Geopolitics

Arctic: Canada Flexes Its Military Muscle, Puts Russia On Alert

Canada is looking for ways to exert its authority in the Great North, as global warming invites competition for the region’s valuable resources. Of particular concern is Russia, which is seeking permission from the UN to extend its Arctic borders.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper on hand for Arctic military operations in 2010
Prime Minister Stephen Harper on hand for Arctic military operations in 2010
Ludovic Hirztmann

MONTREAL – Canada is keeping a cautious eye on the Great North, preparing for a fight, if needs be, to protect valuable natural resources that global warming is making more accessible – to everyone.

Its latest military preparation is a large-scale Arctic mission dubbed "Operation Nanook 11," which Canada just launched together with the United States and Denmark. The mission to defend Ottawa's sovereignty in the Far North will extend until the end of August in the straits of Lancaster and Davis, in Baffin Bay and on and around Cornwallis Island.

Nanook 11 involves some 1,100 soldiers, a modest number by Canadian standards. The operation goes hand-in-hand, however, with other military efforts in the region. Ottawa has recently increased the number of Inuit rangers it relies on to protect the Arctic region. It has also modernized its far northern facilities.

Analysts say Nanook 11 was planned as a warning to Russia, Canada's main rival in the area. Russia has announced it wants to extend its Arctic borders, with the Kremlin promising to file an official request to the UN in 2012 asking for an expansion of Russia's continental shelf.

"The north is ours. We want to show our international partners that we are settled here. This is what we're aiming at," Lieutenant-Commander Luc Tremblay recently told Radio Canada.

At the beginning of his first term in 2006, Canada's conservative Prime minister Stephen Harper made a military buildup in the Far North a top priority. Since then, however, Ottawa has pursued more of a soft power approach, seeking allies and multiplying scientific and public relations missions to show the world that the Arctic region is definitely Canadian.

The government's heightened interest vis-à-vis the Great North has much to do with global warming, which is making it easier for boats to move in the Arctic. Last week's Arctic voyage by Michel Rocard, the French ambassador in charge of the international negotiations regarding the Arctic and Antarctica regions, was a case in point. Rocard traveled aboard the Quebecois icebreaker Admundsen.

Last month, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center, or NSIDC, the ice floe hit its lowest level for this time of year since satellite-assisted measurements began in 1979. The gradual melt has sparked an international wrestling match over control of the Arctic's oil, gas and massive fish resources.

The new Promised Land

Snow crabs could soon taste like oil. The Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs granted block licenses to oil companies such as Husky Energy, ConocoPhilips, Imperial Oil, MGM Energy and Shell in the Beaufort Sea and in the Canadian Far North. For oil companies, the Arctic is the new promise land. "This land is of strategic interest for us," said Colleen McConnel, a spokeswoman for Husky Energy.

Arctic oil and gas resources would represent about one fifth of the planet's undiscovered hydrocarbon stocks, and Canada's conservative government has ruled out any moratorium on the region.

Mr. Harper says northern oil exploration is not a threat to the environment. "Rules are exceedingly strict in Canada," he told reporters last year, not long after British Petroleum's devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Most environmental groups disagree. In one of its reports on the Arctic region, the World Wildlife Fund Canada complains that the country's "regulations are too relaxed." The report goes on to say that humans have yet to come up with a way to remove oil from ice-covered waters.

Earlier this month, the Canadian Office of Energy Efficiency published a report arguing that even if a spill were to occur in July, the warmest month of the year, extreme weather conditions in the north would severely hamper clean up efforts.

The Canadian military seems to agree. "It's a really tough environment to live in. Having to deal with the Arctic region is sometimes harder than dealing with Afghanistan," said Captain Tremblay. "Our biggest problem is logistics. But it's also hard for us to know how much time we can spend working out in the cold."

Read the original article in French

Photo - Canadian Forces Combat Camera

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Economy

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.


Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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