Inflammation and stories on russia

modern-slavery
Modern slavery is a major concern for our developing world. Modern slavery exists as a person being deprived of their freedom and rights. This is the right to leave a current job or workplace and the control over one’s own body. There are over 28 million people trapped in modern slavery.

Modern slavery can take the form of forced labor and human trafficking. All of these are forms of slavery and must be stopped. Countries like Russia and China have over 76 percent of the population trapped in some form of modern slavery.

The Walk Free Foundation is a driving force to end modern slavery in this generation. The foundation uses research and the help of businesses to gain a solid ground on the subject of modern slavery. The Walk Free foundation will look at the countries with high numbers of people in slavery and enlist partners to identify strategies to make a lasting impact on slavery.

New information provided by The Guardian states that it is possible that store-bought shrimp that lands on dinner tables across America is employed with forced slave labor. The shrimp is sold by major companies like Wal-Mart and Costco.

 Thailand’s forced slave market is connected to the global shrimp chain. These ships enslave many unsuspecting workers by beating them and at times even ending up in death. Most of the shrimp slave workers are captured to work without pay, and threatened with violence and death. There is no escape when at sea on these ships.

The slaves are forced at sea for years with shifts lasting over 20 hours. At times these men witness horrific and brutal execution-style killings of other slaves. These workers are coerced with hopes of finding work in factories, but are sold to boat captains, most likely to never return.

One victim states to The Guardian that at one time “20 workers were murdered in front of him.”

Aidan McQuade, director of the Anti-Slavery Movement, states that “if you buy shrimp from Thailand, you are purchasing a product of slave labour.”

Over half a million people are trapped in globalized slavery, even sex trafficking at Thailand’s borders. 300,000 of these victims of modern slavery are migrant workers tricked into the slave trade for fishing boats. The demand and pressure for cheaper fish and prawn from America and Europe creates a drive for even cheaper labour: slavery.

The possibility that Thailand’s sea port industry relies so much on forced slave labour that without it the industry would collapse. Wal-Mart and Costco both agree to require audits and proper corrective actions to be in effect towards the ending of the supplier’s slave trade.

Thailand’s fishing industry will be soon forced to change with new audits and anti-slavery actions taking place. The International Labour Organization will be conducting changes to ensure slavery free supply chains, especially those from Asia countries.

There are several companies that have been placing workers in unsafe working conditions and slavery. It is not just Thailand’s fishing industry committing these unethical practices. Companies compete for cheaper prices as the market grows for consumers. The correct process is on companies and consumers alike to make ethical decisions for workers around the world to receive humane and fair treatment.

– Rachel Cannon

Sources: Walk Free Foundation, Global Slavery Index, The Guardian
Photo: Eureka Street Australia

odessa_fire_ukraine_on_safety_council_watch
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s message was hard to miss last Friday as he strolled through the streets of Sevastopol on Victory Day.  To invade a sovereign state, call its defenders “fascists” and blame its government for the resulting turmoil is all in a day’s work for Putin.  The twisted political masterminding that has been Russia’s reaction to the crisis in Ukraine is perhaps Putin’s way of reminding the world that Russia is once more a major world power.

Having achieved the political gains he sought, Putin now calls for new dialogue to replace the violence.  Instances of pro-Ukrainian forces attacking pro-Russian, such as that in Mariupol on May 9, will be portrayed in the Russian media not as Ukrainians defending their land from foreign invaders, but as violent militants killing Russians who desire only to return to the motherland.  Putin can thus use the violence to rally support at home for his regime against the incorrigible Ukrainians.

As busy as the Security Council has found itself with the troubles of Nigeria, Syria and South Sudan, the 15 members have certainly not overlooked Russia’s aggression.  One of the first to speak at the emergency Council meeting called in the wake of Friday’s violence in Odessa – where 46 persons, most of whom were pro-Russian, died when the headquarters was set ablaze – was Russian Representative Vitaly Churkin.  It is hard to imagine that more than a few eyes did not roll at the Russians’ first complaint: Ukrainians are attacking Russians.  This would seem to be expected when invading another country.

French Representative Gérard Araud spared no feelings in his response, going so far as to refer to the pro-Russian groups as “thugs terrorizing Ukraine.”  Both the United Kingdom and United States joined France in her condemnation of the Russians and praise for the Ukrainian government’s restraint – although this restraint likely stems from Ukraine’s limited military capabilities.  The delegate of Lithuania turned the discussion towards the hypocrisy of a Russia that will complain of Ukrainian conflict and remain indifferent to al-Assad’s regime’s attacks on its own people.  Finally, the Representative of Ukraine offered, on behalf of Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov, that those who surrender soon will be granted amnesty.

The very next day, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe hostages were finally released in Slovyansk after having been held for a little over a week.  Yet, even as the Secretary General shared his approval with their freedom, he warned of growing tensions and the prolonged chaos.  Even if the Russians withdrew tomorrow, having made their point, the Ukrainian people would have years of reconciliation ahead.  For now, the world awaits the May 25 presidential elections, which will undoubtedly further change the situation.

– Erica Lignell

Sources: New York Times 1, New York Times 2, The Economist, UN 1, UN 2

crimea_joins_russia
Now that Crimea is officially a part of the Russian Federation, nations, especially those with borders near Russia, need to focus on the newly created border of Crimea and Ukraine. Unrest, illegal markets, and more training exercises or amassing of troops need to be watched carefully. Ukraine may not have a full army or the ability to support one, but that will not stop small guerilla groups or militias who are still sore about the event from causing trouble for innocents.

In regards to Russia and Putin, the American Intel and other nations must not simply believe that the buck stops here. Ambition is hard to kill. With Crimea obtained rather easily Putin may take this as a building block to strike at more countries and “reclaim” more territories. So be prepared and keep watch for the borders of all nations surrounding Ukraine and Russia which include Finland, Belarus, which already has armed Russian forces in it, Latvia, Estonia, Poland and nations in Central Asia.

Recently, Russia has been removed from G8 due to its activity and if this international shunning continues to take place, expect to see Russia become more aggressive and yet somehow isolationist in its foreign policies. The separation from trade will hurt the economy and force internal production, which may force the nation to close off and take on a North Korean attitude against the world, only emerging to take more nations. This is an extreme and slim probability, but one that should not be ignored.

So things such as decreased foreign trade, further removal from international organizations, increased domestic production and random or sudden contact with smaller nations not normally contacted should be things to have a close eye on. Besides these warning signs, something else to watch for is how well the integration process with Crimea and Russia itself goes.

The intelligence community, and maybe even the UN itself, will need to see how peaceful the process will be, examine the social and economic aspects and also watch for dissidents in either territory. The policy Russia implements and puts to action for the integration of Crimea must be reviewed to see if it will be fair for both parties and if it is equal and democratic.

-Matthew Price

Sources: NightWatch, National Post

russia_exploits_veto_power
Following landmark political shifts in Ukraine during 2014, the scope of international politics has heavily focused its lens upon tension between Ukraine and Russia, and more recently in the eastern Ukrainian region of Crimea.

Popular uprisings in Ukraine have divided the population between western supporters of the European Union and eastern supporters of Russia. Although the majority of Ukraine’s population wants to be in alignment with the European Union, the region of Crimea contains a significant amount of Ukraine’s Russian-supporting population.

Russia has recently received international attention by its military occupation in the region of Crimea. In addition, the parliament of Crimea has even voted to secede from Ukraine. Critics of Russia, such as President Barack Obama of the United States, argue that Russia’s actions are in violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and established international laws.

Deputy Secretary General of the UN, Jan Eliasson stressed that meaningful discourse and dialogue ought to be facilitated within the Security Council in order to reach a resolution to alleviate the problems in Ukraine.

The situation in Russia has consistently been a heavily debated topic in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC); however, extensive use of veto power by Russia has hindered the UN Security Council from reaching any substantial resolutions to alleviating the escalating tension between Ukraine and Russia.

The UNSC contains a body of five permanent member states including the United States, the United Kingdom, China, France and Russia. The ability for Russia to block actions that are clearly within the goals and intentions of the UN to “pursue diplomacy, and maintain international peace and security,” and “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” provides significant concern for the institutional framework of the UNSC.

Although the United Nations Security Council accounts for the most powerful UN body, Russia’s ability to exploit its status as a permanent member have produced consequences with their violation of international law.

Moreover, while the UNSC remains in suspension of reaching a resolution, the situation in Ukraine is continuing to rapidly escalate. Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations pleaded to the UNSC in an emergency session to do everything that is possible to end the violation of national sovereignty and invasion of Crimea by Russian military forces.

Failure to make steps to remedy the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is exemplary of some of the weaknesses inherent to the UNSC. However, it has not been the only case of Russia’s exploitation of its permanent status and veto power in the UNSC. Critics have also argued that failure to resolve the conflict in Syria has also been the result of blocked motions by Russia.

Considering the level of power and influence the UNSC has, problems arise when just one nation has the means to restrict action in addressing pressing international problems. Russia has been quintessential in portraying how special interests can hinder the intentions of international law—which is at the root of why international law may need to be reformed in accommodating 21st century problems.

– Jugal Patel

Sources: Reuters, Al Jazeera, UN News Centre, ABC News
Photo: Rianovosti

Military Crimea
The Russian region of Crimea is a region noted for its high Russian population and its continued support of recently ousted and currently missing president, Viktor Yanukovych. On February 28, it was reported that independent security forces entered the port towns of Simferopol and Sevastopol. The forces entered the region in army regalia, with no indicating patches, leaving their origins a mystery to Ukraine and many international observers.

Allegations are being placed against the Russian government. They are accused of hiring mercenary forces to take control of several airports in the area.

The alleged goal was to prevent pro-revolution protesters and forces from entering the area and preventing the semi-autonomous region of Crimea from falling under the control of the newly formed Pro-Western national government. Western Ukraine views lean primarily pro-Western, an ideological divide from the eastern portion of Ukraine, which shares a more cohesive bond with their Russian neighbors.

Russia had a critical interest in the overthrown government.

Yanukoyvch rejected a deal that would of brought the nation into closer relation with the European Union, a deal that the Russian government and Vladimir Putin were strongly against. The Crimean population is ardently against distancing relations with Russia, and with the nations autonomous attitude coupled with their own government structure, the forces were moderately welcomed.

To keep from creating an international incident and from preventing blame, unconfirmed sources claim Russia hired private security forces.

The forces are asserted to be from “Vnevedomstvenaya Okhrana a “private security contracting bureau inside the Russian interior ministry that hires mercenaries to protect Russian Navy installations and assets in Crimea.” Sergei Lavror denounced allegations placed against Russia, arguing Russia was in no way involved, and the only Russian or Russian-condoned forces in the area are in the Black Sea monitoring the ongoing situation.

Ukrainian government officials have condemned the actions, considering the “non-invasion” as a breach of “international norms” and as a way for Putin to enact Russian control in its former Soviet state. United States President Barack Obama quickly denounced the invasion by the Russian federation, stating it would be a “clear violation of Russia’s commitment to respect the independence and sovereignty and borders of Ukraine and of international laws.”

Russian and U.S. relations have been at an all-time low, following revelations the U.S. was engaging in covert intelligence gathering in Russia through the National Security Agency as well as Russia’s refusal to hand over fugitive whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

A subtle warning was made by President Obama, stating there “will be costs” to an invasion. It is considered by some as a visible warning to Russia for military intervention, Other observers view it as a reminder that the invasion could further destabilize Ukraine, a nation that has already dealt with bloody and costly civil unrest.

– Joseph Abay

Sources: The Daily Beast, The Daily Beast World News, CNN, The Guardian
Photo: Dailymail

circassians in sochi
With the Winter Olympics now over, many are lamenting the failure of civil society and LGBT advocacy to impact the games, due in large part to the IOC’s unwavering apolitical stance. Yet what is more shocking is how little of Sochi coverage went to the Circassians, a North Caucasian ethnic group indigenous to the region.

In the 19th century, Circassians were the subject of a bizarre European and American fixation which arose in part from anthropologist Johan Friedrich Blumenbach’s claim that they were the origin of the white race. The image of the “Circassian Beauty” was extolled by authors from Pushkin to Dumas—all while the Arab-African slave trade imported Circassian women into Ottoman harems through the 18th and 19th centuries. Then in the early 1800’s, the Russian conquest into the Caucasus led to what many are calling the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Circassians.

During the years before the Winter Olympics, the Circassian Cultural Institute, among other organizations, united Circassians worldwide to raise awareness about the tragic history of the region and get recognition from the Russian government that the Russo-Circassian War was in fact a genocide—an allegation that Russian leaders, from Tsar Nicholas II to Vladimir Putin, have downplayed and denied. Roughly 700,000 Circassians live in Russia, with significant numbers in Turkey, Jordan, Syria and New Jersey in the U.S., where the Institute is based.

Delegations in Israel and Turkey have lobbied and protested both the IOC and the Russian embassies in their respective countries, with little response from either. Moreover, Circassian advocates and local community leaders were detained in the months prior to the Olympics. Many have also accused Putin of downplaying the ethnic heterogeneity in the region, and misleadingly portraying Sochi as an ethnically Russian region. While the struggle has been reported on by several reputable news outlets, discussions on Circassians in Sochi have failed to launch from the blogosphere into mainstream media.

Martin W. Lewis at Stanford University attributes the lack of reporting to confusion, uncertainty and overwhelming lack of awareness by Western audiences of the history and demographics of the Caucasus region.  Lewis suspects that the story, in the minds of reporters, may be too complicated for observers to bear, and furthermore distracts audiences from the “tunnel vision” of the Caucasian narrative—which has predominantly focused on Chechnya, not Circassia.

The disproportionate focus on LGBT rights and allegations of corruption in funding—not to mention the anecdotal and overdone coverage on Sochi hotel rooms and bathrooms—may have very well swayed attention away from the plight of Circassians in Sochi. And now that the Olympics are over, Ukraine and Crimea take center stage in Eastern European affairs. Looking back, Sochi seems like a lost opportunity for garnering the global awareness that only the Olympics can bring, especially for a region that has, until now, kept out of the spotlight.

– Dmitriy Synkov

Sources: Buzzfeed, The New YorkerGeoCurrents, The Asahi Shimbun, Mirror of Race
Photo: The Nation

Russia's LGBT
Russia has been in the spotlight recently for its part in playing host to the Winter Olympics. Hosting the games is an opportunity in which a country can reap the benefits of great publicity and a surge in business from all the people that flock there for the historic event. Russia, however, has had more negative press than positive because of its blatant disregard for ethical treatment of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, causing recent uproar among many.

Many are quick to point fingers and blame President Vladimir Putin for not implementing laws to protect them. While Putin deserves some of the blame, Russia has had a long history of homophobia.

Homophobic laws have been enacted as early as the 17th century, with Peter the Great’s punishing homosexuals by flogging or by male rape. As the years progressed, the law extended to punish any adult man that voluntarily participated in sodomy-like behavior.

In 1835, Tsar Nicholas made sure that ban was still being withheld against homosexuals with them being stripped of their Russian citizenship and exiled to Siberia.

Of all the Tsars and rulers, Joseph Stalin was the most intolerant of the LGBT community. Homosexuals were sentenced to hard labor prison camps for 4 years to 5 years under his reign and made-up propaganda had run rampant. Stalin was a huge proprietor and believer that homosexuals were pedophiles who were constantly lurking for young boys. His paranoia that homosexuals were praying on children and that they had “politically demoralized various social layers of young men, including young workers, and even attempted to penetrate the army and navy” compelled him to have his secret police spy and arrest anyone that was perceived to be gay.

Violence against Russia’s LGBT community has only worsened. Putin endorses violence against the community not only because he sees them as “foreign agents” or as a danger to the well-being of children, but as a political tactic as well. Milene Larson, a United Kingdom-based journalist, states, “Putin is looking for enemies. In Russia, homosexuals and gay rights activists are labeled as foreign agents… You have such a vast majority of people who are Orthodox who potentially feel this way, those are his voters…he is not going to step back and say ‘actually gay people are ok.’”

For anti-gay groups like Occupy Paedophilia, Putin’s views on the LGBT community are green light for vicious mob attacks to try and “cure” them. These mobs upload their videos using WhatsApp (a YouTube like clip-sharing application) to humiliate their victims even further. These groups will pose as a homosexual on an Internet dating site or go to gay clubs where they can find someone that falls under the impression that the perpetrator is interested; the victim is then ambushed or kidnapped.

One horrifying account was of a teenage student from Uzbekistan who was lured by the mob group, kidnapped, beaten, stripped and raped. All of these atrocious acts were being filmed while they were being done, with the group telling the victim that they were punishing him for his own good. Another account tells the story of a 23-year-old man who was killed for coming out to his friends while they were drinking.

Russia’s LGBT community faces physical and verbal harassment every single day. For such a large and diverse country, the LGBT community has few allies. With a leader that will not speak out and condemn these attacks, they have nobody to whom they can turn. They cannot turn to the police for help because police officers often commit the crimes and do not report the issues. While the fight rages on for activists to achieve equal rights for the LGBT community, this is going to be an uphill battle for a long time to come.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: The Moscow Times, The Star, Human Rights Watch, Russia Today
Photo: Peter T. Atchell Foundation

UN Security Council
The continuing conflict in Syria between the Bashar al-Assad’s regime and opposition forces, the National Coalition, has led to a grave population in crisis where basic humanitarian needs are not being met.

But despite the push for nationwide access to United Nations relief aid, the Syrian government is determined to keep the course with restrictions. Thus, western powers of the U.N. Security Council have opined for sanctions against Syria.

Russia, however, has continued to veto such proposals.

United States President Barack Obama, alongside French President Francois Hollande, are adamant that save for Russia, the Security Council is completely in favor of aiding the undernourished population. Obama levies criticisms towards Russia in obstructing the Security Council.

The Syrian city of Homs, previously blockaded, recently received food aid under a ceasefire. While its war-torn population, ravaged by famine and in dire need of medical supplies, obtained aid; an estimated 200 individuals were evacuated. The two-year siege was broken with the delivery of a month’s worth of food.

Though the success of the recent ceasefire in Homs prevailed, the conflict is far from over.

The National Coalition also has put pressure on Russia. With peace talks currently underway in Switzerland, the Syrian opposition has expressed that the Russians should push the Syrian government towards a resolution.

In addition, the opposition proposes a transitional government that will maintain a ceasefire throughout the nation; the U.N. would run the proposed government.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has also agreed on the need for a transitional government where Assad is not connected.

With discussions at a standstill and a divided U.N. Security Council, progress is slow towards rebuilding a nation where thousands of its civilians have been harmed by violence and hunger with displacement even increasing the numbers negatively afflicted by the conflict.

Miles Abadilla

Sources: Al Jazeera, Cleveland.com, New York Times, New York Times
Photo: CS Monitor

lukoil_pemex_merger
The Russian-owned petroleum company Lukoil has signed a landmark deal with Mexico’s state-owned oil company Pemex to search for and extract petroleum. This is the first deal signed by Pemex since Mexico decided to open up its energy sector to foreign investment in order to increase its efficiency and production capabilities.

Mexico had previously banned foreign presence in its energy sector in 1938. Last December, however, the Enrique Peña Nieto administration pushed through legislation lifting the ban and opening up the industry for foreign partnerships.

Pemex has faced falling investment that subsequently dropped its production levels down from a high of 3.8 million barrels a day in 2004 to 2.6 million barrels a day in 2013.

PEMEX revenues account for one-third of the national revenue of Mexico, and Mexico is deeply dependent on PEMEX revenue for social programs such as education, hospitals and roads.

Deposits of shale throughout the country continue to go untouched due to lack of investment, and it is hoped that this deal with Lukoil will change that. Lukoil is expected to engage Mexico to advance the development of shale gas reserves and exploring deep-water areas.

Lukoil is the second-largest private oil company worldwide by hydrocarbon reserves and provides Russia with 18% of its total oil production. It is also second only to Exxon Mobil in proven oil and gas reserves, and earns approximately $139 billion in revenue and $11 billion in net income.

After failing to obtain new deposits in Russia and left with few opportunities to expand within Russia, Lukoil and PEMEX are working together in an attempt by Lukoil to capture the newly available Mexican market. Lukoil’s CEO, Vagit Alekperov, said the agreement would help “bolster [Lukoil’s] operating and technological capacity.”

Lukoil will also provide Pemex with expertise in the field of environmental protection knowledge. This deal is good for Mexico in that it will allow for increased production over flagging levels, and may signal an inflow of further investment in Mexico’s energy sector by foreign firms.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: RT, BN Americas, ReutersOil Patch Asia, USA Today
Photo: 

Poverty_in_russia
As the adage goes, the poor stay poor while the rich get richer. For years, Russia has been regarded as a nation fraught with economic inequality- a land where the rich accrue more and more wealth each year while the poor descend further and further into squalor. Even in the advent of the burgeoning middle class, the growing disparity of wealth has contributed to a widening economic gap between Russia’s rich and poor residents.

Although an astounding 18 million Russians, or roughly 13 percent of the population, live below the official poverty line, having a collective income of $12.4 billion, the 97 wealthiest Russians jointly own $380 billion- nearly 31 times the collective income of the nation’s poorest individuals.

While $18 million residents grapple with the challenges of poverty, Vladimir Putin consistently vaunts the exclusive wealth of Russia. In a sense, Russia has exhibited economic growth. For instance, Moscow now houses more billionaires than New York City, the iconic American city that has long been esteemed as the metropolis of wealth and power of the Western World.

Although Putin boasts about the economic prosperity of the few wealthy elites, little effective action has been taken to curb the growing rates of poverty in Russia. For example, the estimated cost of living in Russia is approximately $210. However, the nation’s minimum wage is wholly insufficient at $155 per month.

Despite this harrowing fact, it appears that the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, set to be hosted in Sochi, has taken prominence over the rampant poverty in Russia. In 5a Akatsy Street, located in a neighborhood with deteriorating infrastructure, a brand-new multi-million dollar highway brazenly cuts through the surrounding poverty.

The glossy highway stands in salient contrast to the squalor of 5a Akatsy Street, a locale in which residents have barely sustained themselves without running water or a sewage system. While the Russian government sanctions the construction of stadiums and highways, the majority of Sochi residents live in dwindling, contaminated and neglected villages.

However, the juxtaposition of the ostentatious Olympic preparations in Sochi and the prevalence of squalor surrounding the slinky stadiums and magnificent mega-malls highlights a general trend that has been observed in Russian society, a dangerous trend in which in which the poor are vastly overlooked while the most wealthy are needlessly glamorized.

Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: Telegraph, Forbes, TribLive
Photo:
AsiaOne