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Why Russia supports Syria. In a word, Tartus.

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Russia used to be one of two superpowers. The USSR and USA divided the world between them, into two opposing strategic blocs, economically and militarily. The balance of power and rules of the game may have changed, but the self-interest of the two nations hasn’t

Russia,the world’s largest nation, has seen its fortunes wane since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but it remains an ambitious, proud nuclear and fossil fuel power that is engaging in a little realpolitik over the Syria crisis. It is never wise to poke a bear.

The United States is fortunate to have ready blue water (deep waters, open oceans) access to the world’s two great oceans, the Atlantic and Pacific. Its neighbours, Canada and Mexico, are allies.

Russia’s Pacific Fleet has access to the Pacific, but only under the watchful and suspicious gaze of the emerging nuclear superpower China and G8 Japan. Russia’s Northern fleet can just about get into the Atlantic passed NATO members, Greenland (which was effectively Denmark until 1979, during the Cold War), Iceland and the UK (the GIUK gap of Royal Navy and Cold War legend). It can sneak into the North Sea from the Baltic passed Norway and Denmark. Many of Russia’s neighbours are not allies.

One of Russia’s fleets is in the Black Sea (in a base which is part of the Ukraine). This fleet made sense in the era of the Crimean War and the Ottoman Empire, but it is effectively landlocked (Russia has another landlocked flotilla in the Caspian). The only access to other seas and oceans from the Black Sea is through the Dardanelles, controlled by a NATO member, Turkey.

And this is why Syria and the Mediterranean port of Tartus, in Syria, matters symbolically to the Russians. This port has been in use since 1971, so in geopolitical terms, Russia’s dependence on it as a strategic outpost should not surprise anyone. Nor should their support for a government that leases them the territory.

The Russian’s have spent billions to retain it and agreed to be an arms supplier to the Syrian government in return for retaining control. Since 2009 the Russians have been renovating the base and dredging so it can take some of their larger ships.

We may not be Russia, or agree with their foreign policies, but it is useful to understand their motivation. Russia’s national self interest matters as much to the Russian’s, as the United States’s matter to the Americans and the United Kingdom’s matters to us. And to the English, Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish.

We are still very protective of Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands, as we were of Hong Kong, despite the human rights behaviour of its neighbour. Why should we expect Russia to be any different?

The bellicose nature of US foreign policy, aided and abetted by the UK until last week, makes other countries military self interest more pronounced, especially a previously humbled, territorially compromised and encircled Russia. That is not to say that liberal, democratic nations don’t have a higher moral ground, but the governments overthrown and replaced by dictators by the USA may beg to differ.

Refusing to grasp or acknowledge the geopolitical interests of a Security Council member and trying to paint the world simply as ‘us’ and ‘them’ or ‘good’ and ‘evil’, is less than useful. It is wrongheaded and counterproductive. To say, “we understand your concern Russia, how can we make this work for you?”, would be a start.

An agreement that gives Russia a blue water port, while difficult from a strategic perspective, allows them to save face and may give them cause to reconsider their support for Syria’s odious regime.

Several commentators say Russia has no interest in Tartus and the continued presence at the base is purely symbolic of Cold War ambitions. But no one could argue that Russian power and symbolism doesn’t matter to that country’s president.

As for us.

We were happy to tolerate Mubarak as an ally, tolerate Mugabe today as an annoyance and actively support regimes in the Middle East that have appalling  human rights records, which makes us hypocrites and exposes the shallowness of our arguments and accusations.

That our government renditions prisoners of war for torture and aggressively spies on its own citizens and allies, makes us sink to the lowest common denominator. Our foreign policy house is made of glass, so we should be wary of throwing the first stone. Especially at a nuclear-armed bear.

We could also stop selling arms to odious regimes
. We ‘knew’ Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, because we had the receipts.

In a classic game of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’, the West armed and gave cash to Iraq. Can we blame Russia for doing the same to its ‘enemy’s’ enemy?

Rather than indulge in jingoism, we would do better to engage, discuss and compromise with other nations. Imperial indulgences on the part of colonial Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, France, Britain and the United States have done more to destabilise the world than create peace. Look at all the straight lines in current conflict zones and ask if they were formed organically or were drawn by a misinformed, distant, colonial bureaucrat.

If we stop bombing people we will create fewer martyrs and deny the next generation of potential terrorists grievance and just cause. If we kill someone’s innocent brother, sister, father, mother, daughter or son, we are the recruiting sergeant for our enemy. That they are foreign, doesn’t mean that they love their siblings, parents and children less, or feel any less vengeance.

If you killed my wife or sons, I might contemplate killing you. To feel this way is to be human. To not do so and rely on due process, a privilege of those who live under the rule of law. To not acknowledge that feeling in others, sociopathic. To retaliate outside the rule of law, vigilantism/terrorism.

And I mean no offence in all this to the United States, which from its founding fathers, has stood for opportunity, liberty and justice. It’s just a pity that American lions are led by Congressional donkeys, who think the best way of creating peace in the world is overthrowing democracies and bombing the rubble in other countries.

The world’s superpower needs to behave responsibly.

Martin Luther King Jr, paraphrased Gandhi, when he said “The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.”

All we are saying is, give peace a chance.

And don’t forget Tartus.

Simon Leadbetter is the founder and publisher of Blue & Green Tomorrow. He has held senior roles at Northcliffe, The Daily Telegraph, Santander, Barclaycard, AXA, Prudential and Fidelity. In 2004, he founded a marketing agency that worked amongst others with The Guardian, Vodafone, E.On and Liverpool Victoria. He sold this agency in 2006 and as Chief Marketing Officer for two VC-backed start-ups launched the online platform Cleantech Intelligence (which underpinned the The Guardian’s Cleantech 100) and StrategyEye Cleantech. Most recently, he was Marketing Director of Emap, the UK’s largest B2B publisher, and the founder of Blue & Green Communications Limited.

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Environment

How to Build An Eco-Friendly Home Pool

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eco-friendly pool for home owners
Licensed Image from Shutterstock - By alexandre zveiger

Swimming pools are undoubtedly one of the most luxurious features that any home can have. But environmentally-conscious homeowners who are interested in having a pool installed may feel that the potential issues surrounding wasted water, chemical use and energy utilized in heating the water makes having a home swimming pool difficult to justify.

But there is good news, because modern technologies are helping to make pools far less environmentally harmful than ever before. If you are interested in having a pool built but you want to make sure that it is as eco-friendly as possible, you can follow the advice below. From natural pools to solar panel heating systems, there are many steps that you can take.

Choose a natural pool to go chemical free

For those homeowners interested in an eco-friendly pool, the first thing to consider is a natural pool. Natural swimming pools utilise reed bed technology or moss-filtration to naturally filter out dirt from the water. These can be combined with eco-pumps to allow you to have a pool that is completely free from chemicals.

Not only are traditional pool chemicals potentially harmful to the skin, they also mean that you can contaminate the area around the pool if chemical-filled water leaks or is splashed around. This can be bad for your garden and the environment general.

It will be necessary to work with an expert pool builder to ensure that you have the expertise to get your natural pool installed properly. But the results with definitely be worth the effort and planning that you have to put in.

Avoid concrete if possible

The vast majority of home pools are built using concrete but this is far from ideal in terms of an eco-friendly pool for a large number of reasons. Concrete pools are typically built and then lined to stop keep out any bacteria. This is theoretically fine, except that concrete is porous and the lining can be liable to erode or break which can allow bacteria to enter the pool.

It is much better to use a non-porous material such as fibreglass or carbon ceramic composite for your pool. Typically, these swimming pools are supplied in a one-piece shell rather than having to be built from scratch, ensuring a bacteria-free environment. These non-porous materials make it impossible for the water to become contaminated through bacteria seeping into the pool by osmosis.

The further problem that can arise from having a concrete pool is that once this bacteria begins to get into the pool it can be more difficult for a natural filtration system to be effective. This can lead to you having to resort to using chemicals to get the pool clean.

Add solar panels

It is surprising how many will go to extreme lengths to ensure that their pool is as eco-friendly as possible in terms of building and maintaining it but then fall down on something extremely obvious. No matter what steps you take with the rest of your pool, it won’t really be worth the hassle if you are going to be conventionally heating your pool up, using serious amounts of energy to do so.

Thankfully there are plenty of steps you can take to ensure that your pool is heated to a pleasant temperature while causing minimal damage to the environment. Firstly, gathering energy using solar panels has become a very popular way to reduce consumption of electricity as well as decreasing utility bills. Many businesses offer solar panels specifically for swimming pools.

Additionally, installing an energy efficient heat pump or boiler to work in conjunction with your solar panels can be hugely beneficial.

Cover it!

Finally, it is worth remembering that there are many benefits to investing in a pool cover. When you cover your pool you increase its heat retention which stops you from having to power a pump or boiler to keep it warm. This works in conjunction with the solar panels and eco-friendly heating system that you have already had installed.

Additionally, you cover helps to keep out dirt and other detritus that can enter the pool, bringing in bacteria. Anything that you can do to keep bacteria out will be helpful in terms of keeping it clean.

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Features

4 Ways To Get a Green House in 2018

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green house and homes
Featured Image From Shutterstock - By Photographee.eu

Demand for green houses is surging. In 2020, almost 20% of all homes on the market will be green.

If you would like to buy a green home, this is a great time to look into it. Prices are still pretty low and there are a lot more financing options available than there were right after the recession.

If you’re thinking about buying a house, now could be a very good time to make the move! A number of factors in the housing market right now mean that you might be able to afford your dream home. Although in many parts of the country house prices are still rising, if you do your research and plan wisely, there are lots of good schemes to help you get your foot on the property ladder, or trade up to the house you’ve always wanted.

Interest Rates and Stamp Duty

Although the Bank of England raised interest rates by 0.25% recently, they remain very low, which is good news if you’re thinking of taking out a mortgage. However, rates may not stay low and it’s predicted that there’ll be a further rate rise during 2018, so don’t wait too long. Another factor that’s going to help first time buyers in particular is the Chancellor’s decision to abolish stamp duty for first timers purchasing properties for under £300,000.

Different options

For many people looking to buy a green home, raising a deposit of between 5% and 20% may not be a realistic option, in which case there are a growing number of schemes to help. Increasingly popular are shared ownership schemes, through which the buyer pays a percentage of the full value of the property (typically between 25% and 75%) and the local council or a housing association pays the rest, and takes part ownership. This is suitable for buyers who may struggle to meet the up-front costs of buying outright. There will often be a service charge or management fees to pay in addition to the mortgage. The Government’s Help To Buy scheme is a good place to start looking if you’re interested in this option. This scheme is now available to people looking to buy green homes too.

ISA Options

If you’re still saving for a deposit, another scheme is the Help to Buy ISA. You can get a 25% boost to your savings on amounts up to £200 per month with this scheme. It’s only open to first time buyers and you can claim a maximum of £3000.

Other costs

Green home buyers are going to run into a number of other ancillary costs, most of which are common to other homebuyers.

When calculating how much you can afford, it’s vitally important to remember that buying a house comes with a whole host of other costs. Depending on the cost of the property that you’re buying, you may have to pay stamp duty of anywhere between 1% and 5%. There’ll be estate agents fee if you’re also selling a property, although there are a wide range of online estate agents operating such as Purple Bricks or Right Move that have lower fees than traditional high street companies. Conveyancing costs to a solicitor can add another £1000-£3000 and you may need to take out life insurance and hire a moving firm.

There are other initial costs such as, fixing parts of the home that aren’t upto your taste. Getting new furniture to fill up all the new-found space in your new home. If you are moving away from the city, you need to consider the cost of transportation as well, as it can take up quite a lot over time. Take your time, do your homework and shop around and soon you could be getting the keys to your perfect home.

I hope this article was useful for you to learn more about the basics that you need to be aware of before you start the process of buying your first home. If you have any doubts with regards to this, let us know through the comments and we will be glad to help you out. If you have any suggestions regarding how we can improve the article, let us know them through the comments as well for us to improve.

Do you have any other reservations against buying your first home? Do you see your house as an asset or a liability? Do you think it is important for everyone to get themselves a new home? Let us know through the comments.

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