World News Roundup

In Washington, Olena Zelenska Dressed for Ukraine (The New York Times): “… every choice a first lady makes, every gesture, becomes ammunition to be deployed on battlefield of public opinion, including what she wears. Especially, perhaps, what she wears, since for a first lady in her position, most viewers will not be party to her conversations with power brokers, but they can see the pictures … Her olive green dress — strong shoulders, with an integral scarf at the neck — mirrored her husband’s signature uniform of olive green T-shirt, spoke to traditions of military clothing, and symbolized a refugee story, all at the same time … Ms. Zelenska wore a pin on the dress that mirrored traditional Ukrainian flower embroidery.”

What Would Push the West and Russia to Nuclear War? (The Economist): “In truth, nobody knows where Mr Putin’s red lines lie. Perhaps not even he does … frustration and uncertainty is in the nature of nuclear dissuasion: America is deterred from intervening directly; Russia from striking at NATO. The late Tom Schelling … argued that the brink of war can be unknowable: it is not ‘the sharp edge of a cliff where one can stand firmly, look down, and decide whether or not to plunge’; instead it is a slippery curved slope where ‘neither the person standing there nor the onlookers can be quite sure quite how great the risk is’. When the peril is a catastrophic nuclear exchange, who can blame leaders for treading carefully?”

‘A Battle in Our Souls’: Women Who Fled Ukraine Agonise Over When to Return (The Guardian): “A recent survey of Ukrainian refugees in seven countries by the United Nations high commissioner for refugees found that while most wanted to return to Ukraine eventually, only 16% planned to do so imminently. In the coming months, life is likely to get more difficult for many Ukrainian refugees, as the initial outpouring of goodwill across Europe wears off, and more people are forced to fend for themselves when it comes to food and accommodation. But for many, those struggles are still preferable to a return to an uncertain situation at home.”

When the Czarinas Ruled the Front Row (The New York Times): “Though the arrival of the Russians on the fashion scene was not necessarily a strategic move — it was probably in part about creating identities of their own — there is no question that the effects of their presence created a halo effect around their home country. They performed a very specific, fashion-based form of outreach, just as other members of the elite built museums, bought soccer, basketball clubs and international media properties, understanding early on that embedding themselves in the new image economy could result in ‘having doors opened to them’ … As their followings grew, designers began to see in them potential conduits to the new Russia, a market labeled by Goldman Sachs in 2009 as a key driver of ‘global consumption,’ … Their narratives were complicated by just one thing: the fact that when they burst onto the scene, Ms. Duma and Co. were all married to oligarchs or oligarch-adjacent men.”

Actually, the Russian Economy Is Imploding (Foreign Policy): “… natural gas is not a fungible export for Russia. Less than 10 percent of Russia’s gas capacity is liquefied natural gas, so Russian gas exports remain reliant on a system of fixed pipelines carrying piped gas. The vast majority of Russia’s pipelines flow toward Europe … the 16.5 billion cubic meters of gas exported by Russia to China last year represented less than 10 percent of the 170 billion cubic meters of natural gas sent by Russia to Europe … Imports play an important role within Russia’s domestic economy, consisting of about 20 percent of Russian GDP … Chinese exports to Russia plummeted by more than 50 percent from the start of the year to April, falling from over $8.1 billion monthly to $3.8 billion. Considering China exports seven times as much to the United States than Russia, it appears that even Chinese companies are more concerned about running afoul of U.S. sanctions than of losing marginal positions in the Russian market, reflecting Russia’s weak economic hand with its global trade partners … Some of the sectors most dependent on international supply chains have been hit with debilitating inflation around 40-60 percent—on extremely low sales volumes … Global businesses represent around 12 percent of Russia’s workforce (5 million workers), and, as a result of the business retreat, over 1,000 companies representing around 40 percent of Russia’s GDP have curtailed operations in the country.”

Kyiv Nightlife Comes Back Amid Urge for Contact. ‘This Is the Cure.’ (The New York Times): “After a prolonged silence, Kyiv nightlife is roaring back. Many people are venturing out for the first time since the war began. To drink by the river. To meet a friend. To sit at a bar and have a cocktail. Or three. This is a city full of young people who have been cooped up for two years, first because of Covid and then the war with Russia. They yearn for contact. War makes that urge even greater, especially this war, where a Russian cruise missile can take you out, anywhere, anytime.”

Europe Steels Itself to Maintain Economic Pressure on Russia, Despite Pain (The Wall Street Journal): “Opinion polls show that anxiety about the economic fallout of the war is rising around Europe, even though support for Ukraine remains widespread. In most of the EU’s eastern member states, voters and governments are particularly determined to keep up the pressure on Russia through sanctions and military aid for Kyiv, whatever the cost.”

Europe Braces for Extreme Heat as Power Infrastructure Wobbles (Bloomberg): “Sizzling temperatures are expected to hit the UK, Germany and France — reaching almost 36 degrees Celsius (96.8 Fahrenheit) … The heat will boost demand for cooling, aggravating already dry conditions that hurt crops and force limits on water use … France [registered] … the driest July on record and England the driest in almost 90 years, underscoring the impact that a warming climate is having on vital infrastructure. Water levels on the Rhine River, a vital artery for the transport of commodities and industrial goods, are so low that trade is at risk of coming to a halt on some sections of the waterway. The weather has sparked fires near London, triggered warnings that railway lines could buckle, and forced power stations to operate at low levels to prevent overheating.”

‘Historic’ Drought Prompts French Government Into Action (Al Jazeera): “The month of July 2022 was marked by a record rainfall deficit in France with fewer than four days of rain, which is about three to 10 days fewer than the average, according to Meteo France. Drought has prompted multiple southern European countries to impose water restrictions. A recent report from the European Commission said nearly half of the European Union is exposed to warning levels of drought.”

Norway Moves to Limit Power Exports in Blow to Europe (Bloomberg): “Refilling reservoirs will be prioritized over power production when levels fall below seasonal averages … The country is one of Europe’s top exporters of electricity, sending about a fifth of its output to its neighbors but low water levels in southern Norway mean the government says it needs to act now to prevent domestic shortages this winter … As Europe’s energy crisis worsens, any restriction would be yet another blow for nations on the continent who rely on cheap Norwegian hydropower to help keep the lights on. The UK is among the nations most dependent on Norwegian exports, and any limitations would raise already elevated prices and may force National Grid Plc to utilize its strategic reserve of coal generation … Norway isn’t a European Union member, but is part of Europe’s single energy market and its rules state that countries aren’t allowed to curb flows to neighbors for prolonged periods. Cuts would only be allowed if an emergency situation is declared … Norway gets almost all of its electricity from its vast hydro resources. Historically, it has been able to export a hefty surplus and still have among the lowest prices in Europe. But after a dry spring, hydro reservoirs in the worst impacted area stand at 49.3%, compared with a median of 74.9% for the 2000-19 period.”

How Brexit and Boris Broke Britain (Foreign Affairs): “The United Kingdom is simply not strong enough to lead alone, and it will have to forge a productive relationship with Europe if it wants to exert meaningful global sway … Repairing the United Kingdom’s reputation will entail international compromise … But the country’s strength isn’t derived from its independence. It is grounded in its international partnerships, treaty commitments, and global action not only on transatlantic security but also on climate change, human rights, technology, and international development. If the United Kingdom wants to lead, it must be willing to partner up with the institutions that advance these causes.”

A Very British Nightmare (Slate): “Johnson represents everything rotten about the British political system. An elite who climbed to power through school and university connections and managed to leverage Brexit to convince the voting public that he represented their interests. An actor who knew how to manipulate the public’s love of a charming buffoon to clown his way into office. A serial liar, a man without integrity who nonetheless managed to cling to the job through successive pandemic-related scandals because the Tory party did not want to oust him enough, in case it threatened their party’s rule.”

△ (Video) Why Is Denmark Taking a Hard Line on Migrants and Refugees? (Al Jazeera): “A set of laws, controversially called the ‘ghetto package’, was introduced in 2018. It aims to transform areas with high rates of crime and unemployment.”

Xi’s Great Leap Backward (Foreign Policy): “Amid China’s worsening economic crisis, nearly one-fifth of those between the ages of 16 and 24 are now unemployed, with millions more underemployed. One survey found that of the 11 million Chinese students who graduated from college this summer, fewer than 15 percent had secured job offers by mid-Aprilthis year’s Chinese graduates can expect to earn 12 percent less than the class of 2021. Many will make less than truck drivers—if they are lucky enough to find a job at all.”

China’s Crisis of Confidence (Foreign Policy): “This year, the U.S. economy is forecast to grow faster than China’s for the first time since 1976 … Efforts to stabilize the Chinese economy will be further strained by a deteriorating external environment, with the World Bank warning of 1970s-style stagflation and reduced global demand for Chinese exports—until now, the engine of China’s growth. The economy remains severely dependent on vast supplies of imported fuel, grain, and other commodities whose prices have massively surged.”

The Built-In Brutality of Myanmar’s Military (Foreign Policy): “… the surge in violence by the military, which has been increasingly strapped for arms, manpower, and cash, has only emboldened rebel guerrillas as the country’s monsoon season comes to a close and both sides prepare for heavier fighting in the dry fall … Typically, the junta draws back during the wetter months of May through October, when muddy roads make moving around troops and weapons a challenge. But this year, violence has not ceased, as the military has continued to carry out attacks, including placing illegal landmines in villages and rice paddies.”

Companies Are Fleeing China for Friendlier Shores (Foreign Policy): “In a June survey conducted by the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, 23 percent of Western firms said they were considering moving operations away from the country, while 50 percent reported that business in China had become more politicized in 2021 than it had been in previous years … China’s zero-COVID policy has snarled supply chains and left factory workers locked in their dorms—and shows no sign of ending anytime soon. China’s demographics have also meant a shrinking pool of potential workers, and as the country has climbed into the middle ranks of global income, labor has become more expensive. But Beijing’s growing aggressiveness toward the West and its insistence on maintaining ties with Moscow have also left executives nervous that they could be caught on the wrong side of global conflict.”

A New Axis? (The New York Times): “Russia, China, and Iran make up the core of the anti-U.S. bloc. And they recently seem to be increasing their cooperation … the three countries have their own tensionsChina and Russia have been longtime rivals for influence in Asia, and both — like the U.S. — would prefer that Iran not become a nuclear power. But the three countries also have one overarching shared goal: reducing the geopolitical influence of the U.S., Western Europe, Japan and their allies. Already, China, Russia and Iran have collaborated in recent months, especially in the purchase of Russian and Iranian energy.”

US Revamps Africa Strategy as It Sounds Alarm on China, Russia (Bloomberg): “Sub-Saharan Africa has always been a low foreign-relations priority for the US, with the region accounting for just 1.2% of its total two-way trade. Flows have increased since the 2000 enactment of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which eliminated US import levies on more than 7,000 products from African countries that cut barriers to US investment, operate a market-based economy and protect workers’ rights. But the continent has forged even closer relations with China, which has largely steered clear of domestic politics and offered aid, loans and investment with few strings attached … The US’s key policy priorities in Africa include building democracy and improving governance, promoting development, peace, security trade and investment, and supporting conservation and a move toward cleaner energythe US didn’t want to limit Africa’s partnership with other countries — a view that appears to have shifted in light of the deterioration in Washington’s own relations with Russia and China.”

How Ghana Makes a Success Out of Failure (The Economist): “Fully 87% of Ghanaians think the country is going in the wrong direction … Annual inflation hit 30% in June, its highest for 18 years. This year the central bank has increased interest rates by 4.5 percentage points to 19% but the cedi has nonetheless fallen 28% against the dollar. The government has been slow to face up to the crisis … Last year 44% of its revenue went servicing foreign loans. The unsustainable borrowing, naturally, has scared off commercial lenders, leaving it with few options. This is familiar territory for Ghana, which has been nannied by the imf for 22 of the past 35 years. The new programme will be its 17th since independence in 1957 and comes little more than three years since it graduated from its previous one. All of this might suggest Ghana has made a dog’s dinner of managing its economy. Yet its people are the richest in west Africa, measured by gdp per person. What’s more, politicians regularly and peacefully handover power at elections. This makes it both a poster child for development and democracy and also a macroeconomic basket case … Perhaps one explanation for Ghana’s ability to make a success of failure has been its readiness to turn to the imf before the economy suffers serious harm. In doing so politicians are able to blame the fund for prescribing the bitter medicine they know is needed, but would not take unprompted.”

Ethiopia’s War Ended. Now There’s Hunger and Strife (Bloomberg): “… the United Nations estimated that the war, and a drought in eastern Ethiopia, had left more than 29 million people in need of aid. The situation was particularly dire in Tigray and the neighboring Afar region, where malnutrition and food insecurity were rife. The government has rejected allegations from civil rights groups that it obstructed efforts to dispense aid or that its forces were party to widespread human rights violations. The UN Human Rights Council has begun collecting evidence about alleged crimes committed during the conflict … Africa’s oldest nation state, Ethiopia has long been plagued by discord among its more than 80 ethnic groups. The country was an absolute monarchy until the 1974 socialist revolution that deposed Emperor Haile Selassie. It became a multi-ethnic federation in 1991 … The Tigrayans, though comprising just 6% of the population, came to dominate national politics … Ethiopia’s $105 billion economy expanded by an average of more than 7% annually between 2018 … and 2021, but the International Monetary Fund sees the growth rate slowing to less than 4% in 2022. With its finances under strain, the government announced in 2021 that it wants to restructure its $28.4 billion of external debt.”

For the Taliban, a New Era of Isolation Has Arrived (The New York Times): “The Taliban have not fundamentally reformed from their first regime in the 1990s, when their hard-line policies and relationship with Al Qaeda turned the country into a pariah state … the Taliban seem to be once more treading the same path, fueling criticism that their government should never be internationally recognized, and raising questions about whether a new era of U.S. strikes in Afghanistan has begun … The strike comes at an already tenuous moment for the Taliban. Since seizing power, the group has promised to moderate as it seeks international recognition and aid from Western diplomats abroad, even while staying true to its hard-line ideological beliefs at home. In recent months, the government has enacted increasingly oppressive policies, including restricting women’s rights to travel and work. And it has reneged on an early promise to allow girls to attend secondary school, a stark echo of its first rule … the Taliban have allowed terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, to exist freely on Afghan soil since the takeover despite an agreement with the United States in which the group pledged to keep Afghan territory from becoming a haven for terrorist plotting.”

MBS: Despot in the Desert (The Economist): “Some observers fear that he may become only more dangerous as oil reserves start to decline and the treasure trove shrinks. ‘What happens when he’s a middle-aged man ruling a middle-income country and starts to get bored?’ asks a diplomat who knows mbs personally … On the face of it, mbs has nothing to worry about. Public opinion polls – if they can be trusted – suggest he is popular, particularly with younger Saudis. But there is a growing sense that discontent is brewing beneath the surface. mbs has broken crucial social contracts with the Saudi populace, by reducing handouts while, at the same time, dispensing with the tradition of hearing the feedback of ordinary people after Friday prayers.”

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