area. Additionally, China claims ownership over most of the South China Sea. China is also moving into the East China Sea and challenging Japan’s ownership of the Senkaku Islands.

Where is all this headed?

It appears to be headed in a direction of more conflict and even war is possible. Here is what one recent article said:

Japan has one year, maybe two, to resolve the ownership dispute over a tiny group of islands or risk an honest-to-goodness shooting war with China.

Clock Ticks On China-Japan Islands Dispute

The clock is ticking for the US too. It will likely get sucked into a conflict should a shooting war start. This will likely lead to nuclear war between the US and China.

If you think you are heading for war anyway, then it might be advantageous to launch a pre-emptive strike Pearl Harbor style. In the case of China, it would be a nuclear pre-emptive strike. In this way the regime and the military are sure to survive. Otherwise, if war breaks out then it’s not clear who will survive.

An even more advantageous scenario would be to team up with Russia. If an event occurs that causes Russia to think about nuclear war, then China would want to give serious consideration to joining. Russia has already been thinking about nuclear war with America. There is so much thinking going on that we can’t get the Russian leaders to shut up about it. I am referring to western interference or attack on Iran and Syria. The Russians have pretty much spelled out that this will mean nuclear retaliation. Too bad western leaders don’t believes them. Anyway, if the Middle East blows up then start sweating bullets.

Prophecy of diamonds keeps Israeli firm digging | Reuters

Somewhere in the Carmel hills of northern Israel, diamond exploration company Shefa Yamim hopes to uncover the exact spot where faith meets science.

Inspired by the words of a revered rabbi who prophesized that precious stones were divinely buried in the area, the firm has been mining for about a decade along the steep hills and lush valleys that surround the city of Haifa.

Now, Shefa Yamim, the first and only diamond explorer in Israel, says it has found strong signs that significant diamond deposits are indeed hidden in the Holy Land, surprising many who had dismissed the mission as a pipe dream.

Prophecy of diamonds keeps Israeli firm digging | Reuters

PhotoBlog – Ghost towns tell the story of Ireland’s faded dream

“If you build it, they will come.” The iconic quote from the film Field of Dreams seems like a rebuke to Ireland’s misguided builders and planners as the depressing sight of rows of newly built empty houses – windows broken and doors flapping in the wind – stretch out in the distance.

I’d come to Co Leitrim, in the west of Ireland, to see for myself the so-called ghost housing estates that first came to the public’s attention four years ago as the Celtic Tiger collapsed leaving thousands of developers bankrupt and projects half finished. Surely in four years, something would have been done about this national embarrassment – so obvious a sign of the demise of Ireland’s once envied economy?

PhotoBlog – Ghost towns tell the story of Ireland’s faded dream

So much for ‘the Spanish dream’: Euro crisis turns suburbs into ghost towns

Just north of Spanish capital Madrid lies Cuidad Valdeluz. Built during the country’s economic boom, it was promoted as a suburban family paradise for tens of thousands of people.

Today, it is one of 12 near ghost towns in Spain, a country that — despite being the European Union’s fifth-largest economy — is teetering on the brink of a Greece-style meltdown.

Spain has the highest unemployment rate of all European Union countries at 21.7 percent, according to a report published this month by the Center for Economic and Social Rights. Among those aged under 25, nearly half — 46.4 percent — are without a job. More than half a million households had no one earning an income in 2011.

“Germany has got a lot of profit from the euro [currency]. Because Spain was rich, we bought many things that were made in Germany,” an independent deputy in Spain’s congress, Irene Lozano Domingo, told Hilsum.

“We are all linked, so if we are going to hell, they are coming with us. This is what they have to see,” she added.

World News – So much for ‘the Spanish dream’: Euro crisis turns suburbs into ghost towns

‘It is virtually impossible to find a job’: Brain drain is new Greek tragedy

“It is virtually impossible to find a job in Greece at the moment,” says Christos Christoglou, an inspection engineer who took a job at German chemical and pharmaceutical giant Bayer at the start of the financial crisis in June 2010. “It is not that there are only very few jobs for young graduates to seek, no, there are none, zero, there is nothing.”

A year after moving to Germany, Christoglou’s wife Mary and their 5-year old daughter Georgina joined him last summer. The family now lives in a four-bedroom apartment in Leverkusen. They are likely to stay for good.

“My wife, an English teacher, and our daughter, do not speak German yet. But my Mary will soon also try to find a job,” Christoglou told NBC News. “And while, yes, it is quite difficult to be without our close friends and family in Greece, I do not want to waste my six years of intensive studies to find myself without hope for the future.”

World News – ‘It is virtually impossible to find a job’: Brain drain is new Greek tragedy

Is it the beginning of the end for Putin?

Vladimir Putin’s new presidential term is just beginning, but it increasingly looks like the beginning of the end. Whenever Russia’s people pour into the streets en masse, as they currently are doing, from that point on things never work out well for the authorities.

In 1917, Russian Emperor Nicholas II had to abdicate in the wake of mass street protests, clearing the way for the Bolshevik Revolution. In 1991, the Soviet Union – then seemingly an unbreakable monolith – collapsed in just a few months. Hundreds of thousands went into the streets to confront the hardline coup against Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika.

Now it is Putin’s turn. …

“Putin’s Final Act” by Nina L. Khrushcheva | Project Syndicate

The global financial crisis of 2008 has caused us to enter the age of upheaval. Big changes are coming. These changes may include revolution in both Russia and China.These signs and the global financial crisis indicate that the world has entered a pre-collapse state. Small events are now capable of causing massive changes to the world we know.

The Global Trends 2025 reports says we should expect discontinuities, shocks and surprises before 2025.  The international system we know today “will be almost unrecognizable by 2025″. The transition to a new system will be fraught with risks, the report says.