UN Report: Fiscal Policies of Advanced Economies Risk Global Recession

U.N. economists warn the monetary and fiscal policies of advanced economies risk plunging the world into a recession worse than the financial crisis of 2008. UNCTAD, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development has issued its annual Trade and Development Report 2022.

The authors of the report warn the world is teetering on the edge of a recession due to bad policy decisions by advanced economies, combined with cascading crises resulting from climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the war in Ukraine.

They project this year’s global growth rate of 2.5 percent will slow to 2.2 percent in 2023. This, they say, will leave a cumulative shortfall of more than $17 trillion, close to 20 percent of the world’s income.

The report finds the slowdown is hitting countries in all regions, especially developing countries. It says growth rates in the poorer countries are expected to drop below three percent, damaging development and employment prospects.

UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan says middle-income countries in Latin America, as well as low-income countries in Africa, will register some of the sharpest slowdowns this year.

“In Africa, an additional 58 million people will fall into extreme poverty in 2022 adding to the 55 million already pushed into extreme poverty by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Grynspan said.

Grynspan says developing countries are facing alarming levels of debt distress and under investment. She says 46 developing countries are severely exposed to multiple economic shocks. She adds another 48 countries are seriously exposed, heightening the threat of a global debt crisis.

“So, countries that were showing signs of debt distress before COVID are taking some of the biggest hits, with climate shocks further threatening economic stability,” Grynspan said. “This is increasing the threat of a global debt crisis. So, countries urgently need real debt relief.”

Grynspan says there is still time to step back from the edge of recession if countries use available tools to calm inflation and support vulnerable groups.

Among its recommendations, UNCTAD urges a more pragmatic strategy that deploys strategic price controls, windfall taxes, anti-trust measures and tighter regulations on commodities speculation.

US Supreme Court Will Hear Social Media Terrorism Lawsuits

The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it will hear two cases seeking to hold social media companies financially responsible for terrorist attacks. 

Relatives of people killed in terrorist attacks in France and Turkey had sued Google, Twitter and Facebook. They accused the companies of helping terrorists spread their message and radicalize new recruits. 

The court will hear the cases this term, which began Monday, with a decision expected before the court recesses for the summer, usually in late June. The court did not say when it would hear arguments, but the court has already filled its argument calendar for October and November. 

One of the cases the justices will hear involves Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old U.S. citizen studying in Paris. The Cal State Long Beach student was one of 130 people killed in Islamic State group attacks in November 2015. The attackers struck cafes, outside the French national stadium and inside the Bataclan theater. Gonzalez died in an attack at La Belle Equipe bistro. 

Gonzalez’s relatives sued Google, which owns YouTube, saying the platform had helped the Islamic State group by allowing it to post hundreds of videos that helped incite violence and recruit potential supporters. Gonzalez’s relatives said that the company’s computer algorithms recommended those videos to viewers most likely to be interested in them. 

But a judge dismissed the case and a federal appeals court upheld the ruling. Under U.S. law — specifically Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — internet companies are generally exempt from liability for the material users post on their networks. 

The other case the court agreed to hear involves Jordanian citizen Nawras Alassaf. He died in the 2017 attack on the Reina nightclub in Istanbul where a gunman affiliated with the Islamic State killed 39 people. 

Alassaf’s relatives sued Twitter, Google and Facebook for aiding terrorism, arguing that the platforms helped the Islamic State grow and did not go far enough in trying to curb terrorist activity on their platforms. A lower court let the case proceed. 

 

Ukrainian Forces Make Gains in Kherson

Ukrainian forces made further gains Monday in the Kherson region in the country’s south, adding to their gains in the east in recent days as they push a counteroffensive against Russia.

Russia-installed officials in Kherson said Ukraine’s military had recaptured some settlements in Kherson.

The region is one of four that Russia illegally annexed last week.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly address Sunday that his forces in Kherson had liberated the settlements of Arkhanhelske and Myroliubivka.

The developments in Kherson followed Sunday’s announcement by Ukrainian forces that they had retaken full control of Lyman, the eastern logistics hub that is also within territory Russia claimed last week was its own.

“Lyman is fully cleared,” Zelenskyy declared in a short video clip on his Telegram channel.

Russia did not comment Sunday on the fate of Lyman but said Saturday that its troops were retreating from the area because it feared Ukrainian forces were about to encircle them. Russia captured Lyman in May and had used it as a logistics and transportation hub for its operations in the north of the Donetsk region.

Russia’s loss of Lyman was its biggest battlefield defeat since Ukrainian forces last month swept through the Kharkiv region in northeastern Ukraine, pushing Russian forces back toward their border.

In addition to claiming the annexations rejected by Ukraine and its western allies, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered late last month the mobilization of 300,000 reservists to bolster Russia’s forces.

The order sparked protests in some areas of Russia and long lines at borders as people fled.

The governor of Russia’s Khabarovsk region said Monday that the military commissar in the region was removed from his post after half of the personnel who were mobilized did not meet draft criteria and were sent home.

The governor said in a Telegram video that the commissar’s removal would not affect the overall mobilization plan.

Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

Reformists Gain in Bosnia Elections, Though Change Unlikely

Reformists who ran on fighting corruption and clientelism in public office appeared set to win an important race in Bosnia’s elections Sunday that could give them greater sway over the direction of the country which has never fully recovered from its 1992-95 sectarian war and remains divided along ethnic lines.  

The first preliminary results released by Bosnia’s central election commission early Monday showed cooperation-prone contenders Denis Becirovic and Zeljko Komsic on course to win respective Bosniak and Croat seats in the tripartite presidency. However, the reformists were likely to be joined by Zeljka Cvijanovic from the strongest Bosnian Serb party – the secessionist and staunchly pro-Russian SNSD.  

Moscow has often been accused by the West of seeking to destabilize the country and the rest of the Balkans through its Serb allies in the region, and the Sunday ballot was held amid growing fears the Kremlin might attempt to reignite the conflict in Bosnia to deflect attention from its campaign in Ukraine.  

The election included contests for the three members of Bosnia’s shared, multiethnic presidency, the president of one of its two highly autonomous parts, and parliament deputies at different, in part overlapping, levels of governance.  

Bosnia’s institutional set-up, often described as one of the most complicated in the world, was introduced by a U.S.-brokered peace agreement that ended the war in the 1990s between its three main ethnic groups – Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats. Under the terms of the agreement, Bosnia was divided into two highly independent entities – one run by Serbs and the other shared by Bosniaks and Croats – which have broad autonomy but are linked by joint, multi-ethnic institutions. All countrywide actions require consensus from all three ethnic groups. 

If the preliminary results hold, Cvijanovic will take over the post from her political party’s boss, Milorad Dodik, who chose to run for the president of Bosnia’s Serb-run part rather than seek a second term in the shared, countrywide presidency.  

Two contenders claim victory

Both Dodik, and his main contender, Jelena Trivic, proclaimed victory in the race for the Bosnian Serb president. Their claims will be tested later Monday, when the election commission is expected to announce preliminary results of the presidential ballot for Bosnia’s Serb-run part and the races for parliament deputies at the state, entity and regional levels.  

Prior to the polls, analysts predicted that the long-entrenched nationalists of all ethnic stripes, who have enriched cronies and ignored the needs of the people, will remain dominant in the legislatures at all levels, largely because the sectarian post-war system of governance leaves pragmatic, reform-minded Bosnians with little incentive to vote. Election turnout on Sunday was 50% or over 2 percentage points down from the 2018 general election.  

Overseer amends electoral law

On Sunday, shortly after the vote count begun, Bosnia’s international overseer, Christian Schmidt, announced in a YouTube video that he was amending the country’s electoral law “to ensure functionality and timely implementation of election results.” Schmidt assured citizens in the video that the changes “will in no way affect” the votes cast on Sunday.  

The 1995 peace agreement gave broad powers to the international high representative, the post currently held by Schmidt, including the ability to impose laws and to dismiss officials and civil servants who undermine the country’s fragile post-war ethnic balance. 

The changes imposed by Schmidt will affect the size of the parliament of the Bosniak-Croat part of the country, and prevent blockades of the formation of its government.  

Greece Says It’s Open to Talks with Turkey Once Provocations End

Greece wants to have a constructive dialogue with Turkey based on international law but its Aegean neighbor must halt its unprecedented escalation of provocations, the Greek foreign minister said Sunday.

The two countries — North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies but historic foes — have been at odds for decades over a range of issues, including where their continental shelves start and end, overflights in the Aegean Sea and a divided Cyprus.

“It is up to Turkey to choose if it will come to such a dialogue or not, but the basic ingredient must be a de-escalation,” Nikos Dendias told the Proto Thema newspaper in an interview.

Last month, the European Union voiced concern over statements by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accusing Greece, an EU member, of occupying demilitarized islands in the Aegean and saying Turkey was ready to “do what is necessary” when the time came.

“The one responsible for a de-escalation is the one causing the escalation, which is Turkey,” Dendias said.

He blamed Ankara for increased provocations with a rhetoric of false and legally baseless claims, “even personal insults.”

Turkey has sharply increased its overflights and violations of Greek airspace, Dendias told the paper, adding that its behavior seems to be serving a “revisionist narrative” that it promotes consistently.

He said Turkish claims that Greece cannot be an equal interlocutor diplomatically, politically and militarily violates the basic rule of foreign relations – the principle of equality among nations.

“It is an insulting approach that ranks various countries as more or less equal,” Dendias said.

Pope Calls on Putin to Stop ‘Spiral of Violence’ in Ukraine 

Pope Francis has called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop “this spiral of violence and death” over the war in Ukraine.

Francis’s remarks, made on Sunday in his weekly public prayer on St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, were some of the strongest he has made since the February 24 invasion.

“My appeal is addressed first of all to the president of the Russian Federation, begging him to stop, also for the love of his people, this spiral of violence and death,” Francis said.

“On the other hand, saddened by the immense suffering of the Ukrainian population following the aggression suffered, I direct an equally confident appeal to the president of Ukraine to be open to serious peace proposals,” he said.

The Roman Catholic leader also decried the growing risk of nuclear war, calling it “absurd.”

“I deeply regret the serious situation that has arisen in recent days, with further actions contrary to the principles of international law,” he said. “In fact, it increases the risk of a nuclear escalation, to the point of fearing uncontrollable and catastrophic consequences worldwide.”

The pope’s comments came two days after Putin gave a fiery Kremlin speech in which he announced Russia was annexing four regions of Ukraine that are partially occupied by Russian forces.

In the September 30 speech, Putin also made veiled threats about using nuclear weapons in the conflict, echoing earlier remarks in which he warned the West “this is not a bluff.”

The Kremlin had no immediate reaction to the pope’s comments.

Latvia Prime Minister Wins Election

The center-right New Unity party of Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins won Saturday’s election, according to provisional results, with its 19% of the vote putting him in a position to head another coalition government.

The results — with 91% of districts counted — mean Latvia should remain a leading voice alongside its Baltic neighbors Lithuania and Estonia in pushing the European Union for a decisive stance against Russia.

Karins’ party was again the party with the most support following the election. Members of the current coalition were on track to receive 42 seats in the 100-seat parliament, so Karins needs to draft additional allies to stay as a prime minister.

As many as nine parties won sufficient votes to gain seats in parliament.

After a campaign dominated by security concerns following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Karins told Reuters he will be working to craft a coalition of like-minded parties.

“I am convinced that we will be able find such a solution,” he said early Sunday.

“First and foremost on everyone’s minds is how we all get through the winter, not only in Latvia but throughout the EU, and that we all remain united behind Ukraine, and do not waiver in the face of difficulties for us,” said Karins.

The first Latvian head of government to serve through a full four-year term, Karins, a 57-year-old dual U.S. and Latvian citizen, has benefited from his Moscow policy, which included restricting the entry of Russian citizens traveling from Russia and Belarus.

“I see no chance that any government in Latvia will stop supporting Ukraine — this is not a view of a small group of politicians, this is the view of our society,” said Karins.

But his victory could widen a rift between the country’s Latvian majority and its Russian-speaking minority over their place in society, amid widespread national anger over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

Bosnia Heads to Polls as Ethnic Tensions Dominate Vote

Bosnians headed to the polls Sunday to vote in general elections following a campaign season marked by threats of secession, political infighting, and fears of future turmoil as ethnic tensions in the country grow.

Voters are casting ballots in a dizzying number of contests, including for the three members of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, the deputies of the central parliament and a string of local races.

Polls opened at 7 a.m. local time (5:00 GMT).

Nearly three decades after war ravaged the Balkan country, Bosnia continues to be burdened by its ethnic divisions.

The Balkan state has been governed by a dysfunctional administrative system created by the 1995 Dayton Agreement that succeeded in ending the conflict in the 1990s, but largely failed in providing a framework for the country’s political development.

Bosnia remains partitioned between a Serb entity — the Republika Srpska (RS) — and a Muslim-Croat federation connected by a weak central government.

In the war’s wake, ethnic political parties have long exploited the country’s divisions in a bid to maintain power.

“I hope for nothing. I vote because that is the only thing I can do as an individual,” said Amra Besic, a 57-year-old economist, as she cast her ballot in Sarajevo.

Coalition clash

In the run-up to Sunday’s vote, the country has been torn between secessionist Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats demanding greater autonomy and electoral reforms.

The country’s Muslim Bosniaks will also face a choice of voting for a disparate, 11-party coalition that is trying to unseat the rule of the mainstream SDA.

The SDA is led by Bakir Izetbegovic — the son of the first president of independent Bosnia — and has largely dominated the political scene in the country for decades.

Many voters say that the lack of young candidates offering fresh ideas has left them largely uninspired on the eve of the elections.

“Most of the candidates that are running are the ones we have been watching for the last twenty years,” said Sara Djogic, a 21-year-old philosophy student in the capital, Sarajevo.

“There are not many who offer something new,” she added.

With little to no polling data available, analysts say incumbents and nationalist parties that have dominated the post-war political scene are likely to win many of the races.

The leader of Bosnia’s Serbs, Milorad Dodik, is seeking his third term as the president of the RS, after completing a stint in the tripartite presidency.

For the past year, Dodik has been stoking tensions with his frequent calls for Bosnia’s Serbs to separate even further from the country’s central institutions, earning him fresh sanctions from the U.S. in January.

Dodik’s primary challenger Jelena Trivic has vowed to crack down on corruption in the RS if elected.

“Our revenge will be the law,” Trivic said ahead of the polls.

Fears of turmoil

For the country’s Catholic Croats, political turmoil has also been brewing.

Ahead of the election, many Croats have been demanding electoral reforms with the leading nationalist party HDZ threatening to boycott the contest.

Their grievances are steeped in the vast numerical advantage held by Bosniaks in the Muslim-Croat federation, which has allowed Muslim voters to hold de-facto control over who can be elected to lead the Croats at the presidential level.

HDZ and other Croat parties have been calling for the creation of a new mechanism to allow the community to choose their own representatives to the presidency and upper house.

The move, however, has been fiercely opposed by the federation’s ruling Bosniak party.

With threats of fresh boycotts, fears are growing of potential turmoil after the polls if the incumbent Croat co-president Zeljko Komsic — who is widely reviled by all Croat parties that view him as a Bosniak proxy — is reelected.

The ever-present threats and vitriol have led some to skip the polling booth Sunday.

“I do not expect anything new after these elections. Everything will be the same,” said Mira Sladojevic, a pensioner in her 70s in Sarajevo.

“I haven’t voted for a long time,” she added.

The first wave of preliminary results is expected several hours after the polls close at 7 p.m. (19:00 GMT).

EU Leaders to Discuss Infrastructure Following Incidents on Russian Pipelines

European Union leaders will discuss the security of crucial infrastructure when they meet in Prague next week following damage to the Nord Stream pipelines that many in the West have said was caused by sabotage.

“Sabotage of Nord Stream pipelines is a threat to the EU,” Charles Michel, who chairs meetings of EU leaders, said in a tweet Saturday after talks with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen in Brussels.

“We are determined to secure our critical infrastructure. Leaders will address this at the upcoming summit in Prague,” he wrote.

The leaders of EU member states leaders are scheduled to meet in the Czech capital on Friday.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also met with Frederiksen in Brussels “to address the sabotage” on the pipelines, he said on Twitter.

“NATO allies will continue our close cooperation on resilience [and the] protection of critical infrastructure,” Stoltenberg wrote.

NATO earlier voiced “deep concern” over the damage sustained by the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea, calling the incidents “deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage.”

Three leaks — two in the Danish zone and one in the Swedish zone — were discovered last week in the two major Russian underwater pipelines designed to ship natural gas to Germany, while Sweden on Thursday said its coast guard had found a fourth leak.

On Saturday, a Nord Stream 2 pipeline spokesperson told Agence France-Presse the pipeline is no longer leaking under the Baltic Sea because an equilibrium has been reached between the gas and water pressure. Information on the status of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline leak, which was significantly larger, was not immediately available, AFP reported.

The incidents come amid rising tensions between Europe and Russia over the war in Ukraine.

While both NATO and the European Union say the leaks were caused by sabotage, they have so far refrained from directly pinning the blame on Russia.

Some material for this article came from Reuters, Agence France-Presse and dpa. 

Danes: Nord Stream 2 Pipeline Seems to Have Stopped Leaking

The Danish Energy Agency says one of two ruptured natural gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea appears to have stopped leaking natural gas.

The agency said on Twitter on Saturday that it had been informed by the company operating the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that pressure appears to have stabilized in the pipeline, which runs from Russia to Germany.

“This indicates that the leaking of gas in this pipeline has ceased,” the Danish Energy Agency said.

Undersea blasts that damaged the Nord Stream I and 2 pipelines this week have led to huge methane leaks. Nordic investigators said the blasts have involved several hundred pounds of explosives.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday accused the West of sabotaging the Russia-built pipelines, a charge vehemently denied by the United States and its allies.

The U.S.-Russia clashes continued later at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council in New York called by Russia on the pipelines attacks and as Norwegian researchers published a map projecting that a huge plume of methane from the damaged pipelines will travel over large swaths of the Nordic region.

Speaking Friday in Moscow, Putin claimed that “Anglo-Saxons” in the West have turned from imposing sanctions on Russia to “terror attacks,” sabotaging the pipelines in what he described as an attempt to “destroy the European energy infrastructure.”

In Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden dismissed Putin’s pipeline claims as outlandish.

“It was a deliberate act of sabotage. And now the Russians are pumping out disinformation and lies. We will work with our allies to get to the bottom (of) precisely what happened,” Biden promised. “Just don’t listen to what Putin’s saying. What he’s saying we know is not true.”

U.S. officials said the Putin claim was trying to shift attention from his annexation Friday of parts of Ukraine.

“We’re not going to let Russia’s disinformation distract us or the world from its transparently fraudulent attempt to annex sovereign Ukrainian territory,” White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said Friday.

European nations, which have been reeling under soaring energy prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have noted that it is Russia, not Europe, that benefits from chaos in the energy markets and spiking prices for energy.

The U.S. has long opposed to the two pipelines and had repeatedly urged Germany to halt them, saying they increased Europe’s energy dependence on Russia and decreased its security. Since the war in Ukraine began in February, Russia has cut back supplies of natural gas sent to Europe to heat homes, generate electricity and run factories. European leaders have accused Putin of using “energy blackmail” to divide them in their strong support for Ukraine.

The attacks on the pipelines have prompted energy companies and European governments to beef up security around energy infrastructure.