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US politicians urge Biden to appoint Northern Ireland envoy

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A bipartisan group of US Congress members has written to President Joe Biden, urging him to appoint a special envoy to Northern Ireland.

The letter, a copy of which has been seen by the Irish Times, says an envoy should be appointed “in order to continue to support the peace process during this critical time.”

“We believe this decision would not only demonstrate America’s enduring commitment to peace in Northern Ireland but would directly encourage regional peace and stability,” the letter states.

The intervention comes as Mr Biden prepares to name several ambassadors, including the next ambassador to Ireland, in the coming weeks.

Congressman Bill Keating, who chairs the House foreign affairs sub-committee which oversees Europe and has led the initiative, told The Irish Times that he believed the appointment of a special envoy to Northern Ireland was vital at this time.

“I think it is recognised that the peace agreement would not have occurred without the participation of the United States. We feel that we’re a part of that Good Friday Agreement as a country, and we want to make sure that the agreement, and the peace that was achieved against all odds, continues. But there is concern that it is now in jeopardy.”

Pointing to last week’s hearing on the Belfast Agreement convened by the sub-committee on Europe, Energy, the Environment, and Cyber, he said that the hearing had confirmed that a US special envoy is needed. “This would be a time where the US involvement could be helpful and critical,” the Massachusetts congressman said.

“The uptick in violence in Northern Ireland has been a great concern,” he said. “There are people that weren’t even born when the original agreement was signed but are getting caught up.”

‘Unilateral action’

The letter which was sent to Mr Biden on Wednesday was signed by 25 members of Congress including several prominent Irish-Americans such as Richard Neal, Brendan Boyle, Dan Kildee and Mary Gay Scanlon.

It comes as Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis and Britain’s EU negotiator David Frost briefed several members of Congress on Tuesday. According to people on the call, among the issues that were raised from the US side was concern about unilateral action by the British government, both in relation to the Northern Irish protocol, and reports that British soldiers who served in Northern Ireland would be given legal protection through new legislation at Westminster.

The letter that has been sent to Mr Biden as he prepares to name his pick for various ambassadorial positions sets out in detail the rationale for appointing a special envoy to Northern Ireland, noting the role previous envoys like Senator George Mitchell, had played in securing peace.

Outlining America’s role in the signing of the Belfast Agreement, the letter also warns about renewed instability in the region, prompted in part by the Northern Ireland protocol.

“Twenty-three years later, peace and stability in the region have recently been challenged by the cumulative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, tensions related to Brexit, as well as enduring local economic and social issues.” It continues: “Unfortunately, in late March and early April of this year, Northern Ireland saw a spike in unrest and violence that many be attributed in part to the implementation of the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol, a key tenant of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.”

The recent outbreak of violence, though condemned by all the major political parties, shows that “uncertainty and serious potential for violence in the future have not abated,” it adds.

Mr Keating also noted the role women have played in achieving peace in Northern Ireland, a role that should be recognised in any future appointment. Among those who testified at last week’s hearing on Capitol Hill were Professor Monica McWilliams of Ulster University and former deputy speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly Jane Morrice, along with Mitchell Reiss, former special envoy to Northern Ireland.

“We also ask that you task any future Special Envoy for Northern Ireland with a mandate to encourage the inclusion of women and ensure that their voices are heard and that they are represented at the table,” the letter states.


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Where can I watch Switzerland’s Euro 2020 matches in Zurich?

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Euro 2020 – taking place of course in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic – kicked off on Friday, June 11th. 

Despite injuries and a lack of match fitness among key players, Switzerland have a strong chance of getting out of the group stages and matching their best-ever performance, which took place at the 2016 edition where they went to the Round of 16. 

Switzerland were drawn in a strong but not impossible group of Wales, Italy and Turkey – and will realistically hope to finish second in the group. 

Switzerland have some top quality players in their squad, including Liverpool bench man Xherdan ‘Magic Cube’ Shaqiri and Gladbach goalscorer Breel Embolo, along with seemingly every goalkeeper in the Bundesliga. 

What are the coronavirus rules? 

From the start of the tournament, organisers will be able to host a maximum of 300 people outside and 100 people inside pursuant to coronavirus rules. 

This means that the large ‘Public Viewing’ events which have taken place in the past will not be allowed as per usual. 

From June 28th, the rules will be further relaxed to allow for up to 1,000 people if they are seated. 

This will however be from the quarter finals onwards, which gives Switzerland a surefire incentive to go deep in the tournament. 

READ MORE: Switzerland to further relax coronavirus measures from June 28th

But whether you’re cheering for Switzerland or another one of the tournament’s 24 teams, here’s where you can watch. 

While many of the usual large public viewing sites will be unavailable, this will benefit some of the city’s smaller sports bars who will now surely have every seat filled. 

Reservations are recommended or required at all venues. 

Amboss Rampe, at 80 Zollstrasse, boasts craft beer and will be open for all games. 

Calvados sportsbar on Idaplatz will show all of the games on three large screens. 

Another area with outdoor seating will be Frau Gerold’s Garten will show all the games and does not have an entry fee, while they also accept group reservations for up to 50 people. 

Riithalle restaurant on Gessnerallee will show all games in their garden. 

The Ziegelhutte has been fitted out to cater for 250 people outside and 100 inside in the ‘pump room’. Entry fees are required for Switzerland and Germany games and bookings are considered essential. 

For anyone missing the feeling of large ‘Public Viewings’, the closest you’re likely to get is in Zurich Nord. While entry is free, tickets need to be booked to guarantee a reservation. 



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Prehistoric art in Spain: The 27,000-year-old cave art found under graffiti in Spain’s Basque Country | Culture

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Diego Garate, doctor of prehistory at the University of Cantabria and a specialist in Paleolithic art, was surprised when he came across a 27,000-year-old painting of a bison a meter and a half long, hidden under graffiti, in one of the Aizpitarte caves in the Basque Country. The discovery of the artwork, obscured by the word “exit” and an arrow indicating the way out of the cave, took place in September 2015. Now, following years of research, investigators claim it indicates the existence of a shared artistic culture in ancient Europe.

According to Garate, the bison painting was found when he and a team of speleologists explored the cave in search of cave art. “We went through a small, very low arch about 50 centimeters high, that led into a passageway and when I raised my head I saw an impressive bison covered by graffiti on the rock,” he says. “Its characteristics were similar to those of other bison found in at least 17 caves in different parts of the Iberian Peninsula and Central Europe.” Garate and his team’s research, which was published last week in the journal PLOS One, also includes studies of paintings found in three caves in the area of bison, horses and a bird in an artistic style previously unseen in the Iberian peninsula.

Garate began searching for Paleolithic paintings in Spain’s Basque Country a decade ago. “Very little was known about the cave art in this region compared with neighboring areas such as Cantabria, which has the Altamira cave; or the central Pyrenees, which is full of decorated caves; or the French Dordogne, which is famous for its paintings of bison and mammoths,” says Garate.

These bison paintings date back 27,000 years.
These bison paintings date back 27,000 years.

In the center of that geographical triangle is Basque Country, which then – like now – was a transit area for people crossing between the Iberian Peninsula and the rest of Europe. “It was paradoxical that there was so little cave art considering it was the only pass available to the men and women of that period,” says Garate. In 2011, when he began his research, only six caves with artwork were recorded in the entire Basque Country. Now that number has risen to 28.

Manuel González Morales, a researcher at the International Institute of Prehistoric Research in Cantabria, says that Garate’s work is “extraordinarily” significant both archaeologically and historically as it has revealed more locations containing Paleolithic art in an area that, until several years ago, appeared relatively empty of this kind of historical evidence. Beyond purely aesthetic considerations, González says these paintings represent “new examples of how underground spaces, including some difficult to access, were used for the development of artistic activity.”

Garate claims that the discovery of the bison paintings in that region of Spain proves that its inhabitants exchanged ideas, shared graphic expressions and had similar and recurring motifs. “We have discovered that human groups in the area communicated with each other,” says Garate. “For example, they used the same tools fashioned from bone to sculpt the stone. We found the remains of those tools in the same caves where we found the paintings.”

The research also points to the existence of exchange networks rather than the same groups of humans moving or migrating from one place to another. “These bison are proof of what would be the first instance of globalization on a continental scale, from Central Europe to the Iberian Peninsula, something like the first European Union 27,000 years ago,” says González, who adds that Garate’s findings show that Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherer groups made contact with other groups and exchanged technical and stylistic ideas.

The depiction of the animals' limbs had no perspective or depth.
The depiction of the animals’ limbs had no perspective or depth.

One of the most notable features of these paintings is their perspective, which is very different from what we use today. “The type of art that was developed on the continent 27,000 years ago was expressionist,” explains Garate. “The artists did not try to depict reality, but to offer their own interpretation of it.” Consequently, the animals in these paintings appear disproportionate – their faces are grotesque while their legs and horns are two dimensional, like the art found in Egyptian temples.

Garate explains that the style of the paintings is difficult to appreciate today, not because the artists could not portray the subject of their art as they saw them, but because there was an established painting technique. “It gives us the feeling that the art was controlled; subject to rules imposed from a place of power,” says Garate. “The artist would be more like a craftsman. Rather than doing what occurred to them, they could only do what they were ordered to do. It was a collective rather than an individual form of art.”

But experts still don’t know the purpose or meaning of these paintings. “There are multiple interpretations and perhaps there is more than one answer,” Garate acknowledges. “We know that for 30,000 years, animals rather than plants, humans or stars were depicted. Over that period of time, there were several different human groups, but the art is limited to the same motif. We also know that they [the paintings] did not depict the animals that were hunted and eaten, which makes us think that these paintings have a very strong message, perhaps related to social cohesion; to that need to keep the group together in order to survive.”

English version by Heather Galloway.

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See For Yourself, 30 of the New, Modern, Amazing Airports of ‘Stagnating Russia’ (Great Pictures)

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The author is CEO of the Awara Group, which offers consulting, accounting, tax, and legal services. He is the author of several books on politics and philosophy, as well as Putin’s New Russia. He speaks fluent English, Russian, Finnish, and Swedish, and German, French, and Spanish less fluently. He resides in Moscow.

Click here for an archive of his excellent articles on RI about the Russian Economy. This article first appeared at the Awara Group.


What prompted me to write this Awara Accounting report on the impressive development of Russia’s airports was to produce a cure for the but-beyond-the-MKAD syndrome. The MKAD is the 110 kilometer outer ring road around Moscow. And this syndrome refers to the habit of the detractors of Putin’s Russia to claim that any visible development of Russia, if any, has happened only within the limits of Moscow city – “just go outside the Ring Road and you’ll see there’s nothing but poverty and ruin.”

Many of those who suffer from this syndrome live in a deep-seated cognitive dissonance where they just refuse to trust their lying eyes, while some of them are just peddlers of pure propaganda or victims of the latter.

So, let’s see what actually happens beyond the MKAD. Amazing airports have been built or reconstructed both in Moscow and across the vast country and many other impressive projects have been presented.

And it is not just airports, it is roads and bridges, too. Those Awara has covered in other reports in the series on Putin’s incredible infrastructure investments. You can read about the amazing new bridges at this link: Putin the Pontiff – Bridge maker and the great development of Russia’s roads here.

What’s remarkable is also the efficiency and speed of the construction of the new airport terminals. Most of them have been built in three years and some in two or even less. The Simferopol airport (above) was built in two years and was up and running within three years from the decision to initiate the project. Krasnoyarsk (below) needed only1.5 years to complete the construction.

Russia’s 79 international airports

Our method was to review all the airports in a list of all of Russia’s international airports. (An international airport is one into which a plane can fly directly from a foreign country as it runs a passport control). There were 79 airports in our list. From what I had registered from the news and in my travels, I expected that there would be some 10 or 15 cool new airports to present. But no. The task proved much more overwhelming as it turned out that almost every one of the listed airports had been reconstructed or was due for reconstruction.

Instead of writing up an easy piece with nice pics, I ended up spending weeks on identifying and digesting all the information. The investigation showed that practically each one of the 79 airports had either been modernized or about to be so. I identified less than 10 airports on the list of international airports which were not brought up to modern quality standards since 2000 or on the way to it. And of those half were either remote outposts or military airfields. I am confident, that all the passenger airports in the major Russian cities (defined as having some 150 thousand or more inhabitants) will be totally modernized within the next 6 years.

Practically all the development of the international airports has been funded by both public and private money, where the infrastructure like runways and flight controls have been recipients of public funds whereas the terminals have been mostly built by public funds.

In addition to the 79 international airports there are some 60 regional airports with more or less regular traffic. These will all also be upgraded according to a multibillion government program on development of regional airports running up to 2024. This forms part of a broader strategic program ordered by President Putin to improve the Russian economy, demographics and infrastructure with public and private funding amounting to a total of $400 billion.

An important goal with the development of the airports is to help decentralize the economy by way of increasing direct interconnectivity of Russian cities instead of people having to fly transit through Moscow, which has in the past really hampered the overall development of the country.

The new airport facilities are really needed to keep up with the passenger boom

The new enlarged and reconstructed airports cater to a growing number of passengers. In 2000, when Putin first took office, the Russian airports served 35.5 million passengers, but by 2018 the number had grown sixfold to 205 million. That surpasses the 135 million passengers of the USSR in the 1980s. The growth has been huge and accelerating, just in five years from 2014 to 2018 the number grew by one third.

In the meanwhile, the Moscow air cluster with 97 million passengers (2018) has become Europe’s third largest air hub after London (126 mln) and Paris (104 mln).  Sheremetyevo – Europe’s fastest growing airport – alone has grown 4.5 times since 2000 to present 46 million. At the same time, Moscow’s second airport Domodedovo grew from handling 2.8 million passengers in in 2000 to 30 million in 2017.

Air travel is a very solid indicator for economic activity, these figures then show that there is much going on that does not catch the eye of the GDP.

MOSCOW

When I first came to Moscow by air in 1993, the city did not have a single modern airport. Actually, back then the Sheremetyevo international airport, present day Terminal F, should have formally counted as a modern one as it was built only about a decade earlier in 1980 in time for the Moscow Olympics. But the airport – built by a West German company – was terribly outdated in design and functionality from the start. Both the façade and the interior design was informed by a dark and gloomy style prevailing in Russia during the 1970s. My impression as a passenger was that that the terminal must have been in operational neglect at least three decades by then.

I used to hate having to travel through that airport and each time I would wish they’d remove the heavy copper circles which were misdecorating the ceilings and literally weighing over the heads of the passengers. One day sometime in the early 2000s it did happen; the copper was gone and a white suspended ceiling was there instead. Somebody told me that the reason was that the commodity price of copper had surged. Whatever, I was happy for it. In the 1990s the restrooms where stinky and you’d be lucky if they were furnished with paper. And then there was the strong kerosene fumes wafting around the whole airport. An odor which you would connect with Russia in good and bad. For me it actually became so characteristic of Russia, that I later found myself upon arrival inhaling that fume, like one would mountain air, happy as I had returned to Russia from the increasingly oppressive West.

But today all has changed, if Sheremetyevo Terminal F was probably the worst of all the world’s major airports, I considered the new Terminal D as one of the best when it opened in 2009. Presently the terminal is overcrowded as it operates way over its planned capacity, but that should ease when the domestic traffic is fully transferred to the new Terminal B, which opened in 2018.

If Sheremetyevo Terminal G was depressing, then the domestic terminal then called Sheremetyevo 1 was like a parody of all that was wrong with the later stages of the USSR just before its demise. Moscow’s second airport, Domodedovo, at that time was very much the same, but today Domodedovo along with Sheremetyevo are modern international airports meeting the highest global standards. There is a third major Moscow airport as well, the Vnukovo airport. And a smaller, fourth Moscow cluster international airport, Zhukovsky (Ramenskoe) opened in 2018.

In 2018, in time for the FIFA World Cup, Moscow’s Sheremetyevo got the new Terminal B for domestic flights. This one will be merged with present Terminal C, after the renovation of the latter, to form a hub for domestic flights, while Terminals D, E and F will serve international flights. An underground shuttle train opened in 2018 already connects the domestic and international terminals.

The old Domodedovo terminal in Moscow


A waiting lounge at the old Domodedovo


The new Domodedovo (above and below)


New, in 2012 (above) and old, in 2000 (below) Vnukovo, Moscow’s 3rd airport.

Let’s now go beyond the MKAD and look at the other new amazing airport complexes around the country. This is just a selection, there is much more.

SAINT PETERSBURG

Saint Petersburg was really in a need of a modern airport, and it was therefore such a relief when it finally opened in 2013

BELGOROD

Belgorod a city of 350 thousand inhabitants close to the Ukrainian border got this new beautiful terminal in 2013.

VLADIVOSTOK

Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East got a new airport terminal in 2012 as part of the preparations for the APEC 2012 summit.

YEKATERINBURG

Yekaterinburg, Russia’s third largest city on the eastern side of the Ural Mountains received a new terminal in 2009.

KAZAN

This new airport complex was erected in 2012 in Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, Russia’s sixth most populous city. It was built in the run up to the 2013 Summer Universiade and enlarged for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

KALININGRAD

This new airport in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave at the Baltic Sea, opened in 2017

NIZHNY NOVGOROD

The new airport in Nizhny Novgorod was also built as part of Russia’s infrastructure upgrade in preparation for the 2018 football World Cup.

NOVOSIBIRSK

The new airport in Novosibirsk is from 2015. Novosibirsk with 1.5 million is a city in Siberia at the Ob River. The Trans-Siberian Railway fueled much of the city’s growth in the 19th century.

PERM

The new terminal in Perm from 2017 is a real architectural gem. Perm has a population over one million and is located in the, Urals 300 kilometers north-west of Yekaterinburg and 400 kilometers north of Ufa.

ROSTOV-ON-DON

Rostov-on-Don is one more of the cities which got a new airport terminal (opened 2017) in preparation for the FIFA 2018 World Cup. In fact, this was a brand new airport built on virgin field, whereas the other airports in this survey represent development and enlargements of previously existing airports.

SABETA, YAMAL PENINSULA

Sabetta on the Yamal peninsula got an airport in 2014 in connection with Russia’s push to develop its Arctic regions and in this case especially the Yamal LNG project and the Yuzhno-Tambeyskoye gas field.

SAMARA

In 2014 opened the new airport in Samara in the southeastern part of European Russia on the east bank of the river Volga.

SIMFEROPOL

Simferopol airport in Russian Crimea is probably the nicest airport in the world. Built in 2018, four years after Crimea’s liberation from Ukrainian occupation.

It was an amazing feeling travelling through that airport. The architect has really managed to do what is most important in places like that, to neutralize the stress factor. Everything is so spacy, harmonious and green that you get a feeling that you are in a giant spa instead of an airport. The Simferopol airport really calmed my nerves on a busy travelling day.

SOCHI

The Sochi airport was built in 2009 and enlarged in time for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

TALAKAN, YAKUTIA

This airport in Talakan in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) opened in 2012.

TYUMEN

The new international terminal in Tyumen was opened in 2017. Tyumen was the first Russian settlement in Siberia and now has an estimated population of 750 thousand.

UFA

Ufa, the capital city of Bashkortostan at the Urals received this new air terminal in 2015.

VOLGOGRAD

This is the airport in Volgograd, the WWII name of which was Stalingrad. A new international terminal was constructed in 2016 and in 2018 another terminal for domestic flights was opened to accommodate football fans for FIFA 2018.

KRASNOYARSK

The newly constructed airport in Krasnoyarsk opened in December 2017. Krasnoyarsk is located at the Yenisei River in Siberia. With a population over one million it is the third largest Siberian city after Novosibirsk and Omsk. Novosibirsk got a new airport in 2015 and Omsk will get one before 2022.

Those were some of the airports built and upgraded within the last decade, now let’s look on some airport projects underway.

GROZNY

The Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov presented in May 2018 this bold project for the new airport in the Chechen capital Grozny. The construction is expected to commence in 2020.

SARATOV

The projected new terminal at the Saratov airport is one more of the new Russian airports with daring architecture, not only functionality but beauty, too. Saratov on the Volga River and with a population of some 850 thousand will have this airport up and running in 2019.

IRKUTSK

The Irkutsk airport will be modernized with this new terminal in 2020. Irkutsk is a city of 600 thousand people near the Lake Baikal.

KRASNODAR

Krasnodar, Russia’s fastest growing city, in the South of the country will get a new airport and air city hub by 2023.

NALCHIK

This new terminal in Nalchik is due by 2020. Nalchik is a city of 300 thousand situated at an altitude of 550 meters (1,800 ft) in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains.

PETROPAVLOVSK-KAMCHATSKY

Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is Russia’s easternmost big city situated on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Interestingly, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is actually situated quite a bit eastward from Tokyo if you go by the latitude of geographic coordinates. That should really give you an idea how huge Russia is. This new airport terminal will be erected there by 2021.

KHABAROVSK

As part of Putin’s drive to develop Russia’s Far East, Khabarovsk will get a new modern airport terminal by 2019. Further the airport will be developed into a logistic hub with an air city consisting of business centers, hotels and an exposition center. Khabarovsk, a city of more than half a million people, is located at the confluence of the Amur and Ussuri Rivers about 800 kilometers north of Vladivostok and only 30 kilometers from the Chinese border.

CHELYABINSK

Chelyabinsk is just to the east of the Ural Mountains and 210 kilometers south of Yekaterinburg. This city with more than 1 million inhabitants will soon get this new airport terminal which is due in 2019. The construction was spurred by the BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organization summits to be held in Chelyabinsk in 2020.

YUZHNO-SAKHALINSK

Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk with a population of 200 thousand is on the Sakhalin island, one thousand kilometer west from the Kamchatka Peninsula. Their new airport terminal is due by end of 2019 so as to accommodate growing needs of tourism and business.

GELENDZHIK

We will round off this survey with this impressive new airport terminal which will be erected in Gelendzhik. Gelendzhik is a Black Sea resort 250 kilometer west from Sochi. In fact, between Sochi and Anapa on the whole coast, there are no high quality resorts except for Gelendzhik, but this one is truly a gem. The new terminal will be built by 2021. Gelendzhik is the only one in our survey which does not presently have the status of international airport, but that should be taken care of by the time this new airport is done. With Gelendzhik completed, Russia’s Black Sea region will have six modern large airports – Sochi, Gelendzhik, Anapa, Simferopol, Krasnodar, Rostov-on-Don – in a matrix of roughly 300 kilometers between airport. That is an impressive density in itself and doubly remarkable considering there was not a single decent airport there before 2009. Considering also the road building happening in the region, the area is on its way to develop into a Russian Provence, with which it already shares the climate and nature.

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