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Time to invest in Russia despite sanctions threat?

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The 10 most important things you need to know on Caspian Sea Region for Thursday, June 11:

1Time to invest despite sanctions threat? “Despite this uncertainty, however, some market participants argued there were “bargains” in Russia.”There is significant opportunity here. The one thing with Russia is that it generally goes from being the worst (performing) stock market to the first stock market in a very rapid rate,” Simon Fentham-Fletcher, chief information officer of Freedom Asset Management, told CNBC Europe’s “Squawk Box” Wednesday. His company specializes in investment in emerging markets, such as Russia. Certain sectors – such as retail and real estate – were thriving, Fentham-Fletcher said, speaking from Moscow” writes Holly Ellyatt for the CNBC.

2Duqu 2.0: computer virus ‘linked to Israel’ found at Iran nuclear talks venue. “The security company Kaspersky discovered the virus, which it said was a new variant of the Duqu worm, itself a variant of the state-sponsored computer virus Stuxnet, used to attack Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in 2010. Known as Duqu 2.0, the new worm was, Kaspersky said, used to attack three European hotels where the P5+1 talks involving the US, UK, Germany, France, Russia, and China with the EU concerning Iranian nuclear capabilities were held over the last 18 months. Kaspersky did not identify the hotels or say who was behind the attack. However, Israel is thought to have deployed the original Duqu worm to carry out sensitive intelligence gathering” writes Samuel Gibbs for the guardian.

3In his opening speech at the Fifth Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions Wednesday in Kazakh capital Astana, President Nazarbayev said the trust that has been built in the decades since World War II has been lost. Describing Islam as a “tolerant” religion, Nazarbayev said that it was “blasphemous” to use it as an excuse for extremism and terrorism.”The destruction of centuries-old cultural heritage sites in Iraq and Syria cannot be called anything else but anti-humane acts,” he said. Kazakhstan can be a model for religious freedom, added Nazarbayev, “The key foundation is tolerance and openness.” Attended by 80 delegations from 42 countries, the two day inter-religious meeting, which takes place once every three years, is aimed at shaping resolutions for global threats and challenges through communication among religious leaders.

4Azerbaijan blocks Amnesty visit ahead of European Games. Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, said the crackdown by authorities “only highlighted their desperate attempts to create a criticism-free zone around the games”. He added that the legacy of the event would be to “further encourage repressive authorities around the world to view major international sporting events as a ticket to international prestige”. In its new report, the London-based group said the government’s campaign against activists had left Azerbaijan “without independent voices”.”Behind the image trumpeted by the government of a forward-looking, modern nation is a state where criticism of the authorities is routinely and increasingly met with repression,” said the report, which was released on Wednesday. [BBC]

5Kazakhstan has finished negotiating the terms of a deal to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), capping 20 years of efforts to take part in the world of mainstream commerce. The country’s WTO accession package will go for final approval before WTO members on June 22.”I congratulate WTO members and the government of the Republic of Kazakhstan on the historic step taken today,” WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo said on June 10. “I look forward to welcoming Kazakhstan to the WTO.”Ambassador Vesa Himanen of Finland, who chaired the WTO working party that negotiated the deal with Kazakhstan, said it was “one of the most challenging negotiations in the 20-year history of the organization.” [TASS]

6Russia has no contract with Iran to import its oil, but may help resell it on the world market, according to Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak. Already the two countries cooperate in a variety of commercial sectors. One key aspect is Russia supplying fuel for Iran’s nuclear power reactor at Bushehr in central Iran on the Persian Gulf coast. Last August’ deal could be essential for Iran, whose crude exports have plunged by more than half – from 2.5 million barrels per day to about 1 million barrels per day – since 2011, when the international community tightened sanctions. Any company trading with Iran is forbidden under the sanctions from doing business with the U.S. and Europe. Iran recently has expressed hope and even confidence that the sanctions imposed on it may be lifted soon” writes Andy Tully for the Oilprice.

7BRICS Bank Could Change the Game. “There are challenges to overcome. Researcher Wood thinks that “the bank’s short term challenges will be logistical, completing basic things like hiring staff, building internal operational procedures, and so on. Once this is completed, two larger challenges will present themselves. First, making a decision on what projects to fund, which will involve answering difficult questions on what type of projects the bank prioritizes, where it most wants to operate, and what role political priorities might play. Second, would be in building relationships with existing funders, like the World Bank and AIIB, to assure the BRICS bank doesn’t have to bear all the risk of the projects it gets involved in” writes Kester Kenn Klomegah for the Modern Diplomacy.

8Why Almaty should get the 2022 Winter Olympics. “In contrast with the grassroots opposition that scuttled Norway’s bid, Kazakhstan’s bid has overwhelming public support. Two polls were conducted to gauge national opinion on the Games. A poll that the International Olympic Committee commissioned showed 87 percent support. A poll that the Almaty 2022 organization conducted showed 79 percent support. One reason Almaty’s cost proposal is so reasonable is because it’s already built or renovated most of the facilities needed for the Olympics. A lot of the work was done for the 2011 Asian Winter Games – the building of a ski jump and the renovation of the Medeu skating rink, for example. Almaty will build additional facilities for the 2017 Winter Universiade, an Olympic-caliber event for student athletes 17 to 28” writes Hal Foster for the Tegri News.

9Iran and Azerbaijan are two neighbor countries and friends with lots of cooperation in various sectors which has grown in recent years and can go further, Jalil Eslami, deputy director of ports and special zones affairs of Iran’s Ports and Sailing Organization told Trend June 10. The official stressed that maritime cooperation can help Iran-Azerbaijan relations. There are agreements on cooperation in the maritime sector and there are sisterhood pacts between Iranian and Azerbaijani ports, he said. Eslami in particular pointed to maritime transit and tourism as one of the sectors with great development opportunities. Having in mind the growing tourism attractions, it is necessary to provide the infrastructure for transporting over 25 million passengers by 2025, and improving the quality and quantity of maritime transportation services, he noted.

10Russia’s Unending Balkan Intrigues. “Russia’s Leninst-style foreign policy egoism as well as its historical efforts to oust the West from the Balkans and create a sphere of influence there go hand in hand; together, they represent Moscow’s unending efforts to control the Balkan region. One of the most practical regional issues for Moscow is the transmission of Russian energy through the Balkans to Central Europe. Russia aims to cement a monopoly on providing this energy; yet, it neglects to do the practical things necessary to build pipelines or win local governments’ willing assent to its plans. In seeking to eliminate rivals to its regional energy strategies, Russia is obstructing Azerbaijan’s efforts to buy a 66-percent stake in the Greek gas grid operator DESFA. Moscow has long coveted not only the Greek grid but also other distribution networks throughout Europe” writes Stephen Blank for the Jamestown.

Journalist, specialized in Middle East, Russia & FSU, Terrorism and Security issues. Founder and Editor-in-chief of the Modern Diplomacy magazine.

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Development

Lighthouse Partnerships Gain Momentum on Social Justice

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Crises in climate, health and inequality are compelling organizations to align business strategies with equity and social justice values.

In a new whitepaper, Lighthouse Action on Social Justice Through Stakeholder Inclusion, the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) and Laudes Foundation, shines a light on emerging corporate momentum supporting stakeholder inclusion and social justice.

Through the case studies of nine “lighthouse examples,” the report chronicles how the following companies and coalitions are establishing stakeholder inclusion models and best business practices in three key areas:

Making investments targeting impacted communities in value chains and ecosystems:

– The Resilience Fund for Women in Global Value Chains (UN Foundation, BSR, Women Win/Win-Win, Gap Foundation, PVH Foundation, H&M Foundation, the VF Foundation, and the Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation)

– In Solidarity Program (Mastercard)

– Replenish Africa Initiative (The Coca-Cola Foundation)

Influencing public policy and speaking out as corporate citizens:

– Open for Business Coalition (39 major corporations)

– Racial Equality and Justice Task Force (Salesforce)

Applying rigorous accountability practices and sharing power with workers in supply chains and communities:

– Unilever’s Living Wage commitment (Unilever)

– Farmer Income Lab (Mars, ABinBev, Danone, Oxfam, IDH, Livelihoods Fund for Family Farming, UNDP)

– Amul Supplier Cooperative Ownership (Amul)

– Patagonia’s Implementation of Regenerative Organic Certified Standards in its Apparel Supply Chain (Patagonia)

The whitepaper outlines successes and pain points as these leading lighthouse partnerships between business and civil society strive for more meaningful participation with communities most impacted by systemic injustices. Each business is unique in its culture and path to long-term value creation, but all are committed to the belief that stakeholder primacy leads to optimal outcomes.

The time to move forward with these ideals is now, and the conclusion is clear in that, “…the crises of pandemic, protest and social disruption have created an inflection point for many companies to evaluate their corporate sustainability strategies,” said David Sangokoya, Head, Civil Society and Social Justice, World Economic Forum. “Stakeholder inclusion must be at the centre of any corporate action on equity and social justice in our unequal world…positioning business on the path towards redesigning business models that shift power and value towards stakeholder primacy.”

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Health & Wellness

COVID vaccines: Widening inequality and millions vulnerable

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Health leaders agree that a world without COVID-19 will not be possible until everyone has equal access to vaccines. More than 4.6 million people have died from the virus since it swept across the globe from the beginning of 2020, but it’s expected that the rate of people dying will slow if more people are vaccinated. 

Developed countries are far more likely to vaccinate their citizens, which risks prolonging the pandemic, and widening global inequality. Ahead of a dialogue at the UN on Monday between senior United Nations officials UN News explains the importance of vaccine equity.

What is vaccine equity?

Quite simply, it means that all people, wherever they are in the world, should have equal access to a vaccine which offers protection against the COVID-19 infection.

WHO has set a global target of 70 per cent of the population of all countries to be vaccinated by mid-2022, but to reach this goal a more equitable access to vaccines will be needed.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) said vaccine equity was “not rocket science, nor charity. It is smart public health and in everyone’s best interest.”

Why is it so important?

Apart from the ethical argument that no country or citizen is more deserving of another, no matter how rich or poor, an infectious disease like COVID-19 will remain a threat globally, as long as it exists anywhere in the world.

Inequitable vaccine distribution is not only leaving millions or billions of people vulnerable to the deadly virus, it is also allowing even more deadly variants to emerge and spread across the globe.

Moreover, an unequal distribution of vaccines will deepen inequality and exaggerate the gap between rich and poor and will reverse decades of hard-won progress on human development.

According to the UN, vaccine inequity will have a lasting impact on socio-economic recovery in low and lower-middle income countries and set back progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to the UNDP, eight out of ten people pushed into poverty directly by the pandemic are projected to live in the world’s poorest countries in 2030.

Estimates also suggest that the economic impacts of COVID-19 may last until 2024 in low-income countries, while high-income countries could reach pre-COVID-19 per capita GDP growth rates by the end of this year.

Is it working?

Not according to Dr Tedros, who said in April this year that “vaccine equity is the challenge of our time…and we are failing”.

Research suggests that enough vaccines will be produced in 2021 to cover 70 per cent of the global population of 7.8 billion. However, most vaccines are being reserved for wealthy countries, while other vaccine-producing countries are restricting the export of doses so they can ensure that their own citizens get vaccinated first, an approach which has been dubbed “vaccine nationalism”. The decision by some nations to give already inoculated citizens a booster vaccine, rather than prioritizing doses for unvaccinated people in poorer countries has been highlighted as one example of this trend.

 Still, the good news, according to WHO data, is that as of September 15, more than 5.5 billion doses have been administered worldwide, although given that most of the available vaccines require two shots, the number of people who are protected is much lower.

Which countries are getting the vaccines right now?

Put simply, the rich countries are getting the majority of vaccines, with many poorer countries struggling to vaccinate even a small number of citizens.

According to the Global Dashboard for Vaccine Equity  (established by UNDP, WHO and Oxford University) as of September 15, just 3.07 per cent of people in low-income countries have been vaccinated with at least one dose, compared to 60.18 per cent in high-income countries.

The vaccination rate in the UK of people who have received at least one vaccine dose is around 70.92 per cent while the US is currently at 65.2 per cent. Other high-income and middle-income countries are not doing so well; New Zealand has vaccinated just 31.97 per cent of its relatively small population of around five million, although Brazil, is now at 63.31 per cent.

However, the stats in some of the poorest countries in the world make for grim reading. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo just 0.09 per cent of the population have received one dose; in Papua New Guinea and Venezuela, the rate is 1.15 per cent and 20.45 per cent respectively.

What’s the cost of a vaccine?

Data from UNICEF show that the average cost of a COVID-19 vaccine is $2 to $37 (there are 24 vaccines which have been approved by at least one national regulatory authority) and the estimated distribution cost per person is $3.70. This represents a significant financial burden for low-income countries, where, according to UNDP, the average annual per capita health expenditure amounts to $41.

The vaccine equity dashboard shows that, without immediate global financial support, low-income countries would have to increase their healthcare spending by between 30 and 60 per cent to meet the target of vaccinating 70 per cent of their citizens.

What has the UN been doing to promote a more equitable access to vaccines?

WHO and UNICEF have worked with other organizations to establish and manage the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility, known as COVAX. Launched in April 2020, WHO called it a “ground-breaking global collaboration to accelerate the development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines”.

Its aim is to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world based on need and not purchasing power.

Currently, COVAX numbers 141 participants according to the UN-supported Gavi alliance, but it’s not the only way that countries can access vaccines as they can also make bilateral deals with manufacturers.

Will equal access to vaccines bring an end to the pandemic?

It’s a crucial step, obviously, and in many richer countries, life is getting back to some sort of normality for many people, even if some pandemic protocols are still in place. The situation in less developed countries is more challenging. While the delivery of vaccines, provided under the COVAX Facility, is being welcomed across the world, weak health systems, including shortages of health workers are contributing to mounting access and distribution challenges on the ground.

And equity issues don’t disappear once vaccines are physically delivered in country; in some nations, both rich and poor, inequities in distribution may still persist.

It’s also worth remembering that the imperative of providing equal access to health care is, of course, not a new issue, but central to the Sustainable Development Goals and more precisely, SDG 3 on good health and well-being, which calls for achieving universal health coverage and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.

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Tech News

Moscow electronic school — the future of education

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The Moscow Electronic School (“MES”) project is a cloud-based Internet platform launched in 2016 that unites all educational institutions in Moscow into a single high-tech environment. After successful testing, since September 1, 2017, the MES has been implemented in all educational organizations (schools, kindergartens, colleges) in Moscow and is available online for any user from anywhere in the world, from any device 24/7/365. Today MES unites about 3 million participants in the educational process of the capital, including teachers, students and their parents.

The Moscow Electronic School project is aimed at the most effective use of the school’s IT capabilities to improve the quality of student education by forming a connection between the organizational and content aspects of the educational process (interactive equipment, as well as personal devices of users connected to the Internet, are linked with the educational materials of the platform).

The “MES” platform provides automation of most of the organizational, methodological and pedagogical tasks solved in a modern large educational organization, makes the content of education more accessible, allows in practice to implement modern pedagogical technologies and approaches, for example, blended learning, distance and electronic education.

Today “MES” has become a real digital assistant for the modern teacher. Thanks to special digital constructors, Moscow teachers in the “MES” Library create lesson scripts, “folk” textbooks, self-study guides, tests that students use in class, when preparing design work at school, in the course of independent work. Thus, the service allows not only to use the posted educational materials, but also to supplement the cloud educational platform with its developments and content, as well as to share them with colleagues. Electronic versions of textbooks, teaching aids, interactive applications and other modern digital content allow the teacher to diversify the content of the assignments and make the learning process fun for children and more effective.

“MES” services

The key elements of the digital educational platform are an electronic journal, an electronic diary, a library of electronic materials, the “Moskvenok” service (Pass and Power system), as well as infrastructure solutions: Wi-Fi access points with high-speed Internet, school servers, touch-controlled interactive panels with a built-in computer, teachers’ tablets and laptops, a video surveillance system and turnstiles at the entrance.

“MES Library” is a unique repository of educational electronic materials and tools. The service is implemented in the web version and as a mobile application “MES Library”. Library materials are available online at no cost to any user from anywhere in the world.

The “Moskvenok” service helps parents place an order for their child’s hot meals (if the school is connected to the hot meal ordering service from the menu), check his arrival or departure from school, college or kindergarten, control his meals in the school cafeteria and the costs of the cafeteria. Children can use the “Moskvenok” carrier (bracelet, keychain or card) as a pass to an educational organization and museums in Moscow, as well as for non-cash payments for purchases at school.

The electronic diary contains complete information on training: curriculum for the year ahead, schedule and attendance of classes, progress, analytics. The service makes it possible to find out about current events and activities. It is available both in the web version and in the form of the “MES Diary” mobile application.

In the new academic year, “MES” will be replenished with a wide range of diverse partner educational content, which has already proven itself well among teachers and schoolchildren. Thanks to this, an additional 45 thousand units of new tools and materials will appear in the library: interactive presentations for lessons, design and research tasks, virtual laboratories and tests. Most of the tasks will be self-checking, that is, after completing the work, the teacher, student and parent can immediately familiarize themselves with the results.

Virtual laboratories

Another important area in the Moscow Electronic School is virtual laboratories – interactive online simulators of experiences and experiments for children and adults, which allow improving knowledge and skills in the subjects of the school curriculum. At the beginning of the academic year, new virtual laboratories for drawing, inorganic chemistry, computer science, mathematics, biology and physics will appear at the “MES”.

This year, in the library of the Moscow Electronic School, the collection of virtual laboratories has been replenished with 10 new laboratories in the section of biology “Cytology” for schoolchildren in grades 5-11. It has an interactive virtual microscope that allows you to view individual cells. And the children can consolidate the knowledge gained by “collecting” cells in a game format, solving an interactive problem or passing a thematic quiz.

It is now possible to design and conduct experiments on electrostatics, magnetostatics and electromagnetism in the virtual laboratory “Electromagnetic field. Faraday”, which became the fifth in the line of physics laboratories. The new laboratory will help schoolchildren to master the main sections of electrodynamics: electrostatics, magnetic field and electromagnetic phenomena.

Another novelty is the virtual laboratory “MES Informatics” for students in grades 7-11. Children will be able to test their knowledge using 290 ready-made tests, practice using more than 9 thousand tasks, and also take 254 programming courses.

Student’s portfolio

An important innovation of the “MES” is the new “Student portfolio” service. It will accumulate the results and achievements of schoolchildren not only in the educational part, but also in olympiads, competitions, sports competitions. Also, students and their parents will be able to independently enter information into the new service, edit data and share their portfolio with friends, teachers, organizations.

Thematic materials about Russian writers

At the end of July, the project “Moscow Electronic School” made available thematic materials about the life and work of one of the greatest poets of the golden age of Russian literature – Mikhail Lermontov.

Also, the project “Moscow Electronic School” presented a thematic selection of materials about the life and work of Fyodor Dostoevsky in the year of the 200th anniversary of the birth of the writer. Schoolchildren are offered to go on a virtual trip to St. Petersburg of the XIX century and get acquainted with the peculiarities of the worldview of the classic.

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