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CWA # 730, 8 May 2022

The World This Week
India-Nordic Summit, and New EU sanctions on Russia

  GP Team

The World This Week #169, Vol. 4, No. 18

Padmashree Anandhan and Rishma Banerjee 


India-Nordic Summit 2022: Focus on building mobility, blue economy and SDGs
What happened?
On 4 May, the prime minister of Denmark, Mette Frederiksen, organised the second India-Nordic Summit in Copenhagen, hosting the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, and other leaders of Nordic countries. A joint statement released by the Ministry of External Affairs read: "During the Summit, the Prime Ministers pledged to continue to deepen cooperation between the Nordic countries and India and focused their discussions on key issues related to international peace and security, including the conflict in Ukraine, multilateral cooperation, green transition and climate change, the blue economy, innovation and digitalisation. The Prime Ministers reaffirmed the importance of free trade as a driver for achieving inclusive growth and realising the Sustainable Development Goals."

What is the background?
First, the India-Nordic relations. Of the five Nordic countries, relations between Norway and India date to 1947. Trade, technology, climate, and global security have been the main venues of cooperation. The Nordic countries, despite their size, are the wealthiest, most integrated and influencers in the global forum. Until now, the total trade between India and the Nordic until now has amounted to USD 13 billion, which has progressed through the EU's FTA. Sweden ranks first in trade with India, followed by Finland, Denmark, and Norway. Besides, there is intense collaboration on climate change, where the Nordic stands front and global security, where India's application to Nuclear Supplier Group membership was appreciated. Other areas such as addressing extremism, sharing human values and aspects of cyber security have served as bridges for good relations.

Second, the focus of the 2022 summit. The key issues discussed include boosting multilateralism and promoting international cooperation to address global challenges arising from the Ukraine war and addressing climate change by protecting the environment in line with the Global Biodiversity Framework and the SDGs. They also agreed on collaborations in bringing sustainability in clean water, air, biodiversity and wildlife. Another common sector between the countries was the Oceans. Both India and Nordic discussed transforming the shipping industry towards low carbon and agreed to increase investments in "sustainable ocean industries." Apart from these, ensuring UNEA 5.2 decision to end usage of plastics and digitalisation to help both address global issues.

Third, the Nordic interest in India. The Nordic countries lookup for India because of the market access and India's flagship schemes such as "Make in India, Smart Cities Mission, Start-up India, Clean Ganga." Such activities interest the Nordic in engaging and in exchanging expertise. Apart from trade, the Nordic countries are keen to cooperate in the energy sector, vaccine production and launch a trade and technology council to enhance the connectivity.

What does it mean?
First, the summit outcomes. The discussions were held on various fronts covering the SDGs, blue economy and more partnerships towards green transition, digital India and cultural exchange. On the agreements signed, the focus remains on meeting the gaps in mobility, shipping, waterways, trade, environment, education and start-ups, which serve as a restart to the investments. Other collaborations are likely to conclude on the following: engaging Norway in India's Arctic Policy, refocusing on the Joint Action Plan with Sweden, renewable energies and fisheries with Iceland, and increasing the investments in India-Finland digital partnerships.

Second, new areas. The spotlight has shifted from improving trade relations to boosting connectivity, and transit. More focus is now on peace and security, vaccine development, blue economy and sustainable goals to strengthen the cooperation. The focus is not only in terms of economy and climate change but also towards human security and maritime. One could see a broadbasing of the relations between India and the Nordic.


EU: New sanctions on Russia
What happened?
On 4 May, the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. While the EU has been contemplating a ban on oil from Russia for some time now, this meeting consolidated the arguments and was presented by Von der Leyen as a proposal. She proposed a new set of sanctions against Russia, which would enable the 27 member states to phase out their usage of Russian oil completely. She also suggested including Patriarch Kiril, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, in the draft blacklist for people who are to face a travel ban and an asset freeze. 

On the same day, the Czech Republic's prime minister said that they would seek an exemption from the EU's proposed embargo. 

On 03 May, Hungary and Slovakia said that they would not support the sanctions against Russian oil, as they are too dependent on it and have no other immediate alternatives to switch to. 

What is the background?
First, the war in Ukraine and Zelenskyy's repeated requests. President Zelenskyy has been pleading for an embargo on Russian oil and gas to stop Putin's war machine that is funding the war. 

Second, the EU's energy dependency on Russia. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the EU imported 2.2 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil from Russia and 1.2 million bpd of refined oil products before Russia invaded Ukraine. According to a Reuters report, Russia exports 26 per cent of the EU's oil.

Third, the existing sanctions. The new sanctions are the sixth in the EU efforts against Russia. These sanctions have targeted individuals, banks, businesses and major state-owned enterprises, and exports, among others. Russia's central bank assets have been frozen to stop it from using its USD 630 billion of foreign currency reserves. 

What does it mean?
First, the new proposal. It remains to be accepted by the member states. Most EU countries have to stop buying Russian crude oil six months after adopting these measures, and halt imports of refined oil products from Russia by the end of the year. To ensure that none of the 17 member states veto the proposal, some have been allowed an exemption period, during which they will figure out other sources of supply. However, this oil ban will be more difficult for the EU than Russia, as the latter can still export oil to the Commonwealth of the Independent States.

Second, Russia's response. Though Moscow has not issued a statement, it has banned exports of 200 plus products until the end of 2022; this ban includes telecoms, medical, vehicle, agricultural, electrical equipment and timber. Besides, it is blocking interest payments to foreign investors who hold government bonds, and banning Russian firms from paying overseas shareholders. But, sending the oil to India and China, who are willing to buy it and have been negotiating a discounted price, might prove to be logistically costly and a mammoth task. It remains to be seen if the oil that would head to Europe finds a home. If it does not, then Russia's biggest geopolitical lever may be facing a risk.

Third, options for the EU. If the proposal gets passed, the EU will have to find ways to address the deficit. The EU is looking at global LNG imports from the US, Qatar and Algeria. An LNG import terminal is to start operation near the port city of Alexandropoulos, to boost the new Trans Adriatic Pipeline running from Azerbaijan to Italy. A new interconnector pipeline connecting the networks of Greece and Bulgaria is also set to launch next month. Poland and the Czech Republic are set to restart their talks on building the Stork II gas pipeline. Czech Republic has also been looking to increase the capacity of the TAL pipeline which runs from the Trans Adriatic Pipeline running from Azerbaijan to Italy. There are options for the EU, but they would be ready only in the long term.


Also, in the news...
By Ashwin Dhanabalan and Angkuran Dey 
 
East and Southeast Asia This Week
China: Beijing to set up the world's highest automatic weather station 
On 1 May, China's scientists launched a monumental effort to establish a meteorological weather station at an altitude of 8,800 metres on Mount Qomolangma on the China-Nepal border. The new comprehensive expedition to Mount Qomolangma is a part of China's second scientific research survey on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, which began in 2017. The expedition team is expected to set up a glacial radar and measure snow and ice thickness at the mountain's summit. However, the engineers in charge of establishing the station are still waiting for the perfect weather to start mountaineering.   

China: Beijing urges countries to fulfil their financial obligations to the UN 
On 3 May, China's deputy permanent representative to the UN Dai Bing urged the most significant contributors to fulfil their financial duties to the organisation. Dai urged the secretariat to strengthen the existing budget, improve internal control and rigorously enforce financial discipline. Dai added: "We call upon all member states, especially with the paying capacity, to pay their assessed contributions as well as the outstanding arrears in full and on time, in order to support the UN in playing its central role in global governance."   

UK and Japan: Tokyo inks a new defence deal with London
On 6 May, Japan's prime minister Fumio Kishida's visit to the UK led to the signing of a new defence deal as announced by the UK's prime minister, Boris Johnson. The deal will allow the two countries' military to work closely in training, joint exercises, and disaster relief. This is the first defence deal in recent times that Japan has signed beyond its fellow Indo-Pacific states. Johnson, while speaking about the association, said: "There is direct read across from the actions of autocratic coercive powers in Europe to what may happen in East Asia. That is why we want to work more closely together."  

North Korea: Pyongyang conducts its 14th missile test in 2022
On 4 May, North Korea launched another missile which took off from its east coast, just days before South Korea's president, Yoon Suk-yeol was scheduled to take office. The missile reached an altitude of 485 miles and flew a distance of 292 miles before falling into the Sea of Japan. However, North Korea's military is yet to disclose any information about the type of missile. The test comes as North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un vowed to expand the country's nuclear arsenal at the fastest possible speed.   

Indonesia: The EU shows resilience to Jakarta's palm oil export ban
On 4 May, the EU stated that Indonesia's palm oil ban did not raise concerns for the bloc as it had stocked reserves for several weeks. EU's vegetable oil group FEDIOL said: "...facilities and the temporary decision by the Indonesian government does not give rise to concern for the supply on the European market in the short term." Additionally, the EU imported about 40 per cent of its total crude palm oil from Indonesia, totalling 335,000 tonnes, but it diversified its imports in Southeast Asia. 

Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur plans an informal agreement between ASEAN and the NUG
On 1 May, Malaysia's foreign minister stated that it was planning to establish informal engagements between ASEAN and Myanmar's national unity government (NUG). He said: "We are not proposing for Asean to recognise other governments, but such informal engagement may be conceivable, especially on how humanitarian aid to the people of Myanmar who are still in their country can be delivered." The foreign minister further mentioned that the proposal would counter the Asean Five-Point Consensus (5PC), which could not be implemented and lies in a political stalemate.

Myanmar: NUG passes law enacting people's police force regulation
On 5 May, Myanmar's legislative body, Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), stated that it had enacted the People's Police Force Law to regulate order in the region. The law would help the resistance forces administer the areas under the control of the NUG. The CRPH further mentioned that it would use the law to take legal action against military leaders who have seized power illegally, prevent crime and carry out civil administration in the NUG controlled areas. 
 
South Asia This Week 
Pakistan: Islamabad and Abu Dhabi strengthen economic ties 
On 4 May, a team of economic experts from the UAE met with Pakistan's prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif. The delegation expressed their will to strengthen bilateral economic cooperation between the two countries in trade, energy, infrastructure, and petroleum. The statement released by the Pakistan prime minister stated: "Pakistan attached the highest priority to its brotherly relations with the UAE and was desirous to strengthen the relations to the next level, especially on the economic front."   

Pakistan: Islamabad urges Riyadh not to withdraw its deposit from the SBP
On 4 May, Pakistan's finance minister Miftah Ismail mentioned that the government had requested Saudi Arabia not to withdraw its deposits in the State Bank of Pakistan(SBP) and to extend its oil facility to Pakistan. Furthermore, Ismail criticised the former prime minister Imran Khan's government for leaving the fastest-growing inflation in the history of Pakistan. He also lamented the previous government's promises to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). He further stated: "the promises made to the IMF were against the nation. Those promises are no less than landmines." Furthermore, Ismail mentioned that the IMF delegation would be visiting the country soon.    

Afghanistan: 24 million Afghans require humanitarian aid, says a SIGAR report
On 6 May, the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), in a report to Congress, said that 70 per cent of Afghans are struggling to meet their basic needs. This report comes as the Food & Agricultural Organisation (FAO) pointed out that 53 countries worldwide, including Afghanistan, face acute hunger. The report further stated: "Humanitarian conditions have deteriorated with over 24.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance- an increase from 18.4 million in 2021."   

Afghanistan: Kabul says it is improving its relations with foreign countries 
On 6 May, the Islamic emirates spokesperson, Mohammad Naeem, mentioned that the country has been working towards improving its ties with other countries. Naeem added: "Our diplomatic relations started with some big countries like Russia, China and Turkey and improved gradually, finally the political offices of Afghanistan surrendered to the Islamic Emirate." He further stated that countries should not be allowed to operate their embassies in the country without recognising the new government of Afghanistan. 

Sri Lanka: Colombo's usable reserves drop to USD 50 million
On 4 May, Sri Lanka's finance minister Ali Sabry mentioned that the country's foreign reserves, which stood at USD seven billion in 2019, had now fallen to USD 50 million. Sabry addressed the parliament, which had assembled after the opposition parties submitted a no-trust motion against the ruling government. Sabry hailed India's assistance to Sri Lanka and reminded the warring parties to contribute to reviving the island's economy. He further stated that the country needed around USD 3-4 billion to bridge the financial gap until the IMF facilitates its support. 

Central Asia, Middle East, and Africa This Week
Armenia & Turkey: Yerevan and Istanbul agree on normalising relations
On 3 May, Armenia's envoy Ruben Rubinian and his counterpart from Turkey, Serdar Kilic, agreed to move efforts in a bid to normalise relations 'without conditions'. The envoys stressed their common goal to reach a full-fledged regulation of relations between the two countries. The statement released by Armenia's foreign ministry said: "Possible steps to reach a tangible process in that matter were discussed. The sides confirmed their readiness to carry out the process further without preliminary conditions." 

Lebanon: Expatriates began voting in the parliamentary elections 
On 6 May, expatriates from Lebanon began casting their votes in the upcoming parliamentary elections. This comes as Lebanon has been facing an economic crisis for close to three years. Lebanon's expatriates living in the countries of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, and Iraq voted on 6 May. At the same time, the citizens in Lebanon will cast their votes on 15 May. Opposition parties in Lebanon are hoping to gain vote shares of the expatriates. In 2018, Lebanon introduced a new electoral law, 
adding six seats to the parliament representing the diaspora. 

Somalia: Members of the federal parliament set to choose a new president 
On 6 May, Somalia's lawmakers announced that they would select a new president by 15 May. Somalia has faced a protracted political crisis due to a civil war. The election process in the country had been destabilised by Al-Shabaab attacks and the political feud between the president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and the prime minister, Mohamed Hussein Roble. Furthermore, the IMF will also be reviewing its budget for Somalia on 17 May. One of the criteria for funding from the IMF is that the country must establish a new government before the stipulated time. Somalia depends on IMF funds for their necessities.

Guinea: Opposition parties condemn the proposed 39-month transition period to civilian rule
On 1 May, the opposition parties in Guinea unitedly condemned Colonel Mamady Doumbouya's announcement of the 39-month transition period to civilian rule. This comes as the UN chief Antonio Guterres called on the military regimes in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea to hand back power to the civilians. Doumbouya said he had chosen a "median proposal" as the army dominated forum suggested a transition period of 18 and 52 months. 

Togo: President Gnassingbe agrees to mediate in Mali
On 5 May, Togo's president Faure Gnassingbe mentioned that he had agreed to act as a mediator in the political crisis of Mali. Mali's foreign minister Abdoulaye Diop said: "We asked President Faure Gnassingbe to use his good office, wisdom and experience to facilitate dialogue with regional actors and more broadly dialogue with the entire international community." This comes as the military regime faces pressure to re-establish its civilian rule. The government had assured to restore civilian power, but with it failing to meet its commitments, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has placed sanctions on Mali. 

ECOWAS: leaders of the region agree to a regional strategy to tackle global warming
On 5 May, leaders of the Community of West African States (ECOWAS) mentioned that they have agreed to implement a regional strategy to counter global warming over the next ten years. The members agreed to spend USD 294 billion to deal with the climate crisis. The ECOWAS Commissioner for agriculture, environment and water resources Sekou Sangare mentioned how the strategy would raise awareness towards changing lifestyles and combating global warming. In the long run, the bloc also aims to create a regional policy that aligns with the Paris climate agreement.

Nigeria: UN chief visits Abuja and meets president Muhammadu Buhari
On 5 May, Nigeria's president thanked UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, for his visit to the country. Buhari was thankful as Nigeria felt the West had shifted its focus on Eastern Europe amid the War in Ukraine. Guterres said he visited Nigeria to express his solidarity with the victims of terrorism. Concerning Nigeria's battle against the Islamist groups, Buhari said: "When we assumed office, the North-East was the major security problem we inherited in 2015, but we have been able to make people understand that you cannot kill people and shout 'Allahu Akbar."

Europe and the Americas This Week
Russia: Putin renders a rare apology to Israel over foreign minister's antisemitic comment 
On 5 May, Russia's president Vladimir Putin apologised to Israel's prime minister, Naftali Bennet over comments made by Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov. Lavrov stirred controversy by dismissing the Jewish faith of Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy claiming that "Hitler also had Jewish blood"- which is a discredited antisemitic claim. Bennet's office released a statement, stating: "The Prime Minister accepted President Putin's apology for Lavrov's remarks and thanked him for clarifying the President's attitude towards the Jewish people and the memory of the Holocaust."

The US: Researchers unbox samples collected during the Apollo 17 mission 
On 6 May, scientists from NASA started studying the lunar samples collected 50 years ago during the Apollo 17 mission, which was the last crew mission to the moon. For decades, these frozen samples were left untouched in a freezer at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston. Now, these samples have been brought to the Goddard Space Centre in Maryland for further examination. This comes as NASA's Artemis program prepares to return to the moon. Furthermore, studying these samples would improve recovery efforts from the moon and other places in the solar system.    

The US: President signs two directives advancing quantum technologies 
On 4 May, the White House released a statement saying that US president Joe Biden would be approving advanced national initiatives in quantum information science (QIS). This is a part of the US commitment to critical and emerging technologies and lays the groundwork for mitigating the risk that quantum computers pose to the country. The White House statement read: "President Biden will sign an Executive Order to foster these advances by furthering the President's commitment to promoting breakthroughs in cutting-edge science and technology." The directive would further position the US as a global leader in developing quantum information science.

The US: Washington condemns Israel's West Bank expansion
On 7 May, the US said it strongly opposed Israel's plans to build new settlements in occupied Palestine's territories of the West Bank. US state department spokesperson Jalina Porter said: "We strongly oppose the expansion of settlements which exacerbates tensions and undermines trust between the parties. Israel's program of expanding settlements deeply damages the prospect for a two-state solution." This comes as Israel had approved the setting up of 4,000 housing units in the West Bank region.

Chile: Record-breaking drought impacts mining operations 
On 6 May, record-breaking drought-impacted mining operations, forcing companies to escalate their search for other sources of water to keep the mines functioning. The Andean nation, the world's largest producer of copper, has been battling a historic drought that entered its 13th year. The chairman of the state-owned mining company, Codelco Maximo Pacheco  stated: "Our main challenge is to find other sources beyond continental waters." Furthermore, Pacheco said Codelco planned to recycle more significant amounts of water and reduce water usage through efficiency savings.   

Colombia: Bogota extradites drug lord of the Gulf cartel to the US
On 4 May, Colombia extradited the alleged head of the dreaded Clan del Golfo cartel, Dairo Antonio Usuga, also known as 'Otoniel' to the US. He will face charges of indictment at three federal courts. Colombia's president, Ivan Duque, stated: "He is not only the most dangerous drug trafficker in the world, but he is a murderer of social leaders, abuser of boys, girls and adolescents, a murderer of policemen." The former drug lord has been on the run for more than a decade, having been a long fixture on the US Drug Enforcement Administration's list since 2009.        

Cuba: Castro confidant, Ricardo Alarcón dies at 84 
On 30 April, Ricardo Alarcón, a former foreign minister of Cuba who had emerged to be a close confidant of Fidel Castro, passed away at 84 in the capital city of Havana. Alarcón had played a central role in the Elián González custody saga and had been a significant player in the Cuban Revolution of 1959. Cuba's authorities had announced the death, but a reason for the death was not announced.      

Nicaragua: Parliament votes in favour of shutting down 50 NGOs 
On 5 May, Nicaragua's parliament voted to shut down 50 NGOs, as they had failed to comply with regulations. The decision has been criticised by government critics, who have called this a part of the larger crackdown being launched by the Ortega government, which has already banned 144 NGOs. With the parliament dominated by Ortega supporters, the decree to strip the NGOs of their legal status was passed with 75 votes in favour, while there were only 16 abstentions and no votes against the decree. 

Shell: Oil company sees its quarterly profits nearly triple 
On 6 May, the energy giant Shell reported its highest ever quarterly profits with the surge in gas and oil prices worldwide. The company made USD 9.13 billion in the first three months of the year compared to USD 3.2 billion in profits it had announced last year. Shell's rivals, including BP and Total Energies, also reported a sharp rise in the underlying profits. The profits were expected to be significant with the disruption in energy supplies from Russia, but these numbers have surpassed all expectations. However, there are questions about these companies fulfilling their respective commitments to the region.

Antarctica: Emperor Penguin face the risk of extinction 
On 6 May, an expert from the Argentine Antarctic Institute (AAI) warned that the Emperor Penguin, which roams the frozen lands of Antarctica, is facing a severe risk of extinction in the next 30 to 40 years as a result of climate change. The emperor penguin is the world's biggest penguin and is one of the two endemic species of penguins native to Antarctica that requires solid ice from April to December for nesting their fledgling chicks. Marcela Libertelli from the AAI, stated: "If the water reaches the newborn penguins, which are not ready to swim and do not have waterproof plumage, they die of the cold and drown."  


About the authors
Ashwin Immanuel Dhanabalan and Padmashree Anandhan are Project Associates at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. Rishma Banerjee is a Research Intern at the School of Conflict and Peace Studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. Angkuran Dey is a Postgraduate Scholar at the Centre for South Asian Studies at Pondicherry University. 
 

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