Geopolitics

Russia responds to Canadian sanctions by banning nine Canadian officials
Geopolitics

Russia responds to Canadian sanctions by banning nine Canadian officials

In response to Canadian sanctions that were imposed in March, Russia has decided to answer by banning nine Canadian citizens from its territory indefinitely.

This was announced by the Russian foreign ministry on Monday.

Canada had, on March 24, imposed sanctions on nine Russian officials because of “systematic and gross violations of human rights in Russia,” and this had prompted the Kremlin to come forth with a response.

The banned Canadians include prisons chief Anne Kelly, Justice Minister David Lametti, and head of the Canadian Forces Intelligence Command Scott Bishop.

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Deputy Defence Minister Jody Thomas also became the target of sanctions along with Brenda Lucki, who is the head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Her deputy Brian Brennan has also been banned from entering the Russian territory, as per the report released by Russia.

Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc, Senior army official Mike Rouleau, and Marci Surkes, a senior aide of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has also been placed on the list.

Moscow said these entry bans were “reprisal measures” in response to the sanctions slapped on nine Russian officials.

Canada’s Foreign Ministry has refrained from making any immediate comment.

Canada, at the time of imposing sanctions, had said that its measures were an answer to “gross” rights violations and the cornering of Navalny, President Putin’s most outspoken domestic critic.

Navalny was arrested this year and was sent to serve a two-and-a-half-year jail term for parole violations in link to an embezzlement conviction that he says was fraudulent.

Navalny was arrested on his return to Russia from Germany in January where he was, as per German authorities’ conclusion, poisoned in Russia with a banned nerve agent. The Kremlin however denies these allegations and says that it has seen no evidence that he was poisoned and that jailing is not political in any way.

World Worries as Russia rolls out Nord Stream 2 Pipeline for testing
Geopolitics

World Worries as Russia rolls out Nord Stream 2 Pipeline for testing

Geopolitics is being shaken to its core as a natural gas pipeline is being built under the Baltic Sea from Russia to the German coast. It is called Nord Stream 2. Making the project official the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin announced today that pipelaying for the first pipeline of the project had been completed and work on the second line was continuing.

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Talking about the details of the project, Nord Stream 2 is a 1,230-kilometre-long pipeline that will double the capacity of the existing undersea route from Russian gas fields to Europe. It is being owned by Gazprom, Royal Dutch Shell Plc and four other investors contributing $11.6 billion. This pipeline weighs heavy importance as it will help Germany to secure a low-cost supply of gas amid falling European production. This will also diversify their portfolio other than having nuclear and coal. For decades, Russia has been sending about two-thirds of its gas exports to Europe through pipelines in Ukraine. However, the relations turned bitter after the Soviet Union collapsed and it left Gazprom exposed to disruptions.

It has become a huge reason of worry for the USA as they fear Kremlin’s leverage over Europe and its energy market may increase once the twin pipeline is operational. Former President Donald Trump and current President Joe Biden, both believe that this new export route would make Europe overly dependent on Russian energy supplies. Whereas, the USA is keen to increase its sales to Europe of what it calls freedom gas.

Coming as an obstacle in the construction of the pipeline, German climate protection group Deutsche Umwelthilfe mentioned that they have applied for Nord Stream 2’s construction and operating permit to be revoked in Germany. This is because the climate is being adversely affected due to the construction and the North Sea islanders fear rising sea levels in coming times if this continues. 

Immunity & Covid-19 vaccine regime: what do we know?
Geopolitics

Immunity & Covid-19 vaccine regime: what do we know?

Covid-19 pandemic has kept all scientists on their toes who are trying to get better understanding around immunity around the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Immunity that is achieved both after contracting and recovering from Covid-19 infection, as well as after receiving vaccine against the coronavirus – single dose, both doses and also booster dose. The other part of deep quest is to understand how long lasting the immunity will be after the booster dose. Though the experts say it is early to tell, they share confidence of cracking the code soon.

Dr. Peter Marks, director of the US Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research said on Thursday that a booster vaccine will be needed at some point, but how sooner is not clear. Dr. Marks said during a Covid-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project Webinar, “We’ll have to see where this all interacts. Is it possible we’re going to need a booster at some point? Yes. Is it probable? Yes. Do we know exactly when? No. But if I had to look at my crystal ball, it’s probably not sooner, hopefully, than a year after being vaccinated, for the average adult.”

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Immunity is measured by presence of antibodies, which are the proteins made through immune response by body’s immune cells. Immune system is an amalgamation of various cells found in body – B Cells that produce antibodies and T Cells that target the infected cells. Research has shown that T cells and antibodies can also detect infections from pathogen variants. This is important in light of emerging variants of novel coronavirus across the world. After individual recovers from natural immunity through previous infection, vaccines provide cover for the immunity.

One thing that experts want to clear the air on is what is booster dose, why we might need it and what does it imply on the immunity. Immunity from Covid-19 means the individual is protected against the infection. It is achieved after getting vaccinated and also once recovered after contracting the novel coronavirus. In both cases the immune response of developing antibodies remains in ‘cell memory’. With talks of getting a booster shot after second dose of vaccine, many people are concerned what does it mean. Does it mean that after second dose our immunity is still not achieved and so a booster shot is required? No, absolutely not!

Booster shot is not about efficacy of vaccine but about ‘durability’. In fact the immunity is at its peak after receiving second dose of Covid-19 vaccine. The question, that even experts are working to solve is that for how long the immunity lasts. Here comes the role of booster dose – as body’s immunity, aka desired antibodies start to decline the booster dose will ramp up that level and raise immunity against the novel coronavirus. But after how long this dose is required is not certain and studies are in work to determine that period as multiple vaccine manufacturers acknowledge the need of booster shot. Pfizer, for example, has released guidelines for a booster dose six months after receiving second dose of vaccine.  

One more point of study is that coronavirus might behave as influenza virus. This means that we might have to take annual vaccine against Covid-19, very much like the flu shot taken every year. But it’s still too early to determine this aspect, claim experts.

Chinese Show Of Camaraderie To Pakistan A Doubled Edge Sword
Geopolitics

Chinese Show Of Camaraderie To Pakistan A Doubled Edge Sword

China is finding notorious routes and ways to get back at India. It has been gradually increasing its ‘friendly’ interest in Pakistan. The arch enemy of India, that continues to hold secret training camps for Turkish intelligence, it has been noted that Pakistan has recruited many unemployed youth from South India, on the behest of Ankara.

Beijing has now decided to increase its investments with Pakistan. It has also agreed to lend off money to Islamabad, to boost the spirit of the nation. It has been China’s old tactic to extend monetary help, and then claim ownership over the country, when the latter falters to pay up, which is invariably the case.

The goodies in the bag have be increased; but comes with a pre-condition that Pakistan should be obligated to help China get back at the United States.

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So China’s move towards Pakistan is two-pronged: attack on India and the United States too.  As it is, Islamabad has declared that it does not intent to give any more bases in its country to the United States. But China wasn’t happy with that stale news.

Pakistan has found itself in a tight spot, owing to the fact that the United States has just withdrawn its troops from Afghanistan and has a close watch in Islamabad’s movements.  Additionally, it somehow still wants to China happy, despite the fact that China has stalled at its previous development plans with Pakistan.  The populace isn’t supporting a new Chinese alliance either.  Somehow people can see through Chinese tactics of debt power, lack of transparency and lack of human rights when it comes to use of labour. Chinese projects have also faced great resistance in Balochistan, a country that has been manhandled by Pakistan as well.  In Karachi, Pakistani labourers had protested on working for Chinese projects, exclaiming unfair working conditions and unequal pay.

Japan confused on whether to allow fans for Olympic Games or not
Geopolitics

Japan confused on whether to allow fans for Olympic Games or not

Japan, in order to carry out Tokyo Olympics safely, is considering rolling out directives that fans attending should either test negative for COVID-19 or show their vaccination records, as public opposition to the Games still remains strong.

The Yomiuri newspaper reported on Monday that public confidence has been badly shaken by the fourth wave of the surge in covid-19 infections that has strained the country’s ailing health system.

Public confidence is also shaken due to the mixed narratives coming out of corridors of power.

The Tokyo Olympic organizing committee, on Friday, had hinted that even local fans may be kept from venues as the games begin in just under two months.

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Overseas fans were ruled out months ago as they were said to be “too risky”.

However, the newspaper report shows that conditions are being ascertained if the fans are to be allowed inside the stadiums.

The public in Japan still is worried due to the slow vaccination rollout in the country. The public pulse says that authorities should have ensured a speedy vaccination drive if they were considering packed stadiums.

As per media reports, The Tokyo Olympic organizing committee is considering banning loud cheering and high-fives in case people are allowed inside.

The Yomiuri said the government is considering spectators who show a negative test result taken prior to a week of attending an Olympic event.

On the other hand, the Japanese government has extended a state of emergency until June 20 due to the COVID-19 cases putting the medical system under strain.  

The country’s state of emergency was to be lifted on Monday but the extension has raised eyebrows on whether the Olympics can be held at all or not.

IOC and the organizers are insistent to go ahead despite polls in Japan highlighting that 60-80% want them called off.

What Does America Troop Withdrawal From Afghanistan Mean For India And Uzbekistan?
Geopolitics

What Does America Troop Withdrawal From Afghanistan Mean For India And Uzbekistan?

American President Joe Biden’s geopolitical shuffle in Eurasia is going to bring great advantage to India’s relations with Uzbekistan. India has great interest in developing its relations with Uzbekistan, for one that it opens India’s access to Central Asia. 

There are reasons why Uzbekistan will come closer to India. For one the dynamics of Afghanistan are going to bring in more power to Pakistan and Taliban possibly. This will disturb the peace for Uzbekistan. Further, if Iran is brought in the global mainstream during the Biden presidency, it will only provide an important node of connectivity, cementing a strong commercial relationship between New Delhi and Tashkent.

All three nations have their focus firmly rooted on the Chabahar Port. India and Uzbekistan under the 2011 Ashgabat Agreement also plan to build a transit and transport corridor between Central Asia and the Persian Gulf. 

India has reasons to increase its focus in Central Asia, a territory that China thinks it a backyard to play football in. According to political analysts, India enjoys a high level of trust with Central Asian countries especially Uzbekistan. With the Russians feeling edged out in their own backyard, India and Russia are poised to work together to collectively ward off growing Chinese influence in the region.

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In December last year, Indian PM already promised Uzbekistan a US $448 million Line of Credit for the development of infrastructure, information technology and sewerage treatment. 

Further, India and Uzbekistan are keen to continue their partnership in counter-terrorism.  It recently concluded the ‘DUSTLIK’ (meaning friendship) exercise held at the Foreign Training Node in Chaubatia near Ranikhet town in India’s northern Uttarakhand state. This is the second edition of the annual joint exercise of the two armies. Both the countries have already inked nine agreements on cyber security, digital technologies and renewable energy.  

Keeping away scientific collaborations and experiments from Geopolitics
Geopolitics

Keeping away scientific collaborations and experiments from Geopolitics

It is a well-known fact that collaboration is the engine of scientific success for all countries. China, the USA, Australia, and Singapore are some of the few countries that have marveled, succeeded, and astonished other top nations with their discovery and results. The pandemic that struck the world with coronavirus in 2019 has given striking demonstrations of the research cooperation across borders. International research teams joined hands to study and explore SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences and how the virus behaves.

Alongside, the scientific community there comes disparaging issues that revolve around geopolitical tensions. Especially between the United States and China, the exchange of information and resources is diminishing and very restricted between the nations. As countries move to protect their interests and patent, a serious effort is needed on all sides that safeguard the mutually beneficial mankind with the cooperation between researchers.

As seen in early years, from smallpox to Ebola, from Cancel to Leprosy, international collaboration in health and science has historically been a major success and provided results that have prolonged a patient’s life. It has led to some of the breakthrough advances that we could not have imagined if countries had gone it alone. This time during the outbreak of coronavirus, the problems that emerge in distant places can quickly become a local catastrophe. Here, it becomes even more crucial for the community to discuss responses and bring together the best minds and available data from different countries for the benefit of all.

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Believing that a global problem requires a global solution, all developed nations should help through funds and advanced research and developing and under-developed countries must contribute through implementing and providing data for the research to be conducted impartially. Talking about geopolitics and growing tensions between nation, an analysis was conducted last year of more than 10 million papers.

It was tracked by the Science publication organization, Web of Science and it founded that the number of internationally co-authored papers rose from 10.7 per cent to 21.3 per cent between 2000 and 2015. By 2015, some 200 countries were represented in the collaborative literature.

In 2018, the FBI strictly warned China government that they are purposefully exploiting the open research and development environment in the United States. The US is not alone to suffer, alongside, Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany and India have also increased their scrutiny of international research relationships in the interests of protecting national security, with China widely understood to be the country of primary concern.

With time it is becoming evident that researchers of western countries are becoming hesitant in collaborating with China counterparts. The primary reason that surfaces are the fear of being caught up in geopolitical tensions and the administrative burden of complying with beefed-up regulations. This can be very well seen, as the analyses conducted also revealed, zero growth between 2019 and 2020 in the US-China co-authored publications. However, publications co-authored by researchers in Germany, UK, Australia and Japan all increased during the same period.

Air Pollution & Health: Exposure in-utero to UFPs in air cause of asthma in toddlers
Geopolitics

Air Pollution & Health: Exposure in-utero to UFPs in air cause of asthma in toddlers

A research has found that in-utero exposure to tiny air pollution particulates are most likely to cause asthma in children after birth. The research studied UFPs (ultra-fine particles) and its impact – these particles that are not regulated by governments show significant link to development of asthma. The research has been published in American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine .

The source of these UFPs, which are much toxic than larger particles, include vehicles and wood burners. A sugar cube sized volume of city air can have tens and thousands of these ultra-fine particles. The research has stipulated that these particles can pass through the expecting mother’s lungs into her bloodstream leading to harmful inflammation. They can then cross into foetus’s circulation through placenta. UFPs impact also includes brain cancer among other health implications. It is hoped that demonstration of these impacts on health can trigger better regulation and action by policymakers to go along the path of renewable energy source rather than use of fossil fuels.

Prof Rosalind Wright, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, who led the research said, “Our research is an important early step in building the evidence base that can lead to better monitoring of exposure to UFPs and ultimately to regulation. Childhood asthma remains a global epidemic that is likely to grow with the anticipated rise in particulate air pollution exposures due to effects of climate change.

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Prof Wright specifically underlined that foetuses are specially vulnerable to the ‘oxidative’ stress brought about by the pollution particulates on the body tissues. He said, “Foetal development is exquisitely sensitive to anything that throws the oxidation balance out of whack.”

Previous studies have already determined the air pollution can harm foetuses by causing premature birth and low birth rate. A 2019 study determined that air pollution is as harmful to pregnant woman as is smoking in relation to risk of miscarriage. Study also showed air pollution particles on foetal side of placenta.

The latest research included 400 mothers and children after their birth, and was conducted in Boston, USA. UFPs that are smaller than 0.1 micrometer, had levels ranging between 10,000-40,000 per cubic centimeter of air. Research found that mothers who had been exposed to levels of 30,000/cm3 during pregnancy had their children four times more likely to develop asthma than those mothers who were exposed to levels of 15,000/cm3. Majority of asthma diagnoses were made in children at 3 years age or older, whereas 18% of infants developed asthma. The other factors taken into account in research were age of mothers during pregnancy and obesity, among others.

Similar study also took place in 2019 in Toronto. Prof Scott Weichenthal, at McGill University and part of the Toronto study team said that the new research findings are in sync with his research findings. “Governments need to pay more attention to UFPs [and] people should try to reduce their exposures as much as possible, though this can be easier said than done if you happen to live close to [sources of pollution],” said Weichenthal.

Climatic disasters & Internal displacement: an unfortunate relationship
Geopolitics

Climatic disasters & Internal displacement: an unfortunate relationship

Apart from international refugees and asylum seekers that move in bulk, the other group of migrants and refugees are the ones who move internally, or are rather displaced internally due to variety of reasons. Unfortunately, year 2020 witnessed internally displacements due to climatic disasters like storms and floods three times more than that due wars and regional conflicts. With this, the global number of people displaced internally hit the record mark.

According to the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), by the end of last year there were at least 55 million internally displaced people (IDPs). IDMC further underlined that number of internally displaced people were twice the number of those that were forced to leave their country to seek refuge in other nations. Though the number of IDPs is highest yet, it has been in sync with the gradual rise over past decade. 2019 had recorded 5 million less people than in 2020.

IDMC’s released report said, “Every year, millions of people are forced to flee their homes because of conflict and violence. Disasters and the effects of climate change regularly trigger new and secondary displacement, undermining people’s security and wellbeing. The scale of displacement worldwide is increasing, and most of it is happening within countries’ borders.”

Afghanistan is the country with largest number of its people internally displaced due to disasters, 1.1 million. It was followed by India with 929,000 and Pakistan was with 806,000 internally displaced people. People displaced internally due to violence and conflict were highest in Syria (6.6 million). It was followed by Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with 5.3 million IDPs and Colombia with 4.9 million.

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In 2020, there were 40 million new displacements, that is these people had never been displaced before. Out of this 30 million were a result of storms, floods and wildfires. East Asia and Pacific region recorded 30.3% of these new displacements in 2020. The second worst affected region with 27.4% new displacements was Sub-Saharan Africa region.

Alexandra Bilak, IDMC’s director, said, “It is particularly concerning that these high figures were recorded against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, when movement restrictions obstructed data collection and fewer people sought out emergency shelters for fear of infection. Today’s displacement crises arise from many interconnected factors, including climate and environmental change, protracted conflicts and political instability. In a world made more fragile by the Covid-19 pandemic, sustained political will and investment in locally owned solutions will be more important than ever.”

The EU strengthens its digital security geopolitics, new sanctions for cyber attackers
Geopolitics

The EU strengthens its digital security geopolitics, new sanctions for cyber attackers

On Monday, the Council of the EU decided to prolong the framework for restrictive measures against cyber-attacks threatening the European Union or its member states for another year, until 18 May 2022. This framework allows the EU to impose targeted restrictive measures on persons or entities involved in cyber-attacks which cause a significant impact and constitute an external threat to the EU or its member states, a statement of the Council affirms. Restrictive measures can also be imposed in response to cyber-attacks against third states or international organizations where such measures are considered necessary to achieve the objectives of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).

The sanctions:

The European sanctions currently apply to eight individuals and four entities, including an asset freeze and a travel ban. Additionally, EU persons and entities are forbidden from making funds available to those listed. This latest prolongation is part of the EU’s scale-up of its resilience and its ability to prevent, discourage, deter and respond to cyber threats and malicious cyber activities to safeguard European security and interests from outside.

In June 2017, the EU stepped up its response by establishing a Framework for a Joint EU Diplomatic Response to Malicious Cyber Activities, the cyber diplomacy toolbox, which allows the Union and its Member States to use all CFSP measures. “The EU remains committed to global, open, stable, peaceful, and secure cyberspace and therefore reiterates the need to strengthen international cooperation to promote the rules-based order in this area,” the statement continues.

The digital transition of Europe is an ongoing process that today more than ever, also thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, represents for all the member states of the Union a strategic tool for the recovery and relaunch of the economy, especially in most competitive sectors.

To do this, however, the European Union must invest more in technological autonomy, in cutting-edge digital services, and various key sectors, including supercomputing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, infrastructures, blockchain, skills, and certainly cybersecurity. Precisely on this last point, Enisa, the European Union Agency for Information Security, has published a new report entitled “Cybersecurity Research Directions for the EU’s Digital Strategic Autonomy”, in which it identifies a series of priorities in research and innovation activities in cybersecurity, aimed at realizing and strengthening the digital autonomy of the EU.

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Among these, the Agency Report includes data security, reliable hardware, and software platforms, cyber threat management and responsiveness, new encryption solutions, user-centered security practices, and tools; security of digital communication. For each of these areas of intervention, the Report illustrates the current situation, including advantages and possible criticalities, offering an assessment of the main issues around which discussion is still open and recommendations on particular research topics, again relating to cybersecurity.

The open challenges:

The digital transition is not only necessary and desirable but always brings with it new challenges, linked to the technological environment in which we have now lived for years, including our ability or not to maintain ownership and control of personal data, of our technological resources. and our freedom of choice and decision. The Covid-19 pandemic has done nothing but highlights, even more, the centrality of these challenges and the importance of our actions in this regard, which must always lead to a greater capacity for cybersecurity and resilience towards internal cyber threats and outside the Union.

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