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Carla Bruni: Darling of the Indian Paparazzi

The French first lady’s fame has reached new levels in India

The First Couple upon their arrival in Bangalore (via www.carlabrunisarkozy.org)

NEW DELHI - On December 4, French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in India, a state visit aimed at strengthening economic ties and forging a new nuclear deal between Paris and the surging South Asian democracy. And, while Sarkozy's maiden voyage to India has certainly garnered its fair share of political and economic attention, it is his wife, folk singer and former supermodel Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, who has managed to steal much of the media limelight from her head-of-state husband.

Bruni-Sarkozy, of course, has been a media darling ever since marrying Sarkozy in 2008. But in India, where Bollywood stars and musicians typically dominate headlines, "La Carla" seems to have reached a new, fever-pitch level of popularity. According to the Delhi-based Economic Times, only the arrival 15 years ago of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana has drawn this much attention from the Indian press.

Indeed, the media has been relentless in its coverage of the famous French couple. When they arrived in Bangalore, reporters spent hours analyzing their body language. Their collective attention was just as rapt when the couple visited Agra, to watch the sun set over the Taj Mahal. Several TV stations even quoted a religious figure who claimed that the First Lady asked him to pray that she becomes pregnant.

The media covered her every step when she visited a famous Delhi maternity ward ("where no foreigner had ever set foot"), and when she visited a facility for orphans with AIDS. Both of these visits were part of the first lady's ongoing campaign to fight against the pre-natal spread of AIDS.

"India's response reminds us of Brazil, where she was incredibly well received," says a member of Bruni-Sarkozy's entourage. Sarkozy himself, meanwhile, seems fully aware of his wife's star potential. "Carla is not a selling point, because she does not sign anything," a presidential aide acknowledged. "But she contributes greatly to the interest in this visit."

A close friend of the first lady gushed that the "star power of the first lady is contagious," as evidenced by the recent publication of a comic book titled ‘American Female Force." In the book, Bruni-Sarkozy is cast as a heroine, alongside Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and Margaret Thatcher. The friend adds that they had to decline an invitation to "a big party held by a Bollywood producer" intent on honoring the First Lady.

Still, after recent Indian visits from American President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron, and ahead of scheduled meetings with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, Sarkozy knew he had a delicate diplomatic challenge on his visit to India, which is still trying to attain a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Sunday evening, the first lady met with Sonia Gandhi, who leads India's powerful Congress Party. And although they're both Italians by birth, no one knows whether they exchanged a few words in their native language. Then again, it's a mystery that's probably best left unsolved—in the interest of French diplomacy, of course.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

How Russia's Wartime Manipulation Of Energy Prices Could Doom Its Economy

A complex compensation mechanism for fuel companies, currency devaluation, increased demand due to the war, logistics disruptions, and stuttering production growth have combined to trigger price rises and deepening shortages in the Russian energy market.

Photograph of Novatek's gravity-based structure platform for production of liquefied natural gas, floating on a body of water.

Russia, Murmansk Region - July 21, 2023: A view of Novatek's gravity-based structure platform for production of liquefied natural gas.

Ekaterina Mereminskaya

In Russia, reports of gasoline and diesel shortages have been making headlines in the country for several months, raising concerns about energy supply. The situation escalated in September when a major diesel shortage hit annexed Crimea. Even before that, farmers in the southern regions of Russia had raised concerns regarding fuel shortages for their combines.

“We’ll have to stop the harvest! It will be a total catastrophe!” agriculture minister Dmitry Patrushev had warned at the time. “We should temporarily halt the export of petroleum products now until we have stabilized the situation on the domestic market.”

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As the crisis deepens, experts are highlighting the unintended consequences of government intervention in fuel pricing and distribution.

The Russian government has long sought to control the prices of essential commodities, including gasoline and diesel. These commodities are considered "signalling products", according to Sergei Vakulenko, an oil and gas expert and fellow at the Carnegie Endowment. Entrepreneurs often interpret rising gasoline prices as a signal to adjust their pricing strategies, reasoning that if even gasoline, a staple, is becoming more expensive, they too should raise their prices.

The specter of the 2018 fuel crisis, where gasoline prices in Russia surged at twice the rate of other commodities, haunts the authorities. As a result, they implemented a mechanism to control these prices and ensure a steady supply. Known as the "fuel damper," this mechanism seeks to balance the profitability of selling fuel in both domestic and foreign markets.

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