Our editors give us a breakdown of this week’s current affairs
United Kingdom: Harry Street
As the invasion of Ukraine continues, the UK government has come under significant pressure to help alleviate the pressure on fleeing Ukrainians. The government has devised a community resettlement scheme that will allow the public to open their doors to the refugees, even if they have no family links. This will be the second scheme implemented since the start of the crisis, following the announcement that the public can apply to bring over immediate and extended families from Ukraine. The government, however, continues to insist that any Ukrainians fleeing their homeland must seek a visa before travelling and entering the UK. This position has been under heavy scrutiny from all parties, though has been defended by the conservative party as Boris Johnson claims that they want to be generous but also careful.
The Liberal Democrats have struggled to gain seats in recent history; though they held 10% of seats in the house of commons in 2005, their control over parliament has dwindled to 13 of the 650 seats. Sir Ed Davey, however, hopes to strengthen the party once again, and this week announced a new strategy to work with Labour, which would aim to oust Johnson and his conservative party from government. In an interview with the Financial Times, the party leader outlined a potential plan to work with Labour to defeat the standing government, as he believes the current shadow cabinet and front bench are the strongest they have been for a generation. This pact would follow the recent successful by-elections in Chesham and Amersham, and North Shropshire.
Europe: Cameron Fulton
Russian forces have launched an array of further assaults on Ukraine, to kick start their campaign that has stalled. The 60km convoy was split and built on positions to begin an assault on Kyiv. They have also begun attacks on multiple new targets, including the Yavoriv International Centre for Peacekeeping and Security. Near the border of Poland, a NATO member, this is the westernmost point of the invasion so far, raising concerns to Russian intentions beyond Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Western companies have continued to abandon involvement in the Eastern superpower. The Big Four, Goldman Sachs and BP are some of the names who have promised exits from the Russian market. However, little clarity has been given over timescales, with the companies facing the practicalities of their forced, and in the short term unfeasible, promises. The Big Four in itself employ around 15,000 in the country,with strong ties to state-owned companies such as Gazprom and Lukoil. Transition timings have been predicted to last from ‘several weeks’ to ’12 months’.
Another clear issue of the crisis is the inflationary impact, with gas and food prices expected to cause headaches for European households and economists. The war is likely to have an ‘enormous impact’ on food prices. The regions of Ukraine and Russia are one of the largest exporters of wheat in the world, with the conflict expected to disrupt spring planting. Other exported supplies of vegetable oil and grains are expected to be lost, likely skyrocketing prices. Further, the crisis remains damaging to natural gas supplies, and with OPEC still refusing to alleviate energy strains. Whilst America has promised a boycott of Russian energy, around 8% of their current supply, Europe has remained more hesitant. Though work on the Nord-2 pipeline has been stalled, promises have not completely extended to a complete boycott, with Europe far more reliant on Russian supply of natural gas. World inflation is already at 7% in the aftermath of the pandemic and loose worldwide central bank policy: with further pressures from the crisis, expected further jumps in food and energy prices that will bite into the real incomes of European households.
Russia has begun their own sanctions against the rest of the world this week, more specifically Western social media. Russia’s media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, announced restrictions to come into effect on Sunday on Instagram. It also launched a criminal investigation into its parent company, Meta, after it announced a moderation in its policies on violent speech. For example, ‘death to the Russian invaders’ can now be said. The move will isolate Russia further: already during the crisis, Facebook and Twitter have been banned and restricted respectively. Restricting social media and internet usage could see Russia begin to copy its ally, China, in its limiting of free speech and western influence.
Africa: Laura da Silva
The UN and EU have appealed for calm in Libya as tensions worsen between the country’s two rival executives. Libya has had two rival governments since the beginning of March. A government formed by former interior minister Fathi Bashangha, and approved by the parliament sitting in the east, is competing with the cabinet in place in the capital Tripoli resulting from a UN-sponsored political agreement and headed by Abdelhamid Dbeibah. Tensions between the rivals came to a head when armed groups loyal to Fathi Bashangha mobilised near the entrance of Tripoli on Thursday night, sparking fears of political chaos. Clashes between the forces were avoided as the armed groups withdrew to their previous positions later that evening at the request of “international and regional partners” and to avoid “bloodshed.”, according to a statement released by Bashangha’s press office. U.S. ambassador Richard Norland had a telephone call with both Bashangha and Dbeibah, and commended Bashanga for “his willingness to defuse tensions and seek to resolve current political disagreements through negotiations and not force”. He also said that he ”appreciated” Mr. Dbeibah’s “willingness to find a political solution.”
South Africa is the world’s most unequal country, as announced by a World Bank report released on Wednesday. The report states that “10% of South Africa’s population owns more than 80% of the wealth” in huge inequality attributed mainly to the legacies of apartheid and colonialism. Almost thirty years after the end of apartheid and “race remains a key factor in South Africa’s large levels of inequality”, due to its lasting impact on access to quality education and the labour market. The report attributes 41% of income inequality to ethnicity and states that 30% of the discrepancies in education can also be attributed to race. Furthermore, gender also contributes to South Africa’s staggering inequality, as women earn on average 30% less than men with equivalent levels of education. Shockingly, the gender pay gap has now reached 38%. South Africa’s neighbours Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, and Namibia also top the list of most unequal countries, making Southern Africa the most unequal region in the world.
Business: Aoife Doyle
Since the invasion of Ukraine, Russia has become the world’s most sanctioned country, but only a handle of governments in Asia have taken action against the Kremlin. Much of Europe, the US, and the UK have taken aggressive sanctions against Moscow, selected Russian banks have been removed from Swift, the US have banned all imports of Russian oil and gas, and sanctioned several oligarchs. Western allies such as Australia, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have imposed sanctions, but the impact is limited. However, these countries only account for 8% of Russia’s global trade. China, which is considered Russia’s closest ally, has refused to condemn the invasion of Ukraine and has not imposed any sanctions on Russia. Similarly, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Sir Lanka, Laos, and Mongolia sat out the vote on a United Nations’ resolution to demand the end of Russia’s military operations in Ukraine. Professor Syed Munir Khasru, chairman of the international think tank, the Institute for Policy, Advocacy, and Governance explained that “without having the two Asian giants China and India on board on sanctions who account for 18% of Russia’s trade, there is unlikely to be any significant impact on Russia.” Asian economies have found themselves caught between Russia, Chin and the West, and as such many governments have chosen to stay quiet as they do not want to criticse Moscow but also do not support them. The longer the invasion continues, the higher oil prices go, and the violation of human rights pile up, will tell the tale of how long these fence sitters can stay silent.
Culture: Armaan Gheewala
An extremely large wave of humanitarianism is spreading throughout Poland, being Ukraine’s biggest refugee intake, with ‘Polish volunteers have begun driving Ukrainian refugees to local train stations, or directly to cities like Warsaw’. This is in line with the Polish government’s response as they have implemented policies that are the most generous across Europe. However, the main issues associated with these large scale refugee aid packages (including financial aid coming from the UN) is the sustainability of them. Large scale aid programmes have the potential to be relatively inefficient as they may not cater to each household’s specific needs as well as only meeting their short term needs instead of thinking about long term outcomes like their education and human capital. Another issue that many advocates have taken issue with, is the generosity Ukrainian refugees have been met with, and even firm’s solidarity with many shutting down business in Russia. This in stark contrast to how Middle Eastern refugees were treated during the Syria crisis or the reluctancy to take in Palestinian refugees during the Israeli-Palastein conflict.
In the last few weeks, LGBT+ rights appear to be regressing due to several states in the USA recent bills that would effectively ban discussion involving LGBT+ discussion in the classroom until a certain grade. This past Tuesday, the Florida senate passed the ‘don’t say gay bill’ as quoted from LGBT+ activists which ‘would prevent teachers from discussing LGBTQ+ identities in classrooms up to the third grade’ highlighting the discriminatory nature of it as younger students will feel isolated in the classroom and it also stigmatises these identities if it appears they ‘are not allowed to be spoken about’. A bill in Idaho has also been passed that would ‘make it a felony for doctors or parents to give hormones or puberty blockers to trans minors or to leave the state in search of such care’. These bills have also caught traction as many multinational companies like Disney are being called out as they have historically been large donors to conservative politicians and bills whilst preaching LGBTQ+ inclusivity.
Science & Technolgoy: Abi Byrne
Amid the war in Ukraine social media is playing an unprecedented role. This week Meta, the parent company of Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram, has made temporary allowances for violent speech in some countries that would usually violate its rules. Meta has said it will make allowances for messages such as “death to the Russian invaders”, but will not permit calls for violence against Russian civilians. A Meta spokesperson told the BBC, “In light of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, we made a temporary exception for those affected by the war, to express violent sentiments toward invading armed forces,”. Under the amended policy, users in countries including Russia, Ukraine and Poland will also be able to call for the deaths of Russia’s President Putin and Belarusian President Lukashenko. In response Russia’s state media watchdog Roskomnadzor will restrict access to Instagram, and has called on the US to stop the social media giant’s “extremist activities”. Russia has already blocked access to Facebook in Russia, citing “discrimination” against Russian media.
Theory: Cassi Ainsworth-Grace
A new academic publication confronts the consensus in the economic literature about whether a country can have “too much finance”. A seminal paper written in 2015 by Jean-Louis Arcand, Enrico Berkes and Ugo Panizza found that there is a certain threshold above which financial flows can cause more harm than benefit. Such issues include a misallocation of talent (such as brain drain to financial services) and an increased vulnerability to financial crises. This new paper, written by Rachel Cho, Rodolphe Desbordes and Markus Eberhardt, finds no strong evidence of a negative long-run effect of “too much finance” on economic prosperity.