Meteor grazing night sky caught on camera in southern Russia (VIDEO)

The night sky over Sochi in southern Russia was lit up by a spectacular meteor cutting through the heavens on Friday, which astronomers say is part of the annual Geminid shower.

“In Sochi, we’re told that the meteorite observed in Armavir fell,” Alexander Ivanov, of the Astrophysical Observatory of the Kuban State University, told TASS, adding that the facility’s cameras only partially managed to capture its flight.

READ MORE: 120 shooting stars per hour: Norway poised for Geminids bombardment

“What our cameras caught was a fairly bright meteor, measuring around 10-15 centimeters, which burned in the atmosphere, leaving a very bright trace.”

Ivanov said that the object most likely came from the Geminid shower, which can be seen from December 4-17. It peaks around December 13-15.

“The asteroid Phaethon, which comes opposite to the Earth in December, is believed to be the ancestor of the Geminids stream. The meteor shower has been known since the 19th century.

This year it has been especially active, and a lot of meteors have entered the atmosphere.”

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Venezuela awards 2 offshore gas field licenses to Russia’s Rosneft

Russian energy giant Rosneft has been awarded licenses to two offshore gas fields in Venezuela. The deal was signed as Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin met with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas on Saturday.

According to the agreement a Rosneft subsidiary, Grupo Rosneft, will become the operator of Patao and Mejillones offshore gas fields in the Caribbean Sea. 

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©  Jorge Silva

For the next 30 years, the Russian company will have the right to sell all gas produced at the fields for exports, including in the form of LNG (liquefied natural gas).

Rosneft is now to prepare proof-of-concept and base projects, which would require approval from the Venezuelan authorities for production to begin.

The total reserves of the two fields are estimated at 180 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas, Rosneft said in a statement, adding that it plans to extract 6.5 bcm of gas annually for the next 15 years.

During his visit, Sechin also discussed Rosneft’s cooperation with the Venezuelan state energy company PDVSA. In August, Rosneft provided PDVSA with $ 6 billion as advance payment for oil supplies.

The Russian company is already involved in a number of joint projects in Venezuela, including the Petromiranda, Petromonagas, Petrovictoria, Boqueron and Petroperija fields, which are estimated to hold more than 20.5 billion tons of oil.

Last year, those projects produced 8.4 million tons of oil, with Rosneft’s share standing at 2.67 million tons.

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‘Most important relations’: How US pressure may help turn China-Russia strategic ties into alliance

The Chinese Ambassador has praised the Russia-China relationship as “the best in the world,” but analysts tell RT it falls short of a close economic or military alliance. This may change if Washington chooses to confront Beijing.

Over the course of history Moscow and Beijing, former Communist allies and later bitter rivals, now find themselves on the same side in opposing Washington in its insistence on global dominance. The Russian and Chinese positions are often aligned on issues such as the Syrian conflict, the North Korean crisis or America’s habit of using military force to achieve its geopolitical goals.

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© Lee Jae Won

Commenting on relations between the two nations, Chinese Ambassador to Russia Li Hui praised the current state of affairs. “The Chinese-Russian relations of comprehensive strategic cooperation and partnership are the most important bilateral relations in the world and, moreover, the best relations between big countries,” he said at an event dedicated to the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress in October. “One can say that they are a classic example of the healthiest and most mature interstate relations and an important force to protect peace and stability throughout the world.”

The commendatory remark of the Chinese diplomat, which Newsweek called a “snub of US President Donald Trump,” should be taken with a grain of salt, since the actual relations between the two countries are more complex, experts tell RT.

“This is a sort of diplomatic mantra,” said economist Sergey Lukonin from the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, who specializes in Chinese studies. “There are many countries with which China has very close relations. Chinese foreign policy is multifaceted and multilateral, so seeing ties with one nation as the most important would be not quite right.”

The sphere in which the Russian-Chinese relations are lacking is economic. Russia accounted for 1.8 percent of China’s export and 2 percent of China’s import in 2016, compared to 18.4 percent and 8.5 percent for the US, China’s most important trade partner. So Russia’s market and goods may be important for China, but not as important as those of the US and the EU, Lukonin said.

“They call our relations with China a ‘strategic partnership,’” Yuri Tavrovsky, a China expert at the People’s Friendship University of Russia, told RT. “In terms of strategy, we have reached a really high level. As for partnership, things could have been better. We have not been able to reach the benchmark of $ 100 billion annual trade volume for several years now.”

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© Petar Kujundzic

“The Chinese describe it in this way: there is warmth at the top and cold at the bottom,” he added, referring to the good personal chemistry between Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and China’s President Xi Jinping, which contrasts with a lack of economic ties on the ground. Tavrovsky said he hopes that with Xi consolidating his power with the Party Congress and Putin’s possible re-election in March 2018, the two leaders may find a way to way to convert their political capital into an improved connection between businesses in China and Russia.

But on the political front, Russia and China have much to offer each other beyond coordinating their votes at the UN Security Council. The militaries of the two nations stage regular joint exercises, including simulated defense from a missile attack currently under way in Beijing. It takes a certain degree of trust to expose to another nation your military’s methods of countering such threats.

China and Russia are working together to eliminate the dollar from bilateral trade, which weakens America’s grasp on the global financial system. Russia’s participation in China’s Road and Belt infrastructure project gives Beijing a reliable land route to European markets, safeguarding the trade from a hypothetical naval blockade.

There may be some tension between Moscow and Beijing over Central Asia, or China’s influence in Russia’s Far East, but “on balance, there are more strategic advantages in forming closer ties with China against a common threat from a not-so-friendly United States and an unpredictable President Trump,” Andrew K P Leung, a Hong Kong-based investment consultant and China strategist, told RT.

“China feels there is a persistent American strategy to contain and restrain China’s rise. An example is the US pivot to Asia vaulted to deploy 60 percent of US global navy assets to the Asia-Pacific,” he said. “America controls the Malacca Strait, to which a large proportion of China’s trade and energy flows pass through. There are heavy US military deployments in the so-called First and Second Island Chains surrounding China. The US is also strengthening military alliances with belligerent neighbors like Japan and Australia.”

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Power of Siberia gas pipeline © gazprom.com

But despite being natural allies against the US pressure, Russia and China are unlikely to become part of a military bloc similar to that of the USSR and the People’s Republic of China had under Stalin and Mao, Leung believes. “The Cold War idea of blocs between countries no longer works in a vastly interconnected and inter-dependent world. Nations befriend each other as circumstances dictate and must accept that both rivalry and cooperation can co-exist.”

On the other hand, China and Russia may be encouraged to form a NATO-style organization. A political-military alliance is possible if the US choses to drastically ramp up pressure on Beijing in an attempt to stop it from pursuing its global vision for the future, Tavrovsky believes.

“In terms of geopolitics, China and Russia already actively coordinate their positions… As to moving closer to a political-military alliance, it will largely depend on how much pressure the US will exert,” Tavrovsky said, pointing to the reports of an imminent US-Chinese trade war.

Beijing has also produced its new global doctrine, which may pave the way for a proactive foreign policy – something the Chinese leadership has been watching Russia do with a keen interest.

“The Chinese see the Russians as belligerent since they prefer not to get involved [in foreign politics]. But with their new doctrine of a common destiny for the humanity they may activate their foreign policy, including through military projection. They’re building aircraft carriers and build military bases in Africa and the Middle East for a reason… The Chinese voice is becoming more of a roar,” Tavrovsky said.

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Ukrainian police clash with Saakashvili supporters storming cultural center in Kiev (PHOTOS)

Thousands of people supporting Mikhail Saakashvili, the fugitive ex-Georgian president turned Ukrainian opposition figure, have once again taken to the streets of Kiev to take a local cultural center by storm.

Some 2,000 people turned up for yet another protest action in support of Saakashvili in the Ukrainian capital on Sunday. The demonstrators marched through the city center to Maidan Square, scene of the 2013-14 unrest which brought about the coup and subsequently the civil war in the east.

There, they staged a rally calling on lawmakers to impeach Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Saakashvili also attended the protest on Maidan Square, where he said that would never make any agreements with Poroshenko and would speak to the Ukrainian president only about his potential resignation.

The former Georgian leader then called on his followers to gather at the International Center of Culture and Arts of the Trade Union Federation of Ukraine, which is also known as the October Palace, adding that a headquarters of the protest movement would be organized there.

However, when the crowd arrived at the palace, police and the National Guard blocked the doors of the building and barricaded themselves inside. That prompted the mob to take the palace by storm despite Saakashvili himself reportedly discouraging them from doing it.

READ MORE: ‘Kiev, get up!’ 1000s of Saakashvili supporters demand Ukraine president’s impeachment (VIDEO)

The incident resulted in clashes between the police and the protesters, who broke in the front doors of the palace and charged inside. The police were forced to use tear gas and even fire extinguishers to stop the angry crowd, but apparently they failed to prevent the mob from taking over the building, according to RIA news agency.

More than 30 police officers were injured in the incident, according to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry. Some protesters were reportedly injured in the clashes.

However, the demonstrators soon left the building they had just seized as Saakashvili urged them to return to Maidan Square. He said that a concert was staged at the palace at that time and he wanted “the innocent to stay unharmed.” According to the Ukrainian police chief, a concert for children and their families was indeed held in the building at the time when the protesters stormed it. RIA also reported that “The World-Famous Glenn Miller Orchestra” should have been performing at the palace.

READ MORE: Fugitive ex-Georgian leader Saakashvili recaptured in Kiev after supporters helped him break free

In the meantime, police opened a criminal case against the protesters over what it called an attempted takeover of a building. A deputy speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, went as far as to call the clashes in the palace “an act of terrorism,” adding that they posed “a real danger to lives and health of Ukrainians.” The protesters described the whole incident as a “provocation.”

Saakashvili led the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003, winning some international praise for his anti-corruption reforms, but soon he fell from grace for launching the 2008 war against Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and over corruption charges and his targeting of political rivals. After fleeing Georgia, Saakashvili moved to Ukraine, where he was granted citizenship by Poroshenko and appointed governor of Odessa in 2015.

However, Saakashvili’s relations with Poroshenko soon fell apart as he accused the Ukrainian president of corruption, prompting Poroshenko to revoke his citizenship. Saakashvili, however, then returned to Ukraine, where he now leads an opposition party called the Movement of New Forces.

READ MORE: Saakashvili freed by supporters from police van in Kiev, calls to oust President Poroshenko

The Ukrainian authorities suspect Saakashvili of receiving financial support from a group allegedly linked to former president Viktor Yanukovich, who was deposed by the Maidan coup in 2014. He could potentially face up to five years in prison if found guilty.

Authorities attempted to detain Saakashvili for questioning in early December, but his supporters prevented his detention several times by clashing with police. The former Georgian leader was eventually detained on December 8 but was released several days later.

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UK diplomat found dead in Beirut, murder probe launched – reports

A murder investigation is reportedly under way following the discovery of a female British diplomat’s body in the Lebanese capital, Beirut. The UK Foreign Office has confirmed the death, but has not revealed any further details.

The body of Rebecca Dykes was found on the side of a motorway Saturday, with local sources telling the BBC that the UK embassy employee had been sexually assaulted and strangled. Beirut police are reportedly investigating the death.

Dykes’s family said in a statement: “We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Rebecca. We are doing all we can to understand what happened. We request that the media respect our privacy as we come together as a family at this very difficult time.”

A spokesperson for the UK Foreign Office said it is providing support to the family and remain in close contact with local authorities. “Our thoughts are with the family at this difficult time,” the spokesperson added.

Ms Dykes had been working in Beirut as the program and policy manager for the Department for International Development since January this year. According to reports in the Daily Telegraph, Dykes was last seen at a bar in the Gemmayzeh area of central Beirut. It is thought she was abducted after leaving the bar sometime after midnight. Her body was later found near the Metn highway.

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Boris Johnson breathes new life into ‘Russian meddling’ fairy story – introducing Facebook trolls

With the Russian Brexit meddling story unravelling almost as badly as Brexit itself, Boris Johnson has found a new angle. The latest dead cat to grace the table is a cabal of “Russian trolls” on Facebook.

“There’s some evidence that there has been Russian trolling on Facebook,” Johnson said, referring to Brexit, in an interview with the Sunday Times as he elucidated his brand new theory of the Russian meddling in the fateful vote. At the same time, he admitted that he had “seen no evidence” of the Russian alleged meddling affecting the referendum outcome in any way.

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© Ray Tang / Global Look Press

With less than a dollar spent, it is hardly surprising that the outcome of the referendum was unaffected. Indeed, an investigation conducted by Facebook at the request of no less than the UK Electoral Commission revealed that Russia spent as much as 73p ($ 0.97) on ads to allegedly influence Brexit. And that is without mentioning the fact that the ads themselves were about migration and the wider European context.

It is not the first time the British foreign secretary has been forced to admit that there is no evidence Russia has ever sought to interfere with British votes; even within the last month he has done so at least twice. In late November, he told the House of Commons that the government saw “no evidence of any country successfully interfering with our robust electoral system.”

At the beginning of the same month, he also said that he had not seen any evidence of the Russian meddling, adding that as far as he knows “[the Russians] have played no role” in Brexit. Characteristically, though, Boris is thinking outside the box and all these admissions have not stopped him from throwing various accusations at Moscow – without providing any evidence.

In late November, right after stating that no one had interfered in the British electoral system, Johnson stated vaguely that “we know of course that Russia seeks to undermine our institutions.” This time he decided not to hold back, and accused Moscow of a multitude of sins.

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Facebook has investigated Russian hacking in Britain's Brexit vote.. and found 73p was spent © Reuters/ Thomas White

He went as far as to call Russia a “closed, nasty, militaristic and antidemocratic” state, comparing it with ancient Sparta at the time of the Peloponnesian war. Dismissing this latest remark, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman Maria Zakharova somewhat coldly noted on her Facebook page that “Russia has never been a militaristic country, unlike the European states.”

She added that Johnson was right about one thing: the ongoing issues sown and stirred up by the West, on the European continent in particular, weaken Western civilization in the same way the Peloponnesian war denuded the readiness of both Sparta and Athens to face external enemies.

Meanwhile, regardless of whether Johnson is speaking about Brexit, relations with Russia or any other subject, one might point out that he does a more than adequate job of trolling himself. He has done so on many occasions, such as showing empathy with the victims of colonialism by quoting Kipling in Burma. 

Then there was his statesmanlike grasp of the importance of information management, telling a parliamentary committee what a British Citizen was doing in Iran and thereby getting her thrown in jail. And Johnson set a new standard for political car-crash BBC interviews, during which he was likened to a figure from a classic comedy skit. And all that in the past six months alone.

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‘Battle is not over’: Defeated Moore sets up ‘election integrity fund’ to probe voter fraud claims

Republican candidate Roy Moore is refusing to concede defeat following his loss to Democrat rival Doug Jones in the race for the vacant Senate seat in Alabama.

Moore has reportedly set up an ‘election integrity fund’ to investigate if voter fraud contributed to his loss. 

The former state supreme court judge has refused to recognize the defeat which came by a margin of just over 20,000 votes, less than two percent of the overall total. Despite his campaign being rocked by multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, Moore had been favorite to gain the seat held by the Republicans for 25 years.

Last week, Jones claimed a seemingly unlikely victory, with US President Donald Trump even taking to Twitter to congratulate him on his “razor thin” victory. However, Moore has now sent an email to supporters declaring that the “battle is not over.” According to the Associate Press, the email includes a call for donations to a so-called election integrity fund. It’s thought the money will be used to scrutinize voting patterns in the Alabama state election.

READ MORE: Roy Moore suffers shock upset in Alabama Senate race

In a statement released immediately after the defeat, Moore thanked those who supported him during the “arduous” campaign but unusually did not concede defeat in the race. He said military and provisional ballots had yet to be counted. He also stated that the election was tainted by outside actors, a claim he did not expand on.

“Immorality sweeps over our land. Even our political process has been affected with baseless and false allegations which have become more relevant than the true issues which affect our country,” he said. “This election was tainted by over $ 50 million from outside groups who want to retain power and their own corrupt ideology.”

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Minister joins calls for anti-Semitism czar in Germany’s next government

Germany’s acting interior minister has lent his support to the creation of an anti-Semitism commissioner in the country’s next government.

Thomas de Maiziere nailed his colors to the mast in an interview with German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, following demonstrations in Berlin in which people protesting the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel were reportedly seen burning the Israeli flag. The creation of the role was also recommended by Germany’s Central Council of Jews as well as an independent panel of experts.

“A single crime motivated by anti-Semitism is one too many and shameful for our country,” he told the paper. “Hatred towards Jews must never be allowed to take hold of Germany again.” De Maziere also said that Germany “cannot tolerate” the burning of another country’s flag as it constitutes “the symbolic annihilation of a country’s right to exist.”

US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital sparked protests outside the US Embassy in central Berlin and in Neukoelln, a borough of the German capital known for its high concentration of immigrants.

Last week German police took to Twitter to advise against bringing US or Israeli flags along to protest rallies against the Jerusalem decision. “Any dangerous objects as well as the US and Israeli flags are not allowed at the demo,” the Berlin police wrote in a Twitter post ahead of a pro-Palestinian rally on Friday. The police also warned potential rally participants that the officers would carry out personal searches and would be accompanied by interpreters to monitor for “offensive utterances.”

READ MORE: ‘Sky hasn’t fallen’: Haley downplays Middle East turmoil after Trump’s Jerusalem decision

“Burning a flag is not a crime, whether it be Israeli or American or from any other nation” Berlin police spokesman Thomas Neuendorf explained to broadcaster Deutsche Welle. “The only exception is, for instance, when a flag is taken from an official building such as an embassy and burned.”

Three months on from its election in September, Germany is still without a functioning government. Not having won a majority, Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Christian Democratic Union leader, has been frustrated in her attempts to enter into a coalition with the Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU).

One of the main sticking points in negotiations is immigration, which the CSU wants to limit to 200,000 people in the coming year.

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Rising seas will displace 150 million people by 2100, says climate report

Lands inhabited by more than 150 million people could be submerged in water by the end of this century. That’s according to the latest projections from a group of US researchers.

A new study published in the journal Earth’s Future used the latest information from the Antarctic ice sheet and combined it with existing models on the expected rise in sea levels.

The academics behind the report found that if levels of greenhouse gas emission remain high, the median global average sea-level rise could be 4ft 9ins (1.5 meters) by 2100. Astonishingly, this is double the estimate of 2ft 5ins (736cm) projected by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2014.

The team, made up of researchers from the top universities in the US, believes the IPCC report did not account for the collapse of large parts of the Antarctic Ice Sheet – something a slew of scientific papers have since found is very likely to happen. In the event of such a sea level rise, some 153 million will be displaced, a population equivalent to half the size of the US.

study published in 2015 found that a relatively small amount of melting over a few decades could lead to the fall of the entire ice sheet and increase global sea levels by as much as 3 meters. Despite the “deeply uncertain physics,” researchers believe cuts to greenhouse gas emissions over the next several years could significantly reduce the possibility of a disaster after 2050. The team estimates that by this time the sea level will have risen by around 1ft (30cm).

Researchers from several institutions, including Rutgers University, Princeton and Harvard, worked with Climate Central to create an interactive map which illustrates sea level projections in cities across the globe. The map provides projections that both include and exclude the new Antarctic research.

Local rises would vary from region to region under the same scenario and would exceed the global average for all US Gulf and Atlantic coast locations, according to the report.

 The study ‘Evolving Understanding of Antarctic Ice-Sheet Physics and Ambiguity in Probabilistic Sea-Level Projections’ is the first to integrate Antarctic models into sea-level projections.

READ MORE: Larsen B part 2? Monster iceberg drifts further from Antarctic shelf (SATELLITE IMAGES)

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