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America calculates the consequences of a Russian nuclear strike, while in Italy neo-fascists rise to power

26-9-2022 |

Fresh - freshly squeezed news from the international press. We prepare it 2 times a week.

CNN: Tactical nuclear weapons - what Putin threatens the world with

With his forces retreating in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has once again threatened to turn to nuclear weapons, most likely what are often called tactical nuclear weapons.

In a speech last week, he warned that,

“In the event of a threat to the territorial integrity of our country and to defend Russia and our people, we will certainly make use of all weapon systems available to us. This is not a bluff.”

Russian weapon systems include 4,477 deployed and reserve nuclear warheads, with about 1,900 of these being “non-strategic” warheads, otherwise known as tactical nuclear weapons, according to the Federation of American Scientists.

But what is a tactical nuclear weapon and how does it differ from a regular nuclear weapon?

Tactical warheads refer to ones designed for use in a limited battlefield, say to destroy a column of tanks or an aircraft carrier battle group if used at sea. These warheads, with explosive yields of 10 to 100 kilotons of dynamite, are also called “low yield.”

In contrast, Russia’s most powerful “strategic” nuclear warheads have explosive yields of 500 to 800 kilotons and are designed to destroy entire cities – and then some.

The reference to “low yield” for tactical weapons is somewhat misleading as explosive yields of 10 to 100 kilotons of dynamite are still enough to cause major destruction – as the world discovered in 1945 when the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.

Those bombs were the equivalent about 15 and 21 kilotons of dynamite, respectively – within the ballpark of Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons.

The initial blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed about 70,000 and 35,000 people instantly, and tens of thousands more later died from the radiation released, according to US government archives.

Alex Wellerstein, director of science and technology studies at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, says the real difference in nuclear weapons is not really in what their explosive yield is but what their targets are.

“The atomic bombings in Japan had been ‘strategic’ attacks aimed mainly at destroying morale and terrorizing the Japanese high command into surrender. What made 15 kilotons a ‘strategic’ yield depended on where it was aimed,” Wellerstein wrote on the Outrider security blog earlier this year.

Others, including former US Defense Secretary James Mattis, say there’s no difference at all.

“I don’t think there is any such thing as a ‘tactical nuclear weapon.’ Any nuclear weapon used any time is a strategic game-changer,” told a congressional hearing in 2018.

What would happen if Russia deployed one?

Russia (and before it, the Soviet Union) has built and maintained a large stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons.

The initial thinking was that using a nuke on a battlefield gave leaders an option to make a decisive strike that could stave off defeat without resorting to the use of their biggest nuclear weapons, which after a counterattack would bring a “civilization-ending nuclear exchange,” according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

On its website, the organization calls that thinking “flawed and dangerous.”

“Tactical nuclear weapons … introduce greater ambiguity, raising the possibility that a country might think it could get away with a limited attack,” the organization said.

Some analysis supports that theory.

A commentary published during the summer by Sidharth Kaushal and Sam Cranny-Evans at Britain’s Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) says that the use of tactical nuclear weapons against command centers or air bases in Europe could limit civilian casualties in surrounding areas.

 For instance, the RUSI report says use of a tactical nuke in the Sulwaki Gap, the land border between NATO allies Poland and Lithuania that separates Russian Kaliningrad from its neighbor Belarus, could only cause civilian casualties in the hundreds.

The reality is likely to be far from that.

“US war games predict that a conflict involving use of tactical nuclear weapons will quickly spiral out of control,” the Union of Concerned Scientists blog said.

“A Princeton University simulation of a US-Russian conflict that begins with the use of a tactical nuclear weapon predicts rapid escalation that would leave more than 90 million people dead and injured,” it said.

Responding to Putin’s threat last week, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) says the Europe of 2022 is a much more dangerous place to use nuclear arms than the Japan of 1945, which had a smaller population and was relatively isolated.

In Europe today, “a single nuclear detonation would likely kill hundreds of thousands of civilians and injure many more; radioactive fallout could contaminate large areas across multiple countries,” ICAN said on its website.

AP: Italy shifts to the right

A party with neo-fascist roots, the Brothers of Italy, won the most votes in Italy’s national elections, looking set to deliver the country’s first far-right-led government since World War II and make its leader, Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s first woman premier, near-final results showed Monday.

Near-final results showed the center-right coalition netting some 44% of the parliamentary vote, with Meloni’s Brothers of Italy snatching some 26%.

President of Brothers of Italy Giorgia Meloni
Photo: AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia

Her coalition partners divided up the remainder, with the anti-immigrant League of Matteo Salvini winning nearly 9% and the more moderate Forza Italia of ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi taking around 8%.

The center-left Democratic Party and its allies had around 26%, while the 5-Star Movement — which had been the biggest vote-getter in 2018 Parliamentary elections — saw its share of the vote halved to some 15% this time around.

Turnout was a historic low 64%. Pollsters suggested voters stayed home in part in protest and also because they were disenchanted by the backroom deals that had created the three governments since the previous election.

Meloni, whose party traces its origins to the postwar, neo-fascist Italian Social Movement, sounded a moderate, unifying tone in a victory speech early Monday that noted that Italians had finally been able to clearly determine who they wanted to govern.

“If we are called to govern this nation, we will do it for everyone, we will do it for all Italians and we will do it with the aim of uniting the people (of this country),” Meloni said. “Italy chose us. We will not betray (the country) as we never have.”

While the center-right was the clear winner, the formation of a government is still weeks away and will involve consultations among party leaders and with President Sergio Mattarella. In the meantime, outgoing Premier Mario Draghi remains in a caretaker role.

A Meloni-led government is largely expected to follow Italy’s current foreign policy, including her pro-NATO stance and strong support for supplying Ukraine with weapons to defend against Russia’s invasion, even as her coalition allies stake a slightly different tone.

Both Berlusconi and Salvini have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. While both have distanced themselves from his invasion, Salvini has warned that sanctions against Moscow are hurting Italian industry, and even Berlusconi has excused Putin’s invasion as foisted on him by pro-Moscow separatists in the Donbas.

A bigger shift and one likely to cause friction with European powers is likely to come over migration. Meloni has called for a naval blockade to prevent migrant boats from leaving North African shores, and has proposed screening potential asylum-seekers in Africa, before they set out on smugglers’ boats to Europe.

Salvini has made clear he wants to return to the interior ministry, where he imposed a tough anti-migrant policy as minister. But it’s not clear he would get the post given he is currently on trial in Sicily for keeping migrants at sea.

On relations with the European Union, analysts note that for all her euroskeptic rhetoric, Meloni moderated her message during the campaign and has little room to maneuver given the economic windfall Italy is receiving from Brussels in coronavirus recovery funds.

Italy secured some 191.5 billion euros, the biggest chunk of the EU’s 750 billion-euro recovery package, and is bound by certain reform and investment milestones it must hit to receive it all.

That said, Meloni has criticized the EU’s recent recommendation to suspend 7.5 billion euros in funding to Hungary over concerns about democratic backsliding, defending Viktor Orban as the elected leader in a democratic system.

Orban’s political director, Balazs Orban, was among the first to congratulate Meloni. “In these difficult times, we need more than ever friends who share a common vision and approach to Europe’s challenges,” he tweeted.

French politician Marine Le Pen’s party hailed the result as a “lesson in humility” for the EU.

Santiago Abascal, the leader of Spain’s far-right Vox opposition party, tweeted that Meloni “has shown the way for a proud and free Europe of sovereign nations that can cooperate on behalf of everybody’s security and prosperity.”

The vice president of the European Parliament, Katharina Barley of the Social Democrats of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, said Meloni’s victory was “worrying” given her affiliations with Orban and Donald Trump.

“Her electoral lip service to Europe cannot hide the fact that she represents a danger to constructive coexistence in Europe,” Barley was quoted as saying by German daily WELT.

Politico: Germany finds common ground with the UAE

Olaf Scholz culminated a two-day trip to the Persian Gulf region by signing a gas deal with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Sunday, but the German chancellor's mission was overshadowed by human rights concerns.

Amid Russia's halt in gas deliveries to Germany and skyrocketing energy prices in Europe, Scholz traveled to the region to secure alternative supplies for his country's energy-hungry economy.

His trip came as France's TotalEnergies announced a big deal with Qatar on Saturday, under which the French energy giant will invest in the exploration of a new gas field for exports of liquified natural gas (LNG) and will take a 9.4 percent share of the project.

During a stopover in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi on Sunday morning, Scholz signed a contract for delivering 137,000 cubic meters of LNG, which is supposed to arrive in northern Germany at the end of this year, according to German energy provider RWE.

The delivery will thus likely come in time to help Europe's largest economy to overcome a gas scarcity this winter and deal with the fallout of what Scholz has described as Russian energy "blackmail."

However, the LNG deal can only make up for a small part of the 56.3 billion cubic meters of gas that Germany received from Russia in 2020. German energy providers have been seeking to replace the Russian gas with last-minute purchases on the world market, but those come at a much higher price.

The UAE deal, which also includes additional LNG deliveries in the coming years, comes at a fixed price and is therefore more advantageous. Scholz recently said that his country "will come through this winter."

Photo: Abdulla al-Neyadi/EPA-EFE

During two-day trip to the Middle East, the chancellor balanced securing energy supplies and raising human rights concerns.

On Saturday, Scholz paid a visit to Saudi Arabia, where he met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to talk about a variety of business issues, including German investments in the future production of green hydrogen in the Arab country.

Both leaders also discussed Russia's war in Ukraine, over which Scholz sought to convince bin Salman to take a harder line toward Moscow, and the war in Yemen.

Not long ago, bin Salman was a pariah on the international stage over his reported role in approving the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi government agents.

Asked whether he raised Khashoggi's murder with the crown prince, Scholz said on Saturday: "We discussed all the issues that revolve around questions of civil and human rights. That is how it should be. You can assume that nothing has remained undiscussed that needs to be said."

France24: Police disperse demonstrators outside Iranian embassies in Paris and London

French police used tear gas and employed anti-riot tactics to prevent hundreds of people protesting in the capital from marching on Tehran's diplomatic mission, AFP reporters and eyewitnesses said.

In London, police said they made 12 arrests and five officers were "seriously injured" as demonstrators tried to break through barriers protecting Iran's UK embassy.

The protesters in Paris had gathered for the second day running to express outrage at the death of Mahsa Amini following her arrest by Iran's morality police -- and to show solidarity with the protests that have erupted in Iran, at a cost of at least 41 lives.

Similar rallies in support of Iranian women have occurred around the world.

People face riot police as they take part in a demonstration in support of Iranian protesters in Paris on September 25, 2022
Christophe Archambault, AFP

The demonstration had began peacefully at Trocadero Square in the centre of the French capital. Some protesters chanted "Death to the Islamic Republic" and slogans against supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

But police in full anti-riot armour, backed by a line of vans, blocked the path of the protesters as they sought to approach the Iranian embassy a short distance away.

In a statement, Paris police said that about 4,000 people had gathered for the demonstration. One person was arrested for "outrage and rebellion" and one officer was slightly hurt, said police.

The use of tear gas angered activists already upset by President Emmanuel Macron's talks and public handshake with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last week.

In view of what is happening, we Iranians are fully mobilised," said Nina, a Paris-based French Iranian who asked that her last name was not given. "We must react given that we are far from our homeland, our country.

"It's really time we all come together so we can really speak up so the whole world can really hear our voice," she added.

Similarly tense scenes took place in London, where images posted on social media showed protesters seeking to break through police security barriers outside the Iranian embassy there.

London's Metropolitan Police said "masonry, bottles and other projectiles were thrown and a number of officers were injured. At least five are in hospital with injuries including broken bones."

Picked and squeezed for you: Irina Iakovleva