Leaving aside the self-satisfied silliness of part of the American political scene, let’s venture for a moment into the world of geopolitical reality.
Frankly speaking, very few people in the U.S.A. are able to catch up the news that actually change the global reality, and what’s more, it usually happens with unspeakable difficulty due to the spread of trash TV. If one were to measure the maturity and wisdom of a democracy based on the cultural content of most of the television programs, the United States would almost certainly cut a poor figure (not that the situation in many European countries be much better, to tell the full truth). Obviously, no one is doubting the freedom to choose what to watch (we are the world’s leading liberal country for a reason, after all) but some more real information would be a healthy antidote to ignorance and indifference, especially when it comes to foreign policy-making.
Anyway, in the general silence of the media, only sometimes tarnished by sporadic whispers, there was a situation brewing in the small eastern European country of Moldova. Now, some of you might be wondering where Moldova is located. Here is a map to make it visibly understandable.
What could possibly be so important that it would take place in such a remote place from North America like Moldova? First, a little info on the country, just to give a feel for the region.
Part of Romania during the interwar period, Moldova was incorporated into the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. Although the country has been independent from the USSR since 1991, Russian forces have remained on Moldovan territory east of the Nistru River supporting the separatist region of Transnistria, composed of a Slavic majority population (mostly Ukrainians and Russians), but with a sizable ethnic Moldovan minority. Europe’s poorest economy, Moldova became the first former Soviet state to elect a communist, Vladimir Voronin, as its president in 2001. Voronin served as Moldova’s president until he resigned in September 2009. Four Moldovan opposition parties then formed a new coalition, the Alliance for European Integration (AEI), iterations of which acted as Moldova’s governing coalitions over the next several years. In May 2013, two of the original AEI parties and a splinter group from a third re-formed a ruling coalition called the Pro-European Coalition. The Moldovan Government in summer 2014 signed and ratified an Association Agreement with the EU, advancing the Coalition’s policy priority of EU integration. Following the country’s most recent legislative election in November 2014, the three pro-European parties that entered Parliament won a total of 55 of the body’s 101 seats, enough for a majority coalition. After negotiations among the three broke down, however, two of the parties — the Liberal Democratic Party (PLDM) and the Democratic Party (PD) — agreed to form the Alliance for a European Moldova (AEM) and a minority government with their combined 42 seats. In February 2015, the PLDM and the PD secured the Communist Party of the Republic of Moldova support to win parliamentary approval with 60 votes for their minority government
(CIA Fact Book).
Now you know about as much as your closest expert. To return to the original question, what could possibly make this a worthy news story?
A nightmare scenario for the West is coming true in a former Soviet republic, where smugglers linked to Russia have radioactive material for sale and are actively seeking Islamic extremists to buy it, according to an AP investigation. In a case in Moldova earlier this year, a smuggler called Valentin Grossu was arrested after selling a sample of radioactive material to an informant he believed was an ISIS representative. Grossu had demanded almost $3 million for enough material to make a devastating “dirty bomb.” His arrest came after one of several sting operations carried out by the FBI and Moldovan investigators, the AP reports. Another case involved uranium believed to have come from the Chernobyl reactor, according to Moldovan investigator Constantin Malic. The sellers were motivated by more than just money: one middleman who tried to sell bomb-grade uranium and blueprints for a dirty bomb to a genuine buyer ranted against the US and stressed that the buyer must come from the Middle East. He escaped as investigators moved in, and Malic says that even those smugglers who were arrested served only short sentences and in some cases, rejoined smuggling rings when they were released. “We can expect more of these cases,” Malic tells the AP. “As long as the smugglers think they can make big money without getting caught, they will keep doing it.” (ISIS is believed to have used mustard gas in Iraq.)
Does that answer the question sufficiently enough for you? Quite incredibly, this was barely a blip in the evening news. We are talking about a terrorist dirty bomb. Any idea what that implies? If the answer is no, ABC News broke it down very simply…
A “dirty bomb” is an explosive radiation dispersal device that uses a conventional weapon (e.g. dynamite) as its means of dispersing radioactive material. It is not the same as an atomic or nuclear bomb, where a nuclear weapon uses fission to provoke an enormous explosion of radiation, a dirty bomb simply scatters radioactive material that is likely to contaminate an area but not cause mass casualties from fire or radiation poisoning. Dirty bombs are generally referred to as weapons of mass “disruption” as opposed to weapons of mass “destruction” because of their capacity to provoke widespread panic and fear of radiation, as opposed to large-scale casualties.
The local contamination impact of a dirty bomb depends on 1) the size of the bomb, 2) the type and amount of radioactive material, 3) the type and size of conventional weapon used, and 4) the weather conditions at the time the device is detonated and the physical surroundings.
Immediate deaths and injury are more likely to stem from the explosion than from any radiation. However, even low-level radioactive contamination of a city building or few blocks could take months to clean up. In certain cases, buildings may be more costly or difficult to decontaminate than to tear down and rebuild.
This underlines the exceptional gravity of this story, which is unfortunately not an episode of “Homeland”. This is, in fact, a real criminal organization wanting to sell actual nuclear material to an existing terrorist group threatening the United States and our allies. Therefore, I personally think that it would be definitely worth dwelling on real facts like this one. Our future, for sure, depends on addressing such issues and how we do it.
Do you agree?