The Washington Post - 22.08.2019

(Joyce) #1



moscow — Two of the Russian
specialists killed by the explosion
at a White Sea missile testing
range died not of traumatic inju-
ries from the blast itself but of
radiation sickness before they
could be taken to Moscow for
treatment, the independent
newspaper Novaya Gazeta re-
ported Wednesday.
The paper cited an unnamed
medical worker who was in-
volved in their care. “Two of the
patients did not make it to the
airport and died,” the person
said. “The radiation dose was
very high, and symptoms of radi-
ation sickness grew every hour.”
Their bodies were taken to the
Burnazyan Federal Medical and
Biophysical Center in Moscow, a
leading institution in the fields of
radioactive and nuclear medi-

The explosion occurred Aug. 8
on a sea-based platform off the
village of Nyonoksa, in Russia’s
far north. The Russian atomic
agency Rosatom said a device
employing “isotopic sources of
fuel on a liquid propulsion unit”
was destroyed. Few additional
details were provided.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Pes-
kov said Tuesday that a “nuclear-
propelled missile” was being test-
ed, giving credence to the sugges-
tion that it involved a prototype of a
weapon designated as Skyfall by
NATO and called Burevestnik by
The newspaper report does
not clarify the extent of casual-
ties, and the information that has
been reported may not be consis-
tent. Rosatom reported that five
of its workers died when they
were blown off the platform into
the sea; they were from the Rus-
sian Federal Nuclear Center in
Sarov, where a funeral was held

for them Aug. 12. The Defense
Ministry said two people were
killed. The Interfax news agency
reported Wednesday that six peo-
ple were hospitalized with inju-
ries, three from the Defense Min-
istry and three from Rosatom.
How the two who reportedly died
of radiation sickness fit into
those numbers is not clear.
Novaya Gazeta reported that
three of those hurt were taken to
the Semashko Medical Center in
the city of Archangel, which has
expertise in radiation treatment,
where they were attended to by
staff wearing hazmat suits. The
other three were taken to the
regular regional hospital. The
newspaper confirmed a report
published earlier in the Moscow
Times that medical personnel
there were not warned that the
accident involved potential radi-
ation exposure.
The patients arrived at the
regional hospital at 4:35 p.m. on

Aug. 8, the medical staff em-
ployee told Novaya Gazeta. They
were examined in the emergency
room, then each was taken to a
separate operating room. An
hour later, traces of cesium 137
were detected in the ER, which
then had to be decontaminated.
“Doctors and nurses used soap
solutions for decontamination.
The medical staff had only face
masks to protect themselves,” the
employee said. Several com-
plained afterward of tingling sen-
sations in their faces and hands.
A bath caused dosimeters to
buzz, the paper reported, so serv-
ice members dismantled it, load-
ed it on a truck and took it away.
Other service members cut the
grass short around the hospital.
The doctors and nurses were
made to sign nondisclosure
agreements stating that informa-
tion about the incident is a state
secret. A doctor told Novaya:
“They don’t understand what a

state secret is and what the scope
of this secret is and that makes
the staff very nervous.”
Government agencies report-
ed a brief spike in radiation levels
in the nearby city of Severod-
vinsk after the explosion. Offi-
cials say there is no lasting con-
tamination or cause for concern.
Four sensors in various loca-
tions across Russia that are in
place to monitor compliance
with the Comprehensive Nuclear
Test Ban Treaty stopped report-
ing information shortly after the
explosion, as first reported by the
Wall Street Journal, but at least
one has since resumed.
Deputy Foreign Minister Ser-
gei Ryabkov said that the acci-
dent had nothing to do with the
testing of nuclear weapons and
that the operation of the sensors
was therefore irrelevant. He said
the information they provide is
transmitted voluntarily by Rus-

An independent news website,, quoted an unnamed
nuclear expert as suggesting that
the explosion does not pose a
health threat to the general popu-
lation but that the sensors may
have been turned off to prevent
disclosure of particular isotopes
that would give clues as to the
nature of the device being tested
on the White Sea.
An editorial in the newspaper
Vedomosti criticized the lack of
information from the govern-
ment. “The authorities offer one
answer to all the questions: The
radiation level in the area of the
blast is not excessive, the rest is
not your business,” it read. “The
authorities’ apparent unwilling-
ness to present all necessary in-
formation about what happened
and its consequences to society
and international experts begets
only new suspicions that some-
one is hiding something.”

2 deaths in Russian missile blast were caused by radiation, paper reports


dakar, senegal — One evening
in late June, gunmen stormed a
village in northern Burkina Faso
and ordered people who had been
chatting outside to lie down.
Then the armed strangers
checked everyone’s necks, search-
ing for jewelry. They found four
men wearing crucifixes — Chris-
tians. They executed them.
The killings in Beni, reported
by Catholic leadership in the re-
gion, followed attacks on church-
es in the West African nation that
have left at least two dozen people
dead since February, according to
local news reports. It was the sec-
ond time in as many months that
militants singled out worshipers
wearing Christian imagery.
A spreading Islamist insurgen-
cy has transformed Burkina Faso
from a peaceful country known
for farming, a celebrated film fes-
tival and religious tolerance into
a hotbed of extremism.
The trouble began three years
ago with a grim domino effect:
Militants trickled in from neigh-
boring Mali, which was wrestling
with its own insurgency — and
many carried weapons from the
2011 collapse of Libya.
Attacks by fighters linked to the
Islamic State and al-Qaeda have

quadrupled since 2017 in Burkina
Faso, according to the Africa Cen-
ter for Strategic Studies in Wash-
ington. The violence has
pushed at least 70,000 people to
flee their homes since January,
estimates the United Nations.
The death toll from the conflict
is hard to pin down, analysts say,
but the majority of victims have
been Muslim. Islamist groups
killed approximately 1,110 people
in the region last year, according

to the Africa Center — a surge
from 218 in 2016.
The attacks aimed at Christians
signal a shift in the militants’
strategy from indiscriminate gun-
fire to attempts at dividing com-
munities as they seek to quash any
trace of Western influence,
said Chrysogone Zougmore, pres-
ident of the Burkinabe Movement
for Human and Peoples’ Rights, a
victim advocacy group in the
country’s capital, Ouagadougou.

“They are planting seeds of a
religious conflict,” Zougmore
said. “They want to create hate.
They want to create differences
between us.”
Most people in Burkina Faso
are Muslim, but a Christian mi-
nority — now about a quarter of
the population — has worshiped
in the country of roughly 19 mil-
lion for more than a century.
People generally get along, re-
gardless of how they pray. Neigh-
bors dance, drink and watch soc-
cer together. Children grow up in
homes with a mix of traditions.
“You can’t tell the Christians
from the Muslims in the street,”
said Zougmore, a Christian mar-
ried to a Muslim.
Terrorists seem to want to de-
stroy that harmony, said Illia Dja-
di, senior analyst for sub-Saharan
Africa at Open Doors Internation-
al, a group focused on helping
persecuted Christians.
They initially targeted military
troops, fancy hotels and schools.
Now, he said, they appear to be
trying to drive non-Muslims out
of the north.
“They appear to be using a ‘di-
vide and conquer’ strategy,” Djadi
Attacks explicitly against
Christians in Burkina Faso hadn’t
happened before this spring, he

In February, militants sought
out and killed a Catholic priest in
the eastern town of Bittou, ac-
cording to local news reports.
In April, they interrupted a
Protestant church service in
northern Silgadji, demanding
that everyone convert to Islam.
Then they led five men who were
wearing crosses outside and shot
them, said Nebie Badiou, head of a
Baptist church association in
“It’s one thing to be Christian,
and it’s another to publicly show
Christ with a cross,” Badiou said.
“They were sending a signal: Do
not display your faith.”
In May, gunmen torched a
church in another northern vil-
lage, claiming the lives of a priest
and five parishioners. They struck
a procession the next day, killing
four. They ambushed a Sunday
mass in the same region two
weeks later, killing four, local me-
dia reported.
Then came the June attack,
which led to the deaths of the four
men wearing crucifixes, bishops
And earlier this month, they
killed three worshipers in attacks
on Protestant and Catholic
churches in the eastern city of

“We’re very afraid,” said Yacou-
ba Lido, 30, a Christian who
works as a translator for nonprof-
it groups in the country.
Lido, who lives in the center of
Burkina Faso, visited northern
villages twice this summer to talk
to people who witnessed attacks.
“They’re all running away,” he
said. “I saw people coming back
on donkeys and bikes — all mov-
ing toward the capital.”
Islamist fighters are gaining
territory in places the military
cannot reach, said Emily Estelle,
senior analyst for the Critical
Threats Project at the American
Enterprise Institute in Washing-
ton, which tracks the spread of
Extremists — homegrown and
some suspected to have trained in
Afghanistan — are aiming to “de-
stabilize the country and take
control of Muslim communities,”
she co-wrote in report this month
on the issue.
Religious leaders in Burkina
Faso are pleading for help.
“If the world continues to do
nothing,” Bishop Laurent Dabire,
president of the Episcopal Confer-
ence of Burkina Faso and Niger,
said in an Aug. 1 statement, “the
result will be the elimination of
the Christian presence.”

Christians targeted in Burkina Faso amid violence by Islamist militants

Protestants leave a church in Kaya, Burkina Faso, in May. Recent
attacks by militants on churches have left at least 24 dead.


miyako, japan — A high-stakes
“game of chicken” is playing out in
the East China Sea, as Beijing
pokes and provokes Tokyo with an
intensifying campaign of aerial
and maritime encroachments de-
signed to challenge Japan’s con-
trol of disputed islands.
Every day, around the clock,
Japan scrambles fighter jets and
dispatches coast guard vessels to
counter some new Chinese provo-
cation and ward off the intruding
boats and planes. It is also build-
ing a “wall” of defensive installa-
tions, including missile bases,
along the chain of subtropical,
touristed islands that make up the
archipelago’s southwestern arc.
“China wants to change the sta-
tus quo, but it does not want a
military confrontation,” said Mi-
chael Bosack, a special adviser at
the Yokosuka Council on As-
ia-Pacific Studies in Japan. “The
problem here is that miscalcula-
tion may lead to confrontation
and/or escalation.”
The contest has prompted a
shift in Japan’s defense strategy.
Over the past few years, the coun-
try has significantly expanded its
air force and coast guard bases
centered on the southwestern is-
land of Okinawa, which already
hosts tens of thousands of U.S.
troops and the largest U.S. air base
in the Asia-Pacific.
A 2,100-strong Japanese Am-
phibious Rapid Deployment Bri-
gade, the first of its kind, was
created in March 2018, with a
mandate to defend — and if neces-
sary, retake — Japanese islands
that could be targets of invasions.
Military bases are being estab-
lished on more-remote islands
stretching west toward Taiwan, to
house troops and missiles capable
of defending territory, waterways
and airspace. Defense experts call
it the “southwestern wall.”
On the island of Miyako, among
sugar-cane fields, Japan’s Ground
Self-Defense Force opened a new
base in March that will accommo-

date 700 to 800 troops, anti-ship
and surface-to-air missile batter-
ies, and radar and intelligence-
gathering facilities.
A similar base was established
on the island of Amami Oshima at
the same time. A smaller facility
opened on the westernmost island
of Yonaguni in 2016, and another
is planned for the island of Ishiga-
ki by 2021, each forming a brick in
the wall.
The territorial dispute centers
on five small, uninhabited islands
controlled by Japan and known
here as the Senkakus but claimed
by China, which calls them the
Diaoyu, as well as by Taiwan.
Tensions over those islands
have flared in recent years as Bei-
jing has sought to assert its mari-
time claims more aggressively, es-
pecially since Japan purchased
three of the islands from a private
owner in 2012 and China declared
an air defense identification zone
covering the area in 2013.
Since then, armed Chinese
coast guard vessels and armed
fishing boats known as the “mari-
time militia” have been regular
visitors to the territorial seas
around the Senkakus and to the
wider contiguous zone between 12
and 24 nautical miles from the
islands. Between April and June,
Chinese ships penetrated that
area for a record 64 consecutive
days, Japan says.
Experts refer to these tactics as
“gray zone” operations, intended
to gain an advantage without pro-
voking military conflict.
“China engages in unilateral, co-
ercive attempts to alter the status
quo based on its own assertions that
are incompatible with the interna-
tional order,” Japan’s Defense Minis-
try said in its latest strategy paper,
adding that “expanding and intensi-
fying military activities at sea and in
the air” represent a serious security
China says that the Diaoyu is-
lands have been an integral part of
its territory since ancient times —
it accuses Japan of stealing them
in 1895 — and that its fishermen
are merely visiting their tradition-
al fishing grounds. It denies its
moves are expansionist or aggres-
sive but says it has an “unshakable
will” to uphold its territorial sov-
It is the same language that
China uses to defend similar tac-

tics in the South China Sea, where
it has built a string of artificial
islands equipped with military fa-
cilities in disputed waters.
In the East China Sea, Japan
and China are competing not only
for control of the disputed Sen-

kaku/Diaoyu islands but for do-
minion over the broader western
Pacific Rim.
The Japanese archipelago
forms part of the “first island
chain,” a string of island groups
stretching across East Asia from

Russia to Borneo. During the Cold
War, the United States saw control
of this island chain as a way to
contain the Soviet Union and Chi-
na; these days, Beijing wants to
break the chain to gain untram-
meled access to the Pacific.
Japan’s new island bases are
also intended to monitor and pro-
tect two key waterways in that
chain, the Miyako and Tokara
straits. China contests Japan’s
right to control those waters, and
last month its aircraft carrier, the
Liaoning, sailed through the Mi-
yako Strait for the third time in
just over a year. Its fighters and
bombers take similar routes.
China has the right of passage
under international maritime law,
but Japan bristles to see so much
military hardware crossing freely
between the links in its island chain.
It scrambled its warplanes a record
851 times in 2016 and 179 times be-
tween April and June this year.
The Center for International
and Strategic Studies calls the sit-
uation a “slow-moving crisis” and
an “incremental game of chicken,”
warning that an accidental colli-
sion could easily spiral into con-
flict. The Rand Corp. warns that

China’s steady escalation and in-
creasingly provocative penetra-
tions could “strain Japan’s capac-
ity to respond” while avoiding the
risk of an armed conflict that
could potentially draw in the Unit-
ed States.
The standoff is already strain-
ing domestic politics in Japan,
where defense spending has fallen
far behind China’s in the past
three decades and efforts by the
government of Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe to reverse the down-
trend have proved controversial.
On the islands, resistance to the
new Japanese bases is significant.
On Miyako, a small but deter-
mined group of protesters says the
Defense Ministry lied about its
plans to store missiles there and
does not prioritize the islanders’
welfare and safety.
Like the people of Okinawa’s
main island who are protesting
against U.S. bases, people of this
once independent region remem-
ber bitterly how civilians suffered
here in intense fighting between
American and Japanese troops
during World War II. Many want
no part in big nations’ wars.
“There is a risk our entire island
could become a target,” said Reiko
Kamehama, a 65-year-old mem-
ber of the Okinawa prefectural
assembly. “Deploying missiles
here won’t protect our island. The
best deterrent is peaceful diplo-
Similar protests and petitions
signed by thousands have slowed
construction of the Ishigaki base
and stalled the deployment of a
U.S.-made missile defense system
in Akita in northern Japan and
Yamaguchi in western Japan and
Osprey aircraft in Saga in the
Japan’s government has ac-
knowledged it needs to better
manage local concerns but insists
it will not be deterred from its
strategic goals.
As well as bolstering its own
defenses, Japan’s navy says it has
also increased the frequency of
joint exercises with friends and
allies such as the United States,
Australia and India as it seeks to
build what it calls a “free and open

Akiko Kashiwagi contributed to this

Japan builds an island ‘wall’ to counter China aggression

Territorial disputes
prompt a ramp-up of
maritime defenses

An officer with Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force looks out over a new base on the island of Miyako in
late July. The base, designed to counter threats from China, has been dogged by local opposition.

Source: Japan Defense Ministry, coast guard SIMON DENYER/THE WASHINGTON POST

2019 figure for Chinese vessels up to Aug 7. Scrambles data relates to fiscal year,
vessels to calendar year.

China’s aerial and maritime incursions,
and Japan’s response
The number of times Japan scrambled fighter jets in response to Chinese air
force flights in the East China Sea, and the number of Chinese vessels per
year approaching within 24 nautical miles of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands.





2001 2006 2011 2016 2019



Scrambles Chinese vessels

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