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War in Ukraine: Is the world sinking into a spiral of conflict? | International

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The world is entering a phase of upheaval it hasn’t seen for decades. Russia’s war in Ukraine is one factor exacerbating the polarizing dynamics that were already evident in the tensions between the West and China. On the one hand, Western democracies are closing ranks with their Asian allies, as seen during the recent G7, NATO and EU summits. On the other, Russia and China are trying to join forces while attracting other countries, as indicated by last Thursday’s BRICS summit between its five member states – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

The unusual accumulation of summits within a short space of time has flagged up this polarizing trend that is already having brutal and heartbreaking consequences, and which carries serious risks of further conflict in the near future. In it, the West retains preeminence in practically all areas, but China is gaining ground and Russia has energy and military assets of great strategic scope.

What the summits demonstrate is that the West has a higher level of internal cohesion. Russian aggression has caused NATO members to close ranks, with Sweden and Finland now keen to join. The conflict has also brought Western and Eastern democracies such as Japan and South Korea onto the same page. Meanwhile, despite the overtures of friendship, the relationship between Russia and China still has a limited trajectory, and the final declaration at the BRICS summit exposes the tricky terrain separating the two.

Meanwhile, the cohesion between NATO allies, which accounts for more than half of world military spending, is being shored up by the bond between Western powers and their partners in the Asia-Pacific region. The 29 countries providing military assistance to Ukraine also account for more than half of global military spending. Moreover, given the Russian aggression, several countries in the Western hemisphere are planning consistent increases in military investment over the coming years.


Military spending in the world

Military spending in the world

Military spending in the world

In the field of technology, the US and its democratic allies retain a considerable advantage, thanks to the muscle of so many cutting-edge American companies, giving them a major strategic advantage. In the same vein, coordination between Western countries in the field of intelligence is far more efficient than the looser cooperation between Beijing and Moscow.

Even so, China is rapidly gaining ground both militarily and technologically, due to huge investment and a thriving ecosystem of powerful companies. Europe, on the other hand, is lagging behind in this area, and is seeking to make up the shortfall with plans to strengthen its strategic autonomy.

Within this context, it is worth noting the importance of Taiwan, which has a strong microchip sector, and could well be a point of conflict between the two global powers, with China determined to bring it back into the fold, and the US committed to keeping Taiwan as a democratic territory.


Location of main tech

companies in the world

Based on market capitalization.

Number of businesses

Location of main tech companies

in the world

Based on market capitalization.

Number of businesses

Location of main tech companies in the world

Based on market capitalization. Number of businesses

Although the advantage the Western network has over China and Russia as a whole is clear, it would be a mistake to overestimate it, or to underestimate the potential of its adversaries. The West’s ability to maintain a cohesive and incisive course is being challenged by the very serious repercussions of the war in Ukraine. The foundations of its union are not in question, but its capacity to project a united and strong position is. The unrest exacerbated by both the conflict itself and sanctions against Russia, in terms of price escalation, supply shortages and potential waves of migration, may foster public dissent and threaten the cohesion.

While there is nothing comparable to NATO’s close military alliance, or the EU’s political and economic cooperation, there are a number of key risk factors. For example, China and India have significantly increased their purchase of Russian crude oil. They do so at a discount but, even so, their investment substantially compensates for the blow dealt to the Russian oil industry by Western sanctions, which is of enormous strategic importance.

Energy dominance is the most obvious aspect of the ongoing global reshuffle that goes beyond the disconnect with Russian fossil fuels. The growing distrust of China is prompting not just reflection but action in the West regarding the reorganization of production chains. The strategic aim of liberal democracies is to become less dependent on China’s manufacturing power and acquire greater autonomy. It will be a gradual but far-reaching process.

Even so, it is premature to interpret this as leading to de-globalization. Rather, it looks as though it might be a redesign of our globalization model. The scale of economic and trade ties is enormous and in some respects, these serve to check the polarizing forces.

The export data shows which countries have a special interest in maintaining a global order with a stable trade framework. China and Germany stand out as the two export giants. During its presidency of the EU in the second half of 2020, Germany pushed for the signing of a new agreement with Beijing on investment and trade. The pact, however, has foundered in the subsequent ratifying of the accord.

Awareness of the need to reduce dependence on the Chinese market has been growing in Europe, particularly in the German industrial sector, adding weight to the divergence of the US, which began in the Trump era with a trade war, and continues – with somewhat less animosity, but a similar approach – under the Biden presidency.

Global exports

In trillions of dollars


Some 41% of global trade comes from Asian countries.

Some 41% of global trade comes from Asian countries. China alone accounts for 15% of global exports.

The commercial ties between the world’s two giants run deep. China is the largest import market for the US, and the US is the largest export market for Beijing. But things are changing. Apple – perhaps the biggest symbol of the link between US technology and Chinese manufacturing – is moving production lines to Vietnam, where it will start manufacturing devices such as iPad and AirPods. Many other companies are following suit, though the involvement runs so deep and is so lucrative that the process will necessarily be gradual.


Where the US imports from

Where the US imports from

Where the US imports from

Where the US

imports from

The financial sector is another intertwined element, with China as one of the US Treasury’s main creditors. The different interwoven elements of the relationship between the US and China are of particular importance for reading a world order undergoing metamorphosis. Russia wields a strategic influence and harbors a strong capacity for destabilization due to its nuclear arsenal, energy resources and geographical size, but the future depends largely on what kind of relationship the two true superpowers will maintain, and on the positioning of other key players, such as the EU, India and Russia itself, on the chessboard shaped by the two titans.


Which countries own US debt

Owners of US

sovereign debt

in March 2021

Which countries own US debt

Owners of US

sovereign debt

in March 2021

Which countries own US debt

Owners of US sovereign debt in March 2021

In the financial sector, as well as the military and technology sectors, the US continues to enjoy enormous preeminence thanks to the dollar and its dominant position in global markets. It is by far the most widely used currency in transactions and the one most frequently used for reserves.


Importance of the US dollar

Importance of the US dollar

Importance of the US dollar

The energy sector is another determining factor in the current upheaval. The war in Ukraine has created shockwaves, with the West determined to do without Russian fossil fuels. The EU suffers from a high dependence on Russian fuel, which is causing particular turbulence. The impact on inflation is already high, and Russia seems determined to use this tool aggressively, as evidenced by recent measures to reduce supplies to Germany and Italy, two of its major customers.

The Kremlin probably believes that it can largely offset the losses from these exports by hiking prices and redirecting – especially of the more manageable crude oil – to other Asian customers. It also seems to believe it will be able to manage the suffering of Russian society – subjected to severe repression – better than European governments can manage the increasing pressure from a public anxious about the deteriorating situation, which could lead to a shift in their current foreign policies.


Gas, oil and coal exports in 2020

 

Liquified and via pipeline

Crude and petroleum products

Gas, oil and coal exports in 2020

 

Liquified and via pipeline

Crude and petroleum products

Gas, oil and coal exports in 2020

Liquified and

via pipeline

Crude and

petroleum

products

The severing of energy ties with Russia is indicative of the depth and breadth of the current conflict. This, together with the reconfiguration of supply chains and the tightening of alliances such as the Aukus (Australia, UK, US), indicate that polarizing forces are prevailing.

The main polarizing forces are, of course, seeking to attract more neutral countries into their orbit. Significantly, the BRICS summit invited a dozen countries to attend, including Iran, Indonesia, Algeria and Argentina. The G7, in turn, has invited India, South Africa, Senegal and Argentina, while NATO has invited Asian leaders from countries such as Australia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand for the first time. This is the great 21st century game. And the risk of war is much higher than in previous decades.

Sources: IMF, World Trade Organization, WITS, US Treasury Department, SIPRI, Kiel Institute for the World Economy, International Energy Agency and companiesmarketcap.com.

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Brazilian woman and fake seer con elderly mother out of $142 million | International

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A woman was arrested on August 10 by Rio de Janeiro police who charged her with conning her mother out of millions. In a strange story of greed abetted by fake psychics, Sabine Boghici and her accomplices stole more than $142 million in money, jewelry and artwork from Boghici’s mother over a two-year period.

Geneviève Boghici, the widow of a major art collector and dealer named Jean Boghici, was walking out of a bank in January 2020 near the famous Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) when she was approached by a supposed psychic prophesying her daughter’s imminent death unless she underwent “spiritual therapy.” They walked together to Boghici’s apartment, where the psychic threw some shells in a mystical ritual that confirmed the tragic prophesy. The 82-year-old victim knew that her daughter suffered from psychological problems, and her affinity for the supernatural swayed her to transfer $980,000 to the swindlers.

Soon after the two-year con began, the elderly woman became suspicious and halted the money transfers when her daughter started to isolate her from friends. Sabine would not allow her mother to use the phone and dismissed all the domestic workers, justifying them as Covid-19 precautions. Yet Sabine and her cronies entered freely to loot her mother’s home of its valuables. Several psychics took items from the home, saying they were “cursed” and needed to be “prayed over.” The increasingly suspicious Geneviève tried to resist, but Sabine began threatening her life. According to the police, she wouldn’t allow her mother to eat and put a knife to her throat.

Police recover 'Sol Poente' by Brazilian painter, Tarsila do Amaral.
Police recover ‘Sol Poente’ by Brazilian painter, Tarsila do Amaral.Policia Civil de Rio de Janeiro (EFE)

The victim told the police that her daughter had some sort of relationship with one of the supposed psychics, Rosa Stanesco Nicolau, who practiced her trade in Rio de Janeiro as “Mãe Valéria de Oxossi” (Mother Valeria), and was a known con artist. Starting in September 2020, under constant threat from her daughter and accomplices, the elderly woman made another 38 bank transfers to the thieves.

Sabine and her cohorts stole 16 paintings and sculptures, and sold them all to art galleries or private buyers. Two of these works – Elevador Social (Social Elevator) by Rubens Gerchman, and Maquete para o menú espelho (A model for my mirror) by Antonio Dias – were bought by Eduardo Costantini, owner of the Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires (Argentina), for his private collection. The São Paulo (Brazil) gallery owner who brokered the deal said he was not suspicious because he had known the family for a long time and the seller was the daughter of the deceased art collector. Constantini released a statement saying that he bought the paintings in good faith and was in direct contact with Genevieve Boghici.

In 2012, a fire in the Boghici’s Copacabana apartment destroyed part of their valuable collection, including Di Cavalcanti’s Samba and Alberto Guignard’s A Floresta (The Forest). Sol Poniente (Setting Sun), painted by Tarsila do Amaral in 1929, is one of the most valuable works in the Boghici collection ($49 million). It survived the 2012 fire but not the rampant greed of their daughter. The stolen painting was found under a bed by police, who arrested Sabine and three other people, including the fake seer. In a final twist to the whole bizarre story, the scamming psychic was apprehended trying to escape through a window.

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India’s HIV patients say shortages leaving hundreds of thousands without drugs | Global development

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Hundreds of thousands of people living with HIV in India are struggling to access treatment because of a shortage of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, according to campaigners.

Up to 500,000 people have not been able to get hold of free ARVs from government health centres and hospitals over the past five months, they say, as the country experiences stock shortages of key drugs.

ARVs that are available in privately run pharmacies and shops can be prohibitively expensive. Some people have been given alternative drugs, but others have stopped taking any medication.

“Does the government even realise that at least 500,000, or one-third of the patients, are affected by this? Some adults are being given 11 doses of paediatric medicine to compensate,” said Loon Gangte, president of the Delhi Network of Positive People (DNP+), an NGO that works to improve the treatment and facilities for people living with HIV and Aids. “We only demand an uninterrupted monthly supply. This treatment is our right.”

According to Gangte, who has been protesting with about 30 others outside India’s National Aids Control Organisation (Naco) in Delhi for 22 days, at least 12 other states, including Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab, are facing ARV shortages. He said several state governments have asked patients to change their longstanding drug regimes.

“The [Covid-19] pandemic had already broken our backs. Now this shortage is pushing us further into penury,” Gangte said.

Kedar Nath, a 30-year-old street vendor taking part in the protest, said he has not taken his ARVs on several occasions over the past two months. He cannot afford the £50 a month it would cost to buy the drugs on the open market.

“I have been taking these drugs for the last 13 years. They have helped me continue with my life despite the virus in my body. But the recent shortage has turned my life upside down since I can neither find the strength to work, nor have any savings to live off,” he said.

According to government figures, 2.35 million people in India are HIV-positive. About 1.5 million people are on antiretroviral therapy, far lower than the World Health Organization’s “90-90-90 target” – under which 90% of people with HIV are diagnosed, 90% are on ARV treatment, and 90% are no longer infectious.

India says it aims to end the HIV epidemic by 2030. In 2019, an estimated 58,900 Aids-related deaths were reported in the country.

The government has refuted Gangte’s claims of a shortage. The Indian health ministry said it had “reviewed the entire situation and held a series of meetings with the protesters. ARV drugs are being provided for [a] duration of less than one month, but at no point in time has there been any shortage of drugs for any of the PLHIV [patients living with HIV]. There is adequate stock nationally for 95% PLHIV.”

Naco did not wish to comment. However, in a letter seen by the Guardian that was dated 30 May, Naco asked all state Aids prevention and control societies, which oversee HIV testing and treatment in each state, to switch to other regimes “to tide through the crisis situation as an interim arrangement”.

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J&J Stops Global Sales of Scandalous Talc-Based Powder After 130 Years

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Once one of its top products for families, J&J’s talc-based powder has been haunted by claims of causing cancer in recent years even as the company consistently denied what it has called rumors and “misinformation”.

Johnson & Johnson has announced it will be ceasing the sales of its talc-based powder, two years after stopping them in the US and Canada, after keeping it in its product line for 130 years. The company will be replacing the product with a cornstarch-based powder.

“As part of a worldwide portfolio assessment, we have made the commercial decision to transition to an all cornstarch-based baby powder portfolio,” the company’s statement said.

The J&J talc-based powder has been at the epicenter of several lawsuits claiming it caused ovarian cancer due to the presence of a known cancer-causing material – asbestos. However, the company has repeatedly denied these allegations, despite losing $3.5 billion in these lawsuits.

As the firm announced the retirement of the talc-based powder, it once again repeated its long-held position on the controversial product’s safety.

“Our position on the safety of our cosmetic talc remains unchanged. We stand firmly behind the decades of independent scientific analysis by medical experts around the world that confirms talc-based Johnson’s baby powder is safe, does not contain asbestos, and does not cause cancer,” the statement said.

Apart from losing a number of lawsuits, J&J faced tough questions following a 2018 Reuters investigation, which claimed the company knew about the asbestos contamination since at least 1971 but failed to act on it. As the veins of asbestos are often found in talc deposits, the extracted talc used to make the powder can be contaminated with the cancer-causing mineral.

A view of the Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. January 19, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 01.06.2021

Pay Up: Supreme Court Rejects J&J’s Request to Appeal $2 Bln Verdict in Talc Cancer Case
Despite continuing to maintain its innocence, J&J stopped selling talc-based powder in the US and Canada in 2020, citing the harm done to the sales by the “misinformation” about its safety. However, the company continued to distribute it around the world alongside the cornstarch-based alternative, which will now completely substitute it.



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