When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

Pandemic To Putin, Rise Of The "Independence Obsession"

First, the COVID-19 crisis, and now the need to respond to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, are forcing countries to confront the risks of global interdependence. In its place comes a rush to establish national autonomy for crucial resources, from masks to oil and gas. But at what price?

Pandemic To Putin, Rise Of The "Independence Obsession"

Wheat prices in Iraq have surged after the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Jean-Marc Vittori


PARISRussian troops aren't only ravaging Ukraine. They're setting off shock waves that will change history. And it turns out, those waves are pushing us in the same direction that COVID-19 did: the fragmentation of the world.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

Because when facing the assault of a virus or an army, nation-states are forced to take control.

National leaders move quickly to weaken the enemy and protect populations. But it all happens at the expense of openness, which had been well-established as a priority since the end of World War II, reinforced since the fall of the Iron Curtain and recalled as a necessity during the financial crisis of 2008.

It's a major break, and French President Emmanuel Macron is one of the clearest signs of the shift. In the wake of the attack launched by Moscow, he explained that “we will have to promote a new economic model based on independence.”

The word “independence” had been mostly absent from Macron's daily vocabulary until now, but he used it six times in his recent address to the nation — and again, the next day in the letter in which he formally announced his candidacy for reelection next month.

But this goes well beyond just election posturing, as independence has become an obsession again for world leaders.

The public health crisis of 2020 prompted countries to chase after medicines and masks, discovering with astonishment that these essential products to fight the virus were no longer manufactured at home. Many countries have since even banned the export of these products. The same scenes and the same reactions were seen when the vaccines were launched.

Russia and Ukraine together account for one-third of the world wheat exports

Since then, a fundamental reflection has been undertaken on relocating production and supply chains deemed vital. The European Union's massive COVID-19 recovery plan includes a series of measures aimed at strengthening the continent's autonomy. For medical products, but also microchips and automotive batteries.

Food autonomy

The war waged by Russia in Ukraine will push this quest for independence much further.

First, because war itself has major effects on two essential resources: food and energy. Russia and Ukraine together account for one-third of the world wheat exports. However, the ports through which these sales transition are now blocked by the conflict. The price of wheat suddenly spiked.

All the affected countries will therefore give serious thought to their food self-sufficiency. Some don't have much choice, like Egypt, which buys more than half of its consumption and whose territory is made of 96% desert. Others have more options.

Russia is also the world's second largest oil exporter and supplies nearly half of its gas to Europe. Disruption of these supplies have major effects on the global economy. If it is deprived of Russian gas, “the European Union will need to influence demand,” say researchers from the Bruegel Institute in a note.

Like the oil shock of 1973, the war in Ukraine will push energy-consuming countries to explore alternatives to become less dependent. Half a century ago, this was the starting point of nuclear power. This time, the acceleration will also focus on renewable energies — and frugality.

Russia supplies nearly half of its gas to Europe

Gazprom/Russian Look/ZUMA

Sanctions on money

But the biggest move arrived the other way around. It comes from the sanctions imposed on Russia by Europe, the United States and other countries. Without even mentioning the stakes, these sanctions of an unprecedented scale focus on a third major resource: money.

Excluded from the Swift financial messaging, Russian banks can no longer work internationally. Russian consumers can no longer use their Apple Pay and Google Pay cards. The search engine has also decided to freeze the comments on its geographical maps, which would have been diverted for military purposes.

Another major resource could also be affected: information. Bill Foster, a Democrat congressman, proposes that American Internet providers block traffic with Russia. The Ukrainian government has even asked the Icann, the organization managing Internet domain names, to eject Russia from it – a request rejected by Icann in the name of its neutrality.

In the name of independence, countries will identify their weak points and eliminate the most dangerous ones

But the message is clear. In this digital age, a country can block the circulation of money and information in another country. It is a major threat. The world's most powerful countries will therefore do everything to counter it.

Skimming financial systems

Russia had already begun its quest for financial independence after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. The Visa and MasterCard networks having then withdrawn from Russia, Moscow launched Mir, a Russian payment card system. China has also developed its own, UnionPay… which has just been connected to Mir following a new suspension of Visa and MasterCard in Russia.

After the very firm measures taken by Europe and America in the past few days, all countries — starting by China — that have the means will skim through all their digital and financial systems. In the name of independence, they will identify their weak points and eliminate the most dangerous ones, those through which foreign countries can operate leverage.

The pandemic forced countries to isolate themselves. The war Russia wages in Ukraine and the retaliation measures it has generated will amplify this effect. Each time, it strikes with the power of a cluster bomb.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


The Problem With Always Blaming Climate Change For Natural Disasters

Climate change is real, but a closer look at the science shows there are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters. It is important to raise awareness about the long-term impact of global warming, but there's a risk in overstating its role in the latest floods or fires.

People on foot, on bikes, motorcycles, scooters and cars navigate through a flooded street during the day time.

Karachi - People wade through flood water after heavy rain in a southern Pakistani city

Xinhua / ZUMA
Axel Bojanowski


BERLIN — In September, thousands of people lost their lives when dams collapsed during flooding in Libya. Engineers had warned that the dams were structurally unsound.

Two years ago, dozens died in floods in western Germany, a region that had experienced a number of similar floods in earlier centuries, where thousands of houses had been built on the natural floodplain.

Last year saw more than 1,000 people lose their lives during monsoon floods in Pakistan. Studies showed that the impact of flooding in the region was exacerbated by the proximity of human settlements, the outdated river management system, high poverty rates and political instability in Pakistan.

There are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters, but one dominates the headlines: climate change. That is because of so-called attribution studies, which are published very quickly after these disasters to highlight how human-caused climate change contributes to extreme weather events. After the flooding in Libya, German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung described climate change as a “serial offender," while the Tageszeitung wrote that “the climate crisis has exacerbated the extreme rainfall."

The World Weather Attribution initiative (WWA) has once again achieved its aim of using “real-time analysis” to draw attention to the issue: on its website, the institute says its goal is to “analyse and communicate the possible influence of climate change on extreme weather events." Frederike Otto, who works on attribution studies for the WWA, says these reports help to underscore the urgent need for climate action. They transform climate change from an “abstract threat into a concrete one."

In the immediate aftermath of a weather-related disaster, teams of researchers rush to put together attribution studies – “so that they are ready within the same news cycle," as the New York Times reported. However, these attribution studies do not meet normal scientific standards, as they are published without going through the peer-review process that would be undertaken before publication in a specialist scientific journal. And that creates problems.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest