Putin praises elections as hundreds in Moscow protest against results

Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a videoconference meeting with the leaders of the Russian political parties following the parliamentary elections. -/Kremlin/dpa

Russian President Vladimir Putin praised last week's parliamentary elections as "free and fair" on Saturday, while hundreds of people gathered in Moscow to protest against the results of the polls that were overshadowed by massive accusations of fraud.

"The elections themselves were held openly and in strict accordance with the law," Putin said during talks with top politicians from all parties represented in the new State Duma. He pointed to the fact that a new, fifth force is now represented in the parliament with the New People party as evidence of a democratic election process.

United Russia won the vote last weekend with 49.8 per cent. The Communists came in second with 18.9 per cent; like all other parties represented in the Duma, they are considered close to the Kremlin.

Opposition and independent election observers complained of numerous violations and systematic fraud.

The unauthorized rally in Moscow was called by the Communist Party. Among the parliamentarians' demands were a recount of votes cast online, which the opposition claims were systematically falsified.

Putin dismissed the accusations of fraud on Saturday, especially the ones about online votes, saying that reservations about electronic voting had only arisen "because someone did not like the result."

In Moscow, online voting results had tipped the balance in favour of United Russia, but were announced only after paper votes were counted despite theoretically being available the moment polls closed.

The protest at Puskhin Square attracted a heavy police presence, with barriers erected and prisoner transport vehicles standing ready.

Officers played music over loudspeakers to drown out the speeches made by speakers at the protest. The authorities had earlier issued a warning against taking part in unauthorized protests.

However, unlike at the large-scale protests in support of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny earlier this year, there were no reports of widespread detentions; however, protest monitoring group OVD-Info later said that one participant was detained near Red Square.

Police estimated the protest attracted 400 participants, while independent observers put the number closer to 1,000.

Hundreds of Moscow residents responded to a similar call for protests by the Communists last Monday.

In the days that followed, several participants were arrested. OVD-Info said it was aware of over 50 cases of people involved in the protest subsequently experiencing official harassment.

Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a videoconference meeting with the leaders of the Russian political parties following the parliamentary elections. -/Kremlin/dpa

Two hunger-striking German climate protesters begin refusing fluids

Lea and Henning, two remaining participants of the "Last Generation Hunger Strike", announce at a press conference that they are going on a dry hunger strike with immediate effect. They demand that Olaf Scholz, Finance Minister and SPD candidate for Chancellor, to declare a climate emergency. Jörg Carstensen/dpa

Two German climate activists who have been on hunger strike on Saturday began to also refuse liquid after the Social Democrats' chancellor candidate did not respond to an ultimatum.

The 24-year-old woman and 21-year-old man are conducting their thirst strike in a bid to push Olaf Scholz to call a climate emergency.

"In this election campaign, where everything is at stake, people are still acting as if everything could go on like this," said the man.

Scholz has called for the action to be called off and offered to talk to the activists after the election.

Without fluids, serious health consequences and even death could follow within a few days. Since the activists are already weak from their hunger strike, they could reach critical condition much faster.

A group of protesters began a hunger strike calling for more radical climate policies on August 30 near Berlin's Reichstag building.

Among other demands, they wanted a public discussion with Olaf Scholz (SPD), Armin Laschet (CDU/CSU) and Annalena Baerbock (Greens) on Thursday ahead of Sunday's German election. The politicians did not agree, so most participants broke off the hunger strike on Thursday.

Dutch Holocaust memorial opens after years of legal dispute

A general view of the National Holocaust Memorial of Names on Weesperstraat by US architect Daniel Libeskind during its official opening after years of legal dispute. Ramon Van Flymen/ANP/dpa

A Dutch National Holocaust Memorial is to be officially opened in Amsterdam on Sunday, after years of legal dispute.

King Willem-Alexander is to unveil the monument that was created by the Dutch Auschwitz Committee and designed by architect Daniel Liebeskind.

It is the first memorial to name all 102,000 Dutch Jews, Sinti and Roma who were murdered by the Nazis during World War II.

The city issued an emergency decree on Friday, ahead of the official opening out of concern about potential protests.

"I'm glad it's finally here," Auschwitz Committee chairman Jacques Grishaver told dpa. "This monument gives the victims back their names 76 years after the end of the war and proves that they lived."

The monument, funded mainly through donations, is located near the near the Jewish Quarter in Amsterdam's city centre.

It consists of brick walls, which visitors can walk around, representing four Hebrew letters meaning "in memory of." At the top of the walls are steel surfaces that reflect stones, trees and the sky.

Each brick bears the name of a victim, the date they were born and the age at which they died.

Some 70 to 80 per cent of the families listed by name were killed by the Nazis.

The monument is important for the Jewish community, Grishaver said, as a place of remembrance and also education.

However, local residents took to the courts to try and prevent the construction, fearful of an onslaught of visitors and complaining of its size.

The Netherlands' highest court permitted the building to go ahead in late 2019, though Grishaver noted that this came too late for many survivors.

Russia's opposition shut out as 3-day parliamentary election starts

Maren Eggert as Alma and Dan Stevens as Tom in a scene from the film "Ich bin dein Mensch" ("I Am Your Man") Christine Fenzl/Majestic/dpa

Russians began voting on Friday in parliamentary elections that see all 450 seats in the Duma up for grabs, yet a win by United Russia, the ruling party that has supported President Vladimir Putin for two decades, is considered a foregone conclusion.

The voting is being held over three days, a decision authorities say was taken in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus but which the opposition argues increases opportunities for fraud.

The Kremlin has cleared the field of many of its rivals, with opposition members in prison, detained, or simply not allowed to run.

Meanwhile, one independent media outlet after another has been shut down in recent months after authorities targeted them for being "foreign agents," while election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will be absent.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny is trying, from prison, to promote Smart Voting - a strategy in which anti-Kremlin voters throw their support en masse behind the candidates seen as having the best shot of unseating establishment lawmakers.

Navalny's allies have created a mobile app and online tools to support Smart Voting, but what impact the tactic would ultimately have on the results was a matter of speculation.

From his penal camp east of Moscow, Navalny has been able to get messages out to his supporters in which he urges them to coalesce to oust Putin's "corrupt" regime.

"We can do it, there are more of us," Vladimir Milov said recently on his YouTube channel, one of the many Navalny associates trying to stir up the beleaguered opposition's enthusiasm.

United Russia, which is strongly allied to, and in many cases identical with, Russia's oligarch class, currently has 336 lawmakers in the 450-seat State Duma, the lower house of the parliament.

The body is less powerful than the presidency but still plays important advisory and legislative functions.

United Russia's popularity has plummeted amid widespread discontent over economic and social hardships. But since it is expected to maintain its majority, the real question is how many seats the opposition can peel away.

There are small handful of other parties already represented in the Duma, although their ideologies and positions frequently overlap with United Russia's.

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation is hoping to expand their presence under 77-year-old party leader Gennady Zyuganov. There is also 75-year-old right-wing populist Vladimir Zhirinovsky with his nationalist LDPR party and Sergei Mironov, 68, of the A Just Russia — For Truth party.

Political scientist Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Centre said the pervasive opinion among Russians was that the whole election is utterly pointless.

But Putin needs the election - even if it is neither free nor fair - because having a majority in parliament confers a veil of legitimacy to his 21 years in power.

"In Russia, with its advanced authoritarianism, this is not a choice like from a menu for a particular dish, but a Yes vote," Kolesnikov said, adding that anti-democratic tactics were a given.

"The most important tool, as always, is the mobilization of people who are dependent on the state," he said, mentioning employees of state-owned enterprises and public workers.

Kolesnikov said the "tightening" of the Kremlin's grip will continue and that he did not expect any large protests against the election results, saying too many people were too demoralized.

Pope sees no prospects for same-sex marriage

Pope Francis waves to people as he arrives for the Holy Mass at the National Shrine in Sastin, which is known as a pilgrimage site where people come to venerate the statue of the Our Lady of Sorrows. Šálek Václav/CTK/dpa

Pope Francis again on Wednesday ruled out same-sex marriage in the Catholic Church, in comments to journalists as he returned to the Vatican after spending several days in Slovakia.

Marriage is a sacrament and the Church does not have the authority to change it, the pope said.

He said it was important to help people of other sexual orientations but without imposing things on the Church that did not work there.

Pope Francis referred to government regulations such as the civil solidarity pact in France which permit civil partnerships.

If two people of the same sex want to spend their lives together, governments have ways to support them, through civil ceremonies. "But marriage is marriage," he said.

However, the pope said that did not mean condemning people and that everyone had to be respected. "But please don't force the Church to deny its truth," he said.

Pope Francis arrives for the Holy Mass at the National Shrine in Sastin, which is known as a pilgrimage site where people come to venerate the statue of the Our Lady of Sorrows. Martin Baumann/TASR/dpa

Foreign forces must leave Syria, Putin tells al-Assad in Moscow

A picture provided by the Kremlin on 14 September 2021 shows Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad in the Kremlin. -/Kremlin/dpa

The presence of foreign troops in Syria - the ones not invited by Damascus - are hindering Syria's revival, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Bashar al-Assad during a surprise visit to Moscow by the Syrian president.

The Kremlin made the announcement on Tuesday morning and published a photo of the meeting that took place between the two presidents late on Monday.

According to the Kremlin, the talks focused on the conflict in Syria. Putin repeated his criticism of the presence of foreign troops in the country who were not there at the invitation of Damascus.

These troops are in parts of the country without a UN resolution and without "your (al-Assad's) consent," Putin was quoted as saying, describing it as a violation of international law.

Putin said the troops were hindering Syria's reconstruction and preventing a political settlement.

Russia, which conducts military operations in Syria, has been a close ally of al-Assad's government, propping it up through nearly a decade of war.

Turkey and the United States are among the nations that have intervened militarily on the side of al-Assad's opponents.

Putin last visited the Syrian president in Syria in early 2020.

Putin spoke of "joint efforts" that have yielded results. He referred, for example, to Russia's humanitarian aid and the delivery of Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine.

Al-Assad said he was happy to meet with Putin six years after the Syrian and Russian armies began working together "to liberate lands, bring back refugees to their cities and also protect innocent civilians" from terrorism.

Syrian rebel groups that have fought to remove al-Assad from power are referred to by Damascus as terrorists.

"We insist in Syria as a government and state institutions to go in parallel into the liberation of land and the political process," al-Assad said, according to the Syrian presidency.

Al-Assad also thanked Russia for its support within international forums as well as humanitarian support.

Separately, a UN committee released a report on Tuesday laying out the human rights situation in Syria since the start of al-Assad's fourth term in power after elections in July, saying it saw little hope for reconciliation or cooperation in the war-torn country.

Instead, the report focused on arbitrary and secret detentions, torture and sexual abuse by government forces.

"What we are seeing today in Syria is a war against the civilian population," said Paul Pinheiro, the head of the committee.

He also noted that military clashes have picked up again in recent weeks.

"The overall situation in Syria looks increasingly bleak."

The panel also criticized the fact that Kurdish militants are holding about 40,000 children - often with their mothers - in north-eastern Syria because of suspicions that their families have ties to Islamist extremists. The report called for the Syrian Democratic Forces to release them immediately so the detainees can return to their home countries.

According to the report, forces loyal to al-Assad control about 70 per cent of Syria's territory, which is home to about 40 per cent of the population. But many people have fled the country during 10 years of civil war. Eyeing the situation, Pinheiro said the country is not yet ready for their return.

Former Afghan president apologizes for abandoning his country

Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani attempted to give an explanation on Wednesday of why he left Kabul so abruptly as the Taliban closed in on the city.

Apologizing to the Afghan people for his actions in a statement, Ghani said that he had no choice in the matter, as his security team had told him that his continued presence in the city would spark street-to-street fighting, last seen in Kabul during the 1990s civil war.

Ghani said that while it had been the most difficult decision of his life, in a bid to avoid further bloodshed he had agreed to leave Kabul.

In the statement, Ghani lamented that, like his predecessors, he too had been unable to bring peace and prosperity to the war-torn country.

"It is with a deep and profound regret that my own chapter ended in a similar tragedy to my predecessors."

Ghani took the opportunity to deny the claims that he had taken millions of dollars out of the country when he fled, even saying that he was ready to be investigated to prove his innocence.

The claims originated with a former Afghan ambassador to neighbouring Tajikistan, Zahir Aghbar, who alleged that Ghani took around 169 million dollars with him when he left the country.

Ghani was heavily criticized both domestically and internationally for abandoning Afghanistan and paving the way for a complete Taliban takeover.

On Tuesday, the Taliban deputy culture and information minister, Zabiullah Mujahid, announced the composition of an interim government, naming Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund as the acting prime minister.

The newly-announced cabinet was not mentioned in Ghani's statement, but the former president did say that he had always believed that democracy was the only way forward for a sovereign and peaceful Afghanistan.

ABBA release tickets to their virtual reunion show in London

Fans attend the Abba event "Abba Voyage" at the hotel "nhow Berlin" where a new album and a hologram show of the Swedish band Abba has been announced. Even though the concert venue is still under construction, the ticket sales for Voyage, the long-awaited ABBA reunion show in London, have already begun. Jens Kalaene/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa

Even though the concert venue is still under construction, the ticket sales for Voyage, the long-awaited ABBA reunion show in London, have already begun.

Prices for the show come in at anywhere between 32 and 367 pounds (44 and 508 dollars) and include a night in a hotel.

The Swedish megastars, who enjoyed enormous success in the 1970s, announced last week that they would finally be back on stage together, though not in the flesh, but as avatars.

A brand new venue is currently being built in London for the technologically complex show, which will open on May 28.

Germany warns Russia amid wave of fresh cyberattacks

The German government has pointed the finger at Russia after a recent wave of cyberattacks targeting German politicians.

"The federal government strongly urges the Russian government to stop these unacceptable cyberactivities with immediate effect," a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry said in Berlin on Monday.

The spokesperson added that a ministry official had made the same demand directly to a representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry last week.

The security authorities have informed the parliament at least three times this year about cyberattacks on parliamentarians by foreign intelligence services.

Most recently, several lawmakers from the governing coalition parties - the centre-right CDU/CSU and the centre-left SPD - are said to have been affected.

German cybersecurity authorities have warned that foreign intelligence services could use the hacks to publish personal information about the victim or even fabricated false news.

Some hacks targeting lawmakers' email accounts have been traced back to a Russian group named "Ghostwriter."

"The federal government has reliable information on the basis of which 'Ghostwriter' activities can be attributed to cyberactors of the Russian state and specifically to the Russian military intelligence service GRU," said the Foreign Ministry spokesperson.

Horse punching German pentathlon coach sanctioned, athlete cleared

Germany's modern pentathlon coach Kim Raisner received an official reprimand from the governing UIPM for her behaviour at the Tokyo Olympic Games last month when she struck a horse.

Raisner must also attend "a coach education seminar at the appropriate level containing a Humane Treatment of Animals module at the earliest opportunity" before returning to competition, the UIPM said.

However, athlete Annika Schleu was cleared of wrong-doing regarding excessive use of the whip and spurs and no action will be taken against her.

Schleu's hopes of Olympic gold disappeared when her horse Saint Boy refused to take the show-jumping course.

Raisner was heard on television encouraging a tearful Schleu to "properly" hit the horse in an unsuccessful bid to get it going and was later ejected from the Games for punching the animal - in an incident she said was overblown.

The UIPM Disciplinary Panel said it recognized Raisner's "personal contributions over many years to the sport of modern pentathlon, both as an elite level athlete and national coach.

"Her athletic and professional record is one of exemplary behaviour, making the events of August 6 stand out as an anomaly.

“That said ... her behaviour, that of striking the horse, Saint Boy, and encouraging her athlete to do the same, regardless of the reason, was shocking to this Panel and indeed the world. Ms Raisner's egregious behaviour cannot go unpunished."

Former South African president Zuma out of jail due to health worries

Jacob Zuma, then President of South Africa, speaks during a press conference in Berlin. Wolfgang Kumm/dpa

Former South African president Jacob Zuma's health has deteriorated to the point that he is being released from prison, where he is serving a contempt of court sentence, officials said on Monday.

Zuma had been sentenced to 15 months in early July because he refused to show up to court to face corruption charges. His supporters lashed out after that decision, starting a series of nationwide protests and plundering that resulted in more than 300 deaths and significant damage to infrastructure and private property.

Court officials say they were presented with documents at the weekend showing that the 79-year-old's health is too impaired for him to stay in prison. He remains under probation.

The corruption trial will still proceed. However, Zuma has said in the past that he would go to jail rather than show up for the proceedings. He is accused of using his position to funnel state resources to allies.

Boy, 3, found days after going missing in rural area of Australia

Polair searches bushland shortly before finding three year old AJ Elfalak alive on the family property near Putty south west of Sydney. Three year old AJ has been missing for 4 days with a massive search effort being launched by NSW Police, SES and the RFS. Dean Lewins/AAP/dpa

A 3-year-old boy was found alive on Monday, three days after going missing from his family's rural property in the eastern Australian state of New South Wales, police said.

The boy was spotted by an helicopter at about 11:30 am (0130 GMT) on Monday, nearly 72 hours after being last seen at a rural property in Putty, some 110 kilometres north-west of Sydney, NSW police said in a statement.

He was reunited with his family and was being assessed by NSW Ambulance paramedics, the statement said.

Police also released video showing the moment the boy was spotted by a helicopter drinking water from a creek.

"It's a good news story," police superintendent Tracy Chapman told media, adding that the fact that he was close to water "is potentially what gave him that opportunity to survive."

His disappearance sparked a major rescue operation which included Trailbike officers, The Dog and Mounted Unit, Police divers and PolAir, among others, as well as hundreds of emergency service volunteers.

Local media reported that the boy, who has autism and is non-verbal, survived three nights alone in bushland in temperatures which dipped as low as 3 degrees Celsius.

"He's got some nappy rash, he's been bitten by ants, he's fallen over, but he's alive," his father told local media.

SES volunteers return after finding three year old AJ Elfalak alive on the family property near Putty south west of Sydney. Three year old AJ has been missing for 4 days with a massive search effort being launched by NSW Police, SES and the RFS. Dean Lewins/AAP/dpa
Anthony Elfalak thanks detectives after finding his three year old son AJ Elfalak alive on the family property near Putty south west of Sydney. Three year old AJ has been missing for 4 days with a massive search effort being launched by NSW Police, SES and the RFS. Dean Lewins/AAP/dpa
A relieved Anthony Elfalak after learning his 3 year old son AJ has been found alive on the family property near Putty south west of Sydney. Three year old AJ has been missing for 4 days with a massive search effort being launched by NSW Police, SES and the RFS. Dean Lewins/AAP/dpa

In France, dogs are sniffing out whether people have Covid-19

Watching golden retriever Pokaa sniffing away might make you think that Covid-19 smells good.

The smell of the sweat of someone infected with the coronavirus seems to have a magical draw for the dog.

Without hesitating, he sits down in front of a metal box that contains a sample from someone who tested positive for the virus and just keeps on nudging it with his nose.

Pokaa's trainers say he is the first sniffer dog working as a specialist in the coronavirus in France.

The 2-year-old dog is stationed at a home for the elderly in Alsace, close to the German border, to help detect infections in the facility quickly and reliably.

He may also wind up working at German old people's homes too.

The sniffer dog method was developed with EnvA, a veterinary university near Paris. People who are being tested for the virus press a cotton cloth under their armpits for a period of time.

The cloths are then placed in separate metal boxes that have holes punched in them.

Pokaa walks past the row of boxes, sensing whether he can identify the smell of the spike protein in the coronavirus.

He sits down in front of one box that contains someone's sweat who is infected with the virus. He nudges it with his nose.

Dogs can detect whether people are infected with the virus, thanks to their excellent sense of smell. Researchers at Germany's University of Veterinary Medicine recently published a study that found sniffer dogs detect whether people had the coronavirus in 91 per cent of cases, using sweat samples.

They also rarely incorrectly indicated that someone did have the coronavirus when the person tested negative. Using urine samples produced even clearer results.

A British study has also indicated promising outcomes.

Dogs also used their skills in a similar project in Helsinki. People could volunteer to be "tested" by eight sniffer dogs, who assessed clothing that the people had rubbed on their skin first.

"In the middle of the pandemic, that was something that gave people hope and joy," said Susanna Paavilainen, of the Nose Academy, which deployed the dogs at the airport. While the pilot project is over, many hope that dogs could lend their support at Finland's borders.

Hopes are also high for Pokaa, who scored a 100-per-cent hit rate at the La Roseliere old people's home, says Pokaa's trainer, Christelle Schreiber.

Pokaa may even have managed to sniff out the infection earlier than it was identified by PCR tests, after he identified a sample for someone who was thought not to have the virus. Another PCR test then found that the person did have the virus after all. "When we saw that he just wasn't wrong, we thought 'wow,'" says Schreiber.

Pokaa will soon be regularly testing the more than 200 residents and staff at the home.

Schreiber had previously accompanied Pokaa during the dog's four-week training course close to Paris.

He was initially given synthetically made spike protein to train his nose to get used to the smell. Trainers gradually reduced the quantities and switched over to using real sweat samples instead.

The residents at the Kunheim home for the elderly are excited about the new possibilities that using Pokaa opens up - after all, it means they won't need to undergo nasal swabs any more.

Those tests are particularly distressing for those with dementia, who often have to be held down by several staff members. For those patients, it feels like a violent and invasive procedure, says home manager Robert Kohler.

Testing people using a dog is faster and also less expensive than using other tests.

It costs 3,500 euros to train the dogs, which soon pays off when the cost of tests and the number needed are taken into consideration.

Kohler is also president of the Handi'Chiens association, which trains dogs to work with the elderly and sick - where Pokaa started out. Now the aim is to train as many dogs as possible to identify people who are infected with Covid-19.

"Our dogs will save lives," Kohler says with conviction.

Now, requests have gone out for the government to back the project with some financial support.

So far, 250 Handi'Chiens dogs are already at work in homes and hospitals, and Kohler wants them all to complete the additional Covid-19 training so people can be tested on a larger scale.

After all, one dog is enough for regular tests in up to 10 homes, says Kohler. Then, after the pandemic is finally over, the dogs can learn how to sniff out other sicknesses, she says.

Golden retriever Pokaa is the first sniffer dog working as a specialist in the coronavirus in France, according to his trainers. Philipp von Ditfurth/dpa
Dogs like Pokaa can detect whether people are infected with the virus, thanks to their excellent sense of smell. They just need some extra training to detect it as well as tests. Philipp von Ditfurth/dpa
Watching golden retriever Pokaa sniffing away might make you think that Covid-19 smells good: The smell of the sweat of someone infected with the coronavirus seems to have a magical draw for the dog. Philipp von Ditfurth/dpa
Christelle Schreiber kneels next to Pokaa, the first dog in France being used to sniff out Covid-19, according to the dog trainer. Pokaa has been specially trained to sniff it out. Philipp von Ditfurth/dpa

For Russians, climate change is taking the ground beneath their feet

In some regions of Russia, the effects of climate change are more noticeable than elsewhere: With rising temperatures, the permafrost is slowly thawing. As a result, damage to houses, roads and other infrastructure such as gas pipelines is becoming more frequent.

When permafrost thaws, buildings are more likely to collapse – "a dangerous trend," according to engineer Ali Kerimov from a team of experts in the industrial city of Norilsk working to make life at the Arctic Ocean secure again.

In Norilsk, the world's northern-most city, houses are built on stilts, as in many places in permafrost regions.

"They reach 10 to 30 metres deep into the ground," says Kerimov, director of the Fundament Research and Production Company. This method prevents the buildings from collapsing during temperature fluctuations. Cracks on the buildings' outer walls are evidence that the ground is in motion.

However, the stilts are barely sufficient anymore, the 55-year-old says. Whenever temperatures rise, the ground sinks deeper - when the soil 3-to-5-metres deep thaws, it can sink up to 1 metre, he adds.

This is a serious problem in the world's largest country.

Almost two-thirds of the ground area in Russia is permanently frozen. A large amount of animal and plant remains that have not yet been decomposed by microbes are contained in the frost. But in many regions, temperatures are rising and the frost is thawing.

"Global warming can no longer be denied," says Mathias Ulrich, geographer at the University of Leipzig in Germany. "The Arctic is the epicentre of global warming. Nowhere else on this planet is it as pronounced as there," he says.

Permafrosts mainly exist in Alaska, Canada and in Siberia, from the Arctic Ocean to the Ural Mountains, and in the south to Mongolia.

Researchers fear that the thawing of permafrost could also release large amounts of greenhouse gases such as methane or carbon dioxide.

"This in turn would further increase the greenhouse effect," Ulrich estimates.

People living in the permafrost regions notice the consequences of climate change in their everyday life as buildings, streets and lanes collapse. In Norilsk, such damage is meticulously recorded.

Mayor Dmitry Karasev's list includes 240 houses that need to be renovated or are uninhabitable due to the damage. "We have to do everything to stabilize the buildings to prevent accidents," he says.

According to current studies, over 1,000 settlements and cities are built on Arctic permafrost and inhabited by a total of some 5 million people, says Ulrich. "Projections show that in 30 years, 42 per cent of these settlements will be permafrost-free," according to Ulrich.

In Russia alone, 20 per cent of all buildings and 19 per cent of infrastructure could be affected by global warming's consequences.

The Environment Ministry estimates that by 2050, the cost of damages related to thawing permafrost could reach up to 67 billion dollars.

An example from spring 2020 illustrates the possible threat of pollution: Close to Norilsk, more than 21,000 litres of diesel fuel had leaked from a damaged tank because its support had sunk into the thawing ground.

To prevent catastrophes like this one or the collapsing of buildings, engineer Kerimov advocates regular monitoring of frozen ground.

"The monitoring system should be designed to predict changes in soil temperature and possible reduced bearing capacity of the foundation five to 10 years in advance," he says. This would leave enough time for finding and implementing "adequate measures" for more security.

Some foundations and permafrosts are being cooled artificially with so-called thermostabilizers, to prevent houses built on thawing permafrost from collapsing.

The permafrost expert and his team are also researching materials for foundations that are better able to withstand temperature changes.

In the future, hardly any new buildings will be built without such technologies. Norilsk has already stopped building high-rise buildings, according to Karasev; since 2002, the city has only been constructing smaller buildings on the thawing ground.

Engineer Ali Kerimov, an expert in permafrost, takes part in a conference. He researches in the northern Russian city of Norilsk, where he wants to make sure the foundations built on thawing permafrost aren't at risk of collapse. Viktoria Lamzina/Ali Kerimow/dpa

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