KOMMERSANT

Russians Say Billion-Dollar Telescopes Needed To Warn Of Next Meteorites

Screenshot of a dashboard cam video of the Feb. 15, 2013 meteor shower in Russia
Screenshot of a dashboard cam video of the Feb. 15, 2013 meteor shower in Russia
Anastasia Strelkovskaya

MOSCOW - After the meteorite shower and the damage it caused last Friday, Russian scientists say the threat from the sky is serious -- and something must be done.

Scientists recommended that the threat could be minimized by creating a network of modern telescopes, at a cost of around two billion dollars. These experts suggested the funds should be diverted from other areas of the national budget, most notably from the army and the space exploration budget, in an effort to develop a national defense against extra-terrestrial rocks.

Friday’s meteorite shower, which caused minor injuries to more than 1000 residents and substantial property damage, was not Russia’s first brush with meteorites. In 1908 a meteorite exploded over Siberia with around 1,000 times the power of the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The explosion, which is referred to as the Tunguska Event, knocked down around 80 million trees in an 830 square mile area. Thanks to the area’s remoteness, no one was injured, but the blast could have easily wiped out a major metropolitan area. In 1947, another meteorite exploded in the Russian far east, again with no fatalities.

According Lidiya Ryicklova, a department head at the Institute of Astronomy, Russia needs to create a network of telescopes to prevent meteorite impacts in the future. “We had a lot of telescopes in the Soviet Union. And it’s not only about the telescope’s diameter – we have a very large one, but it only has a very narrow field of vision. We need a powerful telescope with a wider field of vision. We had a lot of good telescopes in the Soviet Union, but they were set in places that had the best view of the Cosmos – the mountains in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. And now we don’t have anything. The smaller the cosmic body, the more likely they are to fall to the earth,” Ryicklova explained.

Threats from above

RosKosmos, the Russian NASA equivalent, has already green-lighted a meteor-shield program. According to Konstantin Tsyibko, a Senator from Chelyabinskii Region – where Friday’s meteorite shower caused property damage – the country needs to reorient its budget away from the military and from space exploration to address the threats from the Cosmos.

"I think that people are hoping that if you can develop an Anti-Ballistic Missile Shield to protect the country during a war, then there is both a technical and financial ability to create something that will prevent meteors, it’s just a matter of reorienting our priorities. And that will probably be possible. And the scientists say that, theoretically at least, we have everything we need to build that protection system. The important issue is that the military project has always been considered the most important. It turns out that inter-governmental problems are not the only source of danger,” Tsyibko explained.

Many people still haven’t wrapped their heads around the meteorite shower on Friday. But according to Aleksander Bagrov, a researcher at the Astronomy Institute, it was a wake-up call about the importance of taking the threats from asteroid and meteors seriously. Bagrov also underlined that the events on Friday were very similar in many ways, if not in scale, to the extremely powerful and destructive Tunguska event.

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Geopolitics

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3

-Analysis-

LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.


Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

commons.wikimedia.org

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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