Tag Archives: United States

Global Developments and Analysis: Weekly Monitor, 15 November – 21 November 2021

Economic
U.S. asks Japan, China, others to consider tapping oil reserves -sources

The Biden administration has asked some of the world’s largest oil consuming nations – including China, India and Japan – to consider releasing crude stockpiles in a coordinated effort to lower global energy prices, according to several people familiar with the matter. The unusual request comes as U.S. President Joe Biden fends off political pressure over rising pump prices and other consumer costs driven by a rebound in economic activity from lows plumbed early in the coronavirus pandemic. It also reflects U.S. frustration with members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies who have rebuffed repeated requests from Washington to speed up their production increases. In Asia, where China said it is working on a crude release, oil prices extended declines prompted by the U.S. request, after settling on Nov 17 further below seven-year highs struck in early October. Biden and top aides have discussed the possibility of a coordinated release of stockpiled oil with close allies including Japan, South Korea and India, as well as with China, over the past several weeks, the sources said. The US and allies have coordinated strategic petroleum reserve releases before, for example in 2011 during a war in OPEC member Libya. Click here to read…

China overtakes US in global wealth race

China has overtaken the US as the nation which has amassed the biggest net worth as global wealth surges, a fresh report by McKinsey & Co suggests. China’s wealth skyrocketed over the past two decades, the consulting company said according to Bloomberg, explaining that its net worth increased by a whopping 17 times from $7 trillion in 2000 to $120 trillion in 2020. The nation accounted for about one third of the global net worth increase over that period. The US saw its wealth double over the same time period. Washington had to give way to Beijing on the list of top 10 wealthiest nations since its net worth only amounted to $90 trillion in 2020, McKinsey says. In both countries, more than two thirds of the amassed wealth sits in the pockets of the richest 10% of households, the report said, adding that this share has been increasing. In total, global wealth reached $514 trillion in 2020, up from $156 trillion in 2000. Some 68% of this wealth is stored in real estate, McKinsey said, adding that its fast growth surpassed the increase of the world’s GDP over the same period. The global wealth increase has been prompted by ballooning property prices, the company said. Click here to read…

US-China phase-one trade deal gets a reality check after nearly two years

As the two-year deadline for the phase-one trade deal between the world’s two largest economies is approaching, all eyes are on the next step. Signed in January 2020, the deal was considered a ceasefire agreement between China and the United States following a two-year trade war that originated from a Section 301 investigation by the US in 2018. A direct result of the phase-one trade deal has been the suspension of more tariffs on both sides. The US suspended a planned increase in tariffs on about US$162 billion on Chinese goods and lowered an existing duty on imports worth US$110 billion. China has also announced rounds of tariff exclusions that exempt American products such as pork, soybeans, liquefied natural gas and medical disinfectants. But not long after the agreement was signed, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and reshaped the momentum of the global economy. China has fallen behind in some of the commitments it made in the agreement, sparking speculation on fresh trade tensions between the world’s largest two economies. US Trade Representative Katherine Tai told reporters earlier this month that the Biden administration is “getting traction” with China and intends to hold China accountable to the two-year phase-one trade deal while exploring all weaknesses in China’s performance, according to Reuters. Click here to read…

Taiwanese giant slapped with fines over mainland regulatory violations, Xinhua says

Mainland subsidiaries of a major Taiwanese industrial group have been punished for a range of regulatory and legal violations, including environmental protection rules, state media reported. The action against Far Eastern Group comes amid rising cross-strait tensions, as Beijing vows to resolutely crack down on the pro-independence camp in Taiwan while the self-ruled island fosters closer ties with the US and European Union. The Taipei-based conglomerate is a major donor to the island’s election campaigns, according to Taiwanese media reports. Far Eastern-invested polyester and textile, and cement companies in Shanghai and the provinces of Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Hubei and Sichuan were penalised over violations related to environmental protection, land use, employee occupational health, production safety and fire protection, taxation and product quality, Xinhua reported on Nov 22. The punishments ranged from fines, orders to pay tax arrears or rectify the issues concerned within a set time frame, to warnings that idle construction land would be taken back by the state. The companies involved had admitted the charges, and investigations were still in progress, Xinhua said. This comes about two weeks after Beijing threatened to slap criminal charges on and ban those seen to be part of the “diehard” Taiwanese pro-independence force. Click here to read…

U.S. won’t join CPTPP but will seek new framework: Raimondo

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said Nov 16 that her country looks to form an economic framework that goes beyond the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. America envisions an economic framework that “could be even more robust in some ways than the traditional free trade agreement,” Raimondo said in a television interview during her trip to Tokyo. While reiterating the Biden administration’s position that the original Pacific trade agreement “is not something that America would be part of at this time,” she said the U.S. is open to a cooperative framework with Japan and other friendly nations that oversees a wide range of areas, including digital technology and supply chains. President Joe Biden unveiled plans for an Indo-Pacific economic framework at the East Asia Summit, held virtually in late October. “We look forward to signing an agreement with the economies in the region which is a robust economic framework,” Raimondo said. During the interview, which aired on TV Tokyo’s “World Business Satellite” show, Raimondo said Japan and the U.S. share many areas of mutual interest and advantage. The two sides agreed during her trip to establish the Japan-U. S. Commercial and Industrial Partnership. Click here to read…

All-Turkic corridor heralds rise of new Eurasian political bloc

When the leaders of six Turkic states convened in Istanbul last week for a summit of the Turkic Council, they were adamant to seize the golden opportunity in front of them. Azerbaijan’s decisive victory in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war had created a new reality on the ground. Through a transit corridor awarded to Azerbaijan as part of the ceasefire settlement, regional powerhouse Turkey would potentially regain direct access to its fellow Turkic states in Central Asia. It hinted at the possibility of elevating an ethnic bloc into a political force, one that could even disrupt the regional power balance between heavyweights Russia and China. The leaders were keen to leverage their advantageous geography to carve out a new role for the Turkic world. .Since the 1990s, Ankara’s access to the rest of the Turkic world was blocked by Armenia, prompting Turkey and Azerbaijan to use a route through Georgia to bypass Armenia in the South Caucasus. A new corridor via Nakhichevan will be 300 km shorter and run through lowland topography compared with the Georgia route. Turkey intends for its “Middle Corridor,” the Trans-Caspian East-West corridor that spans from China to Europe, to be the artery that binds the Turkic world. Click here to read…

In major shift, Japan looking to accept more foreigners indefinitely

In a major shift for a country long closed to immigrants, Japan is looking to allow foreigners in certain blue-collar jobs to stay indefinitely starting as early as the 2022 fiscal year, a justice ministry official said on Nov 18. Under a law that took effect in 2019, a category of “specified skilled workers” in 14 sectors such as farming, construction and sanitation have been allowed to stay for up to five years, but without their family members. The government had been looking to ease those restrictions, which had been cited by companies as among reasons that they were hesitant to hire such help. If the revision takes effect, such workers–many from Vietnam and China–would be allowed to renew their visas indefinitely and bring their families with them, as the other category of more skilled foreigners are allowed to do now. Immigration has long been taboo in Japan as many prize ethnic homogeneity, but pressure has mounted to open up its borders due to an acute labor shortage given its dwindling and aging population. The 2019 law was meant to attract some 345,000 “specified skilled workers” over five years, but the intake has hovered at around 3,000 per month before the COVID-19 pandemic sealed the borders, according to government data. Click here to read…

Japan to subsidize company-backed university courses

Japan next year will start subsidizing companies and schools working together to set up educational programs, Nikkei has learned. Japan lags behind the U.S. and Europe in research and education programs backed by private sector funding, which often helps in growth areas such as decarbonization. Tokyo is now focusing on batteries, materials and semiconductors — fields that lead to corporate research and development and improvement of competitiveness. Companies cover the costs of research and professor salaries and share research and course themes with educational institutions. The Japanese government will pay up to 30 million yen, or up to half the cost for a course that is jointly developed by companies and universities or technical colleges. Companies may set up a joint course, or a course that would help with human resources development for the company. The expense is expected to be included in the fiscal 2021 supplementary budget. The total amount is to be discussed later. The government would initially support over 10 new courses, calling for proposals as early as the beginning of 2022. Japan’s trade ministry this year will work with the education ministry to set up a team on human resource development to discuss further plans.Click here to read…

Satellite Industry Grows as Investors Bet Billions on Space-Derived Data

Dozens of companies are dotting the skies with satellites, part of a growing bet that buyers on Earth will pay billions of dollars for a more granular view of the planet. Not all of the companies are likely to make it, according to industry observers. Space-data companies, which use satellites to snap photos of Earth, track radio signals and use radar to peer through clouds, raised $5.2 billion last year, up from $1.4 billion in 2015, according to data from PitchBook. Through Nov. 10, companies had raised another $4.5 billion. Buyers of the companies’ products have included defense and other government agencies that tap the information to track troop movements and military projects. Remote-sensing companies are increasingly targeting commercial clients: Agriculture firm Corteva Inc. sells satellite-data applications that allow farmers to boost crop yields and ranchers to manage pastureland, executives said. Space-data companies also have said they see opportunities to sell information to buyers such as insurers, which could use it to assess disaster risks for properties, and energy companies, which could use the data to monitor pipelines. Other clients could include governments and businesses looking to monitor pollution and track environmental commitments. Click here to read…

Strategic
U.S. needs allies to host missiles to deter China: panel

With China building up its military, the U.S. should engage with Japan and other Indo-Pacific partners on deploying intermediate-range missiles in the region to deter a crisis in the Taiwan Strait, an influential bipartisan advisory body said in a report published Nov 17. In its 2021 report to Congress, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission expressed strong concern over a potential invasion of Taiwan by the mainland. The commission, comprised of former senior government officials, compiles an annual report with input from U.S.-China experts that is watched closely by the government and Congress. People’s Liberation Army “leaders now likely assess they have, or will soon have, the initial capability needed to conduct a high-risk invasion of Taiwan if ordered to do so by Chinese Communist Party leaders,” the report said. The report also discussed the possibility of a preemptive Chinese attack on American forces in Japan to delay the U.S. response to a Taiwan Strait crisis. The Chinese military “has demonstrated the precision strike capability and missile inventory it would need to strike nearly every U.S. ship in port; more than 200 grounded U.S. aircraft; and all major fixed headquarters, logistics facilities, and runways in U.S. airbases” in Japan, the commission said. Click here to read…

Chinese hypersonic test included pathbreaking 2nd missile launch: Reports

China’s test of a globe-circling hypersonic weapon in July included the unprecedented launch of a separate missile from the ultra-high-speed vehicle, according to the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal. The test showed China’s development of its strategic, nuclear-capable weapons as more advanced than any had thought, surprising Pentagon officials, the two newspapers said. Neither the United States nor Russia has demonstrated the same ability, which requires launching a missile from a parent vehicle travelling five times the speed of sound. The Jul 27 Chinese hypersonic test alone had already stunned Western officials. In it, a launch vehicle, a long-range missile, carried the guided hypersonic warhead around the world and then released it toward a test target inside China. The hypersonic, which unlike ballistic missiles can be steered, missed the target by more than 32 kilometres, which the number two general in the Pentagon, General John Hyten, said last week was “close enough” for an initial test. But more surprising was that the hypersonic, while flying from the south toward China, released a separate missile which rocketed away, falling harmlessly into the South China Sea.Click here to read…

Plans for Putin-Biden meeting revealed in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin could meet his American counterpart Joe Biden before the end of this year, a top official in Moscow has revealed. It would be a second face-to-face encounter between the two leaders in 2021. Work is already underway on organising the event, Moscow’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told national TV on Nov 21. The senior diplomat said Washington had recently made some assertions relevant to Russia, including those related to the situation in Ukraine and Moscow feels the need to “explain in detail what is really happening and how,” he added. “Thorough preparation is needed for this meeting to take place, and that is what we’re doing,” the deputy minister said. Earlier this week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also referred to the possibility of Putin meeting Biden in the near future. However, he said that no specific timelines had been agreed yet. Washington has not mentioned any timeline for the meeting in its recent comments. On Nov 18, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said she wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Biden talking to Putin “at a certain moment in future,” but said she had no announcement to make about contact between the two leaders. Click here to read…

Kremlin says it is alarmed by U.S.-backed armament push for Ukraine

The Kremlin said on Nov 22 it was alarmed by a U.S.-backed push to supply Ukraine with sophisticated weapons but said U.S. media outlets that have suggested Russia is poised to attack Ukraine are being used in a disinformation campaign. The head of Ukraine’s military intelligence told the Military Times outlet this weekend that Russia had more than 92,000 troops massed around Ukraine’s borders and was preparing for an attack by the end of January or beginning of February. Kyrylo Budanov said such an attack would probably involve air strikes, artillery and armoured attacks followed by airborne assaults in the east, amphibious assaults in Odessa and Mariupol, and a smaller incursion through Belarus. Similar warnings, often sourced to unnamed people familiar with the matter, have appeared in some U.S. media and the United States, NATO and Ukraine have raised concerns about Russian troops movements near Ukraine in recent weeks. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the idea of a possible Russian attack and said that Moscow itself was being targeted in a disinformation campaign. Click here to read…

China’s Communist Party targets big risks in countdown to congress

The Communist Party pledged to double down on controlling risks across the board in the countdown to a major party meeting next year that is set to mark the start of President Xi Jinping’s third term as party leader. “[We] must insist on making political security the top priority and coordinate to step up security work in key disciplines including political security, economic security, social security [and] technology security,” the Politburo said in a statement after a meeting on Nov 18. “[We] must firmly uphold regime security, institutional security and ideological security, and strictly defend ourselves against all sorts of infiltration and subversive acts.” The 25 members of the party’s inner circle – led by Xi – also pledged to be on guard for systemic financial risks and to ensure industry was more resilient. The Politburo, which meets about once a month, also passed the “National Security Strategy (2021-2025)” but offered no details on the document. An apparently similar document called the National Security Strategic Outline was passed during a Politburo meeting in 2015. Selection for the 2,300 members to attend the congress started on Nov 18 and will continue until June. Nov 18’s meeting generated a long list of risks that officials should pay close attention to, including food security, infrastructure and social stability. Click here to read…

Biden and Xi agree to begin discussion on strategic stability

U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed at a virtual meeting to look into the possibility of arms control talks, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Nov 16. Biden and Xi agreed to “look to begin to carry forward discussion on strategic stability,” Sullivan said in a reference to U.S. concerns about China’s nuclear and missile buildup. “You will see at multiple levels an intensification of the engagement to ensure that there are guardrails around this competition so that it doesn’t veer off into conflict,” Sullivan said in a Brookings Institution webinar. Sullivan did not elaborate on what form the discussions on strategic stability could take, but went on to say: “That is not the same as what we have in the Russian context with the formal strategic stability dialogue. That is far more mature, has a much deeper history to it. There’s less maturity to that in the U.S.-China relationship, but the two leaders did discuss these issues and it is now incumbent on us to think about the most productive way to carry it forward.” Washington has repeatedly urged China to join it and Russia in a new arms control treaty. Click here to read…

Xi says China ready to sign ASEAN’s nuclear arms-free zone treaty

Chinese leader Xi Jinping said Nov 22 that Beijing was ready to sign a Southeast Asia nuclear weapon-free treaty, in an apparent response to the new AUKUS defense pact between Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. A protocol for the Bangkok Treaty was issued for five nations that had nuclear weapons at the time — China, Russia, France, the U.K. and the U.S., according to the United Nations. China would be the first of the five parties to sign if it follows through on Xi’s words. Even so, a Pentagon report earlier this month said that China is on track to quintuple its nuclear arsenal by 2030 to at least 1,000 warheads. Beijing’s decision was likely made with AUKUS in mind, as the trilateral agreement allows Australia to receive nuclear propulsion technology to power a new fleet of submarines. Xi’s comments will ratchet up the pressure on Australia, a nation with which China has an increasing antagonistic relationship. Nuclear submarines do not fall under the definition of a nuclear weapon as set out in the Bangkok Treaty — “nuclear weapon” means any explosive device capable of releasing nuclear energy in an uncontrolled manner, according to the treaty. Click here to read…

China coast guard uses water cannons against Philippine boats

Chinese coast guard ships blocked and used water cannons on two Philippine supply boats heading to a disputed shoal occupied by Filipino marines in the South China Sea, provoking an angry protest to China and a warning from the Philippine government that its vessels are covered under a mutual defense treaty with the United States, Manila’s top diplomat said Nov 18. Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said no one was hurt in the incident in the disputed waters on Nov 16, but the two supply ships had to abort their mission to provide food supplies to Filipino forces occupying the Second Thomas Shoal, which lies off western Palawan province in the Philippines’ internationally recognized exclusive economic zone. Locsin said in a tweet that the three Chinese coast guard ships’ actions were illegal and he urged them ”to take heed and back off.” The Philippine government has conveyed to China ”our outrage, condemnation and protest of the incident,” Locsin said, adding that ”this failure to exercise self-restraint threatens the special relationship between the Philippines and China” that President Rodrigo Duterte and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, have worked hard to nurture. There was no immediate comment from Chinese officials in Manila or Beijing. Click here to read…

Hayashi invited to visit China, says nothing decided yet

Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, asked him to visit China, a country increasingly under global scrutiny over its human rights record. “Nothing has been decided at this point,” Hayashi said about the invitation on a TV program aired by Fuji Television Network Inc. on Nov. 21. Hayashi said Wang extended the invitation during their Nov. 18 phone talks, in which Hayashi expressed Japan’s concerns over China’s maritime advances. Although Hayashi declined to comment on whether he will accept the invitation, he said that he and Wang confirmed that the two countries will work together to build “constructive and stable Japan-China relations” since next year will mark the 50th anniversary of normalized bilateral ties. U.S. President Joe Biden recently said he is considering a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics in February over China’s human rights violations. Hayashi said Japan will decide its course of action over the matter on its own. Click here to read…

China warned Japan may intervene militarily if it invades Taiwan

China has been warned to stay alert to the possibility Japan will intervene militarily in the event of an attack on Taiwan. A research paper said recent gestures of support for the island indicate that Japan and the United States have been discussing the scenario and are making plans to deter Beijing from using force to take the island. “Japan has not only released signals through official and individual levels, but also tried to carry out practical response actions through the Japan-US alliance or partially acted alone under the existing legal framework,” said the paper published last week in the journal Asia-Pacific Security and Maritime Affairs. Beijing regards Taiwan as a breakaway province and has never renounced the use of force to reunite it with the mainland, but Japan would regard this as a significant threat to its national security and the regional political order. The paper, written by Wu Huaizhong, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that in recent years the Japanese government had hardened its stance. “It is hard to imagine that in the short and mid-term future Japan will actively seek to be involved in an uncontrollable disastrous war regardless of the cost,” the article said, adding that it is more likely to consider providing logistical support to allies rather than becoming directly involved in combat. “The question is not ‘whether’ Japan would intervene, but just ‘how’ to intervene,” it added. Click here to read…

ISIS-K’s Afghan play worries Kabul, Beijing and Islamabad

The growing strength of ISIS-K, the Islamic State’s regional affiliate in Afghanistan, has unsettled both the new Taliban regime in Kabul and neighboring countries, including China, Pakistan and Iran. Leveraging the U.S. withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, ISIS-K has positioned itself as Afghanistan’s last jihadi movement. It has been recruiting from within the Taliban as well as among transnational and ethnic separatist movements in the region. It has also drawn from Afghanistan’s former military ranks. “So far, the ISIS-K leadership is satisfied with its multipronged strategy and progress in Afghanistan,” an ISIS-K leader in Nangarhar Province told Nikkei Asia. “ISIS-K’s local successes in Afghanistan have helped attract rebels of various ethnicities in the region and gain international attention,” the leader said in a rare comment to the press. The militant group generally bans members from speaking to news organizations. ISIS-K’s expanded area of operations in Afghanistan has increased the risk of infiltration. Hibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban’s supreme leader, issued a letter on Nov. 4 ordering his provincial commanders to check into the backgrounds of all their fighters. “Akhundzada has also asked Taliban commanders to socialize with the fighters on the streets as part of the Taliban’s counter strategy to stop defections,” said Jan, a Taliban commander in Kabul, who asked not to be fully identified. Click here to read…

Afghan Evacuees, Scattered Around the World, Could Wait Years for Chance to Reach U.S.

Thousands of Afghans who were evacuated from Kabul after the Taliban seized power in August could be stranded in other countries for years because of backlogs in the U.S. refugee system, according to officials and the groups that helped them escape. From interpreters to policewomen to judges, many say they were promised—in recruitment pitches for the military and other venues—a chance to come to the U.S. in return for promoting American goals during the 20-year war. As the U.S. ramped up evacuation efforts from Kabul in August, American overseas military bases quickly became overcrowded as some 70,000 Afghans entered the pipeline to U.S. military installations either abroad or in the U.S. To ease crowding, the Biden administration called on other countries to let Afghans travel through their nations while waiting for visas. Many governments across Africa, Europe and South America agreed to open their doors on a temporary basis to Afghans evacuated by private groups, such as those composed of veterans or nonprofit organizations. One of the largest groups of evacuees outside of the U.S. military system is spread across Albania, Georgia and North Macedonia. Click here to read…

Yemen’s Battleground Shifts in Favor of Iran-Backed Houthis

Houthi fighters allied with Iran have gained important new ground in the yearslong war in Yemen, as Saudi Arabia is struggling to defend a strategic, oil-rich city and U.S. efforts to broker peace stagnate. Without coordinating with United Nations peacekeepers in the area, Yemeni forces supported by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates abruptly withdrew last week from key positions near the western port city of Hodeidah. At the same time, Saudi Arabia vowed to send more forces to defend Marib, the center of an energy hub near the Saudi border where the Houthis have been methodically gaining new ground for months. The surprising shifts in the front lines of a seven-year war have allowed the Houthis to reopen the road from Hodeidah to the capital, Sana’a, where the group recently stormed a largely abandoned U.S. Embassy complex and took Yemeni employees captive. The battleground realignment is another strategic twist for the Saudis, who initially believed in 2015 that, with American backing, they would need just a few weeks to defeat the Houthi movement, a Shiite offshoot group in Yemen aligned with Iran that had taken over Yemen’s capital. People familiar with the matter said Saudi Arabia has launched an internal reassessment of its strategy in Yemen that should be completed later this month. Click here to read…

Blinken Says U.S. Will Treat African Nations as Equal Partners

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the U.S. would treat African countries as equals rather than “subjects of geopolitics” in a speech meant to set out the Biden administration’s policy toward the continent. Mr. Blinken told an audience of young Africans and dignitaries at the Economic Community of West African States that the continent was critical to solving many of today’s key global challenges, including the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, economic recovery and democratic and human rights. He called on African governments, regional and continental organizations, and the public to play a greater role in addressing those challenges. “Too many times, the countries of Africa have been treated as junior partners—or worse—rather than equal ones,” Mr. Blinken said. “Too often, we ask our partners to help uphold and defend an international system that they don’t feel fully reflects their needs and aspirations. And we’re sensitive to centuries of colonialism, slavery, and exploitation have left painful legacies that endure today.” While avoiding any direct mention of China or Russia, Mr. Blinken’s speech sought to differentiate the administration’s approach to Africa from that of its rivals, which the U.S. has accused of using investments on the continent to further their own political aims. Click here to read…

US defence chief pledges to counter Iran during Bahrain visit

The United States’s top defence official has pledged to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, as negotiations remain stalled over Tehran’s tattered atomic deal with world powers, in comments that appeared aimed at reassuring the US’s Gulf Arab allies. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s comments in Bahrain at the annual Manama Dialogue on Nov 20 come as the Biden administration tries to revive the nuclear deal, which limited Iran’s enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. His remarks also come after the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan, raising concerns among Gulf countries about Washington’s commitment to the region as US defence officials say they want to pivot forces to counter perceived challenges from China and Russia. “The United States remains committed to preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. And we remain committed to a diplomatic outcome of the nuclear issue,” Austin told an event put on by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “But if Iran isn’t willing to engage seriously, then we will look at all of the options necessary to keep the United States secure.” The Pentagon chief said that the US would be coming to the indirect negotiations on reviving the deal on November 29 in good faith. Click here to read…

1 out of 3 young people undecided about South Korea presidential candidates

With less than four months left ahead of the next presidential election in March, young voters in their 20s and 30s have risen as swing voters who could play a decisive role in selecting the winner. In recent opinion polls, many in this age group have said they support neither of the candidates of the country’s two major parties ― Yoon Seok-youl of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) and Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK). According to a survey of 1,004 adults conducted together by four local pollsters ― Embrain Public, Kstat Research, Korea Research International and Hankook Research ― from Nov. 15 to 17, support for both Yoon and Lee were notably lower among the younger voters than among those in other age groups. 37 percent of the youngest age group and 27 percent of people in their 30s either said they have no favored candidate or didn’t answer. Political watchers say the lower support rates of the candidates from the two major parties among voters in their 20s and 30s show the young generation’s disappointment with established politicians and their so-called “vested rights,” especially as both Lee and Yoon are involved in corruption scandals. Click here to read…

Sudan’s reinstated PM Hamdok promises a path to democracy

Newly reinstated Sudanese Prime Minister Abdulla Hamdok has pledged to introduce a “technocratic government” made up of qualified professionals who will lead the country on a path to democracy nearly a month after a military coup. In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera, Hamdok – who was deposed by the military on October 25 but reinstated as interim premier after signing a deal on Nov 21 with Sudan’s top general to restore the transition to civilian rule – said the new government will be independent. Hamdok had been under house arrest by the military for weeks. The military also dissolved his cabinet and arrested a number of civilians who had held top positions under a power-sharing deal agreed after the popular overthrow of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir in 2019. The 14-point deal between Hamdok and the military, signed in the presidential palace in Khartoum on Sunday, also provides for the release of all political prisoners detained during the coup and stipulates that a 2019 constitutional declaration be the basis for a political transition, according to details read out on state television. The coup has drawn international criticism. Sudanese people have been taking to the streets en masse since the military takeover, which upended the country’s fragile transition to democracy. Click here to read…

US issues religious freedom ‘concern’ list, removes Nigeria

The United States has removed Nigeria from a list of “countries of particular concern” regarding religious freedom, a day before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives there as part of an African tour, while issuing designations for 10 other countries. Blinken announced the designations as part of the US State Department’s annual review of religious freedom rights violations in countries worldwide, which is based on assessments made by the independent US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). “Each year the Secretary of State has the responsibility to identify governments and non-state actors, who, because of their religious freedom violations, merit designation under the International Religious Freedom Act,” Blinken said in a statement on Nov 17. “I am designating Burma [Myanmar], the People’s Republic of China, Eritrea, Iran, the DPRK [North Korea], Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as Countries of Particular Concern [CPC] for having engaged in or tolerated ‘systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom’.” The designations do not necessarily come with specific or binding sanctions or other US actions, although US law states that the government must “take targeted responses to violations of religious freedom”. Click here to read…

Thousands protest in Iran’s Isfahan to demand revival of river

Thousands of protesters have gathered in Isfahan in central Iran to demand the revival of a major river that has dried up. Footage broadcast by state television and dozens of videos circulating on social media on Nov 19 showed a sea of farmers and other people standing on a huge barren strip of dirt where the major Zayandeh Rud River used to flow, near the iconic Khaju Bridge in Isfahan province. The river’s dryness is thought to directly affect the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of farmers in the province, state TV said, in addition to adversely affecting the environment. The key river has faced water shortages and droughts for years, and farmers have intermittently protested the lack of attention given to the issue. But officials have yet to find a sustainable solution to the problem. Former administrations had promised to come up with solutions, and the country’s Supreme Council of Water approved a nine-point plan involving reviving a major wetland that it said was a sustainable solution eight years ago, but it was never fully implemented. Farmers have been protesting at the site for more than a week, but Nov 19’s demonstration attracted the largest number of people and drew the attention of the government. Droughts have dogged Iran for decades but have intensified over the past decade. Most Iranian provinces currently face some level of drought. Click here to read…

Poland says Belarus border crisis may be prelude to “something worse”

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki warned on Nov 21 that the migrant crisis on the Belarus border may be a prelude to “something much worse”, and Poland’s border guard said Belarusian forces were still ferrying migrants to the frontier. The European Union accuses Belarus of flying in thousands of people from the Middle East and pushing them to cross into EU and NATO members Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, in response to European sanctions. Minsk, which denies fomenting the crisis, cleared a migrant camp near the border on Nov 18 and started to repatriate some people to Iraq, while Poland and Lithuania reported lower numbers of attempts to cross their borders in recent days. But Morawiecki warned the crisis was far from over as he toured Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia on Sunday to discuss the situation. A poll published by Poland’s Rzeczpospolita daily on Nov 21 said 55% of Poles are worried the crisis on the border could escalate into an armed conflict. Click here to read…

Medical
Coronavirus: former heads of pandemic review panel warn ‘the world is losing time’

Governments are not moving fast enough to end the pandemic or to prevent another one, warned the former heads of an independent body tasked with grading the world on its response to Covid-19. “Waves of disease and death continue – as people in the northern hemisphere move indoors, fatigue with restrictions sets in, vaccine coverage and other countermeasures remain uneven, and people in the poorest countries have almost no access to vaccines,” wrote former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark and former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in a report released on Nov 22. “The world is losing time,” they said. Their warning comes ahead of a special session of the World Health Organization’s governing body next week where health ministers from around the globe will discuss whether to develop a new treaty or other reforms on how the world prepares for and responds to pandemics. It also comes six months after the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response – a body set up by the WHO director general and chaired by Clark and Sirleaf – outlined urgent reforms and findings based on nine months of research into how the Covid-19 outbreak first identified in China became a crippling pandemic. Click here to read…

Pfizer co-developer says Covid vaccination will be annual

People around the world will need to get a jab against Covid-19 once a year, at least when it comes to the Pfizer vaccine, BioNTech’s CEO Ugur Sahin said in an interview on Nov 21, as he praised the quality of its booster shot. In an interview with Germany’s Bild newspaper on Nov 21, Sahin said he considers the vaccine, co-developed by his company, to be “very effective.” A “very high” level of protection against severe illness lasts for up to nine months, the BioNTech CEO maintained. He said this level starts decreasing “from the fourth month,” however. To maintain the protection, Sahin strongly pushed for booster shots, arguing that they would not just restore levels of antibodies but would potentially help “to break … chains of infection.” He also encouraged doctors to be “as pragmatic as possible” when it comes to greenlighting vaccination and “not to send people home unvaccinated even though they could be vaccinated without any problems.” In the future, people might need to get booster shots once a year, the BioNTech CEO believes. He said that he expects protection from a booster shot to “last longer” than the initial immunity one acquires after getting two doses of the vaccine. Sahin’s interview comes days after it was revealed that Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna are making a combined profit of $65,000 every minute – all thanks to their Covid-19 jabs. Click here to read…

South Korean schools resume full in-person classes

For the first time since South Korea began battling its coronavirus outbreak in early 2020, all schools across the country resumed full-time in-person classes on Nov 22. As the first country outside China to face a major outbreak of the virus, South Korea’s schools have seen various stages of shutdowns, remote learning, and hybrid arrangements. Widespread testing, intensive contact tracing and tracking apps have enabled South Korea to limit the spread of the virus without the extensive lockdowns seen in other countries, but previous efforts at fully opening schools have been hampered by new waves of infections. The fully reopened schools come as part of South Korea’s “living with COVID-19” plan, adopted after it reached its vaccination goals last month. Overall 78.8 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, though that number drops to 12.8 per cent for those ages 12 to 17. “It is true that many concerns remain,” South Korean education minister Yoo Eun-hye said during a visit to an elementary school in Seoul on Monday. Even as it eased social distancing amid high vaccination rates, the country has battled some of the highest daily case numbers yet, including a record number of severe cases. Click here to read…

VIF News Digest: International Developments (US, Europe and Russia), 16-30 June 2021

I. UNITED STATES

Politics and Society

Biden, Putin say progress made in Geneva but gulfs on issues remain, 16 June 2021

President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin emergedfrom their meeting in Geneva projecting optimism for future relations despite continued divisions on thorny topics from cyberattacks to human rights abuses.In separate post-summit news conferences, Biden described the tone of the discussions as “good, positive” and Putin said it was “constructive” and there was a “glimpse of hope” regarding mutual trust.
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U.S., EU Forge Closer Ties on Emerging Technologies to Counter Russia and China, 17 June 2021

The U.S. and EU plan to cooperate more on technology regulation, industrial development and bilateral trade following President Biden’s visit, in a bid to help Western allies better compete with China and Russia on developing and protecting critical and emerging technologies. Central to the increased coordination will be a new high-level Trade and Technology Council. The aim of the TTC is to boost innovation and investment within and between the two allied economies, strengthen supply chains and avert unnecessary obstacles to trade, among other tasks.
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Biden picks Russia pro for key Pentagon post, 23 June 2021

President Joe Biden is set to nominate the chief executive of the U.S.-Russia Foundation and a former National Security Council official on Russia to be the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. The White House announced Celeste Wallander as the intended nominee on Tuesday. If confirmed, she would have a key role overseeing U.S. military security cooperation and foreign military sales at a time when Biden has placed a new emphasis on bolstering America’s alliances. Wallander also served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, and defense consulting firm WestExec Advisors lists her as a senior advisor there. If the Senate approves Wallander, she would advise Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl.
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U.S. to keep about 650 troops in Afghanistan after withdrawal, 24 June 2021

Roughly 650 U.S. troops are expected to remain in Afghanistan to provide security for diplomats after the main American military force completes its withdrawal, which is set to be largely done in the next two weeks. In addition, several hundred additional American forces will remain at the Kabul airport, potentially until September, to assist Turkish troops providing security, as a temporary move until a more formal Turkey-led security operation is in place, the officials said. Overall, officials said the U.S. expects to have American and coalition military command, its leadership and most troops out by July Fourth, or shortly after that, meeting an aspirational deadline that commanders developed months ago.
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US Ambassador to Russia vows to work towards ‘stable, predictable’ relations with Russia, 24 June 2021

US Ambassador to Russian John Sullivan is back in Moscow and is ready to work to achieve stable and predictable relationship between Russia and the US, Sullivan. Upon his return to Moscow, the ambassador also participated in a TV interview with a Russian channel, TV Dozhd. Transcript of the interview.
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U.S. Carries Out Airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, 27 June 2021

The United States carried out airstrikes early morning in Iraq and Syria against two Iranian-backed militias that the Pentagon said had conducted drone strikes against American personnel in Iraq in recent weeks, the Defense Department said. “At President Biden’s direction, U.S. military forces earlier this evening conducted defensive precision airstrikes against facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups in the Iraq-Syria border region,” the Pentagon spokesman, John F. Kirby, said in a statement.
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Blinken and Lapid meet in Rome amid US-Israel relations reset, 27 June 2021

Hush-hush diplomacy. In-person visits. And a very public no-surprises agreement on Iran. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will meet in Rome on Sunday as their new governments look to turn the page on former President Donald Trump and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose close alliance aggravated partisan divisions within both countries.
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Indonesia and US building maritime training center on edge of South China Sea, 28 June 2021

Indonesia and the United States have broken ground on a new $3.5 million maritime training center in the strategic area of Batam, in the Riau Islands, Indonesia’s maritime security agency said. Attending the ceremony virtually on Friday, the US ambassador to Indonesia, Sung Kim, said the maritime center would be part of ongoing efforts between the two countries to bolster security in the region.
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Environment
The West Coast Heat Has Killed Dozens and Hospitalized More In Canada And The U.S., 30 June 2021

Scores of deaths along the U.S. West Coast and in the Vancouver metro area in Canada are being blamed on an ongoing heat wave that has broken records. Authorities said at least six deaths in Washington and have been attributed to the heat wave that began in the region. Temperatures in Portland topped at least 116 degrees on Monday after at least three days of record-high temperatures. The area is now cooling off, according to the National Weather Service, but the heat left its mark.
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Perspective
Taming the New Wild West, 23 June 2021

During the Cold War, summit meetings between the United States and the Soviet Union were often dominated by agreements to set limits on nuclear weapons and the systems built to deliver them. The US and Russia still discuss these topics, but at their recent meeting in Geneva, US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin focused in no small part on how to regulate behaviour in a different realm: cyberspace. The stakes are every bit as great.
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Biden’s summit with Putin is a good start, 19 June 2021

The summit was never intended to produce any breakthrough agreements but to lay the foundation for improving relations between the world’s two largest nuclear superpowers and largely succeeded at that modest goal. Both nations agreed to return their ambassadors to each embassy (after both the Russian and American ambassadors withdrew late last year). They agreed to work constructively with each other on cybersecurity, on counterterrorism issues in Afghanistan, and on the peaceful development of the Arctic.
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II. EUROPE

Politics and Society
EU must be ‘more robust and resilient’ against Russian attempts to undermine it, says Borrell 16 June 2021

The European Union must become “more robust and resilient” against Russia’s attempts to undermine it and respond to threats in a more systematic and unified manner, according to the European Commission. The bloc’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, presented the Commission’s proposed policy options on EU-Russia relations on Wednesday, entitled “Push back, constrain and engage.”
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Germany, Poland mark 30 years of Good Neighbourship treaty, 16 June 2021

Signed on June 17, 1991, the Treaty of Good Neighbourship and Friendly Cooperation was a milestone in the history of Poland and Germany.
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EU slaps coup-related sanctions on top Myanmar officials, 21 June 2021

The European Union has imposed sanctions on several senior officials and organizations in Myanmar over the military coup in February and the security crackdown that followed. The EU imposed travel bans and asset freezes on 8 officials and froze the assets of 3 “economic entities” and the War Veterans Organization. Those targeted include ministers, deputy ministers and the attorney general, whom the EU blames for “undermining democracy and the rule of law, and for serious human rights violations.” Click here to read…

Royal Navy ship off Crimea sparks diplomatic row between Russia and UK, 23 June 2021

Britain was unexpectedly embroiled in a diplomatic and military dispute with Russia after Royal Navy destroyer HMS Defender briefly sailed through territorial waters off the coast of the disputed territory of Crimea. The warship sailed for about an hour in the morning within the 12-mile limit off Cape Fiolent on a direct route between the Ukrainian port of Odesa and Georgia, prompting Russian complaints and a disagreement about whether warning shots were fired.
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Macron, Merkel and 15 other EU leaders defend LGBT rights amid row over new Hungarian law, 24 June 2021

A group of 17 EU leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have signed a joint letter in defense of the LGBT+ community amid a raging controversy over Hungary’s new anti-LGBT law. Last week, the Hungarian parliament passed a new law tabled by the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán that bans the portrayal of homosexuality and sex reassignment in school education material and TV programmes addressed to people under 18 years of age. Click here to read…

EU imposes broad economic sanctions on Belarus over Ryanair incident, 24 June 2021

The European Union imposed wide-ranging economic sanctions on Belarus targeting its main export industries and access to finance a month after it forced a Ryanair flight to land in Minsk. The measures include banning EU businesses from importing goods or doing business with Belarusian companies in sectors including banking, petroleum products and potash, a salt used in fertiliser that is the country’s main export. The sanctions are far stricter than measures imposed in the past, which mainly consisted of blacklists of Belarusian officials and had little or no impact on the behaviour of President Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994.
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The EU Lays Out Its Approach to Russia and Turkey, 25 June 2021.

The results of a foreign policy-focused EU summit signal that bilateral tensions with Russia will continue while a more pragmatic approach to Turkey is possible. During a summit of EU heads of government and state on June 24-25, the bloc rejected a Franco-German proposal to hold a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and only pledged to “explore” the format and conditions for dialogue with Moscow. The leaders also approved granting an extra 3 billion euros to Turkey over the next three years to continue the migration agreement between Brussels and Ankara, while Germany proposed to restart negotiations to upgrade the EU-Turkey customs agreement. The summit once again highlighted the European Union’s limitations when it comes to foreign policy, as the most crucial decisions are taken by unanimity, which severely constrains the bloc’s room for action on controversial issues.
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Le Pen’s far-right party suffers blow in French regional elections, 27 June 2021

Marine Le Pen’s far-right party has suffered a serious electoral blow when it failed to win a regional election in its stronghold in the south of France. The Rassemblement National (National Rally) had pinned its last chances on taking the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur region (PACA) after emerging victorious from last week’s first-round vote, although by a small margin. However, an alliance of rival parties to form a “republican front” against the RN-the withdrawal of the Socialist party and left-wing alliance candidate-prevented the far right taking the region.
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UK says it has yet to receive formal EU response in sausage row, 27 June 2021

Britain has yet to receive a formal response from the European Union over its proposal to further extend a grace period on checks on some foodstuffs moving to Northern Ireland just days before the latest deadline, a minister said on Sunday. “We think we have put forward a sensible proposal, something actually quite moderate while we work out a long-term solution and I am hopeful over the next few days that those technical discussions, we’ll be able to get that secured with the EU,” Northern Ireland minister Brandon Lewis told Times Radio.
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German CDU chancellor candidate: Nord Stream could be halted if Russia abuses it, 27 June 2021

Germany could stop gas flowing through the almost-complete Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia if Moscow breaks the terms of the arrangement or uses it to put pressure on Ukraine, conservative chancellor candidate Armin Laschet has said. The pipeline is a source of tension with the U.S. administration, which argues that it gives too much leverage to Russian President Vladimir Putin by increasing Europe’s energy dependence on Russia.
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Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven loses no-confidence vote, resigns 28 June 2021

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven lost a no-confidence vote on 21 June morning following which he has resigned from the post. Lofven, from the Social Democratic party, had been in power since 2014. He is the first Swedish prime minister to lose a vote of no-confidence. The Social Democrat leader rejected the alternative option of calling snap elections and has asked the parliamentary speaker to find a new government. Click here to read…

EU citizens’ data will continue flowing into the UK after a crucial deal was reached, 28 June 2021

The European Union has recognized Britain’s privacy rules as adequate with its own, a key move that will allow EU-U.K. data flows to continue after Brexit. The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said the decision meant EU citizens’ personal information would be treated with the same level of protection as it would inside the bloc when transferred to the U.K. Businesses had worried that Britain and the EU wouldn’t come to an agreement on data equivalence, potentially putting billions of dollars’ worth of digital trade in jeopardy. Click here to read…

Belarus cuts cooperation on migration with EU over sanctions, 28 June 2021

Belarus has retaliated to the European Union sanctions by halting cooperation on stemming illegal migration and denying entry to EU officials. The EU has imposed new economic sanctions on Belarus over last month’s diversion of a passenger jet to arrest a dissident journalist. The sanctions target the country’s top export items, including potash – a common fertilizer ingredient, petroleum products and tobacco industry exports.
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Belarus suspends participation in Eastern Partnership, 28 June 2021

Belarus is suspending its participation in the European Union’s Eastern Partnership initiative, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “The Republic of Belarus is suspending its participation in the EU initiative Eastern Partnership. Belarus is beginning the procedure of suspending its readmission agreement with the EU. We cannot fulfill our obligations in the framework of this agreement while under the sanctions and restrictions imposed by the EU,” the statement said.
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EU reforms to common agricultural policy branded ‘greenwashing’, 30 June 2021

Environmentalists have criticised the European Union’s reform of its controversial common agricultural policy (CAP), arguing that it fails European citizens, small farmers and the climate. Greenpeace, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), BirdLife, Friends of the Earth Europe and the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) lambasted the provisional agreement and said it turns a blind on the climate and biodiversity crises.
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Health and Environment
European Union vaccine passports issued in 17 countries, 21 June 2021

European Union Digital COVID certificates (EUDCC) have now been issued to citizens in 17 countries. The vaccine passport (formally known as the EU Digital Green Certificate) provides digital proof whether a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19, received a negative test result or recovered from the virus. Member states are obliged to start issuing the first certificates within six weeks of 1 July, when the EU Digital COVID Certificate Regulation enters into application.
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EU countries approve landmark climate change law, 28 June 2021

European Union countries has given the final seal of approval to a law to make the bloc’s greenhouse gas emissions targets legally binding, as EU policymakers prepare a huge new package of policies to fight climate change.
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EU negotiators still far apart on environmental justice rights, 28 June 2021

EU countries and the European Parliament are at loggerheads over the revision of the Aarhus regulation, which allows individuals and civil society to challenge law in court on environmental matters. The regulation implements the Aarhus Convention, an international treaty that promotes access to justice in environmental matters. While the EU is signed up to it, it is not acting in line with the treaty, according to the convention’s compliance committee.
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With the rise of the Covid-19 Delta variant, Europe is divided on how to police its borders, 29 June 2021

The rise of the Delta variant is rekindling tensions over the management of the EU’s external borders. These divisions, which were much discussed at the beginning of the pandemic, resurfaced during the European summit in Brussels last week. On the one hand, Germany and France want to err on the side of prudence in the face of an influx of British tourists potentially carrying the Delta variant. On the other hand, southern countries such as Spain, Portugal and Greece are anxious to protect their all-important tourist seasons.
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Tech and Economy
The EU’s new VAT rules for e-commerce from 1 July 2021, 20 June 2021

The new EU VAT system for business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce sales comes into force on 1 July 2021. This package of changes comprises: a one stop shop for accounting for VAT on B2C services and intra-EU distance sales of goods; an import one stop shop to pay import VAT on low value imports from outside the EU; and special VAT rules for goods sold to EU consumers via online marketplaces.
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EU’s Google Ad Tech Probe Strikes at Heart of Business Model, 22 June 2021

Google faces a sweeping European Union probe into its advertising technology, a move that strikes at the heart of the tech giant’s business model. The European Commission said its new confrontation with the Alphabet Inc. unit will focus on concerns the company may be illegally favouring its own online display advertising technologies, squeezing out rivals. “This is probably the probe that many people were waiting for because it goes to the core of Google’s business,” said Aitor Ortiz, an analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence. The biggest risk would be an order for Google to separate from or restrict its online ads operations, which “could have a significant impact on the money generated through online advertising,” he added.
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French delegation to attend Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, 25 June 2021

A delegation from France will participate in the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF), which will be held in Vladivostok in early September, the president of the Franco-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Emmanuel Quidet said on Friday. “We will come to the economic forum in September. We would like to organize a Franco-Russian roundtable…This is important to us, it’s important for our companies, because we see and are discovering opportunities that exist in the Far East and the Arctic,” Quidet said at a meeting that Deputy Prime Minister Yury Trutnev, the Russian president’s envoy to the Far East Federal District, held with a French business delegation in Vladivostok.
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Perspective
Why are sanctions against Belarus not more effective? 18 June 2021

It will probably not be European and American sanctions that decide Lukashenko’s fate, but the political calculation of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
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Europe Will Not be Strategically Sovereign, uit Compromises on the Russia Question, 26 June 2021

A strategically independent Europe needs, of course, some compromise, with an adversarial nuclear power next door, a form of “negative peace”. Unfortunately, the flaw in that plan, is that the EU is not a military power, and has no way to stop forces within which oppose this accommodation and compromises.
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A full agenda in Italy, 28 June 2021

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has just concluded a successful visit to Greece, the first in 18 years, where the two countries expressed convergence on the geo political and geo economic realities, including the Indo Pacific. The significance lies in the fact that Greece has been one of the earliest beneficiaries of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative with the strategic Piraeus port coming under the control of Chinese shipping company COSCO in 2016. As India tries to engage all countries in Europe, the prospects for a larger trade, investment and geographical indicators package become brighter. The action now shifts to the G 20 host country Italy.
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III. RUSSIA

Politics and Society
State Duma elections to be held in September, 17 June 2021

The President signed Executive Order setting the election date for the new convocation of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation. September 19, 2021 has been assigned for the Duma elections.
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Russia, Belarus have common vision of progress towards integration-Lavrov, 18 June 2021

Moscow and Minsk have a common vision of how to make progress on all tracks of cooperation, including integration matters, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in his opening remarks at negotiations with his Belarusian counterpart Vladimir Makei. At the meeting, evaluations were presented of the summit meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Joe Biden.
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Nord Stream 2 AG begins certification as independent gas-transmission operator, continues challenging Third Gas Directive, 24 June 2021

Nord Stream 2 AG, operator of the Nord Stream 2 construction and operations project, has applied for proactive certification as an independent transport-system operator, Nord Stream 2 AG said in a statement. “The application for certification of Nord Stream 2 AG does not imply any change or mitigation in the legal position of Nord Stream 2 AG in relation to the amended Gas Directive or the goals that it continues to pursue firmly in the aforesaid litigation and arbitration proceedings,” Nord Stream 2 AG said in the statement. The application has been submitted based on a request from Bundesnetzagentur (BNetzA), Germany’s federal Network Agency, in accordance with sections 4b, 10, and further to the law on the Germany’s energy industry, Energiewirtschaftsgesetz, EnWG, Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.
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Putin, Pashinyan discuss Nagorno-Karabakh during phone call, says Kremlin, 24 June 2021

Russia will continue its mediation efforts to ensure stability in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Kremlin press service informed after a phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Acting Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan. “During an exchange of opinions on Nagorno-Karabakh, they stressed the importance of steady implementation of agreements between leaders of Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan dated November 9, 2020, and January 11 of this year. Russia will continue active mediation efforts aimed to ensure stability in the region,” the message says. Click here to read…

Russian naval ships, aircraft kick off drills in Mediterranean, 25 June 2021

Russian naval ships and aircraft have kicked off joint drills in the Mediterranean Sea. The drills involve five warships, including the missile cruiser Moskva, the frigates Admiral Essen and Admiral Makarov, and the submarines Stary Oskol and Rostov-on-Don.
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India-Russia NSAs discuss cooperation in Afghanistan, Indo-Pacific, 25 June 2021

The national security advisers of India and Russia held a brainstorming session on several issues including the Afghan situation amid US troop withdrawal and the future role of Taliban on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s (SCO) NSA-led meeting this week. Enhancing security & counter-terror cooperation, partnership between security agencies and the Indo-Pacific region were also among the topics discussed at the over two-hour meeting between the two NSAs.
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Russia, China Extend Treaty, Hail Ties, 28 June 2021

The leaders of China and Russia on 28 June announced the extension of a 20-year-old friendship treaty, hailing increasingly close ties and the “stabilizing role” of their relationship. The Kremlin published a joint statement from Russia and China to mark two decades since the treaty was signed, as Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping held a televised meeting by video link.
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West tries to ‘lay down the law’ in international relations – Lavrov, 28 June 2021

Western countries using their rules to replace the existing instruments of international law shows that they are striving to “lay down the law” on the world stage, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov wrote in his article published in Kommersant and Russia in Global Affairs. ”
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Rosatom starts building fifth unit of Kudankulam NPP in India, 29 June 2021

Rosatom Group has begun the construction of No. 5 unit of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant in India. The ceremony was held by video conferencing due to coronavirus restrictions, the Russian state nuclear corporation’s engineering division, ASE said. “The project to build the Kudankulam NPP has been a symbol of close cooperation between Russia and India for many years. But we don’t want to rest on our laurels. Rosatom has all the latest nuclear energy technologies. Together with our Indian colleagues, we are prepared to jointly roll out serial construction of the latest 3+ generation of Russian-designed nuclear generating units at a new site in India. This is envisioned by existing agreements,” Rosatom CEO Alexei Likhachev was reported as saying at the ceremony.
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Putin slams incident with British warship off Crimea as a provocation, 30 June 2021

The incident with the British guided missile destroyer Defender off Crimea was a clear provocation, Russian President Vladimir Putin said during his annual Q&A session. “This is, of course, a provocation, which is absolutely clear. What did these provocateurs want to show and what goals did they seek to achieve? First of all, it [the provocation] was comprehensive and was staged not only by the British but also by the Americans because the British warship ventured into our territorial waters in the afternoon while early in the morning, at 07:30, a US strategic reconnaissance plane took off from a NATO airfield in Greece, from Crete, I believe. I later received a report on that. We saw and observed it clearly,” the Russian leader said.
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Russia, U.S. planning meeting on strategic stability by mid-July – Lavrov, 30 June 2021

Delegations from the United States and Russia could meet for talks over strategic stability before the middle of July; the two sides understand that only mutually acceptable agreements are possible in this sphere, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
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Putin meets Nazarbayev, 30 June 2021

Vladimir Putin met with First President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, who is in Russia on a working visit.
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Direct Line with Vladimir Putin, 30 June 2021

The annual special Direct Line with Vladimir Putin was broadcast live by Channel One, Rossiya 1, Rossiya 24, NTV, Public Television of Russia (OTR) and Mir TV channels, and Mayak, Vesti FM and Radio Rossii radio stations. Click here to read…

Health and Environment
Russia’s Sputnik V shot around 90% effective against Delta variant, developers say, 29 June 2021

Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19 is around 90% effective against the highly contagious Delta variant of coronavirus, its developers said. The shot, which Russia has actively marketed abroad, was previously found by researchers to be almost 92% effective against the original strain of coronavirus. Denis Logunov, deputy director of Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute which developed Sputnik V, said the Delta variant efficacy figure was calculated based on digital medical and vaccine records. Click here to read…

EpiVacCorona vaccine to be manufactured in form of dosage syringes – developer, 29 June 2021

The EpiVacCorona coronavirus vaccine developed by Russian consumer health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor’s Vector State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology will be manufactured both in the form of ampules and dosage syringes, Vector said in a statement. “As well as the usual format, ampules, the EpiVacCorona vaccine will now be available as a dosage syringe. The relevant changes to the certificate of registration were made on June 28,” the statement said. Click here to read…

Russia sees 21,042 new Covid-19 cases, all-time high of 669 deaths in past 24 hours – HQ, 30 June 2021

Russia has registered 21,042 new cases of Covid-19 and a record number of related deaths, 669, in the past 24 hours, the coronavirus response headquarters said in a statement on June 30. “Over the past day, 21,042 Covid-19 cases were confirmed in 85 regions of Russia, including 2,951 asymptomatic cases identified proactively (14.0%),” the headquarters said. mortality has grown again in Russia, to another all-time high of 669. The majority of deaths were reported in Moscow (117) and St. Petersburg (111).
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Economy
Russian economy recovering, but outlook for sustainable growth unclear amid Covid, uncertainty – minister, 18 June 2021

The public health situation and a number of other uncertainties currently make it impossible to make long-term forecasts about sustainable economic growth in Russia, Economic Development Minister Maxim Reshetnikov said. “It seems to me that at the moment it’s still early to talk about the sustainability of this growth. The recovery is underway, but ultimately we would not just like recovery, we need to grow further, after all. And right now it’s premature for us to make any far-reaching conclusions based on one month. We only have April in hand at the moment, May will start coming out next week,” Reshetnikov said at a briefing when asked if the worsening Covid-19 situation will affect the macroeconomic forecast for this year. Click here to read…

Putin expects inflation in Russia will not exceed 5% in 2021, 30 June 2021

Russian President Vladimir Putin said inflation in 2021 would be above the 4% target but that he did not think it would exceed 5%. “Inflation was in the region of 4% [in annual terms]. Now it has risen to 5.9% [annual, as of the end of May], nearly 6%. Of course the task is to suppress it. It is for this reason that the Central Bank has raised the key rate a little, so there is no excess money supply in the economy,” Putin said during a Q&A session.”I expect that inflation will return to the target, to 4%. We are unlikely to achieve it [4%] this year, but I think we’ll be able to get [back down] to a level of 5% [by December],” he said.
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Perspective
While the media focused on theatrics, Putin & Biden quietly launched a new diplomatic effort to avert an apocalyptic nuclear war, 21 June 2021

Atomic warfare was top of the agenda as Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart, Joe Biden, met for crunch talks last week in Geneva, amid escalating hostilities and talk of a return to a ‘Cold War’ mentality. The first summit between the pair gives some room for cautious optimism. The atmosphere was respectful and calm, compared to how it might have been, and there seemed to be few aggressive or emotional accusations flying around in the way that has dominated relations between Moscow and Washington in the past.
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China-Russia: A Strategic Partnership Short on Strategy, 30 June 2021

The Sino-Russian relationship, nothing like an “alliance,” will continue to endure and in some ways deepen. Chinese firms are still interested in Russia’s human capital and natural resources and Russian firms and investors want to find growth in China’s market. The Putin-Xi meeting, however, emphasized performance over substance, limited by domestic political considerations and the scope of the two countries’ mutual interests. There’s a sense that there is no clear consensus over what order in Central Asia and Eurasia more broadly ought to look like, nor any attempt to show that it’s not just the world’s democracies talking a mean game about coordinating climate efforts. Instead, China and Russia continue their repeated focus on presenting a united front against the dominance of American and transatlantic power – without reflecting on what that power is actually doing right now. Click here to read…