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Welcome to Monday, where Russia launches pre-dawn air raids across Ukraine, JPMorgan buys failing First Republic Bank and Russian and Chinese grandmasters battle to be the new world chess champion. We also feature a piece from Russian-language media Vazhnyye Istorii that explains why you can still buy a Coca-Cola in Moscow.
Why Lula Is Doubling Down On His Ambiguous Stance On Russia And China
Though he campaigned for his return to the Brazilian presidency as a pro-Western reformer, since coming into office Lula da Silva has reverted to the classic positioning of a 20th century Latin American leftist, writes Marcelo Cantelmi in Buenos Aires daily Clarin.
One hundred days into his third presidential term, Brazil's Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has made the war in distant Ukraine into his government's cause célèbre. Observers like The Economist are wondering if this is because of diplomacy or naivety — or both.
Why, one wonders, has Brazil's socialist president waded into the Ukrainian quagmire, inclining toward the Russian version of events? Lula says he is restoring Brazil to its proper place in world affairs, which it enjoyed 20 years ago in his first two terms. Nostalgia — or a glamorizing vision of those days — is perhaps blinding him to the pitfalls of today. Domestic challenges could soon make him even less perceptive.
Lula was elected over his right-wing predecessor Jair Bolsonaro by a tiny margin, as shown by the fact that he lacks a parliamentary majority and works with a center-right cabinet. He can be said to have been chosen simply as a less radical option, as the middle class tired of Bolsonaro's antics, fanaticism and misogyny. While campaigning, Lula seemed to have understood that Brazilians did not want a 20th-century-style, leftist leader.
Perhaps he feels uncomfortable in this middle ground and the war in Ukraine is to be used as another galvanizing cause for the Left. It's a questionable shift back to the past and likely strongly influenced by Lula's adviser Celso Amorim, a former foreign minister. The regional Left has decided to see events in Ukraine as part of a wider, U.S. assault on Russia, the successor state to the feared — or yearned-for - Soviet Union.
Yet Lula's bigger interest is China, as his domestic concerns are now chiefly economic. Brazilian officials have duly noted the United States' irritation with this diplomatic shift, but believe America should put its money where its mouth is. While Lula's recent trip to China led to $U.S. 10 billion's worth of investment commitments, his meeting with U.S. President Biden (last February) yielded nothing specific. Worse are warnings of an imminent departure of U.S. investments from Brazil (such as carmakers Ford).
Diplomatic sources told me Lula wants to turn the investment promises into a full-blown economic alliance with communist China. This part one can understand, but not the clumsiness over Ukraine. Is it a diplomatic price he has been asked to pay? At the close of his trip to Beijing, Lula said Russia and Ukraine were equally to blame for the war: that sounds like confusing attacker with victim.
If it isn't clumsiness it must be cynicism, shown before his reelection, when he told Time magazine that Ukraine's Zelensky wanted war, or he would have negotiated "a bit more" before it erupted. Negotiated?! Again, Lula is seeing classical warfare where there was an invasion.
And since that invasion, Russia has reduced parts of Ukraine to rubble, murdered civilians, and flattened their homes, hospitals and schools, all to show that it has a "right" to be heeded in all the former territories of the Soviet Union. This isn't Vietnam or the Korean peninsula, and most of the world is with Ukraine.
By galumphing his way into this affair, Lula (not unlike Bolsonaro) has hurt Brazil's standing abroad as a bastion of rights, alienating the Europeans who cheered his return. He made things worse criticizing Western powers for arming Ukraine. Was he oblivious to, or cynically mindful of, the fact that Russia would have won by now without those arms?
Days ago in March, Amorim spoke to the U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan to try and dispel any "misunderstandings," and assure him Brazil did not share China's vision of the war.
The White House had high hopes when Lula arrived, after the frosty ties it had had with his predecessor, again in part because of his cordial ties with Russia's Vladimir Putin. Biden hastened to congratulate Lula on his election, effectively dismissing Bolsonaro's claims of fraud.
He was invited to visit Washington, which he did after taking office in January. Both states were concerned with the degradation of democracy in the hemisphere, and the United States was keen to find an ally to block China's, and to some extent Russia's, advance into the region. All this is spoiled now.
Brazil's ties with China are unstoppable. Like Argentina, Brazilian telecommunications, and millions of household and consumer goods, will run on Huawei's 5G mobile technology. There may be a bigger clash looming over Lula's ties with Russia.
The president wants to buy nuclear fuel there for the reactor powering its nuclear submarine, due to be operational within a decade, and may also entrust Russia's Rosatom with finishing the Angra 3 plant.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed these plans, and Ukraine, with Brazil's foreign minister and Lula himself on April 24. The West found these discussions jarring.
— Marcelo Cantelmi / Clarín
• Russia launches series of missile attacks on Ukraine: At least 34 people were injured and many buildings were damaged in the Ukrainian city of Pavlohrad as Russia launched its second pre-dawn attack in three days. The targeting of a weapons depot in the eastern city appeared to be an effort to slow Kyiv’s preparations for a major counteroffensive that may begin very shortly.
• JPMorgan Chase buys First Republic Bank’s assets: JPMorgan Chase announced the buy-out of most of First Republic Bank’s assets, making it the third major U.S. bank to fail in two months. The failing bank’s lender’s shares had fallen by more than 75% last week after customers withdrew $100 billion in March, following the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank.
• Conservative party wins Paraguay elections: Paraguay’s conservative Colorado Party won the presidential election garnering 42% of the vote, 14% ahead of its closest rival, tightening its grip on the country as the dominant political party. New President Santiago Pena called for “unity” in his victory speech as the country struggles with high levels of poverty and corruption.
• ISIS leader killed in Syria, Erdogan says: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Sunday that his country’s intelligence forces had killed the suspected leader of ISIS in Syria. Turkish intelligence had been monitoring Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurashi for a long time before launching the operation. The raid was conducted in the northern area of Jindires in an abandoned farm used as an Islamic school.
• UN sends Emergency Relief chief to Sudan: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced that the organization’s Emergency Relief chief Martin Griffiths was being sent to Sudan, where the humanitarian situation has reached a “breaking point,” especially in the capital of Khartoum. The widely-breached ceasefire has been extended for a further 72 hours to allow humanitarian aid as organizations struggle with massive looting of their offices and warehouses. More than 500 people have been killed and thousands have been trying to flee the country since the fights started on April 15.
• New documents reveal Jeffrey Epstein met with CIA director:The Wall Street Journal has published meeting schedules of late child sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, which included apparent connections with prominent and powerful figures. The newspaper showed that Epstein appeared to have several meetings with now CIA director Williams Burns, Goldman Sachs’ top lawyer and ex-White House counsel Kathrym Ruemmler and author and activist Noam Chomsky. The purpose of the meetings are unknown and the people involved maintain that their connections to the billionaire sex offender were social or professional.
• China’s first male world chess champion defeats Russian opponent: Ding Liren, 30, became the 17th winner of the World Chess Championship by defeating Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi in a rapid tiebreaker. China’s General Administration of Sport praised Ding for “winning glory for the motherland and its people.” China has been a growing chess power, with women dominating the tournaments since the 1990s, but no Chinese player had ever won the male World Chess Championship.
With a striking photograph of a corpse of a would-be migrant in the Mediterranean, Spanish daily El País, devotes its front page to a report on how maritime rescue organizations must operate amid criminalization and rules that prevent more lives of migrants being saved at sea.
Japan’s Astellas Pharma has agreed to buy U.S. pharmaceutical company Iveric Bio for $5.9 billion in its fifth major overseas deal. The New-Jersey based company specializes in treatment for retinal diseases, a perfect match for Astellas Pharma, which focuses on blindness and regeneration therapy in a country that has one of the world’s fastest aging population.
Tricks for dodging sanctions — or, why you can still buy a coca-cola in Moscow
Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia has found ways to acquire and replace the goods of companies which have left Russia or been prohibited by sanctions. They may be available in smaller quantities for higher prices, but consumers can still get almost everything they want, writes Vazhnyye Istorii:
📦 After many companies refused to work with Russia, the Ministry of Industry and Trade compiled a list of products allowed for parallel import — that is, import into Russia without the permission of the brand owner. As a result, if desired, almost any product of these companies can be found on sale in marketplaces and in niche stores, but not in the largest chains.
🥤Pepsi or Coca-Cola can still be obtained, although not in large supermarkets, but rather in subway shops and small tobacco shops. After Feb. 2022, both American corporations stopped selling their brands to Russia, and Russia was forced to replace them with local substitutes. Still, American Cola and Pepsi products weasel their way into Russia through parallel imports.
🇺🇸 🇪🇺 Hundreds of companies are now engaged in parallel imports to Russia. The vast majority are small businesses or even individual entrepreneurs. It is the abundance of small intermediaries that means American and European attempts to stop the import of sanctioned goods to Russia end in one thing: a rise in the prices of such goods, but not a cessation of their import.
➡️ Watch the video: THIS HAPPENED
“There’s a mission that’s not public that’s underway; when it’s public I’ll talk about it.”
— Pope Francis revealed that a secret peace mission was underway to end Russia’s war in Ukraine. He gave no details but said the Vatican was willing to help facilitate the return of Ukrainian children taken to Russia during the war. “I’m available to do anything,” Francis said during an airborne press conference en route home from his papal voyage to Hungary.
The aftermath of destruction in the Ukrainian city of Pavlohrad as Russia launched its second pre-dawn attack. At least 34 people were injured and many buildings were damaged. The attacks came three days after Russia killed 23 civilians with a missile that hit a high-rise apartment building in the city of Uman. — Photo: Serhiy Lysak / Telegram
• Are Humans Inherently Evil? History Says No — CLARÍN
• Gabon Says It's Time For Rich Polluters To Pay Up — FINANCIAL AFRIK• With Italy's Right In Power, A Hard Shift In The Political Lexicon — INTERNAZIONALE
✍️ Newsletter by Chloé Touchard and Emma Albright
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