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.

Okuafo Pa means good farmer in the Twi language of West Africa. Hence, the naming of the project reflects the value of good farming and the rewards it brings to the people of Ghana. The Okuafo Pa Project will support Ghana's sustainable development by promoting socio-economic growth and sustainable business models.

Watch to learn how Eni is helping youth to develop agricultural knowledge and skills.

Iranians head to the polls on Friday to vote for president, and it appears a foregone conclusion that hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, the nation's top judge, will win.

Outsiders, and many Iranians, roll their eyes at the predictability of this vote. Iran's Guardian Council, a dozen clerics and judges who answer only to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has cleared the field for Raisi by ruling all of his credible challengers ineligible. The fix is in, and Iranians are now preparing for a moment when anti-reform conservatives, those who oppose social change inside Iran and deeper engagement with the West, will for the first time ever control the country's presidency, parliament, courts, and much of the media.

But simmering beneath the cynicism and predictability of this event is a deepening anxiety over Iran's future as it enters a potentially momentous period in the Islamic Republic's 42-year history. The Supreme Leader, in power for 32 years, is now 82 years old. Very few people know the true state of his health. Even if he outlives Raisi's presidency, which could last four or eight years, preparations for a historic, uncertain, and potentially dangerous leadership transition will intensify soon.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Europe:

After Biden's first visit, do his European allies feel that America is back?

I think they do. Wasn't particularly surprising, we've heard that message before. But now it was, sort of more concrete issues. I'm not certain there was, sort of major, major, major progress. But there was the beginning of a dialogue on trade and technology issues with Europe, clearly on security issues with NATO, and quite a number of other issues with G7, and general satisfaction with the outcome of the meeting with Putin. So, altogether good.

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Listen: Former US Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder weighs in on US President Joe Biden's first trip abroad, which included a very important first stop at the G7 summit in the United Kingdom, and the way forward for the US and its closest friends. Did he convince allies that "America is back" and ready to resume its leadership role in global affairs? And if so, does it even matter if Americans still need to be convinced that US engagement in the world is vital? Daalder speaks with Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for the Eurasia Group, shares updates on recent policy developments:

With the Supreme Court's recent decision, is the Affordable Care Act here to stay?

Yes, this was the Court's third ruling on the Affordable Care Act upholding its constitutionality. This challenge was brought by Republican attorneys general who argued that the repeal of the individual mandate tax undermined the court's previous justification for allowing the law to stand. They were unsuccessful, yet again. And the political salience of the Affordable Care Act has really diminished in the last several years, with Republicans moving on to fight other issues and the Court signaling very strongly they don't want to get involved in overturning this piece of legislation. The Affordable Care Act will be here at least until Congress wants to legislate on it again.

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Iranians head to the polls on June 18, in what's widely perceived to be a foregone outcome. Analysts predict that popular disillusionment with Iran's political class will make this one of the lowest turnout elections in Iran's post-revolution history. According to one poll taken by the Iranian Students Polling Agency, as few as 42 percent of the eligible voting population is expected to show up. We take a look at contemporary Iran's demographics, and how this year's vote turnout might compare to previous elections.

Latin America needs vaccines: The World Health Organization has called on the G7 countries that pledged to donate a billion COVID vaccine doses to the developing world to prioritize Latin America, with WHO officials pointing to the fact that out of the top 10 countries with the highest COVID death tolls per capita over the past week, nine are in Latin America, where many health systems are overstretched and vaccines are scarce. This call comes as Latin America's COVID death toll has surpassed 1 million. Cases and deaths are soaring in Argentina and Colombia, for instance, while Brazil has fully vaccinated just 11 percent of its population despite recording the world's second highest death toll. Even Chile, which has carried out Latin America's most successful vaccination campaign to date, has been forced to delay reopening due to a recent surge in infections among unvaccinated younger people. The WHO says prioritizing the region for vaccine donations makes sense in order to stop large sustained outbreaks that may spur potentially more infectious COVID variants that'll cross borders and wreak havoc in populous states. Most of the donated shots will be distributed through the COVAX facility, which is a problem for countries like Venezuela, shut out from COVAX because of payment problems.

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3: China has launched three astronauts into orbit in its first space mission since 2016. The astronauts will spend three months aboard the country's new space station, demonstrating China's resolve to become a space power following successful earlier missions to collect soil samples on the Moon and land a wheeled robot on Mars.

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