Russia Battles Blaze Larger Than All Current Wildfires
The major blaze comes as much of the northern hemisphere is experiencing record-breaking wildfires amid large droughts and warmer temperatures.
Worldwide, countries and regions have experienced record-breaking wildfires as climates in many areas continue to warm and drought increasingly become more common.
Since last week, Greece has been fighting at least 586 wildfires throughout the country amidst one of the worst heat waves in decades.
In a televised address on Monday, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told the nation that 63 organized evacuations had to take place as the fires approached towns and villages. Some areas, like the island of Evia, saw families struggling to scramble onto boats and ferries in the middle of the night to escape oncoming flames early Monday.
So far, hundreds of homes have been destroyed, and the government’s response has been criticized by some as inadequate, leading to protests outside of the Greek Parliament Monday afternoon.
Scientists believe that Southern Europe will experience extreme wildfire seasons more often as the region has increasingly experienced larger droughts. Of notable concern alongside Greece is Croatia, which similarly has large areas of dry tinder and relatively underfunded fire brigades.
The flames aren’t just affecting Greece. Algeria is now in its second day of combatting large wildfires and the situation continues to be dire. Authorities reported Wednesday morning that 65 people have died in blazes, about half of whom were soldiers who were deployed as emergency firefighters.
These fires are centered around Kabylia, a region about 60 miles east of the capital that is home to the Berber ethnic group and dry terrain.
Locals are concerned that the fires were at least partially started by arson. Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud said on national television Wednesday afternoon that the 30 fires ravaging the region were “highly synchronized,” adding that it “leads one to believe these were criminal acts.”
“Thirty fires at the same time in the same region can’t be by chance,” he continued.
Largest Fires in the World
In addition to Greece and Algeria, countries like Italy, Turkey, Spain, Peru, and Lebanon are also battling large blazes over the past week that have burned thousands of square miles.
Still, none are as big as the blazes Russia has been battling for weeks. In fact, all of the current wildfires around the world combined still aren’t as large as the current Russian forest fires. The fires there are mostly confined to the large regions of Siberia and Yakutia, both of which occupy the vast majority of the country.
The region is heavily forested and consistent droughts have led to a massive forest fire season, similar to what has occurred in California over the last decade. Unlike California, Siberia and Yakutia are extremely sparsely populated with few urban centers — meaning there have only been a few evacuation orders.
Generally speaking, firefighters let most of the fires burn out on their own as part of the natural life cycle of the region, despite their larger-than-normal size this year. However, scientists are concerned about the scope of this year’s fires they’ve been so large that massive clouds of smoke can cover the region for weeks, which has its own ecological problems.
These fires have contributed to clouds of smoke covering the North Pole for the first time in recorded history. That has prompted fears that prolonged periods of such coverage could lead to increased warming, further endangering the arctic permafrost and releasing trapped greenhouses gasses. In turn, that exacerbates the ongoing global climate crisis in a way that can’t be controlled, compared to the consumption of fossil fuels.
The fires are so concerning that Alexander Kozlov, Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology, called for a nearly 100% increase in the firefighting budget to $190 million.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (The Moscow Times)
U.S. Intel Suggests Pro-Ukraine Group Sabotaged Nord Stream Pipeline
There is no evidence that the culprits behind the attack were acting under the direction of the Ukrainian government.
Europe Braces for Shocking Revelations
A pro-Ukraine group blew up the Nord Stream pipelines last September, intelligence reviewed by U.S. officials suggests.
The New York Times reported the news Tuesday, citing officials who said there was no evidence of involvement by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, any of his top lieutenants, or any government officials.
The strength of the evidence, however, is not clear, and U.S. officials declined to inform The Times on the nature of the intelligence or how it was obtained. They reportedly added that the intelligence indicates neither who the group’s members are nor who funded and directed the operation.
The Times’ sources said they believe the saboteurs were most likely Russian or Ukrainian nationals and that they possibly received specialized government training in the past.
It’s also possible that the group behind the attack was a proxy with covert ties to Kyiv, the report added.
When three of four Nord Stream pipelines were found to be severely damaged last year, the revelation shook markets and sent European gas prices soaring. Nord Stream 1, which was completed in 2011, and Nord Stream 2, which had been laid down but wasn’t yet operational, supplied Germany and by extension the rest of Western Europe with cheap Russian natural gas.
Following the explosions, Poland and Ukraine blamed Russia, and Russia blamed Britain. Other observers speculated that Ukraine might be behind it too.
More Ongoing Investigations
Last month, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh claimed in a Substack article that the United States military carried out the attack and that President Biden authorized it himself. However, Hersh’s report cited only one anonymous source in support of its central claim, so it was largely dismissed as not credible.
Western governments expressed caution on Wednesday in response to The Times report.
“There are ongoing national investigations and I think it’s right to wait until those are finalized before we say anything more about who was behind it,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.
Russia, by contrast, pounced on the opportunity to renew its demand for inclusion in a proposed international probe into the pipeline explosion.
The Ukrainian government denied any involvement in the Nord Stream explosions.
On Wednesday, multiple German media outlets reported that investigators have largely reconstructed how the attack happened, pinning the blame on six people who allegedly used a yacht hired by a Ukrainian-owned company in Poland.
German officials reportedly searched a vessel suspected of carrying the explosives in January, but the investigation is ongoing.
The country’s defense minister suggested the explosions may have been a “false flag” attack to smear Ukraine.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Associated Press) (Reuters)
Turkey, Syria Earthquake Death Toll Rises to 41,000 as Survivors Pulled from Rubble
A pair of brothers spent around 200 hours trapped under debris, living off of protein powder and their own urine.
A Humanitarian Crisis Explodes
The number of confirmed dead from the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria last week has surpassed 41,000.
Millions more people have been left stranded without adequate shelter, food, clean water, or medical supplies.
At night, the region has dropped to below-freezing temperatures.
Now health authorities are worried that the lack of sanitation infrastructure, which was damaged by the quakes, will lead to a disease outbreak.
“We haven’t been able to rinse off since the earthquake,” 21-year-old Mohammad Emin, whose home was destroyed, told Reuters.
He was helping out at a clinic serving displaced people in an open-air stadium, but with no showers and only six toilets, the resource shortage was poignant.
“They are offering tetanus shots to residents who request them, and distributing hygiene kits with shampoo, deodorant, pads and wipes,” added Akin Hacioglu, a doctor at the clinic.
The World Health Organization monitors the population for waterborne diseases like cholera and typhoid, as well as seasonal influenza and COVID-19.
Rescuers Race Against the Clock
After more than a week of searching, hopes that more living victims will be found amid the collapsed buildings are fading, but rescuers continue to pull out the final few survivors.
Abdulbaki Yeninar, 21, and his brother Muhammed Enes Yeninar, 17, spent about 200 hours under rubble in the city of Kahramanmaras before they were extracted Tuesday. They told reporters they held on by eating protein powder, drinking their own urine, and swallowing gulps of air.
In the same city, teams dug a 16-foot tunnel through debris to rescue a woman, and to the south, a volunteer mining crew joined the efforts to save another.
With no homes to go back to, some survivors have joined the ranks of volunteers themselves.
In the past week, more than 35,000 Turkish search-and-rescue teams worked alongside thousands of international workers in the effort, according to Turkey’s emergency management agency.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has called the earthquakes the “disaster of the century” and said in a statement that at least 13,000 people were being treated in hospitals.
The death toll is expected to rise even further in the coming weeks.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Reuters) (Al Jazeera)
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon Resigns
“In my head and in my heart I know that time is now,” she said to reporters
Sturgeon Steps Down
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced her resignation on Wednesday.
Sturgeon has been Scotland’s longest-serving First Minister and she is also the first woman to ever hold the position. She has been in politics since 1999, leading the charge for Scotland’s independence from the United Kingdom. Sturgeon also guided the country through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sturgeon made sure to mention that her decision was not in response to the latest round of political pressure she is facing after her recent controversies regarding gender reform. Rather, her reasons are rooted in her own personal struggle with whether she can continue to do the job well.
“To be clear, I am not expecting violins here. But I am a human being as well as a politician,” she said during a press conference on Wednesday. “My point is this – giving absolutely everything of yourself to this job is the only way to do it. The country deserves nothing less. But, in truth, that can only be done by anyone for so long.
“For me, it is now in danger of becoming too long,” Sturgeon continued. “A First Minister is never off-duty. Particularly in this day and age, there is virtually no privacy. Even ordinary stuff that most people take for granted like going for a coffee with friends or going for a walk on your own becomes very difficult.”
Sturgeon’s Political Future
Sturgeon’s approval ratings are reportedly the lowest they’ve been since she’s been in office. Regardless, many political figures in Scotland, as well as the U.K., have applauded her and her historic service as First Minister.
There are still several unknowns moving forward. There is still no confirmation on who will take over the position. However, Sturgeon did say that she will serve until someone else is elected.
The push for Scotland’s independence is hanging in limbo as well, and no one knows what it’ll look like without Sturgeon’s leadership. She did mention, however, that she does not intend to leave politics fully and will still fight for the cause as a lawmaker in Parliament.
Sturgeon said the support for Scottish independence needs to be solidified and grow.
“To achieve that we need to reach across the divide in Scottish politics,” she said. “And my judgment now is that this needs a new leader.”