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Russian-US Strategic Stability Talks Open in Geneva Month After Putin-Biden Summit

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WASHINGTON (Sputnik) – Roughly a month after Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden agreed on strategic dialogue during the landmark summit in Geneva, the US and Russian delegations are set to meet in the Swiss city to discuss strategic stability on 28 July.

The Russian delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov arrived in Geneva on Tuesday. Before the consultations, the foreign ministry stressed that the sides would discuss issues of maintaining and strengthening strategic stability, as well as prospects for arms control. The State Department, in its turn, added that such a dialogue with Russia should lay the foundation for the future arms control regime and measures to reduce risks.

The US will be represented by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. In addition, the American delegation will include Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs Bonnie Jenkins.

There is every reason to believe that the upcoming consultations between Moscow and Washington will be serious, Nikolai Sokov, a senior fellow at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Nonproliferation, told Sputnik.

“Both sides feel the need to do something tangible to stabilize the strategic relationship and revive arms control keeping in mind that New START, the last arms control agreement in effect, will expire in less than five years. I must note here that last consultations, in the summer of 2020 still under Trump, were serious, too, and promised progress, but the Trump team got too greedy and wanted too much, so talks failed. I am a bit more optimistic now,” he told Sputnik.

In February, Washington officially extended New START, an agreement that limits each side’s nuclear arsenal to 700 missiles, 800 launchers and 1,550 deployed warheads, until 5 February, 2026. The US decision to revive the treaty, which was sealed by then-presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev, was welcomed by Russia.


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Sputnik / Dmitriy Astakhov

The signing of the New START treaty in Prague, the Czech Republic by President Dmitry Medvedev and President Barack Obama on April 8, 2010.

The position of Moscow has not changed much as the country still calls for a “strategic equation,” while the US stance remains unclear, according to Sokov.

“That said, I believe there is a greater chance that the US will agree to discuss missile defense and long-range conventional weapons. Unfortunately, this will be the result of Russian advances in both fields, not because the US has accepted the logic of the Russian position. That is, arms racing keeps driving arms control, as was the case during the Cold War. I think that it is pretty certain that the US will also seek to capitalize on the success of the previous administration and raise a freeze on nuclear warhead stockpiles, to which Russia agreed in the fall of 2020 (without verification, though). Russia objects to that, so something else to discuss,” he said.

Much will depend on the format of the meeting — whether the sides will have only one or two days of talks or agree on the working process and permanent meeting, Sokov added.

“I also hope – not without reason – that they will ultimately seek to agree on a framework of full-scale negotiations which begin soon, hopefully at the end of this year or perhaps early next year,” the expert concluded.

Meanwhile, Joshua Pollack, a senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California, doubts that much should be expected from the upcoming talks.

“It’s an opportunity to exchange views, not to conclude an agreement. The State Department’s announcement indicates as much,” he told Sputnik.

Miles Pomper, a senior fellow at the Washington DC office of the Middlebury Institute’s James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, expressed hope that there will be some progress, noting that “if there is it probably won’t be visible.”

“At this point, the delegations can be expected to begin work on defining an agenda for strategic stability discussions and defining what might be included in possible negotiations over a New START agreement. The fact that they are meeting is an achievement in itself,” he told Sputnik.

TYPES OF WEAPONS

As the talks near, speculations emerge what types of weapons they will discuss. Russia has proposed a “security equation,” which would include all types of weapons that can affect strategic stability, including nuclear, non-nuclear, offensive and defensive.


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Sputnik / POOL

Russian President Vladimir Putin, centre right, and U.S. President Joe Biden, centre left, attend a meeting at the Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, is at left, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, is at right.

Marc Finaud, the head of arms proliferation at the Geneva Center for Security Policy, recalled that it is true that, until now, constraints have been agreed only on strategic offensive deployed nuclear weapons on both sides for reasons related to verification.

“There is a large number of non-deployed and/or non-strategic nuclear weapons that need to be included into ceilings or reductions. Moreover, since the US withdrew from the ABM [the Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty in 2002, there are almost no constraints on defensive systems which may be seen as an incentive for a first strike. In addition, beyond nuclear weapons, there are strategic conventional systems such as the US Global Prompt Strike long-distance precision-guided system, that may also be perceived as facilitating a first strike,” he said.

On 13 December, 2002, then-US President George W. Bush announced that Washington would unilaterally withdraw from the 1972 ABM Treaty that it concluded with the Soviet Union. The treaty barred the parties from deploying anti-ballistic missile systems that could cover the entire territory of their countries, or provide a base for such broad-range defense.

“Finally, the INF Treaty prohibited all intermediate-range missiles whether conventional or nuclear, precisely because of their dual nature and the impossibility to detect the character of an attack. There is thus a logic to include all systems into a final ‘package deal’ where both sides would be reassured that strategic stability is preserved,” he added.

SYMBOLIC VENUE

The venue of the talks — Geneva — is a good sign since it is the place where important agreements were negotiated in the past, Finaud told Sputnik.

“It is difficult to assess at this stage how much and how fast progress can be achieved. There is a need to share on both sides for an in-depth discussion about what is meant by ‘strategic stability’, usually implying the preservation, for each side, of its retaliation capacity in case of first strike by the other,” he continued.

Today, there is an urgent need to reduce the risk of nuclear war be it by escalation from conventional conflict, misperception, accident, or use of digital weapons, according to the expert.

“Indeed, the current arms race between defensive and offensive systems with the introduction of destabilizing weapons (low-yield warhead-tip or nuclear-powered cruise missiles, hypersonic missiles, etc.) and new technologies concur in lowering the threshold of use of nuclear weapons. In addition, the New START treaty expires definitively in 2026 and it needs to be replaced with a more comprehensive treaty and additional measures towards disarmament,” he said.



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‘My future is overseas’: Tunisians look to Europe as Covid hits tourism | Global development

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The seafront along the town of Hammamet in Tunisia is deserted. Looking out at the bright empty coast from his souvenir shop, Kais Azzabi, 42, describes the crowds that would stroll along the broad boulevards. Today, there is nobody.

“It was very busy here,” he says, gesturing to the street and the Mediterranean Sea beyond. “Since the corona started, everything stopped.”

Blasted by revolution, terror attacks and political instability, the pandemic has all but delivered a death blow to Tunisia’s embattled tourism sector, a former economic staple. Many of its employees are now looking across the sea for opportunities to build new lives in Europe.

Beyond the resorts, recent political events have done little to instil confidence in hotel workers. A presidential power grab in July, which suspended parliament, ousted the chief of government (prime minister), and put former constitutional law professor and political independent Kais Saied into office, has yet to deliver a new long-term vision for the country.

Amine*, 20, sits on the empty beach outside one of the resort’s imposing white hotels. The lifeguard from nearby Tazerka pushes a half-dead fish around a bucket as his friend wades into a lively sea in search of more.

“There were some Tunisian guests here earlier, but it’s dead now,” he says, through an interpreter, looking to the empty beach huts and stacks of unused loungers. “My future is overseas,” he says, remaining vague on how he might get there. “All my friends have gone [to Europe],” he says. “Tazerka is empty. All the nearby towns are empty. Everyone has gone.”

In August, migrant arrivals in Italy from Tunisia were up about 75% on the previous year. According to the International Organization for Migration, this marked “the highest number of departures since the aftermath of the 2011 revolution”. Among them, were 502 unaccompanied minors, as well as a further 138 travelling with at least one member of their family, suggesting that these were not temporary relocations.

In another part of Tazerka, Ramzi, 20, sells melons from the back of his father’s truck on the roadside. Every day, he travels with his father and cousins 150km (90 miles) from Kairouan to sell fruit. They can only do this during the summer months, surviving the winter on whatever they have saved in the tourist season or from occasional work his father can find in construction. Covid-19 has made a desperate situation worse, Ramzi’s father, Nouredinne, says.

“I only want to go to Europe,” Ramzi says. “I’ve been wanting to go there for five or 10 years.” One of his cousins, Wassim, shouts over that he has never had any goal other than to get to Europe since he was a child.

The only thing stopping them is money. “You need around 3,500 TD [Tunisian dinar], but that’s risky. If you have more, it’s more secure,” Wassim says, through an interpreter.

While coronavirus has hammered Tunisia’s economy, its tourism sector has been hardest hit. Even before the pandemic, the country’s sprawling identikit resorts, relying as they do on package tourism, were in trouble. Battered by revolution in 2011, a devastating terror attack in 2015 and subsequent travel bans, the country’s tourism sector had long ceased to offer the security it promised in the 1960s.

“Before the pandemic, the tourism sector represented around 7% of GDP,” says economist Radhi Meddeb. “Consolidated with the ancillary activities of transport, catering, leisure and crafts, its contribution increases to 14%.”

However, he adds: “If the trends observed so far continue until the end of the year, the contribution of the tourism sector to GDP will probably be negative, around -1% to -1.5% of GDP.”

Despite the best efforts of hoteliers, tens of thousands of jobs have been lost. Before the pandemic, more than half a million people were employed in tourism and its support services. Recent events, not least the travel bans imposed in response to Tunisia’s escalating Covid death rate, have put pay to much of that.

With the economy not expected to recover to pre-pandemic levels for some time, tourism in Tunisia “will never be what it was before the crisis”, says Meddeb, evidenced by the rows of abandoned hotels along the coast at Hammamet, Sousse, Monastir and beyond, signalling an end to the all-inclusive package holidays they once provided. “The Tunisian tourism model will have to reinvent itself.”

Back on the beach, Amine continues to push his solitary dying fish around the bucket. “You can see Pantelleria [Italian island] from my village,” he says. Asked how he’ll get there, he says “I’ll swim”.

* Full names not used to protect identities

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Navalny to get EU human-rights prize

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The European Parliament has formally nominated Russian dissident Alexei Navalny for this year’s ‘Sakharov’ human-rights prize. “It is vital that we in the European Parliament confirm our relentless support for Navalny and stress that his wellbeing is the responsibility of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” Peter van Dalen, a Dutch centre-right MEP said in plenary Monday. Putin tried to kill Navalny with poison then jailed him in a remote penal colony.

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Texas: The dramatic situation of Haitians trapped on US-Mexico border: ‘Why don’t they come help us here?’ | USA

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The border the separates Ciudad Acuña in Mexico from Del Río in the United States has become an open-air prison. Thousands of migrants, the vast majority of them from Haiti, have been surrounded by the authorities on either side of the frontier. On the US side, the Border Patrol is keeping those who have arrived there after crossing the Latin American continent in check: they are packed together under the International Bridge border crossing in a camp that lacks water, food, sanitation or shade. In Coahuila, on the Mexican side, security forces have begun to pressure migrants to accept “voluntary” detention and transfer to Tapachula, in the south of the country. In the middle of a stand-off between both governments for control over the arrival of migrants, thousands of people have become trapped in limbo.

A rope linking the two the banks of the Rio Grande was cut last Thursday, leaving nothing to hold on to when trying to cross. Despite now being fully aware of what awaits them on the other side, many people have been biding their time on the muddy slope that leads down to the water. They are still trying to make the crossing because they are scared and because Mexico will offer them no guarantees over the papers, protection and opportunities they are seeking. At 8pm the river is high, making it even more dangerous to attempt the crossing, but the Haitians clutch their bags tighter, gather up their children in their arms and throw themselves into the river. They are hardly assured a warm welcome on the other side. The administration of Joe Biden has already started an operation to deport thousands of irregular migrants, a practice described as “inhumane” by the US special envoy for Haiti, Daniel Foote, who tendered his resignation to the State Department on September 23.

A Haitian man and his son crossing the Rio Grande from Ciudad Acuña (Coahuila) to Del Río (Texas).
A Haitian man and his son crossing the Rio Grande from Ciudad Acuña (Coahuila) to Del Río (Texas).Teresa de Miguel

Dozens of police officers arrived at the makeshift camp on the Mexican side of the border at night and cut off access. Later, border guards joined the deployment and toured the area in an effort to convince Haitian migrants to surrender to “voluntary” detention. In exchange, they offered what until this point neither the US nor Mexican governments have done: water, food, restrooms, medical attention and legal assistance. “Why don’t they come and help us right here?” a woman asked the agents when they offered transportation to Tapachula in order to access these services.

In their scouring of the zone, where migrants make do in tents, tarpaulins fashioned from plastic bags or simply with cardboard to lie on, employees of the National Institute of Migration have been abundantly clear. The migrants have been informed that anyone “who is happy” where they are now is welcome to stay, while warning of the pending arrival of “extremely cold weather.” The area is awash with different police branches, alongside the Criminal Investigation Agency. The National Guard and the Coahuila State Organized Crime Action and Reaction unit are also on hand, with several buses.

“They come here to scare us. They only come to deceive people,” says Jonas Basel, a 31-year-old Haitian who is traveling with his wife and two daughters. Basel passed through Tapachula on his journey north from Chile, where the majority of migrants who have reached this point started out. He sees little point in accepting an invitation to go back to the border with Guatemala. “It’s full of people and the Comar [the Mexican Refugee Aid Commission] has collapsed. I’m not going to get a visa in less than three or more months, and nobody has any money.” Basel has $300 left from the $10,000 he set aside for the journey. “We spent everything to get this far.”

A police officer from Coahuila inside the Haitian migrant camp in Ciudad Acuña on Thursday.
A police officer from Coahuila inside the Haitian migrant camp in Ciudad Acuña on Thursday.Teresa de Miguel

The makeshift camp on the Mexican side was thrown up on federal land controlled by the state government of Coahuila. There, there is a place known as Comedor del Migrante (Migrant’s Diner), which has now been repurposed by its temporary residents as crowded rooms or restrooms in the absence of proper facilities. As of a week ago, the camp had started to take on the appearance of an organized space, with an improvised hair salon, prayer service in the evening, water and food provided by NGOs and private benefactors, as well as tents and a scattering of mattresses. But by Thursday, September 23, the mood had changed. “People are depressed. It’s very stressful,” said a pregnant woman.

The river had already started to swell by the afternoon when two women and a boy around eight years old entered the water. On the far bank, another migrant jumped in to help them because halfway across the child and the small toy truck he was carrying under an arm had almost disappeared under the water level. Also on the US side were a unit of US Border Patrol agents, powerless to assist but a “wall of steel” in the words of Texas Governor Greg Abbott, designed to prevent people from crossing the frontier. Later, another large group of families started to cross. Many carried a bag under one arm and a child in the other. From the far bank, the Border Patrol agents shouted from a launch that “only the children” could climb aboard. The parents handed over their sons and daughters and pleaded for help as the water rose above their chests.

A Haitian man and his son crossing the Rio Grande on Thursday.
A Haitian man and his son crossing the Rio Grande on Thursday.Teresa de Miguel

The International Committee of the Red Cross (CICR) has stated that these migrants are living in conditions of “extreme vulnerability” after months spent traversing Latin America and living rough in the temporary camps set up by the US and Mexican governments in both countries. The CICR has also noted that the situation in Haiti is “complicated” and has called on the authorities to “exercise practices that include humanitarian exceptions to protect people.”

“One way to do this,” says Lorena Guzmán, director of the regional CICR delegation for Mexico and Central America, “could be to provide them with immigration documentation to facilitate a legitimate stay in Mexico, minimizing the risks they face and granting them full access to rights on a temporary or permanent basis.”

The majority of people being held on both sides of the border are Haitians fleeing political and economic instability in their country. The poorest nation in the Western hemisphere suffered a devastating earthquake in 2010 that forced an exodus of thousands of people to countries in Latin America. The humanitarian crisis that unfolded over the past decade in the wake of that disaster has recently been exacerbated by the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in June and another earthquake in August, measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale, that left more than 2,000 people dead and thousands injured.

Having left Haiti years ago, these migrants now face one of two choices: either they will be deported by the United States back to the country they fled from or they will be sent back to Tapachula by Mexican authorities. Almost 15,000 Haitian migrants had gathered under the International Bridge that separates Ciudad Acuña and Del Rio, a number that had fallen to fewer than 5,000 by last Friday, according to the US authorities. Many have opted to retrace their steps and cross the Rio Grande once again into the United States, in what will perhaps be their final attempt and the exact reverse of a journey they made just a week ago.

English version by Rob Train.

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