Al Qaeda Leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri Killed In US Strike

The United States killed the leader of al Qaeda, Ayman Al Zawahri in a “successful” counterterrorism operation in Afghanistan over the weekend that senior Biden administration officials say “deals a significant blow” to the terror network and degrades its ability to operate, including against the U.S. homeland, media reports stated.

The operation marks a major milestone for the U.S. Al-Zawahiri succeeded Osama bin Laden as the leader of the terror group in 2011 and helped lead the September 11, 2001, terror attacks against the U.S. 

 President Biden spoke to the American people to announce the strike, saying Monday: “the United States continues to demonstrate our resolve and our capacity to defend the American people against those who seek to do us harm. You know, we make it clear again tonight that no matter how long it takes, no matter where you hide, if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and take you out.”

Biden said U.S. intelligence officials tracked al-Zawahri to a home in downtown Kabul where he was hiding out with his family. The president approved the operation last week and it was carried out on Sunday.

Al-Zawahiri, who was 71, had been rumored to be dead but appeared in a video on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 last year.  The Associated Press first reported that a U.S. operation had killed al-Zawahiri. 

“Over the weekend, the United States conducted a counterterrorism operation against a significant al Qaeda target in Afghanistan,” a senior administration official said Monday, without naming Zawahiri as the target. “The operation was successful and there were no civilian casualties.”

The news was particularly notable coming so close to the one-year anniversary of the chaotic U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Al-Zawahiri’s killing represents a major success for the U.S. government and Biden is likely to point to it as an illustration that the U.S. does not need to be engaged in combat in order to take down threats to the homeland.

The United States government, on July 30 at 9:48 p.m. ET, and 6:18 a.m. Kabul time, undertook a “precision counterterrorism operation,” killing Al Zawahiri, who served as Usama bin Laden’s deputy during the 9/11 attacks, and as his successor in 2011, following bin Laden’s death.

A US official said that the U.S. government identified Zawahiri at a location in Kabul. “The Al Zawahiri family exercised longstanding terrorist tradecraft that we assessed was designed to prevent anyone from following them to Zawahiri,” the official explained, noting that the government identified Zawahiri’s wife, daughter and her children at a safe house in Kabul this year.

The official explained that “only a very small and select group of officials at key agencies were brought into the process and the deliberations at the early stage” and briefed on the developing intelligence.

“The president convened over the course of the last few weeks several meetings with his key advisers and cabinet members to carefully scrutinize the intelligence and evaluate the best course of action for targeting Zawahri,” the official explained, noting that Biden received updated on the developments of the targets throughout May and June.

“We are confident through our intelligence sources and methods, including multiple streams of intelligence, that we killed Zawahiri and no other individual,” the official said, noting that members of his family were present “in other parts of the safe house at the time of the strike and were purposefully not targeted and were unharmed.”

Modi To Skip UNGA 2022

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not scheduled to be at the high-level UN General Assembly session in September this year but two newly elected leaders of troubled South Asian countries, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Sri Lanka’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe, are among the scheduled participants, media reports here stated.

Prime Ministers Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh, Sher Bahadur Deuba of Nepal and Lotay Tshering of Bhutan are also listed to be speakers during the 2022 General Assembly of thew world body.

The Taliban regime, which is not recognized by any country, does not have a slot, nor does anyone from the government of ousted President Ashraf Ghani, which still in effect holds the country’s seat at the UN.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar is likely to be the possible speaker at the UN, representing India, according to the roster of speakers available Wednesday at the United Nations.

Modi has so far addressed the General Assembly four times in person and once by video. He skipped the meeting in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

In a sign of the world emerging from the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic, all the speeches will be in person at this year’s session that begins on September 20, Paulina Kubiak, the spokesperson for Assembly President Abdulla Shahid, said on Wednesday.

The high-level session went all virtual in 2020 and turned hybrid last year with some speaking remotely and others like Modi attending in person.

The leaders are scheduled in a hierarchical order starting with the 101 heads of state, followed by prime ministers, the deputies, the ministers and others.

Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, which will take up a chunk of the session’s bandwidth, is scheduled to be at the meeting this year.

Global Population Projected To Exceed 8 Billion In 2022; Half Live In 7 Countries

By Conrad Hackett

The world’s population will cross 8 billion in November, according to recently released projections from the United Nations. And more than half of all people live in just seven countries.

China has the world’s largest population (1.426 billion), but India (1.417 billion) is expected to claim this title next year. The next five most populous nations – the United States, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria and Brazil – together have fewer people than India or China. In fact, China’s population is greater than the entire population of Europe (744 million) or the Americas (1.04 billion) and roughly equivalent to that of all nations in Africa (1.427 billion).

As recently as 2015, half the world’s population was concentrated in just six countries – the same as above, with the exception of Nigeria, which was then the seventh most populous country and has since passed Brazil to move into sixth place. Recent population growth, however, has been faster in the rest of the world than in these nations, meaning that the top six now hold slightly less than half (49%) of the world’s people. Including Brazil’s 215 million people puts the world’s seven most populous countries at 51.7% of the global population.

In the UN’s “medium” scenario for future population growth – its middle-of-the-road estimate – the global population is expected to reach 9.7 billion in 2050 and 10.4 billion in 2100. Growth is expected to be concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, where an estimated 29% of all the world’s births happened last year. The 2021 total fertility rate in sub-Saharan Africa, 4.6 births per woman, is double the global average of 2.3 births per woman and triple the average in Europe and Northern America (1.5) and in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia (also 1.5).

The Vision Of A World Divided Into Two Blocs: China & Russia Vs Europe & The United States

(IPS) – For years, Russia’s relations with the European Union and the United States have been one of the main areas of conflict in the media. Washington and Brussels accuse Moscow of manipulation and disinformation and, after the invasion of Ukraine, decided to close their media outlets to Russian companies.
Excerpts from the Q&A: 

Q: What do you think about the way this issue has been handled and what repercussions could it have on the management of the media, especially non-mainstream media such as Inter Press Service (IPS) or OtherNews?

A: Information has always been used by power, both economic and political. Information is, by definition, top-down. Whoever transmits it, whether in print form in newspapers and magazines, or in electronic form on radio and TV, sends it to an audience that cannot intervene in the process. That is why power has always tried to use it. 

The Gutenberg era represented by this phenomenon lasted six centuries. Communication, which is a more recent phenomenon and which until now has only been possible with the Internet, is different. Communication is horizontal: I am a receiver, but I can also be a sender. There, power has much more power. 

The media that provide information are closer and closer to power, they are no longer a business, and every year they are less and less powerful. And politics today is increasingly oriented towards social media. The most recent example was former US President Donald Trump, who had 80 million followers with Twitter (during his tenure at the White House) and completely gave up control of the media. (Trump was permanently banned from twitter in January 2021, right after he supported the attack on the capitol. So, Trump doesn’t actually have any twitter followers now.).

It must be added, however, that the Internet has been captured by the market, which has eliminated the horizontality we all hailed in the beginning. Today we have moved from the era of Gutenberg to the era of Zuckerberg, and we users are data, not people. 

This is of great importance for young people, who today find themselves involved in vertically created turmoil, brought about by search engines, which divide users into affinity groups, thus eliminating dialogue, because when someone from part A meets someone from part B, they clash, end up insulting each other, without listening or sharing. And search engines, in order to keep the user, prioritise what generates the most impact, so that the strangest news ends up taking precedence. 

The extreme polarisation of America would not have been possible without social media. Newspapers increasingly focus on events and abandon processes, and international relations cannot be understood without analysing the process in which events take place. 

In Nairobi in 1973 there were 75 foreign correspondents; today there are three. No European TV has correspondents in Africa. It is therefore easy for a government to decide to expel correspondents, but it is almost impossible to shut down social networks, even if autocratic governments try to do so. That is why the Russian public knows little about the reality of the war. 

But if someone is determined, they can always find a way to overcome censorship, even if it is a skill of the young, the old are not on the Internet and still rely on traditional media.

In Italy, the main daily newspaper, Il Corriere della Sera, had the front page for forty days with a nine-column headline dedicated to Ukraine. This was followed by the first twenty pages, all dedicated to Ukraine. The rest of the world had disappeared. And the same happened with most of the European media. 

Only with the French elections were newspapers forced to give significant space to Macron and not Zelensky. In this respect, representatives of the quality American press, such as the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, have been more balanced. Of course, the longer the war goes on, the more the repetition of events in the media becomes insufficient. 

But the European press, like Europe itself, has sided with NATO, and with little argument. In Russia, of course, the press has been an amplifier for the government. The US media, for its part, often at odds with the government on domestic and national issues, tends to support the official foreign policy position. Factors such as national identity, nationalism and a lack of knowledge of international realities in newsrooms come into play.

It was surprising to see the European press become a megaphone of NATO positions. Putin was demonized as was Hitler, and Zelensky praised as a Greek hero. The Russians are portrayed as barbarians killing Minos. There has never been any negative news about Ukrainians, when in war violence and dereliction of ethics are inevitable and unfortunately widespread. 

It is as if the Cold War has never ended, and we are ready to accept an escalation that can become scorching hot. GDP has contracted, the cost of living is rising, inflation is on the rise, and so far, there has been no reaction. This is really surprising. 

For OtherNews, which is a news service on global issues, it was a very complex challenge. OtherNews represents a new design. The idea is that the non-profit association is owned by the readers, who can become members by paying a modest annual fee of 50 euros. 

They elect the board of directors and discuss the editorial line, thus guaranteeing full independence and a pluralistic and inclusive line. There are 12,000 readers, in 82 countries around the world: academics, international civil servants, global civil society activists, etc.

Q: How would you define the role of the media in covering the conflict between Ukraine and Russia?

A: The war in Ukraine is exclusively an affair of the global North. The global South is only a victim of the increase in food, energy and transport. In Africa it has reached 45% of the population. Articles from the North were criticized by readers from the South and vice versa. 

OtherNews lost almost 300 readers, almost all from the North, for publishing articles that criticized or questioned the war. I believe that this North-South divide will increase with the explosion of the multipolar world, as the values on which multilateralism was based are disappearing. 

An ‘active non-alignment’ could be recreated, which the press in Europe and the US will struggle to understand. The West still believes it is the centre of the world, the United States in particular.

But today, mainly because of the need to prioritise national interests over international cooperation, a path opened by (former President Ronald) Reagan and (former British Prime Minister Margaret) Thatcher in 1981, we have moved from a multilateral to a multipolar world. In the Bush junior era, neo-conservatives preached the arrival of an American century, that the US should remain the dominant power. Since then, the US has lost in every conflict it has been involved in, from Iraq to Afghanistan. 

And Trump took the logic of the end of multilateralism to the extreme, advising all countries to put their own interests first. Today the result is that the multipolar world is not based on the idea of international cooperation for peace and development, but on the most brutal competition. 

And Biden now wants to revive multilateralism. But it is too late. Biden will lose the mid-term elections in November and become a lame duck, with a Congress of Trumpist Republicans vetoing everything. And in 2024 Trump is likely to return, and this whole NATO boom will go into deep crisis. But until November, if the war does not escalate and remain as it is, the European press will basically keep the war helmet on.

Q: After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the identity of the international blocs seems to have reconfigured: on the one hand, the United States and the European Union, which defend the liberal tradition, have drawn a very wide dividing line, at home and abroad, between ‘pro-Russian’ and ‘pro-democratic’; on the other hand, Russia, China and their allies are considered ‘illiberal’. What do you think of this construction and what can it lead to in the future?

A: This vision of a world divided into two blocs, China and Russia on one side and liberal democracies, Europe and the United States, on the other, is an easy illusion to see. In this multipolar world, countries stand alone. 

A good example is Turkey, which is part of NATO, but does not participate in the embargo against Russia and is very close to China. Or India, which continues to buy Russian arms, is on China’s New Silk Road, but does not want any problems with the US. Indonesia, which has always been a loyal US ally, continues to maintain Putin’s participation in G20 despite US protests. 

And also in Europe: Hungary and Poland are openly defying Brussels, splitting into a pro-NATO Poland and a pro-Russia Hungary. Saudi Arabia, Washington’s great ally, ignores Biden’s request to increase oil production, despite having been invited to the summit of democratic countries convened by Biden. This homogeneous bloc of liberal countries is a good marketing slogan, but it crumbles at the slightest analysis.

Q: How do you see the impact of US domestic political polarization on the international scene? Why?

A: The Cold War was a confrontation between two political and ideological visions that clashed in a proxy war. America is no longer Kennedy’s America and it is no longer Obama’s America. It is a country where political polarization has reached unprecedented extremes. In 1980, 12% of Democrats and 15% of Republicans told the Pew Institute that they would not want their daughter to marry a man of the other party. Today it is 91% of Democrats and 96% of Republicans. 

And the US Supreme Court is already part of this polarization. 72% of Republicans believe Trump was a victim of electoral fraud. And the crowd that stormed the Capitol is described by the Republican Party as a ‘display of political opinion’. Is this the exemplary leader of democracy’s fight against the world’s dictators? And we are only at the beginning of a process of radicalization. 

Right-wing states, with the endorsement of the Supreme Court, are banning abortion, reducing social protections, minority voting power and changing schoolbooks. With the return of Trump, or Trumpism, in two years the coexistence between the two camps will become even more difficult and few will see America as the beacon of the free world. And that won’t matter much to Trump either.

Q: What lessons do you see for Latin America, both politically and economically, after Donald Trump’s four years in office? And for Europe?

A: My opinion is that there will be great chaos in international relations, with a growing power struggle between the United States and China, with Russia, which we had the intelligence to push into Beijing’s arms. Of course, this struggle will be disguised as something political, but in reality, it will be a pure struggle for economic and military hegemony. 

It is a fight that the US cannot win. And China is a self-referential country that has never left its borders and has built walls to keep the enemy out. While the US has exploited its soft power, its music, food, clothing, sports and lifestyle, China has little interest in this kind of imperialism. 

I have been going to China since 1958 and have always been struck by how little they care to make a foreigner understand Chinese culture. But there are tens of thousands of Chinese students studying abroad, while the same cannot be said of Americans. The two countries are two big islands, which consider themselves surrounded by inferior nations. 

Latin America has always been considered a second-rate region by the US, despite many declarations, and I doubt that China sees the region beyond its raw materials and Latin Americans beyond its buyers.

My opinion, especially in light of Trump’s experience, is that Latin America should adopt a policy of active non-alignment, declaring that it will not get involved in a proxy war that is not in its interest, and that it will do exactly what the multipolar dynamic advises: put its interests as a region first. 

This would give it greater consideration and weight in international negotiations, and a clear advantage in a world divided by the New Cold War that is brewing. A war that, unlike the current NATO war against Russia, cannot be military, because it would mean the destruction of the planet. Of course, history and the present do not help to have great faith in the intelligence of power.

The big problem is that Latin America continues to be a continent divided by the inability to leave behind the experience of its ancestors. It is the most homogeneous region in the world, much more so than Asia and Africa, and in some ways more so than Europe and the United States, since the latter are experiencing a real disintegration. 

However, the Latin American integration process has been an optical illusion. Latin America is a region of permanent political experimentation, which has stifled any economic logic due to the rivalry between successive presidents, between whom there is a constant change of compass. 

I fear that instead of putting up a united front in the face of the next cold war, they will allow themselves to be bought off individually, convinced that they are doing what is best for their country. The only thing that can change the situation is a great popular movement. But this has always been directed at global issues, such as women or the environment, and of course at national issues: never at regional issues. 

And in the press, the issue of integration has at best been relegated to its bureaucratic aspects, to the various bodies that have sprung up and failed in modern times. So, in my opinion, I don’t think we have learnt a real lesson from what has happened in the world since the fall of the Berlin Wall to express an inclusive regional policy, with a strong identity, and which places us as important players in the inter-national arena of this century.

(Sebastián Do Rosario and Federico Larsen are researchers at the Institute for International Relations of Mar del Plata, Argentina. The interview was first published in the newsletter of the Institute.. Courtesy: IPS UN Bureau)

Sri Lanka Seeks Way Forward After President Quits

Sri Lanka is seeking a way out of political and economic chaos after its President Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigned and fled the country. Two days after former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled Sri Lanka, his two brothers – former PM Mahinda Rajapaksa and former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa – were barred from leaving the island nation until July 28.

The country’s Supreme Court on Friday passed an order during the hearing of a petition filed by Transparency International, a global NGO, alleging that these persons were directly responsible for the unsustainability of Sri Lanka’s foreign debt, its debt default and the current economic crisis.

Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Sri Lanka’s acting president on July 15th after parliament accepted the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Secret vote: For the first time since 1978, Sri Lanka will elect its next president through a secret vote by the MPs and not through a popular mandate, on July 20. The new president will serve the remaining tenure of Gotabaya Rajapaksa till November 2024.

Sigh of relief: Rajapaksa’s departure from office marks a major victory for the anti-government protesters, who for months have demanded his removal. “We are so happy today that he resigned and we feel that when we, the people, come together, we can do everything,” said Arunanandan, 34, a school teacher told Reuters. “We are the real power in this country.” 

As people celebrated in the streets, Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana promised a swift and transparent political process that should be done within a week.

The new president could appoint a new prime minister, who would then have to be approved by Parliament. After Rajapaksa resigned, pressure on the prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, was rising.

In a televised statement, Wickremesinghe said he would initiate steps to change the constitution to curb presidential powers and strengthen Parliament, restore law and order and take legal action against “insurgents.”

It was unclear to whom he was referring, although he said true protesters would not have gotten involved in clashes Wednesday night near Parliament, where many soldiers reportedly were injured.

The process of parliament electing a new president began on Saturday, with MPs expected to take a vote on 20 July. The initial formal meeting lasted just 13 minutes, with a letter being read out from Mr Rajapaska defending his record.

“It is a matter of personal satisfaction for me that I was able to protect our people from the pandemic despite the economic crisis we were already facing,” he wrote.

According to news agency AFP, more than 16,500 people died during the pandemic in Sri Lanka, while the country’s official foreign exchange reserves dropped from $7.5bn (£6.3bn) to just $1m during his tenure.

After being sworn in as interim leader, Mr Wickremesinghe promised to act quickly to put a democratically elected president in place. “I will take immediate steps to establish the rule of law and peace in the country. I accept 100% the right to peaceful protests. But some are trying to do acts of sabotage,” he said.

Meanwhile, Singapore says ousted president Rajapaksa did not ask for political asylum when he arrived there.  The former president, who arrived with his wife and two bodyguards, no longer has legal immunity as a head of state and his position is now more precarious as he tries to find a safe country to shelter in. 

He is expected to stay in Singapore for some time before possibly moving to the United Arab Emirates, Sri Lankan security sources told AFP news agency.

How India Keeps Both US And Russia Happy

The US House of Representatives has passed by voice vote a legislative amendment that approves waiver to New Delhi against the punitive CAATSA sanctions for its purchase of the S-400 missile defense system from Russia. However, the waiver will become effective only if the US Senate clears the amendment and the President signs it.

The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act or CAATSA is a tough US law that authorises Washington to impose sanctions on countries that purchase major defence hardware from Russia in response to the latter’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its alleged meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections.

The Trump administration sanctioned Turkey, a NATO ally, for purchasing the S-400 air defence systems from Russia.

In the face of a two-front military threat from China and Pakistan, India is procuring the Russian-made S-400 surface to-air missiles as part of a $5 billion deal signed in 2018. The systems will be deployed along northern and western borders.

The S-400 TRIUMF is considered one of the advanced air defense systems in the world. The long-range missile is capable of intercepting up to 36 targets simultaneously including aircraft, ballistic and cruise missiles.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs has said that New Delhi is pursuing an independent foreign policy and its defense acquisitions are guided by its national security interests.

India has abstained from voting against Russia, its trusted defence partner, at the UN over the issue of Ukraine war. At the same time, it has remained aligned with the US to counter China in the Indo-Pacific. Seen from this perspective, the CAATSA waiver could be a big boost for India’s strategic autonomy.

The US House of Representatives on Thursday passed a legislation measure that will urge the Biden administration to waive sanctions on India for purchasing Russian S-400 missile defence systems.

The measure passed in a voice vote as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2023 (the defense budget). To make it to President Joe Biden’s desk for enactment, it must be a part of the final legislation that comes out of a process called reconciliation in which bills passed by the House and Senate are made into one.

India is potentially facing US sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) for its purchase of the Russian 3-400s. The 2017 law seeks to punish Russia for the 2016 election interference and other issues by scaring away buyers of its defence equipment with the threat of secondary sanctions. China and Turkey, a NATO ally, are the only two countries sanctioned by the US under this law yet.

India has started receiving these systems, which technically should have triggered CAATSA sanctions, but the Biden administration has not publicly declared its intentions, either way.

The amendment that passed Thursday was introduced by Ro Khanna, an Indian American lawmaker from California who is now widely believed to be considering a run for the White House in 2024 if Biden decides to not run again.

“The United States must stand with India in the face of escalating aggression from China. As Vice Chair of the India Caucus, I have been working to strengthen the partnership between our countries and ensure that India can defend itself along the Indian Chinese border,” Khanna said in a statement. “This amendment is of the utmost importance, and I am proud to see it pass the House on a bipartisan basis.”

The amendment says India relies on Russian weapons because it faces “immediate and serious regional border threats” from China. And the US should take further steps to encourage India to accelerate its “transition off Russian-built weapons and defense systems”.

The amendment argues then that it’s in the best interest of the US and the US-India partnership to waive the sanction. “While India faces immediate needs to maintain its heavily Russian-built weapons systems, a waiver to sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act during this transition period is in the best interests of the United States and the United States-India defense partnership to deter aggressors in light of Russia and China’s close partnership,” it said as approved.

Talk of impending CAATSA sanctions has dogged India-US engagements from the time the law was enacted in 2017, under the Trump administration; it was a bipartisan congressional initiative and then President Donald Trump had no option but to sign. Then Defense Secretary James Mattis and then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had publicly pressed lawmakers to exempt India and other countries that used to be too heavily reliant on Russian military hardware.

Speculation about sanctions picked up in recent months as India began receiving the missiles. But there has been no public indication that the administration is considering them.

Rishi Sunak’s Rise Mirrors Britain’s New Growing Diversity

It could be called democracy’s diversity, or even colonialism’s counterblast. The race to succeed UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson by becoming the new leader of the Conservative Party, which espoused the Empire, imperialism and British national identity, has been swamped with contenders from former colonies in Asia and Africa. And at the end of the preliminary rounds, the son of immigrants from British East Africa was on top.

Rishi Sunak, UK’s former Chancellor of the Exchequer, or Finance Minister, whose sudden resignation set in motion the circumstances that forced an intransigent Johnson to finally bow out, has emerged the main contender at the end of two rounds of voting by the 358 Conservative MPs.

Picking up a quarter of the votes in the first round, he became the only one to get over three digits in the second round — and is followed by three women present and former ministers.

The initial race had a ethnically diverse list of candidates — British Pakistani ministers Sajid Javid and Rehman Chishti, Sunak’s Iraqi Kurd-born successor Nadhim Zahawi, Attorney General Suella Braverman, whose family’s roots are in Goa, and Nigerian-origin former minister Kemi Badenoch.

Sunak and Braverman’s fellow Indian-origin Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, chose to sit it out.

Javid and Chishti failed to get enough traction to even figure in the race, Zahawi bowed out after the first round, and Braverman after the second, leaving Sunak and Badenoch to contend against Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, and Tom Tugendhat, the backbench MP, who happens to be half-French.

It’s early days for Sunak, who has emphasised that identity of a person born in the UK but with origins elsewhere matters to him. He has to remain in the reckoning till there are only two contenders left in the race, at which point the decision will be left to the rank-and-file Conservative Party members across the cities, shires, hills and dales across the British Isles.

Suave, efficient, but also controversy-ridden, the former US-based investment banker, hedge fund operator, and three-time MP still has a chance to become the first non-ethnic Briton to become Prime Minister.

This, though, will not be entirely unusual — for such staunch British PMs as Winston Churchill and Harold Macmillan happened to be half-American (on their mothers’ side) and Johnson was born in the US, becoming the first non-UK-born Prime Minister since Andrew Bonar Law nearly a century ago (Bonar Law, however, was born in Canada, which was a part of the Empire.)

Born in Southhampton on May 12, 1980, Sunak is the son of (the then British) Kenya-born Yashvir Sunak and his wife, Tanganyika-born Usha, who grandparents were born in the Punjab Province of British India, and migrated to East Africa, and from there to the UK in the 1960s.

“My parents emigrated here, so you’ve got this generation of people who are born here, their parents were not born here, and they’ve come to this country to make a life,” he said in an interview with the BBC in 2019.

“In terms of cultural upbringing, I’d be at the temple at the weekend — I’m a Hindu — but I’d also be at (Southampton Football Club) the Saints game as well on a Saturday — you do everything, you do both,” he said, also revealing that he was fortunate not to have endured a lot of racism growing up, save for one incident, when he was with his younger siblings.

With his father a general practitioner, and his mother, a pharmacist, he had an easy childhood. He studied at a prep school in Hampshire, and then he was at the prestigious Winchester College, where he was head boy and editor of the school paper; during vacations, he worked at local curry restaurant.

Oxford was the next stop and he graduated in 2001. The same year, he was interviewed along with his parents for the BBC documentary “Middle Classes: Their Rise and Sprawl”. He was an analyst at investment bank Goldman Sachs till 2004, and then a hedge fund management firm till 2009, when he left to join former colleagues at a new hedge fund launched in October 2010.

In 2009, he married Akshata, daughter of Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy and writer Sudha Murthy, who’s also the chairperson of the Infosys Foundation. Sunak and Akshata have two daughters.

Engaged with the Conservative Party since his Oxford days, Sunak got into politics full-time in 2014 when was selected for the Richmond seat in north Yorkshire — one of the safest Conservative seats, which has been held by the party for more than a century — and won it in the 2015 elections by nearly 20,000 votes.

He retained it in the 2017, and 2019 elections, with increased majorities. His predecessor as Richmond MP was William Hague, now Baron Hague of Richmond, who held important cabinet position, Including Foreign Secretary, and was Leader of the House of Commons,

A staunch proponent of “Leave” in the Brexit referendum of 2016 and subsequent parliamentary votes, Sunak’s first government job was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Local Government (2018-19) in the Theresa May government and then as Chief Secretary to the Treasury (2019-20) in the government of Johnson, whose leadership bid he had supported.

He replaced his boss Javid as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 2020, and while he mostly earned plaudits for steering the government’s economic response to the effects of the Covid-19 lockdown, he also became the first Chancellor to be found to have broken the law while in office by breaching lockdown norms.

His wife’s non-domicile status, which let her save huge amount of taxes in the country, also became a major controversy for him.

It is Sunak’s “treachery”, which set off the spate of resignations that forced Johnson’s resignation, that may just queer his chances to become Prime Minister. (IANS)

Takeaways from Biden’s Middle East trip

By, Alex Gangitano, Morgan Chalfant and Brett Samuels At The Hill

President Biden on Saturday, July 13th capped his first trip to the Middle East since taking office, a four-day visit that saw both progress and controversy.

The president met with Israeli officials to promote ties between the U.S. and Israel, as well as Palestinian officials amid efforts to maintain peace and foster collaboration in the region.

And Biden, who pledged on the campaign trail to make Saudi Arabia a global pariah over human rights violations, met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other officials about energy and defense issues, highlighting the way political realities have necessitated cooperation between the U.S. and the kingdom.

Here are five takeaways from Biden’s trip:

Biden wades into controversy with Saudi crown prince

Biden and his team had for weeks disputed that he was meeting with the Saudi crown prince, instead arguing Crown Prince Mohammed would merely be present at meetings with other leaders.

But one of the defining images of the trip depicted Biden fist-bumping the crown prince, prompting outrage from critics who raised concerns about his involvement in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

U.S. intelligence had concluded in a report released this year that the crown prince was involved in the plot to kill Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the country.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) tweeted that the fist bump was a “visual reminder of the continuing grip oil-rich autocrats have on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.” Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan called the fist bump “shameful.”

A short time after the greeting, the president sat across a table from the crown prince as part of a meeting with Saudi leaders.

Biden later told reporters he raised Khashoggi’s murder at the very start of the meeting, and that he told the crown prince that he believed him responsible for Khashoggi’s death.

“I said, very straightforwardly, for an American president to be silent on the issue of human rights is inconsistent with who we are and who I am,” Biden said. “I’ll always stand up for our values.”

A White House fact sheet said that Biden in his meetings “received commitments with respect to reforms and institutional safeguards in place to guard against any such conduct in the future.”

No immediate breakthroughs on oil 

Biden emerged from his meetings in Saudi Arabia without an immediate deliverable on oil production, but he expressed optimism that oil-producing nations would take steps to boost the global supply in the coming months. 

White House officials downplayed the significance high gas prices would play in Biden’s trip, but high gas prices in the U.S. and global energy disruptions from Russia’s war in Ukraine were widely seen as primary motivators for the trip to Saudi Arabia, one of the biggest oil producers.

The president said in remarks Friday evening that he and Saudi ministers, as well as the crown prince, “had a good discussion on ensuring global energy security and adequate oil supplies.”

“I’m doing all I can to increase supply for the United States of America, which I expect to happen,” Biden said in remarks from Jeddah. “The Saudis share that urgency and based on our discussions today I expect we’ll see further steps in the coming weeks.”

The White House also emphasized a new framework between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia on clean energy production.

Experts said Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia was unlikely to produce any major announcement on oil production on its own, but that the president could nudge the kingdom in the hopes of a future move to free up more supply.

The White House is eyeing an August meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC+), a group of roughly a dozen nations that influence global oil supply, saying any major announcement would likely stem from that meeting.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Friday that any concrete action on oil supplies would need to result from a decision by OPEC+, of which Saudi Arabia is a de facto leader. 

During his meeting Saturday with the Gulf Cooperation Council, Biden said the nations agree on the need to ensure “adequate supplies to meet global needs” adding he was looking “forward to seeing what’s coming in the coming months.” 

Saudi Arabia, Israel inch toward normalization

Biden tried to carry on the work of his predecessor, former President Trump, to help Israel normalize relations with other Arab nations. His trip to the Middle East saw a modest, but meaningful, step in that direction. 

Saudi Arabia opened its airspace to all airlines, including those flying to and from Israel. The step was hailed by the White House as an important sign of progress toward normalization. Saudi Arabia is also reportedly going to allow direct flights from Israel transporting Muslims making the pilgrimage to Mecca. 

“This is the first tangible step on the path of what I hope will eventually be a broader normalization of relations,” Biden told reporters on Friday following meetings with Saudi officials. 

Biden in Israel also said he strongly supports the Abraham Accords, promoting the Trump-era normalization declarations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain that the Biden administration hopes to expand to other Arab nations. 

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid called the Saudi announcement a positive “first step” and said the Israeli government would “continue working with necessary caution, for the sake of Israel’s economy, security and the good of our citizens.” 

Biden tries to display toughness on Iran

Biden sought to assure Israel that the U.S. is committed to its security and preventing a nuclear Iran, while vowing to continue diplomatic efforts to piece back together the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.  

Speaking alongside Lapid at a press conference Thursday, Biden affirmed his belief that diplomacy remained the best path to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon but said the U.S. wouldn’t “wait forever” for Iran to return to the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“We’re not circling a date on the calendar. The deal is on the table. Should the Iranians choose to take it, we’re ready for a compliance-for-compliance return,” Sullivan told reporters on Friday, adding that the U.S. was not waiting to put “further economic pressure” on Iran even as Biden seeks a return to the deal. 

Israel is opposed to the Obama-era nuclear deal, from which Trump withdrew the U.S. in 2018. The cracks between the two countries over Iran were on display at Thursday’s press conference, as Lapid said at the same press conference that “diplomacy will not stop them.”

“The only thing that will stop Iran is knowing that if they continue to develop their nuclear program the free world will use force,” Lapid said. 

In an interview with Israel’s Channel 12, Biden said the U.S. was willing to use force to prevent a nuclear Iran but only as a “last resort.” In a joint declaration signed by Biden and Lapid, the U.S. said it is “prepared to use all elements of its national power” to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. 

Biden’s domestic agenda takes hit while he’s overseas

Biden’s trip came as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) delivered a tough blow to his agenda, saying he would reject the climate spending and tax hikes on the wealthy in the budget reconciliation package.

The president in response called on the Senate to move forward with the slimmed-down health only reconciliation package before August recess since Manchin said he would only support a provision to lower prescription drug prices and a two-year extension of expiring health insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.  

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is pushing to move the reconciliation package to the floor before September. Biden vowed while on his trip to move on his climate agenda through executive action if it doesn’t pass in the Senate, which came during his conversations with Saudi leadership over energy security.

Gas prices in the U.S. have remained high, although are declining, but new inflation data this week showed that annual inflation hit 9.1 percent in June, the highest rate of price growth since November 1981. 

Biden returned to Washington with a sinking approval rating and support for his reelection in 2024 reaching record-lows among Democrats.

Sri Lanka In Political Vacuum As Talks Go On Amid Crisis

By, KRISHAN FRANCIS

(AP) — Sri Lanka was in a political vacuum for a second day Monday with opposition leaders yet to agree on who should replace its roundly rejected leaders, whose residences are occupied by protesters angry over the country’s deep economic woes. 

Protesters remained in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence, his seaside office and the prime minister’s official home, which they stormed on Saturday demanding the two leaders step down. It marked the most dramatic day of protests during three months of a relentless crisis that has pushed many to the brink to despair amid acute shortages of fuel, food, medicine and other necessities. 

The protesters, who come from all walks of life, vowed to stay put until the resignations of the leaders are official. 

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said Saturday he would leave office once a new government is in place, and hours later the speaker of Parliament said Rajapaksa would step down Wednesday. 

Wickremesinghe’s office said Monday that Rajapaksa had confirmed his earlier decision to resign on Wednesday.

Also Monday, a group of nine Cabinet ministers announced they will quit immediately to make way for an all-party government, outgoing Justice Minister Wijayadasa Rajapakshe said. Wickremesinghe’s office said meanwhile that another group that met the prime minister decided to stay on until a new government is formed.

The president hasn’t been seen or heard publicly since Saturday and his location is unknown. But his office said Sunday that he ordered the immediate distribution of a cooking gas consignment to the public, suggesting that he was still at work.

Opposition party leaders have been in discussion to form an alternative unity government, an urgent requirement of a bankrupt nation to continue discussions with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout program. 

Lawmaker Udaya Gammanpila said the main opposition United People’s Front and lawmakers who have defected Rajapaksa’s ruling coalition have had discussions and agreed to work together. Main opposition leader Sajith Premadasa and Dullas Alahapperuma, who was a minister under Rajapaksa, have been proposed to take over as president and prime minister and have been asked to decide on how to share the positions before a meeting with the parliamentary speaker later Monday.

“We can’t be in an anarchical condition. We have to somehow reach a consensus today,” Gammanpila said.

Opposition parties are also concerned over military leaders making statements about public security in the absence of a civil administration. 

Lawmakers have discussed Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Shavendra Silva’s statement over the weekend calling on people’s cooperation to maintain law and order, said Kavinda Makalanda, spokesperson for Premadasa.

“A civil administration is the need, not the military in a democratic country,” Makalanda said.

If opposition parties fail to form a government by the time Rajapaksa resigns, Wickremesinghe as prime minister will become acting president under the constitution. However, in line with the protesters’ demand, opposition parties are keen on not allowing him take over even as acting president.

They say Wickremesinghe should promptly resign and allow Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena take over as acting president — the next in line according to the constitution. 

Rajapaksa appointed Wickremesinghe as prime minister in May in an effort to solve the shortages and start economic recovery. But delays in alleviating the shortages of basic supplies has turned public anger against him with protesters accusing him of protecting the president.

Wickremesinghe had been part of crucial talks with the IMF for a bailout program and with the World Food Program to prepare for a predicted food crisis. The government must submit a plan on debt sustainability to the IMF in August before reaching an agreement.

Sri Lanka is relying on aid from India and other nations as leaders try to negotiate a bailout with the IMF. Wickremesinghe said recently that negotiations with the IMF were complex because Sri Lanka was now a bankrupt state.

Sri Lanka announced in April that it was suspending repayment of foreign loans due to a foreign currency shortage. Its total foreign debt amounts to $51 billion, of which it must repay $28 billion by the end of 2027.

Months of demonstrations have all but dismantled the Rajapaksa political dynasty, which has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades but is accused by protesters of mismanagement and corruption.

Rishi Sunak, A Front Runner To Be The PM Of UK

Indian Origin, Rishi Sunak, the Finance Minister of Great Britain has formerly launched his bid to be the next Prime Minister of England, reports here suggest. Sunak was until last year the favorite to succeed Johnson. While Rishi Sunak, has been praised for a rescue package for the economy during the Coronavirus pandemic, including a jobs retention program, including a jobs retention program, which prevented mass unemployment that could cost as much as 410 billion pounds ($514 billion). He quit the government on Tuesday saying “the public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously”.

The son-in-law of Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy, Sunak has faced criticism for not giving enough cost-of-living support to households, his wealthy wife’s non-domiciled tax status and a fine he received, along with Johnson, for breaking Covid-19 lockdown rules. His tax-and-spend budget last year put Britain on course for its biggest tax burden since the 1950s, undermining his claims to favor lower taxes.

Also, seeking the top jonb in UK is another person of Indian origin, Suella Braverman, the attorney general, who has signaled her intention to be the PM. In an interview with ITV, Suella Braverman had called for Johnson to quit and said that she would join a leadership race to replace him, saying “it would be the greatest honor.”

Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of United Kingdom resigned on July 7th, 2022, bringing an acrimonious end to a nearly three-year premiership that has been beset by controversy and scandal. After many months of speculation, he quit as Conservative leader, saying it is “clearly now the will” of Tory MPs that there should be a new leader. And, he pledged to stay on as PM until a successor is chosen – but a growing number of Tory MPs say he has to leave now. Johnson’s decision to remain in office comes despite a clear lack of support from within his own party and a growing push across the political spectrum for him to step down immediately.

Johnson’s resignation came after Britain’s finance and health ministers resigned in quick succession on July 5, in moves that put the future of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in peril after a series of scandals that have damaged his administration. 

Speaking outside Downing Street, Johnson said the process for choosing the new leader of the Conservative Party should begin now, with a timetable to be announced next week. He said he intends to remain in place until a new Tory leader is elected. Johnson said that he was “sad to be giving up the best job in the world,” but conceded that “no one is remotely indispensable” in politics.

As per reports, Chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee Tom Tugendhat has launched his bid to become the next leader of the Conservative Party – and prime minister. In an article in the Telegraph newspaper, he stated he would bring a “clean start”. He wrote that he wants to build a “broad coalition of colleagues” to “bring new energy and ideas to government” and “bridge the Brexit divide”.

Setting out his stall, he wrote that “taxes, bluntly, are too high.” Specifically: “We should immediately reverse the recent National Insurance hike and let hard-working people, and employers, keep more of their money. Fuel tax must come down. And un-conservative tariffs, that push up prices for consumers, should be dropped.” He talks about the cost of living as an “national security issue” and says there should be more police on the streets to tackle crime.

Another leader hoping to fil the vacancy is Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, who is the darling of the Conservatives’ grassroots and has regularly topped polls of party members carried out by the website Conservative Home. Truss has a carefully cultivated public image and was photographed in a tank last year, evoking a famous 1986 image of Britain’s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who was also captured in such a pose.

Jeremy Hunt, the former foreign secretary, 55, finished second to Johnson in the 2019 leadership contest is  a likely contestant. He would offer a more serious and less controversial style of leadership after the turmoil of Johnson’s premiership. Over the last two years, Hunt has used his experience as a former health secretary to chair the health select committee and has not been tarnished by having served in the current government. Recently, said his ambition to become prime minister “hasn’t completely vanished”. Hunt said he would vote to oust Johnson in a confidence vote last month which Johnson narrowly won.

Ben Wallace, UK’s Defense minister, 52, has risen in recent months to be the most popular member of the government with Conservative Party members, according to Conservative Home, thanks to his handling of the Ukraine crisis. A former soldier himself, he served in Northern Ireland, Germany, Cyprus and Central America, and was mentioned in dispatches in 1992. He began his political career as a member of Scotland’s devolved assembly in May 1999, before being first elected to the Westminster parliament in 2005.

Nadhim Zahawi, the current education secretary impressed as vaccines minister when Britain had one of the fastest rollouts of COVID-19 jabs in the world. Zahawi’s personal story as a former refugee from Iraq who came to Britain as a child sets him apart from other Conservative contenders. He went on to co-found polling company YouGov before entering parliament in 2010. He said last week at some stage it would be a “privilege” to be prime minister.

Yet another contented for the top job in Britain is Penny Mordaunt, the former defense secretary, who was sacked by Johnson when he became prime minister after she backed his rival Hunt during the last leadership contest. Mordaunt was a passionate supporter of leaving the European Union and made national headlines by taking part in now-defunct reality TV diving show. Currently a junior trade minister, Mordaunt called the lockdown-breaking parties in government “shameful”. She said voters wanted to see “professionalism and competence” from the government.

Meanwhile, Downing Street announced 12 new ministers, filling some of the posts left vacant by the recent wave of resignations. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss – a possible leadership contender who has remained silent for days – says her party needs to keep governing until a new leader is elected by the Conservative Party MPS.

After Shinzo Abe Was Shot And Killed, His Party Wins Election In Japan

Three after Japan’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was felled by a cowardly assassin in the course of a campaign trail for elections to the Upper House, the governing party and its coalition partner scored a major victory in a parliamentary election Sunday, July 10, 2022, possibly propelled by sympathy votes in the wake of the assassination.

Abe was shot in Nara on Friday, June 8th and was airlifted to a hospital but died of blood loss. Police arrested a former member of Japan’s navy at the scene and confiscated a homemade gun. Several others were later found at his apartment.

He became Japan’s youngest prime minister in 2006, at age 52. But his overly nationalistic first stint abruptly ended a year later, also because of his health, prompting six years of annual leadership change.

He returned to office in 2012, vowing to revitalize the nation and get its economy out of its deflationary doldrums with his “Abenomics” formula, which combines fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reforms. He won six national elections and built a rock-solid grip on power.

Early results in the race for the parliament’s upper house showed Abe’s governing party and its junior coalition partner Komeito securing a majority in the chamber and adding more. The last day of campaigning on Saturday, a day after Abe was gunned down while delivering a speech, was held under heightened security as party leaders pledged to uphold democracy and renouncing violence.

According to reports, preliminary vote counts showed the governing Liberal Democratic Party on track to secure a coalition total of at least 143 seats in the 248-member upper house, the less powerful of the two chambers. Up for election was half of the upper house’s new six-year term. With a likely major boost, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stands to rule without interruption until a scheduled election in 2025.

That would allow Kishida to work on long-term policy goals such as national security, his signature but still vague “new capitalism” economic policy, and his party’s long-cherished goal to amend the U.S.-drafted postwar pacifist constitution.

“It was extremely meaningful that we carried out the election,” Kishida said. “Our endeavor to protect democracy continues.” Kishida welcomed early results and said responses to COVID-19, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and rising prices will be his priorities. He said he will also steadily push for reinforcing Japan’s national security as well a constitutional amendment.

Mourners visited the LDP headquarters to lay flowers and pray for Abe as party officials prepared for vote counting inside. “We absolutely refuse to let violence shut out free speech,” Kishida said in his final rally in the northern city of Niigata on Saturday. “We must demonstrate that our democracy and election will not back down on violence.”

The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, told investigators he acted because of Abe’s rumored connection to an organization that he resented, police said, but had no problem with the former leader’s political views. The man had developed hatred toward a religious group that his mother was obsessed about and that bankrupted a family business, according to media reports, including some that identified the group as the Unification Church.

Abe’s Legacy

Even after stepping down as prime minister in 2020, Abe was highly influential in the LDP and headed its largest faction. His absence could change the power balance in the governing party that has almost uninterruptedly ruled postwar Japan since its 1955 foundation, experts say.

Abe will be remembered for boosting defense spending and pushing through the most dramatic shift in Japanese military policy in 70 years. In 2015, his government passed a reinterpretation of Japan’s postwar, pacifist constitution, allowing Japanese troops to engage in overseas combat — with conditions — for the first time since World War II.

“This could be a turning point” for the LDP over its divisive policies on gender equality, same-sex marriages and other issues that Abe-backed ultra-conservatives with paternalistic family values had resisted, said Mitsuru Fukuda, a crisis management professor at Nihon University.

Japan’s current diplomatic and security stance is unlikely to be swayed because fundamental changes had already been made by Abe. His ultra-nationalist views and pragmatic policies made him a divisive figure to many, including in the Koreas and China.

Abe stepped down two years ago blaming a recurrence of the ulcerative colitis he’d had since he was a teenager. He said he regretted leave many of his goals unfinished, including the issue of Japanese abducted years ago by North Korea, a territorial dispute with Russia, and a revision of Japan’s war-renouncing constitution that many conservatives consider a humiliation, because of poor public support.

Abe was groomed to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi. His political rhetoric often focused on making Japan a “normal” and “beautiful” nation with a stronger military through security alliance with the United States and bigger role in international affairs.

Japan is known for its strict gun laws. With a population of 125 million, it had only 21 gun-related criminal cases in 2020, according to the latest government crime paper. Experts say, however, some recent attacks involved use of consumer items such as gasoline, suggesting increased risks for ordinary people to be embroiled in mass attacks. The cancer of gun violence is spreading. The former Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe was felled by a cowardly assassin in the course of a campaign trail for elections to the Upper House. 

Abe had argued the change was needed to respond to a more challenging security environment, a nod to a more assertive China and frequent missile tests in North Korea. During his term, Abe sought to improve relations with Beijing and held a historic phone call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in 2018. At the same time, he tried to counter Chinese expansion in the region by uniting Pacific allies.

After leaving office, Abe remained head of the largest faction of the ruling LDP and remained influential within the party. He has continued to campaign for a stronger security policy and last year angered China by calling for a greater commitment from allies to defend democracy in Taiwan. In response, Beijing summoned Japan’s ambassador and accused Abe of openly challenging China’s sovereignty.

India’s bilateral ties with Japan grew closer during Shinzo Abe’s tenure, with the former Japanese Prime Minister visiting India four times. 

Abe was a prominent figure on the world stage. He cultivated strong ties with Washington — Tokyo’s traditional ally. Abe hailed the US-Japan alliance and said he wanted to “build trust” with the new President. He strongly supported Trump’s initial hard line on North Korea, which matched Abe’s own hawkish tendencies. 

More successful was Abe’s handling of the abdication of Emperor Akihito, the first Japanese monarch to step down in two centuries. He was succeeded by his son, Emperor Naruhito, in October 2019, starting the Reiwa era. 

“Like the flowers of the plum tree blooming proudly in spring after the cold winter, we wish the Japanese people to bloom like individual flowers with the (promise of the) future. With such a wish for Japan, we decided upon ‘Reiwa’,” Abe said on announcing the new era. 

Abe is survived by his wife Akie Abe, née Matsuzaki, who he married in 1987. The couple did not have children.

Will Biden’S Visit To Middle East Help Revive US Partnerships In The Region?

President Joe Biden prepares to travel to the Middle East, his administration faces several challenges in its relations with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other regional (non-treaty) allies. At the most basic level, the United States and these allies do not share the same priorities. Part of why Biden is traveling to Saudi Arabia is to convince the country’s leaders to pump more oil as global prices soar. In addition, the United States seeks to maintain pressure on the Islamic State group (IS) to prevent the terror organization from rebuilding. Yet both the Russia-Ukraine war and the struggle against the remnants of IS are ancillary concerns for regional states, and they are concerned that the U.S. focus on Asia and Europe will make the United States a less useful security partner.

Iran, the foreign policy priority for Israel, Saudi Arabia, and many other regional states, is a major sticking point. Indeed, most regional allies oppose the Biden administration’s efforts to restore the Iran nuclear deal, seeing it as making too many concessions to Tehran and fearing that the United States in general will not stand up to Iranian aggression and subversion. With regular Iranian missile strikes on Iraq and missile strikes from Iran’s Houthi allies in Yemen on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, this fear is quite strong. Nuclear talks appear to be floundering, and the Biden administration will need to decide whether to try to revive them at the risk of further alienating regional states or abandon them only to work on the next challenge — how to create other diplomatic —  and military — options that will stop the Iranian bomb and ensure regional security. Iran, for its part, will interpret the Biden visit as the United States further siding with its regional enemies.

Russia is another sticking point. The United States is trying to create a global coalition to oppose Russian aggression in Ukraine. Middle Eastern states, however, see Russia as a source of wheat, while their populations question why Ukraine should be the subject of global solidarity while Syria was not. Many are more anti-American than pro-Ukraine. Regardless of regime views on Ukraine, Russia is also a military player in Syria, and Israel works with Moscow to ensure that Israel can strike Iranian assets in Syria without interference from Russian forces.

In order to win over regional leaders, Biden will also need to curtail some of his critical rhetoric. This is especially true with his condemnation of the Saudi murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the brutal Saudi and UAE war in Yemen. These are the right stances from a human rights perspective, but Riyadh and its allies will not be accommodating in other areas if they are the subject of regular, public criticism.

Actually walking back his comments on these grave human rights issues would be politically difficult even if Biden were inclined to openly abandon the moral high ground. In practice, refraining from future criticism, the legitimacy bestowed by the trip itself, and other steps that make it clear that Riyadh is being embraced, not shunned. As in the past, the United States is again emphasizing that pragmatic concerns like oil prices and Iran, not human rights, will drive U.S. policy toward the kingdom.

Making these problems more difficult, the Biden administration inherited a weak hand from its predecessors. U.S. engagement with the Middle East has declined dramatically since the George W. Bush administration, when 9/11 and the Iraq War put the region at the center of U.S. foreign policy. President Barack Obama tried to reduce U.S. involvement in the Middle East, and President Donald Trump, while more sympathetic to autocratic Arab allies, also favored limited U.S. involvement in the region. The Biden administration has emphasized great power competition, with the war in Ukraine and the rivalry with China dominating strategic thinking. Biden’s trip is thus occurring with a regional perception that the United States is focused on other parts of the world and at home, with little appetite for resolving regional disputes and leading regional allies as it sought to in the past. Indeed, Biden’s understandable focus on energy and Russia will reinforce this, making it clear that it is non-regional concerns that are driving his visit rather than shared interests. The Biden administration also claims the trip is to encourage Saudi Arabia to formally make peace with Israel, though U.S. officials almost certainly recognize a formal peace is highly unlikely even though Riyadh and Israel have stepped up their security partnership.

Making the job even harder, Middle Eastern allies have preferred Republican presidents. Gulf state rulers believe Republican leaders are more anti-Iran and less concerned about human rights. Israeli leaders too believe Republicans are more pro-Israel and more likely to stand up to Tehran. In addition, regional allies rightly recognize that Trump or another disruptive leader may again assume the U.S. presidency. The United States, in other words, will be considered an erratic ally, with policies and interest in the Middle East varying wildly by administration.

One goal that may have more success is encouraging U.S. allies to work together. The United States historically has preferred bilateral cooperation, with countries working with Washington more than with one another. As the U.S. limits its involvement, however, it will want regional states to step up and combine their efforts, whether this is to counter Iran or to resolve regional wars like those in Yemen and Libya. Israel, with its formidable military and intelligence services, can play an important role here, offering high-end capabilities, such as providing radar systems to Bahrain and the UAE, when the United States is reluctant to do so for political reasons.

The United States is also likely to have help from partners in sustaining the fighting against IS and other dangerous jihadi groups. Although this struggle is less of a priority for allies, they too worry about violent jihadism and will continue longstanding intelligence and military cooperation. Jihadi groups also remain weak compared with their past selves, limiting the effort required.

Regional partners will be aware of U.S. pivoting to focus on Asia and Europe, and Biden’s visit will not change this perception. The best the administration can hope for is to make clear, both in private and in public, that the United States will remain diplomatically and militarily involved in the Middle East, whether it be to counter IS or deter Iran. The president’s visit is thus a useful signal, even if regional states will remain unsatisfied.

Perhaps the best that can be hoped from this trip is simply to restart the U.S. engagement with its allies in the region. Such a goal doesn’t promise big wins — there may at best be modest concessions like a Saudi announcement it will pump a small amount of additional oil — but it offers the hope of future improvements. For now, the U.S. relationship with regional allies is transactional, with little trust or respect on either side. Repeated visits by high-level officials will make them more likely to listen to Washington and consider U.S. interests rather than see U.S. concerns as irrelevant, or even opposed, to their day-to-day problems.

Sri Lanka Opposition Meets To Name New Gov’t Amid Turmoil

(AP) — Sri Lanka’s opposition parties met Sunday to agree on a new government a day after the president and prime minister offered to resign following the most dramatic day of monthslong turmoil, with protesters storming the leaders’ homes in rage over an economic crisis.

Protesters remained in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence, his seaside office and the prime minister’s home, saying they would stay until the resignations are official. The president’s whereabouts were unknown, but a statement from his office said he ordered the immediate distribution of a cooking gas consignment to the public, suggesting that he was still at work.

Soldiers were deployed around the city but troops simply watched from afar as crowds of people splashed in the pool of Rajapaksa’s sprawling residence, lounged on beds and took selfies of themselves on their cellphones to capture the moment. The chief of defense staff, Shavendra Silva, called for public support to maintain law and order.

Occupants of the prime minister’s official residence cooked in an outdoor kitchen, played the tabletop game carrom and slept on sofas.

Ranjith Madduma Bandara, a top official in the main opposition United People’s Force, said that separate discussions were held with other parties and lawmakers who broke away from Rajapaksa’s ruling coalition and more meetings were planned. It was unclear when an agreement might be reached.

Another opposition lawmaker, M. A. Sumanthiran, said earlier that all opposition parties combined could easily muster the 113 members needed for a majority in Parliament, at which point they would call on Rajapaksa to install the new government and resign. 

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said Saturday he would leave office once a new government is in place, and hours later the speaker of Parliament said Rajapaksa would step down Wednesday. Pressure on both men had grown as the economic meltdown set off acute shortages of essential items, leaving people struggling to obtain food, fuel and other necessities.

If both president and prime minister resign, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena will take over as temporary president, according to the constitution. 

Rajapaksa appointed Wickremesinghe as prime minister in May in an effort to solve the shortages and start economic recovery.

Wickremesinghe had been part of crucial talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout program and with the World Food Program to prepare for a predicted food crisis. The government must submit a plan on debt sustainability to the IMF in August before reaching an agreement.

Analysts say it is doubtful any new leader could do more than Wickremesinghe. His government’s efforts showed promise, with much-needed fertilizer being distributed to farmers for next season’s cultivation and cooking gas orders arriving in the country Sunday. 

“This kind of unrest could create confusion among international organizations like the IMF and the World Bank,” political analyst Ranga Kalansooriya said, adding that a new administration should agree on a common program for economic recovery. 

He said while Wickremesinghe was working in the right direction, his administration was not implementing a long-term plan to go with its focus on solving day-to-day problems. 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Washington was tracking the developments in Sri Lanka and urged Parliament to work quickly to implement solutions and address the people’s discontent. 

Speaking at a news conference in Bangkok, Blinken said the United States condemns attacks against the peaceful demonstrators while calling for a full investigation into any protest-related violence. 

Pope Francis opened his Sunday remarks after noon prayers at the Vatican by voicing concern about Sri Lanka.

“I unite myself to the pain of the people of Sri Lanka, who continue to suffer the effects of the political and economic instability,” the pontiff said. “Together with the bishops of the country, I renew my appeal for peace, and I implore those who have authority not to ignore the cry of the poor and the needs of the people.’’

After Boris Johnson Quits, Who Will Replace Him As PM of UK?

Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of United Kingdom resigned on July 7th, 2022, bringing an acrimonious end to a nearly three-year premiership that has been beset by controversy and scandal. After many months of speculation, he quit as Conservative leader, saying it is “clearly now the will” of Tory MPs that there should be a new leader. And, he pledged to stay on as PM until a successor is chosen – but a growing number of Tory MPs say he has to leave now. Johnson’s decision to remain in office comes despite a clear lack of support from within his own party and a growing push across the political spectrum for him to step down immediately.

Johnson’s resignation came after Britain’s finance and health ministers resigned in quick succession on July 5, in moves that put the future of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in peril after a series of scandals that have damaged his administration.

Johnson survived a vote of confidence on June 6 this year, but more than 40% of Conservative lawmakers declared that they had lost confidence in his ability to govern. And, in the intervening month, those who most wanted to see his downfall have been jockeying for his job.

According to media reports, after the partygate scandal over illegal gatherings held at Downing Street in defiance of coronavirus lockdowns, several senior members of Johnson’s cabinet began quietly preparing for a future leadership contest, courting influential members of parliament and dining with donors who could fund their campaigns.

A dramatic cascade of nearly 60 resignations by lawmakers and government officials followed, ultimately forcing Johnson to begrudgingly announce on Thursday that he would step down. Johnson’s decision to step down as the leader of the ruling Conservative Party will trigger a leadership race, with the winner set to become the United Kingdom’s fourth prime minister in the six years since the June 2016 Brexit referendum.

Indian Origin, Rishi Sunak was until last year the favorite to succeed Johnson. While Rishi Sunak, UK’s Finance Minister has been praised for a rescue package for the economy during the Coronavirus pandemic, including a jobs retention program, including a jobs retention program, which prevented mass unemployment that could cost as much as 410 billion pounds ($514 billion). He quit the government on Tuesday saying “the public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously”.

The son-in-law of Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy, Sunak has faced criticism for not giving enough cost-of-living support to households, his wealthy wife’s non-domiciled tax status and a fine he received, along with Johnson, for breaking Covid-19 lockdown rules. His tax-and-spend budget last year put Britain on course for its biggest tax burden since the 1950s, undermining his claims to favor lower taxes.

Speaking outside Downing Street, Johnson said the process for choosing the new leader of the Conservative Party should begin now, with a timetable to be announced next week. He said he intends to remain in place until a new Tory leader is elected. Johnson said that he was “sad to be giving up the best job in the world,” but conceded that “no one is remotely indispensable” in politics.

Referring to members of his own ruling party who turned against him, Johnson said, “At Westminster, the herd instinct is powerful and when the herd moves, it moves.” Johnson thanked his wife Carrie Johnson, his children, the National Health Service, armed forces and Downing Street staff. “Above all, I want to thank you, the British public, for the immense privilege that you have given me.” He concluded his roughly six-minute speech by seeking to strike an upbeat tone. “Even if things can sometimes seem dark now, our future together is golden.”

Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer was among those calling for Johnson to go now, saying the Tory leader “cannot cling on for months.” “If the Conservative party do not get rid of him, then Labour will act in the national interest and bring a vote of no confidence,” Starmer said via Twitter.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson reacts as British Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak delivers a statement at the House of Commons in London, Britain May 26, 2022. UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. IMAGE MUST NOT BE ALTERED.

UK’s former PM Sir John Major says Johnson should go now for the good of the country. Johnson assured cabinet this afternoon he would only act as a caretaker PM while remaining in position, new Welsh Secretary Robert Buckland says

As per reports, Chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee Tom Tugendhat has launched his bid to become the next leader of the Conservative Party – and prime minister. In an article in the Telegraph newspaper, he stated he would bring a “clean start”. He wrote that he wants to build a “broad coalition of colleagues” to “bring new energy and ideas to government” and “bridge the Brexit divide”.

Setting out his stall, he wrote that “taxes, bluntly, are too high.” Specifically: “We should immediately reverse the recent National Insurance hike and let hard-working people, and employers, keep more of their money. Fuel tax must come down. And un-conservative tariffs, that push up prices for consumers, should be dropped.” He talks about the cost of living as an “national security issue” and says there should be more police on the streets to tackle crime.

Another leader hoping to fil the vacancy is Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, who is the darling of the Conservatives’ grassroots and has regularly topped polls of party members carried out by the website Conservative Home. Truss has a carefully cultivated public image and was photographed in a tank last year, evoking a famous 1986 image of Britain’s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who was also captured in such a pose.

Jeremy Hunt, the former foreign secretary, 55, finished second to Johnson in the 2019 leadership contest is  a likely contestant. He would offer a more serious and less controversial style of leadership after the turmoil of Johnson’s premiership. Over the last two years, Hunt has used his experience as a former health secretary to chair the health select committee and has not been tarnished by having served in the current government. Recently, said his ambition to become prime minister “hasn’t completely vanished”. Hunt said he would vote to oust Johnson in a confidence vote last month which Johnson narrowly won.

Ben Wallace, UK’s Defense minister, 52, has risen in recent months to be the most popular member of the government with Conservative Party members, according to Conservative Home, thanks to his handling of the Ukraine crisis. A former soldier himself, he served in Northern Ireland, Germany, Cyprus and Central America, and was mentioned in dispatches in 1992. He began his political career as a member of Scotland’s devolved assembly in May 1999, before being first elected to the Westminster parliament in 2005.

Nadhim Zahawi, the current education secretary impressed as vaccines minister when Britain had one of the fastest rollouts of COVID-19 jabs in the world. Zahawi’s personal story as a former refugee from Iraq who came to Britain as a child sets him apart from other Conservative contenders. He went on to co-found polling company YouGov before entering parliament in 2010. He said last week at some stage it would be a “privilege” to be prime minister.

Yet another contented for the top job in Britain is Penny Mordaunt, the former defense secretary, who was sacked by Johnson when he became prime minister after she backed his rival Hunt during the last leadership contest. Mordaunt was a passionate supporter of leaving the European Union and made national headlines by taking part in now-defunct reality TV diving show. Currently a junior trade minister, Mordaunt called the lockdown-breaking parties in government “shameful”. She said voters wanted to see “professionalism and competence” from the government.

Suella Braverman, the attorney general has signaled her intention to run in a future contest. In an interview with ITVSuella Braverman called for Johnson to quit and said that she would join a leadership race to replace him, saying “it would be the greatest honor.”

Meanwhile, Downing Street announced 12 new ministers, filling some of the posts left vacant by the recent wave of resignations. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss – a possible leadership contender who has remained silent for days – says her party needs to keep governing until a new leader is elected by the Conservative Party MPS.

The Democratic Paradox The Right To Say Anything Has Been A Challenge To Every Democracy That Has Ever Existed

On Jan. 6, 2021, a group of self-professed patriots stormed the U.S. Capitol, a building last raided by the British during the War of 1812. Some in the group were spangled with face paint and wore military garb. Some were toting Confederate flags. Many were taking selfies or livestreaming the rebellion. They erected a gallows and smashed up media equipment outside, then roamed the halls of Congress, screaming, “Stop the steal!” Offices were destroyed. A member of the mob was shot and killed. A Capitol Police officer died. It was a remarkable assault on the foundation of American democracy, staged at the very moment a peaceful transfer of power was under way.

We can now add the United States to the list of Athens, Rome, France, Spain, and Peru, among others, as democracies that have experienced a self-coup attempt. The people who invaded the Capitol did so because they believed—truly believed—that then-U.S. President Donald Trump had won a landslide victory in the 2020 presidential election, which subsequently was stolen.

This article is adapted from The Paradox of Democracy: Free Speech, Open Media, and Perilous Persuasion by Zac Gershberg and Sean Illing (University of Chicago Press, 320 pp., $30, June 2022).

Trump had raised over $200 million in the month after the election by alleging voter fraud—what some termed the “Big Lie,” which gained widespread purchase in the United States’ fragmented information space and particularly in conservative media across radio, cable television, and social networking. Dozens of lawsuits echoing these charges struggled to gain standing in U.S. state and federal courts. Trump and his advisors then suggested the possibility that Vice President Mike Pence and Congress could overturn the election on Jan. 6, whereupon the president instructed his supporters to march on the Capitol, telling them to “fight like hell.”

American democracy is fortunate that the insurrection failed; that it happened at all is instructive. The event exposed the paradox at the center of every democratic culture: a free and open communication environment that, because of its openness, invites exploitation and subversion from within. This tension sits at the core of every democracy, and it cannot be resolved or circumnavigated. To put it another way, the essential democratic freedom—the freedom of expression—is both ingrained in and dangerous to democracy.

The belief that democracy is a fixed system with inherent features has led to a lot of confusion. Many still hold what’s often called the “folk theory of democracy”: Ordinary citizens have preferences about what the government ought to do, and they vote for leaders they think will carry out those preferences. The result of this process is a government that serves the majority. And all of this is supposed to take place in a culture of rules and norms that privileges minority rights, respects the rule of law, and welcomes peaceful transitions of power.

But that culture is precisely what we call “liberalism”—it is not democracy as such. Confusion on this point has obscured the nature and demands of democratic life.

Despite its flaws, democracy still affords freedom of expression and the possibility of confronting power in all its forms—that is democracy’s claim to superiority over all other political cultures. But democratic freedom contains the seeds of its own destruction. This is something the ancient Greeks understood long before us, and they even developed two frameworks for free speech that highlighted the problem. Isegoria described the right of citizens to participate in the public debate; parrhesia described the right to say anything one wanted, whenever one wanted, and to whomever one wanted. Isegoria created the political environment of democracy, while parrhesia actualized it.

But the right to say anything opened the door to all manners of subversion, and this has been a challenge to every democracy that has ever existed. The emergence of isegoria in Athens, for instance, was accompanied by the joint rituals of ostracism and tribalism. In today’s language, you might say that Socrates was the first notable citizen to be “canceled” by the same democratic forces that made his speech free in the first place. This is the defining tension of any democratic society.

Citizens, philosophers, and politicians have always fretted about democracy for exactly this reason. While it facilitates a culture in which deliberative discourse and collective judgment are possible, it can also be gamed and exploited, prompting crises from within. The panic today over democracy is no different. A whole genre of literature has emerged seeking to explain how democracies fall or why Western liberalism is in retreat. The consensus is that if democracy isn’t quite dead, it’s certainly under attack.

There’s no point in diminishing the reality of the crisis. We are surely living through a period of intense democratic disruption. All over the world, from the United Kingdom to Hungary to Poland to Brazil to the United States, populist insurgents are disordering democratic cultures. Liberal democracy, as a culturally dominant period, has died. So have many of the norms and institutions that undergird it.

But the discourse around this problem is far too circumscribed. To read many of the current books about democracy is to walk away with the impression that we’re in the midst of something new, something unique to our moment. It’s as though the default state of democracy is stability, and periods of disruption are the exception.

The reverse is much nearer to the truth.

To function properly, democracies require more than just voting. Citizens need comprehensive, accurate information as well as a healthy, open system of debate. But throughout history, when new forms of communications arrive—from the disingenuous use of rhetorical techniques developed in Athens to the social media-enabled spread of fake news today—they often undermine the practice of politics. The more widely accessible and democratic the media of a society, the more susceptible that society is to distraction, spectacle, and demagoguery. We see this time and again throughout history: Media continually evolve faster than politics, and the result is recurring patterns of democratic instability.

Classical rhetoric was a necessity for the early democratic cultures of Athens and Rome, but sophistry, a form of deceptive, crowd-pleasing speech, overwhelmed both societies and hastened their collapse. The printing press allowed for the mass production of books and the creation of newspapers, which ushered in the Enlightenment and the democratic revolutions of the 18th century, yet these public networks also sowed chaos in the aftermath of the American and French Revolutions. The former dealt with a deeply partisan press that threatened the viability of the United States in its infancy, and France exploded into the violence of the Reign of Terror.

In the 19th century, the telegraph’s speedy dissemination of news collapsed geographical distances and helped spread the norms of liberal society across Europe, but it also fomented nationalist discourses. Political leaders and news outlets generated narratives full of nativist fears and petty resentments to gain traction in place of actual debate, and the appeals of this mediated rhetoric would eventually speed Europe toward World War I. While cinema and radio further democratized media and created a more accessible mass culture, they also provided essential platforms for European fascists who were able to bypass traditional gatekeepers.

Television transformed politics so citizens could directly see and listen to representatives, with many positive results, but the imperatives of the medium also reshaped politics. To succeed, politicians in the TV era had to adapt to a new incentive structure in which branding, sound bites, and optics reigned.

The public sphere of the 21st century is more democratic and open than ever before. Political leaders communicate directly with the public; citizens provide immediate feedback and can publish or broadcast to mass audiences on their own. Yet the democratic openness of communication in the 21st century has destabilized political conversations. There are no longer any controls on the flow of information, and that has short-circuited a system built largely on the control of information. The public is now angry, distrustful of whether their representatives can even make sound decisions. That may be healthy from a democratic perspective, but with so much noise on social media and so many news outlets disseminating contradictory information, citizens are justifiably confused and cynical.

Liberal democracies have long been sustained by traditional mass media, such as newspapers and later radio and network television. Citizens remained somewhat passive while media gatekeepers and politicians hashed out a norm-driven discourse of information and debate in the public sphere. People absorbed what they read, listened to, and watched, then registered approval at the polls.

Then something changed. The rise of polarizing cable television news, the blogosphere, and the outrageous flows of social networking, now hooked to our palmed smartphones, let citizens in on the act of forging discourses and choosing what news they prefer. The result is a more democratic and less liberal world.

The belief that the democratic experiment was destined to end in something like liberal democracy was just that: a belief. It turns out there is nothing inexorable about the logic of democracy; it is just as likely to culminate in tyranny as it is freedom. And the rise of illiberalism foregrounds a crucial point: Our present crisis is as much about culture as it is politics.

Despite all our assumptions about the inherent value of democracy, a democratic culture guarantees no outcome. Democratic cultures can support liberal democratic governments, or they can just as easily spawn plutocratic or authoritarian systems. It might seem counterintuitive to think of democracies as breeding grounds for tyranny, but it’s no contradiction at all.

Democratic theorists often miss the depth of the connection between communication and political cultures. So many accounts of democracy emphasize legislative processes or policy outcomes. When culture is discussed, it’s often in the context of liberal democratic values. But we should always ask: What determines the valence of those values? If a democracy stands or falls on the quality of the culture propping it up, then we ought to know under what conditions those values are affirmed and rejected.

Those conditions are determined largely by a society’s tools of communication, facilitated through media. Indeed, democracies are defined by their cultures of communication. If a democracy consists of citizens deciding, collectively, what ought to be done, then the process by which they do so determines nearly everything else that follows. This is the key insight of media ecologists like Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman, both of whom warned of the impending disaster that was the age of television and the image. They sensed that the media environment decides not just what people pay attention to but also how people think and orient themselves in the world. For every form of media has its own epistemology, its own biases, and favors certain cognitive habits over others.

People like Postman were commenting on the sovereignty of television in American culture and how it transfigures everything it touches. But the internet and social media have now been added to that wasteland of spectacle, compounding the problem in a million different ways. The obsession with drama and entertainment is now buttressed by curated news feeds that carve out epistemological bubbles and foster tribal impulses. The United States and many other countries are now confronting the greatest structural challenge to democracy the world has ever seen: a truly open society. Without gatekeepers, there are no constraints on discourse. Digital technology has changed everything, and, consequently, reality is up for grabs in a way it never has been before.

To restate the paradox: Democracies cannot exist without an open communication environment; otherwise, citizens cannot carry out their deliberative responsibilities. This condition of informational freedom is central to any democratic culture worthy of the name. But this environment, precisely because it is free, is constantly exploited by demagogues and other anti-democratic actors. Democracies are thus constantly undermined by their constitutive conditions.

It’s not easy to live in this state of tension, especially in the wide-open rhetorical cultures we see in many countries around the world today. New media technologies have altered the social and psychic environment—and, by extension, the values and institutions that ground society. There is no going back; the winds of technological change will keep blowing whether we want them to or not.

The real challenge right now is not an absence of democracy. On the contrary, we’re confronting the true face of democracy: a totally unfettered culture of open communication. Nearly all democracies up until now have been democracies in name only; they’ve been mediated by institutions designed to check popular passions and control the flow of information. But those institutional walls were weakened by the electric revolution and later shattered by digital technology. It’s no longer possible to limit access to information or curate what is and isn’t news. The test is whether democratic institutions can withstand this kind of pressure—whether we can, somehow, keep pushing that democratic boulder up the hill. And that remains an open question.

Zac Gershberg is an associate professor of journalism and media studies at Idaho State University.

An Open Borders World

A world with open borders, as some strongly advocate while others insist on maintaining controlled borders, is an interesting exercise to consider given its potential consequences for nations, the planet’s 8 billion human inhabitants, climate change, and the environment.

Based on international surveys of 152 countries taken several years ago before the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 15 percent of the world’s adults said that they would like to migrate permanently to another country if they could. Based on that percentage for adults plus their family members, the estimated number of people who want to migrate in 2022 is likely to be no less than 1.5 billion.

Seven destination countries attract half of those wanting to migrate to another country. The top destination country at 21 percent of those wanting to migrate is the United States. Substantially lower, Canada and Germany are next at 6 percent, followed by France and Australia at 5 percent, the United Kingdom at 4 percent, and Saudi Arabia at 3 percent

The figure of 1.5 billion wanting to migrate is more than 5 times the estimated number of immigrants in the world in 2020, or about 281 million. The figure of potential immigrants is also approximately 500 times the annual flow of immigrants globally.

The two regions with the highest proportions wanting to migrate to another country if they had the chance are sub-Saharan Africa at 33 percent and Latin America and the Caribbean at 27 percent. In addition, in 13 countries at least half of their populations would like to migrate to another country.

The top three countries with the proportion of their adult populations wanting to migrate are Sierra Leone at 71 percent, Liberia at 66 percent, and Haiti at 63 percent. They are followed by Albania at 60 percent, El Salvador at 52 percent, the Democratic Republic of the Congo at 50 percent.

Seven destination countries attract half of those wanting to migrate to another country. The top destination country at 21 percent of those wanting to migrate is the United States. Substantially lower, Canada and Germany are next at 6 percent, followed by France and Australia at 5 percent, the United Kingdom at 4 percent, and Saudi Arabia at 3 percent.

Among those seven destination countries, the numbers wanting to migrate are greater than the current populations of five of them. For example, the number of people wanting to migrate to Canada is 90 million versus its current population of 38 million. Similarly, the number wanting to migrate to Germany is 94 million versus its current population of 84 million. In the remaining two countries, the United States and the United Kingdom, the numbers wanting to migrate are nearly the same size as their current populations.

Source: United Nations and Gallup.

In addition to its impact on the size of populations, open borders would alter the ethnic, religious, and linguistic composition of populations, leading to increased cultural diversity. Past and present international migration flows have demonstrated alterations in the cultural composition of populations.

In the United States, for example, since 1965 when the Immigration and National Act on country of origin was passed, the proportion Hispanic increased nearly five-fold, from 4 percent to 19 percent in 2020, and the proportion non-Hispanic white declined from 84 percent to 58 percent. Similarly in Germany, the proportion Muslim since 1965 has increased five-fold, from less than 1 percent to 5 percent of the population in 2020.

Various reasons have been offered both in support and in opposition to an open borders world. For example, those opposed believe open borders would increase security threats, damage domestic economies, benefit big business and elites, increase societal costs, encourage brain drain, facilitate illegal trade, reduce labor wages, undermine cultural integrity, and create integration problems (Table 1).

Source: Author’s compilation.

In contrast, those in support believe open borders would provide a basic human right, reduce poverty, increase GDP growth, reduce border control costs, increase the labor supply, provide talented workers, promote travel, reduce time and costs of travel, raise a country’s tax base, promote cultural diversity, and contribute to global interdependence.

Open borders would certainly impact the cultural composition of populations. Even without open borders, the current changes in the cultural composition of populations being brought about by international migration have not only raised public concerns but have also contributed to the growing influence of nativist and far-right political parties.

The nativist parties are typically opposed to immigration, seeing it as a threat to their national cultural integrity. In contrast, those supportive of immigration welcome the arrival of people with differing backgrounds, ethnicities, and cultures. They view immigration it as a natural, ongoing human phenomenon that enriches societies.

Open borders would also have consequences on climate change and the environment. Large numbers of people would be migrating to countries with high levels of greenhouse gas emissions per capita. For example, while the world average of tons of CO2 equivalent per person is about 6, the level in the United States is about three times as large at 19.

Similarly, open borders would impact the environment. The migration to the high consumption destination countries would lead to increased biodiversity loss, pollution, and congestion.

An open borders world is not likely to happen any time soon. However, recent large-scale immigration flows, both legal and illegal, are substantially impacting government programs, domestic politics, international relations, and public opinion as well as the size and composition of the populations.

In virtually every region, governments appear to be at a loss on how best to address international migration, especially the waves of illegal migration arriving daily at international borders and the many already residing unlawfully within their countries. International conventions, agreements, and compacts concerning international migration are largely viewed as being outdated, unrealistic, and ineffective in dealing with today’s international migration issues.

The supply of men, women, and children in poor developing countries wanting to migrate greatly exceeds the demand for those migrants in wealthy developed countries by a factor of about five hundred.

The result is the Great Migration Clash, i.e., a worldwide struggle between those who “want out” of their countries and those who want others to “keep out” of their countries.

Given the enormous difference in supply and demand, the Migration Clash is unlikely to be resolved by simply asking destination countries to raise their immigration levels. To resolve the Migration Clash will require considerably improving the social, economic, political, and environmental conditions of the populations in the migrant sending countries.

Achieving those desirable development goals any time soon, however, appears as unlikely as establishing an open borders world. Therefore, countries will continue dealing the best they can with the consequences of controlled borders and the Great Migration Clash.

Joseph Chamie is a consulting demographer, a former director of the United Nations Population Division and author of numerous publications on population issues, including his recent book, “Births, Deaths, Migrations and Other Important Population Matters.”

British PM Boris Johnson Survives Vote In Parliament, Overcoming Tory Rebellion

Boris Johnson held off a challenge by Tory rebels to remain leader of the Conservative Party, though the margin of victory leaves the British prime minister weakened and laid bare the divisions that may still sink him.

The vote was called after Johnson’s premiership has been derailed by the “Partygate” scandal, criticism over his response to a cost of living crisis and a series of local election defeats.

In a secret ballot in the UK Parliament on Monday, June 6th, 211 Tory MPs voted for Johnson while an astonishing 148 of Johnson’s own lawmakers turned against him on Monday night.  The rebellion was bigger than the one suffered by Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May, who was ousted as premier six months later after failing to unite the party.

Boris Johnson, whose premiership has been engulfed in scandal for months after it emerged he attended illegal parties during lockdown — and who subsequently, became the first sitting UK Prime Minister to be found guilty of breaking the law — was able to appear at legitimate gatherings outside Buckingham Palace on Saturday and Sunday, enjoying a brief respite from the constant speculation about his job security.

In response to the narrow victory in Parliament, Johnson told reporters it’s “an extremely good, positive, conclusive, decisive result which enables us to move on to talk “exclusively” about things that matter to the British people.  “What it means is that as a government, we can move on and focus on the stuff that really matters to people,” Johnson said.

However, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Conservatives had to decide whether or not to “show some backbone or to back Boris Johnson,” and he argued that the public were “fed up with a prime minister who promises big but never delivers.” Liberal Democrats leader Sir Ed Davey said the result meant Conservative MPs are now “fully responsible for the prime minister’s behavior – they have narrowly voted to keep a lawbreaker and liar in No 10”

The SNP has said: “Tory MPs should have drawn a line under Boris Johnson’s disastrous time as prime minister but instead they’ve bottled it”, adding “the UK is now stuck in limbo with a lame duck prime minister who has lost the confidence of the public – and more than 40% of his own MPs”

The no-confidence vote itself has come as a blow to Johnson. It was triggered by 15% of Conservative MPs submitting letters of no confidence in a leader who steered the party to its biggest general election win in more than three decades in 2019.

And the pressure will mount again when a cross-party committee soon begins to probe whether he deliberately mislead Parliament over Partygate.

The PM will try to drown out that noise with a range of policy announcements – and possibly promotions for some who stayed loyal in a pre-summer reshuffle.

But the breadth of opposition to the PM – some of those who backed Brexit, some who backed Remain, some of the 2019 intake, some long-standing MPs – means that policies designed to appeal to one wing of his party might alienate others.

Under current rules, Tory MPs would not be allowed to hold another confidence vote for a year. However, it would be possible to to change the rules in order to hold another vote sooner. As per analysts, recent history suggests his time in office could come to an end before he gets a chance to fight the next election, currently scheduled for 2024.

Boycott In Arab World Forces India To Sack BJP Leaders For Blasphemous Comments

In response to facing major diplomatic outrage and calls for boycott from Muslim-majority countries after top officials in the governing Hindu nationalist party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made derogatory references to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, Narendra Modi-led Hindu nationalistic government has sacked the  Party’s National Spokesperson Nupur Sharma on Sunday, June 5th.

The anger and outrage has been growing in the past week after the two BJP spokespeople, Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal made speculative remarks that were seen as insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and his wife Aisha. The remarks made by Sharma during a TV program in India and Jindal in a tweet risk damaging India’s ties with Arab nations.

Their remarks have been drawing accusations of blasphemy across some Arab nations that have left New Delhi struggling to contain the damaging fallout. At least five Arab nations have lodged official protests against India.

Modi’s party took no action against the two BJP leaders until Sunday, when a sudden chorus of diplomatic outrage began with Qatar and Kuwait summoning their Indian ambassadors to protest. The BJP suspended Sharma and expelled Jindal and issued a rare statement saying it “strongly denounces insult of any religious personalities,” a move that was welcomed by Qatar and Kuwait.

While Pakistan and Afghanistan, India’s neighbors reacted strongly Monday to the comments made by two prominent spokespeople from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, anger has poured out on social media, and calls for a boycott of Indian goods have surfaced in some Arab nations. At home, it has led to protests against Modi’s party in some parts of the country.

The controversial remarks follow increasing violence targeting India’s Muslim minority carried out by Hindu nationalists who have been emboldened by Modi’s silence about such attacks since he was first elected in 2014. Over the years, Indian Muslims have often been targeted for everything from their food and clothing style to inter-religious marriages. Rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have warned that attacks could escalate.

They have also accused Modi’s governing party of looking the other way and sometimes enabling hate speech against Muslims, who comprise 14% of India’s 1.4 billion people but are still numerous enough to be the second-largest Muslim population of any nation.  Modi’s party denies the accusations, but India’s Muslims say attacks against them and their faith have increased sharply.

Anti-Muslim sentiments and attacks have risen across India under Modi. Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said India was seeing “rising attacks on people and places of worship,” eliciting a response from New Delhi, which called the comments “ill-informed.”

Later, Saudi Arabia and Iran also lodged complaints with India, and the Jeddha-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation said the remarks came in a “context of intensifying hatred and abuse toward Islam in India and systematic practices against Muslims.”

India’s Foreign Ministry on Monday rejected the comments by the OIC as “unwarranted” and “narrow-minded.” On Sunday, India’s embassies in Qatar and Kuwait released a statement saying the views expressed about the Prophet Muhammad and Islam were not those of the Indian government and were made by “fringe elements.” The statement said that strong action had already been taken against those who made the derogatory remarks.

The criticism from Muslim countries, however, was severe, indicating that insulting Prophet Muhammad was a red line. Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said it expected a public apology from the Indian government, and Kuwait warned that if the comments go unpunished, India would see “an increase of extremism and hatred.” The Grand Mufti of Oman described the “obscene rudeness” of Modi’s party toward Islam as a form of “war.” Riyadh said the comments were insulting and called for “respect for beliefs and religions.” And Egypt’s Al-Azhar Mosque, the Sunni world’s foremost institution of religious learning, described the remarks as “real terrorism (that) can plunge the entire world into severe crises and deadly wars.”

India maintains strong relations with Gulf countries, which rely on millions of migrant workers from India and elsewhere in South Asia to serve their tiny local populations and drive the machinery of daily life. India also depends on oil-rich Gulf Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, to power its energy-thirsty economy. “India accords the highest respect to all religions,” ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said.

Modi’s party also faced anger from some of its own supporters, but it was for a different reason. Many Hindu nationalists posted comments on social media saying the government was buckling under international pressure.

More recently, religious tensions have escalated after some Hindu groups went to a local court in northern Varanasi city to seek permission to pray at a 17th century mosque, claiming that it was built by demolishing a temple. Critics say these tensions have been further exacerbated by Indian television anchors during raucous debates.

US State Department Reports Religious Freedom Woes, Wins Across The Globe

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, announcing a new global religious freedom report, said many governments are continuing to disregard the rights and the faiths of their citizens.

The 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom points out both failures and progress across the world on religious freedom, which Blinken called “a vital foreign policy priority” in remarks Thursday (June 2) in the department’s Benjamin Franklin Room.

Joined by Rashad Hussain, the new ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, Blinken said signs of progress include Morocco’s launch last year of an initiative to feature Jewish history in its public school curriculum and to renovate synagogues, cemeteries and other heritage sites. He also noted Pope Francis’ journey to Iraq for the first papal visit there.

But Blinken said the 2,000-plus-page report notes numerous ways in which freedom of religion needs to be improved.

“From Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia; Jews in Europe; Baha’is in Iran; Christians in North Korea, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia; Muslims in Burma and China; Catholics in Nicaragua; and atheists and humanists around the world, no community has been immune from these abuses,” he said.

Blinken and Hussain, who was confirmed for his role in December, expressed concern about an increase in antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred in many countries, including the United States.

Each year, most recently in November, the department designates “countries of particular concern” that it determines are the most egregious violators of religious freedom. Russia joined the last list that includes Myanmar (referred to as Burma by the department), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

Hussain said Russia, which began its war against Ukraine 100 days ago Friday, has “doubled down on its violations of religious freedom rather than reverse course” since the designation.

“President (Vladimir) Putin sought to justify the unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine through the blatantly false pretext of de-Nazification,” he said. “The world clearly sees through this lie and is instead witnessing Russia’s brutal suppression, including suppression of religious leaders and the appalling destruction of religious sites.”

Blinken noted that when the State Department produced its first report in 1998, its religious freedom office was the only government entity focused on such monitoring. He said 35 governments and organizations now have similar offices advocating for religious freedom.

“We’ll keep working alongside other governments, multilateral organizations, civil society to do so, including next month at the United Kingdom’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom,” said Hussain.

Modi’s Multipolar Moment Has Arrived India, Now Courted By All Sides, Is The Clear Beneficiary Of Russia’s War

In every crisis, someone always benefits. In the case of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, that someone is Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. By refusing to condemn Moscow and join Western-led sanctions, Modi has managed to elevate India’s global stature. Each of the other major powers—the United States, Russia, and China—are intensely courting India to deny a strategic advantage to their adversaries. Relishing the spotlight, Modi and his Hindu-nationalist government will surely look to keep the momentum going. Their likely goal is to carve out an independent superpower role for India, hasten the transition to a multipolar international system, and ultimately cement its new status with a permanent United Nations Security Council seat for India.

None of this negates the fact that the United States has become India’s most important strategic partner. The two nations have made enormous progress in recent years. Since 2018, New Delhi and Washington have held annual summits and signed numerous groundbreaking security agreements. Both nations are part of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (known as the Quad), along with Australia and Japan.

At the Quad summit in Tokyo last month, Modi met U.S. President Joe Biden in person for the second time, complementing the two nations’ ongoing virtual discussions. New Delhi also joined Washington’s recently unveiled Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, which aims to intensify economic relations in the region short of a formal trade treaty. Throughout their blossoming partnership, India and the United States, as the world’s two largest democracies, have pledged to channel their shared values (and strategic interest in containing China) into upholding the rules-based liberal international order.

But when Russia invaded Ukraine, India decided to pursue an ultra-realist policy and protect Indian interests above all else—not least its deep dependence on Russia for military equipment. Rather than condemning one sovereign nation for invading and seeking to destroy another—an indisputable violation of the rules-based order—India demurred. At first, the Modi government’s strategy appeared destined to damage the U.S.-India partnership. In March, Biden described India’s commitment on punishing Russia as “somewhat shaky.” In early April, U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Daleep Singh visited New Delhi and warned of potential “consequences” for countries that attempt to undermine U.S. sanctions.

By mid-April, however, the Biden administration had dramatically changed its tune. Biden and Modi met virtually during the kickoff of the so-called 2+2 dialogue in Washington. Following the meeting, it was clear that Biden had accepted Modi’s position. The U.S. readout noted the two leaders would continue their “close consultations” on Russia, with no indication that Washington was prepared to take any action against New Delhi. Additionally, India did not have to condemn Russia or make any other concessions, such as curbing or terminating its import of cheap Russian oil.

Subsequent statements from the White House clearly indicate that Washington will not be pushing New Delhi any further, probably for fear of ruining cooperation on countering China in the Indo-Pacific. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, for instance, said in April that “India has to make its own decisions about how it approaches this challenge.” And in Tokyo last month, Biden said, “I am committed to make the U.S.-India partnership among the closest we have on Earth” in spite of differences regarding Russia. In their joint statement, only Biden condemned Russia; Modi did not. It was the only instance of glaring daylight between the two leaders’ positions.

Over the last few months, India has also preserved its close ties to Russia by repeatedly abstaining at the United Nations when Western countries tabled resolutions against Russia. Russia and India have a long-standing partnership that dates back to the Cold War, when New Delhi believed Washington was actively supporting archrival Pakistan. India has always appreciated Russian support, particularly in the U.N. Security Council, where the territorial status of Jammu and Kashmir has routinely come up.

India also has a long history of leveraging its partnership with Russia against its other archrival, China, with which it has ongoing border tensions. For decades, India has purchased Russian arms. According to one recent estimate, approximately 85 percent of India’s military hardware is Russian. As of last month, the Biden administration was reportedly considering $500 million in military financing to India to wean it off of Russian-made equipment. Washington has also, thus far, looked the other way on enforcing the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act for New Delhi’s purchase of Moscow’s S-400 surface-to-air missile system, suggesting India is simply too important to the United States’ Indo-Pacific strategy to risk angering it with sanctions.

India has further benefited from discounted Russian oil and coal since the outbreak of war. Although Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar quipped in April that India probably imports less Russian oil in a month than Europe does in an afternoon, New Delhi’s oil imports from Russia rose sharply following Western-led sanctioning of Moscow. The same is true for coal, where India’s stocks may be running alarmingly low. India is certainly grateful to have Russian energy to fuel its development. Western criticism of these imports, coming after decades of haranguing India on fossil fuel emissions, has only irritated the world’s largest post-colonial state—one that still holds deep sensitivities when rich, majority-white nations appear to tell it to abandon its national interest in energy security and energy-fueled development.

To thank New Delhi for its unwavering support in shielding Moscow at the United Nations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited India in April. While there, he praised the rupee-ruble currency exchange system, which provides an alternative means of conducting transactions with sanctioned Russian banks. Additionally, Lavrov said, “We will be ready to supply any goods which India wants to buy.” And given Modi’s ongoing discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin since the war, Lavrov even raised the possibility of India playing a mediator role in the Russian-Ukrainian war, which would place India in a very prominent position on the world stage.

Because India’s neutral stance is so obviously at odds with U.S. policy, Beijing has also sensed a strategic opportunity to engage New Delhi—with the primary goal of prying it from Washington’s tightening embrace. In March, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was the first senior Chinese official since 2019 to visit India, where he made Beijing’s courtship explicit. “If the two countries join hands, the whole world will pay attention,” he said. In the runup to Wang’s visit, the Chinese Communist Party’s English-language mouthpiece, the Global Times, also struck an unusually conciliatory tone, writing: “China and India share common interests on many fronts. For instance, the West recently pointed the finger at India for reportedly considering buying Russian oil at a discounted price. But it is India’s legitimate right.”

Indian officials, however, were not prepared to cozy up to China in part because of the benefits they were receiving by staying neutral, most notably from the United States. After Wang’s visit, Jaishankar rhetorically asked: “Do the Americans distinguish and differentiate between India and China over [their] respective stands on Russia amid [the] Ukraine crisis? Obviously, they do.” Notwithstanding closer U.S.-Indian ties, preserving India’s strategic autonomy through a nonaligned policy remains a long-standing objective for New Delhi. In the Russia context and as great-power competition intensifies, that stance is proving especially beneficial vis-à-vis China. Furthermore, China and India have a lingering border conflict that New Delhi has argued must be resolved prior to normalizing bilateral ties. Wang did himself no favors by stopping in Pakistan first and making anti-India comments about the status of Jammu and Kashmir. Rather than agree with Beijing’s openly pro-Russian stance, New Delhi decided to move ahead on a different Chinese request: Modi’s continued participation in the BRICS forum, which joins Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.

Beyond the great powers, India has essentially won the argument with key countries in Europe and the Indo-Pacific. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, for example, visited India in April and remarked, “Russia-India ties are historically well-known, and [New Delhi’s actions] are not going to change that.” Modi’s three-nation tour through Germany, Denmark, and France last month further demonstrated that India won’t be sidelined by its Russia policy. To the contrary, in all three nations, Modi received the red-carpet treatment. In the case of Germany, Modi remains on the guest list to join the G-7 nations later this month in the Bavarian Alps.

And in the Indo-Pacific, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, when asked about India at last month’s Quad summit, said: “Each country has its own historical developments as well as geographical situation. Even amongst like-minded countries, the positions may not agree fully. That is only natural.” Although Australia’s new prime minister, Anthony Albanese, has only been on the job for a few weeks, he met with Modi on the sidelines of the Quad summit and boasted that bilateral relations “have never been closer” in spite of what Albanese said were “strong views” exchanged on Russia during the Quad’s proceedings.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has undoubtedly benefited India as great powers are competing more vigorously for New Delhi’s affection, particularly the United States and China. India has also prevented its Russia policy from spoiling partnerships with key European and Indo-Pacific partners. These trends, if sustained, will contribute to India’s rise to great-power status and, in turn, shift the global system toward even greater multipolarity. What could derail New Delhi’s success is a serious escalation in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which might finally force India to choose sides among great powers. Partners that have so far tolerated India’s aloof, realpolitik approach could become frustrated that New Delhi is refusing to carry its weight as an emerging great power. But unless or until this happens, Modi’s India is set to continue benefiting from this horrific crisis.

Derek Grossman is a senior defense analyst at the Rand Corp., an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California, and a former daily intelligence briefer to the U.S. assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs. Twitter: @DerekJGrossman

QUAD Statement By U.S., India, Japan And Australia Offers Broader Global Vision

Australia, India, Japan and the United States wrapped their second Quad Leaders’ Summit on Tuesday last week in Tokyo. The Quad countries and others in Asia made clear over the last five days that while things like maritime defense are important, real security has to heed Asian countries’ economic wants and needs.

“We reiterate our condemnation of terrorist attacks, including 26/11 Mumbai and Pathankot attacks,” the statement jointly issued today by U.S. President Joe Biden, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said.

“We, the leaders of Australia, India, Japan, and the United States, convened today in person as “the Quad” for the first time. On this historic occasion we recommit to our partnership, and to a region that is a bedrock of our shared security and prosperity—a free and open Indo-Pacific, which is also inclusive and resilient.”

Somewhat unusually and likely at India’s behest the Quad joint leaders’ statement specifically condemns November 26, 2008, terrorist attacks in Mumbai as well as January 2, 2016, terrorist attack in Pathankot.

The Quad is an informal security alignment of four major democracies that came about in response to China’s rising strength in the Indo-Pacific region. As CNBC reported before the group’s first Leaders’ Summit last September, the Quad wants to branch into areas including tech, trade, the environment and pandemic response.

The Biden administration has tried to demonstrate that economic priorities can be addressed within the Quad, between countries one-on-one, or as part of new, multilateral arrangements — though the United States hasn’t gone as far as all of its Asian partners would like.

“The focus is now on establishing overlapping multilateral relationships that operate in meshwork,” said Jonathan Grady, founding principal of forecasting firm The Canary Group. “The players involved are often the same, however we see them participating in many different groupings from security to economic issues. There is strength in numbers.”

The joint statement added: “The occasion of the Quad summit is an opportunity to refocus ourselves and the world on the Indo-Pacific and on our vision for what we hope to achieve. Together, we recommit to promoting the free, open, rules-based order, rooted in international law and undaunted by coercion, to bolster security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.”

Choosing The West Over Russia Could Make New Delhi A Great Power

India’s neutrality over the war in Ukraine has exposed its vulnerability. New Delhi depends on Russia for military supplies, and so, even though Russia is blatantly violating Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty in an attempt to re-create its erstwhile empire, India has opted to stay silent. It has done so even though India, as a former colony, knows all too well what it’s like to be the victim of imperialism. It has done so even though its own territorial integrity is threatened by another authoritarian power—namely, China. India, it seems, feels caught in a vise grip by Moscow.

To some extent, New Delhi’s concerns are understandable. Russian President Vladimir Putin has not been shy about cutting trade with states that condemn his invasion. But viewed more broadly, New Delhi’s approach is shortsighted and risky. It ignores the dangerous precedent that Russia’s reckless behavior is setting in other parts of the world. It provides diplomatic cover to China—Moscow’s most conspicuous international backer—to also ignore Russia’s bad behavior. And although criticizing the invasion might worsen relations with Russia, refusing to take a stand could alienate an even more powerful country: the United States.

The prospect of upsetting Washington should be particularly concerning for Indian policymakers. The United States has become one of New Delhi’s most important partners, particularly as India tries to stand up to Chinese aggression in the Himalayas. But although Washington is not happy that New Delhi has refused to condemn Russian aggression, Indian policymakers have calculated that their country is so central to U.S. efforts to counterbalance China that India will remain immune to a potential backlash. So far, they’ve been right; the United States has issued only muted criticisms of Indian neutrality. Yet Washington’s patience is not endless, and the longer Russia prosecutes its war without India changing its position, the more likely the United States will be to view India as an unreliable partner. It may not want to, but ultimately New Delhi will have to pick between Russia and the West.

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In-depth analysis delivered weekly. It should choose the West. The United States and its allies can offer India more—diplomatically, financially, and militarily—than can Russia. They can better help New Delhi stand up to China. In the short term, this reorientation may make procurement difficult for India’s military, but Russia’s invasion has already weakened Moscow’s ability to provide India with supplies. New Delhi, then, has little to lose by throwing its lot in with the United States and Europe, and it ought to use Russia’s invasion as an opportunity to boldly shift away from Moscow.

GO WEST

When it comes to the war, India is something of an outlier among the world’s democracies. The United States, Canada, almost all of Europe, and multiple countries in Asia and the Pacific—including Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, and Taiwan—have condemned and sanctioned Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. India, by contrast, has remained neutral.

Indeed, New Delhi has arguably even supported Moscow. Unlike most of the world, it has actively increased its economic ties to Russia since the war began. According to The New York Times, India’s crude oil purchases from Russia went from 33,000 barrels per day in 2021 to 300,000 barrels a day in March and then to 700,000 a day in April. Indian importers are purchasing Russian liquified natural gas on the so-called spot market at reduced prices. India’s buys are still far smaller than those made by European countries, but the latter states are working to drastically reduce their dependence on Moscow. India, by contrast, has handed Russia a possible lifeline. It’s no surprise, then, that Moscow has praised New Delhi for, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov put it, “taking this situation in the entirety of facts, not just in a one-sided way.”

For now, U.S. officials have been tolerant of India’s behavior. They understand that the country relies on Russian military hardware, and they recognize that India cannot break its dependence overnight. But there’s a difference between neutrality and support, and as Russian atrocities mount and India continues to import large amounts of Russian crude oil and gas, Washington may begin to see New Delhi as an enabler. To preserve the United States’ deepening relationship with India, U.S. policymakers will want to ensure that India is not facilitating Russia’s invasion.

They will also want New Delhi to turn to other military suppliers. If India doesn’t do so, it will become more difficult for the United States to increase its transfer of sophisticated defense technologies to New Delhi, since Washington cannot expose its high-tech equipment to Russian systems. Under the U.S. Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, India could even face economic penalties for its ties to Moscow. India recently purchased an S-400 air defense system from Russia, and unless U.S. President Joe Biden decides to waive the penalties for national security reasons, Indian officials could be hit with restrictions on access to U.S. loans from U.S. financial institutions and prohibitions on bank transactions subject to U.S. jurisdictions, among other sanctions. The White House appeared to be on a path to waive the sanctions, but that was before Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine. Now, it is no longer clear what the administration will do.

New Delhi has arguably supported Moscow.

Thankfully for Indian-U.S. relations, there are signs that India may be starting to reduce its military ties with Moscow. The country has been gradually cutting its defense imports from Russia over the last several years, and Indian media recently reported that the country has cancelled plans to upgrade its Russian Su-30 MKI fighter aircraft because the war has made it harder for Moscow to supply New Delhi with spare parts. This month, India halted negotiations with Russia to acquire ten Ka-31 airborne early warning helicopters, also over concerns about Moscow’s ability to fulfill the order. But 80 percent of the country’s current military stocks still consist of Russian-origin equipment.

For India, curtailing dependence on Russian military gear is not just the right move for moral reasons. Ultimately, it will also help advance the Indian’s military modernization goals. As Russia becomes poorer and increasingly isolated, it will be less and less able to assist the Indian military (a fact that the canceled orders illustrate). That’s because Russia will have fewer high-quality weapons to sell, and it will need to focus more on replenishing its own military stocks, particularly as it loses access to critical Western technologies. New Delhi, then, should move quickly to find other countries that manufacture spares and upgrades for Russian-made equipment. And over the long term, India should focus on building up domestic military production so that it becomes less dependent on other countries for its national defense.

CARROTS WITHOUT STICKS

India has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion for reasons beyond just its military needs. Moscow has long offered diplomatic support to India, including over the issue of Kashmir, and New Delhi is reticent to antagonize a friend. But in recent years, Russia has become far less dependable. For example, Russia has recently made overtures to Pakistan, perhaps India’s biggest antagonist. Last year, Lavrov visited Islamabad, and he pledged that Moscow would boost military cooperation and construct a $2.5 billion gas pipeline between Pakistani cities—Russia’s first major economic investment in Pakistan in 50 years.

Even more alarming for New Delhi was the release of Beijing and Moscow’s historic joint manifesto. Announced on February 4, following a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the 5,000-plus word document heralded an era of newly deep Chinese-Russian relations. For India, this partnership could not come at a worse time. In June 2020, Beijing and New Delhi came to blows after China spent months deliberately building up its forces at several points along the Line of Actual Control that divides the two nations. The resulting fight killed 20 Indian soldiers and at least four Chinese troops—the first deaths along the disputed border since 1975.

Following the clash, New Delhi turned to Moscow for diplomatic assistance, hoping that Russia could defuse tensions and prevent an all-out conflict. Indian officials calculated that Russia had more influence and leverage with Beijing than did any other country, and that it might therefore be able to get China to step back. And Moscow did host a virtual Russia-China-India trilateral meeting of foreign ministers shortly after the fight.

Moscow has long offered support to India, and New Delhi is reticent to antagonize a friend.

But ultimately it was Washington that backed India with robust material and moral support in its time of crisis. It publicly vowed to stand with India in the country’s efforts to protect its territorial sovereignty, and it expedited the leasing of two MQ-9B surveillance drones. It gave winter military gear to Indian troops. Most important, Washington enhanced information and intelligence sharing with New Delhi. This marked a turning point in Indian-U.S. relations. Before the clash, Indian policymakers had actively debated whether India could count on the United States for support in a conflict with China. Washington’s response made it clear that the answer is yes.

In the years since, ties between the two countries have only grown stronger. The U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy, released in mid-February, made clear that India plays a critical role in Washington’s efforts to compete with Beijing. The Biden administration further affirmed U.S.-Indian ties in April by hosting a 2+2 dialogue between the U.S. secretary of state, the U.S. secretary of defense, and their Indian counterparts. It added a virtual meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the last minute, further signaling the importance of U.S.-Indian relations.

The United States’ allies have largely followed its lead. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a visit to India in April to advance negotiations on a British-Indian trade deal and to streamline licensing for British military exports. Three days later, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited New Delhi, where she and Modi agreed to establish a joint trade and technology council and to resume negotiations on an EU-Indian free trade agreement.

Washington should not pressure India to criticize Russia.

These steps have all signaled to India that it is welcome to partner with the West. But if the United States wants to move New Delhi further into its camp and away from Moscow’s, it should take additional measures. Washington could give New Delhi even more access to sensitive U.S. technologies that would enhance Indian defense capabilities. It could also provide incentives to U.S. private companies to co-develop and co-produce additional high-tech military equipment in India. It might make its military gear more affordable for India. Recent media reports indicate Washington may be getting ready to take a step in this direction by providing a $500 million Foreign Military Financing package to incentivize India to purchase U.S. weapons. (Given India’s robust defense requirements, however, this is still a small amount.)

What Washington should not do is pressure India to criticize Russia. New Delhi strongly values having an independent foreign policy, and so it would bristle at being told how to act. But U.S. officials can be clear that they will offer India more help, more quickly, if the country reduces its reliance on Russian military systems.

The United States can also help woo India by encouraging the Quad to cooperate on Ukraine in policy domains where all members can agree. During the 2+2 talks, for example, Indian and U.S. officials discussed how to deal with global fuel and food shortages stemming from the war. Biden, Modi, and the Quad’s other two leaders (the prime ministers of Australia and Japan) should also discuss these brewing crises. Talking about such issues will be productive—every member of the Quad has a strong incentive in stopping famines—while avoiding excoriations of India for its neutral position on the war. India wants to be engaged, not shamed, and so this lighter approach is Washington’s best bet for bringing India’s response to the war in Ukraine into alignment with its own.

FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES

For India, closely embracing the West may be discomforting. New Delhi has a proud tradition of strategic autonomy, and it prefers a multipolar world in which it does not have to choose between major geopolitical blocs. Beijing knows this and has been happy to play into India’s concerns. It relishes the current situation in no small part because it views the conflict as an opportunity to woo India with promises of a multipolar world while at the same time driving a wedge between New Delhi and Washington.

But India should recognize that it would be a loser in such a system. China and Russia’s version of multipolarity would make it easier for authoritarian powers with revisionist goals to redraw borders, as China hopes to do in the Himalayas. Beijing and Moscow’s manifesto should underscore these risks. As part of the document, both states criticized the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy—which promises stronger cooperation with India.

But the best way for the country to protect itself is to not play into China’s and Russia’s hands. It is, instead, to exude strength—including by speaking out against Russian aggression, rather than being cowed by Moscow. And that means New Delhi should deepen its partnership with the United States, the country best positioned to help India achieve its great-power ambitions.

“Russian President Vladimir Putin Losing Eyesight, Has 3 Years To Live”

A Russian intelligence officer has claimed that President Vladimir Putin has been given three years to live as he has a “rapidly progressing cancer”, the Independent said in a report. The FSB (Russian Federal Security Service) officer also alleged that 69-year-old Vladimir Putin is losing is sight.

Vladimir Putin, who has been in power in Russia for over two decades, sent troops to Ukraine on February 24, sending shock waves around the world.  The report of failing health comes amid growing speculation that Putin’s health is deteriorating rapidly. However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sunday denied speculation that President Putin was ill, saying there were no signs pointing to any ailment.

Independent further said in its report that the FSB official revealed the latest about Mr Putin’s health in a message to former Russian spy Boris Karpichkov, who lives in the UK. “We are told he is suffering from headaches and when he appears on TV he needs pieces of paper with everything written in huge letters to read what he’s going to say. They are so big each page can only hold a couple of sentences. His eyesight is seriously worsening,” according to a part of the message released by news.com.au.

Metro and Express further reported that Mr Putin’s limbs are “now also shaking uncontrollably”. Earlier this month, Express carried a report which said that Mr Putin underwent a surgery to remove fluid from his abdomen. The operation “went well and without complications”, the report further said, attributing the information to Telegram channel General SVR linked to Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service.

However, Mr Lavrov denied the speculation around the Russian President’s health. “I don’t think that sane people can see in this person signs of some kind of illness or ailment,” Russia’s top diplomat said, answering a question from France’s broadcaster TF1.

Mr Lavrov said that Mr Putin, who will turn 70 in October, appears in public “every day”. “You can watch him on screens, read and listen to his speeches,” the foreign minister said in comments released by the Russian foreign ministry.

Moscow’s offensive has killed thousands of people, sparked the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II and led to unprecedented Western sanctions against Russia.

Dislodging China, US Becomes India’s Biggest Trading Partner

The US has surpassed China to become India’s top trading partner in 2021-22, according to the data of the commerce ministry. The India-US bilateral trade stood at $119.42 billion, a sharp jump from $80.51 billion in 2020-21.

India’s exports to the US grew from $51.62 billion in 2020-21 to $76.11 billion in 2021-22. Similarly, imports rose from about $29 billion to $43.31 billion over the same period.

India-China trade also grew during the period but with a lower rate, from $86.4 billion in 2020-21 to $115.42 billion in 2021-22. India’s export to China increased only marginally, from $21.18 billion to $21.25 billion in 2021-22. Imports jumped from about $65.21 billion in 2020-21 to $94.16 billion in 2021-22.

India’s trade deficit with China continued to grow, from $44 billion in 2020-21 to $72.91 billion in 2021-22.  The US is, however, one of the few countries with which India has a trade surplus. In 2021-22, India recorded a positive trade balance of $32.8 billion with the US.

China was India’s top trading partner from 2013-14 till 2017-18 and also in 2020-21. Before that the UAE was the country’s largest trading partner. The UAE was the third largest trading partner of India in 2021-22 with $72.9 billion of trade, followed by Saudi Arabia ($42,85 billion), Iraq ($34.33 billion) and Singapore ($30 billion).

With the ongoing geo-strategic churning that is witnessing economic and strategic realignment, Trade experts believe that the trend of increasing India-US bilateral trade will continue in the coming years. Several top global firms are reducing their overwhelming dependence on China for business. During 2021-22, India’s two-way commerce with China aggregated at $115.42 billion as compared to $86.4 billion in 2020-21, the data showed.

Exports to China marginally increased to $21.25 billion last fiscal year from $21.18 billion in 2020-21, while imports jumped to $94.16 billion from about $65.21 billion in 2020-21. Trade gap rose to $72.91 billion in 2021-22 from $44 billion in previous fiscal year. Trade experts believe that the trend of increasing bilateral trade with the US will continue in the coming years also as New Delhi and Washington are engaged in further strengthening the economic ties.

Federation of Indian Export Organisations Vice President Khalid Khan said India is emerging as a trusted trading partner and global firms are reducing their dependence only on China for their supplies and are diversifying business into other countries like India.

In 2021-22, the UAE with $72.9 billion, was the third largest trading partner of India. It was followed by Saudi Arabia ($42,85 billion), Iraq ($34.33 billion) and Singapore ($30 billion).

“In the coming years, the bilateral trade between India and the US will continue to grow. India has joined a US-led initiative to set up an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and this move would help boost economic ties further,” Khan said. America is one of the few countries with which India has a trade surplus. In 2021-22, India had a trade surplus of $32.8 billion with the US. —With PTI

What Do Americans Know About International Affairs?

Americans know a great deal about certain global leaders and institutions. For example, nearly eight-in-ten U.S. adults can look at a photo of Kim Jong Un and correctly identify him as the leader of North Korea, and nearly two-thirds know that Boris Johnson is the current prime minister of the United Kingdom. A slim majority also know that Ukraine is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

However, as a new Pew Research Center survey shows, Americans are less familiar with other topics. Despite the U.S. government labeling the events in Xinjiang, China, as genocide, only around one-in-five Americans are aware that it is the region in China with the most Muslims per capita. And only 41% can identify the flag of the second most populous country in the world, India.

On average, Americans give more correct than incorrect answers to the 12 questions in the study. The mean number of correct answers is 6.3, while the median is 7. But the survey finds that levels of international knowledge vary based on who is answering. Americans with more education tend to score higher, for example, than those with less formal education. Men also tend to get more questions correct than women. Older Americans and those who are more interested in foreign policy also tend to perform better.

Political party groups are roughly similar in their overall levels of international knowledge, although conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats tend to score higher on the scale than do their more moderate counterparts.

International knowledge is also related to people’s general interest in foreign policy: Those who report being very or somewhat interested in the topic answer a mean of 7.4 questions correctly, compared with only 4.6 correct questions for those who are not too or not at all interested in foreign policy. Those who follow international news also tend to have higher international knowledge than those who are less engaged. Those who have visited at least one country outside of the United States also score higher on the international knowledge scale than those who have not traveled abroad, even after accounting for differences in education and income.

Part of the goal of the survey was simply to understand these factors: what Americans know about international affairs and, more specifically, how knowledge varies across demographic subgroups. But another goal of the survey was also to understand how knowledge might affect attitudes.

We find that people who know more about an issue often have different views about that issue. For example, people who are aware that Ukraine is not a member of NATO are more likely to have a favorable view of NATO and more likely to say that the U.S. benefits a great deal from its membership in the organization relative to those who do not know Ukraine is not a member nation. This same group is also more likely to have negative views of Russia, to have no confidence at all in Russian President Vladimir Putin and to describe Russia as an enemy.

Similarly, the survey also finds that those who know the capital of Afghanistan are more critical of the U.S. withdrawal and how it was handled than those who do not know the capital. Those who are aware of where the U.S. Embassy in Israel is located (following the 2018 move) are also more likely to say U.S.-Israel relations are good than those who do not know. But there are few differences between the 17% of Americans who know that Xinjiang is the region of China with the most Muslims per capita and those who do not when it comes to views of China or Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Beyond the issue of how specific knowledge questions are related to attitudes about that topical area – e.g., how knowledge about NATO is related to views about NATO – we can also explore, more generally, whether people who have more international knowledge feel differently about myriad global issues than those with less international knowledge. To do this, we can use the entire 12-question scale, breaking people into groups of high (those who answered 9-12 questions correctly), medium (5-8 questions) and low knowledge (0-4 questions). Around a third of the American public falls into each of these three groups, respectively.

Generally speaking, we see that international knowledge is related to attitudes about a host of issues. People with higher levels of knowledge have more positive views of the European Union (EU), NATO and Israel. They also have more confidence in Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and U.S. President Joe Biden.

When it comes to both Russia and China, though, those with higher levels of knowledge tend to be more critical. They are more likely to see the two countries unfavorably, to describe both countries as enemies of the U.S. and to have little or no confidence in Putin and Xi. And, whereas Americans overall are equally likely to describe China and the U.S. as the world’s top economy, people with high levels of international knowledge are significantly more likely than those with less knowledge to say the U.S. is the world’s leading economic power – mirroring the gross domestic product assessments compiled by the International Monetary Fund.

These are among the key findings of a new survey conducted by Pew Research Center on the Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel among 3,581 adults from March 21 to 27, 2022. The survey also finds that when it comes to the four questions that we have previously asked, Americans’ level of international knowledge is similar – or higher – than it was in the past.1 In the case of identifying the leader of North Korea or the euro currency symbol, American knowledge has not changed significantly since the questions were last asked in 2015 and 2013, respectively. But when it comes to identifying the U.S. secretary of state, more can identify Secretary Antony Blinken (51%) than could identify Secretary Rex Tillerson (44%) in June 2017.2 More Americans are also able to identify the British prime minister now (65%) than were able to do so in 2017 (56%) – though this most recent survey was conducted following a scandal that kept Johnson in the news.

International knowledge varies markedly across demographic groups

Americans with more education tend to score higher on the international knowledge scale compared with those with less education. College graduates get an average of 8.0 out of 12 international knowledge questions right, including around half (49%) who get at least nine of the 12 correct. Within this group, people who have a postgraduate degree do especially well, averaging 8.2 questions correct, including 55% who get at least nine questions right.

Scores are lower among Americans with less education. Among people who have some college experience, the average number of correct answers is 6.3. Those who have a high school diploma or less education get 5.0 questions right, on average. These large education differences are consistent with past Center surveys on science knowledge and religious knowledge.

Men tend to perform better on the international knowledge scale than women

Overall, men tend to score higher on the knowledge scale than women. On average, men answer 7.3 questions correctly out of 12, compared with an average of 5.4 correct answers for women. In fact, for each of the 12 questions individually, a higher share of men than women answer correctly. This mirrors previous findings for both scientific knowledge and religious knowledge in which men tended to score higher than women.

Multiple studies have found that men are more likely than women to guess on knowledge questions, even if they don’t know the answer. If given the option, women are often more likely than men to say they don’t know. Indeed, on each of the 12 items tested in this survey, women are more likely than men to say they are not sure of the correct answer. On only four questions are women more likely to give an incorrect answer.

While men are more likely than women to answer each item correctly, this gap is larger on some questions than others. The largest gap between men and women is identifying the predecessor of the USMCA trade agreement. Nearly three-in-four men correctly answer NAFTA, compared with 44% of women. About half (52%) of women say they are not sure which trade agreement preceded the USMCA.

Older Americans have higher levels of international knowledge than younger ones

Overall, compared with younger Americans, older Americans – those ages 65 and older – perform best on the international knowledge scale, averaging 6.7 questions correctly relative to 6.2 for those ages 50 to 64, 6.4 for those 30 to 49, and 5.8 for those under 30. Around a third of this oldest age group answers at least nine of the 12 questions correctly, placing them in the “high” knowledge category, while only around a quarter of the youngest age group falls into the same group.

Across nearly all of the 12 questions, older adults are more likely than younger adults to answer them correctly. The gap is largest when it comes to three specific questions: current location of the U.S. embassy in Israel, prime minister of the UK and secretary of state of the U.S. In all three cases, the oldest age group is more than 20 percentage points more likely to answer correctly than the youngest group. But there are also three questions where younger adults noticeably outperform their older counterparts. Two of them are questions that relate to pictures: one identifying the euro symbol and the other identifying the Indian flag. Younger adults are also more likely to correctly identify the region of China with the highest per capita Muslim population.

While younger people are somewhat more likely to say they are not sure when it comes to six of the questions, they are also more likely to give incorrect answers for seven of the 12 questions. For example, when it comes to identifying the current U.S. secretary of state, 51% of those under age 30 said they were not sure, compared with 37% of those 30 to 49 and around three-in-ten or fewer of those ages 50 and older. But this youngest age group is also more likely to be wrong: 19% chose an incorrect multiple-choice answer from the list provided, while only 10% of those ages 65 and older chose an incorrect answer.

International knowledge highest at ends of the political spectrum

Republicans and Democrats have roughly the same levels of international knowledge. On the 12-point scale, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents answer an average of 6.5 questions correctly, while Democrats and Democratic leaners get an average of 6.4 right.

There are, however, a few questions where members of one party perform markedly better than the other. More Republicans and GOP leaners know that the USMCA trade agreement replaced NAFTA and that the U.S. Embassy in Israel moved to Jerusalem in 2018 – both changes made under former U.S. President Donald Trump and pillars of his international policy. Republicans are also more likely to know the capital of Afghanistan. On the other hand, Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are more likely to correctly identify the flag of India and the euro symbol.

Generally, though, there are greater differences within parties than between them. Those at the ends of the political spectrum – conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats – score more than a point higher, on average, than the more moderate groups. While these groups both tend to be more likely to follow international news and interested in foreign affairs, this difference in knowledge persists even after statistically controlling for these factors. Liberal Democrats answer all but one of the 12 questions correctly at a higher rate than conservative and moderate Democrats. The same is true for conservative Republicans relative to liberal and moderate Republicans on three-quarters of the scale items. These patterns are largely consistent with measures of scientific knowledge conducted by the Center.

International engagement tied to higher international knowledge

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Americans who are more internationally engaged on a variety of fronts are more likely to have higher international knowledge than Americans who are not as engaged. For example, Americans who say they follow international news very or somewhat closely answer an average of 7.3 questions correctly; Americans who follow international news less closely answer only 5.2 questions correctly, on average. Only when it comes to identifying the flag of India are those who follow international news closely and those who do not equally likely to answer correctly. Following international news is a significant factor in international knowledge even after controlling for education and other key demographics including age, race and gender.

Interest in foreign policy also plays a part in international knowledge. Those who say they are very or somewhat interested in foreign policy answer a mean of 7.4 questions correctly, compared with only 4.6 correct questions for those who are not too or not at all interested in foreign policy. In some cases, the difference between those who are interested in foreign policy and those who are not can be quite large. On the question of which trade agreement the USMCA replaced, 72% of those interested in foreign policy correctly answer NAFTA, while only 37% of those not interested in foreign policy are able to identify the correct answer. Once again, interest in foreign policy remains a significant factor in international knowledge even after controlling for education.3

These differences don’t just extend to hypothetical interest. Americans who have visited at least one other country outside of the U.S. answer an average of 7.1 questions correctly, compared with an average score of 4.3 correct for those who have never visited another country. And while international travel is associated with more education and higher incomes, this gap is significant even when controlling for those factors.

International knowledge and attitudes about foreign countries and leaders

Based on the individual performance of the 12 international knowledge questions, we are able to divide people into three roughly equal groups: those who answered at least nine of the 12 questions correctly (31%) are termed “high” knowledge; those who answered five to eight questions correctly (37%) or the “medium” knowledge group; and those who answered fewer than five questions correctly (32%) or the “low” knowledge group.

Performance on the international knowledge scale relates to views of other countries and multinational entities. Those who have a high score on the knowledge scale are more likely than those with a low score to hold favorable views of the EU, NATO and Israel. For example, 73% of those who answer at least nine of 12 questions correctly hold a favorable view of NATO, compared with 58% of those who answer four or fewer questions correctly. However, knowledge is not related to views of the United Nations: Those with high levels of international knowledge are as likely to feel favorable toward the UN as those with low levels of international knowledge.

Americans who score better on the international knowledge scale differ in their assessments of countries’ place in the world. High scorers are 37 percentage points more likely than those who have a low score to say China’s influence in the world in recent years has been increasing. They are also significantly more likely to say India and Germany’s influence has been growing stronger. Conversely, they are 10 points less likely than Americans who answered four or fewer questions correctly to say the United States’ influence in the world has increased.

Evaluations of world leaders similarly differ by performance on the international knowledge scale. Confidence in Ukrainian President Zelenskyy is higher among Americans who answer at least nine questions correctly, compared with those with four or fewer correct responses. The same relationship holds for views of German Chancellor Scholz, French President Macron and U.S. President Biden.

High scores on the knowledge scale relate to more critical evaluations of Russia. While a majority of Americans see Russia very unfavorably, those with a high level of knowledge are 10 points more likely than those with low knowledge to have a very negative view of the country. These unfavorable views are reflected in how Americans see Russia’s relationship with the U.S.: Americans who score highly on the international knowledge scale are more likely than those who have a low score to consider Russia an enemy. They are also more likely to say Russia’s influence in the world has been getting weaker in recent years. While 30% of those with low knowledge say Russia’s international influence is waning, 42% of those with high knowledge hold this opinion. Attitudes toward Russia’s leader show the same pattern. Majorities across all groups say they have no confidence at all in Russian President Putin, but those with higher scores are 15 points more likely than those with four or fewer correct answers to hold this view.

Views of China are also related to international knowledge. Those who have high levels of international knowledge are more likely to describe China as an enemy of the U.S., to say that current U.S.-China relations are bad and to say economic relations between the two countries are bad. And when it comes to seven potential issues in the U.S.-China relationship asked about, the low knowledge group is the least likely to call any one of them a very serious problem. The gap is particularly large when it comes to tensions between China and Taiwan, which those in the high knowledge group are 30 points more likely to describe as a very serious problem than those in the low knowledge group.

Americans, overall, are equally likely to describe China and the U.S. as the world’s leading economy, but people with high international knowledge are significantly more likely than those with lower levels of knowledge to describe the U.S. as the top economic power (55% vs. 37%). Notably, this accords with the actual size of the two country’s GDP’s, according to IMF estimates.

Jaishankar’s Tough Talk On India’s Foreign Policy Priorities

Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has had geopolitical, military, and economic consequences for every nation on earth. The economic consequences is impacting every market and causing disruptions that will take time to recover. More than anything else, the invasion is causing a massive humanitarian crisis. Over two months into the war, with no end to the war in sight, the impact of the war has been felt in every corner of the earth.

As in any war, uncertainty of the outcome of this violent conflict is high. The escalation of conflict has triggered an immediate and steep rise in humanitarian needs as essential supplies and services are disrupted and civilians flee the fighting. The UN estimates that 12 million people inside Ukraine will need relief and protection, while more than 4 million Ukrainian refugees may need protection and assistance in neighboring countries in the coming months.

“I am here to focus on ways on how the UN can expand support for the people of Ukraine, saving lives, reduce suffering and help find the path of peace. I want the Ukrainian people to know that the world sees you, hears you, and is in awe of your resilience and resolve, UN Secretary-General António Guterres in remarks at a press encounter with the President of Ukraine in Kyiv, said on April 28th.

Countries across the globe have reacted to this situation in ways that suit their interests, based on their long standing relationship with Russia and the Western Alliance led by the United States. The message of the United Nations General Assembly is loud and clear:  End hostilities in Ukraine — now. Silence the guns — now. Open the door to dialogue and diplomacy — now.

President Joe Biden has condemned Russia for an “unprovoked and unjustified attack” on Ukraine while promising that his country and its allies “will hold Russia accountable”.

The Group of Seven industrialised nations strongly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and said they would bring forward severe and coordinated economic and financial sanctions against Moscow.

“This crisis is a serious threat to the rules-based international order, with ramifications well beyond Europe,” the G7 leaders said in a joint statement, adding Russian President Vladimir Putin had re-introduced war to the European continent.

A majority of the nations at the United Nations were  unanimous in their condemnation of Russia’s unprovoked invasion and the implications of its war crimes on the innocent. However, India, the rising power on world stage, abstained on all the 12 United Nations resolutions condemning the invasion. Its initial statements at the UN Security Council were decidedly mild, while the Indian ambassador did not even mention Russia by name, and avoided criticizing Russia for the invasion. Another major world player, China rejected calling Russia’s moves on Ukraine an “invasion” and urged all sides to exercise restraint.

There has been mounting pressure on India to condemn Russia. The Western nations have implied that there could be consequences for India’s ambivalence. Shortly after the invasion, U.S. President Joe Biden warned, “Any nation that countenances Russia’s naked aggression against Ukraine will be stained by association.” During a virtual meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in early April, Biden pressed India to align itself with the Western nations in condemning Russia. Despite leaders from several Western during their recent visits to New Delhi expressing understanding for the Indian position, India has not heeded to the wishes of the West.

India has been focused on seeking to establish itself as a major player on the world stage, trying to be a moderate voice on international affairs, responding to the new realities of the world, establishing friendship with the US, sometimes in its own terms, less reliant on Russia and diversifying its dependence for military needs and trade with multiple nations.

India’s career diplomat turned politician, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has been talking tough on India’s position on Russia-Ukraine conflict. While responding to questions from world leaders on the crisis Jaishankar pointed to challenges in Asia and India’s neighborhood — in Afghanistan, and from China — and said it was a “wake-up call” for Europe to look at these instances where “problems have been happening”.

For instance, in response to Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt at the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi last week, Jaishankar said, “You talked about Ukraine. I remember less than a year ago what happened in Afghanistan, where the entire civil society was thrown under the bus by the world. We in Asia face our own sets of challenges, which often has an impact on the rules-based order.”

“For India, the past week, without a doubt, belonged to external affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. It is hard to recall another foreign affairs minister who articulated India’s views so firmly and well in international for a,” Sandipan Deb  wrote in the popular magazine, The Mint.

“In recent weeks, Jaishankar has been sharp in his comments on Europe. In Washington DC, he said India’s total purchase of Russian energy for the month was “less than what Europe does in an afternoon”. Days earlier, speaking on the issue of sanctions as British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss listened, he said “it looks like a campaign,” Deb pointed out.

According to Jaishankar, India is prepared to take a much bigger role in global affairs and would help the world with more supplies of wheat to tame food inflation if WTO rules allow. He asserted the West has been oblivious to the pressing challenges facing Asia including last year’s events in Afghanistan and the continuous pressure on the rules-based order in the region.

However, while refraining from condemning Russia and not offering to mediate in the conflict just as some other neutral nations have done, it has been noted by analysts on foreign policy that  India is abdicating its rising role as a model democracy and world leader.

“Despite the rhetorical care the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has adopted to appear neutral, the time may have come for India, in its own interest, to rethink its stance,” Shashi Tharoor, an opposition member of India’s Parliament, a former Undersecretary General of the United Nations, who has served as Minister of the Government of India and Chair of the Indian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote in “Foreign Affairs.”

In recent days, India, still without naming Russia has criticized what is being done in Ukraine, in an effort to uphold the principles of international law India has traditionally upheld, especially, respect for the UN Charter and the sovereignty of states, the inviolability of borders, and opposition to the use of force to resolve political issues.

While pointing to the remarks by diplomat Shivshankar Menon, who stated, “Asia’s sense of its own difference—its focus on stability, trade, and the bottom line that has served Asian countries so well in the last 40 years,” Tharoor rightly says, “But it would be wrong to look at the reluctance to take sides that India and other developing countries in Asia have shown and conclude that a faraway war in Europe simply does not matter to the rest of the world. India’s dilemma is more complicated than its repeated abstentions on the Ukraine question imply, and it illustrates why the world order cannot simply remain what it was before the invasion.”

While describing India’s growing importance on world stage, Tharoor pointed out how in recent years has gained prominence and admiration. Tharoor wrote, India became a founding member of the G-20 when that organization was established in 1999; concluded a nuclear deal with the United States in 2005 that was portrayed as enshrining an “Indian exception”; took over the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2006, dubbing itself “the world’s fastest-growing free market democracy”; won then President Barack Obama’s endorsement of India’s claims to a permanent seat on the UN Security Council in 2010; got the UN to adopt an International Day of Yoga in 2015, showcasing its cultural soft power; and joined the quadrilateral security dialogue with the United States, Australia, and Japan known as the Quad.

With India’s recent stand in failing to condemn and isolate Russia, there are fears that India may face consequences for its ambivalence. Shortly after the invasion, U.S. President Joe Biden warned, “Any nation that countenances Russia’s naked aggression against Ukraine will be stained by association.”

“India’s lack of influence on Russia and failure to take a clear stand on the war have also undermined its case for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council,” Tharoor writes.

One way for India to salvage its reputation in the West would be to leverage its nonaligned position to play peacemaker on Ukraine. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba had asked “India to use all influence in its relations with Russia to force it to cease military aggression against Ukraine.”

I am reminded of what Jaishankar elaborated in what has come to be called the “Jaishankar doctrine” in his 2020 book The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World. “Asserting national interests and securing strategic goals through various means is the dharma of a state,” he wrote. India must discard “political romanticism” and think in realpolitik terms. There are no true friends or allies; the world is a “transactional bazaar”, a fact that India has long been in denial of. In this marketplace, India must advance and maximize its “national interests by identifying and exploiting opportunities created by global contradictions,” he wrote.

If that principle “no true friends or allies” in the world market place, it is time for India to come out of the shadow of past dependence on Soviet Union and show the world that India stands with truth, condemn aggression, deny autocracy and tyranny, respect true freedom, human rights and true democracy, and stand with and lead by example in India and around the world, India respects and appreciates freedom and democracy in letter and spirit.

Emmanuel Macron’s Reelection In France To Make Him A Powerful Player In EU

Soon after his victory was announced, French President Emmanuel Macron took the stage to the sound of the European Union’s anthem, the “Ode to Joy.” The symbolism was strong: The 44-year-old centrist’s election to a second term bolsters his standing as a senior player in Europe.

Macron is now expected to push for strengthening the 27-nation bloc and throw all his weight behind efforts to put an end to the war in Ukraine.

In his victory speech Sunday evening, he thanked the majority of French voters who chose him and vowed to lead a project for “a stronger Europe.”

“Europe is a framework for peace and stability. It’s our safer asset for today and tomorrow,” he said at a campaign rally in Strasbourg, home to the European Parliament. “Europe is what’s protecting us from crisis and war.”

Angela Merkel’s departure in December after 16 years as Germany’s chancellor, in addition to the United Kingdom’s exit from the bloc in 2020, positioned Macron to play a dominant role in the EU, where the Franco-German relationship is key.

Boosted by his victory, Macron figures to be in the spotlight when he pays an expected visit to Berlin in the coming days to meet with new Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who has had a low-profile debut on the international stage. French presidents traditionally make their first post-election trip abroad to Germany as a celebration of the countries’ friendship after multiple wars.

Ukraine will be at the top of the agenda for the encounter with Scholz, whose spokesman, Steffen Hebestreit, praised Macron’s victory over far-right, nationalist rival Marine Le Pen as “a good day for Europe.” Hebestreit added: “The French people made a good choice.”

France holds the rotating presidency of the European Council until June 30. Macron is scheduled to make a speech on Europe on May 9 in Strasbourg.

At some point, he may also travel to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Macron has long advocated for the EU to take more responsibility for its own defense, something he sees as complementary to the NATO alliance, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has only further strengthened that argument.

His victory “means the pursuit of an ambitious project for Europe,” said Tara Varma, who heads the Paris office of the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank.

“He will be advocating to double down on the European sovereignty agenda: on tech, on defense, on fighting economic coercion,” she said.

Varma added that an upcoming conference on the Western Balkans to be organized in June will provide “an opportunity to start rethinking the EU’s enlargement policy.”

Georgina Wright, director of the Europe Program at the Paris-based think tank Institut Montaigne, said that “Europe will obviously continue to be a key and central pillar to Macron’s mandate. I suspect he wants to go further and faster than he has in the past five years.”

However, he may encounter “tricky discussions” ahead, she said.

The introduction of a bloc-wide minimum wage, a carbon tax on imports and fiscal reform are among the main policies France wants to promote. France also wants to accelerate talks on a stalled overhaul of the EU’s asylum system.

To achieve such progress on touchy topics, Macron will need to seek international consensus among his counterparts.

“His challenge would be to get others to follow him,” Wright said. “He really needs to get Germany on board.”

But challenges loom. The leaders of Hungary and Poland, at loggerheads with Brussels over their rule of law standards, have expressed strong disagreement with Macron in the past. Tensions with Britain over the post-Brexit deal and migrants crossing the English Channel, meanwhile, are unlikely to calm down.

“Macron won’t have everything his own way,” said Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform. “Some Central and Eastern European member states will oppose French policies, the British will remain a headache and the Germans may thwart some French ideas.”

Areas of Franco-German divergence include key topics such as energy strategy. Macron is pushing to promote nuclear power as a way of becoming greener and more energy-independent, while Scholz’s government plans to shut down Germany’s last nuclear plants this year.

Germany is also expected to oppose a French proposal involving the use of shared EU debt for an investment plan aimed at coping with the impact of the war in Ukraine. The proposal is modeled on the unprecedented plan launched to get the bloc through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Macron may find a key ally in Italian Premier Mario Draghi, who has been pushing for tighter ties with Paris, including a pact signed with Macron in Rome last fall that was meant to establish Italy and France as the new motor of EU cooperation.

In congratulatory remarks following Macron’s reelection, Draghi emphasized the role of both countries, “working side by side with all of the other partners” to construct a stronger EU.

Nuclear Expert Cautions Against Unfamiliar New Nuclear Age

High-tech advances in weapons technologies and a return of ‘great power nuclear politics’, risk the world ‘sleepwalking’ into a nuclear age vastly different from the established order of the Cold War, according to new research undertaken at the University of Leicester.

Andrew Futter, Professor of International Politics at the University of Leicester, makes the warning in a research paper for the Hiroshima Organization for Global Peace (HOPe), published today (Friday).

While stockpiles are much reduced from the peak of up to 70,000 nuclear weapons seen in the 1980s, progress in a number of new or ‘disruptive’ technologies threatens to fundamentally change the central pillars on which nuclear order, stability and risk reduction are based.

Modern nuclear weapons – acknowledged to be held by nine countries including the USA, Russia and UK – are more capable and more precise than their Cold War counterparts, and at the same time, are being augmented by a new suite of strategic non-nuclear weapons that might be used against or instead of nuclear weapons.

Advances in offensive capabilities have, however, been matched in increasingly sophisticated sensing, tracking and processing technologies designed to detect, prevent and in some cases respond to a nuclear strike – often using Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Professor Futter said: “While we’ve seen a substantial reduction in the number of nuclear weapons held across the world, it’s important to remember that this reduction came about as much as a result of rationalisation than a genuine drive to disarm. After all, you can’t destroy a city twice, and it takes an enormous amount of money to build and maintain this technology.

“We’ve seen massive advances in the capabilities of these weapons and their support systems in the 30 years since the end of the Cold War, and there’s a danger that this means the established rulebook of nuclear doctrine could be thrown out of the window.”

However, there are potential political solutions as the world prepares to enter what Professor Futter terms a ‘Third Nuclear Age’. He continued: “Choosing the correct pathway for our nuclear future was hard enough in the past and there is no suggestion it will become any easier as we move into a new, potentially more complex and dynamic chapter in the nuclear story.

“Policy proposals to manage the challenges of the Third Nuclear Age are therefore inherently bound by whether one believes the best approach is to take our nuclear world as it is and seek to manage it through restraint, arms control, and norms; or whether it is possible to transition to a world where nuclear weapons no longer exist through sustained moral, ethical, legal and perhaps technological pressure.”

Deterrence, Disruptive Technology and Disarmament in the Third Nuclear Age’ is published by the Hiroshima Organization for Global Peace.

Disruptive Technologies and Nuclear Risks: What’s New and What Matters’, in which Professor Futter further explores the themes of new nuclear capabilities and their impact, is published in the journal Survival.

The Third Nuclear Age research project is funded by the European Research Council. Find out more at thirdnuclearage.com.

A New Dawn In Indo-UK Relationship

In Persian there is an old proverb: “Amad’an, nashist’am, ghuft’am, barkhas’tam’”, meaning “they came, they sat, they talked and then dispersed”. It actually means to say that nothing substantial was achieved by the visit or the talks. The same could be said about UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recent visit to India, after his two previous trips scheduled last year were cancelled due to Covid-19 pandemic.

The diplomacy nowadays, thrives on optics. On this count the BoJo visit clicked all the boxes, but was also marred by angry reactions on the social media on photos showing him in the driver’s seat at a JCB bulldozer. Perhaps his advisers were unable to connect the continuing controversy over bulldozers being used by the establishment against the minorities across India, or his close connections with the owner of the JCB, Anthony Bamford, an old Conservative Party donor and supporter, overweighed the local sensibilities.

The Gujarat leg of his visit, a carbon copy of his Home Secretary Priti Patel’s 2015 trip to the state, was in essence aimed at garnering the support of the Gujarati electorate back home, keeping an eye on his uncertain political future.

In Gujarat he also met Gautam Adani at his company’s head quarters. BoJo described the feeling of being in Ahmedabad similar to as those of Sachin Tendulkar and Amitabh Bachchan, two Indian icons used for boosting his own public image and trying to resonate or connect with the Indian audiences.

In New Delhi, he referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a “khaas dost” and continuously as Narendra during his speech at Hyderabad House. But no more “khaas” treatment to the Indian demands of a relaxed visa regime and post study work for the Indian students, an indication towards which was given in Ahmedabad, but not granted finally.

Bilateral Cooperation

His main focus remained the FTA between the two countries, as he expected to take back home something substantial in economic terms, particularly after his failed Brexit strategy. He urged the negotiators on both sides to hasten the pace of negotiations so as to have a final document ready for signing by Diwali in October. Certainly an over ambitious demand for an agreement, which has been under negotiations for more than last ten years.

Though the Indian side stated that it would demonstrate the same speed and urgency that it did in concluding recent FTAs with the UAE and Australia in recent months, yet nothing can’t be said for sure about an Indo-UK FTA, as there are many thorny issues on both sides.

British trade with India, the world’s second-most populous country with nearly 1.3 billion people, was worth 23 billion pounds ($29.93 billion) in 2019, much lower than the UK’s trade with some much smaller economies such as Ireland and India’s trade with smaller countries like Belgium which stands at 18 billion pounds.

Russian-Ukraine War

In addition, though not expressed overtly by the British side and neither by BoJo, the Russia-Ukraine war had an ominous shadow over the visit. Though his foreign secretary was very firmly told by New Delhi just 22 days before his visit that India is not going to change stand on its ties with Russia, BoJo thought he might be able to convince New Delhi to do so.

However, predicting the Indian response he had set the tone for this when even before meeting Modi he had said that he understands India’s historic ties with Russia, but still chose to lecture New Delhi on its relationship with ‘autocratic’ states, though this time also New Delhi politely stood its ground.

The manner in which the visit was seen by both sides, was remarkable by the manner in which the two prime ministers delivered their speeches at Hyderabad House. While BoJo avoided mentioning Russia, Modi reaffirmed the ties with Russia.

India-focused issues

Though the British side is referring to a host of agreements signed in different sectors, and BoJo’s statements on counter-terrorism task force being constituted and against the Indian economic fugitives currently at home in the UK, everyone is certain that they are just mere words, nothing substantial. His announcement of One billion pounds trade deals and creating 11,000 jobs is just peanuts for India.

Both sides also agreed to deepen bilateral defence and security cooperation. India welcomed Britain’s Indo-Pacific tilt and joining the Indo-Pacific Economic Initiative; on its part Britain announced the decision to ease the transfer of defence equipment and technology for India and also for developing an advanced jet fighter. But overall, nothing concrete was inked down by both the sides and the technology transfer could be viewed as just a gimmick to wean India away from Russia.

Overall, the two sides showed commitment to joint research, development and production of advanced weapons and related technologies. The two Prime Ministers also issued a statement on strengthening partnership in cyber-security domain, and plans to boost cooperation on mitigating climate change and promoting clean energy. But these agreements should be seen as just part of a normal bureaucratic visit.

The visit seems to be a hastily stitched plan, with no long-term goals and no narrative setting, and was unable to achieve anything bilaterally. In the end BoJo was unable to get anything substantial from India and his political troubles back home persists. The coming days will show how he’ll be able to deal with them and survive as even his closest Asian origin lieutenants like Rishi Sunak and Priti Patel, who were predicted to take over from him, are facing politically damaging controversies of their own.

UN Chief And Putin Agree On Key Ukraine Evacuation

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Russian President Vladimir Putin met one-on-one Tuesday for the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine, and the United Nations said they agreed on arranging evacuations from a besieged steel plant in the battered city of Mariupol.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the Russian leader and U.N. chief discussed “proposals for humanitarian assistance and evacuation of civilians from conflict zones, namely in relation to the situation in Mariupol.”

They also agreed in principle, he said, that the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross should be involved in the evacuation of civilians from the Azovstal steel complex where Ukrainian defenders in the southeastern city are making a dogged stand.

Discussions will be held with the U.N. humanitarian office and the Russian Defense Ministry on the evacuation, Dujarric said.

Guterres criticized Russia’s military action in Ukraine as a flagrant violation of its neighbor’s territorial integrity and urged Russia to allow the evacuation of civilians trapped at the steel mill.

Putin responded by claiming that Russian troops have offered humanitarian corridors to civilians holed up at the plant. But, he said, the Ukrainian defenders of the plant were using civilians as shields and not allowing them to leave.

The sprawling Azovstal site has been almost completely destroyed by Russian attacks, but it is the last pocket of organized Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol. An estimated 2,000 soldiers and 1,000 civilians are said to be holed up in fortified positions underneath the wrecked structures.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Monday ahead of Guterres’ visit, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba noted the failure of other foreign officials who visited Moscow to achieve results, and he urged the U.N. chief to press Russia for an evacuation of Mariupol. “This is really something that the U.N. is capable to do,” Kuleba said.

Guterres flew to Rzeszow, Poland, from Moscow late Tuesday and was met by Polish President Andrzej Duda. He is to go to Kyiv for meetings Thursday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Kuleba, and his meeting with Putin is expected to top the agenda.

Many analysts have low expectations for Guterres’ diplomatic foray into the Ukraine war. But U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq was unusually optimistic Monday ahead of the Moscow meetings, telling reporters Guterres “thinks there is an opportunity now” and “will make the most” of his time on the ground talking to the leaders and see what can be achieved.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Guterres has accused the Russians of violating the U.N. Charter, which calls for peaceful settlement of disputes.

He also has repeatedly called for a cessation of hostilities, most recently appealing unsuccessfully last Tuesday for a four-day “humanitarian pause” leading up to the Orthodox Easter holiday on Sunday.

The U.N. crisis coordinator in Ukraine, Amin Awad, followed up Sunday by calling for an immediate halt to fighting in Mariupol to allow an estimated 100,000 trapped civilians to evacuate.

Guterres said at a news conference after meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov earlier Tuesday that safe and effective humanitarian corridors are urgently needed to evacuate civilians and deliver aid.

To deal with “the crisis within a crisis in Mariupol,” he proposed coordination between the U.N., Red Cross, and Ukrainian and Russian forces to enable the evacuation of civilians who want to leave “both inside and outside the Azovstal plant and in the city, in any direction they choose, and to deliver the humanitarian aid required.”

The U.N. chief also proposed establishing a Humanitarian Contact Group comprising Russia, Ukraine and the United Nations “to look for opportunities for the opening of safe corridors, with local cessations of hostilities, and to guarantee that they are actually effective.”

Dujarric made no mention of a broader evacuation of civilians from Mariupol or Guterres’ Humanitarian Contact Group, but getting civilians out of the steel plant would be an important step.

On Saturday, a Ukrainian military unit released a video reportedly taken two days earlier in which women and children holed up underground in the plant, some for as long as two months, said they longed to see the sun.

“India And Indian Americans Need To Think About The Possibility Of A Reduction In Defense Supplies From Russia:” Dr. Sampat Shivangi

The world order has changed since the Ukraine war, said Dr. Sampat Shivangi, National President of Indian American Forum and a past Legislative Committee Chairman of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) after he attended a breakfast meeting last week with Senator Roger Wicker, the top Republican Senator from Mississippi.

“Here is a great opportunity for India that Senator Roger Wicker who is a great friend of India can help India in providing the defense needs of the country and with better technologies than Russia, even though Russia has been a steady partner of India,” said Shivangi, after his 1:1 meeting with the Ranking Member of the Senate Arms Services Committee last week.

“In a changing world order, post-Ukraine invasion, India and Indian Americans think about the possibility of reduction in defense supplies from Russia to India a steady friend and partner of India for many decades,” the veteran AAPI leader told this writer. “With plummeting and devastating effects of war, can Russia provide assured suppliers to India especially possible ban of Western digital supplies to Russia in their defense production?” Dr. Shivangi, a physician, and an influential Indian-American community leader asked.

The ongoing invasion of Ukraine by Russia has exposed the vulnerabilities of Russia made weapons and their effectiveness. While India has been a long-time friend and defense purchaser of Russia. According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, since 2010, Russia has been the source of nearly two-thirds (62 per cent) of all Indian arms imports and India has been the largest Russian arms importer, accounting for nearly one-third (32 per cent) of all Russian arms exports.

Between 2016 and 2020, India accounted for nearly one-quarter (23 per cent) of Russia’s total arms exports and Russia accounted for roughly half (49 per cent) of Indian imports, the CRS report said.

Dr. Shivangi is of the opinion that “It is apt time India should think alternative suppliers source. What can be a better source than US? We have a great opportunity here as our Senior Senator from Mississippi has been elected as a Ranking member of the US Armed Service Committee of the US Senate.  With his assistance and good offices, especially after 2+2 summit, I hope and look forward to such increased collaboration with the successful Indo pacific QUAD treaty.

With India being in a tough neighborhood, Russia will not be able to provide or be a major supplier to India as with its war with Ukraine it has lost an enormous amount of its war machinery and a Western ban on high tech imports. As a result, it will be tougher for Russia to provide its arms and technology to India, Shivangi said in a statement after his meeting with Wicker. It’s noteworthy that during Monday’s 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue, India and the US have agreed to step up military-to-military cooperation.

Dr. Sampat Shivangi has been a conservative life-long member of the Republican party, hailing from a strong Republican state of Mississippi.  He is the founding president of the American Association of Physicians of Indian-origin in Mississippi and is the past president and chair of the India Association of Mississippi. Advisor to US department of Health & Human Services at NHSC Washington, DC 2005-2008 President Bush Administration

A conservative life-long member of the Republican Party, Dr. Shivangi is the founding member of the Republican Indian Council and the Republican Indian National Council, which aim to work to help and assist in promoting President Elect Trump’s agenda and support his advocacy in the coming months.

As the National President of Indian American Forum for Political Education, one of the oldest Indian American Associations, Dr. Shivangi, has lobbied for several Bills in the US Congress on behalf of India through his enormous contacts with US Senators and Congressmen over the past three decades.

A close friend to the Bush family, Dr. Shivangi has been instrumental in lobbying for first Diwali celebration in the White House and for President George W. Bush to make his trip to India. He had accompanied President Bill Clinton during his historic visit to India.

Dr. Shivangi is a champion for women’s health and mental health, whose work has been recognized nationwide. Dr. Shivangi has worked enthusiastically in promoting India Civil Nuclear Treaty and recently the US India Defense Treaty that was passed in US Congress and signed by President Obama.

Dr. Sampat Shivangi, an obstetrician/gynecologist, has been elected by a US state Republican Party as a full delegate to the National Convention. He is one of the top fund-raisers in Mississipi state for the Republican Party. Besides being a politician by choice, the medical practitioner is also the first Indian to be on the American Medical Association, the apex law making body.

Days after the high-profile visit to India and the remarks by Mr. Daleep Singh, Deputy National Security Advisor to President Joe Biden at the White House recently, Dr. Shivangi hoped that this would not have a major impact on the Indo-US ties. “Many in India and many Indian Americans felt that Daleep Singh’s remarks were abrasive, coming from a fellow Indian American. Hopefully, his remarks have not muddled the water as reported in Indian media,” Mississippi-based Shivangi said in a statement. “India is a major QUAD partner of the US and will continue to have strong ties and mutual respect and friendship in the coming days,” he added.

Singh got front-page attention as the architect of economic sanctions against Russia in its war against Ukraine, he said. During his visit to India, Daleep Singh, in his interaction with reporters, cautioned India against expecting Russia to come to the country’s defense if China were to violate the Line of Actual Control as the two countries are now in a “no limits partnership”.

While moderating a session on “Latte with Legislators” organized by AAPI, Dr. Shivangi lamented that there is “a new wave of Anti-Indian American sentiments especially against Indian Physician group which makes up 15% of Doctors in the US,” Dr. Shivangi, feels, “IIt may be due to Indian Americans have the highest per capita income and highest education level in the nation.”

Calling it as “prejudicial” Dr. Shivangi, urged that “we need to resolve this prejudice against minorities. With this in mind, I requested Congressmen Jamie Ruskin from Maryland to seek his advice and possible way to resolve this. Congressman Ruskin was very supportive and offered his unconditional support.”

After meeting with the top Republican Senator, Dr. Shivangi thanked the Senator Roger Wicker for advocating that the US should help India address its defense needs so as to reduce its dependence on Russia. Recently, Wicker introduced a Bill in the US Senate to cut the backlog of thousands of Indians who are waiting on their Green Cards for decades. “He was gracious enough to introduce this Bill at my request, which was a great honor for me and many Indian Americans. He continues to fight for the cause of Indian Immigrants,” Dr. Shivangi said.

Pope Francis Makes Plea For Ukraine Peace, Cites Nuclear Risk

On what is supposed to be Christianity’s most joyful day, Pope Francis made an anguished Easter Sunday plea for peace in the “senseless” war in Ukraine and in other armed conflicts raging in the world, and voiced worry about the risk of nuclear warfare.

“May there be peace for war-torn Ukraine, so sorely tried by the violence and destruction of this cruel and senseless war into which it was dragged,” Francis said, speaking from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Square.

The pontiff had just finished celebrating Easter Mass in the square packed by faithful for the holiday for the first time since the pandemic began in early 2020. Applause erupted from many of the crowd, estimated by the Vatican to number 100,000 in the square and on a nearby avenue, when he mentioned Ukraine.

“Please, please, let us not get used to war,″ Francis pleaded, after denouncing ”the flexing of muscles while people are suffering.” Yet again, the pontiff didn’t cite Russian President Vladimir Putin for the decision to launch the invasion and attacks against Ukraine on Feb. 24.

People’s hearts are filled with “fear and anguish, as so many of our brothers and sisters have had to lock themselves away in order to be safe from bombing,” the pontiff said.

“Let us all commit ourselves to imploring peace, from our balconies and in our streets,″ Francis said. ”May the leaders of nations hear people’s plea for peace.”

In a clear reference to the threat of nuclear warfare, Francis quoted from a noted declaration of 1955: “‘Shall we put an end to the human race, or shall mankind renounce war?’”

He was quoting from a manifesto written by philosopher Bertrand Russell and physicist Albert Einstein. The manifesto’s text, sounding a grim warning against the consequences of nuclear warfare, was issued a few months after Einstein died.

Meanwhile, in Britain, the leader of the Anglican church, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, called for Russia to declare a cease-fire and withdraw from Ukraine.

Noting that in the Eastern Orthodox church followed by many in Russia and Ukraine Sunday marks the start of Holy Week — with Easter coming on April 24 — Welby exhorted Russia to withdraw from Ukraine and commit to talks.

Francis also drew attention to other wars in the speech known by its Latin name “Urbi et Orbi” — to the city and to the world.

“May the conflict in Europe also make us more concerned about other situations of conflict, suffering and sorrow, situations that affect all too many areas of our world, situations that we cannot overlook and do not want to forget,″ Francis said.

Two days after Palestinians and Israeli police clashed in Jerusalem, Francis prayed that “Israelis, Palestinians and all the inhabitants of the Holy City, together with pilgrims, experience the beauty of peace, of living in brotherhood and of accessing Holy Places” in reciprocal respect.

He called for peace and reconciliation for the peoples of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Libya.

Francis spoke plaintively about Yemen, “which suffers from a conflict forgotten by all, with continuous victims.” He expressed hope that a recent truce would restore hope to that country’s people.

He also prayed that God grant “reconciliation for Myanmar, where a dramatic scenario of hatred and violence persists,” and for Afghanistan, which is gripped by a humanitarian crisis, including food shortages.

Francis denounced the exploitation of the African continent and “terrorist attacks — particularly in the Sahel region,” as well as the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia and violence in Congo.

In Latin America, many have seen their plight worsen during the coronavirus pandemic, aggravating social problems stemming from corruption, violence and drug trafficking, the pontiff said.

But Francis found hope in the “open doors of all those families and communities that are welcoming migrants and refugees throughout Europe,″ referring to the some 10 million people who have either fled Ukraine or are internally displaced by the war.

At the Polish border station of Medyka, a paramedic from Warsaw helped set out a traditional Easter breakfast with ham, cheese and Easter cakes for some of the latest refugees from Ukraine, the majority of whom have streamed into neighboring Poland.

“They lost their homes. They are seeking refuge in our country,” said volunteer Agnieszka Kuszaj. She hoped that the meal would help them “forget for a moment about all the terrible things” that have happened.

Maria Dontsova, 31, who is from Kharviv, the heavily bombed city in eastern Ukraine said: “I wish all families peace who are suffering in Ukraine at this great holiday Easter.” Speaking in English, she expressed hope that war will end “as soon as possible, and people stop suffering, and we can prevent the war (from) spreading to Europe”

Earlier, the pontiff, who has a knee ligament problem, limped badly as he made his way to an altar set up in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. After Easter morning Mass, Francis boarded the white popemobile for a whirl through the square among the cheering ranks of the crowd.

In Spain, believers and secular enthusiasts flocked back in large numbers to Holy Week processions this week for the first time since the start of the pandemic after most health restrictions were lifted.

Ukrainian Refugee Crisis Ranks Among The World’s Worst In Recent History

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has created one of the biggest refugee crises of modern times. A month into the war, more than 3.7 million Ukrainians have fled to neighboring countries – the sixth-largest refugee outflow over the past 60-plus years, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of United Nations data.

There are now almost as many Ukrainian refugees as there were Afghan refugees fleeing the (first) Taliban regime in 2001, according to figures compiled by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). They represent about 9.1% of Ukraine’s pre-invasion population of about 41.1 million – ranking the current crisis 16th among 28 major refugee crises by share of population.

The Center examined all cases in the UNHCR’s database since 1960 where there were at least 500,000 refugees and similarly displaced people from a given country in a given year. The analysis doesn’t include “internally displaced persons” – those who have fled or been forced from their usual homes but haven’t yet crossed an international border. (Earlier this week, UNHCR head Filippo Grandi estimated that, all told, 10 million Ukrainians – nearly a quarter of the population – had been displaced either internally or externally by the war.)

How we did this

Syria’s civil war, which began in 2011, has created more refugees than any other crisis since the early 1960s, when UNHCR began keeping data on individual countries. Nearly 6.9 million Syrians – about a third of the country’s prewar population – are living as refugees or asylum-seekers outside their home country, with almost 3.7 million now in Turkey. An additional 6.8 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes but are living elsewhere in the country – meaning the civil war has uprooted about two-thirds of Syria’s entire population.

Afghanistan, which has been at war either with itself or with outside forces for more than four decades, has had more than 2 million refugees every year since 1981. The peak year was 1990, after Soviet troops had withdrawn from the country and the USSR-backed government was battling to hang onto power against a coalition of mujahedeen groups. That year, more than half the country’s total estimated population – 6.3 million people – were listed as refugees.

Venezuela has also seen massive population outflows over the past several years as the country’s economy has all but collapsed, its government has cracked down on dissent, and opposition efforts to unseat President Nicolas Maduro’s government have stalled. According to the UNHCR, more than 5 million Venezuelans are refugees in other countries, are seeking asylum, or have been otherwise displaced abroad – all told, about 15% of the current estimated population.

Ukraine Main Theme During Modi-Biden Talks

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Joe Biden met virtually on Monday, April 11, 2022, as India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh were in Washington for the fourth ‘2+ 2’ foreign and defense ministry dialogues with their U.S. counterparts. The war between Russia and Ukraine featured prominently in the opening remarks of both, media reports here stated.

During the opening segment of the bilateral meeting, Jaishankar, Singh, India’s U.S. Ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan were seen seated at the table with Biden.

The meeting also involved a discussion of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global economy and climate action, as well as regional and global issues, including those in South Asia and the Indo Pacific. The U.S. official briefing reporters said that Sri Lanka and Pakistan were discussed, but not in detail, with more detailed discussions expected over the next day and a half, i.e., during the course of the 2+2 meetings..

According to reports, U.S. President Joe Biden told Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that buying more Russian oil is not in India’s interest, as the United States pushes New Delhi to take a harder line against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Biden told Modi during an hour-long video call Monday that the U.S. is ready to help India diversify its sources of energy, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “The president also made clear that he doesn’t believe it’s in India’s interest to accelerate or increase imports of Russian energy or other commodities,” Psaki said.

The statement from the government of India regarding the meeting said the two leaders had discussed Ukraine at the meeting, as well as regional and global issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the global economy, climate and “recent developments in South Asia and the Indo-Pacific region”. Speaking to reporters on a briefing call, a Senior U.S. administration official said that developments in Sri Lanka and Pakistan had been “touched on” but not discussed in a detailed manner.

Modi, who spoke via videolink to Biden, described the situation in Ukraine as “very worrying” and said he had spoken, several times, with both Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin and had not just urged peace, but also direct talks between them. India’s unwillingness to call out Russia by name for its attack on Ukraine has not gone down well in Washington, but U.S. officials have also said that they hoped countries that have relationships with Moscow might leverage them to bring about a resolution to the situation.

“The United States and India are going to continue our close consultation on how to manage the destabilizing effects of this Russian war,” Biden said in his opening remarks. The US government’s readout of the meeting said that Ukraine was also discussed. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, a senior U.S. administration official said there was a “pretty detailed and candid exchange of views” on Ukraine but added that Biden made no “concrete ask” of India and Modi gave no “concrete answer”.

India has also continued to purchase Russian oil and gas, despite pressure from the United States and other Western countries to refrain. Russia has offered steep discounts on its energy supplies, and India has bought at least 13 million barrels of Russian crude oil since the invasion of Ukraine, compared with the 16 million barrels it bought in 2021, according to data compiled by Reuters.

The comment by the official was in response to a reporter’s question on whether any explicit commitments were sought from India in terms of Russian oil, and also with regard to condemning Russia for attacking Ukraine. Both the official and Press Secretary Jen Psaki emphasized that while payments for energy from Russia were not sanctioned, the U.S. was discouraging India from increasing its purchases of Russian energy.  In comments shortly after the bilateral meeting, Psaki said that Biden had “made clear” what the impact of US sanctions would be, adding, “We expect everybody to abide by those”.

“The President made clear that he does not believe it’s in India’s interest to accelerate or increase imports of Russian energy and other commodities,” Psaki said, adding that Mr. Biden had reiterated a U.S. offer to help India diversity its energy imports. India currently imports only a small 1-2% of its energy from Russia as per official estimates. Psaki used the words “constructive”  “productive” and “direct” to describe the conversation. She said the call was not “adversarial”.

Referring to Biden’s slogan, ‘Democracies can deliver,’ Modi said, ‘The success of the India-America partnership is the best means to make this slogan meaningful.” “At the root of our partnership is a deep connection between our people, ties of family, of friendship, and of shared values,” Biden said. The President was seen nodding as Modi outlined the humanitarian assistance that India had provided Ukraine.

“I want to welcome India’s humanitarian support for the people Ukraine, who are suffering a horrific assault, including a tragic shelling on a train station last week that killed dozens … attempting to flee the violence,” Biden said.

Modi expressed growing concern about the situation in Ukraine, particularly in Bucha, where the remains of many civilians have been found. “Recently, the news of the killings of innocent civilians in the city of Bucha was very worrying. We immediately condemned it and have asked for an independent probe,” Modi said.

A U.S. official described the call between the two leaders as “warm and productive,” saying Biden stopped short of making a “concrete ask” of Modi on Russian energy imports. During a short portion of the call open to reporters, Biden started the conversation by highlighting the partnership between the U.S. and India, saying the nations would “continue our close consultation on how to manage the destabilizing effects of this Russian war.”

Imran Khan Forced To Resign, Shehbaz Sharif To Be Pak PM

Members of the Pakistan Parliament are set to choose Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif as the next prime minister of Pakistan after former cricket star Imran Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote that ended his four-year run. According to media reports, Opposition parties were able to secure 174 votes in the 342-member house for the no-confidence motion, giving them the majority they needed to vote against Khan after Sunday midnight in Islamabad, two more than required to remove him from office.

PML-N chief Shehbaz Sharif has been nominated as the joint opposition candidate for the prime minister’s election. The 70-year-old is the younger brother of former Pak PM Nawaz Sharif. Reuters reported that Shehbaz Sharif has submitted his nomination to be Pakistan’s next prime minister to the legislature, after incumbent Imran Khan lost a no-confidence vote in parliament.

Khan’s party also submitted papers nominating the former foreign minister as a candidate, saying their members of parliament would resign en masse should he lose, potentially creating the need for urgent by-elections for their seats. Khan, the first Pakistani prime minister to be ousted by a no confidence vote, had clung on for almost a week after a united opposition first tried to remove him.

Khan’s ouster came after a fallout with Pakistan’s army over a range of issues, including interference in military promotions, his rocky relationship with the U.S. and management of the economy that saw inflation rise at the second fastest pace in Asia. Pakistan’s military has ruled the country for almost half of its 75-year history, and no prime minister has completed a full term in that time.

On Sunday, he repeated allegations that a foreign conspiracy was behind the regime change.  “The freedom struggle begins again today,” he said via his Twitter account, which is followed by more than 15 million and still describes him as Prime Minister of Pakistan in his biography section.

Parliament members will convene on Monday to pick his replacement, after Khan rallied supporters in cities across the nation on Sunday night against what he called “U.S.-backed regime change.”

Media reports stated, the vote that ousted Khan went ahead after the powerful army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, met Khan, as criticism mounted over the delay to the parliamentary process. The Supreme Court has also ordered parliament to convene and hold the vote. The military has ruled the country of 220 million people for almost half its nearly 75-year history.

The military had viewed Khan and his conservative agenda favorably when he won the election in 2018, but that support waned after a falling-out over the appointment of the influential military intelligence chief and economic troubles that led to the largest interest rate rise in decades this week.

Khan had antagonized the United States throughout his tenure, welcoming the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last year and more recently accusing the United States of being behind the attempt to oust him. Washington dismissed the accusation.

He thanked all the opposition leaders after the vote and promised that his new administration, if confirmed, would look forward. “This alliance will rebuild Pakistan and we will not indulge in the political victimization of the opponents,” he said.

“I don’t want to discuss the bitterness of the past. We want to forget them and move forward. We will not take revenge or do an injustice; we will not send people to jail for no reason. Law and justice will take their own course,” Sharif added. Shehbaz Sharif said Khan’s departure was a chance for a new beginning.

During Easter Week, Pope Francis Pushes For Peace In Ukraine

Pope Francis opened Holy Week Sunday with a call for an Easter truce in Ukraine to make room for a negotiated peace, highlighting the need for leaders to “make some sacrifices for the good of the people.”

Celebrating Palm Sunday Mass before crowds in St. Peter’s Square for the first time since the pandemic, Pope Francis called for “weapons to be laid down to begin an Easter truce, not to reload weapons and resume fighting, no! A truce to reach peace through real negotiations.”

Francis did not refer directly to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but the reference was clear, and he has repeatedly denounced the war and the suffering brought to innocent civilians. During the traditional Sunday blessing following Palm Sunday Mass, the pontiff said leaders should be “willing to make some sacrifices for the good of the people.”

“In fact, what a victory would that be, who plants a flag under a pile of rubble?” During his Palm Sunday homily, the pontiff denounced “the folly of war” that leads people to commit “senseless acts of cruelty.”

“When we resort to violence  we lose sight of why we are in the world and even end up committing senseless acts of cruelty. We see this in the folly of war, where Christ is crucified yet another time,” he said. Francis lamented “the unjust death of husbands and sons” “refugees fleeing bombs” “young people deprived of a future”  and “soldiers sent to kill their brothers and sisters.”

After two years of celebrating Palm Sunday Mass inside St. Peter’s Basilica without a crowd due to pandemic distancing measures, the solemn celebration returned to the square outside. Tens of thousands pilgrims and tourists clutched olive branches and braided palms emblematic of the ceremony that recalls Jesus’ return to Jerusalem.

Traditionally, the pope leads a Palm Sunday procession through St. Peter’s Square before celebrating Mass. Francis has been suffering from a strained ligament in his right knee that has caused him to limp, and he was driven in a black car to the altar, which he then reached with the help of an aide. He left the Mass on the open-top popemobile, waving to the faithful in the piazza and along part of the via della Conciliazione.

Palm Sunday opens Holy Week leading up to Easter, which this year falls on April 17, and features the Good Friday Way of the Cross Procession.

India Critical Of Russian Invasion, But Will Not Name It

India appeared to be giving up its diplomatic equivocation by offering its strongest criticism on the crisis in Ukraine yet by “unequivocally” condemning the killings of civilians in Bucha on the outskirts of Kyiv, media reports stated.

The statement by India’s Permanent Representative T S Tirumurti last week at the UN Security Council came after Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky described in stark detail the atrocities in Bucha. Tirumurti said, “Recent reports of civilian killings in Bucha are deeply disturbing. We unequivocally condemn these killings and support the call for an independent investigation.”

Tirumurti still managed to walk the fine line of delicately calibrated neutrality by not naming Russia even though the implication of his statement was obvious. “India continues to remain deeply concerned at the worsening situation and reiterates its call for an immediate cessation of violence and end to hostilities”, he said.

“We continue to emphasize to all member states of the UN that the global order is anchored on international law, UN Charter and respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty of states”, he said reiterating the stance New Delhi has taken during earlier U.N. discussions and votes over Ukraine.

India on Saturday abstained on a US-sponsored resolution at the United Nations Security Council that “deplores in the strongest terms” Russia’s “aggression” against Ukraine, but sharpened its language by flagging three important concerns — respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, the UN charter and international law—without naming Russia.

Hours later, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and said that he “urged India to give political support in the UN Security Council”. “Spoke with Prime Minister @narendramodi. Informed of the course of Ukraine repulsing Russian aggression. More than 100,000 invaders are on our land. They insidiously fire on residential buildings. Urged India to give us political support in UN Security Council. Stop the aggressor together!” he tweeted.

Zelensky made a video address to the U.N. Security Council during which he said there were dozens of other communities other than Bucha where the Russian troops had committed atrocities.

He said “there is not a single crime that they would not commit” and went on to describe in graphic terms what he claimed were Russian atrocities on the civilians of Ukraine. Quite strikingly, he likened the atrocities to those committed by the Islamic State terrorist organizations in the Middle East. He also showed the Security Council a video documenting what he described as war crimes with piles of bodies, some of whose hands were tied.

But Russia’s Permanent Representative Vasily Nebenzia offered Moscow’s familiar argument that images in the video were staged. He also claimed that those were victims of Ukrainian forces or “neo-Nazis”. It might be recalled that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had made a manifestly exaggerated claim that his military operation was aimed at “denazifying” Ukraine even though Zelensky and other members of his cabinet are Jewish.

Both, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo spoke of their horror at the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine. Guterres said, “I will never forget the horrifying images of civilians killed in Bucha”.

“I am also deeply shocked by the personal testimony of rapes and sexual violence that are now emerging”, he said while calling for an independent inquiry.

DiCarlo said, “The horror deepened this past week as shocking images emerged of dead civilians, some with hands bound, lying in the streets of Bucha, the town near Kyiv formerly held by Russian forces. Many bodies were also found in a mass grave in the same locality”.

“Reports by non-governmental organizations and media also allege summary executions of civilians, rape and looting in the Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Kyiv regions” she added.

Although there is no prospect of New Delhi acknowledging that its statement today was a clear departure from its careful neutral tone so far, it was quite clear that the Indian government’s concern at the atrocities had crept in more assertively.

Tirumurti said, “The situation in Ukraine has not shown any significant improvement since the Council last discussed the issue. The security situation has only deteriorated, as well as its humanitarian consequences”.

“When innocent human lives are at stake, diplomacy must prevail as the only viable option. In this context, we take note of the ongoing efforts, including the meetings held recently between the parties,” he said.

Tirumurti yet again pointed out that New Delhi had sent medicines and other relief supplies to Ukraine and will continue to do so.

It has been exacting diplomatic calisthenics for New Delhi since the invasion of Ukraine some 40 days ago because its historically robust relations with Moscow as well as its inordinate dependence on Russian manufactured armaments. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visit New Delhi last week in an obvious continuing effort to keep India on his country’s side.

The Prime Minister’s Office said that Zelenskyy had “briefed” Modi about the conflict in Ukraine. Modi expressed his deep anguish about the loss of lives and property due to the conflict, it said and reiterated his call for an “immediate cessation of violence” and a return to dialogue, and “expressed India’s willingness to contribute in any way towards peace efforts”.

While Modi had appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin for “immediate cessation of violence”, this is the first time that he has expressed his willingness to participate in peace process. Modi also conveyed deep concern for the safety and security of Indian citizens, including students, present in Ukraine. “He sought facilitation by Ukrainian authorities to expeditiously and safely evacuate Indian citizens,” the PMO said.

Though India’s statement after the vote did not name Russia, it is stronger than previous statements made at the Security Council on the issue in the last one month or so. The vote and the explanation by TS Tirumurti, India’s permanent representative to the UN in New York, came after sustained diplomatic pressure was mounted by the US-led Western bloc as well as Russia.

How Putin Underestimated Ukraine

In the eyes of the Kremlin leadership, the basic precondition of the successful war against Ukraine has been the perceived power of the Russian Armed Forces and possible superiority over the Ukrainian forces.

This idea is clearly visible in the numerous pre-war statements in which it was assumed that Ukrainian people would not fight, that they would welcome Russians, and that they would and should be ‘liberated’ or ‘protected’.

The reality showed the opposite. Not only did Ukrainian Armed Forces fight back, but Ukrainian society demonstrates unity and resistance, something that definitely contradicts the notion of a ‘divided East and West’ promoted by Russian propaganda for years.

Do Ukrainians still have different views regarding politicians, economic development, and even the state of their foreign policy? Yes, absolutely, as any other democratic nation should.

Still, according to the latest sociological surveys (March), 76 per cent of Ukrainian think that their country is going in the right direction, in February, this number was just 25 per cent.

Moreover, Ukrainians are not ready to give up Crimea and the occupied territories of the Lugansk and Donetsk regions: 86 per cent think that Ukraine should use all means necessary to return Donbas, and 80 per cent – to return Crimea – these numbers are also higher than they were before the war started.

A united Ukrainian people

The imperative of the Russian leadership was that Russian-speaking cities such as Kharkiv and Odesa would surrender first. Just before the invasion, there had been rumours in Odesa’s social networks that a mayor bought one million roses to greet Russian soldiers.

Moreover, Kharkiv appeared in the Ukrainian president’s interview with the Washington Post as a city that has the potential to be occupied by the Russian Federation. The latter provoked strong opposition among the local politicians and activists who have been publicly confirming the readiness to resist and the pro-Ukrainian mood of the city.

Some experts now consider that the brutal Russian shelling of Kharkiv is a punishment for that January position. In Odesa too, sociological polls on the third week of the war demonstrated that 91 per cent agreed that Russia is at war with Ukraine, 74 per cent absolutely disagreed that Russia is liberating Ukraine from ‘nationalists’, and 93 per cent supported the actions of President Zelenskyy.

Moreover, an initial plan that these occupied cities would quickly follow ‘the Crimea scenario’ of the fake referendum and the instalment of proxies as heads of the municipality did not work out.

The occupied cities of Kherson, Kahovka, and Energodar have seen daily participation of pro-Ukrainian demonstrations against the Russian forces. Mayors of several towns in Eastern Ukraine, including Melitopol, were kidnapped, but local inhabitants still did not support a new ‘leadership’.

In 2013, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians came to the Maidan after the brutal attack against a small group of students. In 2022, millions of Ukrainians, despite ethnicity, religion, or language preferences, came out in support of the towns that have been under constant attack.

While in January, the newly established Territorial Defence Forces of Ukraine was trying to attract 100 thousand reservists, in March, it is almost impossible to join the TDF because of quantity of applications.

These volunteers now have an experience of eight years of continuous war with Russia and bring both humanitarian aid and military supply. But what is most important is that people believe in the Armed Forces, and this trust and support is what makes the situation so difficult for the Kremlin.

2014 is not 2022

In the development of different strategic documents for the Armed Forces or diplomats of Ukraine, we always emphasised an important element – personnel and their motivation. Air superiority or outnumbering in personnel and missiles are important, but only if you have personnel ready to fight and with an understanding for what the country is fighting.

After three weeks of the Russian invasion, it seemed that despite military superiority, the Russian army is confused and demoralised. But unfortunately, not their leadership.

These examples clearly demonstrate the how the Russian leadership underestimated Ukraine’s military, as most conclusions were based on the 2014 situation. Ill-equipped Armed Forces, significant support of the pro-Russian political parties, misunderstanding of the undemocratic processes happening in Russia itself have diminished gradually after eight years of the occupation of Crimea and the war in Donbas.

The desire for peace cannot be confused with the willingness to surrender, and the desire for stability should not be confused with willingness to suppress a democratic and sovereign choice of people.

‘It is our land, it is our home’. ‘We are not contesting anybody or disputing over something. We defend our family’. ‘Don’t ask how is my family, my family is 44 million Ukrainians’. These are the most popular slogans these days. It is not nationalism or excessive patriotism.

This is the type of resilience which experts and politicians have been discussing during the last years. Ukraine adopted its first National Resilience Concept in September 2021. Six months later came a reason to check its validity.

Dr. Hanna Shelest is editor-in-chief of Ukraine Analytica and heads the security policy department at the Ukrainian think tank Ukrainian Prism. Source: International Politics and Society (IPS), published by the Global and European Policy Unit of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Hiroshimastrasse 28, D-10785 Berlin.

7 In 10 Americans See Russia as Enemy, While NATO Is Seen More Positively

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to a dramatic shift in American public opinion: 70% of Americans now consider Russia an enemy of the United States, up from 41% in January. And on this topic, Democrats and Republicans largely agree, with 72% of Democrats and 69% of Republicans describing Russia as an enemy.

A new Pew Research Center survey, conducted March 21-27, finds that just 7% of U.S. adults have an overall favorable opinion of Russia. Only 6% express confidence in its leader, President Vladimir Putin. In contrast, 72% have confidence in Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The ongoing war has brought renewed attention to NATO. Ukraine is not a NATO member, but it borders several member states, and NATO leaders have worked together in recent weeks to coordinate their responses to the crisis. Attitudes toward the alliance have grown more positive since Russia’s invasion: 67% express a favorable opinion of the organization, up from 61% in 2021. Meanwhile, 69% say the U.S. benefits a great deal or a fair amount from being a NATO member.

While both Democrats and Republicans (including those who lean to each party) hold largely positive views about NATO and U.S. membership in the organization, Democrats are consistently more positive, especially liberal Democrats. For instance, 85% of liberal Democrats think the U.S. benefits a great deal or a fair amount from NATO membership; among conservative Republicans, only 51% hold this view.

Still, partisan differences over NATO have shrunk somewhat over the past year. The share of Democrats and Democratic leaners with a favorable overall opinion of NATO has held steady at nearly eight-in-ten, but among Republicans and GOP leaners, positive views have increased from 44% in spring 2021 to 55% today.

The partisan gap on Russia favorability has also decreased. In 2020 – the last time this question was asked – there was a 17 percentage point difference between the share of Democrats with a very unfavorable opinion of Russia and the share of Republicans with that view; now the gap is only 5 points.

Democrats and Republicans are also now more closely aligned on views about the threat posed by Russia. In the current survey, 66% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say Russia is a major threat to the U.S., similar to the 61% registered among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. However, when this question was last asked in 2020, only 48% of Republicans considered Russia a major threat, compared with 68% of Democrats.

These are among the key findings of a new survey conducted by Pew Research Center on the Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel among 3,581 adults from March 21 to 27, 2022.

Most Americans have a very unfavorable opinion of Russia

Public opinion of Russia is overwhelmingly negative: 92% of Americans say they have an unfavorable view of the country, including 69% who have a very unfavorable view. Since the last time this question was asked on Pew Research Center’s online panel in 2020, almost two years prior to Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine, this strongly negative sentiment has increased by 28 percentage points.

Before switching to online surveys, Pew Research Center tracked Americans’ ratings of Russia in phone surveys between 2007 and 2020. In that time, assessments of Russia were never very positive, but they turned sharply negative in the spring of 2014, immediately following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which few countries have recognized – and never recovered.

While negative sentiment toward Russia has increased substantially among both Democrats and Republicans since 2020, Republicans’ views have changed more drastically. Around a third of Republicans and Republican leaners had a very unfavorable view of Russia in 2020, compared with 67% who now hold this view – a 35 percentage point increase. In the same period, the share of Democrats with a very negative view of Russia increased by 23  points. A small partisan gap in views of Russia remains, but Republicans and Democrats are not as divided on Russia as they once were.

Americans ages 65 and older (83%) are much more likely than adults under 30 (55%) to have a very unfavorable view of Russia.

A large majority of Americans now see Russia as an enemy

Changes in overall views of Russia have come alongside changes in how Americans perceive relations between the two countries. Just two months ago, Americans were more likely to describe Russia as a competitor of the U.S. rather than its enemy (49% vs. 41% at the time). Now, Americans overwhelmingly call Russia an enemy: 70% say so, with just 24% preferring to call Russia a competitor of the U.S. Merely 3% of Americans see Russia as a partner, down from 7% two months ago.

While broad cross-sections of Americans primarily see Russia as the United States’ enemy, those ages 65 and older are especially likely to hold this view, with 83% saying so. And while a majority of the youngest adults polled agree that Russia is an enemy (59%), they are far more likely than older adults to label Russia as a competitor.

More educated Americans are also particularly likely to name Russia an enemy – 77% of those with a postgraduate degree say this, while roughly two-thirds of both those with some college education and those with a high school degree or less education say the same.

While Democrats and Republicans largely agree that Russia is an enemy, there are some differences between partisan and ideological camps. Moderate and liberal Republicans are the least likely to name Russia an enemy (63% say this), while liberal Democrats are the most likely (78%).

Perception of Russia as a major threat at all-time high

With most Americans viewing Russia as an enemy, the share who believe that Russia is a threat to the U.S. is higher now than it has ever been since the Center first began polling on this topic in 2008. Overall, 64% of Americans say that Russia’s power and influence is a major threat to their country, 30% say it is a minor threat and only 5% say Russia is not a threat.

Mirroring overall views of Russia, Americans became more wary of the country in 2014, when just over half said it was a major threat to the U.S. At that time and in 2016, Republicans were more likely than Democrats to be concerned. This partisan difference both widened and flipped in following years, however, with Democrats much more likely than Republicans to view Russia as a major threat in each survey between 2017 to 2020. Since then, the share of Republicans who see Russia as a threat has increased, narrowing the partisan gap.

Though views of Russia as a major threat have shifted somewhat over time, the share of Americans who say Russia is not a threat to U.S. interests has never been higher than 10%.

Majorities of adults in all age groups see Russia as a significant threat, but this view is even more common among adults ages 65 and older (70% vs. 57% among those ages 18 to 29).

Amid Russia-Ukraine war, Americans positive on NATO, though partisan divides persist

As NATO faces increased scrutiny in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the political and military alliance is seen in a positive light by most Americans. Two-thirds have a favorable opinion of NATO. This marks a significant increase from the roughly six-in-ten who said the same of the organization in 2020 and 2021.

Prior to 2020, U.S. opinion of NATO was somewhat mixed. Roughly half or more of Americans expressed a favorable view of the organization, with opinion ranging from 49% in 2013 and 2015 to 64% in 2018. However, these figures are from phone surveys and are not directly comparable to more recent online American Trends Panel data.

While Democrats and Republicans are both generally more favorable toward NATO than not, Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are more likely than Republican counterparts to have a positive view. About eight-in-ten (78%) Democrats see NATO in a positive light, compared with 55% of Republicans. This pattern was observed in 2021, though Republicans have grown somewhat more favorable on NATO since this question was last asked.

There are notable differences within each partisan coalition: Liberal Democrats are somewhat more likely to hold a favorable opinion of the alliance than conservative or moderate Democrats (83% vs. 75%, respectively). Among Republicans, those who describe their political views as moderate or liberal are more positive about NATO than conservatives (61% vs. 53%, respectively).

Americans of all ages tend to have favorable opinions of NATO overall, but those ages 65 and older are more likely to hold a favorable view of NATO than younger adults. Roughly three-quarters (73%) of older Americans have a positive opinion of the organization, compared with 64% of those ages 18 to 29. Eight-in-ten of those with a postgraduate degree express a favorable opinion of NATO – significantly more than the share with a bachelor’s degree (73%), some college (64%) or a high school degree or less (59%).

The degree to which U.S. adults pay attention to world affairs impacts NATO favorability. Those who are interested in foreign policy (71%) are more likely to express a positive view than those who are not (56%).

About seven-in-ten Americans (69%) say the U.S. benefits a great deal or a fair amount from being a member of NATO, with 31% saying the U.S. benefits a great deal. In contrast, 29% say the U.S. benefits not too much or doesn’t benefit at all. The share who believe the U.S. benefits from NATO membership has held steady since 2021, when 71% held the same view.

Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are more likely than Republicans and Republican leaners to believe the U.S. benefits from belonging to the alliance. Roughly eight-in-ten Democrats (82%) express this opinion, compared with 55% of Republicans who say the same.

Age and education impact the way NATO membership is perceived. Older Americans (those ages 65 and older) are more likely than younger adults to believe the U.S. benefits from being a member of NATO. About three-quarters of those 65 and older (77%) hold this view, compared with 69% of those ages 18 to 29. And 79% of those with a postgraduate degree are positive about NATO membership – significantly more than in any other education group.

Interest in international affairs is also linked to support for NATO membership. U.S. adults who say they are interested in keeping up to date on foreign affairs are more likely than those who are not to believe the U.S. benefits from membership in NATO (72% vs. 64%, respectively). Similarly, those who follow international news very or somewhat closely are more likely to have a favorable view of U.S. NATO membership than those who do not (72% vs. 66%, respectively).

United Nations & Its Leadership Challenged By An Existential Crisis

The other day a friend asked me “Can Russia be expelled from the General Assembly by a two-thirds majority?”  Almost impossible to do that, I responded.

Two of the articles of the Charter of the United Nations relate to the issue of possible exclusion of Russia from the United Nations. Article 5 talks about suspension and Article 6 talks about expulsion. According to those articles, the action needs be taken by the General Assembly with two-thirds majority, upon the recommendation of the Security Council. That recommendation of the Council cannot be made as it is subject to veto by the Russian Federation as one of the five Permanent Members.

The obvious follow-up question was “Has any country been ever expelled or suspended from the General Assembly?”  The U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) has effectively excluded a state on three occasions: Cambodia in 1997, Yugoslavia in 1992 and South Africa in 1974.

UNGA Resolution 47/1 was adopted on 22 September 1992 expelled Yugoslavia from the UN General Assembly. In this case, the Security Council by its Resolution 777 (1992) recommended action under Article 6 of the UN Charter, considering that the nation known as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had ceased to exist and therefore recommended to the General Assembly to exclude Yugoslavia from General Assembly and asked the country as constituted to apply for membership in the United Nations.

Some countries tried to expel South Africa, which was one of the 51 founding members of the United Nations in 1945, because of its policy of apartheid, but the three permanent members of the Security Council – France, UK, and US – used their veto power to block that move.

After the Council informed the General Assembly on its failure to adopt a resolution, the then President of the General Assembly, Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, ruled that the delegation of South Africa should be refused participation in the work of the General Assembly. His ruling was upheld by 91 votes to 22, with 19 abstentions on 12 November 1974.

Although remaining a member of the UN, South Africa was not represented at subsequent sessions of the General Assembly. Following South Africa’s successful democratic elections of May 1994, after 20 years of refusing to accept the credentials of the South African delegation, the General Assembly unanimously welcomed South Africa back to full participation in the United Nations on 23 June 1994. It also deleted its agenda item on “the elimination of apartheid and the establishment of a united, democratic and nonracial South Africa.”

It is also important recall that in 1962, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling on all member states to impose a trade boycott against South Africa. A US Congressional legislation aimed to ban all new U.S. trade and investment in South Africa and that acted as a catalyst for similar sanctions in Europe and Japan. In 1963, the UN Security Council called for partial arms ban against South Africa, but this was not mandatory under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

Deadlock but not dead-end – other courses of action

As mentioned earlier, the suspension or expulsion of Russia is “almost impossible” according to the UN Charter. To that, I would add that it is a deadlock but not a dead-end.

Some UN watchers are of the opinion that there are still ways to limit Russia’s presence in the U.N. beyond the Security Council as has been decided today (7 April) by the UNGA to suspend its membership in the UN Human Rights Council.

According to the General Assembly’s 1950 resolution 377A (V), widely known as ‘Uniting for Peace’, if the Security Council is unable to act because of the lack of unanimity among its five veto-wielding permanent members, the Assembly has the power to make recommendations to the wider UN membership for collective measures to maintain or restore international peace and security.

For instance. most frequently, the Security Council determines when and where a UN peace operation should be deployed, but historically, when the Council has been unable to take a decision, the General Assembly has done so. For example, in 1956, the General Assembly established the First UN Emergency Force (UNEF I) in the Middle East.

In addition, the General Assembly may meet in Emergency Special Session if requested by nine members of the Security Council or by a majority of the Members of the Assembly. To date, the General Assembly has held 11 Emergency Special Sessions (8 of which have been requested by the Security Council).

On 1 March 2022, the General Assembly, meeting in emergency session, adopted a resolution by which it deplored “the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine in violation of Article 2 (4) of the Charter. Can any other process feasibly be exploited to suspend a state in such circumstances, as a way of circumventing article 5? Yes, there is a way to try that.

Though the General Assembly resolutions are non-binding, but they are considered to carry political weight as they express the will of the wider UN membership.

Some UN watchers believe that Article 5 of the Charter is not completely the end of the road on suspension. They are of the opinion that that there are two dimensions to a state’s participation in the UN: the actual membership of the state (the subject of article 5 of the Charter); and the representation of that state at the General Assembly’s sessions.

Matters of representation are considered in the context of the General Assembly’s credentials process, which is the process by which the Assembly assesses the eligibility of individual delegates to represent their states at the Assembly’s annual sessions. The process is essentially procedural in nature. It is regulated not by the UN Charter but by the Assembly’s Rules of Procedure.

While the credentials process is usually a procedural one, the credentials process effectively gives the General Assembly the power to decide which authority should be regarded as the legitimate representative of the state – at least so far as the UN is concerned. UNGA could vote to suspend Russian delegation from participating in the General Assembly, a step that does not require the Security Council.

In this context, it has been asserted that “ This move, which would strip Russia of its right to speak or vote at the UN but allow it to retain membership, previously happened in 1974, when diplomats voted to suspend South Africa for its apartheid system.”

Veto is the Chief Culprit

The headline of my opinion piece for the IPS wire of 8 March 2022 argued that “Veto is the Chief Culprit” emphasizing that “Expulsion or Suspension is Not the Remedy”. Since 1946, all five permanent members have exercised the right of veto at one time or another on a variety of issues.

To date, approximately 49 per cent of the vetoes had been cast by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and thereafter the Russian Federation, 29 per cent by the United States, 10 per cent by the United Kingdom, and six per cent each by China and France.

I repeat my main contention in that opinion as “The chief culprit in the failure of unified global action by the UN is the continuation of the irrational practice of veto. As a matter, I have said on record that, if only one reform action could be taken, it should be the abolition of veto. Believe me, the veto power influences not only the decisions of the Security Council but also all work of the UN, including importantly the choice of the Secretary-General.”

Further, I added, “I believe the abolition of veto requires a greater priority attention in the reforms process than the enlargement of the Security Council membership with additional permanent ones. Such permanency is simply undemocratic. I believe that the veto power is not “the cornerstone of the United Nations” but in reality, its tombstone.”

Proactive UN leadership missing

Amid all these legal explanations, diplomatic exchanges, and diverse conjectures, it is unfortunate that questions have been raised about the reticence of the UN Secretary-General in getting his hands dirty and in getting more actively involved in towards ending the Russian aggression and promoting peace in Ukraine.

As much as I recall, this is first time the world public has done that about the role of the UN leadership so vocally. The UN website mentions “near daily press stakeouts by the Secretary-General” on the war in Ukraine. Is this the extent of his active role and involvement?

Well-respected UN watcher and former high UN official Kul Chandra Gautam in an opinion piece recently even exhorted the SG “not to hide behind the glasshouse at Turtle Bay and go beyond invisible subtle diplomacy to more visible shuttle diplomacy.” That is the way to go.

On 3 April, the UN website publicized a Twitter message from the SG saying: “I am deeply shocked by the images of civilians killed in Bucha, Ukraine. It is essential that an independent investigation leads to effective accountability.”

Just two pitiable sentences in Twitter (I wonder how many of the global population has a Twitter account). His operatives – the UN secretariat – misled the world by the trick headline: “UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Sunday called for an independent investigation into the killing of civilians in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, a suburb of the capital, Kyiv.”

Which official language(s) of the UN would interpret “It is essential that an independent investigation leads to effective accountability” as “called for an independent investigation”? This is the height of public deception. I wonder why this is necessary.

The Ukraine President lamented on 5 April about the failure of UN Security Council saying that the Council can “dissolve yourselves altogether” if there is nothing it can do other than engage in conversation. First time, a UN Member State has spoken so frankly, so openly, so rightly in a speech before the Council which was at an impasse to stop the aggression in his country.

Unfortunately, it is widely understood that for the UN system, more so for the SG, the dominant instinct for being pro-active in any crisis situation is “the fear of failure.” That “fear” determines the process of decision-making in a big way. A global organization like UN should be smart and mature enough to understand the value of critical opinions to improve its efficacy. Unfortunately, we are not there.

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury is Former Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the UN; President of the UN Security Council (2000 and 2001); Senior Special Adviser to UN General Assembly President (2011-2012) and Former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN.

Marine Le Pen To ‘Win’ French Election, Even If She Loses

The first round of the French Presidential election is scheduled for Sunday, April 10 and the race between Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron is growing tighter. 

Mabel Berezin is a comparative sociologist at Cornell University whose work explores fascist, nationalist and populist movements in Europe and associated threats to democracy. Berezin says:  “In this year of major European elections, France was supposed to be the predictable election. For the second time, Emmanuel Macron is likely to run against Marine Le Pen, leader of the Rassemblement National, formerly extreme-right Front. When Russian President Vladimir Putin marched into Ukraine, the standard election media narrative was that Macron, the sitting French President, despite being widely unpopular, would be re-elected easily. 

“However, analysts of all stripes are not as confident in a Macron victory as they were merely a week ago. In 2017, Le Pen lost to Macron by 34 percentage points. Now, polls on the second-round place her at 46% versus Macron at 54%. This is close enough to elicit worry. 

“Le Pen is on her third try for the French Presidency. She had more competitors this time than she had in 2017. Eric Zemmour tried to outflank her on the right; Jean-Luc Mélenchon on the left. Why is she moving ahead of her competitors? She has chosen to run on economic issues and to downplay her usual line on immigration and security.

“In 2017, when she conceded the election to Macron, she argued that the future political debate in France would be between the ‘globalists’ and the ‘patriots’ – the latter referring to citizens rooted in place and dependent on national institutions. This is not only a French debate. It is increasingly a transnational debate as evidenced by its salience in recent elections across the globe. Marine Le Pen has identified and owns the conceptual frame of a new political moment. Whatever happens on April 24, she wins.”

Pope Francis Condemns ‘Sacrilegious War’ In Ukraine, While Biden Calls Putin A War Criminal

Pope Francis has denounced Russia’s “repugnant war” against Ukraine as “cruel and sacrilegious inhumanity.” In some of his strongest words yet since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, Francis on Sunday told thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square that every day brings more atrocities in what is a “senseless massacre.”

Pope Francis who has always been in the forefront denouncing violence, said, “Sadly, the violent aggression against Ukraine does not stop, a senseless massacre where each day slaughter and atrocities are repeated,” the pope said March 20th after reciting the midday Angelus prayer with visitors in St. Peter’s Square.

“There is no justification for this!” he told an estimated 30,000 people who had come to the square to pray with him. Pope Francis once again urged international leaders to work together to put an end “to this repugnant war.”

Meanwhile, in the strongest of criticisms mounted on Russian President Vladimir Putin, American President Joe Biden called Putin a “war criminal,” a rhetorical leap that came as civilian deaths mount in Ukraine. Speaking with reporters last week, Biden affixed the designation on the Russian leader. “I think he is a war criminal,” the President said during remarks at the White House.

It was the harshest condemnation of Putin’s actions from any US official since the war in Ukraine began three weeks ago. Previously, Biden had stopped short of labeling atrocities being documented on the ground in Ukraine as “war crimes,” citing ongoing international and US investigations.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine Feb. 24, missiles and bombs have continued to fall “on civilians, the elderly, children and pregnant mothers,” he said. “I went to see the wounded children here in Rome. One of them is missing an arm, the other has a head wound,” he said. That happened to “innocent children.”

While Biden had traveled to Europe to solidify a united front against Russian aggression and devastation on Ukraine, Pope Francis had gone on March 19 to the Vatican-owned Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital where some 50 Ukrainian children had been cared for since the war began. Initially, the Vatican said, most of the young Ukrainian patients were brought to Rome for treatment for cancer, neurological or other diseases. Pope Francis also drew attention to the almost 3.4 million people who have fled Ukraine, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency.

“And I feel great sorrow for those who don’t even have the chance to escape,” he said. “So many grandparents, sick and poor, are separated from their families,” the pope said; “so many children and fragile people are left to die under the bombs without receiving help and without finding safety even in air-raid shelters,” some of which have been bombed.

“All this is inhuman,” he said. “Indeed, it is even sacrilegious, because it goes against the sanctity of human life, especially against defenseless human life, which must be respected and protected, not eliminated, and which comes before any strategy!”

Pope Francis also expressed his gratitude for the bishops, priests and religious who have stayed with their people, living “under the bombs.” They are “living the Gospel of charity and fraternity.” “Thank you, dear brothers and sisters, for this witness and for the concrete support you are courageously offering to so many desperate people,” the pope said.

He specifically mentioned Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, the Lithuania-born nuncio to Ukraine, “who since the beginning of the war has remained in Kyiv” and is a sign of the pope’s closeness “to the tormented Ukrainian people.”

Pope Francis urged everyone to continue to pray for peace, to pray for the people of Ukraine and to offer concrete assistance to them. “And, please, let’s not get used to war and violence,” he said. “Let’s not tire of welcoming them (the refugees) with generosity, as we are doing.”

The assistance will need to continue for “weeks and months to come,” especially for the women and children forced to flee without their husbands and fathers and without work, which makes them targets of human traffickers, whom the pope called “vultures.”

While reminding the world, “Do not forget,” the pope said, “it is cruel, inhuman and sacrilegious!” He urged “every community and every believer to join me on Friday, March 25, the feast of the Annunciation, in making a solemn act of consecration of humanity, especially of Russia and Ukraine, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, so that she, the Queen of Peace, may obtain peace for the world.”

After Imran Khan Dissolves Pak Parliament, Court To Decide His Fate

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan avoided a no-confidence motion that was set to happen on  April 3rd, by dissolving the Pakistan Parliament ahead of the crucial vote. Now, Pakistan’s supreme court is expected to decide the fate of embattled Prime Minister Imran Khan, following a day of political turmoil.

Khan, who is facing the toughest challenge of his political career, requested the country’s president dissolve Parliament and called on the nation to prepare for a fresh election. Pakistan’s president Arif Alvi – who is from Khan’s ruling PTI party – dissolved parliament in a step towards early elections. The move has sparked anger among the opposition, with some politicians accusing Mr Khan of “treason” for not allowing the vote to go ahead. But in a television address and a series of late night tweets Khan defended the decision.

As per BBC reports, Khan has faced an attempt to oust him from office in recent days. But in a move that has roiled the country, members of Khan’s party on Sunday,  blocked a vote of no-confidence in the PM and dissolved Parliament. Elections are likely to follow and the question remains uncertain as to who will lead Pakistan into its 76th year after it gained independence from Britain and got separated from India as a Muslim majority country. No prime minister of Pakistan has ever completed a full term and, over the 75 years of its existence, Pakistan has failed to establish stable and effective political institutions.

Less than a day from a no-confidence vote that will almost certainly remove him from office, Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan said that he would not accept the result of the vote, dismissing it as part of an American conspiracy against him and setting the stage for the country’s political crisis to drag on far beyond Sunday, as Khan fights to remain in politics, New York Timers reported.

For months, Khan has been battling depleting foreign exchange reserves and double digit inflation, with the cost of basic necessities such as food and fuel skyrocketing. Khan had claimed the vote was part of a US-led conspiracy to remove him, but the US has denied this. Furious opposition politicians have now filed a petition to the Supreme Court to rule on whether the move to block the vote was constitutional.

Pakistan’s main opposition parties have been rallying for Khan’s dismissal since he rose to power in 2018 after a dramatic election mired in accusations of vote rigging and foul play. Khan was widely regarded as having come to power with the help of Pakistan’s army, but they have since fallen out, according to observers. His political opponents then seized this opportunity to demand a no-confidence vote after persuading a number of his coalition partners to defect to them.

Khan’s perceived failure to work in tandem with his allies, as well as country’s powerful military, had led to a breakdown of relations within his coalition government. As per Times, the no-confidence vote slated for Sunday was the culmination of a political crisis that has consumed Pakistan for weeks after Khan, the international cricket star turned politician, appeared to lose support from the country’s powerful military last year and a coalition of opposition parties moved to vote him out of office last month.

The Times reported that, this week, the tide appeared to turn against Khan after several parties in his governing coalition split away — giving the opposition the simple majority needed in the 342-member National Assembly to remove him from office, and prompting calls for him to resign ahead of the vote.

According to reports, the country’s powerful military, which has not publicly taken a side in the current political crisis, seemed to distance itself from Khan’s policy agenda. Speaking at a security conference in Islamabad, the army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, said that Pakistan hoped to expand and deepen its ties with other countries, including the United States — a sharp rebuke to Mr. Khan’s foreign policy agenda distancing Pakistan from the United States. General Bajwa said that Pakistan “shares a long history of excellent and strategic relationship with the U.S.,” adding that the United States represents Pakistan’s largest exports market.

No Pakistani leader has completed a full five-year term as prime minister since the country’s formation in 1947. There are now concerns Khan’s move to call an early election could risk further political instability in the South Asian nation.

Pakistan Army Chief Bajwa Wants Disputes With India Be Settled Through Dialogue

Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Bajwa on Saturday said that all disputes with India should be settled peacefully through dialogue, saying Islamabad continues to believe in using diplomacy to resolve all outstanding issues, including Kashmir, to keep the “flames of fire away from our region.” Gen. Bajwa said this at the last day of the two-day ‘Islamabad Security Dialogue’ conference that brought together Pakistani and international policy experts to discuss emerging challenges in international security under the theme “Comprehensive Security: Reimagining International Cooperation”.

The Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) said that with one-third of the world in the Gulf region and elsewhere involved in some sort of conflict and war, “it is important that we keep the flames of fire away from our region.”

The Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) said that with one-third of the world in the Gulf region and elsewhere involved in some sort of conflict and war, “it is important that we keep the flames of fire away from our region”.

“Pakistan continues to believe in using dialogue and diplomacy to resolve all outstanding issues including the Kashmir dispute and is ready to move forward on this front if India agrees to do so,” Gen. Bajwa said.

“Pakistan continues to believe in using dialogue and diplomacy to resolve all outstanding issues including the Kashmir dispute and is ready to move forward on this front if India agrees to do so,” Gen. Bajwa said.

His proposal for peace with India had a wider meaning as he indirectly suggested to have some sort of trilateral dialogue involving India, Pakistan and China to create an inclusive peace, as he said that apart from the Kashmir dispute, the India-China border dispute is also a matter of great concern for Pakistan and “we want it to be settled quickly through dialogue and diplomacy.” “I believe it is time for the political leadership of the region to rise above their emotional and perceptual biases and break the shackles of history to bring peace and prosperity to almost three billion people of the region,” Gen. Bajwa said.

He, however, said that the adamant behaviour of the Indian leaders was a hurdle.

Bilateral ties with Pakistan deteriorated further after India announced withdrawing the special powers of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcation of the state into two union territories in August, 2019.

India has repeatedly told Pakistan that Jammu and Kashmir “was, is and shall forever” remain an integral part of the country. India has told Pakistan that it desires normal neighbourly relations with Islamabad in an environment free of terror, hostility and violence.

In Opinion |India can act today to shape tomorrow’s terms of connectivity with Pakistan

Talking about last month’s missile incident, he said that India’s “accidental missile firing” created doubts regarding its ability to handle high-end weapon-systems, which was compounded by its unwillingness to share details with Pakistan.

The missile fired on March 9 fell in the Mian Channu area of Khanewal district and it came to light a day later when the Army shared details of the Indian “high-speed flying object”.

India, in a statement on March 11, termed it an accident.

Gen. Bajwa said it was a matter of “serious concern” and “we expect India to provide evidence to assure Pakistan and the world that their weapons are safe and secure.” “Unlike other incidents involving strategic weapons systems, this is the first time in history that a supersonic cruise missile from one nuclear-armed nation has landed in another,” he said.

He also said that a “peaceful and prosperous West and South Asia is our goal” and Pakistan’s National Security Policy focuses on the promotion of national security cohesion and harmony through the precepts of unity and diversity.

Recognizing that it is the regions and not countries that grow, the COAS said: “We believe that peace and stability in our wider region are prerequisites for achieving shared regional prosperity and development.” “Our doors are open for all our neighbours,” he said.

Gen. Bajwa termed the situation on the Line of Control (LoC) as “satisfactory and fairly peaceful”, saying mercifully no incident had taken place along the LoC in the last year to the relief of the people living on both sides. He said that Pakistan believes in peace and using dialogue for resolving issues.

India is in a sweet spot, courted by the Quad, China and Russia

The Quad is willing to look past India’s refusal – including in four recent UN resolutions – to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

  • India’s value as a democracy and capacity as the only other military power able to push back against Chinese aggression in Asia is not lost on the Quad.
  • In a surprising turn of events, even traditional rival China is making overtures to India at this time, seeking New Delhi’s assent to a visit by Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine appears to have unwittingly put India at the sweet center of a diplomatic triangle in the Indo-Pacific.

As the war enters its fourth week, New Delhi has been receiving a stream of high-profile visitors from major capitals around the world.

At one end, this has included delegations from the United States, Australia and Japan, the three nations which are India’s partners in the Quad, officially known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue.

The Quad is willing to look past India’s refusal — including in four recent UN resolutions — to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

An informal grouping, the Quad works to deepen strategic cooperation on issues related to security, technology and the economy while implicitly countering China’s assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific.

The high profile visits are ongoing.

The foreign minister of Greece Nikos Dendias arrived on Tuesday and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is scheduled to visit in early April. But in a surprising turn of events, even traditional rival China is making overtures to India at this time, seeking New Delhi’s assent to a visit by Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Another suitor is Russia, India’s trusted arms supplier for decades, which is now also becoming a supplier of discounted crude oil to New Delhi as Moscow recoils from sanctions enforced by western consumers of its natural gas.

New Delhi is basking in its sudden limelight

On Monday, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland met India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, to reaffirm the two countries’ commitment to shared objectives in the Indo-Pacific.

There was a brief allusion to the Ukraine war but it was almost an afterthought, mentioned at the end of issues pertaining to South Asia, the Indo-Pacific and West Asia. If there was unhappiness over India’s “somewhat shaky” position on Ukraine, to which President Joe Biden alluded hours later in Washington, there was no mention of it in statements issued after the official talks.

Talks with the U.S. were preceded by meetings between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida in New Delhi on Saturday and a virtual consultation with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday.

Discussions on China were at the front and center of both summits. While Modi brought up the June 2020 border clash on the Himalayan border, Kishida made references to the territorial dispute with China over the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, which China calls Diaoyu.

Kishida announced a $42 billion investment in India and also invited Modi to the next Quad summit in Japan later this year. Again, there was no reference to India’s stand on Ukraine except for calls to end the war.

Morrison had expressed understanding of India’s position on Ukraine, Shringla said, briefing reporters. “There was a great deal of comfort … both sides saw that conflict in Europe should not be a reason for us to divert our attention from the Indo-Pacific region,” he said.

A visit by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to New Delhi is also on the cards. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will hold talks with Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in New Delhi later this month, in a visit to prepare ground for the yet unannounced visit by Johnson.

China’s changing tone on India

China’s proposal for its foreign minister’s visit comes just short of two years of a bloody confrontation between Chinese and Indian soldiers in Ladakh that claimed the lives of 20 Indian troops and four Chinese soldiers in June 2020.

India has so far been non-committal about the visit but China appears to be eager, in part to secure Modi’s in-person presence at this year’s BRICS summit. The annual meeting of leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa will be hosted by China this year. A Russia-India-China summit may also be held on the sidelines.

China has also proposed an “India-China Civilization Dialogue” to be held in both countries and an India-China Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum.

In recent weeks, nationalistic newspaper Global Times, a mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, has shown a marked shift in its tone toward India. “China and India share common interests on many fronts. For instance, the West recently pointed the finger at India for reportedly considering buying Russian oil at a discounted price. But it is India’s legitimate right,” the paper said in an essay last week.

Commenting on Kishida’s visit to New Delhi, the Global Times called the Japanese prime minister a “lobbyist” who failed to “sway India on Ukraine.”

“Although Kishida pushed Modi to take a tougher line on Russia over the Ukraine issue during his first visit to India after he took office, the joint statement issued later showed that the Japanese lobbying did not meet the expectations of Washington and Canberra,” the Global Times said.

And on Sunday, Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan — India’s traditional foe and a close China ally — also praised India’s “independent foreign policy.”

India’s ‘fortuitous’ geopolitics

India’s value as a democracy and capacity as the only other military power able to push back against Chinese aggression in Asia is not lost on the Quad. But a lot will depend on how well India — more nimble under Modi — articulates its position on Ukraine.

“India is today in an enviable position because of years of careful diplomacy, and fortuitous geo-politics,” Aparna Pande, a South Asia expert at the Hudson Institute, a Washington DC think tank, told CNBC.

“The US and its partners — in Europe and Asia — need India on their side in the long-term peer competition with China. They are, therefore, more understanding of India’s predicament.”

But Pande cautioned that India’s reluctance, as a democracy and as a key member of the Indo-Pacific to support the liberal international order will be remembered. Russia, says think tank

India faces a stark choice, said Bruce Bennett from the Rand Corporation, a think tank headquartered in Santa Monica, California.

“The key question is whether India will want to be known as a principled country or a nationalistic country. A principled country stands up against any violation of national boundaries, whether it is Russia invading the Ukraine or China invading parts of India,” he said.

“If India decides to ‘sit on the fence’ to maximize its national leverage and influence, I think many people around the world will lose sympathy for India’s concerns about its own territorial integrity.”

The Impact Of Economic War On Putin Led Russia How Sanctions On Russia Will Upend The Global Order

The Russian-Ukrainian war of 2022 is not just a major geopolitical event but also a geoeconomic turning point. Western sanctions are the toughest measures ever imposed against a state of Russia’s size and power.

In the space of less than three weeks, the United States and its allies have cut major Russian banks off from the global financial system; blocked the export of high-tech components in unison with Asian allies; seized the overseas assets of hundreds of wealthy oligarchs; revoked trade treaties with Moscow; banned Russian airlines from North Atlantic airspace: restricted Russian oil sales to the United States and United Kingdom; blocked all foreign investment in the Russian economy from their jurisdiction; and frozen $403 billion out of the $630 billion in foreign assets of the Central Bank of Russia.

The overall effect has been unprecedented, and a few weeks ago would have seemed unimaginable even to most experts: in all but its most vital products, the world’s eleventh-largest economy has now been decoupled from twenty-first-century globalization.

How will these historic measures play out? Economic sanctions rarely succeed at achieving their goals. Western policymakers frequently assume that failures stem from weaknesses in sanctions design.

Indeed, sanctions can be plagued by loopholes, lack of political will to implement them, or insufficient diplomatic agreement concerning enforcement. The implicit assumption is that stronger sanctions stand a better chance of succeeding.

Yet the Western economic containment of Russia is different. This is an unprecedented campaign to isolate a G-20 economy with a large hydrocarbon sector, a sophisticated military-industrial complex, and a diversified basket of commodity exports. As a result, Western sanctions face a different kind of problem.

The sanctions, in this case, could fail not because of their weakness but because of their great and unpredictable strength. Having grown accustomed to using sanctions against smaller countries at low cost, Western policymakers have only limited experience and understanding of the effects of truly severe measures against a major, globally connected economy. Existing fragilities in the world’s economic and financial structure mean that such sanctions have the potential to cause grave political and material fallout.

THE REAL SHOCK AND AWE

Just how severe the current sanctions against Russia are can be seen from their effects across the world. The immediate shock to the Russian economy is the most obvious. Economists expect Russian GDP to contract by at least 9–15 percent this year, but the damage could well become much more severe.

The ruble has fallen more than a third since the beginning of January. An exodus of skilled Russian professionals is underway, while the capacity to import consumer goods and valuable technology has fallen drastically. As Russian political scientist Ilya Matveev has put it, “30 years of economic development thrown into the bin.”

The ramifications of the Western sanctions go far beyond these effects on Russia itself. There are at least four different kinds of broader effects: spillover effects into adjacent countries and markets; multiplier effects through private-sector divestment; escalation effects in the form of Russian responses; and systemic effects on the global economy.

Spillover effects have already caused turmoil in international commodities markets. A generalized panic erupted among traders after the second Western sanctions package—including the SWIFT cutoff and the freezing of central bank reserves—was announced on February 26.

Prices of crude oil, natural gas, wheat, copper, nickel, aluminum, fertilizers, and gold have soared. Because the war has closed Ukrainian ports and international firms are shunning Russian commodity exports, a grain and metals shortage now looms over the global economy.

Although oil prices have since dropped in anticipation of additional output from Gulf producers, the price shock to energy and commodities across the board will push global inflation higher. African and Asian countries reliant on food and energy imports are already experiencing difficulties.

Economists expect Russian GDP to contract by at least 9 to 15 percent this year.

Central Asia’s economies are also caught up in the sanctions shock. These former Soviet states are strongly connected to the Russian economy through trade and outward labor migration. The collapse of the ruble has caused serious financial distress in the region.

Kazakhstan has imposed exchange controls after the tenge, its currency, fell by 20 percent in the wake of the Western sanctions against Moscow; Tajikistan’s somoni has undergone a similarly steep depreciation. Russia’s impending impoverishment will force millions of Central Asian migrant workers to seek employment elsewhere and dry up the flow of remittances to their home countries.

The impact of the sanctions goes beyond decisions taken by G-7 and EU governments. The official sanctions packages have had a catalyzing effect on international businesses operating in Russia. Virtually overnight, Russia’s impending isolation has set in motion a massive corporate flight.

In what amounts to a vast private sector boycott, hundreds of major Western firms in the technology, oil and gas, aerospace, car, manufacturing, consumer goods, food and beverage, accounting and financial, and transport industries are pulling out of the country.

It is noteworthy that these departures are in many cases not required by sanctions. Instead, they are driven by moral condemnation, reputational concerns, and outright panic. As a result, the business retreat is deepening the economic shock to Russia by multiplying the negative economic effects of official state sanctions.

The Russian government has responded to the sanctions in several ways. It has undertaken emergency stabilization policies to protect foreign exchange earnings and shore up the ruble. Foreign portfolio capital is being locked into the country.

While the stock market has remained closed, the assets of many Western firms that have departed may soon face confiscation. The Ministry of Economic Development has prepared a law that grants the Russian state six months to take over businesses in case of an “ungrounded” liquidation or bankruptcy.

The potential nationalization of Western capital is not the only escalatory effect of the sanctions. On March 9, Putin signed an order restricting Russian commodity exports. Although the full array of items to be withheld under the ban is not yet clear, the threat of its use will continue to hang over international trade.

Russian restrictions on fertilizer exports imposed in early February have already put pressure on global food production. Russia could retaliate by restricting exports of important minerals such as nickel, palladium, and industrial sapphires. These are crucial inputs for the production of electrical batteries, catalytic converters, phones, ball bearings, light tubes, and microchips.

In the globalized assemblage system, even small changes in materials prices can massively raise the production costs faced by final users downstream in the production chain. A Russian embargo or large export reduction of palladium, nickel, or sapphires would hit car and semiconductor manufacturers, a $3.4 trillion global industry.

If the economic war between the West and Russia continues further into 2022 at this intensity, it is very possible that the world will slide into a sanctions-induced recession.

MANAGING THE FALLOUT

The combination of spillover effects, negative multiplier effects, and escalation effects means that the sanctions against Russia will have an effect on the world economy like few previous sanctions regimes in history. Why was this great upheaval not anticipated?

One reason is that over the last few decades, U.S. policymakers have usually deployed sanctions against economies that were sufficiently modest in size for any significant adverse effects to be contained. The degree of integration into the world economy of North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Myanmar, and Belarus was relatively modest and one-dimensional. Only the rollout of U.S. sanctions against Iran required special care to avoid upsetting the oil market.

In general, however, the assumption held that sanctions use was economically almost costless to the United States. This has meant that the macroeconomic and macrofinancial consequences of global sanctions are insufficiently understood.

To better grasp the choices to be made in the current economic sanctions against Russia, it is instructive to examine sanctions use in the 1930s, when democracies similarly attempted to use them to stop the aggression of large-sized autocratic economies such as Fascist Italy, imperial Japan, and Nazi Germany.

The crucial backdrop to these efforts was the Great Depression, which had weakened economies and inflamed nationalism around the world. When Italian dictator Benito Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in October 1935, the League of Nations implemented an international sanctions regime enforced by 52 countries. It was an impressive united response, similar to that on display in reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But the league sanctions came with real tradeoffs. Economic containment of Fascist Italy limited democracies’ ability to use sanctions against an aggressor who was more threatening still: Adolf Hitler.

As a major engine of export demand for smaller European economies, Germany was too large an economy to be isolated without severe commercial loss to the whole of Europe. Amid the fragile recovery from the Depression, simultaneously placing sanctions on both Italy and Germany—then the fourth- and seventh-largest economies in the world—was too costly for most democracies.

Hitler exploited this fear of overstretch and the international focus on Ethiopia by moving German troops into the demilitarized Rhineland in March 1936, advancing further toward war. German officials were aware of their commercial power, which they used to maneuver central European and Balkan economies into their political orbit.

The result was the creation of a continental, river-based bloc of vassal economies whose trade with Germany was harder for Western states to block with sanctions or a naval blockade.

The sanctions dilemmas of the 1930s show that aggressors should be confronted when they disrupt the international order. But it equally drives home the fact that the viability of sanctions, and the chances of their success, are always dependent on the global economic situation.

In unstable commercial and financial conditions, it will be necessary to prioritize among competing objectives and prepare thoroughly for unintended effects of all kinds. Using sanctions against very large economies will simply not be possible without compensatory policies that support the sanctioners’ economies and the rest of the world.

More intensive sanctions will inflict further damage to the world economy.

The Biden administration is aware of this problem, but its actions so far are inadequate to the scale of the problem. Washington has attempted to reduce strains in the oil market by a partial reconciliation with Iran and Venezuela.

Countering the spillover effects of sanctions against one leading petrostate may now require lifting sanctions on two smaller petrostates. But this oil diplomacy is insufficient to meet the challenge posed by the Russia sanctions, the effects of which are aggravating preexisting economic woes.

Supply chain issues and pandemic-era bottlenecks in global transport and production networks predated the war in Ukraine. The unprecedented use of sanctions in these already troubled conditions has made an already difficult situation worse.

The problem of managing the fallout of economic war is greater still in Europe. This is not only because the European Union has much stronger trade and energy links with Russia. It is also the result of the political economy of the eurozone as it has taken shape over the last two decades: with the exception of France, most of its economies follow a heavily trade-reliant, export-focused growth strategy.

This economic model requires foreign demand for exports while repressing wages and domestic demand. It is a structure that is very ill suited to the prolonged imposition of trade-reducing sanctions. Increasing EU-wide renewable energy investment and expanding public control in the energy sector, as French President Emmanuel Macron has announced, is one way to absorb this shock.

But there is also a need for income-boosting measures for consumer goods and price-dampening interventions in producer goods markets, from strategic reserve management to the excess profits taxes that are being rolled out in Spain and Italy.

Then there are the consequences of sanctions cause for the world economy at large, especially in the “global South.” Addressing these problems will pose a major macroeconomic challenge. It is therefore imperative for the G-7, the European Union, and the United States’ Asian partners to launch bold and coordinated action to stabilize global markets.

This can be done through targeted investment to clear up supply bottlenecks, generous international grants and loans to developing countries struggling to secure adequate food and energy supplies, and large-scale government funding for renewable energy capacity.

It will also have to involve subsidies, and perhaps even rationing and price controls, to protect the poorest from the destructive effects of surging food, energy, and commodity prices.

Such state intervention is the price to be paid for engaging in economic war. Inflicting material damage at the scale levelled against Russia simply cannot be pursued without an international policymaking shift that extends economic support to those affected by sanctions. Unless the material well-being of households is protected, political support for sanctions will crumble over time.

THE NEW INTERVENTIONISTS

Western policymakers thus face a serious decision. They must decide whether to uphold sanctions against Russia at their current strength or to impose further economic punishment on Putin. If the goal of the sanctions is to exert maximum pressure on Russia with minimal disruption to their own economies—and thus a manageable risk of domestic political backlash—then current levels of pressure may be the most that is politically feasible now.

At the moment, simply maintaining existing sanctions will require active compensatory policies. For Europe especially, neither laissez-faire economic policies nor fiscal fragmentation will be sustainable if the economic war persists. But if the West decides to step up the economic pressure on Russia further still, far-reaching economic interventions will become an absolute necessity.

More intensive sanctions will inflict further damage, not just to the sanctioners themselves but to the world economy at large. No matter how strong and justified the West’s resolve to stop Putin’s aggression is, policymakers must accept the material reality that an all-out economic offensive will introduce considerable new strains into the world economy.

An intensification of sanctions will cause a cascade of material shocks that will demand far-reaching stabilization efforts.And even with such rescue measures, the economic damage may well be serious, and the risks of strategic escalation willremain high.

For all these reasons, it remains vital to pursue diplomatic and economic paths that can end the conflict. Whatever the results of the war, the economic offensive against Russia has already exposed one important new reality: the era of costless, risk-free, and predictable sanctions is well and truly over.

India Abstains On Resolution By Russia At UN Security Council

Signaling that India is not aligned with the Russian position, India on March  24th abstained on a resolution pushed by Russia in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine — the resolution was perceived to be critical of Ukraine. The resolution failed to get adopted as it did not get the required nine votes to pass.

Reports state, this is the first time that India has abstained on a Russia-sponsored resolution. In previous votes on the Ukraine war, India abstained from resolutions sponsored by the West that were critical of Moscow’s actions. The latest move reflects Delhi’s attempt to portray its neutrality as it continues to engage and maintain its diplomatic tightrope walk on the issue.

Hours later, India again abstained on an United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution moved by the French and the Mexicans, which got 140 votes in favor, 38 abstentions and five against, and was “strong” in its condemnatory language against Russia.

Earlier this week, US President Joe Biden has said that among the Quad countries, India was “somewhat shaky” in terms of showing its opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Australia and Japan, who make up the Quad along with India and the US, have criticised Russia’s aggression. Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla is at the UN in New York where the resolution was negotiated and India’s abstention took place.

Russia and China voted in favor of the resolution, which was co-sponsored by Syria, North Korea and Belarus, while India and the remaining 12 UNSC members abstained.

India had previously abstained on two occasions at the UNSC and once in the General Assembly on resolutions on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On Thursday, unlike the other abstaining UNSC members, India did not issue any statement on the vote.

Russia had called for a vote in the 15-nation UNSC on its draft resolution. It “demands that civilians, including humanitarian personnel and persons in vulnerable situations, including women and children, are fully protected, calls for negotiated ceasefire for enabling safe, rapid, voluntary and unhindered evacuation of civilians, and underscores the need for the parties concerned to agree on humanitarian pauses to this end.”

The Russian resolution, which makes no reference to its invasion, calls upon all parties concerned to allow safe and unhindered passage to destinations outside of Ukraine, including to foreign nationals without discrimination.

It also seeks to facilitate safe and unhindered access of humanitarian assistance to those in need in and around Ukraine, taking into account the particular needs of women, girls, men and boys, the elderly and persons with disabilities.

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield tweeted that “in a unified protest vote”, 13 members of the Security Council abstained from Russia’s resolution deflecting blame for the humanitarian crisis it has created in Ukraine.

The Russian resolution was one of the three on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine that were put up before the UN General Assembly and Security Council.

The 193-member General Assembly resumed its 11th Emergency Special Session on Ukraine and voted Thursday on a draft resolution ‘Humanitarian consequences of the aggression against Ukraine’, which was sponsored by France and Mexico.

In a bid to project a “neutral attempt”, South Africa has put forward a rival resolution for UNGA, ‘Humanitarian situation emanating out of the conflict in Ukraine’, which makes no mention of Russia.

South Africa is a member of the BRICS grouping and had earlier abstained, along with India, on the resolution condemning Russia. Its resolution calls for immediate cessation of hostilities by “all parties” in the conflict, and encourages political dialogue, negotiations, mediation and other peaceful means aimed at achieving peace.

The fact that Shringla has gone to New York when a series of Foreign Ministers are visiting India — Greece and Oman Foreign ministers are in Delhi — shows the importance India is attaching to this round of resolutions

Earlier this month, the US State Department had recalled a cable to American diplomats that instructed them to inform counterparts from India and UAE that their position of neutrality on Ukraine put them “in Russia’s camp”, US news outlet ‘Axios’ had reported.

Since then, a series of leaders and officials from Western countries — US, Australia, Japan and Austria – have visited India and have discussed the situation in Ukraine.

The India – UAE Agreement: A Developmental Milestone

The Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, which was signed between India and the UAE on February 18, 2022, is the biggest milestone in the relationship between the two countries so far. This is the biggest agreement signed by the two countries till date. The Arab media covered the signing of the agreement under the headline “New Boundaries, New Milestone”. However the Indian media neglected to see the scope and importance of the agreement.

This agreement on trade, industry and labor, the biggest agreement that the UAE has signed with any country so far, is a reflection of India’s changed attitude towards trade relations. It certainly opens the road to great progress in the commerce between the two countries. The agreement is estimated to help increase the trade between the two countries by 100 billion dollars in five years. That is, trade worth Rupees 7.5 lakh crores.

Till now China was  UAE’s largest market. With the new agreement, India will step into that place. This agreement is particularly important at a time when India is taking a strong stance against Chinese products. It is heartening to note that the UAE has not taken into consideration Pakistan which is trying to gain a better foothold there than India on considerations like religion. The agreement aims at encouraging, rejuvenating and generally improving sectors like economy, energy, weather forecasting, technology, education, food safety, health, defense and security. With the signing of the agreement, the import duties on various products will come down.

The agreement will also open the way for a large number of Indian products to find a market in the UAE. About 90% of products from India will be excluded from import duties. This will become 99% in five years. India will not charge import tax on 80% of imports from the UAE. This will become 90% within ten years. These reductions open new avenues for Indian investors.

At the same time, some very important products from India have been put in a safe section and excluded from the agreement. These include milk products, fruits, vegetables, rubber, tobacco, tea, grains, coffee, hair dye, soap, tyre, footwear, medical instruments, vehicle spares and a few others.

The UAE is India’s second largest market in jewelry export. Refined petroleum, mobile phones, diamonds, iron, steel, organic chemicals, grains, vessels, etc  are products that India exports to the UAE in large quantities. Gold, crude oil, plastic, copper, aluminum  etc are the products that India buys from the UAE. The UAE is also the second largest source of gold import in India.

This is the first time that an IIT is being set up anywhere outside India. As part of the agreement, India will set up educational institutions of excellence in the UAE. This will be a blessing to talented children of Indians living there.

The UAE rulers have realized that the era of oil money is coming to an end. That is why they are focusing on business startups and are opening the country’s doors to investors. It is because of this realization by the rulers, that the UAE has become the main hub of business in the Gulf. The decrease in the flow of oil money has been adversely affecting Indian workers in the Gulf for a long while now, and they have been desperately looking for ways to safeguard their future.

The new India-UAE Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement, signed by the two countries, comes as a big ray of hope. The agreement signed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan at a virtual summit, lays open an entire world of opportunities before the employment sector, job seekers and entrepreneurs.

This agreement alone will create a hundred and fifty thousand new jobs for Indians in the UAE. These gigantic job opportunities are being created for us by the agreement at a time when Nitaqat, Covid and the economic slowdown have destroyed innumerable jobs in the Gulf. Experts say that one million more jobs will be created in India through the investments the UAE will make there.

This agreement between India and the UAE needs to be seen only as a beginning. Economists forecast that other Gulf countries will not be able to ignore the economic development that will happen in the UAE through the commercial and industrial partnership with India. Such creative partnerships always destroy the boundaries of inequalities.

After A Month Of War, Ukrainian Refugee Crisis Ranks Among The World’s Worst In Recent History

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has created one of the biggest refugee crises of modern times. A month into the war, more than 3.7 million Ukrainians have fled to neighboring countries – the sixth-largest refugee outflow over the past 60-plus years, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of United Nations data.

There are now almost as many Ukrainian refugees as there were Afghan refugees fleeing the (first) Taliban regime in 2001, according to figures compiled by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). They represent about 9.1% of Ukraine’s pre-invasion population of about 41.1 million – ranking the current crisis 16th among 28 major refugee crises by share of population.

The Center examined all cases in the UNHCR’s database since 1960 where there were at least 500,000 refugees and similarly displaced people from a given country in a given year. The analysis doesn’t include “internally displaced persons” – those who have fled or been forced from their usual homes but haven’t yet crossed an international border. (Earlier this week, UNHCR head Filippo Grandi estimated that, all told, 10 million Ukrainians – nearly a quarter of the population – had been displaced either internally or externally by the war.)

How we did this

Syria’s civil war, which began in 2011, has created more refugees than any other crisis since the early 1960s, when UNHCR began keeping data on individual countries. Nearly 6.9 million Syrians – about a third of the country’s prewar population – are living as refugees or asylum-seekers outside their home country, with almost 3.7 million now in Turkey. An additional 6.8 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes but are living elsewhere in the country – meaning the civil war has uprooted about two-thirds of Syria’s entire population.

Afghanistan, which has been at war either with itself or with outside forces for more than four decades, has had more than 2 million refugees every year since 1981. The peak year was 1990, after Soviet troops had withdrawn from the country and the USSR-backed government was battling to hang onto power against a coalition of mujahedeen groups. That year, more than half the country’s total estimated population – 6.3 million people – were listed as refugees.

Venezuela has also seen massive population outflows over the past several years as the country’s economy has all but collapsed, its government has cracked down on dissent, and opposition efforts to unseat President Nicolas Maduro’s government have stalled. According to the UNHCR, more than 5 million Venezuelans are refugees in other countries, are seeking asylum, or have been otherwise displaced abroad – all told, about 15% of the current estimated population.

War On Ukraine Also An Assault On World’s Most Vulnerable People & Countries

Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations: Addressing the Press on the war in Ukraine

Ukraine is on fire. The country is being decimated before the eyes of the world. The impact on civilians is reaching terrifying proportions.

Countless innocent people – including women and children – have been killed. After being hit by Russian forces, roads, airports and schools lie in ruins.

According to the World Health Organization, at least 24 health facilities have suffered attacks. Hundreds of thousands of people are without water or electricity. With each passing hour, two things are increasingly clear:

First — it keeps getting worse. Second — whatever the outcome, this war will have no winners, only losers.

The United Nations and humanitarian partners are working to ensure safe passage from besieged areas and to provide aid where security permits. More than 600,000 people have received some form of aid.

As millions of people in Ukraine face hunger and dwindling supplies of water and medicine, I am announcing today that the United Nations will allocate a further $40 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund to ramp up vital assistance to reach the most vulnerable, as we wait for the nations to come.

This funding will help get critical supplies of food, water, medicines, and other lifesaving aid into the country, as well as provide cash assistance to the needy.

But the avenues in and out of encircled cities are more precarious by the day. I underscore the crucial importance of respecting international humanitarian law. At least 1.9 million people are displaced inside the country, and growing numbers are escaping across borders.

I am deeply grateful for the solidarity of Ukraine’s neighbours and other host countries, who have taken in more than 2.8 million refugees in the past two weeks. The vast majority of those making the treacherous journey are women and children who are increasingly vulnerable.

For predators and human traffickers, war is not a tragedy. It is an opportunity. And women and children are the targets. They need safety and support every step of the way.

I will continue to highlight the desperate plight of the people of Ukraine as I am doing again today.

Yet there is another dimension of this conflict that gets obscured. This war goes far beyond Ukraine.
It is also an assault on the world’s most vulnerable people and countries.

While war rains over Ukraine, a sword of Damocles hangs over the global economy – especially in the developing world. Even before the conflict, developing countries were struggling to recover from the pandemic – with record inflation, rising interest rates and looming debt burdens.

Their ability to respond has been erased by exponential increases in the cost of financing. Now their breadbasket is being bombed.

Russia and Ukraine represent more than half of the world’s supply of sunflower oil and about 30 percent of the world’s wheat. Ukraine alone provides more than half of the World Food Programme’s wheat supply.

Food, fuel and fertilizer prices are skyrocketing. Supply chains are being disrupted. And the costs and delays of transportation of imported goods – when available – are at record levels. All of this is hitting the poorest the hardest and planting the seeds for political instability and unrest around the globe.

Grain prices have already exceeded those at the start of the Arab Spring and the food riots of 2007-2008. The FAO’s global food prices index is at its highest level ever.

Forty-five African and least developed countries import at least one-third of their wheat from Ukraine [or] Russia – 18 of those countries import at least 50 percent. This includes countries like Burkina Faso, Egypt, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.

We must do everything possible to avert a hurricane of hunger and a meltdown of the global food system. In addition, we are seeing clear evidence of this war draining resources and attention from other trouble-spots in desperate need.

I renew my appeal for countries to find creative ways to finance increased humanitarian and development recovery needs worldwide, and to give generously and to immediately release pledged funds. My plea to leaders is to resist the temptation of increasing military budgets at the expense of Official Development Assistance and climate action.

In a word, developing countries are getting pummeled. They face a cascade of crises – beyond the Ukraine war, we cannot forget COVID and the impacts of climate change – in particular, drought.

Against the backdrop of these immense inter-connected challenges, I am announcing today the establishment of a Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance in the UN Secretariat.

I have also asked the Deputy Secretary-General to lead an inter-agency steering committee with partners to oversee this effort. In the coming days, we will be consulting with Member States willing to champion the actions needed to carry forward the global emergency response that will be required for these looming crises.

Make no mistake: everyday people, especially women and children, will bear the brunt of this unfolding tragedy. The war also shows how the global addiction to fossil fuels is placing energy security, climate action and the entire global economy at the mercy of geopolitics.

Finally, further escalation of the war, whether by accident or design, threatens all of humanity. Raising the alert of Russian nuclear forces is a bone-chilling development.

The prospect of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, is now back within the realm of possibility. The security and safety of nuclear facilities must also be preserved.

It’s time to stop the horror unleashed on the people of Ukraine and get on the path of diplomacy and peace. I have been in close contact with a number of countries – including China, France, Germany, India, Israel and Turkey – on mediation efforts to bring an end to this war.

The appeals for peace must be heard. This tragedy must stop. It is never too late for diplomacy and dialogue.

We need an immediate cessation of hostilities and serious negotiations based on the principles of the UN Charter and international law.

We need peace. Peace for the people of Ukraine. Peace for the world.

We need peace now.

A New Monetary World Order As Russia Reels Under Sanctions

As US President Joe Biden unveiled new sanctions on Friday against Russia, he made it clear that the totality of the sanctions and export controls is “crushing the Russian economy”.

“The ruble has lost more than half its value. They tell me it takes about 200 rubles to equal 1 dollar these days. The Moscow stock exchange has been closed fully for two weeks because they know the moment it opens, it will probably collapse,” Biden said.

Credit rating agencies have downgraded Russia to ‘junk’ status.

The list of businesses and international corporations leaving Russia is growing by the day, Biden said while listing the stark consequences for Russia and its economy that have unfolded since the Ukraine war.

“We will not fight a war against Russia in Ukraine. Direct confrontation between NATO and Russia is World War III, something we must strive to prevent,” Biden said on not sending troops to Ukraine.

“And we’re going to continue to squeeze (Vladimir) Putin. The G7 will seek to deny Russia the ability to borrow from leading multinational institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Putin is an aggressor… And Putin must pay the price,” Biden said.

Zoltan Pozsar of Credit Suisse said in a report, “We are witnessing the birth of Bretton Woods III – a new world (monetary) order centred around commodity-based currencies in the East that will likely weaken the Eurodollar system and also contribute to inflationary forces in the West.”

“A crisis is unfolding. A crisis of commodities. Commodities are collateral, and collateral is money, and this crisis is about the rising allure of outside money over inside money. Bretton Woods II was built on inside money, and its foundations crumbled a week ago when the G7 seized Russia’s FX reserves,” Credit Suisse said.

Pozsar said it is a perfect storm but that’s precisely what happens when the West sanctions the single-largest commodity producer of the world, which sells virtually everything.

“What we are seeing at the 50-year anniversary of the 1973 OPEC supply shock is something similar but substantially worse — the 2022 Russia supply shock, which isn’t driven by the supplier but the consumer.

“The aggressor in the geopolitical arena is being punished by sanctions, and sanctions-driven commodity price moves threaten financial stability in the West. The commodities market is much more financialised and leveraged today than it was during the 1973 OPEC supply crisis, and today’s Russian supply crisis is much bigger, much more broad-based, and much more correlated. It’s scarier,” Pozsar said.

There are Russian commodities that are collapsing in price and there are non-Russian commodities that are rallying — this rally is due to the 2022 Russia supply shock.

“It’s a buyers’ strike. Not a seller’s strike, to make things all the more absurd… Russian commodities today are like subprime CDOs were in 2008. Conversely, non-Russian commodities are like what US Treasury securities were back in 2008. One collapsing in price, and the other surging in price, with margin calls on both regardless of which side you are on,” he added.

The ban on technology exports to Russia, in response to the war in Ukraine, could backfire on global manufacturers of computer processors and semiconductors, as many crucial components for their production are made exclusively in Russia, an industry expert warned.

“The ban on finished products for Russia will result in a retaliatory ban on the supply of production components and will cause an acute shortage of microprocessors for the whole world. By comparison, the end-of-2021 supply disruption situation will appear relatively light,” Oleg Izumrudov, head of the Consortium of Russian Developers of Data Storage Systems (RosSHD), said, RT reported.

Following the sanctions, Russia may default on sovereign bonds for the first time since the Bolshevik revolution in 1917.

A leading ratings agency has warned that Russia is soon likely to default on its debts, as it downgraded the country’s bonds further into ‘junk’ territory, BBC reported.

Fitch Ratings slashed its assessment of Russia to almost the bottom of its scale, just days after downgrading it from investment status.

If Russia does fail to make payments on its debt, it raises the possibility of the first major default on the country’s sovereign bonds since the wake of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, BBC reported.

It is the latest blow to the country’s creditworthiness in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine. This week, Moscow said its bond payments may be affected by sanctions.

“The further ratcheting up of sanctions, and proposals that could limit trade in energy, increase the probability of a policy response by Russia that includes at least selective non-payment of its sovereign debt obligations,” Fitch said, BBC reported.

Removing Russian oil from the market would make energy prices skyrocket to over $300 per barrel of oil, Russia’s Deputy PM Aleksandr Novak said, adding that Russia is not dependent on the West and can “reroute” its supplies elsewhere.

The European officials are “once again seeking to put all the blame for their own recent energy policy shortfalls on Russia”, Novak told journalists, adding that “Russia has nothing to do with the current price hike on market volatility”, RT reported.

There are grave implications for food prices also. Energy and commodity prices-including wheat and other grains-have surged due to the war in Ukraine, adding to inflationary pressures from supply chain disruptions and the rebound from the Covid-19 pandemic, the IMF said.

Price shocks will have an impact worldwide, especially on poor households for whom food and fuel are a higher proportion of expenses.

Should the conflict escalate, the economic damage would be all the more devastating. The sanctions on Russia will also have a substantial impact on the global economy and financial markets, with significant spillovers to other countries, the IMF said.

In many countries, the crisis is creating an adverse shock for both inflation and activity, amid already elevated price pressures.

Added to that is the tensions around nuclear plants. Ukrainian intelligence has information that the Russian aggressors are preparing a terrorist attack on the “exclusion zone” in Chornobyl and plan to blame Ukraine.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence officials said, “According to information available, Vladimir Putin has ordered the preparation of a terrorist attack on the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.”

The Russia-controlled Chornobyl nuclear power plant plans to create a man-made catastrophe, for which the occupiers will try to shift responsibility on Ukraine, Ukrayinska Pravda reported.

To make matters worse, Russia has accused US of backing biological laboratories on the territory of Ukraine, experiments were carried out with samples of coronavirus from bats, said the official representative of the Russian Ministry of Defense, Major General Igor Konashenkov.

“In the biolaboratories created and funded in Ukraine, as the documents show, experiments were carried out with samples of bat coronavirus,” he said, RT reported.

Konashenkov said the department would soon publish another package of documents on secret military biological activities of the United States on the territory of Ukraine and present the results of their examination.

Putin’s Unkindest Cut of All

Nikita Kruschev, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s predecessor, even though not immediate, is known to have said that he accepts every single teaching of Jesus except the one in which Jesus tells his disciples that if anyone slaps on one cheek, he/she should offer the other cheek instead of retaliating, and hitting back. Kruschev’s way of going about, if anybody would slap him, would be, to hit back with such force that the head of the aggressor would fall off! That is how far Kruschev was from Jesus and His teachings.

Now, Putin seems to have gone even further than Kruschev when he started an undeclared war, and invaded Ukraine. It is an unprovoked war, and therefore, unjustified on every count. He has not been slapped by anyone on his cheek, but he is out to destroy a democratic free country. Kruschev would be lagging far behind, as an opponent of Christ, having been put to shame by Putin with this act of aggression against Ukraine, not to be justified by anyone.

With great anxiety and with a prayer in my heart I have been reading newspapers and watching news in the last few weeks, as tension had been building up between Russia on one side, and the U.S.A., NATO and Ukraine on the other side. Everybody had been wondering why Russia had deployed 1,50,000-plus troops around Ukraine, if they had no intention of annexing Ukraine, as they claimed.

In fact, the Russians were talking about a hysteria of the West for fear of the annexation of Ukraine which, they said, was never on their mind, but only a fiction of the hysterical minds of the West. And then came the onslaught on Ukraine and the Ukrainians, turning the seeming glimmer of goodness and hope into a lie. And what a lie it was! The reports are that, as I am writing this, over 2 million of Ukrainian refugees have sought refuge in neighbouring countries like Poland, Moldova, Lithuania, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania. Besides, millions of people have been displaced within the country, and they are going about helplessly trying to find a safe place for themselves.

My heart weeps when I see those poor people leaving their homes and heading towards unknown destinations. It is particularly painful and heart-wrenching to see little children walking or being carried by their mothers. In most cases the mothers are left alone to fend for themselves in this task, because the Ukrainian authorities have ordered the men-folk to stay back and defend their country from the Russian aggressor. And they are heroically doing this for the love of their country.

I am asking myself if the aggressors and their bosses do not know what kind of suffering they are giving these poor people. So many are getting killed, so many are getting injured. Do the aggressors not have hearts of flesh? Are their hearts of stone? Or do they not have hearts at all? Not even the sight of little children dragging their suitcases, bigger than themselves, seems to melt the heart of Putin and his men. Expecting Putin to know how Jesus loved little children, and always wanted them to be brought to him (Mt. 19:14), is perhaps too much?! But then Putin is a Christian, belonging to the Orthodox Church, and so he should have known this. I am wondering why the leaders of his Orthodox Church are not opening their mouths to teach Putin what Jesus would have liked to teach him.

Unlike Pope Francis, who has condemned this war without mincing words, we are yet to hear the voice of the Orthodox Church!

I wonder if President Putin has seen the picture of a mother carrying a little child, which has gone viral these days. It is the picture of Putin’s mother carrying Putin in her arms. The story is that a soldier came home from the front-lines for a brief break, during the World War II. He reached his house to see people loading dead bodies onto a truck. Sticking out of the pile of bodies, the soldier saw the leg of a lady with a pair of shoes, which he recognised as his wife’s shoes. He had to plead and fight with the men who were loading the dead bodies onto the truck, so he could hug the body of his wife. The reluctant men relented and let the man pull the body of his wife out from the pile of dead bodies. To his and everybody’s surprise, he realized that the woman was still alive and breathing. He carried her home, and nursed her to, what could be called, a new life.

A few years later, a son was born to the couple. And that was Vladimir Putin! How I wish I could go and put this picture in front of Putin’s eyes to remind him that it was God’s mercy that had kept his mother alive, and given him the gift of life. I would also like to remind him that he had to show the same mercy towards one and all, rather than be a cause of sorrow and suffering for others.

It is difficult for me to understand how the man’s heart does not melt to see those women and children fleeing their homes, knowing that, in all probability, they will not live to see their beloved ones back at home. Not everybody can have the same good fortune that Putin had. How can anyone be so untouched by the heart-wrenching scenes we see on TV unless one has no heart at all?

We are reminded of similar scenes we saw some time back here in our own country, when our roads were filled with thousands of people, migrant workers, returning to their homes, having lost their jobs, sometimes mothers delivering babies along the roads, and many people breathing their last on the roads. At that time, too, we had felt that those who were responsible to inflict these sufferings on the poor people had no hearts. Unfortunately and sadly, we are made aware that there are such people in this world even today.

I started by saying that both Kruschev as well as Putin are far away from Jesus and His teachings. Those who act and behave like this, with no feelings of love and mercy in their hearts, like many of our own leaders, are far removed from the teachings of Jesus.

The Gospels present Jesus as a loving and merciful teacher, who always thought of others, rather than of himself. Why would he, otherwise, even though he was God, “not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but rather empty himself, taking the form of a servant?” (Philippians 2:6) And, therefore, his teaching was always “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). I can well imagine Jesus weeping with all those who are suffering now because of this senseless and unjust war inflicted upon the poor people of Ukraine. In fact, his infinite love and mercy, even in this situation, says to the Ukrainians: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” (Rom. 12:14).

A glimmer of hope

In the darkness and hatred of this war, there is a glimmer of light and hope because there are people who see evil in it and condemn it. One such powerful and shining beacon is Pope Francis who had been raising his voice against the dangers of this war. And once it had unfortunately started, he went to the Russian Embassy in Rome to plead for peace and negotiations across the table. Here is a man, who is a true disciple of Jesus, who is prepared to go to any extent, to live the message of Jesus and to propagate it. And he is aware that all over the world people are hungering for love and peace. Therefore, he has taken it upon himself to promote love, peace, mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation. He has knocked at the doors of embassies and fallen at the feet of leaders pleading for peace.

Pope Francis shows and teaches that one has to be prepared to turn the other cheek, and live the message of Jesus in its entirety. He has often said that wars never solve problems, but only bring about misery upon the people who are involved in them. The Pope always harps upon the theme of God’s mercy to such an extent that it led a prominent Italian clergy-man to say that he seems to be exaggerating on the mercy of God. But I countered him by asking him how he could talk about exaggerating on God’s mercy, when we know that God’s mercy is infinite. How does one exaggerate on something which is infinite?

What Putin and his stooges are very much in need of, at this juncture, is God’s Mercy. They must be prepared to humble themselves, and cease hostilities acknowledging that these are purely based on their lies and on their selfishness and pride. This may seem difficult and even impossible now. But we know that for God nothing is impossible. And we know that people all over the world are praying for peace. With the prayers of millions of people God can change the heart of Putin and his advisers. As it is rightly said, a Church kneeling in prayer is more powerful than an army on its feet.

There are many who consider this war as an evil, and condemn it. We know that there are thousands of people all over the world, and even within Russia, who are protesting against this unjust war. This gives us another glimmer of hope. The hardened heart of dictator Putin has clamped down upon them, and locked them up in prison. However, as our own Father Stan Swamy, of happy memory, said, when he was put behind bars, “a caged bird can still sing”. So, they will continue to protest against Putin and his actions. May they and millions of people all over the world continue to condemn the dictator of Russia. And may their protesting voices continue to resound and eventually touch and change the hardened heart of Putin. Let us remember that The Lord is the one who said to His people: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).

Let us remember that the Lord came to the rescue of Israelites when the powerful Egyptians pursued them. The book of Exodus tells us that “in the morning watch, the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked upon the host of the Egyptians, and discomfited the host of the Egyptians, clogging their chariot-wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said: “let us flee from before Israel; for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians” (Exodus 14: 23-25). We also have the case of David and Goliath, when a shepherd’s sling proved to be mightier than a sword (1 Sam. 17:48). God is almighty, and He is always in command.

Ukraine Incursion, World Stagflation

Finger pointing in the blame game over Russia’s Ukraine incursion obscures the damage it is doing on many fronts. Meanwhile, billions struggle to cope with worsening living standards, exacerbated by the pandemic and more.

Losing sight in the fog of war

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken insists, “the Russian people will suffer the consequences of their leaders’ choices”. Western leaders and media seem to believe their unprecedentedcrushing sanctions” will have a “chilling effect” on Russia.

With sanctions intended to strangle Russia’s economy, the US and its allies somehow hope to increase domestic pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to retreat from Ukraine. The West wants to choke Russia by cutting its revenue streams, e.g., from oil and gas sales to Europe.

Already, the rouble has been hammered by preventing Russia’s central bank from accessing its US$643bn in foreign currency reserves, and barring Russian banks from using the US-run global payments transfer system, SWIFT.

Withdrawal of major Western transnational companies – such as Shell, McDonald’s and Apple – will undoubtedly hurt many Russians – not only oligarchs, their ostensible target.

Thus, Blinken’s claim that “The economic costs that we’ve been forced to impose on Russia are not aimed at you [ordinary Russians]” may well ring hollow to them. They will get little comfort from knowing, “They are aimed at compelling your government to stop its actions, to stop its aggression”.

As The New York Times notes, “sanctions have a poor record of persuading governments to change their behavior”. US sanctions against Cuba over six decades have undoubtedly hurt its economy and people.

But – as in Iran, North Korea, Syria and Venezuela – it has failed to achieve its supposed objectives. Clearly, “If the goal of sanctions is to compel Mr. Putin to halt his war, then the end point seems far-off.”

Russia, major commodity exporter

Undoubtedly, Russia no longer has the industrial and technological edges it once had. Following Yeltsin era reforms in the early 1990s, its economy shrank by half – lowering Russian life expectancy more than anywhere else in the last six millennia!

Russia has become a major primary commodity producer – not unlike many developing countries and the former settler colonies of North America and Australasia. It is now a major exporter of crude oil and natural gas.

It is also the largest exporter of palladium and wheat, and among the world’s biggest suppliers of fertilizers using potash and nitrogen. On 4 March, Moscow suspended fertilizer exports, citing “sabotage” by “foreign logistics companies”.

Farmers and consumers will suffer as yields drop by up to half. Sudden massive supply disruptions will thus have serious ramifications for the world economy – now more interdependent than ever, due to earlier globalization.

Sanctions’ inflation boomerang

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva has ominously warned of the Ukraine crisis’ economic fallouts. She cautions wide-ranging sanctions on Russia will worsen inflation and further slow growth.

No country is immune, including those imposing sanctions. But the worst hit are poor countries, particularly in Africa, already struggling with rising fuel and food prices.

For Georgieva, more inflation – due to Russian sanctions – is the greatest threat to the world economy. “The surging prices for energy and other commodities – corn, metals, inputs for fertilizers, semiconductors – coming on top of already high inflation” are of grave concern to the world.

Russia and Ukraine export more than a quarter of the world’s wheat while Ukraine is also a major corn exporter. Supply chain shocks and disruptions could add between 0.2% to 0.4% to ‘headline inflation’ – which includes both food and fuel prices – in developed economies over the coming months.

US petrol prices jumped to a 17-year high in the first week of March. The costs of other necessities, especially food, are rising as well. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has acknowledged that the sanctions are worsening US inflation.

The European Union (EU) gets 40% of its natural gas from Russia. Finding alternative supplies will be neither easy nor cheap. The EU is Russia’s largest trading partner, accounting for 37% of global trade in 2020. Thus, sanctions may well hurt Europe more than Russia – like cutting one’s nose to spite one’s face.

The European Central Bank now expects stagflation – economic stagnation with inflation, and presumably, rising unemployment. It has already slashed its growth forecast for 2022 from 4.2% to 3.7%. Inflation is expected to hit a record 5.1% – way above its previous 3.2% forecast!

Developing countries worse victims
Global food prices are already at record highs, with the Food Price Index (FPI) of the Food and Agricultural Organization up more than 40% over the past two years.

The FPI hit an all-time high in February – largely due to bad weather and rising energy and fertilizer costs. By February 2022, the Agricultural Commodity Price Index was 35% higher, while maize and wheat prices were 26% and 23% more than in January 2021.

Besides shortages and rising production costs – due to surging fuel and fertilizer prices – speculation may also push food prices up – as in 2007-2008.

Signs of such speculation are already visible. Chicago Board of Trade wheat future prices rose 40% in early March – its largest weekly increase since 1959!

Rising food prices impact people in low- and middle-income countries more as they spend much larger shares of their incomes on food than in high-income countries. The main food insecurity measure has doubled in the past two years, with 45 million people close to starvation, even before the Ukraine crisis.

Countries in Africa and Asia rely much more on Russian and Ukrainian grain. The World Bank has warned, “There will be important ramifications for the Middle East, for Africa, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, in particular”, where many were already food insecure before the incursion.

The Ukraine crisis will be devastating for countries struggling to cope with the pandemic. Unable to access enough vaccines or mount adequate responses, they already lag behind rich countries. The latest food and fuel price hikes will also worsen balance-of-payments problems and domestic inflationary pressures.

No to war!

The African proverb, “When two elephants fight, all grass gets trampled”, sums up the world situation well. The US and its allies seem intent to ‘strangle Russia’ at all costs, regardless of the massive collateral damage to others.

This international crisis comes after multilateralism has been undermined for decades. Hopes for reduced international hostilities, after President Biden’s election, have evaporated as US foreign policy double standards become more apparent.

Russia has little support for its aggressive violation of international law and norms. Despite decades of deliberate NATO provocations, even after the Soviet Union ended, Putin has lost international sympathy with his aggression in Ukraine.

But there is no widespread support for NATO or the West. Following the vaccine apartheid and climate finance fiascos, the poorer, ‘darker nations’ have become more cynical of Western hypocrisy as its racism becomes more brazen.

‘Which Side Of History Do You Want To Be On?’ White House Asks India On Russia

India has expressed deep concern at the worsening situation in Ukraine and called for immediate cessation of violence and end to all hostilities. New Delhi has, however, abstained from UN resolutions criticizing Russia.

While acknowledging that India’s imports of oil from Russia will not fall within the sanctions regime imposed by the United States (US) and its allies, the White House has said that it was time for India — and other countries — to choose which side of history they wanted to be on.

When asked about reports that India could take up Russian offers of discounted crude oil, and what would be the US’s response to such moves by India and others, White House spokesperson, Jen Psaki, said, “Our message to any country continues to be that, obviously, abide by the sanctions that we have put in place and recommended. I don’t believe this would be violating that. But also think about where you want to stand when the history books are written in this moment in time.”

Psaki derides Russian sanctions on US officials

White House press secretary Jen Psaki dismissed Russia’s announcement of sanctions against a number of U.S. officials including President Joe Biden and Psaki herself, joking that Biden “is a junior, so they may have sanctioned his dad.” (March 15)

Psaki added that any “support for the Russian leadership” was “ support for an invasion that obviously is having a devastating impact”.

Reports of India’s plans to continue its economic engagement with Russia, through alternative payment mechanisms, have, sparked off a new set of critical responses in the US against India’s stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Amy Bera, the chair of the House of Representatives subcommittee on Asia, Pacific, Central Asia and non-proliferation, said in a statement that as a senior Indian-American member of the Congress, he had been “deeply disappointed” with India’s abstention at the votes in the United Nations condemning Russian aggression, despite India’s long history of defending its own borders from outside aggression.

“Even worse, India is now reportedly looking to bypass international sanctions and buy Russian oil at a steeply discounted rate, potentially giving (Vladimir) Putin an economic lifeline at a time when the Russian economy is reeling from international sanctions.”

Bera added that if these reports were accurate then New Delhi would be “choosing to side” with Putin. “As the world’s largest democracy, and as a leader of the Quad, India has a responsibility to ensure its actions do not directly or indirectly support Putin and his invasion.”

In recent hearings on India and the Indo-Pacific on the Hill, US lawmakers have expressed their anger and disappointment at India’s stance, despite efforts by administration officials from both the State Department and Pentagon to give a glimpse of India’s constraints vis a vis its dependence on Russia.

The administration has said that it would not “stand by” and allow countries to compensate Russia at this moment. In the context of China’s support to Russia, Ned Price, the State Department spokesperson, said on Monday, “We are watching very closely the extent to which the PRC, or any other country for that matter, provides any form of support, whether that’s material support, whether that’s economic support, whether that’s financial support, to Russia. Any such support from anywhere in the world would be of great concern to us.”

India has expressed deep concern at the worsening situation in Ukraine and called for immediate cessation of violence and end to all hostilities. New Delhi has, however, abstained from UN resolutions attacking Russia. External affairs minister S Jaishankar told Parliament on Tuesday that India has “reiterated at the highest levels of our leadership to all parties concerned that there is no other choice but the path of diplomacy and dialogue. We have emphasised to all member states of the UN that the global order is anchored on international law, UN Charter and respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty of states.”

What About Anti-Hindu, Anti-Sikh Phobias, Asks India At UN Meet On Islamophobia

On declaring March 15 as International Day to Combat Islamophobia, India told the UN General Assembly that New Delhi wasn’t convinced that we need to elevate phobia against one religion to the level of an international day.

The UN General Assembly on Tuesday adopted a Pakistan-sponsored resolution to declare March 15 as International Day to Combat Islamophobia, with India expressing concern at the elevation of the phobia against one religion to such a level while excluding others.

The resolution, introduced by Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), was adopted by consensus. It was backed by 57 members of OIC and eight other countries, including China and Russia.

Explaining India’s position on the resolution, TS Tirumurti, the country’s permanent representative to the UN, expressed deep concern at the rise in instances of discrimination, intolerance and violence against members of many religious communities in different parts of the world.

“Let me also state that we condemn all acts motivated by anti-Semitism, Christianophobia or Islamophobia. However, such phobias are not restricted to Abrahamic religions only,” he said.

Tirumurti noted that Hinduism has more than 1.2 billion followers, Buddhism more than 535 million and Sikhism more than 30 million, and said the time had come to acknowledge the “prevalence of religiophobia, rather than single out just one”.

He added, “It is in this context that we are concerned about elevating the phobia against one religion to the level of an international day, to the exclusion of all the others. Celebration of a religion is one thing but to commemorate the combating of hatred against one religion is quite another.”

Tirumurti also argued the resolution “may well end up downplaying the seriousness of phobias against all other religions”.

While explaining India’s position, Tirumurti cited what he contended were religion phobias that have affected the followers of non-Abrahamic religions, including “anti-Hindu, anti-Buddhist and anti-Sikh phobias”.

“These contemporary forms of religiophobia can be witnessed in the increase in attacks on religious places of worship like gurudwaras, monasteries, temples etc or in spreading of hatred and disinformation against non-Abrahamic religions in many countries,” he said.

He also cited the destruction of the Bamyan Buddhas in Afghanistan, “violation of gurudwara premises, massacre of Sikh pilgrims in gurudwara, attack on temples, glorification of breaking of idols in temples” and said these incidents “contribute to the rise of contemporary forms of religiophobia against non-Abrahamic religions”.

Tirumurti said India, as a pluralistic and democratic country that is home to almost all world religions, has always welcomed “those persecuted around the world for their faith or belief”.

He said, “They have always found in India a safe haven shorn of persecution or discrimination. This is true whether they were Zoroastrians or Buddhists or Jews or people of any other faith. Therefore, it is with deep concern that we have viewed the growing manifestation of intolerance, discrimination or violence against followers of religions, including rise in sectarian violence, in some countries.”

Tirumurti said India is proud that pluralism is at “the core of our existence and we firmly believe in equal protection and promotion of all religions and faith”. In this context, he said, it was unfortunate that the word “pluralism” finds no mention in the resolution and its sponsors did not take on board India’s amendments to include the word in the text.

India hopes the resolution does not set a precedent which will divide the UN into “religious camps”, and it is important for the world body to remain above “religious matters which may seek to divide us rather than bring us together”, he said.

The representatives of France and the European Union also expressed reservations that the resolution singled out only Islam while religious intolerance is prevalent across the world.

Russia Against Humanity Witnessed In Besieged Ukrainia

People with loved ones trapped inside the besieged city of Mariupol in Ukrainewere trying desperately to connect to phones inside the city, which has been virtually cut off from the outside world by an escalating and indiscriminate bombing campaign by Russian forces.

As the Putin sent forces invade and destroy Ukraine, there is a loud and growing chorus of calls for the International Criminal Court to pursue Vladimir Putin. On March 2, the court said it would immediately proceed with an active investigation of possible war crimes following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The US Embassy in Kyiv said two days later that Russia committed a war crime by attacking a nuclear power plant in Ukraine. “It is a war crime to attack a nuclear power plant,” the embassy said on its official Twitter feed. “Putin’s shelling of Europe’s largest nuclear plant takes his reign of terror one step further.”

Russia’s suspected use of cluster bombs and so-called vacuum bombs in dense areas with many civilians has also been described as a war crime. Mariupol, a city of about 400,000, is a key strategic target for Russia because seizing it would allow Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine to join forces with troops in Crimea, the southern peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.

The city has now been subjected to nine days of heavy bombardment by Russian forces, destroying apartment buildings and flattening residential areas. Footage verified by the BBC showed shelling on Thursday, confirming a statement by the city council that the bombardment was ongoing.

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, said that the situation in Mariupol was the most difficult in the country. Municipal authorities have finally been able to begin collecting and burying bodies which had been in the streets, the deputy mayor Serhiy Orlov told the BBC on Thursday. City officials estimated 1,300 civilians had been killed so far, Mr Orlov said.

“There is no possibility of private graves, because of the high numbers and because of the continuous shelling. They are being put into mass graves,” he said. Ms Berg said the news of the mass graves had spread through the Telegram chat groups people are using to monitor the situation inside the city. “We have no news from our friends, all we know is they could be buried in those mass graves,” she said.

Numerous planned evacuation attempts for Mariupol residents have collapsed over the past five days after Russian forces have resumed shelling the city, despite ceasefire agreements. Mr Orlov said city officials were ready at any moment to put evacuation plans into place but no agreement could be reached with Russia on establishing a humanitarian corridor. There are growing fears now of a serious humanitarian crisis inside Mariupol, following widespread reports that people were trying to take water from snow and had no access to food or medicines.

Russia claimed on Thursday that the maternity ward destroyed in the attack had been taken over by Ukrainian troops long before it was hit, but images from the scene captured by the Associated Press news agency showed medical staff outside after the blast and a pregnant woman being carried out of the building in a stretcher. “Thank god most of the people there were in the bomb shelter already,” Mr Orlov, the deputy mayor said. “Otherwise it would have been much worse.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the strike an “atrocity” and reiterated his call for world powers to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine – a request that has so far been denied. The foreign minister, Mr Kuleba said on Thursday that his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov had told Ukrainian officials Russia would continue its aggression until Ukraine met all its demands, including surrender.

The US Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told the UN General Assembly on March 2 that Russia was preparing to use these weapons.  The US is concerned Putin and the Russian military will become more brutal since the invasion is not going as smoothly as they had planned.

“One thing is certain, that intentionally directing shelling or targeting civilians or civilian objects is a crime within the jurisdiction of the court,” the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on March 3. “And even if there’s military necessity, there’s a clear obligation upon parties to a conflict to not use disproportionate force, to make sure the ordnance used and the weapons don’t have a very wide footprint in heavy civilian areas,” said Khan.

“Whether it’s cluster bombs or thermobaric weapons, commanders in the battlefield need to use great discretion and with great diligence decide how they wish to wage conflict now that it started,” Khan told the media. “And the law is here and the court is watching, and we have experts that will try to get to the bottom of it,” he said.

“I want to be very clear about this, that Mr. Putin is a war criminal,” former Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told the Council on Foreign Relations recently. “He has to sit behind the bars in International Criminal Court.”

The Beginning of the End for Putin? Dictatorships Look Stable—Until They Aren’t

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine has been a clarifying moment. Since he came to power in 2000, various Western leaders have tried to cooperate, accommodate, or negotiate with him. But by embarking on a war of choice against a country he claims doesn’t have a right to exist, Putin has forced the international community to see him for what he is: a belligerent leader with a remarkable capacity for destruction. The result has been sweeping new measures designed to constrict and constrain him—punishing sanctions against Russia’s financial institutions, bans on Russian planes over EU airspace, and increased weapons shipments to Ukraine. Even Germany, long reluctant to confront Putin, agreed to exclude Russian banks from the SWIFT financial messaging system, reversed its long-standing prohibition on providing arms to conflict zones, and substantially increased its military spending. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked nothing less than a sea change in international perceptions of Putin and what must be done to confront him.

Such a sea change could well be underway inside Russia, too. Throughout his tenure, Putin has maintained relatively high levels of public support thanks in large part to his ability to restore economic growth and stability after the turmoil of the 1990s. While most Russians have few illusions about their leader, recognizing the corruption that benefits him and the elite around him, it remained all but unfathomable to most Russians that Putin would launch a major conventional war against their Ukrainian neighbors. For months, many Russian analysts, commentators, and citizens alike were convinced that Putin would not engage in such an act of aggression. The news of the war and the economic ramifications that followed have led Russians to see both Putin and Russia differently; Russia is not the same today as it was last week.

The prevailing wisdom holds that Putin will be able to survive any domestic backlash. That is most likely true. In personalist authoritarian regimes—where power is concentrated in the hands of an individual rather than shared by a party, military junta, or royal family—the leader is rarely driven from office by wars, even when they experience defeat. That’s both because other elites are not strong enough to hold the dictator to account and because domestic audiences have few opportunities to punish leaders for their actions. But the thing about repressive regimes like Putin’s Russia is that they often look stable right up to the point that they are not. Putin has taken a major risk in attacking Ukraine, and there is a chance—one that seems to be growing—that it could mark the beginning of his end.

There are good reasons to believe that Putin can withstand the backlash from his war. He has gone to great lengths in the last year to crack down on Russian civil society, political opposition, journalists, and the information environment. The regime’s brazen poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and banning of Memorial, the country’s most important post-Soviet human rights civic institution underscore the regime’s commitment to using repression to maintain control. Russians have gotten the message. According to polling by the Levada Center in 2021, 52 percent of Russians fear mass repression, and 58 percent are scared they will be arbitrarily arrested or otherwise harmed by the authorities—the highest these indicators have been since 1994. Such an uptick in repression is common late in the tenures of longtime autocrats. The longer these authoritarians remain in power, the more they lose touch with their societies and the less they have to offer their citizens. As a result, they have few other ways to sustain their rule.

Along with repression, Putin can manipulate Russia’s information environment, shaping the way many Russians understand events in Ukraine. Already, Russia’s security actors are harassing individuals who post antiwar messages on social media and censoring facts and details about the war. The authorities also moved to shut down Echo Moskvy, an independent radio station broadcasting in Russia since 1990. Although younger generations get more information from non-state-controlled outlets, the regime remains dominant in the information space. Before Russia invaded Ukraine, polls show that large majorities of Russians supported recognizing the Russian-backed breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent countries and that they blamed Ukraine and NATO for the conflict.

Together, repression and information control could help prevent Russia’s antiwar protests from catching on. So far, the regime has arrested more than 5,000 people for actively demonstrating against Russia’s invasion, which may deter others from joining. While other Russians may be willing to risk arrest if they think the demonstrations will snowball, censorship makes it difficult for potential protesters to know how many citizens are upset with the war. Most likely, the Putin regime will only further ratchet up repression to deal with a more restive Russian public. Personalist regimes are more likely to use repression in response to protests than are other autocracies, and they are especially likely to do so when engaging in expansionist territorial conflicts (as Putin has with Ukraine). Moreover, many of the Russians fed up with Putin will opt to leave Russia, as some already have, reducing the pressure mounting against the regime.

Putin has also gone to great lengths to inoculate himself against another threat: elite defection. In a highly choreographed meeting of his national security council, Russia’s president forced each member of his team to publicly pledge their support for his decision to recognize the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, the two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine. This reduced the council members’ ability to credibly defect and claim that Putin is taking Russia in the wrong direction. Likewise, Putin convened his country’s most powerful businessmen the day after the campaign against Ukraine began to discuss the economic shocks that would follow. Putin’s goal was clear—remind them that their fates are tied to his continuation in power.

ALL FALLS DOWN

But there are also good reasons that the tides might turn. Despite the repression, protests have taken place in more than 58 cities across Russia. The early demonstrations are remarkable not just for the bravery that they reflect, but also for the potential that they hold—protests in highly repressive regimes are more likely to be successful than protests in less repressive environments. That is because when people take to the streets even when the costs of doing so are high, it sends a powerful signal to other citizens that their dissent is shared. In this way, these early antiwar protests have the potential to trigger cascading opposition. The fact that Russians view Putin’s war as being unjust and egregious makes it especially likely to prompt widespread backlash. It is moments of acute injustice that have the greatest ability to mobilize people—as when Tunisian fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire after local officials humiliated him and confiscated his wares, launching the Arab Spring in 2011.

The war also has famous and influential domestic opponents—and they are not just known dissidents. Several Russian celebrities have signed letters opposing the war. Russian tennis star Andrei Rublev wrote “no war please” on a TV camera. The Russian head of a delegation at a major UN climate conference apologized for his country’s invasion of Ukraine, and the daughter of Putin’s press secretary reportedly posted “no war” on her Instagram account. (She deleted it hours later.) There are even signs that Putin’s cozy oligarchs are getting uncomfortable. Former energy magnate Anatoly Chubais posted a picture of Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition leader murdered in front of the Kremlin, on his Facebook page. Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska called for peace and negotiations.

Even if Putin’s actions don’t immediately push him from power, the war in Ukraine creates long-term vulnerabilities. Punishing economic sanctions are already shredding the value of the ruble, and the economic damage is expected to intensify. Over time, this could weaken Putin domestically. Personalist dictatorships generally cut government spending when faced with sanctions, making life even harder for average citizens and increasing the odds of growing unrest. Sanctions also tend to be more effective when targeted at personalist authoritarian regimes than when aimed at other types of autocracies because personalist dictators are the most dependent on patronage to keep power. So far, Russia’s elite have never had to choose between the life they wanted and Putin. But Chubais’s and Deripaska’s comments hint that could change as the effect of the sanctions sets in, especially if they are coupled with stepped-up anticorruption efforts by the United States and Europe. If they are squeezed tight enough, Russia’s elites may come to decide that Putin can no longer guarantee their future interests and try to replace him with a leader who would withdraw from Ukraine and prompt the West to unfreeze their assets.

Finally, the conflict in Ukraine may well evolve into a drawn-out insurgency that slowly saps the patience of the Russian public. Research shows that personalist dictators are more willing than other authoritarians to tolerate military disputes with high casualties, but that doesn’t mean their citizens are. In Libya, for example, former leader Muammar al-Qaddafi engaged in heavy-handed repression to maintain control of the country as the costs of his wars increased. But eventually, when faced with dire economic conditions, ordinary citizens violently overthrew his government. In the Soviet Union, a lengthy and expensive invasion of Afghanistan helped drain faith in the Communist Party’s regime. It is not inconceivable that Putin’s grip on Russia will slip if Ukraine becomes a morass.

LOSING TOUCH

Predicting the downfall of an authoritarian leader is a fool’s errand. Weak and embattled autocrats can limp along far longer than analysts expect. Former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe survived hyperinflation and electoral defeat, staying in power until just two years before his death. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro remains in office, even though Venezuela’s economy has utterly collapsed. Similarly, leaders that appear strong can be suddenly ousted, as happened to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali that same year.

But analysts do know that personalist leaders such as Putin are more likely to make foreign policy mistakes than are other autocrats. They surround themselves with yes men who only tell them what they want to hear and withhold bad news, making it difficult for these dictators to make well-informed decisions. Whether or not Putin’s war of choice becomes the mistake that unseats him from power is an open question. But Russia is experiencing rising dissatisfaction from the public, fissures among its elite, and broad-based international punishment. Putin’s downfall may not come tomorrow or the day after, but his grip on power is certainly more tenuous than it was before he invaded Ukraine.

Why India Repeatedly Abstains Against Russian Invasion Of Ukraine?

In the midst of the ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine, India abstained from a United Nations Security Council’s (UNSC’s) resolution sponsored by the United States that deplores Russia’s actions in the strongest terms. Explaining its abstention, India’s permanent representative at the UN, T S Tirumurti said, “India is deeply disturbed by the recent turn of events in Ukraine.”

“Dialogue is the only answer to resolve differences and controversies, but it can be daunting at this point. It’s a shame that the diplomatic path has been abandoned. We have to go back to it. For all these reasons, India has chosen to refrain from this resolution, “said Tirmulti.

Russia vetoed the resolution as expected, but China and the United Arab Emirates also abstained from voting, with the remaining 11 members of the UNSC voting in favor of the resolution.

India’s abstention is described by experts as a balanced act of maintaining friends and partners on both sides. It is also a legacy of the non-aligned NeHrvian foreign policy and the way the two countries interacted in the United States. United Nations.

India’s inclination towards the Soviet Union

After independence, India has followed non-aligned policies and maintained a neutral position in the bipolar world. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is a group of 120 countries in developing countries and is inconsistent with the major power blocks. It was founded in 1961 under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru with the leaders of Yugoslavia, Egypt, Ghana and Indonesia. Despite the official non-aligned policy, a slight inclination towards the Soviet Union was noticeable during this period.

In December 1971, India and Pakistan fought for 13 days—one of the shortest wars in history—over the humanitarian crisis in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. India had, for months, been trying to convince the world that West Pakistan’s subjugation of East Pakistan was an emergency. Refugees from East Pakistan were pouring into India, and the situation would only be improved with a resolution of the political predicament between West and East Pakistan.

The Soviet Union was the only country that listened. In August of that year, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi signed the India-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation. Gandhi had held off on completing the agreement for domestic political reasons; she had not wanted to give fodder to those political opponents who accused her of being too cozy with the Soviet Union. But international concerns were soon more pressing: With the signing of the treaty, the Soviet Union provided India both the diplomatic and arms support it needed for the war Gandhi knew was coming, helping India over Pakistan.

While the world in 2020 is in many ways changed from that time, 1971 looms large in the India-Russia relationship today. Moscow was a reliable partner for New Delhi when no one else was. And the United States, meanwhile, actively ignored India’s pleas to deal with the situation in East Pakistan: President Richard Nixon and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger considered Pakistan a key go-between in opening relations with China.

In a 2018 research paper, Professors Sanjay Kumar Pandy and Ankur Yadav suggest that the foundation of India’s affinity for the Soviet Union can be explained through the profound influence that socialist and Marxist ideas have had on many leaders of the free struggle. increase. “Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose’s ideological devotion, the formation of the Socialist Republican / Army, and the adoption of socialism and national planning by India are the links between socialist thought and the Soviet Union in India’s post-independence history. It’s a proof of sex,” TThey write.

Another reason India seeks intimacy with the Soviet Union is often cited as the growing proximity between the United States and Pakistan. “The true foundation of this relationship was laid when Nehru visited the Soviet Union in 1955 and the Soviet leaders Khrushchev and Bulganin visited again.” Write Pandey and Yadav. Since the 1950s, the Soviet Union has been closely involved in India’s industrial development, including the construction of the Birai and Bokaro steelworks and the establishment of public sector companies such as Bharat Heavy Electricals (BHEL) and oil and natural gas. Co., Ltd. (ONGC).

The deterioration of Sino-Soviet relations during the war between India and China in the 1960s brought the two countries closer together, leading to the signing of the Indo-Soviet Peace and Friendship Treaty in 1971. The basis of cooperation provided by the Soviet Union in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. This was important to ensure India’s victory.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, relations between India and Russia deteriorated, and Russia recognized the need to build close ties with the United States in order to rebuild economically and politically. In the 1990s, there was a change in India’s idealistic position.

However, by the mid-1990s, Russia had warmed up to India again as expectations for Russia’s western aid did not come true. When Russian President Boris Yeltsin visited India in January 1993, he claimed that both countries had ended a long-term suspension. Over the next few years, several treaties and agreements have been signed between the two countries to establish trade, diplomatic, military, industrial, scientific and technological cooperation. India is currently the second largest market for Russia’s defense industry. Indian military hardware cents are known to be imported from Russia.

In his dissertation, Pandey and Yadav suggest that the joint declaration and agreement between India and Russia shows that the two countries are in much the same position on many global and regional issues. .. Based on the prominent role of the United Nations and international law, common interests, equality, mutual respect, and non-interference in national affairs, “they write.

India and Russia at the United Nations

India’s devotion to Russia was evident in the way the two countries interacted at the United Nations. In an ORF article written by Aparajita Das in 2017, “Subtle balance: India’s voting record at the UN General AssemblyThe author wrote that during the 69 years since India’s independence, India’s voting pattern at the United Nations was the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation for only four years, 1946, 1948, 1950 and 1962.

“It had little to do with the Soviet Union because it was about ideologies such as anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, anti-apartheid, and pro-Palestine, which were the basis of non-allied nations. We also supported the Soviet block, “explains TP Sreenivasan, India’s former Deputy Standing Representative for the United Nations in New York. In her article, Das writes that the tendency towards the Soviet Union is likely to be partly due. “India and the former Soviet Union share a position as an economically developing country rather than an inherent idealistic affinity.”

Since the 1970s, India has approached the Soviet Union and moved away from the United States. India supported the Soviet Union or refrained from voting on many issues such as the Czechoslovak intervention in 1968 and the invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Srinivasan, who abstained from India’s vote against the invasion of Afghanistan, said the sentiment within India’s political corridor was to oppose the Soviet Union, including then Prime Minister Charan Singh. The Soviet Union resulted in India abstaining from UNGA when all other non-allied and Western nations voted against it.

At the same time, India was the beneficiary of Russia’s veto in some cases. The Soviet Union was the only country to reject a UN Security Council resolution against UN intervention in Kashmir in 1957, 1962, and 1971. Friendship with the Soviet Union began in 1955 when Nikita Khrushchev, the secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, came to Kashmir and declared it an integral part of India. Near that, call us from the top of the mountain and we will appear by your side. But in recent years, even Russia has changed its position slightly to argue that the Kashmir issue needs to be resolved through bilateral dialogue. “

Yet another example of Russia’s veto support for India was during the 1961 Gore liberation movement. The United States, Britain, France and Turkey have accused India of invading Goa and proposed a UN resolution calling on the country to withdraw its troops. The veto from the Soviet Union destroyed the resolution. Historian SR Sharma, who writes about Russia’s support for India in the case of Goa, states in his book “India-USSR Relations” (Volume 1): The situation when the West decided to pass a veto and withdrawal resolution at the Security Council. “

Russia’s veto was once again important in determining India’s victory in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. The United States has passed a Security Council resolution calling for the suspension and withdrawal of troops by India and Pakistan. The Russians again vetoed the resolution allowed India to continue fighting for the cause, which ultimately led to the liberation of Bangladesh.

Sreenivasan states that despite the clear affinity between the two countries at the United Nations, there are some differences to remember. The Soviet Union also opposed India on many other issues. Most importantly, India will conduct a nuclear test in 1974. “Although not as loud as the Western nations, the Soviet Union did not agree with the violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,” Sreenivasan said. As a result, India and the Soviet Union differed in voting on the disarmament issue.

Another issue that the Soviet Union severely opposed was the expansion of the Security Council. Brijesh Mishra, India’s permanent member of the UN Security Council, proposed in 1979 to expand the number of non-permanent members of the Security Council. While also a permanent member of the Security Council, India opposed the Soviet Union on the issue of collective security in Asia.

Biden Had ‘Constructive Conversation’ with Quad Leaders: White House

US President Joe Biden has said that he had a “constructive conversation” with the Quad leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on the Ukraine crisis as he reiterated the four-nation grouping’s commitment to sovereignty and territorial integrity around the world, including in the Indo-Pacific.

Psaki added that Biden suggested that members of their national security team should follow up going forward. The Quad leaders convened a virtual meeting on Mar.2 where they discussed the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and assessed its broader implications also reaffirmed their commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Besides PM Modi, the meeting hosted by President Biden on Wednesday was attended by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

“I met with my fellow Quad leaders Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Prime Minister Kishida Fumio about Russia’s ongoing attack on Ukraine and our commitment to sovereignty and territorial integrity around the world, including in the Indo-Pacific,” Biden tweeted after the meeting.

During the virtual meeting, the Quad leaders prominently discussed Russia’s military operation in Ukraine and the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the eastern European nation.

“The President felt it was a constructive conversation,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at her daily news conference.

“The Quad leaders reaffirmed their commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region, and agreed to meet in person in Tokyo later this year,” the White House said in a press release, indicating that China’s growing assertiveness in the region came up for discussion.

President Biden suggested that members of the respective national security teams should also follow up after the meeting of the four heads of state, Psaki said.

“He (Biden) asked members of their national security team to follow up from there,” Psaki told reporters.

“But I’m not going to get into more details about the conversation beyond that,” she said in response to a question whether India’s defence ties with Russia were discussed.

The Quad meeting took place a day after the US, Australia and Japan supported a resolution at the UN General Assembly to demand an immediate halt to Russia’s attack on Ukraine and the withdrawal of all Russian troops. India abstained from Wednesday’s vote.

In November 2017, the US, India, Australia and Japan gave shape to the long-pending proposal of setting up the four-nation Quad grouping to develop a new strategy to keep the critical sea routes in the Indo-Pacific free of any influence, amid China’s growing military presence in the strategic region.

In March last year, Biden hosted the first-ever summit of the Quad leaders in the virtual format that was followed by an in-person summit in Washington in September for which Prime Minister Modi had travelled to the US.

The Quad has been focusing on cooperation in areas such as producing vaccines, connectivity projects, facilitating the mobility of students, and looking at promoting startups and technology collaboration.

On the question of whether India-Russia military ties were discussed during the Quad meet, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Mar.4, “US President Joe Biden felt it was a constructive conversation.”

Quad leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi reaffirmed their commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, in which the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states is respected, and countries are free from military, economic, and political coercion, the White House said.

The White House said that the Quad leaders reaffirmed their dedication to the Quad as a mechanism to promote regional stability and prosperity.

“They agreed to set up a new humanitarian assistance and disaster relief mechanism which will enable the Quad to meet future humanitarian challenges in the Indo-Pacific and provide a channel for communication as they each address and respond to the crisis in Ukraine,” said the White House.

Russian Attack On Ukrainian Nuclear Plant Triggers Worldwide Alarm

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian troops Friday seized the biggest nuclear power plant in Europe after a middle-of-the-night attack that set it on fire and briefly raised worldwide fears of a catastrophe in the most chilling turn yet in Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Firefighters put out the blaze, and no radiation was released, U.N. and Ukrainian officials said, as Russian forces pressed on with their week-old offensive on multiple fronts and the number of refugees fleeing the country eclipsed 1.2 million.

With world condemnation mounting, the Kremlin cracked down on the flow of information at home, blocking Facebook, Twitter, the BBC and the U.S. government-funded Voice of America. And President Vladimir Putin signed a law making it a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison to spread so-called fake news, including anything that goes against the official government line on the war.

While the vast Russian armored column threatening Kyiv remained stalled outside the capital, Putin’s military has launched hundreds of missiles and artillery attacks on cities and other sites across the country, and made significant gains on the ground in the south in an apparent bid to cut off Ukraine’s access to the sea.

In the attack on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in the southeastern city of Enerhodar, the chief of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, said a Russian “projectile” hit a training center, not any of the six reactors.

The attack triggered global alarm and fear of a catastrophe that could dwarf the world’s worst nuclear disaster, at Ukraine’s Chernobyl in 1986. In an emotional nighttime speech, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he feared an explosion that would be “the end for everyone. The end for Europe. The evacuation of Europe.”

But nuclear officials from Sweden to China said no radiation spikes had been reported, as did Grossi.

Authorities said Russian troops had taken control of the overall site but plant staff continued to run it. Only one reactor was operating, at 60% of capacity, Grossi said in the aftermath of the attack.

Two people were injured in the fire, Grossi said. Ukraine’s state nuclear plant operator Enerhoatom said three Ukrainian soldiers were killed and two wounded.

In the U.S., Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the episode “underscores the recklessness with which the Russians have been perpetrating this unprovoked invasion.” At an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya, said the fire broke out as a result of Russian shelling of the plant and accused Moscow of committing “an act of nuclear terrorism.”

Without producing evidence, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov claimed that a Ukrainian “sabotage group” had set the fire at Zaporizhzhia.

The crisis unfolded after Grossi earlier in the week expressed grave concern that the fighting could cause accidental damage to Ukraine’s 15 nuclear reactors at four plants around the country.

Atomic safety experts said a war fought amid nuclear reactors represents an unprecedented and highly dangerous situation.

“These plants are now in a situation that few people ever seriously contemplated when they were originally built,” said Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington. “No nuclear plant has been designed to withstand a potential threat of a full-scale military attack.”

Dr. Alex Rosen of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War said the incident was probably the result of military units overestimating the precision of their weapons, given that the prevailing winds would have carried any radioactive fallout straight toward Russia.

“Russia cannot have any interest in contaminating its own territory,” he said. He said the danger comes not just from the reactors but from the risk of enemy fire hitting storage facilities that hold spent fuel rods.

In the wake of the attack, Zelenskyy appealed again to the West to enforce a no-fly zone over his country. But NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg ruled out that possibility, citing the risk of a much wider war in Europe. He said that to enforce a no-fly zone, NATO planes would have to shoot down Russian aircraft.

“We understand the desperation, but we also believe that if we did that, we would end up with something that could end in a full-fledged war in Europe,” Stoltenberg said.

The plant fire was the second time since the invasion began that concerns about a potential nuclear accident arose, after a battle at the heavily contaminated site of the now-decommissioned Chernobyl plant.

Russian forces, meanwhile, pressed their offensive in the southern part of the country. Severing Ukraine’s access to the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov would deal a severe blow to its economy and could worsen an already dire humanitarian situation.

A round of talks between Russia and Ukraine yielded a tentative agreement Thursday to set up safe corridors to evacuate citizens and deliver food and medicine. But the necessary details still had to be worked out.

The U.N. human rights office said 331 civilians had been confirmed killed in the invasion but the true number is probably much higher.

In Romania, one newly arrived refugee, Anton Kostyuchyk, struggled to hold back tears as he recounted leaving everything behind in Kyiv and sleeping in churches with his wife and three children during their journey out.

“I’m leaving my home, my country. I was born there, and I lived there,” he said. “And what now?”

Appearing on video in a message to antiwar protesters in several European cities, Zelenskyy continued to appeal for help.

“If we fall, you will fall,” he said. “And if we win, and I’m sure we’ll win, this will be the victory of the whole democratic world. This will be the victory of our freedom. This will be the victory of light over darkness, of freedom over slavery.”

Inside Ukraine, frequent shelling could be heard in the center of Kyiv, though more distant than in recent days, with loud thudding every 10 minutes resonating over the rooftops.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovich said battles involving airstrikes and artillery continued northwest of Kyiv, and the northeastern cities of Kharkiv and Okhtyrka came under heavy fire.

He said Ukrainian forces were still holding the northern city of Chernihiv and had prevented Russian efforts to take the important southern city of Mykolaiv. Ukrainian artillery also defended Odesa from repeated attempts by Russian ships to fire on the Black Sea port, Arestovich said. Odesa is Ukraine’s biggest port city and home to a large naval base.

The Ukrainian Navy scuttled its flagship at the shipyard where it was undergoing repairs to keep the frigate from being seized by the Russians, authorities said.

Another strategic port, Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov, was “partially under siege,” and Ukrainian forces were pushing back efforts to surround the city, Arestovich said. The fighting has knocked out the city’s electricity, heat and water systems, as well as most phone service, officials said.

“The humanitarian situation is tense,” he said. Amid the warfare, there were occasional signs of hope.

As explosions sounded on the fringes of Kyiv, Dmytro Shybalov and Anna Panasyk smiled and blushed at the civil registry office where they married Friday. They fell in love in 2015 in Donetsk amid the fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces that was a precursor to the countrywide war.

“It’s 2022 and the situation hasn’t changed,” Shybalov said. “It’s scary to think what will happen when our children will be born.”

Russia Stands Isolated, After Putin’s Forces Invade Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has provoked an international outcry that has led to a more unified response from the international community than many might have expected.

It’s also led to a series of surprise moves, from Germany joining efforts to arm the Ukrainian resistance to Switzerland imposing sanctions on Russia.  Germany’s decision to send anti-tank weapons and Stinger missiles to Ukraine represented a reversal of a longstanding policy of not sending weapons into conflict zones. Berlin also said it would boost military spending to above 2 percent of gross domestic product.

“This is really the first time that we’ve seen Germany do that since the end of the Cold War,” said Charles Kupchan, former senior director for European affairs on the National Security Council under the Obama administration.

The moves are good news for the White House and President Biden, who devoted significant time to uniting allies behind a common approach to counter Russian President Vladimir Putin in the event of a Russian invasion.

Through the Cold War and the decades since, nothing could persuade Finns and Swedes that they would be better off joining NATO — until now.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has profoundly changed Europe’s security outlook, including for Nordic neutrals Finland and Sweden, where support for joining NATO has surged to record levels.

A poll commissioned by Finnish broadcaster YLE this week showed that, for the first time, more than 50% of Finns support joining the Western military alliance. In neighboring Sweden, a similar poll showed those in favor of NATO membership outnumber those against.

“The unthinkable might start to become thinkable,” tweeted former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt, a proponent of NATO membership.

Russia’s weeklong assault on Ukraine has spawned a refugee crisis and killed thousands of civilians, with world leaders and government officials warning that Russian-led atrocities are likely to escalate.

Widespread revulsion to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has united the global community as well as Democrats and Republicans in Congress — at least for the most part.

“President Putin has been one of the greatest unifiers of NATO in modern history, so I guess that is one thing we can thank him for,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this week.

House lawmakers told The Hill they were heartened by resounding bipartisan support for the administration’s strategy toward Ukraine, signaled with spontaneous applause during a classified briefing by senior administration officials at the Capitol on Monday.

Biden also received bipartisan applause when he rebuked Putin during his first State of the Union on Tuesday.

And Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) emerged from the classified briefing for senators on Monday to tell reporters that “the administration has done a really sound job in bringing together our allies and friends from around the world and presenting a united front against a very evil, ambitious leader of Russia.”

Thomas Rid, professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, said during a panel discussion that Putin’s actions had achieved “​​what no European politician has achieved in a generation, he made the European Union discover its spine.”

He added that Russia’s invasion has managed “to get Germany over historic trauma. The historic trauma was for a long time never to fight again, avoiding wars by not fighting, by not providing weapons, but of course now we have shifted and now have the approach that avoiding war means defending yourself.”

But not all close American allies and partners have fallen in line with Biden’s strategy.

Israel initially held back from condemning outright Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Jerusalem relies on strategic communication with Moscow to carry out military operations in Syria against Iran and its proxy forces.

That hesitation drew pushback from stalwart Israel allies in Congress. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he was “concerned” over Israel’s position but, after speaking with Israeli officials and Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., said he is encouraged by new steps from Jerusalem.

This includes Israel voting in favor of a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday that condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has also spoken with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and is delivering a 100-ton humanitarian aid package. Bennett has also reportedly offered Israel to act as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine.

But Zelensky, who is Jewish, told an Israeli news outlet on Thursday that while he is appreciative of support expressed by the Israeli public, “I don’t feel the Israeli prime minister has wrapped himself in the Ukrainian flag.”

“I spoke with the Israeli leadership, we have not bad relations — but these things are tested in times of crisis,” he reportedly said during a press conference in Kyiv.

Graham told The Hill that Jerusalem’s initial hesitation was a “hiccup.”

“I came away pleased,” he said of talks with Israeli officials. “They jumped on the [U.N.] resolution yesterday, they’ve been providing pretty robust assistance, they’re having constant contact with the Ukrainian president and his team, so I think we had a hiccup early on and hope we’re in a better position and I believe we are.”

Another holdout country that is challenging the administration’s global response is India, which has a historically close relationship with Moscow rooted in importing and relying on Russian military equipment.

India abstained from voting at the U.N., in both the Security Council and the General Assembly, on the resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Donald Lu, the assistant secretary of State for South Asian affairs, told lawmakers on Wednesday that the administration has been in a “pitched battle” to get India to more publicly commit itself to the U.S. position against Russia and is weighing sanctions against New Delhi over its Russian military stockpiles.

Biden spoke with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday along with leaders of Australia and Japan under the banner of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a security grouping focused on the Indo-Pacific.

Psaki did not address a reporter’s question over whether India’s relationship with Russia was discussed, saying only that the Quad conversation was “constructive.”

Pakistan is another challenge for the U.S. over its close ties with Russia. Pakistan is a key military partner for the U.S. in its counterterrorism operations in South Asia.

Lu, during the hearing with lawmakers, said a visit by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to Moscow on the day that Russia launched its invasion against Ukraine has hurt communication between Washington and Islamabad.

“I think we’re trying to figure out how to engage with the prime minister following that decision,” the assistant secretary said.

And China has not backed down from supporting Russia’s position in the conflict, despite reported efforts by the administration to recruit Beijing to help stop war in Ukraine.

Relations between the U.S. and China are at a nadir, and export controls and sanctions recently imposed on Russia by the West may ultimately have the effect of pushing Russia and China closer together.

In the Gulf, Saudi Arabia has resisted calls to increase oil exports to prevent energy prices from spiking for global consumers amid Russia’s invasion.

Psaki on Thursday said that administration officials last engaged directly with the Saudis in Riyadh on global energy markets in February related to Russia’s then-potential invasion of Ukraine, but had no announcements about upcoming communication.

The United Arab Emirates, another key oil exporter, has also resisted taking a public stance against Russia. The UAE abstained from voting on the U.N. Security Council for the resolution against Russia, but voted in the affirmative in the General Assembly.

Yousef Al Otaiba, the Emirati envoy to the U.S., said that relations between Washington and Abu Dhabi are going through a “stress test, but I am confident that we will get out of it and get to a better place,” Reuters reported.

Biden is coming under increasing pressure to impose sanctions on Russia’s oil and gas sector. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday added her name to a list of lawmakers who have backed a ban on U.S. imports of Russian oil.

UN Assembly Votes To Demand That Russia Stop War In Ukraine

The U.N. General Assembly has voted to demand that Russia stop its offensive in Ukraine and withdraw all troops, with nations from world powers to tiny island states condemning Moscow’s actions

The U.N. General Assembly voted at an emergency session Wednesday to demand an immediate halt to Moscow’s attack on Ukraine and the withdrawal of all Russian troops, with sustained applause breaking out after a formidable show of support among the 193 member nations against the invasion.

The vote on the “Aggression against Ukraine” resolution was 141-5, with 35 abstentions. It came as Russia bombarded Ukraine’s second-largest city and besieged two important ports, and a huge convoy of Russian military vehicles was poised outside the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

Only Belarus, Syria, North Korea and Eritrea joined Russia in opposing the measure, a powerful indication of the international isolation that Russian President Vladimir Putin faces for invading his country’s smaller neighbor — and that the resolution’s supporters sought to emphasize.

The abstentions included China and India, as expected, but also some surprises from usual Russian allies Cuba and Nicaragua. And the United Arab Emirates, which abstained on Friday’s similar Security Council resolution, voted “yes.”

Cuba had spoken in Russia’s defense on Tuesday, with Ambassador Pedro Luis Cuesta blaming the crisis on what he said is the U.S. determination to keep expanding NATO toward Russia’s borders and on the delivery of modern weapons to Ukraine, ignoring Russia’s concerns for its own security. He told the assembly the resolution “suffers from lack of balance” and doesn’t begin to address the concerns of both parties, or “the responsibility of those who took aggressive actions which precipitated the escalation of this conflict.”

Unlike Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, but they do have clout in reflecting international opinion. Under special emergency session rules, a resolution needs approval of two-thirds of those countries voting, and abstentions don’t count.

From Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden called the special session historic and a demonstration of “unprecedented global unity.”

“An overwhelming majority of the world recognizes that if we do not stand up to Putin’s Russia, it will only inflict further chaos and aggression on the world,” Biden said in a statement.

After Russia vetoed a similar Security Council resolution Friday, Ukraine and its supporters won approval for the assembly to hold an emergency special session — the first since 1997 — to try to spotlight opposition to Russia’s invasion.

Deploring Russia’s “aggression” against Ukraine “in the strongest terms,” the measure demands an immediate halt to Moscow’s use of force and the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of all Russian forces.

The resolution says that Russia’s military operations in Ukraine “are on a scale that the international community has not seen in Europe in decades and that urgent action is needed to save this generation from the scourge of war.” It “urges the immediate peaceful resolution of the conflict” and reaffirms the assembly’s commitment “to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.”

The measure also condemns “the Russian Federation’s decision to increase the readiness of its nuclear forces” — an issue raised by many U.N. members concerned about that prospect.

Before the vote, Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya, told the assembly, “They have come to the Ukrainian soil, not only to kill some of us … they have come to deprive Ukraine of the very right to exist.” He said that “the crimes are so barbaric that it is difficult to comprehend.”

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia urged U.N. members to vote against the resolution, contending Western nations exerted “unprecedented pressure” with “open and cynical threats” to get support for the measure.

“This document will not allow us to end military activities. On the contrary, it could embolden Kyiv radicals and nationalists to continue to determine the policy of their country at any price,” Nebenzia warned.

“Your refusal to support today’s draft resolution is a vote for a peaceful Ukraine” that would not “be managed from the outside,” he said. “This was the aim of our special military operation, which the sponsors of this resolution tried to present as aggression.”

The resolution also calls on Russia to reverse a decision to recognize two separatist parts of eastern Ukraine as independent. The measure further deplores “the involvement of Belarus in this unlawful use of force against Ukraine,” a characterization that Belarussian Ambassador Valentin Rybakov flatly rejected in his speech to the assembly shortly before the vote.

He said Belarus’ only involvement in the conflict was organizing talks, due to continue Thursday, between Russia and Ukraine. Belarus has taken Russia’s side, with Rybakov saying the resolution reflected “double standards” toward Russia and the West.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters immediately after the vote: “The message of the General Assembly is loud and clear: End hostilities in Ukraine — now. Silence the guns — now. Open the door to dialogue and diplomacy — now.”

“We don’t have a moment to lose,” he said. “The brutal effects of the conflict are plain to see … It threatens to get much, much worse.”

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield urged all countries to “keep the momentum going,” do everything possible to help the Ukrainian people, hold Russia accountable and “match our strong words with strong actions.”

Explaining China’s abstention, Ambassador Zhang Jun used more emotional language than at previous U.N. meetings, citing “dramatic changes of the situation in Ukraine” and calling what is unfolding “heart wrenching.” He reiterated Beijing’s support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, and for the peaceful settlements of all disputes in line with the U.N. Charter.

“The top priority right now is to ease the situation on the ground as much as possible, and prevent the situation from escalating or even getting out of control,” Zhang said.

During more than two days of meetings preceding the vote, there were speeches from about 120 countries.

From the tiny Pacific island nation of Palau to Europe’s economic powerhouse Germany, country after country lashed out at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and urged support for the U.N. resolution.

There were only a few that supported Russia and some that took no position, such as South Africa. Urging compromise and diplomacy to find a lasting resolution to the crisis, South Africa abstained.

The resolution’s co-sponsors included Afghanistan, where the Taliban ousted the elected government last August, and Myanmar, where the military overthrew the elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, 2021. But neither the Taliban nor Myanmar’s military government have gained U.N. recognition, so that support came from representatives of their previous governments.

During the meeting, some supporters of the resolution had signs under the nameplates of their countries in Ukraine’s blue and yellow colors reading: ”#TodayWeAreAllUkraine.”

British Ambassador Barbara Woodward said the vote sent a clear message that the assembly condemns Putin and supports Ukraine.

“We have stood up against those who seek to redraw the world’s borders by threat or use of force,” she said. “For if President Putin’s aggression against Ukraine goes unchecked, which country could be next?”

India Abstains From Condemning Russian Invasion Of Ukraine At UN Security Council Ending 77 Years Of Peace In Europe, Putin’s Military Forces Invade Ukraine

For the first time since the end of World War II, 77 years ago, one European state has attacked another European state. Chosen by Russia’s Dictatorial President, Vladimir Putin, Russian troops and tanks are storming the capital, Kyiv, in his efforts to seize power from the democratically-elected Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

India, along with China and the United Arab Emirates, has abstained on a Security Council resolution condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The resolution proposed by the US and Albania with the backing of nearly 60 countries received 11 votes in favor, giving it a majority in the 15-member Council, but was nullified by the Russian veto on February 25th.

The resolution proposed by the US and Albania sought to declare that Russia has committed acts of aggression against Ukraine and the situation is a breach of international peace and security. It had also demanded that Russia immediately cease its use of force against Ukraine and completely withdraw its military forces from within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders.

Amid ongoing military operations by Russia against Ukraine, US Permanent Representative, Linda Thomas Gre, said: “We are here today because of Russia’s unprovoked, unjustified, unconscionable war on Ukraine. This is a war of choice. Russia’s choice. Russia chose to invade its neighbor. Russia chose to inflict untold suffering on the Ukrainian people and on its own citizens. Russia chose to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty, to violate international law, to violate the UN Charter.”

The strange part is that the early stages of the invasion seem to be all too familiar – especially Russia’s recognition of “independent” Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Putin’s moves during the Georgian War in 2008 and the annexation of Crimea in 2014 were eerily similar to what he is doing in Ukraine in 2022.

A day after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale war into Ukraine in the name of military operation, the Russian troops have now captured Chernobyl nuclear plant and Vorzel village, which is just 8 kilometers away from Kyiv. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pledged to remain in the capital and has said that he is Russia’s number 1 target.

Russia claims its assault on Ukraine is aimed only at military targets, but bridges, schools and residential neighborhoods have been hit since the invasion began Thursday with air and missile strikes and Russian troops entering Ukraine from the north, east and south.

Ukraine’s health minister reported Saturday that 198 people, including three children, had been killed and more than 1,000 others had been wounded during Europe’s largest land war since World War II. It was unclear whether those figures included both military and civilian casualties.

In Kyiv, a missile struck a high-rise apartment building in the southwestern outskirts near one of the city’s two passenger airports, leaving a jagged hole of ravaged apartments over several floors. A rescue worker said six civilians were injured.

Explaining the abstention at the United Nations, for abstaining from condemning the Russian invasion of its neighbor, Ukraine, India’s Permanent Representative, T.S. Tirumurti said, “It is a matter of regret that the path of diplomacy was given up. We must return to it. Dialogue is the only answer to the settling of differences and disputes, however daunting that may appear at this moment,” he added.

Without naming Russia, Tirumurti, however, said, “India is deeply disturbed by the recent turn of developments in Ukraine.” But taking a neutral stance, he added, “We urge that all efforts are made for the immediate cessation of violence and hostilities.”

India’s abstention followed a call from Russian President Vladimir Putin to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday. But US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken called India’s External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar to press the case for voting for the resolution. India’s abstention is a bump in the road to closer relations with the US and the West.

US Permanent Representative, Linda Thomas Greenfield made the voting on the resolution a litmus test for how countries stand with the US. “There is no middle ground,” she said before the vote. And after the vote, she added, “This vote showed which countries truly believe in supporting the core principles of the UN and which ones deployed them as convenient catchphrases. This vote showed which Security Council members support the UN Charter and which ones do not.”

Shortly afterwards, Secretary-General of the UN António Guterres said, “The UN was born out of war to end war. Today, that objective was not achieved. But we must never give up. We must give peace another chance.  The UN Charter has been challenged in the past, but it has stood firm on the side of peace, security, development, justice, international law & human rights. The international community must do everything in its power so that these values prevail in Ukraine & for all humanity.”

He added, “The contemporary global order has been built on the UN Charter, international law and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states. all member states need to honor these principles and finding a constructive way forward.”

The matter now goes to the 193-member General Assembly, which is expected to take up a similar resolution next week and the nonmembers of the Council who backed the failed resolution would be able to register their votes there.

Russia’s isolation was apparent because the three abstentions did not amount to support for it either. As symbolisms go, it was stark as China abstained even though Russia’s President Vladimir and China’s President Xi Jinping had signed a statement this month on ties with “no limits”.

India was courted by both the US and Russia given the symbolic nature of the vote and the West’s desire to isolate the US. Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday. And US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar to press the case for voting for the resolution.

India’s abstention will strain India’s growing relationship with the US and the West as Washington had made the voting on the resolution a litmus test for how countries stand with Washington’s position. “There is no middle ground,” US Permanent Representative Linda Thomas-Greenfield said before the vote.

And after the vote, she said, “This vote showed which countries truly believe in supporting the core principles of the UN and which ones deployed them as convenient catchphrases. This vote showed which Security Council members support the UN Charter and which ones do not.”

Britain’s Permanent Representative Barbara Woodward said, “History will record how we voted today. And which countries stood up to be counted in defense of the charter and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

Tirumurti’s remark that India “was deeply concerned about the welfare and security of the Indian community” in Ukraine drew a sharp response from Ukraine’s Permanent Representative Sergiy Kyslytsya. Turning towards Tirumurti and raising his voice he said, “It is exactly [for] the safety of your nationals right now in Ukraine that you should be the first to vote to stop the war to save your nationals in Ukraine.”

The vote was taken by a show of hands around the horseshoe-shaped desk of the Council against a mural symbolizing UN’s mission of bringing peace and freedom to a world ravaged by war. Kyslytsya asked to observe a moment silence to “pray for the souls” of all victims of the war in Ukraine without mentioning any nationalities or to meditate for peace.

Celebrating 70 Long Years on British Throne: ‘Remarkable’ Queen Elizabeth

The Prince of Wales paid tribute to the Queen on her Platinum Jubilee for the “remarkable achievement” of reaching 70 years on the throne. Prince Charles welcomed his mother’s wish that Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, be known as Queen Consort when he becomes King.

He said he and his wife were “deeply conscious of the honor”. The Queen is the first British monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee, and spent the day privately. In a message marking the 70th anniversary of her reign, the Queen said it was her “sincere wish” that Camilla would have that title.

Prince Charles said in a statement: “The Queen’s devotion to the welfare of all her people inspires still greater admiration with each passing year.

“We are deeply conscious of the honour represented by my mother’s wish. As we have sought together to serve and support Her Majesty and the people of our communities, my darling wife has been my own steadfast support throughout.”

The Queen’s reign began when she was 25 years old, following the death of her father, George VI, on 6 February 1952.

The monarch said that, 70 years on, the day is one she remembers “as much for the death of my father, King George VI, as for the start of my reign”.

The 95-year-old said in a written message to the nation: “I would like to express my thanks to you all for your support. I remain eternally grateful for, and humbled by, the loyalty and affection that you continue to give me.”

The Jubilee is the monarch’s first without the Duke of Edinburgh, her husband of 73 years, who died last year.

She reflected on how much she had gained from support given “unselfishly” by Prince Philip and thanked the goodwill shown to her by “all nationalities, faiths and ages in this country”.

The Queen signed off the message: “Your servant Elizabeth R.”

Camilla, the future Queen Consort

Since marrying into the Royal Family 17 years ago, Camilla has grown into her role as a senior royal.

The path to public acceptance has been at times rocky, and at first Camilla was a controversial figure who was blamed by some for the end of the prince’s first marriage to Princess Diana.

In 1994, Charles admitted to adultery with Camilla, but said it came after his marriage to Diana had “irretrievably broken down”.

It was not until 1999 when she and Charles went public with their romance,

Since then, Camilla has won over a cautious public. She has been praised for championing her own causes and interests, including supporting literacy charities, animal welfare and organizations helping victims of domestic abuse.

Many have congratulated the Queen on this historic day, including Boris Johnson, Theresa May and David Cameron – three of the 14 British prime ministers to occupy No 10 during her reign.

Mr Johnson posted on Twitter: “I pay tribute to her many years of service and look forward to coming together as a country to celebrate her historic reign in the summer.”

His predecessor, Mrs May, described the monarch as “an extraordinary woman, who has dedicated her life to the service of her people and our family of nations”.

Mr Cameron said: “There can be no finer example of dignified public duty and service.”

Leader of the opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, echoed these sentiments, saying he would like to express his “deepest thanks” for 70 years of “unparalleled public service”.

The Labor leader added: “Her Majesty The Queen has been one vital and valued constant in an ever-changing world, representing security and stability for our country, during the ups and downs of the last seven decades.”

A message from the White House said the Queen had, over her 70-year reign, “strengthened the ties of friendship, shared ideals, and faith in democracy that forever unite our countries”.

The Queen used the eve of her Jubilee to directly address the unresolved question of Camilla’s future title.

Israeli, Palestinian Leaders Propose 2-State Confederation

Israeli and Palestinian public figures have drawn up a new proposal for a two-state confederation that they hope will offer a way forward after a decade-long stalemate in Mideast peace efforts.

The plan includes several controversial proposals, and it’s unclear if it has any support among leaders on either side. But it could help shape the debate over the conflict and will be presented to a senior U.S. official and the U.N. secretary-general this week.

The plan calls for an independent state of Palestine in most of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, territories Israel seized in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel and Palestine would have separate governments but coordinate at a very high level on security, infrastructure and other issues that affect both populations.

The plan would allow the nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank to remain there, with large settlements near the border annexed to Israel in a one-to-one land swap.

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Settlers living deep inside the West Bank would be given the option of relocating or becoming permanent residents in the state of Palestine. The same number of Palestinians — likely refugees from the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation — would be allowed to relocate to Israel as citizens of Palestine with permanent residency in Israel.

The initiative is largely based on the Geneva Accord, a detailed, comprehensive peace plan drawn up in 2003 by prominent Israelis and Palestinians, including former officials. The nearly 100-page confederation plan includes new, detailed recommendations for how to address core issues.

Yossi Beilin, a former senior Israeli official and peace negotiator who co-founded the Geneva Initiative, said that by taking the mass evacuation of settlers off the table, the plan could be more amenable to them.

Israel’s political system is dominated by the settlers and their supporters, who view the West Bank as the biblical and historical heartland of the Jewish people and an integral part of Israel.

The Palestinians view the settlements as the main obstacle to peace, and most of the international community considers them illegal. The settlers living deep inside the West Bank — who would likely end up within the borders of a future Palestinian state — are among the most radical and tend to oppose any territorial partition.

“We believe that if there is no threat of confrontations with the settlers it would be much easier for those who want to have a two-state solution,” Beilin said. The idea has been discussed before, but he said a confederation would make it more “feasible.”

Numerous other sticking points remain, including security, freedom of movement and perhaps most critically after years of violence and failed negotiations, lack of trust.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry and the Palestinian Authority declined to comment.

The main Palestinian figure behind the initiative is Hiba Husseini, a former legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team going back to 1994 who hails from a prominent Jerusalem family. Other contributors include Israeli and Palestinian professors and two retired Israeli generals.

Husseini acknowledged that the proposal regarding the settlers is “very controversial” but said the overall plan would fulfill the Palestinians’ core aspiration for a state of their own.

“It’s not going to be easy,” she added. “To achieve statehood and to achieve the desired right of self-determination that we have been working on — since 1948, really — we have to make some compromises.”

Thorny issues like the conflicting claims to Jerusalem, final borders and the fate of Palestinian refugees could be easier to address by two states in the context of a confederation, rather than the traditional approach of trying to work out all the details ahead of a final agreement.

“We’re reversing the process and starting with recognition,” Husseini said.

It’s been nearly three decades since Israeli and Palestinian leaders gathered on the White House lawn to sign the Oslo accords, launching the peace process.

Several rounds of talks over the years, punctuated by outbursts of violence, failed to yield a final agreement, and there have been no serious or substantive negotiations in more than a decade.

Israel’s current prime minister, Naftali Bennett, is a former settler leader opposed to Palestinian statehood. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who is set to take over as prime minister in 2023 under a rotation agreement, supports an eventual two-state solution.

But neither is likely to be able to launch any major initiatives because they head a narrow coalition spanning the political spectrum from hard-line nationalist factions to a small Arab party.

On the Palestinian side, President Mahmoud Abbas’ authority is confined to parts of the occupied West Bank, with the Islamic militant group Hamas — which doesn’t accept Israel’s existence — ruling Gaza. Abbas’ presidential term expired in 2009 and his popularity has plummeted in recent years, meaning he is unlikely to be able to make any historic compromises.

The idea of the two-state solution was to give the Palestinians an independent state, while allowing Israel to exist as a democracy with a strong Jewish majority. Israel’s continued expansion of settlements, the absence of any peace process and repeated rounds of violence, however, have greatly complicated hopes of partitioning the land.

The international community still views a two-state solution as the only realistic way to resolve the conflict.

But the ground is shifting, particularly among young Palestinians, who increasingly view the conflict as a struggle for equal rights under what they — and three prominent human rights groups — say is an apartheid regime.

Israel vehemently rejects those allegations, viewing them as an antisemitic attack on its right to exist. Lapid has suggested that reviving a political process with the Palestinians would help Israel resist any efforts to brand it an apartheid state in world bodies.

Next week, Beilin and Husseini will present their plan to U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Beilin says they have already shared drafts with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Beilin said he sent it to people who he knew would not reject it out of hand. “Nobody rejected it. It doesn’t mean that they embrace it.”

“I didn’t send it to Hamas,” he added, joking. “I don’t know their address.”

Hindupact Urges Pakistan To Replace Masood Khan As US Envoy

The Hindu Policy Research and Advocacy Collective (HinduPACT) urges President Joe Biden to reject Pakistan’s Ambassador-Designate to the United States – a known terrorist sympathizer – Masood Khan and to appoint a religious minority in his place. This will reflect that Pakistan is taking a tangible first step towards ending the state sponsored violence against religious minorities within their borders.

Masood Khan has been open and vocal about his support for convicted terrorist Aafia Siddiqui, who is known colloquially as “Lady al-Qaeda.” He has also supported UN designated terrorist organizations like Hizbul Mujahideen – which he praised as “a role model for freedom fighters across the globe” –, Jamaat-e-Islami – which was directly involved with helping the Pakistani military commit the egregious genocide against hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi religious minorities in 1971 –, and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen – which has ties to the late Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Khan even attended at least one event with promoters of Hizbul Mujahideen during which convicted spy Ghulam Nabi Fai was a speaker.

Khan openly praised convicted terrorist, ISIS supporter and commander of Hizbul Mujahideen Burhan Wani; a machine gun touting jihadist. On the fifth anniversary of his death, in July 2021, Khan stated: “Don’t think for a minute that Burhan Wani is dead or gone. Burhani Wani lives in our hearts and stands tall. He sacrificed his life for a cause. His legacy continues. We, the people of Jammu and Kashmir complete his mission of freedom.”

Further, Khan’s appointment undermines both America’s and India’s national security interests; a key US ally.

The percentage of religious minorities in Pakistan has decreased exponentially over the past seven decades, and the appointment of Khan only further emboldens the perpetrators of crimes against these minorities to continue unchecked. We are calling upon the administration and State Department to reject Masood Khan’s appointment for the aforementioned reasons and for the sake of upholding the true tenants of democracy which includes the right to religious freedom and the ability to practice without fear of reprisal.

We hope that by appointing a member of the Hindu, Sikh or any other religious minority as their representative to the US, the government of Pakistan will be able to take a long overdue step in sending a message to the global community and to the people of Pakistan, that it intends to secure the rights of all its citizens irrespective of their faith.

Asia Society’s Kevin Rudd Calls Xi-Putin Meeting As highly Significant

On February 6th, on the sidelines of the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly issued a call to halt NATO’s expansion according to a statement issued by the Kremlin.

“This is highly significant. It is the first time since the Sino-Soviet split that China has taken a definitive position on European security in support of Russia on something as fundamental as NATO. It’s also notably on a matter not immediately germane to China’s core security interests. It puts at risk China’s wider relationship with the Europeans. But Xi believes he is now powerful enough and has sufficient economic leverage with Europe to get away with it.

This is a big shift in the Chinese foreign policy mainstream. The world should get ready for a further significant deepening of the China-Russia security and economic relationship — one that as recently as 2014 (at the time of the first Russian military action in Ukraine) was remote. It also signifies that China now sees itself as a global, not just a regional, security actor.”

— Kevin Rudd, President of the Asia Society and former Prime Minister of Australia

The Asia Society navigates shared futures for Asia and the world across policy, arts and culture, education, sustainability, business, and technology.

Founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller 3rd, the Asia Society is a nonpartisan, nonprofit institution with major centers and public buildings in New York, Hong Kong, and Houston, and additional locations in Los Angeles, Manila, Melbourne, Mumbai, Paris, San Francisco, Seoul, Sydney, Tokyo, Washington, D.C., and Zurich.

North Korea Confirms Of Testing Missile Capable Of Striking Guam, US

North Korea confirmed on January 31st that it test-launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. territory of Guam, the North’s most significant weapon launch in years, as Washington plans steps to show its commitment to its Asian allies.

Sunday’s launch could be a prelude to bigger provocations by North Korea such as nuclear and long-range missile tests that pose a direct threat to the U.S. mainland, as the North tries to further pressure the Biden administration to win sanction relief or international recognition as a legitimate nuclear state.

The official Korean Central News Agency said the purpose of the test was verifying the overall accuracy of the Hwasong-12 missile that is being deployed in its military.

KCNA published two sets of combination photos — one showing the missile rising from a launcher and soaring into space and the other showing North Korea and nearby areas that it said were photographed from space by a camera installed at the missile’s warhead. The Associated Press decided not to use the images because the authenticity of the photos couldn’t be verified.

Lee Choon Geun, a missile expert and honorary research fellow at South Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Institute, said he thinks the photos were taken from space — especially when the missile was soaring to its apogee, though he cannot independently prove there was no adjustment on the images. While it’s rare to place a camera on a weapon, Lee said North Korea likely wanted to demonstrate its technological advancement to both foreign and domestic audiences.

North Korea said the missile was launched toward waters off its east coast on a high angle to prevent flying over other countries. It gave no further details.

According to South Korean and Japanese assessments, the missile flew about 800 kilometers (497 miles) and reached a maximum altitude of 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles) before landing between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.

The reported flight details make it the most powerful missile North Korea has tested since 2017, when the country launched Hwasong-12 and longer-range missiles in a torrid run of weapons firings to acquire an ability to launch nuclear strikes on U.S. military bases in Northeast Asia and the Pacific and even the American homeland.

The Hwasong-12 missile is a nuclear-capable ground-to-ground weapon with a maximum range of 4,500 kilometers (2,800 miles) when it’s fired on a standard trajectory. It’s a distance sufficient to reach Guam, home to U.S. military bases that in past times of tensions sent advanced warplanes to the Korean Peninsula in shows of force. In August 2017, at the height of animosities with the then-Trump administration, North Korea threatened to make “an enveloping fire” near Gaum with Hwasong-12 missiles.

In 2017, North Korea also test-fired intercontinental ballistic missiles called Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15 that experts say demonstrated their potential capacity to reach the mainland U.S. Some analysts say North Korea still needs to conduct additional ICBM test-flights to prove it has overcome the last remaining technological hurdles, such as protecting a warhead from the extreme heat and pressure of reentering the Earth’s atmosphere.

In recent months, North Korea has launched a variety of weapons systems and threatened to lift a four-year moratorium on more serious weapons tests such as nuclear explosions and ICBM launches. Sunday’s launch was the North’s seventh round of missile launches in January alone, and other weapons tested recently include a developmental hypersonic missile and a submarine-launched missile.

Analyst Cheong Seong-Chang at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea said the Hwasong-12 launch was seen as partially breaking North Korea’s weapons test moratorium. In April 2018, when North Korea suspended nuclear and ICBM tests ahead of now-dormant diplomacy with the Trump administration, Kim said North Korea didn’t need to test intermediate-range missiles any longer as well.

Cheong said North Korea will likely test-launch its existing long-range missile if the United States spearheads fresh sanctions on it. Other experts said North Korea could conduct a nuclear test as well.

North Korea has publicly vowed to add more powerful ICBMs and nuclear warheads in its arsenal. They include a longer-range ICBM with precision strike capability, a solid-fuel ICBM that improves a weapon’s mobility, a multi-warhead missile, a spy satellite and a super-sized warhead.

After Sunday’s launch, White House officials said they saw the latest missile test as part of an escalating series of provocations over the last several months that have become increasingly concerning.

The Biden administration plans to respond to the latest missile test in the coming days with an unspecified move meant to demonstrate to the North that the U.S. government is committed to allies’ security in the region, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity.

The official said the administration viewed Sunday’s missile test as the latest in a series of provocations to try to win sanctions relief from the U.S. The Biden administration again called on North Korea to return to talks but made clear it doesn’t see the sort of leader-to-leader summits Donald Trump held with Kim as constructive at this time.

South Korean and Japanese officials also condemned Sunday’s launch, which violated U.N. Security Council resolutions that bans the country from testing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.

U.S.-led diplomacy aimed at convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear program largely remains stalled. “Even if Washington had the bandwidth to pay more attention to the North Korean nuclear issue, Pyongyang would likely continue to refuse direct talks because of the pandemic, keep perfecting its weapons technology, and maintain its high price tag for talks,” said Duyeon Kim, an analyst at Washington’s Center for a New American Security.

Observers say North Korea could suspend weapons tests during the Beijing Winter Olympics because China is its most important ally. But they say North Korea could test bigger weapons when the Olympics end and the U.S. and South Korean militaries begin their springtime military exercises.

Christian Community Mourns Targeted Killing Of Pastor In Peshawar

The Christian community in Peshawar has shut down all educational institutions and churches after a pastor was shot dead by armed assailants.

As per details shared by police authorities, William Siraj, who was a pastor at a church within the Chamkani police station limits, was with his fellow priest at the Ring Road area on Sunday, when the unknown assailants opened fire.

Siraj died on the spot, while the accompanying priestwas later taken to the Lady Reading hospital.

“The incident occurred near Ring Road within Gulbahar police station limits. A heavy police contingent had reached the scene and a search operation was carried out. Evidence was collected from the crime scene and CCTV cameras are also being checked,” a statement issued by the police authorities said.

“The body had been shifted to the hospital for conducting an autopsy while further investigation was underway.”

As per initial details of the investigation, at least two assailants were involved in the incident, which the police have termed it as a terrorist attack.

“Attack on the Christian community was tragic. A comprehensive investigation has been launched. It can be said that members of the minority community were targeted. So, it was a terrorist act,” said Abbas Ahsan, Capital City Police Officer (CCPO).

“We are determined to protect minorities. A team consisting of officials from the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) and Peshawar police had been formed to probe the case,” he added.

The attack carries sensitive importance, as the Christian community, which has been living in various parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, has not faced any major threat in the past.

“Terrorism that targets anyone, especially for their faith, is heinous and must be fought against with the full force of a clear, concerted policy and state power. No compromise, no equivocation,” said Senator Sherry Rehman, a leader from the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

The attack has raised several questions on the increasing intolerance against religious minorities in Pakistan.

Recent reports have indicated that the level of intolerance by religious extremist groups have increased in the country, raising serious concerns over the Imran Khan government’s competence and capabilities to ensure security and safety of minorities in the country. (IANS)

As Putin Threatens To Attack Ukraine, U.S. Puts Troops on Alert, NATO To Send Warships

Thousands of U.S. troops were put on standby to deploy to eastern Europe as fears of a Russian ground invasion into neighboring Ukraine looms over the European continent.

President Joe Biden’s decision to alert the military units on Monday represents an abrupt change in approach to the crisis as tensions worsen along the Ukrainian border. For weeks, the Biden Administration has restrained from mobilizing military forces as it sought to resolve the situation with Moscow diplomatically. But the lack of progress—and continued build-up of Russian forces—has prompted Biden reevaluate the U.S. options, say administration officials.

Amid intelligence warnings that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could be imminent, the president is now considering moving thousands of troops, naval ships and warplanes into the Baltic states and eastern Europe. In a separate announcement, NATO said Monday it was moving additional ships and fighter jets to eastern Europe to defend its eastern flank.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said up to 8,500 U.S. service members were put on heightened alert for deployment to bolster NATO allies’ eastern defenses should Russia invade. The forces would not be sent to Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, nor take part in any combat roles, Kirby said, but rather serve as reinforcements in places like Poland or Romania to reassure U.S. allies and deter Russian aggression. If activated, the troops would be part of the NATO Response Force based in Eastern Europe, the rapid-reaction force that has air, naval and intelligence components in case of emergencies.

“No decisions to deploy have been made,” Kirby said. “I don’t think anybody wants to see another war on the European continent, and there’s no reason why that has to occur.”

Thus far, the Biden Administration has stopped short of threatening U.S. military action should Russian President Vladimir Putin push his forces into Ukraine, but promised sweeping economic sanctions and continued military support to the Ukrainian military.

The U.S. units identified for possible deployment are involved logistics, medical, aviation, transportation and intelligence, Kirby said. “Some of these forces were already on a heightened posture readiness to deploy posture,” Kirby said. “So in some cases, units would go from say 10 days prepared to deploy and now they’re at five days.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley briefed Biden at Camp David via teleconference Saturday on the military options regarding Ukraine. Only about 200 U.S. troops are currently in the country, as members of the Florida National Guard are training Ukrainian forces. The U.S. has about 70,000 troops in Europe, but only around 6,000 are in eastern Europe. They are mainly in Poland, where forces are on a rotational basis, including an armored brigade combat team. Austin and Milley provided the president with options on moving forces eastward in Europe and preparing to send more troops from the U.S. if necessary, according to an administration official.

The White House and European allies have scrambled for months to respond since Russia began positioning more than 100,000 troops along its border with Ukraine. Analysts say the deployment could be the largest Russian troop build-up on the continent since the Cold War, which Putin has tried to use as leverage against the U.S. to reduce troops, weapons and influence along his borders.

The U.S. and Russia have talked on several occasions to resolve the crisis but have yet to narrow their differences. The State Department said Sunday it was ordering nonessential staff and family members to leave the U.S. embassy in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, out of “an abundance of caution” due to the escalating tensions. The Department also issued warnings to Americans considering travel to Ukraine and Russia.

Putin denies Russia has any intention to attack Ukraine but he has made clear that he considers NATO military support for neighboring countries a growing threat. Last month, the Russian Foreign Ministry published two lengthy draft treaties that listed what Moscow wants from the U.S. and its allies. They call for an end to NATO’s eastward expansion, including a pledge that Ukraine will not be permitted to join NATO, as well as to the U.S. military’s ties with Ukraine and other former Soviet nations, all of which have been dismissed as “non-starters” by the U.S.

Regardless of what Putin says his intentions are, U.S. and NATO officials say they need to be prepared after watching Russian forces invade Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine six years later. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and has supported pro-Russia separatist militias in several eastern Ukrainian cities since. Russia has continued to use these proxy forces to continue to sow disorder in the country and attempt to gain more political support in the country.

“NATO will continue to take all necessary measures to protect and defend all Allies, including by reinforcing the eastern part of the alliance,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday. As part of the military retrenchment on the continent, Denmark planned to send a frigate to the Baltic Sea and four F-16 fighter jets to Lithuania, the Netherlands are deploying two F-35 fighter jets to Bulgaria, and France is prepared to send troops to Romania.

The Pentagon’s troop announcement Monday came the same day that a 12-day NATO naval exercise, Neptune Strike 22, began in the Mediterranean Sea with the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier, along with its strike group and air wing. The U.S. said the exercise was months in the making and unrelated to the situation in Ukraine.

  • NATO announced plans to send ships and fighter jets to Eastern Europe in anticipation of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
  • Denmark is sending a frigate and deploying F-16 warplanes to Lithuania; Spain is sending four fighter jets to Bulgaria and three ships to the Black Sea to join NATO naval forces; and France stands ready to send troops to Romania.
  • Russia has amassed an estimated 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s border, threatening to invade unless the West gives a guarantee that the NATO alliance will not be expanded to include Ukraine. Several former Soviet Republics are now part of NATO, but the inclusion of Ukraine is strongly opposed by Moscow on strategic grounds.
  • This even as, the UK and the US announced it is withdrawing some diplomats and dependents from their embassies in Kyiv.
  • Moscow said: “We see statements by the North Atlantic Alliance about reinforcement, pulling forces and resources to the eastern flank… This is not happening because of what we, Russia, are doing. This is all happening because of what NATO and the U.S. are doing and due to the information they are spreading,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

What the West Will Never Understand About Putin’s Ukraine Obsession

The way Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kremlin propaganda talk about the countries Russia threatens—with Ukraine front and center—to invade, occupy, coerce and control tells the story of perhaps the unhappiest family in the world.

Reading Putin’s mind is in many ways a mug’s game, but can we parse something more fundamental about the deeper drives compelling the Kremlin’s behaviour from its language and social dynamics? What do they tell us about its motivations—and how to deal with them? It’s tempting to think about Moscow’s foreign policy as reducible to rational self-interest, a demand for “spheres of influence” articulated in the sober logic of security and realist international relations, but its language also hints at something more intermingled with the intimacies of family dynamics.

Firstly, there’s the obsessive stalking of Kyiv, which is deified as the “mother of all Russian cities,” and then castigated either as a prostitute who has sold out to the West, or a sort of zombie-mummy, manipulated by “dark forces” who have turned her into a tool against Russia.

Then there’s the oft repeated definition of Ukrainians and Belarussians as Russians’ “younger Brothers,” a definition at once patronising and suffocating, with the insistence that all these different countries are actually “one people,” one mass destined to be locked forever in the communal apartment of the Russian state (of mind).

Thus to justify his annexation of Crimea and invasion of East Ukraine, Putin argued in 2014 that “Russians and Ukrainians are one people. Kiev is the mother of Russian cities. Ancient Rus is our common source and we cannot live without each other,” and then earlier this year described Ukraine as being turned into the “anti-Russia” by the West. The language and memes become ever less elegant as you descend into the vomitarium of Russian state media talk shows and troll farms.

Though the references to ‘younger brothers’ and ‘mother Kyiv’ are age-old tropes embedded in Russian culture, a more recent innovation is the Russian Foreign Ministry’s depiction of countries who used to be in the USSR and Warsaw Pact as ‘orphaned’ by the end of the Cold War: as if Estonia, Poland and the Czech Republic were lost urchins somehow pining for the return of Big Daddy Moscow.

Such constant references to family relations make me think that other motivations could be relevant here: could even a touch of psychoanalysis help inform the geopolitical analysis?

There’s some history to this approach. At the end of World War II the British psychiatrist Henry Dicks conducted a series of in-depth interviews with German POWs selected to represent different German social segments. Dicks wanted to work out the well-springs of the Nazi mindset, and where it resonated with other Germans.

I’ve been pouring over Dick’s archives for a new book on World War II propaganda, and asked the practicing psychoanalyst and University of London Professor of Literature Josh Cohen to help me make sense of them—and their relevance today with Russia.

Dicks found that what dominated among German soldiers, and especially those who liked the Nazis, was a weird relationship with authoritarian, often abusive and frequently absent father figures, with the child simultaneously humiliated by them and yearning for acceptance. The ensuing weak sense of individual agency lead to a search for strong leaders and identification with an all-encompassing, abstract nation-family. Deifying impossibly perfect mother figures, and then attacking any women who failed to live up to that, was a common accompaniment. Irrational spurts of aggression were a way to deal with the sense of inadequacy. Interestingly Dicks saw the Nazi insistence on a ‘Lebensraum’, the vast territories in Ukraine and Eastern Europe the Nazis claimed as theirs, partly as a compensation for this cycle of frustrated recognition and humiliation: a geopolitical demand born not merely out of ‘rational self interest’, but out of irrational ‘secondary narcissism’

“If primary narcissism is structural and necessary,” explains Cohen, “is basically our investment in our own self-preservation, secondary narcissism involves specific character traits and habits—vanity, self-inflation, superiority, all of course masking an underlying fear of one’s own inadequacy.”

One doesn’t need to be a psychoanalyst to notice how Russian popular culture circles around simultaneous adoration and fear of authoritarian father figures: Stalin, Peter the Great and Ivan the Terrible especially, all of whom not only both glorified the state while abusing its people, but also, literally killed (Ivan), or were involved in killing (Stalin and Peter) their own offspring. When Russian state TV launched a vote to define history’s “Greatest Russians,” back in the still supposedly pro-Western era of 2008, Stalin was coming top until a late, potentially orchestrated surge put the near mythical, pre-medieval figure of Alexander Nevsky top.

Along with this love/fear relationship with abusive father figures, there are also the daily humiliations of the Russian system. When I lived in Moscow in the first decade of the Putin era, the petty put-downs an average citizen faced were relentless: on street corners traffic cops charged you with invented violations you could do nothing about, and then extorted bribes; at work bosses found it normal to scream at their subordinates (and were then screamed at in turn by their bosses); on the roads ordinary people were stuck in endless traffic, while the wealthy and well-connected obtained government sirens that allowed them to drive down the middle of the highway, reinforcing your sense of worthlessness every time they passed. And when one finally got home, full of burning resentment at the system, the TV would repeat “America is humiliating Russia, stopping it from rising from its knees.” The burning resentment would be sublimated onto evil foreigners.

The TV would also often reiterate the well-worn trope of how Russians needed a “strong hand” to guide them, a disciplinarian that protects and punishes. Putin is often described approvingly in that way, with his propaganda machine actively elevating him as a father-leader figure above politics, with the whole panoply of macho images that feature the President riding bare-chested on horses.

“It’s hard not to think of ‘the second time as farce’ when relating this to Putin” says Cohen. “It’s as though all these categories like ego weakness and secondary narcissism resurface today, but with a nudge and wink. With Putin there’s the kitsch, the shirtless photographs… What is interesting is that this doesn’t make him any less dangerous, and in a certain way makes him more so.”

The Putin-Leader propaganda ramped up after his return to the Presidency in 2012, and in the wake of protests that demanded an end to authoritarianism and daily humiliation from officials. State-sanctioned support for outbursts of aggression against minorities also increased, with laws legitimising domestic violence against women and attacks on the LGBTQ community.

Greater domestic oppression synced with the invasion of Ukraine and further augmented the widespread sense that Russia, already the world’s largest country, deserves territory far beyond its gargantuan reach. This sense of fluid borders ranges from the far-right fantasies about an Eurasian Empire from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, to the more common “Russo-sphere.” In Russia’s case the term “sphere of influence” doesn’t only denote something hard and defined, which can be hammered out with other “great powers” in some grand new geopolitical deal, but something that swells and swings with the pistons of suppressed resentment and emotional dynamics.

What does this mean in practice for dealing with Putin’s Russia?

On the level of official diplomacy we should resist putting too much hope that any deal, even if it could be reached, will somehow magically resolve things for good. Russia will not, as Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan hoped, be “parked.” The Kremlin needs to permanently keep the attention of a superpower to validate itself. Whether this entails gobbling up half of Ukraine along the way I don’t know, but even if it does the appetite will only increase and not be sated.

But while the thing once known as the West looks for the diplomatic tools to restrain Russian aggression today, we need to start thinking how to help address the deeper anxieties and traumas that pervade Russian society and culture, and which the Kremlin’s propaganda exploits. The mass culture equivalent of therapy is bringing submerged issues into public speech so they can be understood and ultimately surmounted.

On the most basic level what is lacking in the current crisis is any attempt by Western and American leaders to talk to the Russian people. Even as internal Kremlin propaganda screeches about the threat of NATO, no politicians have reached out to talk to the Russian people directly. We were much better at this in the Cold War, when Margaret Thatcher famously went on Soviet television and skillfully debated and beat their current affairs presenters. Back then Russians were shrouded in censorship, today it is infinitely easier to reach out and engage though social media.

As the Russian media analyst Vasily Gatov has suggested in a paper envisioning a new public diplomacy, these communicators should be the sorts of people a broad array of Russians will, even if grudgingly, respect and pay attention to: perhaps former Generals and security officials could fit the bill.

Beyond such basic political engagement, there’s the deeper public diplomacy that would initiate a conversation with ordinary Russians about how they see the country’s future place in the world. How many Russians just want to be part of a normal country, shorn of its cycles of oppression and lashing out? When Dicks analysed German POWs, he found that not all were all were beholden to the Nazi psychic see-saw of bullying and humiliation. He thought these other social groups would be the ones who could rebuild Germany after the war.

There are many Russians—artists, academics, film-makers—who already do a great job of excavating the Russian unconscious. They are often given minimal support by their own government, and some have had to leave the country. There should be a transatlantic fund, independent of any state, to support their work. Likewise we should be thinking of the future generation, and establish a Russian language university safe for critical inquiry.

All these might seem like long term measures in the face of an immediate crisis. But the roots of this crisis are deep. There is much hand-wringing among U.S. elites about whether they somehow offended Kremlin elites in the 1990s. But what is just as pertinent is how they abandoned listening to and talking with the Russian people. Start now.

India Seeks to Escape an Asian Future Led by China

Last week’s launch of formal trade talks between India and the United Kingdom, with the declared ambition to ink a smaller deal in the next few months and a comprehensive agreement by the end of the year, is not much of a surprise. After all, Britain has made no secret of its desperate search for any and all partners to keep trade flowing after it walked out on the European Union.

But if one shifts focus to India and its reasons for pursuing a deal with Britain, things suddenly get more interesting. Even if Britain isn’t among India’s biggest trade partners, the start of talks marks nothing less than several major shifts in India’s foreign and economic policies. If Britain is seeking an economic future beyond Europe, India is looking westward to escape the growing prospect of a Chinese-led Asia.

Although India embraced globalization at the turn of the 1990s, there was little domestic support for liberalizing trade. Opposing free trade agreements united the left and the right; even more powerful was the resistance from an Indian capitalist class reluctant to open its captive market for foreign producers.

In the limited political space they thus had, the weak coalition governments ruling India until 2014 managed to negotiate just a small handful of free trade agreements—mostly with Asian partners, such as Japan, South Korea, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

India’s new enthusiasm for trading with the West has not escaped Beijing’s attention.

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the Bharatiya Janata Party to power in 2014 with a majority in parliament, his government ordered a review of all the free trade deals India had signed. Despite a strongly held view across India that the agreements worked to the disadvantage of Indian industry, Modi continued to participate in the Asia-wide free trade negotiations that would eventually produce the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), but he pulled out at the very last moment in 2019.

If New Delhi’s decision generated deep disappointment among its Asian partners, there was also strong domestic criticism of having isolated India in the global trade domain—a sea change compared to the debate over previous decades. Over the last year, Modi has ended India’s blanket opposition to free trade agreements and returned to bilateral free trade talks with several blocs, including the EU and the Gulf Cooperation Council. The shift wasn’t just toward a new attitude on trade but toward a new set of countries: India’s natural economic partners, especially those in the Anglosphere and the West.

Britain has not traditionally been on the list of countries the Indian establishment has been comfortable with. During the Cold War and afterward, Britain’s presumed tilt toward Pakistan chipped away at New Delhi’s goodwill for London. But the Modi government has transcended hesitations and invested political capital in expanding the partnership by focusing on potential areas of convergence. Trade liberalization has emerged as a major priority with Britain.

In walking away from the RCEP in 2019, India signaled its reluctance to be part of an Asian economic integration led by China. The sharpening border conflict with Beijing as well as the fear of the Indian manufacturing sector being wiped out by cheap Chinese imports contributed to the decision. In the spring of 2020, Chinese aggression in eastern Ladakh reinforced India’s decision.

As it turned its back on the East, New Delhi began to look to the West for trade partnerships, and the Anglosphere seemed the most responsive. It’s not just post-Brexit Britain that began to take a fresh look at India. Australia, reeling under the economic coercion imposed by China, also sought to revive moribund trade talks with India.

Human Rights Violations And Culture Of Impunity In South Asia

As countries across South Asia continue to battle the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, causing serious public health and economic crisis, this region, which is home to almost 2 billion people, is also grappling with the erosion of democratic norms, growing authoritarianism, the crackdown on freedom of press, speech and dissent.

Despite the committed efforts of human rights defenders across South Asia, achieving human rights objectives remains a challenging task. Almost all countries in the region – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – face a common trend of human rights violations and a culture of impunity.

Afghanistan 

In Afghanistan, the Taliban rule has had a devastating impact on the lives of Afghan women, girls, journalists and human rights defenders. “The crisis for women and girls in Afghanistan is escalating with no end in sight. Taliban policies have rapidly turned many women and girls into virtual prisoners in their homes, depriving the country of one of its most precious resources, the skills and talents of the female half of the populations,” said Heather Barr, associate women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch in this report.

This report states, “the Taliban’s return to power has made members of some ethnic and religious minorities feel more vulnerable to threats even from those not affiliated with the Taliban. Taliban authorities have also used intimidation to extract money, food, and services. Fighting has mostly ended in the country, but people expressed fear of violence and arbitrary arrests by the Taliban and lack of the rule of law and reported increased crime in some areas.”

A group of three dozen Human Rights Council appointed experts in this report said, “waves of measures such as barring women from returning to their jobs, requiring a male relative to accompany them in public spaces, prohibiting women from using public transport on their own, as well as imposing a strict dress code on women and girls. Taken together, these policies constitute a collective punishment of women and girls, grounded in gender-based bias and harmful practices.”

The UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, has urged the UN security council to hold all perpetrators of human rights violations accountable, “I ask the security council to ensure that the perpetrators of these violations are accountable, I ask all states to use their influence with the Taliban to encourage respect for fundamental human rights. Denial of the fundamental rights of women and girls is massively damaging to the economy and the country as a whole,” Bachelet said.

The Taliban victory propelled Afghanistan “from humanitarian crisis to catastrophe”, with millions of Afghans facing severe food insecurity due to lost income, cash shortages, and rising food costs. Afghan refugees constitute one of the world’s largest refugees population, with more than 2.2 million refugees. “Afghanistan’s displacement crisis is one of the largest and most protracted in UNHCR’s seven-decade history,” says UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

Bangladesh

While Bangladesh, despite making economic progress and getting upgraded by the United Nations from the category of least developed country to developing country last November, the country continues to be in the news for enforced disappearances, abductions, torture and extrajudicial killings by its security forces with impunity.

In this letter written by 12 organizations to Under-Secretary-General Jean-Pierre Lacroix, urging the United Nations Department of Peace Operations to ban Bangladesh’s notoriously abusive paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) from UN deployment.

As many as 600 people, including opposition leaders, activists, journalists, business people, and others, have been subjected to enforced disappearance since 2009. In this report, Dhaka–based rights organization Odhikar said that “some of the disappeared persons resurfaced in government’s custody after being arrested under the draconian Digital Security Act 2018.”

“Human rights defenders, journalists, and others critical of the government continue to be targeted with surveillance, politically motivated charges and arbitrary detention,” says this report. Earlier in November 2021, the United States slapped sanctions on elite Bangladeshi paramilitary force, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), stating it threatens US national security interests by undermining the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the economic prosperity of the people of Bangladesh. Bangladesh is the only South Asian country other than Afghanistan to receive US sanctions since 1998.

India

In 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in India was downgraded from a free democracy to a “partially free democracy” by global political rights and liberties US-based nonprofit Freedom House. Following this, a Sweden based V-Dem institute said, India had become an “electoral autocracy”. The country has slid from No. 35 in 2006 to No. 53 today on The Economist’s list.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended India be designated as a “country of particular concern, or CPC, for engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing and egregious religious freedom violations, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act in its report.

In its World Report 2022, Human Rights Watch said, “Indian authorities intensified their crackdown on activists, journalists, and other critics of the government using politically motivated prosecutions in 2021. “Attacks against religious minorities were carried out with impunity under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Hindu nationalist government.”

Indian authorities have continued to press charges against students, activities, journalists, including counter-terrorism and sedition laws. To undermine rights to privacy and freedom of expression, reports of Pegasus spyware, developed and sold by Israeli company NSO group, were used to target Indian human rights defenders, journalists, and opposition politicians.

The ongoing harassment of journalists, including particularly those reporting from and in Kashmir, including the recent crackdown on Kashmir’s independent press club being shut down, arbitrary detention of journalists, alleged custodial killings, and a broader pattern of systematic infringement of fundamental rights used against the local population,” the report said.

According to this report, calls for genocide have become more common than ever, “where Hindu extremists organized 12 events over 24 months in four states, calling for genocide of Muslims, attacks on Christian minority and insurrection against the government. In this interview, the founding president of Genocide Watch, has warned: “Genocide could very well happen in India.”  

Nepal

In Nepal, lack of effective government leadership, inadequate and unequal access to health care, and a ‘pervasive culture of impunity’ continue to undermine the country’s fundamental human rights. “A lack of effective government leadership in Nepal means that little is done to uphold citizens’ rights, leaving millions to fend for themselves without adequate services such as for health or education, said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director, Human Rights Watch.

“Systemic impunity for human rights abuses extends to ongoing violations, undermining the principles of accountability and the rule of law in post-conflict Nepal. The report states that the authorities routinely fail to investigate or prosecute killings or torture allegedly carried by security forces,” the report states.

In October 2020, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) published 20 years of data, naming 286 people, mostly police officials, military personnel, and former Maoist insurgents, “as suspects in serious crimes, including torture, enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings”.

Along with this, the situation of women’s and girls’ human rights continues to be alarming in the country. According to this report, Nepal has the highest rate of child marriages in Asia, with 33 percent of girls marrying before 18 years and 8 percent by 15. Reports also indicate there has been an increase in cases of rape in 2021, with widespread impunity for sexual violence.

Patriarchal Citizenship Law in Nepal which does not treat men and women equally, has been criticized for undermining Nepali women’s identities and agency, subordinating them to the position of second-class citizens – also impacting children.

Pakistan

The Pakistan government, on the other hand, “harassed and at times persecuted human rights defenders, lawyers, and journalists for criticizing government officials and policies,” said this report by Human Rights Watch. Significant human rights issues include freedom of expression, attacks on civil society groups, freedom of religion and belief, forced disappearances by governments and their agents, unlawful or arbitrary killings, extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detentions, terrorism, counter-terrorism and law enforcement abuses.

“Pakistan failed to enact a law criminalizing torture despite Pakistan’s obligation to do so under the Convention against Torture,” the report said.  The country’s regressive blasphemy law provides a pretext for violence against religious minorities, leaving them vulnerable to arbitrary arrests and prosecution.

According to this report by Human Rights Without Frontiers, 1,865 people have been charged with blasphemy laws, with a significant spike in 2020, when 200 cases were registered.

This piece highlights the plight of thousands of Pakistan’s Baloch who security forces have abducted. International human rights law strictly prohibits enforced disappearances, in Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan vowed that a draft law to criminalize enforced disappearances would be “fast-tracked”. A bill about enforced disappearances, which the National Assembly passed, mysteriously went missing after it was sent to the Senate.

The continued attack on journalists and activists for violations of the Electronic Crimes Act, the use of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), an anti-corruption agency to target critics, attacks and well-coordinated campaigns and attacks on women journalists on social media, and reported intimidation of nongovernmental organizations, including harassment and surveillance are all crackdowns which are only getting worse.

Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, the government continued to ‘suppress minority communities and harassed activists, and undermined democratic institutions.’ According to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2022, “President Gotabaya Rajapaksha seems determined to reverse past rights improvements and protect those implicated in serious abuses. While promising reforms and justice to deflate international criticism, his administration has stepped up suppression of minority communities,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said.

The report highlights the harassment of security forces towards human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and the families of victims of past abuses and suppression of peaceful protests. As covid-19 cases surged in the country, military-controlled response to the pandemic “led to serious right violations”.

A major concern from the minority Muslim and Christian communities in Sri Lanka was the government’s order not to allow the bodies of Covid victims to be buried. According to this report, “several bodies were forcibly cremated, despite experts saying that bodies could be buried with proper safety measures.” This order, which rights activists said was intended to target minorities and did not respect religions, after much criticism was reversed.

A leading British religious freedom advocacy group, CSW, in its report titled, “A Nation Divided: The state of freedom of religious or belief in Sri Lanka,” said the Muslim community experiences “severe” religious freedom violations. A key factor in the violations is the perception by Sinhalese-Buddhist nationalists that Muslims are a threat to both Buddhism and the Sinhalese. The report also noted attempts to “reduce the visibility of Islam through the destruction of mosques and restrictive stances on religious clothing.

“Be Humble” Is Pope Francis’ Christmas Message

Amid structural, financial and liturgical reform at the Vatican, Pope Francis preached his yearly address to the Roman Curia, urging humility among the top cardinals as they work to reconcile tradition with the demands of the present.

Pope Francis urged Vatican cardinals, bishops and bureaucrats Thursday to embrace humility this Christmas season, saying their pride, self-interest and the “glitter of our armor” was perverting their spiritual lives and corrupting the church’s mission.

As he has in the past, Francis used his annual Christmas address to take Vatican administrators to task for their perceived moral and personal failings, denouncing in particular those pride-filled clerics who “rigidly” hide behind Catholic Church traditions rather than seek out the neediest with humility.

“This day and age seems to have forgotten humility, or to have merely relegated it to a form of moralism, emptied of the disruptive energy that it contains,” Pope Francis said Thursday (Dec. 23), during the private audience with cardinal heads of Vatican departments that make up the Roman Curia.

“But if we were to express the entire mystery of Christmas in one word, I think that the word ‘humility’ is the one that can help us the most,” he added.

In the lengthy address, Pope Francis said participation, communion and mission are three ingredients necessary as they work to bring about essential reform at the Vatican and to create a “humble church that can listen to the Spirit and does not center itself.”

Pope Francis’ reform efforts at the Vatican and in the Catholic Church have been met with both enthusiasm and criticism. In March, the pope issued pay cuts for cardinals and Vatican employees to address the financial deficit of the institution. This summer saw the beginning of an unprecedented trial of Vatican employees, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu, on numerous charges, including corruption, abuse of office and money laundering.

“We cannot go forward without humility, and we cannot go forward in humility without humiliation,” the pope said, adding that St. Ignatius, the founder of the pope’s religious order of the Jesuits, “tells us to ask for humiliations.”

Drawing from the biblical story of Naaman, a man who hid his leprosy behind a shining armor only to be healed by the prophet Elisha after bathing in the River Jordan, the pope reminded curial members that “life cannot be lived by hiding behind armor, a role or social recognition,” which “in the end, is harmful.”

“Without our garments, our prerogatives, our roles, our titles, we are all lepers, all of us, in need to be healed,” Francis said. “Christmas is the living reminder of this awareness and helps us understand it more deeply.”

The pope warned against pride, calling it “the most valuable elixir of the devil.” The prideful person, he said, is walled in his own world and “no longer has a past and a future, no longer has roots or buds and lives with the sour taste of sterile sadness.”

In contrast, those who are humble are constantly guided by their memory of the past and the promise of the future, the pope said. The tension between tradition and progress has been especially felt this Christmas season in the Catholic Church, since the pope issued restrictions to the celebration of the Latin Mass in a decree last July.

The Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments answered questions raised from all corners of the Catholic world  on the restrictions to the Latin Mass in a document Dec. 18, which was met with hostility by those who viewed it as an attack on their faith life.

“The vital memory we have of tradition, our roots, is not a cult of the past,” the pope told members of the Curia, adding that those who are prideful are easily prone to “rigidity,” a “modern-day perversion” that leads people to be unsettled by what is new.

In October, Pope Francis launched a three-year consultation of the entire Catholic Church leading up to the summit of bishops at the Vatican in 2023. The process, or synod, is on the theme “For a synodal Church — Communion, Participation and Mission” and is poised to address some of the most critical issues facing the church while reversing the top-to-bottom approach that has characterized the institution for centuries.

The pope stressed that “only humility can put us in the right condition to meet and listen, to dialogue and discern, to pray together,” and that the reforming spirit of the synod will fail “if everyone remains enclosed in their convictions.”

Clericalism — treating clergy members as superior and untouchable — has led some to believe that “God speaks only to some, while others must only listen and follow,” the pope said. For synodality to really work, he continued, the Roman Curia must be a witness and lead the way.

“For this reason, if the Word of God reminds the entire world about the value of poverty, we, members of the Curia, must be the first to commit to a conversion to sobriety. If the gospel announces justice, we must be the first to try and live with transparency, without favoritism and cliques,” the pope said.

“If the church walks the way of synodality, we must be the first to convert to a different style of work, of collaboration, of communion,” Francis added. The pope urged the members of the Curia to embrace a shared responsibility and participation instead of hoarding their authority. Communion is also essential, he said, in placing Christ at the center so people of differing views are able to work together. Finally, mission helps the church not to focus only on itself, but to feel compassion for “those who are missing” both spiritually and physically, Francis said.

“Only by serving and by thinking of our work as a service can we truly be useful for all,” the pope said. “We are here — myself first — to learn to kneel and adore the Lord in his humility, and not other lords in their empty opulence.”

Francis this year took his biggest step yet to rein in the traditionalist wing of the church, reimposing restrictions on celebrating the old Latin Mass that Pope Benedict XVI had relaxed in 2007. He intensified those restrictions last weekend with a new set of rules that forbids even the publication of Tridentine Mass times in parish bulletins.

Francis said the proud who remain stuck in the past, “enclosed in their little world, have neither past nor future, roots or branches, and live with the bitter taste of a melancholy that weighs on their hearts as the most precious of the devil’s potions.”

“All of us are called to humility, because all of us are called to remember and to give life. We are called to find a right relationship with our roots and our branches. Without those two things, we become sick, destined to disappear.”

Blasphemy Cases On The Rise In Pakistan

Recent killing of Priyantha Kumara, the Sri Lankan general manager of a garment factory in Sialkot city of Pakistan has again brought focus on infamous blasphemy laws of Pakistan.   The charred body of a factory manager who was lynched by a mob in Pakistan for alleged blasphemy was brought back to Sri Lanka on December 7, 2021. Sri Lankan national Priyantha Kumara was assaulted by a mob of hundreds of people before being dragged into the streets and set on fire on December 3, 2021, in Sialkot, Pakistan, where he helped run a sports equipment factory. Workers at the factory accused him of desecrating posters bearing the name of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

Pakistan, an Islamic state, has notoriously draconian laws against blasphemy, which carry the death sentence. The laws are often used against religious minorities and those accused are sometimes lynched before they are proven guilty in a court. The culture of fear around blasphemy cases means judges are often too afraid to find the accused anything other than guilty. A 2019 report in Dawn, quoting the Centre for Social Justice said that at least 62 men and women have been killed on mere suspicion of blasphemy between 1987 and 2015.  A report titled “As Good As Dead” released by Amnesty International in 2016 said that a total of 633 Muslims, 494 Ahmadis, 187 Christians and 21 Hindus have been accused under various provisions on offences related to religion since 1987.

Evolution of Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws Offences relating to religion in Pakistan were introduced in the colonial era in British India – which included the territory that is now Pakistan – to prevent and curb religious violence between Hindus and Muslims. Under the military government of General Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1988), who set the process of Islamization in Pakistan, additional laws were introduced against blasphemy that were specific to Islam.

The most frequently invoked blasphemy laws in Pakistan’s Penal Code are Sections 295-A (outraging religious feelings), 295-B (desecrating the Quran), 295-C (defiling the name of the Prophet Muhammad) and 298-A (defiling the names of the family of the Prophet Muhammad, his companion or any of the caliphs). When charges are levelled under most of these laws, the police have the authority to arrest the alleged offender without a warrant and can commence their investigation without orders from the magistrate’s court. In 1990, the Federal Shariat Court, responding to a petition, ruled that the death penalty was mandatory under 295-C. Since then, the law is bending on all courts.

The successive governments in Pakistan have yielded to Islamic radicalism and fundamentalism. The Blasphemy laws are used as tool by the extremist elements to harass and target minority communities in Pakistan. These laws are also used to settle property issues or vendettas as observed by Supreme Court of Pakistan in Malik Muhammad Mumtaz Qadri vs The State, “The majority of blasphemy cases are based on false accusations stemming from property issues or other personal or family vendettas rather than genuine instances of blasphemy and they inevitably lead to mob violence against the entire community.”

This Pakistan’s blasphemy laws violate human rights, both in their substance and their application – whether this is violations of human rights by the state, or abuses of the laws by non-state actors. The laws do not meet human rights standards and lack essential safeguards to minimize the risk of additional violations and abuses.

The infamous Asia Bibi Case:

One of Pakistan’s most infamous blasphemy cases is that of the Christian woman Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian farmhand and a woman with responsibility for five young children from the village of Ittan Wali, near the Punjabi city of Sheikhupura. She was sentenced to death in 2010 after being accused of blasphemy by her co-workers. Almost a decade later she was acquitted after heavy international pressure. Speaking to BBC, she said,”My husband was at work, my kids were in school, I had gone to pick fruit in the orchard,” she said. “A mob came and dragged me away. They made fun of me, I was very helpless.” In her book, Ms. Asia Bibi tells how she feared for her life in prison, with other inmates calling for her to be hanged. She also recalled mistreatment at the hands of the prison guards.

Former Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, who supported Asia Bibi, was shot dead by one of his bodyguards Mumtaz Qadri in Islamabad on January 4, 2011. Qadri later told media that Salmaan Taseer was a blasphemer, and this is the punishment for a blasphemer. Salmaan Taseer had sought a presidential pardon for Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian farmhand. Salmaan Taseer’s support for her, and his view that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws were “black laws”, were also cast as an act of blasphemy by supporters of the laws. The incident shows the reduced space for minority rights and liberal practices in Pakistan.

Recent Blasphemy cases:  Despite international criticism of these laws, blasphemy accusations are on the rise in Pakistan under the Imran Khan Government. 2020 saw the highest number to date – 200- but 2021 has already surpassed that record, according to the South Asian Media Research Institute, a civil society initiative that has counted 234 accusations as of mid-October 2021. Some of the recent cases involving blasphemy are as follows:

On the night of November 29, 2021, thousands of protesters stormed the police station in Charsadda, a district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and burned the facility along with several nearby security outposts after police refused to hand over the blasphemy suspect. The mob attack forced police officers to abandon the installation and flee to safety along with the detainee. Authorities arrested around 30 people in connection with the assault on a police station aimed at grabbing and lynching a mentally unstable detainee accused of insulting Islam.

On 21 October 2021, UN human rights experts urgently appealed to Pakistan to release Stephen Masih, a Pakistani Christian from Sialkot District, who has been detained for over two years awaiting trial for allegedly committing blasphemy. “We are seriously concerned by the persecution and ongoing detention of Mr. Masih on blasphemy grounds, and by his treatment at the hands of the judicial and prison authorities who are aware of his psychosocial disability and health condition,” the experts said. “We call on the authorities to urgently review Mr. Masih’s case, and to release and drop all charges against him, and to ensure protection for him and his family.”

In August 2021, an eight-year-old Hindu boy became the youngest person charged with blasphemy in Pakistan. He is being held in protective police custody in east Pakistan . The boy’s family is in hiding and many of the Hindu community in the conservative district of Rahim Yar Khan, in Punjab, have fled their homes after a Muslim crowd attacked a Hindu temple after the boy’s release on bail last week. Troops were deployed to the area to quell any further unrest.

The Pakistani social structure has become so much radicalized that even simple marches by women on International Day of Woman this year was not tolerated.  Pakistani police registered a blasphemy case against organizers of the feminist Aurat Azadi (Women’s Freedom) March in a northwestern city, Peshawar, on the occasion of International Day of Woman earlier this year on March 8.

As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Pakistan must respect and protect freedom of opinion and expression; freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief; the right to life; equality before the law and freedom from discrimination; right to fair trial; and the prohibition on arbitrary detention. It must ensure that all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction are protected against violations of these rights by its own agents as well as against acts committed by non-state actors (bodies or individuals) that would impair the enjoyment of those rights. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws violate its international legal obligations. The real test of democracy is how it safeguards its minority communities and its institutions. The record so far shows that Pakistan has miserably failed to protect rights of its own citizens and nor it has political will to bring a meaningful change.

Why Pakistan Skipped The US Summit For Democracy?

In a surprise move, Pakistan, one of the 110 countries invited to U.S. President Joe Biden’s Summit for Democracy, skipped the event. Its Ministry of Foreign Affairs offered an oblique statement, thanking the administration for the invitation, and saying that it looked forward to engaging with the U.S. on democracy “at an opportune time in the future.”

Pakistan is the fifth largest country in the world — and has a functioning, albeit flawed democracy. The shortcomings primarily stem from the dominance of its military, which exercises influence over key elements of the country’s security and foreign policy.

But in a break from periods of military rule in the past, since its 2008 election Pakistan has had successful transitions of power from one civilian government to another via elections. It also has a robust political opposition.

To be sure, Pakistan has a troubled human rights record, including suppression of dissidents from its Baluch and Pashtun ethnic minorities, and cases of mob vigilante violence against those accused of blasphemy, including the horrific killing of a Sri Lankan factory manager on December 3. Given these failings, some considered Pakistan’s invitation contentious, and argued it was inconsistent given the other countries in the region that were left out, such as Bangladesh (albeit itself a flawed democracy).

But the invitations went out to a range of countries with questionable records on human rights. More importantly, for America — which has all too often bolstered Pakistan’s military at the expense of its civilian leaders, especially in dealings involving Afghanistan for the last four decades — the invitation was an important signal of support for Pakistan’s democracy. It also balanced India’s invitation with one to a regional rival. It is an invitation Pakistan should have accepted.

Pakistan’s reasons for skipping the summit

Last November, in a statement congratulating Biden for his election win, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan specifically mentioned that he looked forward to the Summit for Democracy and to working with the White House to counter corruption.

But the intervening year has brought a cold shoulder from the Biden administration toward Pakistan and specifically toward Khan, who is yet to receive a phone call from Biden (the issue of the phone call has been the subject of considerable attention in Pakistan).

For Pakistan, which had enjoyed a good relationship with the Trump administration, especially during its latter half, with Khan and Trump having personally hit it off — hopes for a broadening of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship with Biden have not materialized.

Given the Taliban’s swift takeover of Afghanistan this year (and Pakistan’s long-standing support for the group), the mood in Washington has been dour — though two congressional delegations have visited Pakistan in recent weeks, including a four-member Senate delegation over the weekend, ostensibly to discuss Afghanistan.

The Biden administration has narrowed the scope of the relationship to limited engagement on Afghanistan — and given the lack of a phone call, made clear that high-level engagement is not a priority. Khan and his government have perceived that as a snub, and that is part of the subtext for the declined invitation. Khan, who has made clear that he wants a relationship with the U.S. that values Pakistan’s sovereignty, is likely to find support for the decision at home.

The second and perhaps larger factor is China. Pakistan and China are exceedingly close partners, and Pakistan is the flagship venue for Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative — the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor promises $62 billion worth of Chinese economic investments in Pakistan. The two countries also have a long-standing military and strategic partnership that dates back to the 1960s.

In a speech last week, Khan said that Pakistan did not want to be part of any “bloc” and wanted instead to bridge gaps between the U.S. and China. Lijiang Zhao, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, tweeted that Pakistan had declined to attend the summit and was a “real iron brother.”

The underlying message is that Pakistan declined the invitation in support of China, which has shown displeasure over Taiwan’s inclusion. In fact, a source at Pakistan’s foreign ministry directly told The Guardian that Pakistan was not attending as China was not invited.

(This may also say something about the summit more broadly — that some countries perceived it as an event that required them to make a choice between the U.S. and China, rather than a meeting to advance the cause of democracy — that the Biden administration should note.)

Why skipping the summit is a mistake on Pakistan’s part

The invitation was in effect an opening offered by the Biden administration to Pakistan. It provided a chance for Pakistan to present its perspective to a global audience that is not always inclined to view it kindly — including regarding its democratic progress and aspirations.

But Islamabad gave up the platform the summit offered, and spurned the chance to be at the table when discussing key issues on which many question its commitments: those of human rights and democracy. That is a mistake.

Pakistan has also repeatedly said that it doesn’t want its relationships with the U.S. and with China to be seen as zero-sum, and that it wants good relationships with both countries. But if Pakistan chose not to attend a global summit held by the U.S. to show its support for China, Pakistan has effectively chosen a side: China’s.

If skipping the summit was a response to Biden’s cold shoulder to Khan, Pakistan could have sent the foreign minister as a delegate. Skipping the summit altogether is a move that will clearly be noted by the Biden administration — and if Pakistan wants to improve ties with it, it’s a puzzling decision that will almost certainly have left a sour taste.

Taliban Was ‘Invited’ To Stop Chaos In Afghanistan: Karzai

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban didn’t take the Afghan capital — they were invited, says the man who issued the invitation. In an Associated Press interview, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai offered some of the first insights into the secret and sudden departure of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani — and how he came to invite the Taliban into the city “to protect the population so that the country, the city doesn’t fall into chaos and the unwanted elements who would probably loot the country, loot shops.”

When Ghani left, his security officials also left. Defense minister Bismillah Khan even asked Karzai if he wanted to leave Kabul when Karzai contacted him to know what remnants of the government still remained. It turned out there were none. Not even the Kabul police chief had remained.

Karzai, who was the country’s president for 13 years after the Taliban were first ousted in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, refused to leave.

In a wide-ranging interview at his tree-lined compound in the center of the city where he lives with his wife and young children, Karzai was adamant that Ghani’s flight scuttled a last-minute plan focused on the Taliban’s entry. He and Abdullah Abdullah, the government’s chief negotiator, had been working with the Taliban leadership in Doha on a negotiated agreement to allow the militia to enter the capital under controlled conditions.

The countdown to a possible deal began Aug. 14, the day before the Taliban came to power.

Karzai and Abdullah met Ghani, and they agreed that they would leave for Doha the next day with a list of 15 others to negotiate a power-sharing agreement. The Taliban were already on the outskirts of Kabul, but Karzai said the leadership in Qatar promised the insurgent force would remain outside the city until the deal was struck.

Early on the morning of Aug. 15, Karzai said, he waited to draw up the list. The capital was fidgety, on edge. Rumors were swirling about a Taliban takeover. Karzai called Doha. He was told the Taliban would not enter the city.

At noon, the Taliban called to say that “the government should stay in its positions and should not move that they have no intention to (go) into the city,” Karzai said. “I and others spoke to various officials and assurances were given to us that, yes, that was the case, that the Americans and the government forces were holding firm to the places (and) that Kabul would would not fall.”

By about 2:45 p.m., though, it became apparent Ghani had fled the city. Karzai called the defense minister, called the interior minister, searched for the Kabul police chief. Everyone was gone. “There was no official present at all in the capital, no police chief, no corps commander, no other units. They had all left.”

Ghani’s own protection unit’s deputy chief called Karzai to come to the palace and take over the presidency. He declined, saying legally he had no right to the job. Instead the former president decided to make a public, televised message, with his children at his side “so that the Afghan people know that we are all here.”

Karzai was adamant that there would have been an agreement for a peaceful transition had Ghani remained in Kabul. “Absolutely. Absolutely. That is what we were preparing for, what we were hoping (along) with the chairman of the peace council to go to Doha that evening, or the next morning, and to finalize the agreement,” he said. “And I believe the Taliban leaders were also waiting for us in Doha for the same … objective, for the same purpose.”

Today, Karzai meets regularly with the Taliban leadership and says the world must engage with them. Equally important, he said, is that Afghans have to come together. War has dominated Afghanistan for more than 40 years, and in the last 20 years “Afghans have suffered on all sides,” he said. “Afghans have lost lives on all sides. . . . The Afghan army has suffered. Afghan police have suffered, the Taliban soldiers have suffered.”

He added: “An end to that can only come when Afghans get together, find their own way out.”

The former president has a plan. In his talks with the Taliban, he is advocating the temporary resurrection of the constitution that governed when Afghanistan was a monarchy. The idea was also floated during earlier Doha talks.

At the same time, a traditional Loya Jirga — a grand council of all Afghans, including women — would be convened. It would decide the country’s future, including a representative government, a constitution, a national flag.

There’s no indication the Taliban will accept his formula, though he says they have not rejected it in discussions. A jirga is a centuries-old Afghan tradition for decision-making and is particularly popular among ethnic Pashtuns, which make up the backbone of the Taliban.

Karzai said a future Afghanistan has to have universal education rights for boys and girls, and women “must find their place in the Afghan polity, in the administration, in economic activity and social activity, the political activity in all ways of life. … That’s an issue on which there cannot be any compromise.”

But until it happens, Karzai says, the world has to engage with the Taliban. Afghanistan needs to operate. Government servants have to be paid. Health care facilities need to function.

“Right now, they need to cooperate with the government in any form they can,” said Karzai. who also bemoaned the unchallenged and sometimes wrong international perceptions of the Taliban. He cited claims that women and girls are not allowed outside their homes or require a male companion. “That’s not true. There are girls on the streets — women by themselves.” The situation on the ground in Kabul bears this out.

Asked to describe the Taliban, Karzai said: “I would describe them as Afghans, but Afghans who have gone through a very difficult period in their lives as all other Afghans have done for the past 40 years.”

We “have been through an extremely difficult period of our history in which we, the Afghans, have made mistakes on all sides, in which the international community and those who interacted with us have made tremendous mistakes,” Karzai said. “It’s time for all of us to realize that, and to look back at the mistakes that we have all made and to make it better.”

Why India, Russia Blocked Move To Take Climate Change To UNSC

India and Russia have blocked a proposal that would have allowed the UN Security Council to deliberate on climate-related issues. What is the UNSC’s role in such issues, and why was the proposal opposed?

A contentious proposal to authorise the UN Security Council to deliberate on climate change-related issues was rejected on Monday after veto-wielding Russia and India voted against it. The draft resolution, piloted by Ireland and Niger, had been in the making for several months, and sought to create a formal space in the Security Council for discussions on climate change and its implications on international security.

This was the second time in weeks that India went against the tide to block a climate change-related proposal that it did not agree with. At the annual climate change conference in Glasgow last month, India had forced a last-minute amendment in the final draft agreement to ensure that a provision calling for “phase-out” of coal was changed to “phase-down”.

The UN already has a specialised agency, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC, for discussing all matters related to climate change. The parties to the UNFCCC — over 190 countries — meet several times every year, including at a two-week year-ending conference like the one at Glasgow, to work on a global approach to combat climate change. It is this process that has given rise to the Paris Agreement, and its predecessor the Kyoto Protocol, the international instrument that is designed to respond to the climate change crisis.

The Security Council, on the other hand, exists primarily to prevent conflicts and maintain global peace.

For the last few years, however, a few European countries, led by Germany, have been pushing for a role for Security Council in climate change discussions as well, arguing that climate change had an international security dimension. Climate change-induced food or water shortage, loss of habitat or livelihood, or migration can exacerbate existing conflicts or even create new ones. This can have implications for the UN field missions that are deployed across the world in peacekeeping efforts.

The draft resolution piloted by Ireland and Niger was not the first attempt at bringing climate change on Security Council’s agenda. Last year, a similar, stronger resolution was proposed by Germany. However, it was never put to vote because of possible objections from the United States, which had made it clear that it would block any such attempt with a veto. Germany’s two-year term at the Security Council was over last year, but the proposal had other backers, and Ireland and Niger agreed to refresh the draft resolution. With the US position shifting decisively under new President Joe Biden, the draft resolution had realistic chances of getting approved if China and Russia, the known opponents of the proposal, had agreed to abstain.

Telling Numbers |Changing monsoon patterns over 30 years, and 2021 trends

On the face of it, the draft resolution seemed academic in nature. It called for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to submit a report on security aspects of climate change in the next two years. It also asked the Secretary General to appoint a special envoy for climate security. Further, it asked UN field missions to regularly report on climate change assessments in their areas of operation and take the help of climate experts in carrying out their routine functions.

UNSC and climate change

Although it is not the forum to discuss climate change, the Security Council and its secretariat has hosted a few debates and informal discussions on the subject in the past. According to a recent research report, the frequency of such discussions has increased significantly since 2017, with climate change finding a mention in several Security Council decisions as well. It said several European countries, initially led by Sweden and the Netherlands, began to make efforts towards integration of the security implications of climate change in the Security Council’s work.

The same year, one of the UN’s visiting missions in Lake Chad region heard from Nigerian President Mahamadou Issoufou about how the shrinking of Lake Chad, a direct consequence of climate change, had contributed to the rise of the Boko Haram. Issoufou told the mission that the lake had lost 90 per cent of its surface area since the 1960s, which had destroyed livelihoods of local communities which became fertile ground for Boko Haram to grow. The research paper said this account of the Nigerian President left an impression on several UNSC members.

The objections

Russia and China, two permanent members with veto powers, have always been opposed to the move to bring climate change on the Security Council agenda. While the US switched sides this year, India, which started a two-year term in January, joined ranks with Russia and China. Brazil, which will join the Security Council next year, is also known to be against this move.

The opposing countries have been arguing that the UNFCCC must remain the appropriate forum for addressing all climate change-related issues, and claim the Security Council does not have the expertise to do so. They have also been pointing out that unlike UNFCCC, where decisions are taken by consensus of all the 190-plus countries, the UNSC would enable climate change decision-making by a handful of developed countries.

“We therefore need to ask ourselves what is it that we can collectively do under this draft resolution which we cannot achieve under the UNFCCC process. Why is it that one needs a UN Security Council resolution to take action on climate change when we have commitments made under UNFCCC towards concrete climate action. The honest answer is that there is no real requirement for this resolution except for the purpose of bringing climate change under the ambit of the Security Council and the reason for that is now decisions can be taken without involvement of most developing countries and without recognising consensus,” India’s permanent representative to the UN T S Tirumurti said. “Today, climate change decisions are sought to be taken out of the wider international community represented in the UNFCCC and given instead to the Security Council. Ironically, many of the UNSC members are the main contributors of climate change due to historical emissions. If the Security Council indeed takes over the responsibility on this issue, a few states will then have a free hand in deciding on all climate related issues. This is clearly neither desirable nor acceptable,” he said.

While the draft resolution was said to have the support of more than 100 countries, Russia said many developing countries had been backing it in the hope that they would get some assistance in fighting climate change.

Vladimir Putin’s Visit To India Will Usher In A New Dynamic Relationship

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s India visit has brought back the issue of ‘strategic balance’ in the Indian foreign policy narrative.  Not many analysts doubt the independent nature of India’s foreign policy. Still, there has been an impression that in the changing geopolitical dynamics, New Delhi and Moscow were somewhat drifting apart.

There will be a series of meetings, including the maiden 2+2 dialogue of the defense and foreign ministers, before the 21st annual India-Russia Summit. India and Russia will have an extensive engagement on defense and political ties and regional and international developments during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to New Delhi for the annual summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on December 6.

Russia has started delivering the S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile system to India, the director of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSMTC) Dmitry Shugaev has said. The S-400 Triumf air defense missile system will give a major boost to India’s capabilities to take out enemy fighter aircraft and cruise missiles at long range. News agency ANI reported citing people familiar…

There will be a series of meetings, including the maiden 2+2 dialogue of the defense and foreign ministers, before the 21st annual India-Russia Summit. Russian defense minister Sergey Shoigu and foreign minister Sergey Lavrov will arrive in India on December 5.

The two sides will have an “intensive engagement” that will culminate with the summit, external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi told a regular news briefing.

Defense minister Rajnath Singh and Shoigu will co-chair a meeting of the inter-governmental commission on military-technical cooperation, while external affairs minister S Jaishankar will hold a bilateral meeting with Lavrov early on Monday. These meetings will be followed by the inaugural 2+2 ministerial dialogue, which is expected to discuss bilateral, regional, and international political and defense issues, Bagchi said.

India has 2+2 ministerial meetings with very few countries, including Australia, Japan, and the US. At their annual summit in the afternoon on December 6, the two leaders will review the state and prospects of bilateral relations and discuss ways to further strengthen the bilateral strategic partnership. The summit will be an opportunity to exchange views on regional, multilateral, and international issues, and several agreements are expected to be signed during and in the run-up to the summit.

Asked about the US threatening to impose secondary sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) on India’s deal to acquire five S-400 air defense systems from Russia, Bagchi said, “India and the US have a special global strategic partnership. We also have a special and privileged strategic partnership with Russia and we pursue an independent foreign policy.

Despite India’s increasing closeness to the West, a strong Russia and stronger India-Russia ties are important for India’s vision of a multipolar world and its own balanced foreign policy approach. It is also crucial for India to assert its strategic autonomy, defense modernisation and ambition to become an important producer of defense equipment.

The government-to-government linkages are quite strong. In the last 20 summits, about 230 agreements of different kinds were signed between the two countries. This summit has added 28 more MOUs/agreements. This time, however, there are also many MOUs beyond the government sector.

Almost every summit has coincided with some announcement of major arms purchases. This summit was not an exception as India agreed to buy over six lakh AK 203 rifles. Due to diversification, there has been some decline in the last few years. Still, Russia is India’s biggest arms supplier. For 2021-31, a new Military-Technical program has also been agreed. Some of these purchases particularly, S-400 missiles are under threat from the United States because of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which India hopes it will be able to work through with the Americans. The supply of parts of S-400 missiles has already begun.

One of the major challenges has been how to sustain this relationship in the absence of dynamic commercial ties. Bilateral trade is stuck around $10 billion for many years. The problem areas are well-known — these include lack of information, visa problems and logistic issues etc. In recent years, attempts have been made to address some of these issues.

There has been renewed focus on the International North South Trade Corridor (INSTC). Now, the Chabahar port has been added within the INSTC framework. A feasibility study on Chennai-Vladivostok maritime corridor is also at the advanced stage. There was also a mention of the need for creating linkages between India and the Eurasian Economic Union. A new trade target of $30 billion by 2025 was also mentioned. These narratives are good for the summit outcomes. The experience of the last many years shows that progress on most of these fronts has been slow for various reasons.

Apart from strategic convergence on some of the global and regional issues, the main pillars are still defence ties, hydrocarbons and nuclear. Russia has a clear comparative advantage in these areas and played an important role in our ties in the past 20 years. But in the next decade, when defence diversification and energy transition is going to happen, we need to find new areas of cooperation. For many years, India has talked about Information Technology, pharma sector, diamonds, textiles and the like. Still, it has not been able to make them core areas of interaction.

In the changing global geopolitics, India-Russia ties have the potential to stabilise increasing geopolitical tensions in the Indo-Pacific region as well as in Eurasia. Although India is working closely with the US and other western partners in the Indo-Pacific, its interests are clearly aligned with Russia in the Eurasian region, including now in Afghanistan. Although defence and energy will continue to bind us together, much more needs to be done in trade and connectivity sector. Once private sectors of both the economies are also linked with each other, India and Russia can truly complement each other’s modernisation.

What Biden’s Democracy Summit Is Missing

U.S. President Joe Biden is set to host a virtual summit this week for leaders from government, civil society, and the private sector to discuss the renewal of democracy. We can expect to see plenty of worthy yet predictable issues discussed: the threat of foreign agents interfering in elections, online disinformation, political polarization, and the temptation of populist and authoritarian alternatives. For the United States specifically, the role of money in politics, partisan gerrymandering, endless gridlock in Congress, and the recent voter suppression efforts targeting Black communities in the South should certainly be on the agenda.

All are important and relevant topics. Something more fundamental, however, is needed. The clear erosion of our political institutions is just the latest evidence, if any more was needed, that it’s past time to discuss what democracy means—and why we should care about it. We have to question, moreover, whether the political systems we have are even worth restoring or if we should more substantively alter them, including through profound constitutional reforms.

Such a discussion has never been more vital. The systems in place today once represented a clear improvement on prior regimes—monarchies, theocracies, and other tyrannies—but it may be a mistake to call them adherents of democracy at all. The word roughly translates from its original Greek as “people’s power.” But the people writ large doesn’t hold power in these systems. Elites do. Consider that in the United States, according to a 2014 study by the political scientist’ Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, only the richest 10 percent of the population seems to have any causal effect on public policy. The other 90 percent, they argue, is left with “democracy by coincidence”—getting what they want only when they happen to want the same thing as the people calling the shots.

This discrepancy between reality—democracy by coincidence—and the ideal of people’s power are baked in as a result of fundamental design flaws dating back to the 18th century. The only way to rectify those mistakes is to rework the design—to fully reimagine what it means to be democratic. Tinkering at the edges won’t do.

The best starting place to rectify such flaws is to better understand how they came about. Representative government, the ancestor of modern democracies, was born in the 18th century as a classical liberal-republican construct rather than a democratic one, primarily focused on the protection of certain individual rights rather than the empowerment of the broader citizenry. The goal was to give the people some say in choosing their rulers without allowing for actual popular rule. In other words, representative government historically favored the idea of people’s consent to power over that of people’s exercise of power.

The Founding Fathers of the United States, for example, famously wanted to create a republic rather than a democracy, which they associated with mob rule. James Madison, in particular, feared the tyranny of the majority as much as he disliked and rejected the old monarchical orders. He wanted to create a mixed regime with aristocratic and popular features whose main goal would be to protect individuals as much from powerful minorities as oppressive majorities. Alexander Hamilton even defended the ideal of a government that would include a president elected for life.

The federalist founders were thus explicit in their intent to create a republic that would not rest on demos Kratos, or “people’s power,” but instead on the power of elected elites, restrained by a complex system of checks and balances. They aimed to staff representative assemblies with a natural aristocracy of talent and wisdom capable of enlarging and refining the views of common people. In this way, the system would serve as a filter, maximizing the individual competence of representatives while accepting the costs of reducing that group to a sociologically and economically homogeneous group.

The next historical step in the evolution of representative government was to go from parliamentary democracy—where the legislative assembly was seen as a place of deliberation among individually superior minds—to party democracy. Elections became a competition among policy platforms in which individual citizens or their representatives could exercise their vote.

In the process, we moved from the Madisonian view of electoral representation as a proxy for public sentiment to something quite different. Party competition was seen by some as an effective system to ensure the periodic removal of the worst political leaders or, in an even more optimistic view, as a rational battle of ideas among partisan platforms.

The move to this form of the political regime was accompanied—and buttressed—by the flattening out of social distinctions and what the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville saw as an irresistible equalization of conditions. It was during this process that we started to call modern societies and by extension their governments, democracies. This began around 1830 in the United States and France and 1870 in the United Kingdom, despite the remarkable fact that women and minorities did not get the right to vote until much later. But while there was some real but limited progress toward sociopolitical equality, actual decision-making power—over anything from economic to foreign policy—remained in the hands of the elites.

Not only is this unequal distribution and indeed concentration of power hardly compatible with the idea of democracy, but it also makes the system vulnerable to systematic failures of governance. One of the main advantages of democracy, according to thinkers from Aristotle to W.E.B. Du Bois, is its capacity, when properly institutionalized, to tap into the distributed collective wisdom of its entire public. Along these lines, Aristotle thought that two heads were better than one. More poetically, Du Bois argued that “in the people, we have the source of that endless life and unbounded wisdom which the rulers of men must-have.”

Yet by design, representative democracies only sample the wisdom of a narrow subset of the population, namely the one that wins elections. Such a subset has globally skewed male, wealthy, educated, and of the locally dominant ethnicity. One might also add the following traits: charismatic, articulate, tall, and extroverted. It is not clear that any of these qualities—undeniably useful to win electoral campaigns—have any bearing on the capabilities of our ruling class to legislate well. This is especially problematic if, as some social scientists argue, the collective competence of a group is only partially a function of individual qualities and more so a function of the group’s diversity. Parliaments as we staff them might well be too homogenous for good lawmaking. Meanwhile, the rest of the population—including the introverted, inarticulate, short, and shy, as well as, typically, poor and Black or other people of color—is left to opine, at best, from a distance, if they don’t retreat from the system altogether.

While there is some wisdom to be gained from the aggregation of popular judgment in elections, pure electoral democracy misses out on all that can be gained from the diversity of knowledge and insight among the broader population. The key is to involve that broader group of people in a more deliberative and participatory way. Leaving them out creates massive blind spots, simmering resentment, and a systematic failure to address the needs and preferences of a portion, sometimes even a majority, of the population.

Examples of such failures abound, from the plight of the suburban working class in most advanced industrial societies, which is vastly underrepresented in all Western parliaments, to that of Black Americans, who are also still underrepresented in the U.S. Congress.

Such areas of underrepresentation might explain political events that surprised our pundit class: U.S. President Donald Trump’s electoral victory, the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, and the yellow vest rebellion against a tax on gas in France. The example of the yellow vests, or gilets jaunes, offers a textbook case of the inability of electoral institutions to respond to the interests and concerns of a significant portion of the population that feels invisible—hence, the neon yellow jackets—and has in some cases given up on voting altogether.

These democratic flaws at the heart of representative democracy are sufficiently serious to account for at least some of its current institutional crisis, which may be better described as a chronic illness due to a congenital defect. Perhaps other factors, such as globalization, unfettered capitalism, and rapid technological change, as well as the economic inequalities they entail, made things worse in some countries. But make no mistake: Each of these vulnerabilities is part of the initial design.

Some may see this essay as a call for revolution. It is not. We have inherited the legacies of the 18th century, both institutional and ideological, and we should figure out how to make do with them, at least in part and for the time being. Yet having a clearer idea of what an authentic democracy should look like can usefully guide institutional reform in more radical directions—ones that are compatible with current power structures and prevailing ways of thinking.

Wherever possible, we should build new models of democratic decision-making so they can nudge the old ones aside as those become obsolete. That, I believe, is our best hope for renewing democracy.

There are many proposals for what a true democracy should look like, and they are all worth debating. My view defended in my book Open Democracy, is that an authentic democracy would center on ordinary citizens rather than elected politicians. One way forward, therefore, is to break with the dogma of electoral representation as the only—let alone the most democratic—a form of representation.

If democracy is truly ruled by the people, then all of us should be able to represent and be represented in turn—that is, have an equal chance to engage in lawmaking and policymaking on behalf of the rest of the group. The ruling, in other words, should not be a job reserved for those who can win elections. It should be accessible to all.

The open democracy I envisage would center on a House of the People selected by a randomized civic lottery—a large-scale jury, if you will—in which ordinary citizens have a chance to participate as democratic representatives with legislative prerogatives of their own (for example, on climate change and other long-term issues that remain largely unaddressed by our current political systems). Such a body could replace—or at the very least complement—existing elected chambers. This House of the People would be a forum for nonpartisan, informed, and transparent deliberation.

Furthermore, such a body should be open to the input of the larger public, including through mechanisms that enable individuals to put issues on its agenda or trigger a referendum on its proposals or even convene a citizens’ assembly—a large body of randomly selected citizens gathered to deliberate about a specific issue.

Critics of this idea might argue that putting ordinary citizens at the center of our democratic process naively assumes that politics is an amateurs’ sport. To some extent, that is correct because having a say about the common good and defining the law that governs all of us should be open to all, regardless of class, gender, age, race, education levels, or other characteristics. Only once we acknowledge that fact can we both live up to the ideal of political equality and tap the collective intelligence of the whole.

But more importantly, when given the proper resources and the same access to experts that elected officials routinely enjoy, the so-called amateurs can cultivate skills and legislate well. The proof of concept here is provided not just by the example of ancient Athens, which essentially functioned based on open assemblies and randomly selected councils and juries, but the modern-day as well. Ordinary citizens in recent times have demonstrated their competence on all kinds of issues, from the more technical, as with the 2004 Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform in the Canadian province of British Columbia, to the more controversial, as with the 2012 Constitutional Convention and 2016 Citizens’ Assembly in Ireland, which deliberated on marriage equality and abortion, respectively.

In 2019, in a landmark case given the size and diversity of the country, French President Emmanuel Macron entrusted 150 randomly selected citizens with the task of generating bills to curb greenhouse gas emissions in ways that align with social justice. After nine months of hard work, and in consultation with experts, they succeeded. While foreign policy has only been put on the agenda of citizens’ assemblies a few times, there is no reason to think that ordinary citizens would be less equipped to make decisions on these issues as well. Particularly when it comes to decisions related to starting or ending wars, it would seem both fair and smart to involve a much more representative sample of all affected interests.

Just as in an elected parliament, citizen legislators should avail themselves of existing knowledge. They should be served by a loyal bureaucracy and have easy access to experts. And these bureaucrats and experts should be put “on tap, not on top,” to use a phrase common in deliberative democracy circles—meaning they are available to advise but are not the decision-makers. In addition, assemblies of citizen legislators, just like parliaments, should be autonomous and self-ruling, including in the choice of experts appearing in front of them.

If those conditions are in place, the risk that the House of the People could be captured by technocrats and bureaucrats is not nil, but it is arguably less than in existing systems where elected officials are so busy raising funds and campaigning that they have every incentive to delegate the actual business of legislating to others.

What about accountability, you might ask? Accountability is an overused and underdefined term that we have come to identify within the very process of modern politics. After all, we should be able to remove elected officials who have underperformed. But elections can be a blunt and not particularly effective tool. There are other ways to sanction people for disappointing or wrongful use of power. More importantly, accountability has a broader meaning: the presentation of accounts, namely justifications for the laws and policies imposed on the population. Deliberative assemblies of ordinary citizens are a much better place than elected parliaments to generate such explanations.

What about the democratic legitimacy of randomly selected legislatures? This objection shows how much our political intuitions are shaped by the historical centrality of elections. Yet consider juries, the democratic institution par excellence according to Tocqueville. Do jury members lack democratic legitimacy because they have been selected by lot rather than elected? No. The intuition of our current system, in which we emphasize the exercise of power rather than the consent to power, is that the democratic legitimacy of jury members comes from the fact that they could be any one of us. We could be them. But what this example shows is that elections are not strictly necessary for either democratic representation or democratic legitimacy.

Does an open democracy still sound like science fiction or perhaps like a dated vision of politics only fit for small and homogenous Greek city-states? Only if you ignore the now close to 600 examples of randomly selected deliberative bodies documented at the local, regional, national, and international levels in the last 40 years, according to data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

While such bodies often face resistance on the part of existing structures, which tend to view them as competition, several have had an important impact. Deliberative polls conducted by electric utilities in Texas between 1996 and 1998 were largely responsible for a major reversal in the state’s energy policy, turning it from a pure oil and gas state into a leader in green energy. The Irish citizens’ assemblies on marriage equality, abortion, blasphemy, and the right to divorce have all led to constitutional changes, and the Irish Citizens’ Assembly on climate led to the recently enacted Climate Act. In France, despite much resistance from Parliament, between 10 and 50 percent of the Citizens’ Convention on Climate’s recommendations were incorporated into real law, producing the most ambitious French climate bill to date. In fact, in 81 percent of the 55 examples of randomly selected bodies for which OECD data is available, public authorities accepted at least half of the recommendations that citizens developed in these processes.

The next phase of democratic transformation is to build more empowered, permanent citizens’ assemblies with legislative capabilities of their own. This has already begun. Examples include the region of East Belgium, which inaugurated the first permanent Citizens’ Council with agenda-setting power in 2019, and the city of Paris, which just convened a similar council of 100 Parisians, with more power still.

It might take a while before a country gives so much power to citizens at the national level. But it is worth noting that France briefly toyed with the idea of replacing its third legislative chamber, a largely symbolic advisory body where representatives of organized civil society currently convene, with a Chamber of Citizen Participation. Various scholars and activists have called for abolishing upper chambers seen as corrupt or out of dates, such as the Canadian Senate or the House of Lords in the United Kingdom, with so-called “legislatures by lot.” What might have seemed like radical thinking a few years ago is now entering the realm of the possible.

First, the summit needs to question and broaden the definition of democracy. If the aim of pro-democracy forces is simply to return to some imagined pre-Trump or pre-Brexit utopia, then we will have learned nothing. If the solution is simply to empower courts and raise supermajority thresholds to try to protect the system against populist surges, then we will possibly worsen the problem caused by elitism and democratic deficits in the first place. Returning to the core idea of people’s power—and interrogating the conditions under which the wisdom of the many can be channeled into law and policymaking—should be the starting point of any conversation.

The second pitfall to avoid is holding a summit on democracy that is itself elitist and exclusionary. The only invitees, as far as we know, are more than 100 world leaders, who are likely to be very educated, wealthy, and rather old. Just as this year’s U.N. Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, (and all 25 before it) failed to be truly inclusive and representative of the diversity of climate interests and concerns around the world, summits that only gather people from the top of various social, economic, political, and other hierarchies are premised on a flawed idea of what produces collective wisdom. As a result, it risks reproducing the blind spots that yielded the world’s democratic crisis in the first place.

Democratic leadership can come from surprising places. I would hope the summit organizers at the very least invite participants from former citizens’ assemblies, who could bring a diversity of background as well as unique perspectives on a different kind of democratic politics. Better yet, they could start thinking about institutionalizing the principle of an international citizens’ assembly for the summit’s next iterations, as several thinkers, including myself, have called for in a joint letter to Biden. Such an assembly could follow the model of the Global Assembly on the climate crisis, which ran in parallel to the COP26 meeting in Glasgow, Scotland.

Finally, when it comes to the situation in the United States, one hopes that Biden’s summit will be an opportunity to change the country’s mostly sterile public conversation about democracy. Americans must finally allow themselves to question the foundations of the Constitution they so uncritically worship. The achievements of the Founding Fathers, as brilliant as they were, need to be reassessed in light of more than two centuries of dramatic change and a wealth of new social scientific knowledge. If we are to overcome the many profound challenges we face today, we need to be as bold and visionary in our time as they were in theirs.

US Boycotts China’s Winter Olympics

No Biden Administration officials will attend China’s Winter Olympics in February, the White House announced Monday, in a rebuke to Beijing over China’s use of forced labor and concentration camps to suppress a Muslim ethnic minority in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang.

“U.S. diplomatic or official representations would treat these games as business as usual in the face of the PRC’s egregious human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday. “We simply can’t do that.”

The diplomatic boycott is an escalation of President Joe Biden’s criticism of China’s treatment of its Uyghur citizens in a pattern of abuses that a U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum November report said may amount to genocide.

Biden’s boycott only applies to U.S. government officials and won’t affect U.S. athletes planning to compete in the games.

President Biden met virtually with China’s President Xi Jinping on Nov. 15. The two did not discuss the Winter Olympics, which are scheduled to start on Feb. 4, Psaki said, but Biden did raise “concerns” about China’s actions in Xinjiang, according to the White House’s official description of the meeting.\

Since the meeting, China’s government has come under harsh criticism for its treatment of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, a three-time Olympian, who largely disappeared from public view after accusing a former senior Chinese leader of sexual assault.

China’s government said earlier on Monday it would take “countermeasures” if the Biden Administration announced a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games. “If the U.S. side is bent on going its way, China will take firm countermeasures,” Zhao Lijian, spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters on Monday.

For decades, China’s government has tried to forcibly assimilate Uyghurs in Xinjiang through prohibitions on expressions of religion and culture, and a pattern of abuses such as forced sterilization, forced labor, torture, sexual violence, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum report.

Biden’s Presidential campaign described China’s treatment of Uyghurs as “genocide” in August 2020. The Trump administration agreed. On Jan. 19, outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that China’s “genocide is ongoing and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state.”

Glossing Over in Glasgow – Some Thoughts on COP26

A week has gone by since COP 26 with 197 Parties ended in the Scottish city of Glasgow on extended time last Saturday. Climate change which covers wide array of issues affecting all living beings engaged the people around the world for COP 26 in a way never experienced since COP1 was held in Berlin in 1995.

Extensive and round-the-clock media coverage, huge presence of the civil society, activism by the young people, substantive advocacy by large number of non-governmental organizations, even the creatively decorated conference venue – all gave COP 26 a profile never seen before.

Before Glasgow, 25 annually convened sessions of COPs have been held by Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted in New York in May 1992 which “determined to protect the climate system for present and future generations”. But never in the history of COPs there was an occasion when the Parties publicly negotiated to change the outcome document which was televised around the world as in the Glasgow COP.

As is natural for such multilateral gatherings, reactions to the question whether COP 26 was successful were different from the Parties and other entities engaged in the process. Efforts to gloss over following COP 26 left the common people uncertain and unsure whether there was really any forward movement in Glasgow.

Contradictions

What was somewhat intriguing that speaking for the United Nations system as a whole, the Secretary-General expressed his disappointment about the compromise reached in the outcome commenting “…unfortunately the collective political will was not enough to overcome some deep contradictions.”

He even warned “It is time to go into emergency mode — or our chance of reaching net zero will itself be zero.” At the same time, Secretary-General’s rather confusing, ill-composed comment in his remarks at the conclusion of COP 26 that “We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe” left many wondering what he was trying to convey.

Even more intriguing is that where was his leadership as the universally accepted global leader in getting rid of those contradictions he was complaining about.? On the other hand, the Executive Secretary entrusted with the responsibility of organizing COPs was upbeat about the outcome and may be reflecting another contradiction in Glasgow. COP 26 also invited the UN Secretary-General to convene world leaders in 2023 to consider ambition to 2030 dangling the traditional carrot of expectation to the people of the world.

Alok Sharma touch

Let me bring out a very uniquely remarkable thing that happened in COP 26 as its UK-appointed full-time President Alok Sharma openly and visibly choked back tears saying “I am deeply sorry” as he banged his gavel for the adoption of the Glasgow Climate Pact.

His emotions and true feelings came out spontaneously as he was considerably upset by the proposal of India, joined by China, to change the expression “phase out” relating to coal consumption as agreed to by all till the moment of adoption.

India replaced that phrase with “phase down” thereby watering down the consensus intent of the Parties at COP 26. President Sharma expressed his apologies for the way things evolved in changing the agreed COP 26 outcome negotiated under his leadership and which he was about to gavel down. In my half a century of engagement in multilateral diplomacy,

I am not aware of any conference chair apologizing ever for his inability to protect the best interest of the participants in the outcome. Bravo to Alok Sharma for that honesty and integrity! He has shown the way to all future chairs that they can openly and courageously pronounce their failure identifying those who are dragging their feet destroying a forward-looking outcome.

It was also impressive the way President Sharma asserted the reality with his pithy comment that we have kept 1.5 Celsius alive “but its pulse is weak”.

Loss and Damage

The insensitivity of the Parties and their self-centered policy positions were starkly manifested in the decision relating to a major issue known as “Loss and Damage”. Not much media highlight was given to this very relevant item on COP 26 agenda. Even the UN’s Climate Change website does include in its list of topics.

I am sure many readers are picking their brains trying to recall the issue. “Loss and damage” is used within the COP process to refer to the harms caused by anthropogenic climate change. Establishing liability and compensation for loss and damage has been a long-standing goal for vulnerable and developing countries in the Alliance of Small Island States and the Least Developed Countries Group in negotiations.

However, developed countries have resisted this. At Glasgow, the developing countries lamented the outcome on loss and damage. They had called for a financial mechanism for loss and damage, but the outcome on loss and damage only included strengthening the existing technical support functions, and expectedly more empty and rejectionist talks to convene from 2022 to 2024.

The existing UNFCCC mechanism created by COP 19, the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, focuses on research and dialogue rather than liability or compensation.
Tasneem Essop, Executive Director, Climate Action Network succinctly described COP 26 as “a clear betrayal by rich nations – the US, the EU and the UK- of vulnerable communities in poor countries.”

She went on to say that by blocking the proposal of the developing countries representing 6 billion people, on the creation of a Glasgow Loss and Damage Finance Facility “rich countries have once again demonstrated their complete lack of solidarity and responsibility to protect those facing the worst of the climate impacts.

Referring to close-door pressure tactics, Saleemul Huq, Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) regretted that “The COP Presidency has overnight been bullied into dropping the Glasgow Loss and Damage Finance Facility. The UK’s words to the vulnerable countries have been proven to be totally unreliable.”

Natalie Lucas, Executive Director, Care About Climate very forcefully spoke about the loss and damage issue and expressed total disappointment commenting that “Developed nations, including the US, have not risen to the challenge to do what is necessary to protect people. We have missed the train on mitigation, on adaptation, and now it is colliding into the most vulnerable people.”

At the end the Glasgow Climate Pact pitifully agreed “to enhance understanding of how approaches to averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage can be improved”. It clearly reflects how the “powerful” of the world impose their totally irrelevant and illogical position on the poorest and most vulnerable humanity.

About the Glasgow outcome, globally respected eminent economist Jeffrey Sachs rightly opined “That leaves us stuck between the reality of a devastating global climate crisis and rich countries’ nationalist politics…” He articulated further that “The financial failures at COP26 are both tragic and absurd … Financing for “losses and damages,” that is, to recover and rebuild from climate disasters, fared even worse, with rich countries agreeing only to hold a “dialogue” on the issue.”

Kowtowing to the obstinacy of the developed countries, UN Secretary-General insensitively tried to console the developing world by his non-committal words saying “I want to make a particular appeal for our future work in relation to adaptation and the issue of loss and damage.”

He was oblivious that the Climate Change Convention of 1992 of which he is the depository asserts that “The extent to which developing country Parties will effectively implement their commitments under the Convention will depend on the effective implementation by developed country Parties of their commitments under the Convention related to financial resources and transfer of technology and will take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country Parties.”

Civil society

At Glasgow, the civil society engagement and advocacy for forward-looking actions fell on deaf ears of the leaders and negotiators. The civil society was separated from the so-called Blue Zone at the conference center where the wheeling-dealing was taking place.

If the civil society seriously wants a space to be heard and make an impact on the outcome of COP processes, it should ask for that opportunity clearly offered to them in all future climate negotiations. Protesting outside and commenting on the social media have limited value in influencing the decision-makers.

Even Greta Thunberg’s disparaging slogan “blah, blah, blah …” was laughed away by the leaders. COP 26 outcome proves that in a terribly frustrating manner. For COP 27 next year, the mode of operations for the civil society participation needs to change.

American climate scientist and author Peter Kalmus articulated that “The one thing the climate summit in Glasgow made clear is that human society remains in business-as-usual mode, with no meaningful curb on fossil fuel use. The soft pledges made at COP 26 might have been acceptable decades ago, but not now.”

He went on to highlight that “Unless COP26’s failure is recognized as failure, there is no way to learn from it. Allowing global leaders to feel that what happened in Glasgow was acceptable – and spinning it as some sort of success – would be a disastrous mistake.”

The whole COP process is flawed if the powerful Parties can brush aside the wishes of countries representing a huge majority of the world population just like that. Developing countries need to join together to stop this circus and find another approach.

“Phase down” – the new mantra

There has been strong criticism of the last-minute and veto-like proposal to replace “Phase out” by “Phase down” at the final moments of the Glasgow gathering. But “phase down” has always been the position of the worst and historically responsible polluters of the world who would prefer to follow their own pace for addressing the climate crisis.

Be it emissions control, be it fossil fuels, be it financing, be it adaptation, be it mitigation, be it loss and damage, be it transfer of technology, “phase down” mode has always been the preferred way of doing business by the developed world. India has only taken a dubious lead in actually introducing the phrase in a formal COP outcome.

The global community would find more and more such instances as the climate change negotiations evolves in the coming years. “Phase down” is the new mantra of the climate change negotiators. Be prepared for that. Sorry!  (Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury is former Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations and former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations.)

Nuclear Arsenals Do Not Provide Security, Says Vatican Official

The global Covid-19 pandemic should be teaching people that security does not come from a country’s possession of nuclear weapons, but from working together to promote the common good with greater access to health care, a reduction of poverty and care for the environment, the Vatican secretary of state said.

Security “cannot be based on the threat of mutual destruction and fear,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin said in a video message played Nov. 17 at an event titled “Nuclear Arms Conversion? It’s Worthwhile.”

The event was sponsored by the Assisi-based Committee for a Civilization of Love and its “Nuclear for Peace” project.

“The ultimate goal of the total elimination of nuclear weapons is both a challenge and a moral and humanitarian imperative,” Cardinal Parolin said. The Catholic Church has pressed for disarmament for decades.

The cardinal insisted that a practical approach to disarmament “should promote reflection on a multilateral and cooperative ethic of peace and security that goes beyond the fear and isolationism that permeate many current debates.”

“How many resources are wasted on weapons, especially nuclear weapons, resources that could be used for more significant priorities to ensure the security of people, such as promoting peace and integral human development, fighting poverty, guaranteeing health needs,” the cardinal said, quoting Pope Francis’ message for World Peace Day 2021.

In January, the 10th Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will take place, he noted. And in March, there will be the first meeting of the parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

The entry into force of the prohibition treaty earlier this year “marked a decisive step forward and is linked to the full implementation of the commitments of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons with a view to complete disarmament,” he said.

While both treaties represent “a success of multilateral diplomacy,” the cardinal said, they would not have been negotiated and signed “without the action of the many civil society associations committed to the continuous promotion of disarmament and peace.”

Press Freedom In Pakistan Under Threat

Press and Media are the Fourth Pillar of Democracy. The term Fourth Estate or fourth power refers to the press and news media both in explicit capacity of advocacy and implicit ability to frame political issues. Though it is not formally recognized as a part of a political system, it wields significant indirect social influence.

Free press gives voice to people’s concerns and expectations and ensures accountability on the rules. Therefore, the freedom of the Media is a vital yardstick to measure the degree of democracy practically available to the citizens of a country. Unfortunately, while in the United States and the Western countries, freedom of press is a matter of fact, the same cannot be said about many countries in Asia and Africa where the authorities regularly gag press freedom. Pakistan is one of those countries, which calls itself a democracy, but its record of press freedom can put dictatorships to shame.

For the past few years, Pakistan’s rank in the global freedom of press index has constantly declined, owing to growing cases of abduction and assault on journalists. At least ten journalists were murdered, and several others threatened, kidnapped, tortured, and arrested in Pakistan on trumped-up charges while discharging their professional responsibilities in 2020 alone, according to the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) Media Freedom Report 2020.

Senior journalist and former chairman of Pakistan Electronic Media Authority (PEMRA), Absar Alam was shot near his home in April 2021 but survived. Absar Alam has been critical of the country’s powerful military establishment. In a video message soon after the shooting, Alam said he had been hit in the ribs by a bullet and that he did not know the gunman. “I will not lose hope, and I am not going to be deterred by such acts,” Mr. Alam said in the video as he was being transported to a nearby hospital. “This is my message to the people who got me shot.”

In May 2021, three unidentified men beat, bound, and gagged Asad Ali Toor inside his apartment in Islamabad. Toor worked as a producer for the privately-owned broadcaster Aaj TV and hosted a YouTube current affairs channel with about 25,000 subscribers. CCTV footage showed Toor struggling to walk in his apartment building’s lobby as passersby helped remove the bindings. The journalist said that his arms were bloodied and bruised in the attack, and he required stitches on his elbow.

A few days later, Hamid Mir, the popular host of political talk show ‘Capital Talk’ of Geo News channel, delivered a fiery speech at a protest staged by scribes against an attack by three “unknown” persons on journalist and YouTuber Asad Ali Toor in Islamabad on May 28, 2021. The Geo News Channel subsequently suspended the show “Capital Talk,” which was hosted by Hamid Mir.

Nazim Sajawal Jokhiyo, an amateur video reporter, was found dead with his body covered with the marks of blows and torture on November 3 in Malir, a district in Karachi’s eastern suburbs. Jokhiyo made the video intending to draw attention to the hunting of the Asian houbara bustard, a threatened species. Hunting this bustard is officially banned in Pakistan, but wealthy guests from Gulf countries are allowed to pursue the bustard. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called for an independent investigation into the murder of Nazim Jokhiyo.

Pakistan’s censorship crusade has gathered pace under Prime Minister Imran Khan, seeking to placate powerful conservative and religious constituencies. In July, Imran Khan was featured on the red list of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and several other heads of state who massively cracked down on press freedom.

In May 2021, Pakistan’s Federal Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued a draft ordinance titled the Pakistan Media Development Authority. Under the ordinance, the Pakistani government sought broad new powers to control the media due to its crackdown on freedom of expression. Journalists, human rights activists, and political leaders across that country have raised the alarm about proposed legislation that would bolster the powers of the government to censor and restrict the media.

On August 23, Human Rights Watch condemned the proposed PMDA law, saying the government should “stop trying to control reporters and instead start protecting media freedom,” and argued that media regulators must be independent of government controls.

On September 13, 2021, the journalist fraternity, led by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), walked from the National Press Club to the Parliament House in Islamabad, where they staged a sit-in.

“Press freedom is certainly shrinking under Imran Khan. Journalists have lost a record number of jobs, critical investigative magazines like the Herald and Newsline have shut down, despite surviving dictatorships, and critics’ voices have been removed from TV,” Usama Khilji, a digital rights activist, told DW.

Journalists and bloggers have complained of intimidation tactics, including kidnappings, beatings, and even killings. In recent years, the space for dissent has shrunk even further, with the government announcing a crackdown on social networks and traditional media houses, which critics say has resulted in widespread self-censorship. “The media regulatory framework in Pakistan does need to be amended. With journalists under relentless attack for doing their jobs, the government needs to stop trying to control reporters and instead start protecting media freedom,” said Gossman of Human Rights Watch.

In the developing world where a large proportion of the population is not aware of their political and economic rights, media and press play an essential role in educating the people and advocating their concerns. Press played important role in liberation of these countries from the colonial yoke. Can there be a democracy if voice of the people, press, and opposition is stifled? What kind of message do the Pakistani rulers want to give by threatening, beating, and killing the journalists.

Can rulers alter the truth by silencing the messengers? Free press and media are essentials of free and democratic countries. Let us all strive to maintain the freedom of the press and media and support the people of Pakistan who are up against all odds.

200 Nations Agree On Pact To Save Earth From Climate Change Glasgow Climate Pact Diluted After India, China Force Amendment On Emission From Coal

The two-week global conference ended with a historic agreement between the 200 national delegations who agreed to, for the first time, to target fossil fuels as a key driver of global warming in a bid to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050 in an effort to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The historic and much needed Glasgow Climate Pact 2021 was adopted on Saturday, November 13th, which is a mixed bag of modest achievements and disappointed expectations. The achievements include a tacit consensus on a target of keeping global temperature rise down to 1.5 degrees Celsius with the Paris Agreement target of 2 degrees being no longer appropriate to the scale of the climate emergency. The notional target of 2 degrees remains but the international discourse is now firmly anchored in the more ambitious target and this is a plus.

The Pact is the first clear recognition of the need to transition away from fossil fuels, though the focus was on giving up coal-based power altogether. The focus on coal has the downside of not addressing other fossil fuels like oil and gas but a small window has opened.

Even as the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres conceded that the final agreement was “a compromise”, several vulnerable nations were left disappointed as the deal made no mention of the $100 billion a year in funding that high-income countries had promised, in 2009, for five years starting 2020 to help low-income countries move away from fossil fuels. While the UN will come out with a report next year on the progress of delivering the funding, the issue of finance will now be taken up only in 2024 and 2026.

“This is just a very small step forward. The pace is extremely slow. We are moving in inches when we need to gallop in miles,” said Harjeet Singh, senior advisor with Climate Action Network International, a large group of NGOs working in climate space.

The original draft had contained a pledge to “phase out” coal. India introduced an amendment at the last moment to replace this phrase with “phase down” and this played negatively with both the advanced as well as a large constituency of developing countries. This was one big “disappointment”.

This amendment reportedly came as a result of consultations among India, China, the UK and the US. The phrase “phase down” figures in the US-China Joint Declaration on Climate Change, announced on November 10. As the largest producer and consumer of coal and coal-based thermal power, it is understandable that China would prefer a gradual reduction rather than total elimination. India may have had similar concerns. However, it was inept diplomacy for India to move the amendment and carry the can rather than let the Chinese bell the cat. The stigma will stick and was unnecessary.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had taken centerstage at Glasgow during its early high-level segment thanks to the absence of Xi Jinping. His commitment to achieving net-zero carbon by 2070 compared favorably with China’s target date of 2060. His announcements of enhanced targets for renewable energy were also welcomed. However, the favourable image wore thin by the end of the conference with India declining to join the initiatives on methane and deforestation. India’s ill-considered amendment on the phasing out of coal pushed the positives of its position off the radar.

According to India’s environment minister Bhupender Yadav, the change in phraseology was reflective of “national circumstances of emerging economies” as the agreement had initially “singled out” coal but was turning a blind eye to emissions from oil and natural gas, with the final agreement reflecting a “consensus that is reasonable for developing countries and reasonable for climate justice.”

According to UNEP, adaptation costs for developing countries are currently estimated at $70 billion annually and will rise to an estimated $130-300 billion annually by 2030. A start is being made in formulating an adaptation plan and this puts the issue firmly on the Climate agenda, balancing the overwhelming focus hitherto on mitigation.

There is now a renewed commitment to delivering on this pledge in the 2020-2025 period and there is a promise of an enhanced flow thereafter. But in a post-pandemic global economic slowdown, it is unlikely these promises will be met. In any event, it is unlikely that India will get even a small slice of the pie. As long as ambitious targets are not matched by adequate financing, they will remain ephemeral.

The same applies to the issue of compensation for loss and damage for developing countries who have suffered as a result of climate change for which they have not been responsible. This is now part of the multilateral discourse and the US has agreed that it should be examined in working groups. That is a step forward but is unlikely to translate into a meaningful flow of funds any time soon.

The most important is an agreement among 100 countries to cut methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030. India is not a part of this group. Methane is a significant greenhouse gas with a much higher temperature forcing quality than carbon — 28 to 34 times more — but stays in the atmosphere for a shorter duration.

Another group of 100 countries has agreed to begin to reverse deforestation by 2030. Since the group includes Brazil and Indonesia, which have large areas of forests that are being ravaged by legal and illegal logging, there is hope that there will be progress in expanding one of the most important carbon sinks on the planet.

Going beyond the Glasgow summit and climate change, a noteworthy development was the US-China Joint Declaration on Climate Change. This was a departure for China, which had held that bilateral cooperation on climate change could not be insulated from other aspects of their relations. The November 10 declaration implies a shift in China’s hardline position but this may be related to creating a favourable backdrop to the forthcoming Biden-Xi virtual summit on November 15. US Climate Envoy John Kerry and China’s seasoned climate negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, were seen consulting with each other frequently on the sidelines of the conference. It appears both countries are moving towards a less confrontational, more cooperative relationship overall. This will have geopolitical implications, including for India, which may find its room for manoeuvre shrinking.

How should one assess the Glasgow outcome?

There is more ambition in the intent to tackle climate change but little to show in terms of concrete actions. These have been deferred to future deliberations. Enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are expected to be announced at a meeting next year and further deliberations are planned on the other pledges related to Adaptation and Finance. There are no compliance procedures, only “name and shame” to encourage delivery on targets. As in the past, the can has been kicked down the road, except that the climate road is fast approaching a dead-end. What provides a glimmer of light is the incredible and passionate advocacy of urgent action by young people across the world. This is putting enormous pressure on governments and leaders and if sustained, may become irresistible.

Glasgow delivered some important successes. In response to the demands from the developing countries, and in keeping with the commitment of Paris Agreement, a new process has been initiated to define a global goal on adaptation. The Paris Agreement has a global goal on mitigation, defined in terms of temperature targets. It seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in amounts sufficient to keep the rise in global temperatures to within 2 degree Celsius from pre-industrial times, while pursuing efforts to limit this under 1.5 degree Celsius.

But a similar goal for adaptation has been missing, primarily because of difficulties in setting such a goal. Unlike mitigation efforts that bring global benefits, the benefits from adaptation are local or regional. There is no uniform global criteria against which adaptation targets can be set and measured.

In a big concession to major economies like India, China or Brazil, the COP26 has allowed old carbon credits, earned under the Kyoto Protocol mechanisms, to be traded in the new carbon market being set up, provided these credits have been earned after 2012. Countries have been allowed to use these credits to achieve their emission reduction targets till 2025.

Obama Urges World To Do More At Climate Summit

Former President Obama made an appearance at the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow where he praised the global community for making “meaningful progress” on tackling the climate crisis, while warning “we are nowhere near where we need to be yet.” 

Obama, whose administration helped negotiate the 2015 Paris Agreement that pledged to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), said nations “have not done nearly enough to address this crisis.”

The 44th U.S. president commended the private sector’s push to set net-zero emissions targets and also touted emissions reductions targets set in the U.K. and the European Union, while pointing out the absence of Chinese and Russian leaders from the summit.

GLASGOW, Nov 8 (Reuters) – Former U.S. President Barack Obama returned to the international spotlight Monday in Glasgow, urging young people to pressure their leaders to do more to combat climate change.

Agreeing with youth campaigners, Obama said “time is really running out.” “You are right to be frustrated,” he said. “Folks in my generation have not done enough to deal with a potentially cataclysmic problem that you now stand to inherit.”

Obama told U.N. delegates that he found it “particularly discouraging” to see the leaders of China and Russia skip the Glasgow talks. Minutes later, he called out Republican politicians back home for hindering progress on climate action.

Russian, Chinese and others’ “national plans so far reflect what appears to be a dangerous lack of urgency and willingness to maintain the status quo on the part of those governments, and that’s a shame,” he said. Obama arrived at the start of the crucial second week of the U.N. summit, as negotiators work to iron out the details of an agreement that will clarify and strengthen the 2015 Paris Agreement climate pledges.

He also sought to assure world leaders that the United States was indeed back at the negotiating table as a credible partner. “I recognize that we are living in a moment when international cooperation has atrophied – in part because of the pandemic, in part because of the rise of nationalism and tribal impulses around the world, in part because of a lack of leadership on America’s part for four years” under former U.S. President Donald Trump, who weakened climate protections.

Obama appeared on a panel with leaders from island nations vulnerable to climate-fueled sea level rise. Speaking directly to Obama, Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama noted that the United States and other developed nations failed to meet a 2020 deadline for offering $100 billion a year in promised funding for those countries. Rich nations now say the funds will be available in 2023.

“Among others, the USA is woefully short of paying its fair share of climate finance,” Bainimarama said. “Now we, the most vulnerable, are told to suck it up and wait.”

Obama tried to shine a light on progress made since the Paris deal, which his administration helped broker. But he acknowledged that deal was only meant as a starting point, with countries expected to “constantly ratchet up” their ambitions. “Most nations have failed to be as ambitious as they need to be,” he said.

Biden is “constrained in large part by the fact that one of our two major parties has decided not only to sit on the sidelines but express active hostility toward climate science,” Obama lamented. Obama said he is convinced that President Joe Biden, his former vice president, will get the U.S. Congress to pass a bill to spend $555 billion on climate change.

105 Countries At Climate Summit Pledge To Limit Methane

The  announcement on November 2nd, 2021 by 105 countries, representing two thirds of the global economy, joining a U.S. and E.U.-led coalition to cut up to 40% of methane emissions by 2030 has been the most positive outcome from the ongoing Climate Summit from Glasgow.

Despite the fact that the world’s biggest methane emitters—China, Russia and India, which together contribute 35% of methane emissions—have not signed on, it’s a significant step that could go a long way toward meeting the climate conference’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

The Global Methane Pledge announced today at COP26 in Glasgow, UK, commits signatories to reducing their overall emissions by 30 per cent by 2030, compared with 2020 levels. The US government also published a detailed blueprint of how it intends to meet the goal.

The new initiative emphasises making cuts by tackling methane leaking from oil and gas wells, pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure. Significant amounts of the gas also come from other sources, such as livestock farming and decaying waste in landfill sites.

While international climate summits usually focus mostly on carbon dioxide, the dominant driver of the 1.1°C of global warming that has occurred since pre-industrial levels, methane is responsible for about 30 per cent of global warming to date, and atmospheric concentrations of the gas have surged since 2007, sparking concern from scientists.

Methane is the second-largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide and is responsible for more than a quarter of current global warming, says Ilissa Ocko, senior climate scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). “Cutting methane is the fastest, most effective way to slow down warming now.” The pledged reductions alone would slash warming projections by 0.2°C, according to the United Nations Global Methane Assessment.

According to analysts, Methane emission reductions from oil and gas production are the low-hanging fruit of the climate crisis: easy to fix with existing technology, and easy to track. Methane is the principal component of the natural gas used for cooking, heating and energy generation.

Human activity accounts for about 60% of global methane emissions annually, and about a third of that comes from the fossil fuel industry, according to the International Energy Agency’s 2020 Methane Tracker. Unlike carbon dioxide, which is a by-product of fossil fuel combustion, no one wants to actually emit methane, it’s just that up until recently, no one noticed, or cared, if it escaped into the atmosphere.

The Paris Agreement called for holding temperature rise to “well below 2°C,” and the countries gathered in Paris called upon the U.N.’s climate science arm to research the effects of climate change at a 1.5°C limit. The resulting report warned that even that seemingly low level of temperature rise would be catastrophic and, in doing so, galvanized a push for a more ambitious climate agenda. Today, 1.5°C is the reference point for business leaders, government officials and activists alike.

The Glasgow pledge has been hailed as “game-changing” by US president Joe Biden, who has worked with the European Union to lead the initiative. “One of the most important things we can do to keep 1.5°C in reach is reduce our methane emissions,” he said. Biden said he would tackle US methane emissions using regulations from the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Department for Transportation, which has responsibility for some gas pipelines.

In yet another big announcement made, over 100 countries have pledged to end global deforestation by 2030, with rich countries agreeing to send $19 billion dollars in public and private finance to help forested countries keep trees in the ground. It’s not the first such promise—40 countries already committed to the 2030 target in 2014. But advocates say the scale of the new deal, which covers 85% of the world’s forests, is promising, as are accompanying initiatives announced by businesses and the finance sector.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau announced his country would cut methane emissions from its sizeable oil and gas industry by 75 per cent by 2030. That is how fast the International Energy Agency says methane emissions will need to be cut if the world is to reach net zero by mid-century.

The voluntary pledge is backed by 15 of the world’s biggest methane emitters including the European Union, Indonesia and Iraq. In total, 105 countries have signed up and John Kerry, the US president’s special envoy on climate, said he expects the number to grow.

Anita Anand Appointed Canada’s Defense Minister

Indian-origin Canadian politician Anita Anand was appointed as the country’s new Defence Minister in a Cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on October 26th, over a month after his Liberal Party returned to power in the snap polls and amid calls for major military reforms.

Anand, 54, will replace long-time defense minister Indian-origin Harjit Sajjan, whose handling of the military sexual misconduct crisis has been under criticism.

Sajjan has been appointed as Minister of International Development Agency, a report in the National Post newspaper said. The new Cabinet maintains gender balance and has 38 members, up one person from before the election, it said.

According to a report in Global News, Anand has been touted as a strong contender for weeks among defence industry experts who said that moving her into the role would send a powerful signal to survivors and victims of military sexual misconduct that the government is serious about implementing major reforms.

The Canadian military is facing intense public and political pressure to change its culture and create better systems for both preventing and handling sexual misconduct allegations, it said.

Anand has a deep background as a corporate lawyer and has worked extensively on corporate governance, which refers specifically to the laws and rules in place to manage the operations of businesses, the report said.

Anand, along with Sajjan and Bardish Chagger were the three Indo-Canadian ministers in the dissolved Cabinet who emerged victorious in the parliamentary polls last month.

Anand was declared the winner in Oakville with a nearly 46 per cent vote share; a significant development for Canada’s vaccine minister.

She was first elected as a rookie Member of Parliament in 2019 representing Oakville in Ontario province and served as procurement minister throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. She quickly became in charge of the country’s efforts to secure COVID-19 vaccines and was often on the campaign trail with Trudeau.

In her role as former Minister of Public Services and Procurement, she played a very public role in the Liberal response to the health crisis. “I’m just ecstatic, she had said after her win, thanking the volunteers who had worked extremely hard as a team for five weeks straight, she was quoted as saying by the Oakville News.

Focus On China, US At UN Climate Change Conference

For two weeks in early November, the nations of the world will gather in Glasgow, Scotland, to negotiate updates to the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, the landmark agreement in which more than 190 countries pledged to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

With temperatures rising and extreme weather occurring across the globe, all eyes at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference will be on China, the leading producer of greenhouse gases, and the United States, the largest emitter both historically and on a per capita basis.

Keeping an eye on the results of the conference will be Phillip Stalley, the endowed professor of environmental diplomacy in DePaul University’s Grace School of Applied Diplomacy. Stalley’s research centers on building diplomatic bridges in environmental policy across the globe, with a special focus on China’s evolving approach to environmental diplomacy. He’s the author of “Foreign Firms, Investment, and Environmental Regulation in the People’s Republic of China.”

In this Q&A, Stalley discusses the upcoming climate conference and the roles of the U.S. and China.

With recent studies affirming the dire climate situation, what do you anticipate the U.S. and China — the two largest climate polluters — will say at the Glasgow conference?

A recent report by Chatham House estimates that, even if countries implement their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) under the original Paris Agreement, we still have a less than 5% chance of keeping global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, which is the stated goal of Paris. Without stronger action, the fires, floods and other extreme weather we have all witnessed recently will be a lot worse.

The key question for Glasgow and beyond is whether China and the U.S. can be convinced to offer more ambitious climate targets in their NDCs. For instance, China currently has its “30-60” pledge, which refers to its twin goals of peaking emissions before 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2060. Neither is consistent with the 2 degree target. The hope is that China, either in Glasgow or in the not too distant future, will move forward its peak dates and offer a specific cap for its total energy-related CO2 emissions, rather than just a peak year.

On the U.S. side, some of the biggest questions involve implementation and finance. President Joe Biden has pledged to slash U.S. emissions in half by 2030, but given Republican opposition, can he pass the domestic legislation necessary to achieve that goal? In terms of finance, Biden recently announced he will work with Congress to provide $11.4 billion to aid developing countries fighting climate change. If the U.S. wants other countries to do more, it will need to prove it can contribute more to the $100 billion climate finance goal agreed to in Paris.

Will other countries be willing to listen to a new U.S. administration talk about the need for climate action now when the U.S. only a few years ago left the Paris Climate Accord?

It is certainly true that the U.S.’s uneven track record undermines its credibility in international negotiations and inhibits its ability to influence other countries. U.S. diplomats will struggle in Glasgow if Biden cannot get the infrastructure and budget bills through Congress, both of which provide extensive funding for programs to combat climate change.

It’s worth noting, however, that U.S. state and municipal governments also play an important role in climate change diplomacy. After former President Donald Trump announced America’s decision to leave the Paris Climate Accord, governors from roughly two dozen states formed the U.S. Climate Alliance, pledging to abide by the Paris targets. Additionally, despite the Trump administration’s public stance against climate regulations, more coal power was retired during his four years than were in former President Barack Obama’s second term.

Are there other types of non-traditional diplomacy and advocacy that could help persuade the U.S. and China to take action around climate change?

There are many opportunities for non-traditional diplomacy to exert influence on both countries’ approach to climate change. This is evident, for instance, in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent announcement that China will stop supporting coal power projects overseas. The reasons for this decision are complex and include commercial considerations, but part of the explanation is that Beijing was facing a great deal of pressure, from not only foreign governments, but also activists, experts and NGOs across the world. Beijing’s decision represents a victory for all the diplomats and activists who have been fighting for years to stop the funding of overseas coal.

Post Afghanistan, US-Pakistan Relations Stand On The Edge Of A Precipice

With the Taliban back in power in Afghanistan, Pakistan may have come closer to achieving its long-sought “strategic depth” with respect to its western neighbor, with a Pakistan-friendly government in Kabul. But the Taliban’s victory is also seriously testing Pakistan’s long fraught bilateral relationship with America. For the last 20 years, U.S.-Pakistan relations have been defined by the needs of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. With that war having ended with an outcome as ignominious as a Taliban takeover, the relationship is at a clear crossroads. The outlook isn’t positive. Here’s where things stand.

The Mood In Washington

In Washington, where policymakers have been grappling with the fallout from the sudden Taliban takeover of Kabul in August and the scrambled evacuation that followed, the focus has shifted to identifying the mistakes made in the war in Afghanistan. Washington is taking a hard look at where things went wrong — and Pakistan, given its long history with the Taliban, is part of that equation.

In congressional hearings a couple of weeks ago on Afghanistan, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said that “we need to fully examine the role of Pakistan sanctuary” in understanding how the Taliban prevailed. In September, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken similarly said during his congressional hearing that “This is one of the things we’re going to be looking at in the days, and weeks ahead — the role that Pakistan has played over the last 20 years.” He added that the U.S. government would also be looking at “the role we would want to see [Pakistan] play in the coming years and what it will take for it to do that,” signifying that a review of how to engage Islamabad in the future was ongoing.

In the Senate, 22 Republican lawmakers have proposed a bill calling for Afghanistan’s new Taliban government to be sanctioned, along with governments that have supported the Taliban. The bill also calls for a report that will include “an assessment of support by state and non-state actors, including the government of Pakistan, for the Taliban between 2001 and 2020,” that also looks at the provision of “sanctuary space, financial support, intelligence support, logistics and medical support, training, equipping, and tactical, operation or strategic direction.”

What Pakistan Is Saying

Pakistan’s Senate in turn displayed “alarm” over the bill moved in the U.S. Senate, which Pakistan’s media termed an “anti-Pakistan” bill. Pakistan argues that it is being scapegoated for U.S. military and Afghan leadership failures — while ignoring its own support of the Taliban. It has not officially recognized the new Taliban regime, but it has been concertedly pitching engagement with it, with government officials making the case in speeches, op-eds, and interviews.

In his speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan went beyond calls many have made for humanitarian relief and financial liquidity to avoid economic collapse in Afghanistan, to saying that “we must strengthen and stabilize the current government, for the sake of the people of Afghanistan.” (Pakistan also points out that instability and violence in Afghanistan will spill over into Pakistan.)

But Pakistan faces a credibility issue, and its call for the world to engage with the Taliban may have found more takers if it had not given the Taliban sanctuary or support over the last 20 years. As it is, these calls only highlight Pakistan’s long-standing ties with the Taliban. And Pakistan’s stance seems to argue for international support before the Taliban fulfill promises they have made regarding girls’ education and human rights.

What America Wants From Pakistan

America wants to ensure that Pakistan doesn’t formally recognize the Taliban government, and that it exercises its leverage over the Taliban to get the group to make concessions on women’s rights and girls’ education, and to form an inclusive government. (So far, the Taliban’s interim cabinet is all male, and beyond some diversity of ethnicity, entirely non-inclusive.)

Going ahead, America also wants to continue to cooperate with Pakistan on certain counterterrorism matters — especially now that it is limited to “over the horizon” operations in Afghanistan. General Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, alluded to that in his congressional testimony: “Over the last 20 years we’ve been able to use what we call the air boulevard to go in over western Pakistan and that’s become something that’s vital to us, as well as certain landlines of communication. And we’ll be working with the Pakistanis in the days and weeks ahead to look at what that relationship is going to look like in the future.” The general was referring to air lines of communication (ALOCs) and ground lines of communication (GLOCs) that Pakistan provided to the U.S. over the last 20 years.

Recent Engagement From The Biden Administration With Pakistan

The Biden administration’s engagement with Pakistan to date — pre- and post-withdrawal — has focused almost exclusively on Afghanistan. Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns visited Pakistan in September, ostensibly to discuss counterterrorism cooperation as well as other matters. Blinken and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had their first in-person meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, and the focus was on Afghanistan.

The readout of the meeting from the State Department was unmistakably bare bones and focused singularly on Afghanistan, but Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ longer readout also noted Pakistan’s “desire for a balanced relationship with the United States that was anchored in trade, investment, energy and regional connectivity.” This imbalance revealed a disconnect in their views of the relationship.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visited Pakistan last week. In an interview in India just before the visit, she said: “It’s for a very specific and narrow purpose, we don’t see ourselves building a broad relationship with Pakistan. And we have no interest in returning to the days of hyphenated India, Pakistan.” While in Pakistan, where she met Qureshi; Pakistan’s chief of army staff, Qamar Javed Bajwa; and the Pakistani national security adviser, Moeed Yusuf, Sherman was more diplomatic.

She noted that “Afghanistan was at the top of our agenda, but we also discussed our cooperation in other areas, including the climate crisis, geoeconomics and regional connectivity, and ending the COVID-19 pandemic” and added that “the United States believes that a strong, prosperous, democratic Pakistan is vitally important for the region and indeed for the wider world.”

Hanging over these meetings is the fact that Biden has not yet called Khan since he took office in January. The glaring lack of a phone call is a topic of considerable discussion in Pakistan.

Warning Signs

Many in Pakistan watching this phase of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship are evoking the end of the Soviet-Afghan war, when the U.S., after having allied with Pakistan to fund and arm the mujahideen that Pakistan trained to fight the Soviets, looked away from the region. America eventually sanctioned Pakistan for its nuclear weapons program.

Over the last 20 years, Washington’s needs in Afghanistan defined the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, even if that meant Washington sometimes had to turn a blind eye to Pakistan’s sanctuary for the Taliban. Now, after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Washington has little incentive to gloss over what it has long seen as Pakistan’s double game or to broaden ties. Washington’s attention is now east of Pakistan: on its relationships with India and other countries to counter China.

In this environment, U.S.-Pakistan relations face a reckoning.

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan might have been a moment of opportunity to rethink a bilateral relationship that has been defined for much of the last 40 years by Pakistan’s western neighbor. But in early August, I wrote that the relationship between America and Pakistan stood in an uneasy limbo as the U.S. was withdrawing from Afghanistan; and that there would be “little to no appetite in Washington to engage with Pakistan on other matters going ahead if Afghanistan was embroiled in violence or in Taliban hands.”

The latter outcome has come to pass. Warning signs are flashing red for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, and it’s safe to say that the scope for cooperation has narrowed. Sherman may not have been engaging in diplo-speak on Pakistan while in India, but she may have given away where the Biden administration is leaning for now on Pakistan: limited engagement on Afghanistan, and little else.

(Madiha Afzal is a Fellow – Foreign PolicyCenter for Middle East PolicyCenter for Security, Strategy, and Technology)

India’s Economy To Grow By 8.3%, Making It 2nd Fastest Growing-Major Economy

India’s economy is expected to grow by 8.3 per cent this fiscal year, according to the World Bank, making it the second-fastest-growing major economy. The Bank’s Regional Economic Update released on Thursday said that after the “deadly second wave” of Covid-19 in India “the pace of vaccination, which is increasing, will determine economic prospects this year and beyond”. “The trajectory of the pandemic will cloud the outlook in the near-term until herd immunity is achieved,” it cautioned.

According to the Update issued ahead of the Bank’s annual meeting next week, India’ gross domestic product (GDP) — which shrank by 7.3 per cent (that is, a minus 7.3 per cent) under the onslaught of the pandemic last fiscal year — is expected to record the 8.3 per cent growth this fiscal year, which will moderate to 7.5 per cent next year and 6.5 per cent in 2023-24. Of the major economies, China is ahead with its economy expected to grow by 8.5 per cent during the current calendar year after the Bank revised it upwards from the 8.1 per cent projection in April.

China’s growth rate is projected to come down to 5.4 per cent next year and 5.3 per cent in 2023. Last year, it grew by 2.3 per cent. For the entire South Asia region, the Bank’s Update estimates the GDP growth to be 7.1 per cent this year and the next. Maldives’ tiny economy of $3.8 billion, which had the steepest fall of 33.6 per cent last calendar year is expected to recover and record a growth of 22.3 per cent this year. Next year it is expected come down to 11 per cent and 12 per cent in 2023.

Bangladesh, which recorded a growth of 5 per cent last fiscal year, is expected to grow by 6.4 per cent this year and 6.9 per cent the next.

Pakistan’s economy that grew by 3.5 last fiscal year, is expected to grow by 3.4 per cent this year and 4 per cent next year.

For Sri Lanka, the Bank expects a growth of 3.3 per cent this calendar year compared to a shrinkage of 3.6 per cent last year and to grow by 2.1per cent next year and 2.2 per cent the following year.

Bhutan, which had a negative growth of 1.2 per cent the last fiscal year, is expected to reach 3.6 per cent this fiscal year and 4.3 per cent the next.

Nepal’s growth is expected to rebound from last fiscal year’s 1.8 per cent to 3.9 per cent this fiscal year and 4.7 per cent the next.

The Bank said, “The Covid-19 pandemic led India’s economy into a deep contraction in FY21(fiscal year 2020-21) despite well-crafted fiscal and monetary policy support.”

It said that growth recovered in the second half of the last fiscal year “driven primarily by investment and supported by aunlocking’ of the economy and targeted fiscal, monetary and regulatory measures. Manufacturing and construction growth recovered steadily.”

Although significantly more lives were lost during the second wave of the epidemic this year in India, compared to the first wave in 2020, “economic disruption was limited since restrictions were localised,” with the GDP growing by 20.1 per cent in the first quarter of the current fiscal year compared to the first quarter of 2020-21, the Update said. It attributed the spurt to “a significant base effect” (that is, coming off a very big fall in the compared quarter), “strong export growth and limited damage to domestic demand.”

Looking ahead, the Bank’s Update said that “successful implementation of agriculture and labour reforms would boost medium-term growth” while cautioning that “weakened household and firm balance sheets may constrain it.” “The Production-Linked Incentives scheme to boost manufacturing, and a planned increase in public investment, should support domestic demand,” it said.

The extent of recovery during the current fiscal year “will depend on how quickly household incomes recover and activity in the informal sector and smaller firms normalises.” Among the risks, it listed “worsening of financial sector stress, higher-than-expected inflation constraining monetary-policy support, and a slowdown in vaccination.”

Taking stock of the pandemic’s effects, the Bank said, “The toll of the crisis has not been equal, and the recovery so far is uneven,leaving behind the most vulnerable sections of the society – low-skilled, women, self-employed and small firms.” But it said that the Indian government has taken steps to strengthen social safety nets and ease structural supply constraints through agricultural and labour reforms deal with the inequality.

It said that the government continued investing in health programs “have started to address the weaknesses in health infrastructure and social safety nets (especially in the urban areas and the informal sector) exposed by the pandemic.” (IANS

Journalists Who Took On Putin And Duterte Win 2021 Nobel Peace Prize

(Reuters) – Journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov, who braved the wrath of the leaders of the Philippines and Russia to expose corruption and misrule, won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, in an endorsement of free speech under fire worldwide. The two were awarded “for their courageous fight for freedom of expression” in their countries, Chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen of the Norwegian Nobel Committee told a news conference.

“At the same time, they are representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions,” she added. “Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda.” Muratov dedicated his award to six contributors to his Novaya Gazeta newspaper who had been murdered for their work exposing human rights violations and corruption.

“Igor Domnikov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, Stas Markelov, Anastasia Baburova, Natasha Estemirova – these are the people who have today won the Nobel Prize,” Muratov said, reciting the names of slain reporters and activists whose portraits hang in the newspaper’s Moscow headquarters. In an interview with Reuters in Manila, Ressa called the prize “a global recognition of the journalist’s role in repairing, fixing our broken world”.

“It’s never been as hard to be journalist as it is today,” said Ressa, a 35-year veteran journalist, who said she was tested by years of legal cases in the Philippines brought by the authorities over the work of her Rappler investigative website. “You don’t really know who you are until you are forced to fight for it.”

FIRST FOR JOURNALISTS IN 86 YEARS

The prize is the first Nobel Peace Prize for journalists since the German Carl von Ossietzky won it in 1935 for revealing his country’s secret post-war rearmament program.

Muratov, 59, is the first Russian to win the peace prize since Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990. Gorbachev himself has long been associated with Muratov’s newspaper, having contributed some of his Nobel prize money to help set it up in the early post-Soviet days when Russians expected new freedoms.

Ressa, 58, is the first individual winner of a Nobel prize in any field from the Philippines. Rappler, which she co-founded in 2012, has grown prominent through investigative reporting, including into large scale killings during a police campaign against drugs. In August, a Philippine court dismissed a libel case against Ressa, one of several lawsuits filed against the journalist who says she has been targeted because of her news site’s critical reports on President Rodrigo Duterte.

She was one of several journalists named Time Magazine Person of the Year in 2018 for fighting media intimidation, and her legal battles have raised international concern about the harassment of media in the Philippines, a country once seen as a standard bearer for press freedom in Asia. In Moscow, Nadezhda Prusenkova, a journalist at Novaya Gazeta, told Reuters staff were surprised and delighted. “We’re shocked. We didn’t know,” said Prusenkova. “Of course we’re happy and this is really cool.”

Russian journalists have faced an increasingly difficult environment in recent years, with many being forced to register as agents of foreign states, a designation that invites official paperwork and public contempt.”We will leverage this prize in the interests of Russian journalism which (the authorities) are now trying to repress,” Muratov told Podyom, a journalism website. “We will try to help people who have been recognised as agents, who are now being treated like dirt and being exiled from the country.”

SPOTLIGHT

Reiss-Andersen said the Nobel committee intended the award to send a message about the importance of rigorous journalism at a time when technology has made it easier than ever to spread falsehoods. “We find that people are manipulated by the press, and … fact-based, high-quality journalism is in fact more and more restricted,” she told Reuters.

It was also was a way to shine a light on the difficult situations for journalists, specifically under the leadership in Russia and the Philippines, she added. “I don’t have insight in the minds of neither Duterte, nor Putin. But what they will discover is that the attention is directed towards their nations, and where they will have to defend the present situation, and I am curious how they will respond,” Reiss-Andersen told Reuters. The Kremlin congratulated Muratov. “He persistently works in accordance with his own ideals, he is devoted to them, he is talented, he is brave,” said spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

The award will give both journalists greater international visibility and may inspire a new generation of journalists, said Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. “We normally expect that greater visibility actually means greater protection for the rights and the safety of the individuals concerned,” he told Reuters. The Nobel Peace Prize will be presented on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the death of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who founded the awards in his 1895 will.

Nobel Peace Prize Winner’s Work Important In Fight For Press Freedom, Says Colleague

When Max Pensky hosted courageous Philippine journalist Maria Ressa for a talk as part of Binghamton University’s Institute for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention (I-GMAP), little did he know that he would wake up the next day to find out that Ressa had just been named the latest Nobel Prize winner.

“In recognizing Maria, the Nobel committee now sees that anti-democratic leaders who want to muzzle press freedom don’t just use the old tools – arrests, detention, death threats, closing media outlets,” said Pensky. “Now they depend on social media, too. Maria’s courageous work in the Philippines calls out strongman Rodrigo Duterte and Facebook for using fake news, troll armies, and online harassment, combined with “old school” government intimidation, in a new, toxic mix. Maria’s award is for letting the world know how this actually works in her own country, and warning us that we all have to face it if we want press freedom of our own.”

“This year’s Nobel Peace Prize is important and timely. Freedom of the media is now, as stated by the President of the Norwegian Nobel Committee Berit Reiss-Andersen, challenged all over the world. The committee highlights this by choosing two particularly significant examples in very dissimilar situations, both developing in authoritarian directions. The prize hopefully strengthens the possibilities of the two journalists and their colleagues to continue to work according to the high editorial standards they have set for themselves and that genuine news coverage requires.

From a peace perspective, accurate and reliable news coverage is central for assessing the dangers of war, civil war, and repression, as well as for peace negotiations and making the right decisions. In a world full of fabricated news, it is particularly important to protect independent reporting.

This year’s prize expands on Nobel’s idea of giving the prize to efforts contributing to “fraternity among nations.” Media now has a different significance than in 1901 when the first prize was awarded. Correct, autonomous reporting is always central for peace and security within and among nations.”

‘Pandora Papers’ Indicts At Least 380 Indians

A massive investigation from more than 600 journalists across the globe sheds new light into the shadowy world of offshore banking and the high-powered elites who use the system to their benefit.

The exposé, dubbed the “Pandora Papers,” shows how the world’s wealthy hide their money and assets from authorities, their creditors and the public by using a network of lawyers and financial institutions that promise secrecy. It’s built on a trove of 11.9 million records leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which in turn shared them with partner media outlets such as The Washington Post and The Guardian for help conducting the large-scale investigation.

“These are secretive, confidential documents from offshore tax havens and offshore specialists who work to help rich, powerful and sometimes criminal individuals create shell companies or trusts in a way that often helps either obscure assets or in some cases even help avoid paying taxes,” senior ICIJ reporter Will Fitzgibbon told NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered. Pandora Papers, the most voluminous leak of offshore financial records ever, reveal how individuals and businesses set up complex multi-layered trust structures for estate planning, in jurisdictions that are loosely regulated for tax purposes, but characterized by air-tight secrecy laws.

King Abdullah II, who rules Jordan, spent more than $100 million on lavish properties in the U.S. and Europe while his country fell deeper into political turmoil, The Washington Post reported. A woman suspected of being in a years-long relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin became the owner of a pricey Monaco apartment days after reportedly giving birth to his child, the paper also found.

Those are two of more than 300 current or former politicians who appear in the Pandora Papers, the journalists said. Among them are 14 sitting country leaders, including President Luis Abinader of the Dominican Republic, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. According to reports, there are at least 380 persons of Indian nationality in the Pandora Papers. Of these, The Indian Express has so far verified and corroborated documents related to about 60 prominent individuals and companies. These will be revealed in the coming days.

In February 2020, following a dispute with three Chinese state-controlled banks, Anil Ambani told a London court that his net worth was zero. Records in the Pandora Papers investigated by The Indian Express reveal that the chairman of Reliance ADA Group and his representatives own at least 18 offshore companies. Set up between 2007 and 2010, seven of these companies have borrowed and invested at least $1.3 billion.

A financial advisor and his company were barred by SEBI from trading in the stock market for a year and fined for insider trading in Biocon Ltd shares. What the marker regulator did not know is that the same advisor is the ‘Protector’ of a trust set up by a company owned by Biocon Executive Chairperson’s husband.  Indian cricket superstar Sachin Tendulkar, along with members of his family, figures in the Pandora Papers as Beneficial Owners of an offshore entity in the British Virgin Islands which was liquidated in 2016. Sachin, with wife Anjali Tendulkar and father-in-law Anand Mehta are named as BOs and Directors of a BVI-based company.

Captain Satish Sharma, Congress leader, friend of the Gandhi family, and a former Union Minister who passed away in February this year, had offshore entities and properties abroad, the Pandora Papers show. At least 10 members of Sharma’s family including his wife Sterre, children and grandchildren are among the beneficiaries of a trust, the Jan Zegers Trust — a declaration Sharma never made to the Election Commission while filing poll nomination papers.

A month before fugitive diamond jeweller Nirav Modi fled India in January 2018, his sister Purvi Modi set up a firm in the British Virgin Islands to act as a corporate protector of a trust formed through the Trident Trust Company, Singapore. Records investigated by The Indian Express show that the firm, Brookton Management Ltd, was set up in December 2017 to act as the corporate protector of The Deposit Trust. These documents of the new firm and the trust set up by Purvi are part of the Pandora Papers.

Bollywood actor Jackie Shroff was the prime beneficiary of a trust set up in New Zealand by his mother-in-law, records in the Pandora Papers investigated by The Indian Express reveal. He also made “substantial contributions” to this trust, which had a Swiss bank account and owned an offshore company registered in the British Virgin Islands, records show. According to the memorandum concerning the trust, Shroff’s son Jai Shroff (Tiger Shroff) and daughter Krishna Shroff were the beneficiaries, besides Claudia Dutt, the mother of Shroff’s wife Ayesha

Fumio Kishida To Be Japan’s Next Prime Minister

Japan’s former foreign minister Fumio Kishida, a longtime stalwart of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), is all set to become the country’s next prime minister after he was elected party president on Wednesday, last week. Kishida, 64, beat the head of Japan’s COVID-19 vaccination program, 58-year-old Taro Kono, in a runoff poll among LDP lawmakers and rank-and-file party members, winning by 87 votes.

Kishida was installed as LDP leader after a deal among party power-brokers—despite what many political observers say is his lack of personal appeal and much broader public support for Kono. Kishida was supported by one of the LDP’s largest factions, but only led Kono by one vote in the first round of party voting. Yoshikazu Kato, a director of a Tokyo-based research and consulting firm Trans-Pacific Group (TPG), believes Kishida’s team was able to secure more votes with help from supporters of ultraconservative candidate Sanae Takaichi—who was vying to become Japan’s first female prime minister.

Takaichi came in third and was eliminated from the race in the first round, along with moderate party executive Seiko Noda who fell to fourth. “Kishida and Takaichi, both of them, and both of their teams, have already decided if things have gone to the second round what they are going to do,” Kato tells TIME. “This is the secret to why Kishida accomplished such a big win.”

Ultimately, Kishida may have been more palatable to the LDP’s conservative elders, than Kono—who is more liberal and supports legalizing same-sex marriage and phasing out nuclear power, observers say.

Kato adds that Kishida was the first candidate to join the race to succeed Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who had bowed out from the leadership race earlier this month amid anger over his government’s COVID-19 response. “From the beginning until today, Kishida has been very consistent and confident, and very much ready for what happens next,” he says.

Since the LDP dominates the lower house of the National Diet, Japan’s legislature, Kishida is virtually guaranteed to become prime minister next month. The LDP’s new leader is also expected to secure the party another four years in power in the general elections this fall. The main opposition party—the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP)—has struggled to poll above 10%.

Tougher on China?

Observers say Japan’s incoming leader will have to address long-standing issues such as the aging population and threats brought on by China’s increasing assertiveness in the region, on top of helping the country recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tokyo’s diplomatic ties with Beijing have also been strained. Japanese leaders have spoken out in support of Taiwan, and criticized increased Chinese incursions into territory around islands in the East China Sea that are claimed by both Japan and China.

Kishida, a nine-term member of the House of Representatives, was in charge of foreign affairs for more than four years under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving foreign minister. He had met with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi several times—which Kato believes may bode better ties between the two countries.

Although he has advocated continuing dialogue with China, Japan’s top trading partner, Kishida has promised to take a harder line militarily and supports boosting Tokyo’s defense budget amid the threat posed by Beijing. However, Kato says, “Kishida is not pro-China or anti-China, but he is a person who can talk.”

Kishida advocates ‘new capitalism’

On Japan’s economy, Kishida says the country needs a “new capitalism” to help narrow a wealth gap that has grown with the COVID-19 pandemic. He has called for a major stimulus package, as well as setting aside of $90 billion to fund scientific developments and renewable energy. He has also advocated moving away from the deregulation of business that began in the early 2000s.

While the economy grew faster than expected after Suga announced he would not continue his term, its continued recovery may be slowed by the surge of coronavirus infections in July and August.

Regarded by political peers as a moderate, Kishida will have to win back the public’s support and improve the approval ratings of the government to do this. However, Kishida’s personality could make it harder for him to get his message across to the Japanese public, says Kato—especially compared with the more forthright Kono.

Kingston, of Temple University, says attending to Japan’s wealth inequality will help improve the LDP’s image, which will boost its chances of maintaining power when the general election comes in November. Kishida has to “hit the ground running,” Kingston says. “He has to deliver. He has promised these things.”

During 16 Years Of Leading Germany, Angela Merkel Made Europe More Resilient

Germany’s election on Sept. 26 ended without a clear winner, but one thing at least is certain: Angela Merkel will soon exit the political stage she has occupied for the past 16 years, kick starting much debate about her legacy for Germany, and for the world.

Comparisons with her mentor and predecessor Helmut Kohl, who led Germany through reunification, are as inevitable as they are unfair. Her critics say that, though a formidable historical figure, she has accomplished nothing that can equal the leadership of Kohl. But the demands of their eras were entirely different. To understand that is to recognize Merkel’s lasting achievement.

In 1990, a heady sense of opportunity in both West and East Germany created the public support that Helmut Kohl needed to take on one of the most ambitious and complex global governing challenges since the end of World War II. Over the Merkel era of the past 16 years, by contrast, Germans (and Europeans generally) have needed a thoughtful, flexible problem-solver to guide them through a debt emergency, a surge of migrants from the Middle East, and the deadliest global pandemic in a century. In the process, Angela Merkel helped save the European Union. That’s an accomplishment that deserves lasting respect.

Convinced that a strong and cohesive E.U. would be good for her country, the German Chancellor bridged the gaps and cut the deals, sometimes over the objections of her own finance minister, that helped Europe’s most deeply indebted countries survive the 2010-2012 sovereign debt crisis. Merkel kept her word that Germany would lead the way in coping with the 2015-2016 surge in migrants by welcoming more than one million desperate people into her country. In response to the pandemic and the need for a bold economic recovery plan, she shifted German opinion on the need for common European debt.

All of these decisions remain highly controversial. Her critics say they have fed public cynicism about the E.U. and fueled the populism that has threatened in recent years to poison its politics. But without Angela Merkel, and her willingness to take on more costs and risks so that others could take less, the E.U. might have lost much more than Britain.

Her leadership has also been good for most Germans. Some 70 percent now say they’re happy with their economic circumstances. Much of that success might have happened without her, powered by new opportunities for Germany to export to China after it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, and by cheap labor provided by workers from the former Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe, which joined the E.U. just a year before Merkel became chancellor.

But Merkel’s ability to manage emergencies has helped keep Germany’s economic engine humming, and one of the results is a surge in the number of jobs across Germany, especially for women. Unemployment is now near its lowest point of the Merkel era. In addition, a balanced budget law enacted in 2009 has helped keep public debt low.

There is much more Merkel could have done, to be sure. By balancing its books, Germany has invested far less than it might have in the transition from carbon-based to renewable energy. While some credit Merkel for using Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster to transition Germany away from nuclear power, the country’s carbon emissions remain high by European standards.

Though Merkel remains popular, her party doesn’t. She leaves with an 80 percent approval rating even as her party is in historic decline. The vote share of the center-right alliance she led slid from 41.5 percent in 2013 to 33 percent in 2017. In the Sept. 26 election, the CDU-CSU fared even worse, securing just over 24 percent and finishing narrowly behind their center-left rivals the SPD. Whoever emerges as the next chancellor will be seen by most Germans as a pale shadow of her leadership.

Not only is Merkel a tough act to follow in Germany, there is no one else now in Europe who can match her tenacity and resilience either. In particular, French President Emmanuel Macron, facing a re-election campaign next year, inspires too much mistrust, including in France, to inherit Merkel’s ability to guide combative European leader