Russian Airport Security – A Myth

vnukovo-airport-at-nightI’ve written several times before already about how security at Russian airports is a joke. Like all things Russian, it is a Potemkin village designed to provide the proletariat with the illusion that the State has their best interest at heart and takes their lives and well-being seriously.

So imagine my feigned surprise when I read this morning of the story about an unaccompanied 11-year-old girl who managed to slip through security checks at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport and then managed to board a flight to St. Petersburg without a ticket or ID. There are so many failures here, not just with the airport security, but also with the airline itself.

According to the newsru.com website, the unnamed girl said that she had never flown by plane before and decided to go to Vnukovo after school where she mingled with crowds, slipped passed the security checks (see the security video footage below) and managed to get on-board a plane. As she boarded the Rossiya Airlines plane, the girl said she told the flight attendant she was travelling alone but was never asked by cabin crew to present any travel documents.

It is a sad but undeniable truth that Russia has for many years fabricated the illusion to its own citizens that it is both security concious and mindful of potential security issues, particularly in the wake of dozens of bombings and targeted attacks in Russian in recent years. The reality though is very different. This perceived blanket of security is non-existent. Security checks across Russia’s transport infrastructure are either never performed, or if they are, they’re done in a perfunctory and cursory fashion by a person who earns a pittance in salary and simply can’t be arsed to do their job professionally or properly.

Take for example the metal detector when entering the Airport Express train station. Every time ANYONE goes through it, the detector is set-off, but the security guards wave you through. The same is said of the security screening at the airport entrances. Sure, they have large x-ray machines scanning my bags before I even get through to the check-in hall. But 99% of the time the staff are chatting amongst each other barely glancing at the screen to see what’s inside passenger’s bags. It’s a joke! And don’t event get me started on the kid they employ whose sole function in life is to stamp my boarding pass before immigration!

Given the continued spate of bombings that have taken place at a variety of Russian airports and train/metro stations, you would think that if anywhere, Russia would take the idea of airport security seriously. That being said, it’s also not above the Russian security services to manipulate and manufacture “terrorist” attacks as was demonstrated with the apartment bombings in the September of 1999. Here it was proven that the FSB, in an effort to justify a war in Chechnya, and thus facilitate the apparatchik and military establishment to steal left right and centre under the guise of a civil war as well as enabling a newly installed Putin to demonstrate his hard-man image to the Russian proletariat.

Of course, the easiest way to resolve such issues is to assign blame. And it’s absolutely normal in Putin’s Russia that the blame rests, not with the state, but in this instance the parents of this little girl and the airport and airline whom she managed to slip past on on to said airplane. I have a hard time trying to understand why the parents should be blamed. Sure, an 11-year-old should have come straight home from school. But looking back to when I was that age, it was perfectly normal to go to and from school by oneself without the need to be chaperoned by your parents. No doubt her parents were worried sick when she hadn’t arrived home. Slapping them with a fine is just another way for Putin’s government to avoid criticism for a failure on the government’s part i.e. to provide fit-for-purpose state services by competently trained staff and properly organised institutions.

The longer I deal with Russia, the more Kafkaesque the country becomes over time.

VE Day – 70 Years On And Europe Is Still Fighting A Tyrant

Today is the 70th anniversary of VE day. Better people went before us and fought for our liberties and freedoms. They fought so that we can live a life that is free and that I could retain the right to write these words without repercussions. Sadly, if I was Russian, then I could very well end up in jail because a repressive dictatorial imp troll, know to the world as Vladimir Putin, has continued to erode the freedoms that generations who have gone before him fought to resurrect.

The image below is of a Ukrainian soldier captured in Shakhtersk, just outside of Donetsk. It won 3rd prize in the POY awards and it serves as a stark reminder that war has once again cast its shadow across Europe.

For most Europeans watching the evening news, it would appear that the war in Eastern Ukraine has finally ended, a result of the diplomatic efforts of Germany’s Chancellor Merkel and French President Hollande. That belief however is a fallacy. The war and human tragedy has continued unabated in Ukraine. Families have been torn apart, both literally and ideologically. And all this is happening with the backdrop of Russian ultra-nationalism, what with leather clad bikers making provocative statements by their insistence on driving through Europe to give a two-fingered salute to Germany and Europe, or rhetoric from Putin’s Kremlin that the Soviet army defeated Nazi Germany single-handedly, or the almost hysterical fervour that the Kremlin and their journalistic-apparatchik have attached to the planned parade through Moscow on May 9th.

No doubt Putin will take pride of place upon at the podium on Red Square, atop the tomb of Lenin, and once again bask in the glow of his sycophantic followers – a combination of corrupt Oligarchy and their families, and the ordinary Russian who is either naive and believes every word from the Kremlin media instruments used to fill the airwaves and newspaper columns with lies and propaganda, or who are too lazy to actually to question these lies and stand up to a dictatorship that is hell-bent on returning Russia to an era where its citizens are not to be trusted and who have to be controlled, lest they form their own opinions and become a problem or threat for the regime .

Whilst Russians are slobbering over themselves and their nationalistic pride over the defeat of Nazi Germany, they continue to carry out atrocities on their “so-called” brothers in Ukraine. These orange/black ribbon wearing Russian scum make me sick. As do ordinary Russians who refuse to do anything to remove the monster that is Putin, for fear that they lose everything. God forbid they lose their flash cars, their gold gilded mansions or their ability to vacation in Europe thrice yearly (a region that they enjoy spending time in, but whose values they detest…..odd that).

Unless ordinary Russians stand up to Putin and his dictatorship, then they deserve their lot in life. Thankfully, Ukraine is fighting to resurrect law and order and freedoms of press and free speech. It’ll take a while to mend the many wrongs inflicted during the Soviet era, but they are a resilient nation and are determined to join the reset of civilised Europe.

For all I care, Russia can rot in hell.

Slava Ukraine and I pray for the millions of lost lives who fought for the liberty I enjoy today.

Ukrainian Soldier Shakhtersk - Andrey Stenin

Meanwhile In Russia – Parachute Lands You!

This interesting video shows a Russian paratrooper getting taken for a ride by his round parachute. Unlike “square” parachutes, which have brake lines that can deflate the out cells of the canopy, thus making them controllable, the older “round” parachutes have much less control. When you have a slight gust of wind, you can quite literally, be lifted back into the air and slammed back down again with tremendous force.

When I did my training back in Ireland, even though we jumped with square canopies, we were still taught how to do a PLF, or “Parachute Landing Fall”. Essentially you put your legs together, bend your knees and roll when you land. This was the idea in case you flared the canopy too high and hit the ground harder than planned. With a round canopy, there is no real ability to flare, if at all, and so the PLF is the de-rigour way of landing when jumping under these ‘chutes.

But even though the soldier tries to land, the winds gusting upwards, in what looks a little like a micro-burst, literally lift him up off his feet as it catches the canopy and flies him through the air in an almost Mary Poppins-esque dance through the sky, much to the glee of his fellow soldiers happily chuckling in the background. Even his attempts to try and anchor himself proved fruitless as he was dragged for a few hundred metres through the dirt.

As they say, “In Putin’s Russia, parachute lands you!”

Russian Parachute Fail

Nemtsov Murder Inquiry – Detective Putin On The Case

Here are just some of the latest cartoons/memes do the rounds on the internet regarding Putin’s decision to “personally handle the investigation” into Boris Nemtsov’s murder. As one Canadian politician succinctly put it, “It’s like the wolf investigating the disappearance of little red riding hood”.

The FSB have already laid the blame at Ukraine’s doorstep, blaming the SBU. Despite the fact that this is lacking in any evidence to support such a claim, it’s also without any merit as the Ukrainian government and security services received significant support from Nemtsov as he railed against Putin’s illegal war against and occupation of Ukraine. Suffice to say, Detective Putin is on the case, so we can all sleep soundly at night knowing that the killers will be caught and prosecuted…..NOT!

Putin Polonium Detective Putin

Reagan’s Words On Soviet Union – Still Valid Today

Putin StalinI’m not a fan of the US Republican Party, but I was a fan of US President, Ronald Reagan. Sure, he had his idiosyncrasies when it came to social reform and domestic policy in American, but his stance on the Soviet Union was unwavering, and in the end, his administration oversaw the increase in economic spending in the form of an open arms race with the Soviet Union, as well as a covert proxy war funded and fought via the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. The results being the economic crippling of the Soviet Union, eventually leading to its ultimate collapse.

His words spoken two decades ago are every bit as valid and relevant today as they were then. His dubbing of the Soviet Union as the “evil empire” could be as much describing today’s Russia ruled by an increasing megalomaniacal menace, Vladimir Putin, as it was then to describe Gorbachev’s politburo back in the 1980’s. The difference that set’s Gorbachev and Putin apart is that Gorbachev was actually trying to rebuild the Soviet Union for the better, whereas Putin aims to cling on the power come hell or high-water, lest he be dragged off his perch and prosecuted by the proletariat for the various crimes he has committed against them in his 16 years in power.

Reagan rightly pointed out of the Soviet’s that “they lie, they cheat, you can’t trust them”. It’s a lesson forgotten by today’s Western “leaders”. Only two weeks ago, a wet behind the ears Federica Mogherini announced a plan to lift sanctions against Russia and rebuild economic ties with the dictator, whilst our neighbours in Ukraine continue to fight and die as their country struggles against the occupation from it’s aggressive Russian neighbours. It seems that despite Europe’s leaders being taught the lessons of history, such as Hitler’s bare-faced lies to Neville Chamberlain or of the duplicitous Stalin carving up the map of Europe in Yalta, they still prefer to live in a world where they believe that today’s world leaders wouldn’t dare dream of thinking or acting in a similar fashion.

But one has to only look at Putin’s track record to know that he is capable of anything and has in fact already shown that to be the case. His crack down on freedoms of speech, his near monopolistic stranglehold on the press, and the increasing, almost monotheistic “Power Vertical” he so lovingly refers too in his speeches, all point to a man who has become drunk on power. And his continued wars in Chechnya, Transnistria, Dagestan, Georgia and now Ukraine all demonstrate that he will stop at nothing to maintain his position at the top at home, and project his power abroad.

In Reagan’s own words back then, “detente” with the Soviet Union was a “one way street” and that the Soviet Union repeatedly acknowledged and declared that their intention was to “further their [communist] cause. Meaning that they reserve the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat, in order to attain that”. This pretty much sums up today’s Russia and Putin’s current foreign and domestic policies. But if you don’t believe me, then why not listen to the words of “Ronnie” and decide for yourself.

Meanwhile In Russia – Darwinism Alive And Well

The Russian propensity to ignore rules, blatantly disregard for anything to do with health and safety, and a DNA that requires every Russian male to jury-rig anything mechanical in an effort to “improve”, in a Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor-esque way means that there is always something to look forward to from the Russian YouTube archives.

Take for example these two idiots, who decided to fiddle around with their Lada (a weekly chore amongst Russians) and install a home-made gas conversion kit. If you ask me, an LNG kit and a Lada are a lethal combination. [Note to American readers, gas in this case is Liquefied Natural Gas, and not Gasoline (Petrol)].

Imagine their surprise (I’m not really surprised at all) when the thing blew-up on them on the Moscow Automobile Ring Road, or MKAD, taking the entire back half of the chassis away with it.

The two would-be mechanics staggered out onto the highway clutching their hands to their heads. Both later told medics they could hear nothing apart from a permanent ringing sound.

Moscow doctor Leo Konovalov, who treated driver Edgar Maslov, 23, and passenger Gabriel Yermolayev, 48, said: “There was a massive pressure wave in the car caused by the exploding gas. If it was strong enough to send a heavy rubber tyre into the air, then you can imagine what it has done to the men’s eardrums. It is too early yet to see if they will ever hear again, but the prognosis is certainly not good.”

On a more positive note, they’re lucky they didn’t kill or injure any other motorists due to the flying shrapnel from their car.

Yes ladies and gentlemen, Darwinism is still very much alive and well in Mother Russia.

Russia Darwinism

Putin’s Planned Pipeline With Turkey – Just Smoke & Mirrors

Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin s

Much speculation has been made since Russian President, Vladimir Putin, announced the cancellation of the planned South Stream project last December. Seen by some as a rebuke by the Kremlin towards the EU’s sanctions against Russia, many analysts speculated various theories.

One theory doing the rounds was that the cancellation of the project sounded the death knell for Europe’s poorer countries who are both reliant on Russian supplied gas to power their business and warm their homes and who would have benefited economically from jobs created in the construction of the pipeline, and of course the transiting of the gas once the pipeline was up and running.

Another theory doing the rounds is that it makes political sense to further destabilise Europe, and NATO. Russia would prefer to bring Turkey under its sphere of influence, a country similarly modelled on a narcissistic dictator who has no real respect for democracy, human rights or a free press, all of which are values that Europe holds dear. Thus cancelling South Stream would do two things. It would create economic uncertainty for the poorer east European countries, thus creating a discord between their governments and Brussels, and it would also put the cat among the pigeons with NATO leaders as the only NATO member state ruled by a dictator has built enormous political capital at home and potentially gains more influence, and thus immunity from criticism, with Brussels.

But I think this is all bullshit, and here’s why.

Recently, Gazprom’s mafioso CEO, Alexei Miller, announced a veiled threat to Europe, in the form of a “Godfather” styled “offer they can’t refuse”. You know the kind I’m talking about, how you have “such a nice family and it would be a shame if something happened to it.”

Miller announced yesterday that it would be in Europe’s best interests to support Gazprom’s initiative to circumvent Ukraine as a transit country, by way of building a connector between Greece and Turkey, enabling them to press on with their plan to use Turkey as a transit country into Europe, now that South Stream was cancelled.

“the Turkish Stream is the only route along which 63 billion cubic metres of Russian gas can be supplied, which at present transit Ukraine. There are no other options,” he said.

“Our European partners have been informed of this and now their task is to create the necessary gas transport infrastructure from the Greek and Turkish border,” said Miller, according to a Gazprom statement.

“They have a couple of years at most to do this. It’s a very, very tight deadline. In order to meet the deadline, the work on building new trunk gas pipelines in European Union countries must start immediately today,” Miller warned.

Or else what, Alexei?:

“Otherwise, these volumes of gas could end up in other markets.”

Please, don’t make me laugh. And I also like the way Russians still overuse the word “partner” when referring to any dealings they have with Europe. Any real “partner” wouldn’t have shut off gas supplies, as they have 2006, 2009 and again in 2015. With “partners” like these, who needs enemies?

And where, pray-tell are these gas supplies likely to be sent, if they are redirected away from Europe? China? Not bloody likely. The Chinese gas infrastructure is worse than a leaking sieve. There is already one major pipeline, from KAZAKHSTAN, supplying their main network. And unlike Europe’s infrastructure, China’s is highly centralised, in the form of hub-and-spoke. In fact they have such a hard time actually getting gas to where it’s needed that they’re too busy fixing their own internal pipelines to cover the immediate demand. So where Alexei? Tell me!

What hardman Miller is basically trying to say is that if gas can’t move to Europe via Turkey, Gazprom won’t ship it via Ukraine. But push come to shove, if Europe is still deemed the most valuable destination for Russian gas, Gazprom will continue to sell it there, and ship it via Ukrainian pipes. It simply cannot afford not to.

It’s a bluff, plain and simple. Even the most doveish Eurocrat can see it for what it is. To top it all, gas supply is expected to increase later this year as the Gladstone and Gorgon LNG sites in Australia and Sabine Pass in the US come online. And this glut in supply will further exacerbate the drop in gas prices, meaning that gas imports in Asia will centre on cheaper (and more politically stable) suppliers from Australia, further excluding pass-through business Gazprom could only hope to gain with their deal with the Chinese.

As for Europe, with another mild Winter almost gone, the consequent bumper reserve stores and a focus during these past two years on retrofitting gas terminals in Grangemouth (Scotland), Ferrol, Valencia & Cartagena (Spain) and Hammerfest (Norway) to enable them to handle LNG from the US, it further diminishes Gazprom’s grip on gas supplies into Europe. This alternate path to supply undercuts Russian leverage, not just in Europe, but in China too. And given the noise regarding unresolved prices coming from Mandarin’s in China about the gas deal with Russia announced last year, you just KNOW that the Chinese will squeeze Putin’s balls like a hungry python.

On top of this, the whole thing with Turkey looks like a set-up to me. Since late 2013, right up until very late 2014, the Bulgarians had been courting the Kremlin and Gazprom. Along with demented Hungarian President, Victor Orban, Russia has few other allies in Brussels. The Bulgarian Parliament had tried to pass a law circumventing EU rules forbidding Gazprom from owning AND controlling the pipelines they operated in the EU. They even went so far as to have Gazprom actually WRITE the law! But with Brussels threatening to cut off much needed cash from the EU development funds, the Bulgarians quickly fell into line and they rejected South Stream.

So…..a connector between Greece and Turkey, eh? Why wouldn’t it work? Ignoring the centuries of hatred, a stale war in Cyprus and a complete mistrust between the two? Well, for starters, ignoring the politics for a moment, the current Turkish infrastructure can’t even handle the current pass-through commitments from other deals the Turks inked.

Turkey has the domestic infrastructure to get the gas from the Black Sea shore to the Aegean. From an Oxford Institute for Energy Studies report:

The BOTS [Turkish national gas company] transport system’s throughput capacity is not sufficiently developed to accept and ship all the contracted gas volume from the eastern suppliers due to the limited installed capacity of the existing compressor stations. BOTAS is able to take some 90% of the gas from the Trans-Balkan Gas Pipeline (the Western Line) and the Blue Stream pipeline from Russia, but has struggled to cope with volumes contracted from Azerbaijan and Iran. Therefore, the company has had to pay billions of dollars for ‘untaken’ gas.

This is the picture today. It will take a significant level of investment in Turkey to upgrade their infrastructure that will allow it to handle large additional gas flows via the new pipeline.

So who is going to pay for all of this? It’s not like Gazprom is flush with cash. On the contrary, like all Russian corporations, Gazprom is in dire straits financially. Although it’s not subject to sanctions right now, it IS affected by it’s inability to tap foreign money markets through it’s banking concern. It owes billions of USD denominated debt, which falls due during the course of 2015. Ordinarily they’d pay this off by simply borrowing more and rolling that debt over. But since the money markets have been shut off, they’ve had to resort to government funds and other unlikely sources, such as China (remember those guys?)

Whilst Gazprom is not directly sanctioned now – just the Gazprombank arm – all that could change with the very fluid situation right now in Ukraine. One wrong move by the Kremlin in eastern Ukraine could vastly change the playing field. In addition, Gazprom’s hard currency revenue picture is dismal. Gazprom’s shipments to Europe were down more than 9% last year, and no gas is yet flowing to China. And the best part of it is that Gazprom prices – at its own insistence! – are tied to lagged oil prices. What’s that mean?Well, since the price of oil has plummeted 60%, so too will the price of gas Gazprom sells. It’s revenues from Europe will decline by the same order of magnitude as oil prices have, to the tune of 60%. A far cry from their predictions of $250(!!) back in 2008. Great work Alexei. I can see why you were picked to be CEO.

Schadenfreude doesn’t even come close to describing my feelings at contemplating Gazprom getting what it insisted on – an oil price link. It insisted on this link almost as a matter of principle, and came up with one ludicrous argument after another to justify it.

And while we’re talking about revenue, let’s talk about prices in general. One of the biggest flies in the ointment about the Turkey deal, and which everyone seems to fail mentioning, is the fact that the Russians still haven’t finalised a deal with Turkey on the gas prices for THIS YEAR! So somehow, whilst they’re still bickering about a price deal for this year, they are somehow going to magically reach an agreement and lock in a long-term price for the pipeline business? Keep dreaming Alexei.

Whilst we’re still on the topic of price, let’s cast our minds back to all the other large pipeline projects Putin and his cronies announced this past decade, and ask yourself how many of them ACTUALLY followed through and went live. There were deals announced with China going as far back as 2006, but they never materialised because neither the Chinese, nor the Russians, come come to an agreement on price. The same thing happened with two other lines with the Kazakhs and Azerbaijan. The two latter parties ultimately choosing to cast off the shackles of Gazprom and opting to go it alone.

This current deal, signed when Putin was under the gun has not fully resolved price issues. This “deal” has every prospect of having the same issues as all the others that have come before it, especially since the Turks realise Russia’s holding a weak hand. Not to mention, the Chinese can smell blood from miles off, and they’ve been circling Gazprom like a famished school of sharks.

So sizing up all of the above, the veiled threat from Putin’s favourite Herald, Alexei Miller, is nothing more than that. It’s a ploy, designed by the Kremlin to further destabilise an already unbalanced European economy. It’s made all the more poignant by the fact that one of the country’s that, on the face of it, stands to gain a great deal economically, i.e. Greece, but will in reality not gain much at all. Already lumbered with a massive bailout program which they are failing to manage, putting extra pressure on the Eurozone as as whole. In fact, the way Miller has positioned it, he’s expecting an already bankrupt economy to foot the bill. And remember, that all this is going on whilst the Mandarins in across the EU member states foreign offices are all deciding what to do vis-a-vis the sanctions with Russia. Do they tighten the screws, loosen the screws or just sit on their hands. I’m just curious who will end up with a horse’s head in their bed.

Russian Pipeline