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from MacroScope:

EU on Russia sanctions: slowly, slowly

Ukraine's President Poroshenko and Dutch ambassador to Ukraine Klompenhouwer commemorate victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 outside the Dutch embassy in Kiev

EU foreign ministers meet to decide how precisely to deploy sanctions agreed 10 days ago to hit Russian companies that help destabilise Ukraine and to block new loans to Russia through two multilateral lenders.

The EU foreign ministers are tasked with preparing a first list of people and entities from Russia that would be targeted. The number of individuals and companies to be penalized is up for grabs so there is scope to adopt a tougher posture.

The public statements of EU leaders have made it sound like a more dramatic move is possible. Could that be the “sectoral” sanctions that Washington has pushed for which could deliver a really serious blow to the already flatlining Russian economy? Well no, not yet. That would require another summit of leaders. The next one is set for the end of August although an emergency meeting is not out of the question and today’s meeting could give a nod in that direction.

Russia provides up to a third of the EU’s energy needs. Sweeping sanctions will inflict pain on the imposers too – on London’s dominant financial centre, on German commerce, on Italian energy security. Are they up for it? And will France give up on its 2.1 billion euros contract to sell helicopter carriers to Moscow?

from India Insight:

Four of every 10 Asians living with HIV are Indian – U.N. report

India has the third-highest number of people living with HIV in the world, with 2.1 million Indians accounting for four of every 10 people infected in Asia, the United Nations said in a report on Wednesday.

The epidemic has killed about 39 million of the 78 million people it has affected worldwide since it began in the 1980s, the U.N. AIDS programme said, adding that the number of people infected with HIV was stabilising around 35 million.

from John Lloyd:

Are we at war? And why can’t we be sure anymore?

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron poses for group photograph taken with G8 leaders at the Lough Erne golf resort in Enniskillen

The question -- “Are we at war?” -- seems absurd. Surely, we would know it if we were. But maybe we’re in a new era -- and wars are creeping up on us.

In the decade after the collapse of communism, the United States and its allies seemed invulnerable to challenges, from military to technological to economic. All changed in the 2000s, the dawning of the third millennium: an Age of Disruption. Russia, under a president smarting publicly at the loss of the Soviet empire, has now delivered an answer to decline: aggressive claims on lost territories.

from Photographers' Blog:

Lost in time – the Cyprus buffer zone

Nicosia, Cyprus

By Neil Hall

If you look at a map of Cyprus, there is a line that cuts across the island like a scar. This is the buffer zone, a United Nations-controlled no-man’s land, also called the ‘Green Line’. It is a constant reminder that the country remains physically and symbolically divided.

The zone is a product of Cyprus’ turbulent history. When the island became independent from Britain in 1960, tension simmered between Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, boiling over into political disputes and violence in 1963. Soon the first peacekeeping troops were sent in and the capital was effectively partitioned.

from The Human Impact:

Who’s key to gender equality? Hint: It’s not women

When it comes to women’s rights, it turns out it’s really all about men.

A recent World Bank report underscored that strong economies and greater education for women, once thought to be silver bullets against gender inequality in the world of work, are effectively trumped by persistent social norms.

Entrenched social attitudes and traditions remain among the greatest obstacles to realising women’s rights globally - and most of those attitudes and traditions are held or enforced by men, according to experts.

from The Great Debate:

IAEA conduct complicates Iran nuclear deal

The world powers in November reached an interim deal with Iran to freeze and even roll back a portion of its nuclear program in exchange for some sanctions relief. The arrangement went into effect on Jan. 20 and is set to expire in six months. Another interim deal may be signed then, according to the agreement's "Joint Plan of Action," but the proposal calls for a comprehensive long-term solution by late January, 2015.

Though Iran is often painted as the only party at fault here, the situation is far more complicated. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and even some of the “P5+1” powers -- the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China, plus Germany -- that are now negotiating with Iran, are also guilty of misconduct and unprofessionalism.

from The Great Debate:

Seize this crisis to push South Sudan reform

Three years ago this week, outside a makeshift polling station in Bentiu, South Sudan, I interviewed Riek Machar, vice president of the then semi-autonomous region. Machar had just cast his vote for South Sudan’s independence; I asked him what he would say to those who doubted that South Sudan, desperately underdeveloped and with experience of ethnic strife, could be a viable nation. “We will show them” he said, with a confident gap-toothed smile.

Today, doubters must feel vindicated. A power struggle between Machar and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir became public when Kiir fired Machar from the vice presidency in July. That political dispute has since metastasized into a bloody conflict with ethnic overtones. In a land where unchecked weaponry is ubiquitous, youth unemployment overwhelming, and military discipline fractured, this crisis has the potential to tear the fledgling nation apart.

from David Rohde:

Honor Mandela by stopping a genocide

As South Africans cheered President Barack Obama’s speech at the funeral of Nelson Mandela on Tuesday, a nation of 4.6 million people 2,500 miles north was being torn apart by religious hatred.

Muslim civilians in the Central African Republic, clutching machetes and crude, homemade weapons, prepared to fight off marauding Christians. Christians were forming self-defense militias in other parts of a country the size of Texas, to prevent Muslims from slitting their throats.

from The Great Debate:

Human Rights Day: Still pursuing religious freedom

December 10 marks Human Rights Day, the 65th anniversary of the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), signed by 48 nations -- with just eight abstentions.

Sixty-five years ago, naysayers insisted it was nobody else’s business how governments behaved within their borders. The declaration confronted this cynical view -- and continues to do so today. Human rights abuses and their consequences spill beyond national borders, darkening prospects for harmony and stability across the globe. Freedom of religion or belief, as well as other human rights, are essential to peace and security. They are everyone’s business.

from The Great Debate:

A new look at climate change

The annual United Nations climate change talks, which concluded last month in Warsaw, unfortunately found little common ground on carbon. The talks broke down over the world's richest nations’ inability to agree with the poorest on how to address the financial costs of global climate change.

While disappointing, it's not surprising. Developed countries like the United States and the nations of the European Union, which have wielded the largest carbon footprints over the past decades, are not as often the victims of climate-related disasters. In fact, the countries facing the most severe effects of climate change are often the poorest and most under-developed. They are forced to confront not only natural destruction but economic ruin.

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