NATO observes ‘alarming’ number of Russian forces near Ukraine

WASHINGTON — The Russian military has moved artillery units manned by Russian personnel inside Ukrainian territory in recent days and is using them to fire at Ukrainian forces, NATO officials said on Friday.

The West has long accused Russia of supporting the separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, but this is the first time it has said it had evidence of the direct involvement of the Russian military.

The Russian move represents a significant escalation of the Kremlin’s involvement in the fighting there and comes as a convoy of Russian trucks with humanitarian provisions has crossed into Ukrainian territory without Kiev’s permission.

A Russian armored personnel carrier leads a column of military trucks as they leave the Russian-Ukrainian border area outside of Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, Russia.

Since mid-August NATO has received multiple reports of the direct involvement of Russian forces, “including Russian airborne, air defense and special operations forces in Eastern Ukraine,” said Oana Lungescu, a spokeswoman for NATO.

“Russian artillery support — both cross-border and from within Ukraine — is being employed against the Ukrainian armed forces,” she added.

NATO’s secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, criticized the Russian moves in a statement issued in Brussels on Friday.

“I condemn the entry of a Russian so-called humanitarian convoy into Ukrainian territory without the consent of the Ukrainian authorities and without any involvement of the International Committee of the Red Cross,” Mr. Rasmussen’s statement said.

“These developments are even more worrying as they coincide with a major escalation in Russian military involvement in Eastern Ukraine since mid-August, including the use of Russian forces,” the statement continued, adding:

“We have also seen transfers of large quantities of advanced weapons, including tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery to separatist groups in Eastern Ukraine. Moreover, NATO is observing an alarming buildup of Russian ground and air forces in the vicinity of Ukraine.”

Hamas Executes 18 Suspected Informants By Firing Squad, Public Shooting

Image AP
Hamas gunmen ride motorcycles as they drag the body of a man who was killed as a suspected collaborator with Israel in 2012. (AP)

One day after Israel killed three top Hamas commanders, the radical group executed 18 Palestinian men it had suspected of collaborating with Israel. From the Associated Press report:

A witness and Hamas media say that masked gunmen have killed seven suspected informants for Israel near a Gaza City mosque as worshippers were ending midday prayers.”

According to Hamas, another 11 men were shot to death  at the police headquarters in Gaza City after being sentenced to death in Gaza courts. As Globe and Mail reported:

The Hamas-run website Al Rai said 11 people were killed by firing squad and warned that “the same punishment will be imposed soon on others.”

PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-CONFLICT-GAZA-EXECUTIONS

The often-public deaths of informants or so-called collaborators are a routine part of life in Gaza, although instances greatly increase during times of heavy conflict.

Back in 2012, following the last conflagration with Israel in Gaza, Hamas executed a number of Palestinians it had accused of giving up valuable intel to the Israelis. As with today’s killings, the men are executed publicly as a warning not to cooperate with Israeli intelligence efforts.

Writing about six Palestinian men who suffered a similar fate in 2012, the AP described the disturbing scene:

File photo of masked members of the Islamist Hamas movement demonstrating against Israel in Gaza City on Oct. 25, 2009. Photo by Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images

Some in the crowd stomped and spit on the bodies. A sixth corpse was tied to a motorcycle and dragged through the streets as people screamed, “Spy! Spy!”

The Hamas military wing, Izzedine al-Qassam, claimed responsibility in a large handwritten note attached to a nearby electricity pole. Hamas said the six were killed because they gave Israel information about fighters and rocket launching sites.”

As with Friday’s executions, the 2012 shootings happened in the midst of an ongoing battle between Israel and Hamas. In Fridays’s fighting, Israel has reportedly killed four Palestinians in airstrikes on Gaza as Hamas and other groups continue to fire rockets into Israel, including the targeting of Israel’s largest city, Tel Aviv.

Germany Approves RWE’s Sale of DEA to Russian Entrepreneur

A view of the headquarters of German utility RWE in Essen November 14, 2013.  REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

FRANKFURT/BERLIN — Germany’s economy ministry will approve the sale of utility RWE’s oil and gas unit DEA to a Russian investor despite tensions over the Ukraine crisis, two people familiar with the matter said.

The economy ministry said in June it was investigating whether to block the 5.1 billion euro ($6.9 billion) sale of the DEA unit to the Letter One group of investors led by Russian tycoon Mikhail Fridman, which was announced in March.

Representatives of the ministry, RWE and the Letter One consortium declined to comment.

Europe and the U.S. have imposed economic sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and its backing of pro-Russian separatists, who are fighting against government forces in eastern Ukraine. Russia, in turn, has slapped bans on Western food imports.

Dmitrij Medvegyev miniszterelnök és Mihail Fridman találkozója 2013 decemberén (Fotó: Dmitry Astakhov / RIA Novosti)

As part of the deal, Fridman, Russia’s second-richest man, and his co-investors get stakes in about 190 oil and gas licenses or concessions in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

The German government could theoretically have used a clause in its foreign trade law that allows it to block takeover deals that threaten “public safety and order,” but it would have been an unprecedented move.

RWE has previously said it expects the deal, which has already got antitrust approval from the EU, to be finalized this year.

The transaction came under criticism from senior German politicians in March as relations between Russia and the West deteriorated over Ukraine.

Germany currently receives more than a third of its gas and oil from Russia.

RWE, like other German utilities, is struggling to adjust to a power sector shake-up as Germany moves away from nuclear energy and encourages a shift to more renewables, while Europe’s energy demand is weak.

The shake-up has more than halved the debt-burdened firm’s market value in four years.

RWE has been looking for ways to reduce its debt of more than 30 billion euros, including cutting jobs and shedding assets.

This Skyscraper Has An Entire Mini-City, So You Never Have To Leave

You still feel like you have a private life–but you also get all the pluses of having your office next door, including an envious mid-air commute. 

Most new skyscrapers today still look pretty much like they did 60 or 70 years ago, with boxy shapes and lots of glass. Architects at Mexico City’s Studio Cachoua Torres Camillettiwanted to re-imagine what a skyscraper could look like–along with what it could do–with a concept for a new 92-story building that includes rice paddies, fish farms, an algae façade, a recycling plant, and even public transportation.

The building is split in two parts–one for housing and one for offices, retail, and entertainment spaces. The idea is that people could feel like they have a separate private life while still having the ultimate short commute. Tubes with trains or buses would shuttle commuters back and forth in mid-air.

“We wanted the building to be able to show in the exterior its mixed-use character,” says Adrian Cachoua Oropeza, one of the architects. “So we split the two towers in their uses . . . This way it can actually be seen where the living spaces are and where the commercial and production happens and each can have its own character.”

Designed for a competition in Hong Kong, the organic shape of the building was inspired by its rice paddies.

“The farming on the top of the building is an important symbolic gesture as well as an environmental one,” says Cachoua. “We wanted to have urban farming on the building, but rice being the crop of choice in China, it made obvious sense to have this staple crop.”

The building includes solar panels and wind turbines, but because neither could power the entire building, the architects also made the decision to add nuclear power.

“This building is betting on the future generation of nuclear reactors, those defined as 4S (super safe, small, and simple) that are more economically feasible and have the capacity to power the entire structure,” Cachoua explains.

The architects envision the form as a self-sufficient model for other cities.

“As major cities grow they face the same issues regarding pollution, congestion, soaring real estate prices,food production, energy production, and sustainability,” says Cachoua.

“This could certainly apply to Mexico City, for example. We do believe this idea to be the direction in which we see skyscrapers developing to become mini cities in themselves.”

By Planting Miniature Gardens On Abandoned Bikes, This Project Helped Clean Up Tokyo

A good way to make an invisible problem more visible: put a flower on it. 

Abandoned bikes are a challenge in every city, but perhaps nowhere as much as Tokyo, where a staggering two million bicycles are left behind on city streets every year.

Despite the size of the problem, Tokyo locals tend to take it for granted. Inspired to help change that, a bike-sharing company called Cogoo decided to create a campaign to make people take a second look:

They collected dozens of old bikes, turned the bike seats into flower planters, and then parked the bikes back on the street.

“Cogoo wanted to raise people’s awareness by making this ‘invisible’ problem more visible,” says Kenta Ikoma from TBWA/Hakuhodo, the ad agency that worked with Cogoo on the campaign.

“We realized that people appreciate flowers on the streets even though they pay little attention to bikes left on the streets. This led to the idea of turning those bikes into an art gallery displaying ‘Saddle Blossoms.'”

The experiment worked. As people stopped to look at the tiny gardens, they also read tags on the back of each saddle linking to more information about why the project mattered. Ultimately, fewer bikes ended up on the street.

“We ran this campaign at two universities which were unsuccessful with conventional campaigns such as posting signs or putting stickers on bikes to encourage people not to leave their bikes,” explains Ikoma. “After the campaign, they were able to reduce the number of discarded bikes by 40%.”

The campaign even inspired local government to start making more of an effort to clean up piles of old bikes. If it could work in Tokyo, could it work elsewhere?

Russia Kindly Asks Bulgarians to Stop Painting Over Their Soviet Monuments

Sculptures of Soviet soldiers, part of the World War II Soviet Army monument, painted by an unknown artist in the image of Santa Claus, Superman and Ronald MacDonald are seen in central Sofia, Bulgaria, Friday, June 17, 2011.

The Monument of the Soviet Army in Sofia, Bulgaria has, once again, been vandalized. The monument, which depicts a number of USSR soldiers during the Second World War, has been vandalized several times in the past and Moscow would really like it to stop.

In 2011, it was painted look like pop culture icons like Superman, Ronald MacDonald, and Santa Claus. In 2013, it was painted pink with graffiti letters reading, “Bulgaria apologizes,” in order to “mark the anniversary of the Prague Spring,” according to the Associated Press. In February, it was painted with the colors of Ukraine’s flag:

Image (AP Photo/Oleg Popov)

This week, it was painted red. (Though obviously not by the same people whorepainted one of Moscow’s tallest buildings yesterday.) The statue was painted overnight on August 17. Officials didn’t specify how bad the damage was, only that the red paint was “in several places.” 

Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued this statement to ITAR-TASS, “In connection with the outrageous act of vandalism, a note of protest was promptly lodged with the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry with a demand for taking measures to prevent such incidents in the future, bringing those responsible for breaching the law to justice and putting the grave and the monument in order.” 

View image on Twitter
The controversial Monument of the Soviet Army in Sofia in the colours of the #Ukrainian flag this morning.

Considering some of the soldiers were previously painted to look like American brand mascots, a bit of red paint seems minor. 

Which 4K TVs are worth buying?

Both Netflix and Amazon stream in 4K. Cameras like the Sony a7S and the Panasonic Lumix GH4 can shoot in 4K. Even smartphones have been getting in on the act, with handsets like the LG G Pro 2 and Sony Xperia Z2 capable of recording 4K video.

So with the amount of 4K content available increasing every day, you may have been thinking about buying a 4K set so you too can bask in the glow of 3,840 x 2,160 resolution.

But 4K sets don’t come cheap, and you’re going to want to do a bit of research before dropping that much cash. While we don’t really review televisions here at Engadget, we’ve done the next best thing, compiling the opinions of trusted critics from across the web.

Which set offers you the most bang for your buck? Do bells and whistles like a curved screen make a difference? Check out a few members of the 4K Class of 2014 below.

PANASONIC LIFE+SCREEN AX800At first blush, the Panasonic AX800 series has a lot going for it. It’s a nice-looking set thatPC Mag says is “minimalist and unique,” suited for both TV stands and entertainment centers. Turn it on, and the picture is equally impressive, delivering what AVForums calls “rich textures and nuanced lighting,” while Reviewed.com thinks this LCD could stand toe to toe with a good plasma set, due to its “good black levels, accurate colors and reliable screen uniformity.”

But if you’re looking to sit down and enjoy some House of Cards in beautiful 4K, you’ll be disappointed — Netflix on the AX800 is limited to 1080p (and lower). Given the relative scarcity of commercial 4K content, the inability to watch a major provider like Netflix is a big ding on an otherwise stellar UHD set. Price: $2,300 and up

SAMSUNG U9000Walk into a room and the first thing you’ll notice about the Samsung U9000 is its curved screen, which CNET says adds a “unique, futuristic look” to a set that is overall “drop-dead gorgeous.” It says the picture is equally stunning, offering “deep black levels, accurate color and great bright-room viewing qualities.”

But what about that curve? Though it’s meant to create a feeling of depth and immersion, CNET found it “didn’t have any major effect on the picture aside from reducing reflections somewhat,” and Reviewed.com found it actually made some reflections worse, such that “lamps and lights are occasionally stretched across the entire arc of the screen.” It’s worth noting that the U9000 also includes an improved Smart Hub experience, but you can also find other Samsung sets that are a lot cheaper (and less curvy). Price: $3,297 and up

SAMSUNG U8550The Samsung U8550 is a set that eschews the curved screen of its high-end sibling U9000 in favor of “trim bezels and a very narrow panel” that Reviewed.com says “lend this television a modern air.”

The picture also does it credit, with LCD TV Buying Guidecomplimenting its “brilliant images in 4K,” while Sound+Vision was impressed with the “crisp detail and the clean, smooth clarity” of its upconversions.As on the U9000, the Smart Hub has been upgraded with “subtle improvements” that “hit the mark” according to LCD TV Buying Guide, and Reviewed.com says it provides “all of the streaming content and web-browsing functions you’d expect for the price.”

And that’s a price that undercuts the competition by $1,000, leaving you some extra cash for an awesome sound or gaming system on the side. Price: $1,597 and up

SONY X900BAt first glance, it’s clear that the Sony X900B is very different from other UHD sets, and even many regular ol’ HDTVs, due to its huge set of front-facing speakers.

The sacrifice of a slim bezel is well worth it, though, as What Hi-Fi compliments its “rich, open and detailed sound quality,” while CNET calls it the “best sound of any TV we’ve heard, bar none.” The picture is also up to the challenge, offering quality that HDTVTest calls “spectacular” andCNET says is the “best picture quality of any 4K TV we’ve tested so far.”

Sure, the X900B isn’t as cheap as some other sets, but unlike the AX800, it supports Netflix and, with those massive speakers flanking the screen, you won’t need to fork out the extra dough for a quality sound system. Price: $2,998 and up

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