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A New Cold War?

MOSCOW – After months of increasingly chilled relations, with disputes ranging from visa restrictions placed on Russian officials to denied US adoption rights of Russian children, the relationship between the US and Russia has reached a new low as President Obama on Wednesday called off a summit with President Putin scheduled to be held on September 5th in Moscow. The cancellation follows Russia's decision last week to grant a one-year asylum for the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, whom the US wants extradited to face criminal charges.

Some analysts say that the chilling of relations reminds of the cold war era. However, meetings between foreign ministers are still scheduled, while Obama's national security advisers recommended the President to refrain from meetings in the current situation. US-Russian relations have been strained over the past years by the Sergei Magnitzky case and the ensuing visa restrictions placed on Russian officials suspected to be responsible for Magnitzky's death and its cover-up. Moreover, recent worrying developments in Russian human rights climate, including the incarceration of members of the Pussy Riot band as well as increasingly hostile attitudes towards homosexuals are likely to overshadow US-Russian diplomatic relations. Russia's role in the conflict in Syria, providing arms and blocking any UN Security Council resolution, is also thought to be a thorn in the flesh.

From the world of arts a book by Bill Browder on Sergej Magnitski will come out in the next months and a movie thriller with an international cast is planned to follow. Other movies are in preparation, such as the one on Litvinenko, a former Russian spy who was killed with polonium in London.


ALEPPO – During the holy month of Ramadan, reports say that 4,400 people were killed in fighting in Syria. Currently close to 7 million people inside the country are in urgent need of food aid and there are nearly 2 million refugees  in Jordan and Lebanon, making it the biggest refugee crisis since the Rwandan conflict, according to a UN estimate.

International efforts to end the conflict have failed to date. There are recent reports of more and more extremist fighters flocking into the country, threatening to turn Syria into a safe haven for terrorists. Intelligence experts fear that Syria, along with a stretch of countries ranging to North Africa, might harbor a "regeneration and resurrection of a new brand of Al Qaeda". In an effort to find out whether dangerous chemical weapons have been used in the conflict, a UN weapons inspection team is about to enter the country.

US plans to arm some elements of the Syrian opposition are due to start this month, but many fear that this won't have much of an effect, it all being too little, too late. After numerous debates the US House and Senate Intelligence Committees gave a go-ahead for the CIA to provide arms to the rebels in late July. Meanwhile, Russia has rejected Saudi Arabia's suggestion to abandon Bashar al-Assad by stopping arms deliveries in exchange for more business and influence in the Arab world as well as investments in Russia.



BEIJING – An imprisoned Chinese dissident and activist Xu Zhiyong has released an audacious video recorded in his prison cell, in which he calls for Chinese people to demand democracy and human rights. In the video he stated, “No matter how degenerate and ridiculous society is, the country needs a group of brave citizens to stand out, insisting on their faith and taking their rights, responsibilities and dreams seriously.” Xu was imprisoned after spreading banners with 16 others demanding the disclosure of private assets held by public officials; he was charged with “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place”.

Xu Zhiyong, who by profession is a lawyer and a lecturer at Beijing University, is the founder of the NGO New Citizens' Movement, which tries to tackle government corruption and pushes public officials to disclose their wealth. The organization has been the target of an official crackdown, with many of its members detained. However, since taking office, President Xi Jinping has promised to fight government corruption by banning public displays of wealth and over-the-top banquets organized by public officials. Yet, critics say that these efforts have not become widespread.

We invite you to watch the following trailers on US-Russian relations, cold war and espionage:
  • THE MAN WHO SAVED THE WORLD by Peter Anthony is a feature documentary film about Stanislav Petrov, a former lieutenant colonel of the Soviet Air Defence Forceswas responsible for reacting to a report that five American nuclear missiles were heading toward the Soviet Union. Rather than retaliate, Stanislav followed his gut feeling and went against protocol, convincing the armed forces that it was a false alarm. His decision saved the world from a potential devastating nuclear holocaust.
  • MODERN SPIES by Sam Bagnall and Mike Rudin looks at the world of the modern day secret agent, and reports on how things are sometimes drastically exaggerated or the truth.
  • COLD WAR by Pat Mitchell and Jeremy Isaacs is a twenty-four episode television documentary series about the Cold War that aired in 1998. It features interviews and footage of the events that shaped the tense relationships between the Soviet Union and the United States.
  • JUSTICE FOR SERGEI by Hans Hermans and Martin Maat, winner of the "Cinema for Peace Award for Justice 2012", is a documentary film on Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in November 2009 at the age of 37 under excruciating circumstances in a Moscow detention centre.
  • DR. STRANGELOVE by Stanley Kubrick is a cold-war satire in which an insane general starts a process to nuclear war.
On the Syrian civil conflict:
  • GROUND ZERO: SYRIA by Robert King is a compilation of photojournalist and videographer King’s footage into a series of raw, largely unedited vignettes that present a snapshot of the ancient city of Aleppo as it crumbles and burns while its citizens are killed indiscriminately.
  • BATTLE FOR SYRIA by Jamie Doran presents a journey inside the heart of the Syrian insurgency with rebels waging a full-scale assault.
  • THE SUFFERING GRASSES by Iara Lee seeks to explore the Syrian conflict through the humanity of the civilians who have been killed, abused, and displaced to the squalor of refugee camps.
On Chinese dissidents and the democracy movement:
  • Video message of Xu Zhiyong calling for Chinese citizens to demand democracy
  • AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY by Alison Klayman, nominated for "Cinema for Peace Most Valuable Documentary of the Year 2013", is a documentary that chronicles artist and activist Ai Weiwei as he prepares for a series of exhibitions and gets into an increasing number of clashes with the Chinese government.
  • MOVING THE MOUNTAIN by Michael Apted is a documentary about the demonstrations of students in Peking on the 4th of June 1989 for more democracy in the People's Republic which were ended by army forces.
  • WAKING THE GREEN TIGER by Gary Marcuse, nominated for International Green Film Award 2011 recounts how an environmental movement takes root when a new environmental law is passed, and for the first time in China's history, ordinary citizens have the democratic right to speak out and take part in government decisions. Activist test this new freedom and save a river. The movement they trigger has the potential to transform China.
  • THE TANK MAN by Antony Thomas tells the story of the man who stood in front of a row of tanks in Tiananmen Square. After all others had been silenced, his lonely act of defiance against the Chinese regime amazed the world. What became of him? And 20 years later, has China succeeded in erasing this event from its history?