GHOUTA CHEMICAL STRIKE: Dozens of innocent Syrians feared dead

Douma – VIJAY SHAH via TOM ACRES and Sky News

In an escalation of the Syrian crisis where government troops allied with the country’s president, Bashar Al-Assad, are fighting rebels in the Ghouta area east of Damascus, a report has come in stating that around 70 people have been killed in a chemical bomb attack blamed on the Syrian army.

In what UK media firm Sky News has dubbed ‘one of (the) worst chemical strikes in Syrian history’, dozens of people, many believed to be women and children, were said to have died in Ghouta, a rebel-controlled district on the outskirts of capital Damascus, where a months-long siege between rebel and government forces has caused immense hardship for thousands of residents. Around five hundred people have been reported injured, according to Sky.


The United States has called on Russia, which is supporting President Al-Assad, to cease its support after the Ghouta chemical atrocity. The U.S. State Department said it was keeping tabs on the ‘grossly disturbing’ situation, which occurred in a city named Douma, around 10 km (6 miles) north-east of Damascus city centre. Babies and small children were among those caught up in the attack, according to video footage provided by Sky News. Children were seen in great distress, some clutching gas masks. A volunteer rescue service, called White Helmets in English, an opponent of the government, said it found dead children with frothing saliva around their mouths

The Syrian government has denied carrying out a chemical attack in Douma, but has been accused of using chemical weapons on civilian populations in previous skirmishes with the numerous rebel groups active in the Middle Eastern country. In April 2017, more than 80 people were killed in another suspected chemical attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun, which was also said to have been carried out by the Syrian government army. According to US intelligence, Al-Assad’s army is said to have stockpiles of the highly lethal gas agent, sarin, and possibly mustard gas.

“The United States continues to use all efforts available to hold those who use chemical weapons, in Syria and otherwise, accountable,” the State Department said in a statement, which referenced the alleged sarin gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun last year.

“The Assad regime and its backers must be held accountable and any further attacks prevented immediately.

“Russia, with its unwavering support for the regime, ultimately bears responsibility for these brutal attacks, targeting of countless civilians, and the suffocation of Syria’s most vulnerable communities with chemical weapons.”

Britain called for an “urgent investigation” into the alleged use of illegal weapons and an immediate end to the bloodshed.

“These are very concerning reports of a chemical weapons attack with significant number of casualties, which if correct, are further proof of Assad’s brutality against innocent civilians and his backers’ callous disregard for international norms,” the country’s Foreign Office said in a statement.

“An urgent investigation is needed and the international community must respond. We call on the Assad regime and its backers, Russia and Iran, to stop the violence against innocent civilians.”

In addition to the denial of responsibility by the official Syrian government, state-owned media outlets there have claimed that reports of the chemical attacks were propaganda, fabricated by rebels who they claim are close to defeat. Most of the Ghouta area is now back under government control, with only Douma city itself still under the control of the rebel group called  Jaish al Islam.


Shere Singh via Facebook.

“Dozens dead in ‘one of worst chemical strikes in Syrian history’ ” – Tom Acres, Sky News/Sky UK (8 April 2018)


“File:Syria – Damascus Areas of Influence and Areas Reportedly Affected by 21 August Chemical Attack.jpg” – and Elissa Rubria Honoria, Wikimedia Commons (3 September 2013)


AN ATM STICKUP: Two methods used to fleece cash machines

Philipsburg – VIJAY SHAH via TecNovedosos

Earlier this year, specialists working at Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab announced at a conference held in the Dutch Caribbean territory of Sint-Maarten that bank robbers have found two new, and quite ingenious ways to target ATMs and relieve them of their cash deposits. The IT experts made a presentation in front of delegates at the Computer Security Summit Summit, held on the 4th of April, 2017, where they warned that thieves were upping their game in their attacks on automated bank tellers and gone were the days when all it took was a rope, a heavy-duty vehicle and a small amount of explosives to break into an ATM.


According to a report published in Spanish language online magazine, sophisticated robbers now have two tactics at their disposal, cases of which have already been reported by banks in Russia and Europe. In many of these cases, the robberies only took a matter of seconds.

The first tactic reported by security specialists involves a small hole being drilled into the ATM keypad without triggering the machine’s automatic security sensors. A hacker then uses special equipment to directly access the onboard computer. The hacker then decodes the machine’s electronic signals, essentially forcing the machine to electronically hand over all its cash. The ATM is emptied of its cash reserves by the robbers. This tactic exploits a vulnerability in a certain model of ATM, manufactured by a single company, though which company it was was not mentioned by the Kaspersky Lab researchers.

The second tactic involves a more elaborate and far-reaching approach targeting the bank itself. Malicious cybercriminals target the bank’s IT systems with a powerful virus that targets the part of the network that manages the ATMs. Once the virus is entrenched, it is remotely activated by the criminals using the bank’s own systems. A command is sent out by the virus to the ATMs to release their cash reserves. The robber needs then only to pay a visit to the compromised ATM and withdraw all the money, a procedure that takes only a few minutes and will not arouse the suspicions of bank security staff, and also cuts out the risk associated with traditional bank robberies involving ‘stick-ups’, in the eyes of criminals.

The ATMs are compromised by robbers quite easily and once the heist is complete, the hackers wipe out the virus to cover their tracks. The virus, known as ATMitch, has been reported by banks hacked into in Russia and neighbouring Kazakhstan.

In the UK, no such cases have yet been reported involving these tactics. Most ATMs are zeroued in on by less technologically savvy robbers who resort to blowing up cash machines or ripping them out of walls. In the past few years, some fraudsters have adopted a more scientific approach, involving attaching special skimming devices to the card reader slots of ATMs, which masquerade as part of the machine and catch people’s card details and PINs, which the robbers gather from the device and then empty the victims’ accounts. Others have been caught attaching pinhole cameras which watch people enter their PINs. ATM users are advised to always shield their PINs when using cash machines, and to be wary of people standing over them or observing them using the keypad.


Vijay Shah { विजय }, Twitter, Twitter Inc.

Tecnología GM 🔹‏, Twitter, Twitter Inc.

“Descubren dos ingeniosas tácticas para sacarle el dinero a los cajeros automáticos” – (5 April 2017)


“Free photo: Scam, Atm, Security, Bank, Money – Free Image on Pixabay – 2048851” – mrganso, Pixabay (4 February 2017)

“🇸🇽 Sint Maarten on Twitter Twemoji 2.0” – Emojipedia/Emojipedia Pty Ltd

AKTSIZNAYA MARKA: The online tax stamps collection of Andrey Vasiunin

If you live in a European, African, Asian or South American country, and are a smoker or know smokers, you may have noticed fancy little labels stuck onto the cigarette boxes or other tobacco products you encounter. Attached like a stamp on an envelope but with the ornate designs and security features of paper money, these little slips of intricacy are neither truly stamps or banknotes.

They are in fact cigarette and tobacco tax stamps, a method of collecting taxes by governments. While most countries and territories levy tax on goods such as tobacco and alcohol – the so-called ‘sin taxes’ due to the health implications of using these products – only some issue these special stamps which are attached to the packets by manufacturers in their factories. They are a really elaborate way of saying “Yes, I paid up the tax on my products”. Tax stamps also help tax officials and consumers distinguish the real deal from counterfeit, and often very dangerous, tobacco products. The stamps also act as a quality seal, positioned on the packaging in such a way that opening the box or pouch breaks apart the stamp, so a whole, undamaged stamp means a fresh and non-tampered pack of 20.


Most tax stamps are issued by national governments, who usually delegate the task of printing millions of stamps to their finance ministries or tax boards, depending on the administration. According to Professional Security Magazine Online, more than 140 billion tobacco and alcohol stamps are produced annually by more than 150 different national and state agencies. As tax agencies tackle an increasing tobacco smuggling and counterfeiting industry and the resulting need to safeguard tax revenues, they have made their stamps more and more complex, including hard-to-forge features such as holograms, machine-readable elements, UV and infra-red printing, complicated patterns and other security features. These attempts to thwart Ben and his cross-Channel smuggling band of chums flogging cheap ciggies at the local pub have had the added effect of making tax stamps more attractive as a collector’s item

Tax stamps have been around since the 19th century, but most people pay little attention to them. Nevertheless a community of collectors have grown around the humble and official-looking stickers, also known as banderoles or excise stamps. While nowhere near as popular as its cousin, postage stamp collecting, many have come to appreciate the hobby and of course, the beauty and collectible nature of these items. Indeed, early 20th century tax stamps from the United States’ Internal Revenue government body and 19th century European issues can fetch more than £5,000 on auction sites among dedicated hobbyists and investors in collectibles.

Andrey Vasiunin, a resident of Russia’s capital Moscow and the guitar and keyboard player of doom metal band Armaga, is probably the closest thing to a celebrity in the tax stamp collecting universe. A Korolev-born father of one who graduated in economics from the G.V. Plekhanov REA educational institute, Vasiunin caught the ‘collecting bug’ early on in his childhood, gathering up collections of badges, toys and wrappers in his school days. He even built up a fine dossier of the phrase “I love you” in various languages. Then in 2001, while lounging around on a fine and warm July summer’s day in his garden, smoking a cigarette, Vasiunin noticed the tax stamp perched nonchalantly on his smokes. His curiosity piqued, he admired the colourful patterns of the stamp’s design and became hooked. He peeled off the stamp and tucked it into his wallet.

It was this chance counter with a Russian ‘aktsiznaya marka’ or excise stamp, that would be the first step in Andrey Vasiunin’s ascendancy to become one of the leading lights of the hobby. He undertook a trip to the Czech Republic, where he encountered a different breed of tax stamp. Further intrigued, Vasiunin filched the Czech versions too, straight into his wallet. He then chanced upon Italian and French examples affixed to the pages of a friend’s notebook. Soon word of Vasiunin’s new and unorthodox hobby began to circulate among his friends, and tax stamps from across the globe started filling up his wallet. His addiction to tax stamps became so insatiable that he spent a day at a customs depot, going through cigarette packets being shipped in from the rest of Europe and removing their stamps for his collection.

As the Internet became established in Vasiunin’s home country, he decided to embrace the new technology, placing his stamp collection online for the world to see. In 2005, he created a website, Written bilingually in Russian and English and featuring scanned images of his prized specimens, Vasiunin’s one-stop tax stamp gallery on the Information Superhighway became the world’s first and currently only one of two such websites dedicated to tax stamps for tobacco and alcohol. Within a period of seven years, Vasiunin acquired nearly 600 stamps and cigarette seals from a hundred countries, many donated by good friends and fellow hobbyists who he met online.

In 2008, Andrey Vasiunin switched web service providers and unveiled a new and heavily upgraded site “Tax Stamps Collection of Vasiunin Andrey” with a more detailed look, customised header graphics and a bigger selection of images drawn from his collection, which now numbers more than 2,000 examples. With its distinctive vintage appearance and interactive gallery of Vasiunin’s collection, scanned in great detail and sorted by geographical region, countries and territories, the site has become a detailed window into this unknown hobby. According to Flag Counter, his e-collection has received more than 9,000 visits from over 6,000 visitors representing 175 countries. The highlight of the ‘Tax Stamps Collection’ is definitely its gallery, with stamps arranged as if though in a high-quality album, like the heavy-duty pricey ones you can find in stamp collector’s hobby outlets. Each image enlarges when clicked on, allowing you to appreciate the full beauty and detail of each of Vasiunin’s stamps. The issues for each territory are arranged in chronological order from oldest to newest. Fellow collectors can also arrange to swap and sell stamps to Andrey, with the website maintaining a guestbook for collectors to introduce themselves and interact with Andrey.

More recently, Vasiunin has branched out into social media, opening a Facebook version of his hit site – – where he showcases the latest additions to his collection. The Facebook page has already accrued a small community of nearly 200 fellow collectors.

You can visit Andrey Vasiunin’s site at


“TAX STAMPS” – Andrey Vasiunin

“About Me” – Andrey Vasiunin, Tax Stamps Collection of Vasiunin Andrey

“Collection” – Andrey Vasiunin, Tax Stamps Collection of Vasiunin Andrey

Andrey Vasiunin’s Facebook profile.

Cigarette tax stamps collection, Andrey Vasiunin, Facebook, Facebook Inc.

Flag Counter

“Track and trace” – Professional Security Magazine Online (10 July 2017)

“Armaga” – Spirit of Metal

BORIS NEMTSOV: Russian opposition leader gunned down

The politician Boris Nemtsov, an opposition leader serving in Russia’s parliament, the Duma, has been shot dead in Moscow, the European news division of the BBC reports.

The country’s officials say that Nemtsov, who once served as deputy prime minister, was killed yesterday in Moscow while travelling around the city by foot. The BBC reports that unidentified attackers passing by in a car shot four times into Nemtsov’s back as he crossed a bridge near the Kremlin, police in Moscow said.

According to the BBC, Nemtsov was with a friend, and was crossing the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge when the drive-by shooting took place at 11:40 pm local time (8:40 pm GMT) yesterday (27 February 2015), said the Interior Ministry. He was shot with a pistol from a white car of unknown make and model. The attackers then promptly fled the scene, a police source told Russia’s Interfax news agency. Meduza, a news website, added that several people left the vehicle to gun down Nemtsov. His death was formally confirmed by a colleague of his RPR-Parnassus party, Ilya Yashin. Flowers were left at the site of his killing on the bridge and tributes to the slain politician were coming in via social media since yesterday night’s incident. 

He was murdered only hours after giving a speech offering his support for a march in Moscow against the conflict in Ukraine which was due to take place tomorrow. In his last tweet, Mr Nemtsov sent out an appeal for Russia’s divided opposition to unite at an anti-war march he was organising for Sunday.

If you support stopping Russia’s war with Ukraine, if you support stopping Putin’s aggression, come to the Spring March in Maryino on 1 March,” he wrote.

Russia’s controversial President, Vladimir Putin, expressed outrage at the killing of Boris Nemtsov, and condemned his murder, according to a source associated with the Kremlin. President Putin is said to have taken ‘personal control’ of the investigation into the killing, said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov to news outlets.

Investigators charged with uncovering the motive for Nemtsov’s shooting have said that the perpetrators may have been attempting to create instability inside Russia. The investigative committee said in a freshly-released report that a number of possibilities are being considered, including that the former deputy prime minister was murdered on the orders of Islamist extremists, but there is no evidence to support any theory at the current time.

Putin’s equivalent in the United States, President Barack Obama also condemned the “brutal murder” and asked Russian lawmakers to conduct a “prompt, impartial and transparent investigation“. The President of UkrainePetro Poroshenko, whose country is currently battling pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Luhansk (Lugansk) and Donetsk regions of Ukraine, described Mr. Nemtsov as a “bridge between Ukraine and Russia“, according to the BBC.

The murderers’ shot has destroyed it. I think it is not by accident,” Poroshenko commented in a statement published on his administration’s Facebook page.

While there is no suggestion that the Putin administration has anything to do with Nemtsov’s murder, the politician himself, who had served under President Boris Yeltsin‘s administration in the 1990s, had recently given an interview where he voiced that Putin would have him killed for speaking out against the Ukrainian war, which Russia is accused of secretly funding and arming. Nemtsov’s lawyer claimed the politician was receiving death threats via social media for his opposition of Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine conflict and for its annexation of Crimea last year, which brought the country international condemnation. 

Nemtsov’s career also included working in economics and serving as governor of the city of Nizhny Novgorod. He fell out of favour with Vladimir Putin soon after the latter was elected and subsequently Nemtsov became an opposition politician.

Fully known as Boris Yefimovich Nemtsov, was born in the Olympic city of Sochi in Russia’s Caucasus region in 1959. He graduated from the State University of Gorky in the field of physics in 1985. After earning his PhD, Nemtsov worked as a research fellow at the Gorky Radio-Physics Research Institute (NIRFI) until entering politics in 1989 as the Soviet era was drawing to a close. He allied himself with fellow reformists in the Russian parliament and soon became a confidante of reformist president Boris Yeltsin. By 2004, and marginalised by the new Putin government, Nemtsov began to speak out against what he saw as the increasing clampdown on newly-won freedoms by the President, and that ‘Putinists’, the president’s loyalists, were leading Russia towards a dictatorship. Nemtsov made his opposition to Putin and his politics very clear. He was arrested by police in November 2007 during one such protest against Putin. 

The Russian president himself had accused Nemtsov of being involved with corruption. During Nemtsov’s tenure as director and chairman of a small Russian financial institution, Neftyanoi Bank, which was involved with the country’s burgeoning oil industry, investigators were called in following allegations of fraud and money laundering, which forced Nemtsov to step down from his positions at Neftyanoi. On 16 December 2010, Putin stated, in a live television broadcast, that during the 1990s, Nemtsov was friendly with the billionaire oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who had been sent to prison and who later fled Russia. Putin accused him of ‘dragging around billions’ of Russian oil money.

Nemtsov was just fifty-five years of age at the time of his killing. He was married with four children.

Facebook, Facebook Inc.
“Russia opposition politician Boris Nemtsov shot dead” – Sarah Rainsford and contributors, BBC News Europe/BBC (28 February 2015)
“Boris Nemtsov” – Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.
Getty Images via Zemanta.


FLIGHT MH17: Russian TV station claims Ukrainian fighter jet brought down plane

International news agency Reuters has reported that a Russian television station has obtained photos that suggest the doomed Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, which was shot down over the restive eastern part of Ukraine earlier this year with the loss of all 298 passengers and cabin crew on board, was the victim of a missile attack by a Ukrainian fighter jet, widely believed to be a Mig-29. The state-owned TV outlet broadcast what it claimed were ‘sensational” pictures allegedly taken by a Western satellite that purport to show the Boeing 777 being shot down by a Ukrainian air force plane, giving credence to Moscow’s theory that the Ukrainians perpetrated the atrocity.

Ukraine has vigorously denied any involvement in the shooting down of MH17, which was en route from Amsterdam’s Schiphol-Rijk Airport to Kuala Lumpur. Separatists fighting in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine, which are mainly populated by ethnic Russians, have agitated for closer union with Russia, and the Russian government has been accused of supplying fighters in eastern Ukraine with weaponry and troops, including powerful BUK surface-to-air rocket launchers capable of bringing down aircraft at an elevation of 30,000 feet. It has been claimed that such a BUK launcher was responsible for MH17, which the Putin government strenuously deny.

Several commentators who have studied the pictures have disputed the authenticity of the images, claiming them to be propaganda ‘forgeries’, Reuters reports. Witnesses who viewed the pictures describe them as showing a fighter jet firing a missile at a passenger plane at the same time as MH17 was flying over Ukrainian airspace. Moscow has claimed the pictures add weight to its theory that a jet in the employ of the Ukrainian Air Force ruptured the plane’s fuselage for reasons unknown, while Western military experts refute this, saying that there is evidence that a BUK missile manufactured and imported from Russia was fired by pro-Russian separatists, tearing holes in MH17’s fuselage and causing the plane to disintegrate mid-air and crash in a ball of flames.

The MH17 photographs were shown on a Friday evening show named “Odnako”, which stated that they had been forwarded to a Russian ‘expert’ by a man named George Bilt. Mr Bilt is said to be a graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His specialism or field of study is not mentioned in the Reuters report, but further research suggests that he is an aviation expert with twenty years of experience.

Odnako is a Russian langauge programme broadcast by Channel One. A presenter with the station, Dmitry Borisov, spoke with Reuters about the Bilt images of MH17’s alleged final moments: “We have at our disposal sensational photographs presumably made by a foreign spy satellite in the last seconds of the Malaysian Boeing’s flight over Ukraine,

The pictures support that version which has hardly been heard in the West.

Since Channel One aired the pictures at the end of last week, debates in Russia have begun on their authenticity, with many observers ridiculing them as staged fakes or having been manipulated with photo-alteration software. 

Andrei Menshenin, a commentator for independent Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy, called the TV report a “pseudo-sensation“, and said the angle of attack indicated by the photographs did not correspond to the location of the damage.

Bellingcat, a British investigative journalism website, described the photographs as “a crude fabrication“, highlighting what it said were several inconsistencies, which included signs that the photos had been partly derived from historical Google Earth mapping imagery dating from 2012 and sewn into the images. Several Russian media outlets are staunch supporters of President Vladimir Putin and are frequently accused of peddling a government-backed policy of overt nationalism, anti-Western and anti-Ukrainian bias, and reporting news heavily influenced by sensationalism and propaganda which said to be sourced from the Kremlin itself.

In July, an opinion poll by the Levada Center polling agency said only three percent of Russians believed the Malaysian airliner was hit by rebels, with 82 percent saying it was shot down by the Ukrainian armed forces.

The publication of the photos came on the eve of a G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, where President Vladimir Putin faces strong criticism from Western leaders for Russia’s actions in Ukraine, including allegedly arming separatists and supplying weapons and troops. Russia had also recently invaded and annexed the Ukrainian province of Crimea, an occupation not recognised by much of the international community.

The Reuters reports has not yet made any mention of the official Ukrainian response to the images.

Facebook, Facebook Inc.
“Russian TV channel says photos show MH17 shot down by fighter jet” – Jason Bush & Crispian Balmer, Reuters Edition U.S./Thomson Reuters (15 November 2014)
Getty Images via Zemanta.

UKRAINE CIVIL WAR: Fierce clashes reported in Slovyansk

The ongoing battle between Ukrainian national forces and pro-Russian separatists has intensified around the eastern city of Slovyansk, reports agency journalists working with the Balkans division of news network Al-Jazeera today.

Clashes between the Ukrainian army and separatists, among them fighters allied with the self-declared People’s Republic of Donetsk, intensified in the vicinity of Donetsk’s international airport, which was this week subject to bombing by the national army as it seeks to wrest control back from the occupiers, who desire union with the Russian Federation.


Embed from Getty Images


Caption:DONETSK, UKRAINE – MAY 26: A pro-Russian separatist fighter take position outside the Donetsk airport, the scene of an hours-long battle between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces, on May 26, 2014 in Donetsk Ukraine. A day after businessman Petro Poroshenko won Ukraine’s presidential election, separatists occupied the airport, leading to a military response. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

According to the Anatolian News Agency (Anadolu), Ukrainian troops had penetrated the airport amid fierce resistance from occupying forces. The sounds of warning sirens were reported and ‘strong’ detonations rang out over the local area. Combatants of the two sides then began fighting.

Slovyansk, also known as Sloviansk and Slavjansk, has already seen large numbers of its residents flee the fighting, while remaining residents spent the last few nights seeking shelter in basements and hastily constructed bomb shelters as they fear the battle spreading to the streets of the industrial city, an epicentre of Ukraine’s large Russian-speaking minority. Some of the fiercest clashes have occurred in the surburban village of Semenovka.

The Ukrainian armed forces say they have carried out their operations in Slovyansk in order to gain a foothold in the restive east and commence ‘anti-terrorism’ operations to flush out separatists, especially those entrenched in the main city of Donetsk. Around two hundred children and twenty-one families had fled Slovyansk for the Crimea after an attack was launched on a local hospital.

The media centre of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk claimed that at least six members of the pro-Russian forces have been killed in clashes within the past twenty-four hours. Last week, a Ukrainian helicopter was shot down over the area, killing several soldiers and a high-ranking commander and dozens of pro-Russian separatists have also died or been evicted. The Ukrainian bid to reclaim Donetsk airport is believed to have resulted in the deaths of fifty militants on the Russian side.

The civil war in Ukraine began earlier this year after Viktor Yanukovich, the pro-Russian president of the Ukraine was overthrown in a popular revolution fuelled by Ukrainian speakers’ desires to forge closer links with the European Union and move away from dependency on Russia. After a series of protests marred by killings and atrocities, Yanukovich fled the country and allegedly resurfaced in the Russian capital Moscow. Russian speakers in the east of Ukraine, its industrial heartland, feared being sidelined by the new government and began demanding referenda and union with their compatriots across the border. Separatists began occupying police stations and government buildings in the cities of Luhansk, Donetsk and Slovyansk. Russian speakers in the Crimean peninsula also rose up against the post-revolution government in Kiev and later the whole of the area, once part of Russia and gifted to Ukraine during the Soviet era and recently home to the Russian Black Sea navy fleet, was first occupied by separatists then annexed formally by the Russians.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been accused of aiding and abetting the separatists in eastern Ukraine, which he has denied. However, people dressed in Russian military uniforms and armed with weapons sourced from the country have been sighted in the war zone. Mercenaries from as far away as Chechnya have also been reportedly spotted. Russia however has largely rebuffed the separatists’ demands to unite with them, and the Russian President has instead proposed talks aimed at settling the crisis and giving greater autonomy to eastern Ukraine. Both the previous and current governments in Kiev have vowed to end the rebellion. Both the occupation of the Crimea and alleged Russian backing of the separatist movements in eastern Ukraine have been condemned by both the European Union and the United States.

HEM News Agency, The Half-Eaten Mind, Twitter LINK
Al Jazeera Balkans,  Twitter LINK
“Ukrajina: Žestoki sukobi u Slavjansku” – Al Jazeera (1 June 2014) LINK
“Ukrainian Military Reponds To Occupation Of Donetsk Airport” – Brendan Hoffman, Getty Images (26 May 2014) LINK
Enhanced by Zemanta

PHOTO MOMENT: Is Putin giving Van Damme a stunt-run for his (Volvo) money?

Vijay Shah

A recent advert by Swedish motor vehicle manufacturer Volvo has practically set the internet alight, being shared countless times across social platforms and becoming the talk of cyber town. One of the best attempts at both standard TV advertising and viral marketing in recent years has already clocked up nearly 50 million views on YouTube alone.  The slickly-made advertisement, made to showcase the stability and precision of Volvo’s new “Dynamic Steering”element, features Belgian action man Jean-Claude Van Damme. With his arms firmly crossed and his mouth delivering a monologue to camera in that unmistakable Flemish accent, Van Damme fearlessly does the splits between two reversing trucks bracing at a comfortable speed down a closed-off desert road.

Jaws drop as wide as Van Damme’s legs stretch apart, and those same legs are eventually completely horizontal as he is perched precariously on the lorries’ wing mirrors, while the viewers’ astonishment is accompanied by the melodious soundtrack of Enya’s “Only Time“.

But it’s a competitive world out there in adland. Whenever someone gets a over-stuffed suitcase of money from an ad agency to push the televised stunt bar to stratospheric heights, there’s always someone else who has to jump in and push the bar even higher…literally.

Step aside Van Damme. Meet Vladimir Putin. President of Russia, quintessential macho man, keen hunter, dictator-in-the-making, West’s bogeyman of the month (since 2000)…and now…super stuntsman and future father of a thousand internet memes. A picture has begun showing up on Twitter showing Putin straddling the wings of two military fighter jets high above over what appears to be Moscow. If this doesn’t put the wind up Washington, then nothing will.

Here is the Russian Federation’s answer to the Van Damme commercial (as shared by @yamphoto and @DaliaEzzat_ ) :-


The picture was sourced from, an online gallery of funny pictures and content, so we can safely assume that despite Putin’s self-described awesomeness, this stunt was more of the Photoshop variety than the “I am the Man!!!” at 10,000 feet variety.

Death-defying sky-warrior he probably isn’t, but Russia’s leader has proved his mettle in more ground-based pursuits (with the help of a well-oiled PR machine and sympathetically doe-eyed news editors). He landed in the war-torn capital of Chechnya, Grozny’, in 2000 flying in a Su-27 fighter jet, despite risk of assassination by Chechen separatists; he has created a tough, outdoorsy, hard man image in the media and takes frequent trips to the harsh tundra of Siberia to angle for fish; he is said to be adept at martial arts, driving racing cars and scuba-diving. Russia’s superman is not without his controversies however. Vladimir Putin has also come under fire for dominating the political sphere in Russia, dragging the country back to Soviet-style rule;  and is considered responsible, or at least taking a blind eye to, the persecution of political opponents, religious minorities and most recently, LGBT Russians.

Looks like JC’s claim to stuntmanship fame is safe for now.

The Volvo ad with Jean-Claude Van Damme and two heavily-built Globetrotters:


Vijay Shah { विजय } on Twitter LINK
Marcus Yam on Twitter LINK
Dalia Ezzat on Twitter LINK
“Volvo Trucks – The Epic Split feat. Van Damme (Live Test 6)” – Volvo Trucks, YouTube GB LINK
“About 9GAG” – 9GAG LINK
“Vladimir Putin” – Wikipedia/Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. LINK


CHELYABINSK METEOR: The space rock that scared Siberia

Over a week ago, the inhabitants of the industrial town of Chelyabinsk, located in the freezing tundra of Russia’s Far East, witnessed the visit of an extraterrestrial visitor from the furthest reaches of outer space. It was an event which significantly affected and astounded millions of people, not only across the Russian Federation, but in areas thousands of miles away.

(c) Oleg Sh. @ Flickr

The town of Chelyabinsk, located in Siberia’s industrial heartland near the border with Kazakhstan.

A meteor, measuring around 17 metres in diameter, and believed to weigh in at an estimated 10,000 tonnes, entered the atmosphere somewhere above the Ural mountains that traditionally separates Europe from Asia. It began to disintegrate, sending fireballs and pieces of meteorite crashing down over a large swathe of the Siberian territory. Several pieces fell upon the town of Chelyabinsk, narrowly missing the Mayak nuclear facility managed by Russia’s governmental nuclear agency, Rosatom. The town lies around 1,500 kilometres from the capital Moscow.

The remaining meteorite, much reduced in size, was believed to have finally made contact with the Earth at the Chebarkul lake outside Chelyabinsk, slamming a 11-12 foot wide hole in the lake’s ice, according to a video released by local observers.

Meteor trace
Meteor trace (Photo credit: alexeya)

The Chelyabinsk meteorite that brought terror to the Siberian steppes.

Residents of Chelyabinsk on their way to work during the morning rush hour reported seeing a massive white fireball streak across the sky, which in one video captured by a local, seemed to resemble a contrail like that released by an airplane. As the meteor made its way rapidly through the Earth’s lower atmosphere, its passage created a devastating shockwave that shattered the windows of buildings, set off car alarms and even tore off 6,000 square feet of a zinc factory’s roof. Locals reacted with a mix of shock and panic. As the fireball flashed over Chelyabinsk, traffic on the town’s roads came to a standstill, and many reported feeling that it was the end of the world. So bright was the meteor’s arrival, it was seen in the city of Yekaterinburg, 200 kilometres away. People were reported huddling in the doorways of buildings with fright as the blinding light travelled across the dawn sky. Worried parents kept their children at home as schools all over the Chelyabinsk region remained closed. There were initial fears that the Mayak nuclear facility has been affected but Rosatom engineers reported no damage to the site’s uranium reactors.

Latest figures report that over a thousand people were injured, mostly by flying pieces of glass from office and shop windows. Local hospitals struggled to cope with the demands as casualties streamed into their wards, many of whom also needed treatment for shock. People found that they were not receiving mobile phone signals, causing a communication crisis as they struggled to contact family, friends and colleagues. Chelyabinsk’s civic website reported 758 injuries, while Mikhail Yurevich, the governor of the Chelyabinsk oblast’ (region) stated a region-wide total of at least 950 casualties, two-thirds of whom received light injuries from flying glass and debris.

In addition to shattering windows, the meteor’s shockwave wreaked havoc on buildings. Russia’s interior ministry reported damage to 300 different locations, including housing, schools, hospitals and even an ice hockey stadium. Governor Yurevich estimated the total costs of damages at US$ 33 million (1 billion Russian rubles). Windows were broken in the ulitsa Lenina, a main road in the centre of town, while some shopfronts were buckled by the power of the resultant shockwave in the meteor’s wake. The government has ordered checks of affected buildings to determine if they remain seismically and structurally sound.

Thankfully, no fatalities or direct strikes by meteorite strikes on people were reported, but a wave of fear spread over Russian media and citizens, with one nationalist politician claiming that the meteor was a secret military manoeuvre by the Americans, a theory dismissed as farcical by the federal government. Reports of the meteor made frontpage news in media outlets across the globe, especially as its arrival coincided with the passing by of asteroid 2012 DA14. This asteroid was reported by NASA to have made a close approach to Earth at a distance of about 35,800 kilometres in the same week as the meteor that burned up over Siberia. However astronomers have said that there was no connection between the two events.

Many thanks to Sunny Atwal for suggesting this weekend’s article.

VIDEOS of The Chelyabinsk Meteor

RELATED NEWS from Zemanta


“Russia cleans up after meteor strike” – Al Jazeera and agencies, Al Jazeera (Online) LINK

“Asteroid 2012 DA14 Won’t Hit Earth, NASA Says, But Don’t Rule Out Satellites (VIDEO)” –  Jacqueline Howard, The Huffington Post – Science LINK


HEAR ME ROAR: ‘Beast from the East’ scheduled to make London’s temperature plummet

Londoners have been warned to brace themselves for below-freezing temperatures and the first snows of the new year as an intense cold front from Siberia strikes British shores this coming week.  The front, nicknamed the ‘Beast from the East’ by the popular media, will originate from the Arctic regions of northern Russia and is expected to bring snow flurries, biting cold winds and possibly torrential rainfall to the length and breadth of the UK.

siberia_img (Photo credit: hobnob_malevolence)

Siberia: the extremely cold weather of the Russian tundra will soon be making an appearance in the U.K.

While London and much of the South-East is expected to escape the worst of the winter conditions, tomorrow (Monday) is predicted to start with thermometers registering -1 degrees Celsius, and temperatures will drop further as the week progresses. The colder weather have already shown its presence before the front’s arrival. Late night frosts were noted descending on parked cars in the Seven Kings area, 3 miles outside London, as reported by blogger Vijay Shah of the Half-Eaten Mind.

By this time next week (Sunday), temperatures in London will struggle to rise above -5 degrees Celsius while snowfall is predicted in the capital by this Thursday. Despite the dire weather predictions, commuters and daytrippers can look forward to sunny days with an average top temperature of 10 oC.

English: Gleann Beag Looking from Dun Troddan ...
English: Gleann Beag Looking from Dun Troddan Broch towards Dun Telve Broch (in the next square). This was a cold day with the mercury sitting at minus five degrees celsius in Gleann Beag, even at midday. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Much of the worst of the ‘Beast from the East’ weather front is predicted to hit northern Scotland in particular.

In spite of the 2012-13 winter being one of the mildest in recent history, Transport for London, which maintains the city’s buses and trains, has been on a state of high alert since last month. TfL bosses have promised to ‘work around the clock’ with borough councils to minimise disruption to transport networks following issues of mismanagement and lack of coordination in previous harsh winters.

Councils have put aside part of their budgets to buy grit sand to keep road traffic moving, while Londoners have been urged to keep a closer eye on elderly and vulnerable neighbours and to avoid unnecessary travel during snowy days.

RELATED NEWS from Zemanta


“London braced for first snow” – London Evening Standard, 11/1/2013