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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.

Meet Ian Martin, an English Professor from Glasgow who is now head of Communications for Eni's International Resources. Approaching his work in the same way he used to hold his lectures, Ian is dedicated to listening and making people around him comfortable. Having working in both Milan and London, Ian utilizes his ability to communicate in different languages and cultures to prepare Eni's global messaging strategy. "Communication is a transfer of humanity," he says, and his job is as much centered around people as it as around language.

Watch Ian's human approach to communications on the most recent episode of Faces of Eni.

How to capture the essence of this incredible, terrible year in a few short words and without using profanity? It's not easy.

Thankfully, the dictionary website Merriam-Webster.com has released its list of most heavily searched words of 2020, and they tell the story of an historic year in US politics and the life of our planet. Here's a sample.

The top word, unsurprisingly, was "Pandemic," a disease outbreak that covers a wide area and afflicts lots of people. In 2020, the coronavirus crisis hit every region of the world, triggering a public health, economic, and political emergency on a geographic scale our planet has never experienced. Differing responses to that problem defined the politics (and geopolitics) of 2020.

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While recent news from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca on the efficacy of their respective COVID vaccines is encouraging, it has also given rise to bidding wars between wealthy countries trying to secure the largest supply of the new drugs for their citizens. Meanwhile, many governments in emerging market economies, where healthcare infrastructure is generally weaker, are worried they'll be kicked to the back of the line in the global distribution process. Indeed, history bears out their concerns: while a lifesaving HIV treatment hit shelves in the West in the mid-1990s, for example, it took years to become widely in Africa, which saw some of the worst HIV outbreaks in the world. But here's the catch: even if wealthy countries manage to obtain large supplies of vaccines to immunize their populations, the interconnected nature of the global economy means that no one will really be out of the woods until we all are. Here's a snapshot of how many COVID vaccines select countries have already purchased.

Afghanistan's small breakthrough: For months, disagreements over a range of political issues have hamstrung the intra-Afghan peace talks brokered by the Trump administration that aim to bridge the years-long conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But this week, a significant breakthrough was made on the principles and procedures governing the talks, that, experts say, will help push negotiations to the next phase. One key advance is agreement on the official name of the Afghan government, an issue that stalled talks earlier this year. Still, progress is fragile. Taliban violence and efforts to seize territory have only increased since the militants and the US reached a deal in February on a blueprint for an American troop withdrawal. And the Trump administration says it aims to pull out all but 2,500 US troops by mid-January, whether the Taliban have kept their end of the deal or not. What's more, while this week's development puts the parties one step closer to an eventual power-sharing agreement, it's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will even honor the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban.

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Two weeks ago, Russia secured a deal to build a naval base in Sudan, its first new military facility in Africa since the end of the Cold War. The accord is a major milestone in Moscow's wider push to regain influence, and income, on a continent where the Kremlin was once a major player.

But with the ideological and military contests of the Cold War long over, what is Moscow doing in Africa today?

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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET

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