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In The News

Ceasefire Talks Fail, Maternity Bombing Toll, New S. Korean President

Ukrainian soldiers are bidding farewell to their loved ones at a train station in Lviv

Bidding farewell before joining the front

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Bertrand Hauger and Laure Gautherin

👋 Bok!*

Welcome to Thursday, where Ukrainian & Russian foreign ministers fail to reach a cease-fire agreement, at least three die in bombing of a maternity ward in Mariupol and South Korea’s opposition candidate wins an extremely close presidential election. Also, as the West bans Russian composers, artists and writers, Christian Meier in Die Welt, asks whether targeting culture is the right move in times of war.



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? asks Jean-Marc Vittori in French business daily Les Echos.

Russian 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 with 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.

Jean-Marc Vittori / Les Echos


• No agreement reached during Russia and Ukraine foreign ministers meeting: No agreement on a 24-hour ceasefire was reached as Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytryo Kuleba and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov meet today in Antalya, Turkey. It is the highest level talks since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began two weeks ago. Meanwhile, the 27 European Union heads of state and government are meeting at the Versailles palace in France to discuss the bloc’s response to the invasion and its self-reliance as energy prices skyrocket.

• Maternity ward bombed in Mariupol, new attempt to evacuate civilians: At least three people, including a child, were killed, and 17 were injured when Russian forces bombed a maternity hospital in the besieged city of Mariupol in southern Ukraine. President Volodymyr Zelensky called the attack a war crime. Ukraine hopes to evacuate civilians from the city after several attempts to establish a humanitarian corridor have failed, as more than 400,000 people there have been without water or power for over a week. Other such corridors are being opened in several parts of the country, after 35,000 people were successfully evacuated on Wednesday.

• UK sanctions seven oligarchs, including Chelsea owner Abramovich: The UK government has announced fresh sanctions against seven oligarchs and politicians, including Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich, and fellow billionaires Igor Sechin and Oleg Deripaska.

• Conservative Yoon Suk-yeol elected South Korea president: Yoon Suk-yeol, a conservative former prosecutor, won the most closely fought presidential election in recent South Korean history, with the opposition candidate and the ruling Democratic Party’s Lee Jae-myung separated by less than 1%.

• Patient who received genetically modified pig heart dies: David Bennett, who had become the first person in the world to get a heart transplant from a genetically-modified pig, has died two months after the surgery in the U.S.

Black Panther director mistaken for bank robber: A police report has revealed that Ryan Coogler, the director of hit superhero movie Black Panther, was briefly arrested when he was mistaken for a bank robber after trying to withdraw $12,000 from his own account in Atlanta.

• New rainbow-colored fish species discovered in Maldives: In the depths of the ocean surrounding the Maldives, scientists have found a new fish species which was named Cirrhilabrus finifenmaa, after the word “finifenmaa” meaning rose in the local Dhivehi language — a tribute to the fish’s pink hues and the island’s national flower.


Spanish daily El Pais devotes its front page to the attack on a maternity hospital by Russian strikes in the besieged southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which left at least three people dead and 17 injured. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the West to impose tougher sanctions on Russia, so it has “no longer any possibility to continue this genocide.”


2 billion

In an attempt to reduce mosquito-borne diseases, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved the release of 2 billion genetically-modified mosquitoes. Engineered by biotech company Oxitec, the insects that carry daughter-killing genes that get passed from generation to generation could soon be buzzing around in California and Florida.


Cancel Russia? The risk of targeting culture in times of war

From Tolstoy and the Bolshoi Ballet to Russia Today, the West is banishing Russian composers, artists and media. But is banishment of culture the right move in times of war? asks Christian Meier in German daily Die Welt.

🎻🩰 Almost the entire cultural sector seems to be scrutinizing itself, asking what links orchestras, museums or institutions have to Russia, whether they need to cut ties with them and how they can justify these decisions. One of the most prominent cases is the firing of Valery Gergiev, the former chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. The city’s mayor, Dieter Reiter, demanded that the conductor, who has links to Putin, speak out publicly against the Russian president.

❓ However, the question remains of how much good these public ultimatums do. Firstly, we must ask what is gained by pressuring someone into distancing themselves from Putin: forced public retractions or criticisms are of course a favorite tactic of authoritarian regimes and hardly constitute true loyalty. Where do we draw the line? Should culture be made to serve the same purposes as politics and the economy?

❌ The Bolshoi Ballet performed in the West even during the Cold War, but for now it would be unthinkable. It is likely that this ostracizing of Russian culture will last as long as the war continues, but its effects could be felt for far longer. Even once the military conflict is over, however it is resolved, it will remain unclear how to re-establish relations with Russia and under what conditions. It is Putin’s act of aggression that has led to these ties being cut — but it is wider Russian culture that may go into indefinite quarantine.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


"There are few things more depraved than targeting the vulnerable and defenceless."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson reacted to the deadly Russian strike on a maternity and children's hospital in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, taking to Twitter to reiterate that the UK “will hold Putin to account for his terrible crimes” and ending with the hashtag #PutinMustFail.


Ukrainian soldiers are bidding farewell to their loved ones at a train station in Lviv

Ukrainian soldiers are bidding farewell to their loved ones at a train station in Lviv before heading east to the front. According to U.S. official data between 2,000 and 4,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed since the beginning of the Russian war. — Photo: Carol Guzy/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Bertrand Hauger and Laure Gautherin

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The Pope's Bronchitis Can't Hide What Truly Ails The Church — Or Whispers Of Succession

It is not only the health of the Pope that worries the Holy See. From the collapse of vocations to the conservative wind in the USA, there are many ills to face.

 Pope Francis reaches over to tough the hands of devotees during his  General Audience at the Vatican.​

November 29, 2023: Pope Francis during his wednesday General Audience at the Vatican.

Evandro Inetti/ZUMA
Gianluigi Nuzzi

ROME — "How am I? I'm fine... I'm still alive, you know? See, I'm not dead!"

With a dose of irony and sarcasm, Pope Francis addressed those who'd paid him a visit this past week as he battled a new lung inflammation, and the antibiotic cycles and extra rest he still must stick with on strict doctors' orders.

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The Pope is dealing with a sensitive respiratory system; the distressed tracheo-bronchial tree can cause asthmatic reactions, with the breathlessness in his speech being the most obvious symptom. Tired eyes and dark circles mark his swollen face. A sense of unease and bewilderment pervades and only diminishes when the doctors restate their optimism about his general state of wellness.

"The pope's ailments? Nothing compared to the health of the Church," quips a priest very close to the Holy Father. "The Church is much worse off, marked by chronic ailments and seasonal illnesses."

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