THE KERCH CLASH: RUSSIA AND UKRAINE ON THE BRINK

THE KERCH CLASH: RUSSIA AND UKRAINE ON THE BRINK

Over the weekend, Russian naval forces detained several Ukrainian ships after firing on them in the Kerch Strait, a narrow bit of contested waters linking the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov along the Russo-Ukrainian border. It’s a major escalation between the two countries, who have been locked in an armed conflict since 2014.


In response, Ukraine has imposed martial law and a defiant Moscow is waiting to see what costs, if any, Europe and the US are willing to impose for what they see as an act of Russian aggression.

How’d we get here? In 2014, after a popular uprising toppled the pro-Russian president of Ukraine, Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula and fanned a separatist movement in Eastern Ukraine. To link Crimea with mainland Russia across the Kerch Strait, which separates the two countries, the Kremlin built a $3.6 billion bridge that was completed earlier this year. Since then, tensions over the waterway have soared, with each side claiming the other is encroaching on its waters.

Ukraine has gotten the worst of it. Ships carrying lucrative steel and grain exports from Eastern Ukraine – critical for the country’s economy – must pass through the Kerch Strait. Russian customs and security officials, citing security concerns about the bridge, have intensified spot checks and detentions of Ukraine-bound vessels. One of those incidents is what led to the clash on Sunday.

Western governments have condemned Russia’s attack and raised the prospect of new sanctions on Russian officials. NATO, for its part, has called on Moscow to release the ships and sailors that are currently being detained. But beyond that, don’t expect much. NATO is under no obligation to defend Ukraine, which is not a member state. More broadly, Ukraine matters an awful lot more to Moscow (for strategic, economic, and cultural reasons) than it does to the West. Plus Europe’s got its own problems these days.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko secured a parliamentary declaration of martial law in about half of the country. Since a military response by Ukraine’s much weaker forces is all but inconceivable, Poroshenko’s critics suggest that the move, which prohibits any political campaigning or voting while in force, is a cynical ploy to delay upcoming elections that the unpopular president is almost sure to lose.

Russia says Ukraine provoked the incident, but Putin is likely testing the international reaction to his power play for de facto control over the Sea of Azov.

Your move Mr. Trump: US President Donald Trump has blamed former President Barack Obama for allowing Russia to seize Ukraine in 2014. Now Moscow is bidding to seize control of the Azov Sea. How will Mr. Trump respond? The two men are still scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit later this week in Argentina.

Microsoft announced earlier this year the launch of a new United Nations representation office to deepen their support for the UN's mission and work. Many of the big challenges facing society can only be addressed effectively through multi-stakeholder action. Whether it's public health, environmental sustainability, cybersecurity, terrorist content online or the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, Microsoft has found that progress requires two elements - international cooperation among governments and inclusive initiatives that bring in civil society and private sector organizations to collaborate on solutions. Microsoft provided an update on their mission, activities for the 75th UN General Assembly, and the team. To read the announcement from Microsoft's Vice President of UN Affairs, John Frank, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Over the past eight days, the US-China relationship got notably hotter. None of the new developments detailed below is big enough by itself to kill hopes for better relations next year, but collectively they point in a dangerous direction.

US jabs over Hong Kong: On September 14, the US State Department issued a travel warning for the city because of what it calls China's "arbitrary enforcement of local laws" by police. The US is closely monitoring the case of 10 people detained by China while attempting to flee to Taiwan by boat. China's response to US criticism of its new security law in Hong Kong remains muted. That could change if relations deteriorate further.

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Brad Smith, President of Microsoft, joins Ian Bremmer on this week's World in 60 seconds to discuss multilateralism, optimism, and the return to normal in the post-pandemic world.

Could this pandemic actually present an opportunity to bolster global support for multilateralism and what should that look like moving forward, Brad?

Brad Smith:

Well, I think it's an imperative and it has to bolster support for multilateralism for a very simple reason. We cannot afford to assume that it will be another century before we see a pandemic like this again. We have to take from this experience, all of the learning we can muster and put in place what we will need to be better prepared. And the only way we can do that is to start with an obvious fact. Viruses don't respect borders. So people have to work together across them as governments and with the kinds of support from companies and civil society that it'll take to ensure that we don't find ourselves as ill prepared a decade from now or five years from now, as we were when this year began.

Ian Bremmer:

On the one hand, there's been a lot of lack of leadership, at least internationally, the G20 doing nearly as much coming out of this crisis that we saw coming out of the 2008 financial crisis when it was founded. On the other hand, you've got supra-nationalism in Europe with the Germans and the French, and indeed unanimous votes to actually create stronger redistribution, stronger capacity and resilience of that institution. You've got the World Health Organization, the UN here working with a bunch of leaders and the private sector.

What gives you cause so far for most optimism that we actually are going to respond more effectively?

Brad Smith:

Well, I think one of the fascinating aspects of this pandemic in its own way has been the critical importance of data. We're all relying on data, literally, to manage government decisions that determine whether we get to leave our homes, where we get to go, what we get to do. But the truth is what we've also learned is that the data that is needed to address something like this needs to be measured in a consistent way across borders. At Microsoft we're doing a lot of work with the World Health Organization. Just learning from that how each individual government can be more effective if it's collaborating with others in a more unified way, putting digital technology and data to work. I think there's a lot of insight from that narrow slice that in fact impacts every part of the economy in the world today.

Ian Bremmer:

One of the things that people have been most concerned about is that the pandemic is driving borders up. It's driving people farther apart. But the fact that technology is working as well as it is right now is also unlocking human capital in terms of distance learning, in terms of telemedicine for large numbers of people that otherwise would have been left further behind in a crisis like this.

Brad Smith:

We're all learning a lot. I think tele health services are one of the great examples of where we're going to find in the future that it doesn't mean that people will no longer go to a doctor, but they'll only go to a doctor when they need to see a doctor in person.

And we'll probably live in a world where people have more consultation with health professionals because tele-health will fill-in a void, but we're also finding all the cracks in our societies. What it means when some people have broadband and others don't. Some people have access to digital skills and others don't. So it's a world of new opportunity, but if the opportunity isn't distributed more broadly, then it's going to exacerbate all the divides we already worry about in our societies.

Ian Bremmer:

What's the piece of life after coronavirus when truly people feel safe, again, that we're not socially distancing and the rest, that you think is going to be most different from life before coronavirus?

Brad Smith:

Well, I think it's going to be a more of a mixture of hybrid life. I'm not one who believes that people will want to stay in their houses forever. I think there's a lot that can be accomplished when people get together that they can't do when they're by themselves. But there's also a lot that we can do that will add convenience and efficiency and effectiveness to our lives by combining this in-person interaction with remote sort of everything, shopping, ordering food, connecting with people around the world, we have the opportunity to build sort of a richer experience. But again, only if the technology that's essential for this is within everyone's reach.

Ian Bremmer:

I also think we could get used to being six feet apart from each other for a longer period of time.

Brad Smith:

Yeah. But I still think you'll go to a sporting event, people are still going to want to be in a crowd. Go to a theater, people are going to want to be in the crowd. It will be fascinating to see how long some of these other habits persist once we're finally out of the other end of this tunnel and can look at it in the rear view mirror.

As global leaders turn their attention to the 75th anniversary of the United Nations and the 2020 General Assembly, GZERO Media offers a look back at one of the greatest diplomatic mysteries of the 20th century. The UN's second Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld's mysterious death in 1961, while on a mission to Congo, is the subject of a new book by investigative correspondent and New York Times correspondent Ravi Somaiya. It has the twists and turns of a Tom Clancy novel.

Trump is willing to give up Wisconsin for Belarus' democracy? When multilateralism hits the Zoom calls, we can't really tell what's real and what's not. #PUPPETREGIME