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Bethany Wright

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photo of a protest and people carrying Russian flags
Economy

Europe's Winter Energy Crisis Has Already Begun

In the face of Russia's stranglehold over supplies, the European Commission has proposed support packages and price caps. But across Europe, fears about the cost of living are spreading — and with it, doubts about support for Ukraine.

-Analysis-

In her State of the Union address on September 14, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, issued an urgent appeal for solidarity between EU member states in tackling the energy crisis, and towards Ukraine. Von der Leyen need only look out her window to see that tensions are growing in capital cities across Europe due to the sharp rise in energy prices.

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In the Czech Republic, people are already taking to the streets, while opposition politicians elsewhere are looking to score points — and some countries' support for Ukraine may start to buckle.

With winter approaching, Europe is facing a true test of both its mettle, and imagination.

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Sofia, Bulgaria
Geopolitics

Bulgaria And Hungary: Risks Of A Pro-Russian Alliance Inside The EU

Bulgaria had sworn off Russian gas imports, but then its government collapsed. Now pro-Russian politicians are in power, which for the European Union means there is much more at stake than just energy supply.

The letter Z, a symbol of support for Putin’s war in Ukraine, has appeared on Bulgarian government buildings in Sofia. Last week, demonstrators fixed a Z in black tape to the entrance of the Ministry of Energy’s headquarters.

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They were protesting their government’s announcement that it would reopen negotiations with Russia about importing gas – although Bulgaria had declared public support for Kyiv and subsequently stopped all Russian imports. “Putin’s gas is a trap,” one of the placards reads.

These scenes have been growing more common in the Bulgarian capital since the reformist government led by Prime Minister Kiril Petkov was ousted last month in a no-confidence vote. Petkov had pledged to tackle corruption and taken a strong stance against Russia's invasion. But his coalition government fell after just seven months in office when an ally quit.

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A protester shows his support for the Uyghur community.
Turkey

On China's Leash: Why Erdogan Stays Silent On Muslim Uyghurs

Turkey is home to the largest Uyghur diaspora in the world. The Muslim minority group, which is persecuted in China, sees the Turks as “cousins”. But as the country’s economy grows increasingly dependent on Beijing, Erdogan is holding his tongue about human rights abuses — and he is not alone.

ISTANBUL — Omer Faruk is a serious-looking man. He stands very straight and speaks clearly. The 32-year-old Uyghur has laid out photos in front of him – his mother in her wheelchair and baby pictures of two of his daughters.

For a few years now, Faruk has run his own bookshop for Uyghur literature in Istanbul. In 2016, along with his wife and two older children, he fled oppression and violence in the Chinese region of Xinjiang.

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Climate protest Berlin
Green

Why Young People Are Now Nuclear Power's Most Potent Supporters

As the youngest generations worry about the effects of climate change on their lives, some are turning to nuclear power as a "cleaner" source of energy — marking a significant shift from the previous generation of anti-nuclear environmentalists.

BERLIN — The names Chernobyl and Fukushima still have the power to stir up fear and unease in many people. But although nuclear power stations look set to be consigned to the history books in Germany, the current energy crisis has reignited the debate around them. Even some Green Party politicians are now calling for nuclear power plants to remain operational, at least temporarily.

The younger generation is interested in nuclear power, especially in its potential to be used as a bridging technology.

Although there has not been much research into this change in attitudes, the representative study “Young Europe 2022”, which surveyed people from seven European countries, found that 42% of 16- to 26-year-olds in Germany were in favor of using nuclear power plants as a bridging technology to help us reach climate goals.

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​Workers repair air conditioning in Singapore
Green Or Gone

A/C And Global Warming: A Northern Call To Embrace Air Conditioning

Misguided arguments about air conditioning's environmental impact are stopping people from installing systems in homes and offices. But in the age of solar power, there's no need to stew in your own sweat "for the sake of the planet."

-Analysis-

BERLIN — The maps on TV weather reports were a glowing swathe of red. As the summer heatwave took hold in Germany, the country experienced record temperatures, with the mercury rising to over 35 °C in many places.

Every year, this time sees a fall in unemployment rates and a rise in heat-related deaths. But why do we take it for granted that the fierce heat outside must be reflected indoors?

In winter we have no problem with turning the heating on to keep our homes warm. In summer, there is also a simple technological solution – air conditioning. It costs relatively little, can be easily installed and creates a comfortable indoor temperature at the click of a button. It comes as standard in cars, but is rare in offices and homes in Germany. Only 3% of all homes in the country have air conditioning, whereas in the U.S. it is around 90%.

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How Putin Played The Africa Card Just Right
Geopolitics

How Putin Played The Africa Card Just Right

African countries have mostly stayed quiet on the war in Ukraine. And with good reason. Western influence is diminishing on the continent, and Russian President Vladimir Putin knows how to push the right buttons of African autocrats.

-Analysis-

On his return from a visit to Russia in June, Senegalese President Macky Sall made a momentous statement. He declared that most African countries have avoided condemning Russia, “despite enormous pressure.” His pride in this stance was obvious, and his words confirmed a suspicion that political leaders across Europe and in the U.S. have long held about African attitudes towards the West.

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In March and April, when the United Nations was voting on which sanctions to impose on Russia in response to its attack on Ukraine, around half of the African countries abstained. Many did not even attend the vote. Sall also repeated Moscow’s misleading claims that the sudden shortage of wheat and fertilizer across the Global South was not caused by the war in Ukraine, but by Western sanctions. In fact, the West had not restricted the trade of these products.

Sall was not only speaking for his own country, Senegal. As current Chairperson of the African Union – which recently turned down Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s request to address them via video link – he represents the entire continent of Africa.

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Russian pharmacy advertisement in Baden-Baden, Germany​
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Baden-Baden Postcard: Haven For Wealthy Russians Reduced To Tourist Ghost Town

For 200 years, the Black Forest spa town of Baden-Baden has been the destination of choice for Russian tourists, with oligarchs shopping in the luxury boutiques and buying up swathes of property. Now Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has changed all that and the town's once-bustling streets are empty.

BADEN-BADEN — Some idiot hung a bag of cartridges on the door of the hotel, receptionist Juri tells us. He says it happened one night towards the end of February, shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine. “It had live ammunition in it,” he adds, shaking his head as though he can hardly believe it.

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The perpetrator must have had insider knowledge of the hotel world because who else would know that a nondescript three-star hotel in the center of Baden-Baden, a popular tourist destination in southwest Germany, was owned by a Russian family? That is why Juri does not want us to use his full name here or that of the hotel.

When Russia invaded Ukraine five months ago, the “most Russian town in Germany” felt the impact straightaway. The spa took down its Russian flag, and the town hall started flying a Ukrainian one.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin with his Iranian counterpart​ Ebrahim Raisi
Geopolitics

Reality Check For The West: Putin Is Neither Weak, Nor Isolated

An effective foreign policy means facing the truth with clear eyes: Ukraine cannot defeat Russia, a country with ten times its firepower. What's more, economic sanctions cannot bring down Vladimir Putin. The West only has one option left.

-Analysis-

BERLIN — Let’s get one thing out of the way from the start: the West had no alternative to the policies it adopted towards Russia after the invasion of Ukraine. If the United States and Europe had not used every economic and diplomatic weapon available to them — only stopping short of being drawn into the conflict themselves — Vladimir Putin would have taken such an apathetic response as a sign of weakness. He would have seen it as an invitation to expand his ambitions even further west.

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Germany has an important role to play in the alliances between Western countries. If it had broken ranks and tried to position itself as a mediator between East and West, refusing to supply Ukraine with weapons, that would have had damaging consequences for years to come. Europe would have been confronted once again by a new "German question" and by all the consequent mistrust.

The art of determining foreign policy involves weighing up possibilities and considering subtle differences, constantly asking what would be in a country’s own best interest. Anyone who has given the matter serious thought will conclude that the West’s decisions so far have been correct. They would still be correct if Moscow decided to cut off the continent’s entire gas supply. Germany has survived far worse crises in its history.

Effective foreign policy also means shedding as many illusions as possible. In times of crisis, we are surrounded by comforting myths and it is incredibly tempting to believe them. In Germany, this is making people reluctant to face facts, leading them to adopt a narrow perspective and cling to a misguidedly optimistic view of how easily the war and crisis might be resolved.

We must shake off three dangerous illusions: (1.) Western sanctions will force Russia to back down; (2.) Moscow is isolated from the rest of the world; and (3.) Kyiv will emerge victorious.

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Jewish woman praying in Israel
Society

For Orthodox Jewish Women, Cinema Inspires A Silent Revolution

Orthodox women are not allowed to go to the cinema and their film screenings are often interrupted by protesters. But in Israel, there is a booming audience for their films and a big cultural shift is happening.

In 1994, the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires was the target of a terror attack that killed 85 people and injured 300 others, most of whom were Jewish. The perpetrators were never identified, probably for political reasons. Shattered, a new film by Israeli director Dina Perlstein, follows Argentinian Jewish prosecutor Anna, who lost her father in the attack, as she searches for the truth. She is joined by a young Israeli Orthodox Jew, Yael, whose older sister was also killed in the attack. Their journey will bring a long-buried secret to light and change their lives forever.

The film, which was recently shown at the Jewish Film Festival Berlin Brandenburg, is unusual. Like Perlstein’s 14 other films, the three-hour long production only features women – most of them Jewish. Perlstein is the first and best known female Orthodox Jewish filmmaker in Israel and she also makes English-language films that are shown at special screenings for Orthodox Jewish women in the USA.

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Photo of people fishing in the Russian port of Kaliningrad
Geopolitics

Lithuania And Russia: A David-Goliath Standoff Getting Riskier By The Day

Vilnius is reportedly working out new rules with Brussels on allowing the transit of sanctioned Russian goods through Lithuania to the Kaliningrad enclave. But in the meantime, restrictions remain — and so does defiance vis-à-vis Moscow.

KALININGRAD — At a hardware store in Kaliningrad, men and women are heaving bags of cement into their shopping carts, while others film them on their mobile phones in disbelief. This scene, which did the rounds on social media in June, sums up the atmosphere in the Russian exclave bordered by Poland and Lithuania.

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The anxiety in Russia’s westernmost territory is palpable. Some residents are worried there will be shortages of products that were easily obtainable before restrictions came into force, while others are hoping everything will stay the same.

The population of Kaliningrad Oblast sits at around a million — of which 800,000 live in the city itself. Now they are in limbo. Lithuania’s implementation of EU sanctions means that although land routes to Russia are not completely shut off, the supply situation in the Russian exclave is uncertain.

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Ryanair
Economy

Why The Era Of Low-Cost Air Travel Must End

Many of us have become accustomed to cheap flights, but as prices spiral, it's time to ask about their true cost. And politicians' plan to bring in cheap labor to keep down prices is doomed to fail.

-Analysis-

BERLIN — You get what you pay for. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. It is hypocritical for passengers to complain about the chaos that has dominated airports since the start of the holiday season. These problems could easily have been predicted.

No one can seriously believe that a business model whereby passengers are transported from A to B for such a ridiculously low price is sustainable. When flights cost a fraction of a train ticket, something must be wrong. Costs are either being disregarded or passed on to someone else.

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File photo of a mother carrying her daughter on a barricade made of tires in Kyiv
Russia

When Mom Believes Putin: A Russian Family Torn Apart Over Ukraine Invasion

Sisters Rante and Satu Vodich fled Russia because they could no longer bear to live under Putin — but their mother believes state propaganda about the war. Her daughters are building a new life for themselves in Georgia.

TBILISI — On a gloomy afternoon in May, Rante Vodich gets the keys to her new home. A week earlier, the 27-year-old found this wooden shed in Tbilisi, with a corrugated iron roof and ramshackle bathroom. The shed next door houses an old bed covered in dust. Vodich refers to the place as a “studio” and pays $300 per month in rent. She says finding the studio is the best thing that’s happened to her since she came to Georgia. It is her hope for the future.

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Her younger sister Satu Vodich is around 400 kilometers further west, in the city of Batumi on Georgia’s Black Sea coast, surrounded by Russian tourists, Ukrainian flags, skyscrapers with sea views and the run-down homes of local residents.

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