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Merkel Snubbed Biden by Allowing Nord Stream 2 to Be Finished, Bloomberg Op-Ed Claims

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The opinion piece suggests that the German chancellor’s visit to the US will be partly devoted to ironing out disagreements in the relations between Washington and Berlin, not only over the Russian-European gas pipeline, but also over Germany’s support for the Chinese grand investment deal with the EU.

As the end of her long service as German chancellor draws near, Angela Merkel has managed to “snub” US President Joe Biden twice as Washington and Berlin started working on repairing their ties following Trump’s presidency, Bloomberg columnist Andreas Kluth has claimed in his latest op-ed.

According to him, Merkel undertook two steps that greatly disappointed Washington – she pushed forward a Chinese-European investment deal and refused to stop the construction of the joint European-Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. Kluth calls the latter “worse”, as Merkel refused “to move even an inch” toward demands from the US.

“The geopolitical threat posed by Nord Stream 2 seems blatant enough for Poland, the Baltic republics, France, the European Union and other allies […] Nonetheless, the Germans keep burying their heads in the sand like geo-strategic ostriches”, the columnist said.

Kluth insists that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is a “strategic goal long pursued” by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The columnist claims that Moscow wants to “blackmail” the Ukrainian government by threatening to cut it out of the gas transit to Europe and leave it without transit payments, even though Putin has pledged to keep the transit contract alive in the coming years and promised that the transit through Ukraine will continue as long as it remains economically viable.

These assurances, however, have had no effect on demands of American lawmakers to impose new sanctions against Nord Stream 2 in order to stop its construction. A new round of economic measures was only stopped by Biden, who argued it was too late to try to stop the project, which is 98% complete. Germany, for its part, has always defended the pipeline, built jointly by Russia’s Gazprom and a number of EU energy giants. Berlin has also long insisted that it is an economic project that will benefit Europe, and that it has nothing to do with politics.

Fixing ‘Geopolitical Mess’

The US explains its opposition to the Nord Stream 2 by claiming it will increase the EU’s dependency on Russian gas, while putting Ukraine’s gas transit payments at risk. At the same time, Washington has proposed an alternative to Russian pipeline gas – buying more expensive liquefied natural gas (LNG), for example, from the US itself. The EU was hesitant to accept Washington’s offer, while noting that its gas supply sources are diverse enough. Germany, in turn, strongly condemned the US’ extraterritorial use of sanctions that targeted the project, which is important for Berlin’s energy supplies.

The Bloomberg columnist claims, however, that Merkel will now try to offer suggestions to US President Joe Biden during the upcoming meeting on how to solve “the geopolitical mess” she supposedly caused by ignoring Washington’s demands to stop Nord Stream 2’s construction.

“The reality is that Merkel’s obstinate defence of Nord Stream 2 will count as a stain on her otherwise expansive and nuanced legacy, and be a liability to her successor. It alienates both the U.S. and European partners by showing the hypocrisy of a country that claims to act in the interest of the EU when in fact it cares only about its own”, Kluth claims.

The meeting will take place ahead of a new request expected from American lawmakers in August to impose new sanctions against Nord Stream 2, which is scheduled to be finished by that time. The previous round of sanctions against contractors working on the project only managed to briefly stall progress. POTUS and the German chancellor’s meeting also comes ahead of the September election in Germany, which will determine not only the new political layout of the country, but also the person who will replace Angela Merkel in her post.



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EU not evacuating staff from Kyiv

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The EU will not evacuate its staff from Kyiv, the bloc’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said on Monday before the meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers, who will have a video conference with US secretary of state Anthony Blinken. “Blinken will explain the reasons for this announcement, we are not going to do the same thing, […], we don’t have to dramatise, the negotiations are going on,” Borrell said.

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‘I’ve already sold my daughters; now, my kidney’: winter in Afghanistan’s slums | Global development

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The temperature is dropping to below zero in western Afghanistan and Delaram Rahmati is struggling to find food for her eight children.

Since leaving the family home in the country’s Badghis province four years ago, the Rahmatis have been living in a mud hut with a plastic roof in one of Herat city’s slums. Drought made their village unliveable and the land unworkable. Like an estimated 3.5 million Afghans who have been forced to leave their homes, the Rahmatis now live in a neighbourhood for internally displaced people (IDP).

There are no jobs. But the 50-year-old has hospital fees to pay for two of her sons, one of whom is paralysed and the other who has mental illness, as well as medicine for her husband.

“I was forced to sell two of my daughters, an eight- and six-year-old,” she says. Rahmati says she sold her daughters a few months ago for 100,000 afghani each (roughly £700), to families she doesn’t know. Her daughters will stay with her until they reach puberty and then be handed over to strangers.

It is not uncommon in Afghanistan to arrange the sale of a daughter into a future marriage but raise her at home until it is time for her to leave. However, as the country’s economic crisis deepens, families are reporting that they are handing children over at an increasingly young age because they cannot afford to feed them.

Delaram Rahmati
Delaram Rahmati, who sold a kidney to support her family. Photograph: Rukhshana Media

Yet, selling her daughters’ future was not the only agonising decision Rahmati was forced to make. “Because of debt and hunger I was forced to sell my kidney,” she tells Rukhshana Media from outside her home in the Herat slum.

Afghanistan is on the brink of “a humanitarian crisis and economic collapse”, according to the UN. The agency’s ambassador to Afghanistan has said it is “experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis of its contemporary history”. Drought, Covid-19 and the economic sanctions imposed after the Taliban seized power in August 2021 have had catastrophic consequences on the economy. Dramatic rises in inflation have resulted in soaring food prices.

The kidney trade has been growing in Afghanistan for some time. But since the Taliban took power, the price and conditions under which the illegal organ trade takes place has changed. The price of a kidney, which once ranged from $3,500 to $4,000 (£2,600 to £3,000), has dropped to less than $1,500 (£1,100). But the number of volunteers keeps rising.

Rahmati sold her right kidney for 150,000 afghani (£1,000). But her recovery from the operation has not been good and now, like her husband, she is also sick, with no money left to visit a doctor.

More than half of the country’s estimated 40 million population face “extreme levels of hunger, and nearly 9 million of them are at risk of famine”, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. For a growing number of Afghans, selling a kidney is their only way to get money to eat.

Herat city’s slums
Since leaving the family home in Badghis province four years ago, the Rahmatis have been living in a mud hut with a plastic roof in a camp in Herat city. Photograph: Rukhshana Media

“It has been months since we last ate rice. We hardly find bread and tea. Three nights a week, we can’t afford to eat dinner,” says Salahuddin Taheri, who lives in the same slum as the Rahmati family.

Taheri, a 27-year-old father of four, who scrapes together enough money for five loaves of bread each day by collecting and selling recycled rubbish, is looking for a buyer for his kidney. “I have been asking private hospitals in Herat for many days if they need any kidney. I even told them if they need it urgently, I can sell it below the market price, but I haven’t heard back,” Taheri says. “I need to feed my children, I have no other choice.”

In the past five years about 250 official kidney transplants have taken place in the hospitals in Herat province, with a very limited number being a family member donating their organ, says Asif Kabir, a public health official in the province. The cost of a kidney transplant is 400,000 afghani, plus the price of the kidney, according to Kabir.

But the true number of kidney operations may be far higher. A doctor working in one of the hospitals where most of the transplants take place, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, says: “Recently the number of people who want to sell their kidney has increased in Herat and most of them live in the displaced camps, in Herat’s slums. The customers also go to the displaced camps to find a cheap kidney.”

Sayed Ashraf Sadat, a civil society activist in Herat, was a member of a delegation assigned by president Ashraf Ghani to investigate the illegal kidney trade in May 2021.

Chinar’s scar from kidney surgery.  Her husband is sick and she had to sell her kidney to feed their children
A nurse looks at Chinar’s scar from kidney removal surgery. Chinar, who lives in the Herat camp, said her husband is sick and she had to sell the organ to feed their four children. Photograph: Mstyslav Chernov/AP

“We found that the hospitals were not working according to the law. People are working inside and outside the country to encourage people to sell their kidneys. These people get them visas and send them to the other side of the border. There is more demand for kidney transplants outside Afghanistan. Countries like Iran need kidneys, and poor Afghans are forced to sell them.”

Sadat says the investigation he was part of identified two hospitals in Herat where kidney transplant operations take place; one of them said it had completed 194 operations and the other said 32, but more than 500 people were claiming to have sold their kidney, 100 from a single village in Herat. “This shows the kidneys were taken outside Afghanistan,” says Sadat.

“For example, a kidney is purchased for 300,000 afghani (£2,100) inside Afghanistan, and it is sold for more than £7,500 to £11,000 outside the country,” says Sadat.

“We found evidence that some are encouraged to sell their kidneys, taken outside the borders, and their kidneys are sold for 200,000 to 400,000 afghanis ,” says Sadat. “It seems that the doctors are involved in the illegal trade. But unfortunately, our investigation was stopped due to a worsening security situation.”

Sardar Muhammad, who sold his kidney, shows the scar
Another Herat camp resident, Sardar Muhammad, who sold his kidney, shows the scar from the surgery. Photograph: Mstyslav Chernov/AP

Two months have passed since Rahmati’s kidney operation, and the money has already gone to pay off medical debt. Her recovery from the operation continues to go badly.

“I am so sick. I couldn’t even walk because the wound has been infected. It is very painful,” she says, adding that the recipient of her kidney only paid for the operation fee, two nights in hospital and her first medicine bill.

On the day of the transplant, Rahmati was sick and the doctors refused to operate. “I couldn’t breathe properly, so the doctors took me down from the hospital bed, but I returned. I told them ‘I am happy with my own death, but I can’t tolerate seeing my children hungry and ill’,” she says.

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Airlines should start paying for CO2 sooner

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Airlines flying from one European destination to another should start paying for all their carbon emission from 2026, a year earlier than planned, according to a draft report by Croatian centre-right MEP Sunčana Glavak seen by Reuters. The Commission earlier proposed to phase out free CO2 permits by 2027. “We must support innovation in the sector and the use of sustainable aviation fuels,” she said.

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