Russia-Vietnam ties that seemed to be cooling after the end of the Cold War are warming up all over again. More than 20 years after Moscow abandoned its largest foreign base, Russian military aircraft are once again welcome visitors at Cam Ranh Bay.
The renewed Russian presence in Vietnam has predictably set the alarm bells ringing in the Pentagon, with the Commander of the US Army in the Pacific confirming that Russian strategic bombers circling the massive American military base in Guam are being refueled at Cam Ranh Bay.
On March 11 Washington wrote to Hanoi, requesting that the Vietnamese authorities not assist Russian bomber flights in the Asia-Pacific. The Vietnamese reaction was to remain publicly silent. According to Phuong Nguyen of the Washington-based Center for Strategic & International Studies, “From the perspective of many Vietnamese officials who fought against the United States during the war, Moscow helped train generations of Vietnamese leaders and supported Hanoi during its decades of international isolation.”
Nguyen adds: “Few things are more vital to Vietnam than an independent foreign policy. Given Vietnam’s complex history, its leaders do not want their country to be caught between major powers again. Anything that resembles U.S. interference in Vietnam’s dealings with Russia could unnecessarily aggravate this fear.”
Although the Vietnamese consider the US an increasingly important partner in Southeast Asia, it’s Russia that tops the pecking order. A per an agreement inked in November 2014, Russian warships visiting the deep water port of Cam Ranh only have to give prior notice to the Vietnamese authorities before steaming in whereas all other foreign navies are limited to just one annual ship visit to Vietnamese ports.
Why Vietnam matters
Located at the gateway to the Indian and Pacific Oceans, Vietnam is of critical importance to Russia. Permanent basing of air and naval assets in Vietnam helps the Russian Pacific Fleet solve its problem of having to pass through the narrow straits of the Sea of Japan to gain access to the Pacific.
To be sure, the current Russian presence is minimal compared with the firepower of the 1980s, when Moscow’s Pacific fleet consisted of an incredible 826 ships, including 133 submarines, 190 naval bomber jets and 150 anti-submarine aircraft. Even back then, Moscow’s buildup was hardly aggressive. According to Alvin H. Bernstein of the US Naval War College, it was “unlikely to have a specific, aggressive, regional intent since that would be quite out of character for a power” that has revealed itself as “cautious and non-confrontational”.
Three decades on, Moscow under President Vladimir Putin is once again seeking to enhance its role as both an Asian and global power, and as Bernstein noted, the country wants to be “prepared for all contingencies and opportunities”.
It’s also part of Vietnam’s Look East policy. In fact, much before US President Barack Obama announced its pivot to Asia, Russia was already pivoting East, making inroads into once pro-American countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia.
However, it is in Vietnam where Russian diplomacy is in overdrive. But first a quick flashback.
Vietnam is a small country with a military that punches way above its weight. For those with short memories, the Southeast Asia country handed out resounding defeats to France and the U.S. in back to back wars. Stupendous bravery, clever battle tactics and a never-say-die spirit were decisive in winning those wars, but a key factor was that the Vietnamese had powerful friends.
During the Vietnam War, Russia played a critical role in Vietnam’s defence, supplying a massive quantity of weapons. Over the course of the 21-year war Russian assistance was worth $2 million a day. In return, Vietnam offered Russia free use of the Cam Ranh Bay base. As part of this agreement, the Russians stationed MiG-23 fighters, Tu-16 tankers, Tu-95 long range bombers and Tu-142 maritime reconnaissance aircraft at the base.
Cam Ranh became Moscow’s largest naval base for forward deployment outside Europe. Some 20 ships were berthed daily at the base, along with six nuclear attack submarines. The base played a pivotal role in helping Russia in its Cold War faceoff against American-led forces in Asia and the Pacific. For instance, when the U.S. Seventh Fleet sailed up the Bay of Bengal to put pressure on India during the 1971 India Pakistan War, the Russian Pacific Fleet was quickly able to dispatch nuclear-armed submarines and warships to defend India.
Despite Cam Ranh Bay’s importance to Moscow geopolitically and its value as an intelligence gathering post, the Russian presence practically evaporated after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Military bases of the scale of Cam Ranh Bay cost an insane amount of money to operate and Russia no longer had cash to burn. In 2001, even the listening station was abandoned.
China gets Klubbed
Although the Russian military presence declined, strong ties continued to bind Russia and Vietnam. In the backdrop of Vietnam’s high-decibel spat with China for control of the oil-rich Spratly Islands, Hanoi went on a high-octane hardware hunt. Vietnam’s legendary air force acquired 24 Su-30 combat jets from Russia, and by the end of 2015, it will operate 36 Sukhois, becoming the third largest operator of this advanced super-maneuverable aircraft.
However, it is the Vietnam People’s Army Navy (VPAN) that is really beefing up. In 2009, Vietnam signed a $3.2 billion deal with Russia that includes six Kilo class submarines and construction of a submarine facility at Cam Ranh Bay.
Another big-ticket acquisition is that of 50 Klub supersonic cruise missiles for its Kilos, making Vietnam the first Southeast Asian nation to arm its submarine fleet with a land attack missile.
Weighing two tons, the Klub has a 200 kg warhead. The anti-ship version has a range of 300 km, but speeds up to 3,000 km an hour during its last minute or so of flight. According to Strategy Page, the land attack version does away with the high speed final approach feature and that makes possible a larger 400 kg warhead.
“What makes the Klub particularly dangerous when attacking ships is that during its final approach, which begins when the missile is about 15 km from its target, the missile speeds up,” reports Strategy Page. “Up to that point, the missile travels at an altitude of about a hundred feet. This makes the missile more difficult to detect. That plus the high speed final approach means that it covers that last 15 km in less than 20 seconds. This makes it more difficult for current anti-missile weapons to take it down.”
Russian built submarines armed with the potent Klubs are expected to play a critical role in any conflict in the South China Sea. According to one analyst, the land-attack cruise missiles mark a “massive shift” advancing Vietnam’s naval capabilities. “They’ve given themselves a much more powerful deterrent that complicates China’s strategic calculations.”
It is believed Chinese warships have no effective defense against missile like Klub, which why they have gone ballistic about Russia selling them to Vietnam.
While the Kilos are being built, Russia and India are currently in charge of training Vietnamese officers who will work in the submarines.
Further Russian firepower
Plus, in 2011 the VPAN acquired two Gepard-class guided missile stealth frigates from Russia at a cost of $300 million, with the Gepard fleet set to increase to six by 2017. These versatile ships are equipped for surface attacks, anti-submarine warfare and air defense.
The VPAN’s other acquisitions include four Svetlyak-class fast patrol boats with anti-ship missiles; 12 frigates and corvettes of Russian origin; and two Molniya-class missile fast attack ships built with Russian assistance, with four more expected by 2016.
Vietnam has also acquired advanced radars; 40 Yakhont and 400 Kh-35 Uran anti-ship missiles; Kh-59MK anti-ship cruise missiles; R-73 (AA-11 Archer) short-range air-to-air missiles; 200 SA-19 Grison surface-to-air missiles; two batteries of the legendary S-300 surface-to-air systems; VERA passive radio locators; and two batteries of the K-300P Bastion coastal defense missiles.
According to a research paper by Portugal-based academics Phuc Thi Tran, Alena Vysotskaya G. Vieira and Laura C. Ferreira-Pereira, “The acquisition of military capabilities is critical, not only purely for the sake of defense and strategic calculations, but also for the important function it plays in the safeguarding of both economic interests and the security of oil field explorations in the South China Sea. This latter aspect is particularly critical given the role that Russia has been playing herein. Indeed, the lion’s share of these exploitation projects has being undertaken by Vietnam jointly with Russia.”
While defense gets more traction in the media, it is energy that’s the single biggest area of cooperation between Moscow and Hanoi. The Russia-Vietnam joint venture Vietsovpetro has generated big dividends for both countries. The company has produced more than 185 million tons of crude oil and more than 21 billion cubic meters of gas from oilfields in the South China Sea. Nearly 80 per cent of Vietnamese oil and gas comes from Vietsovpetro, and the income corresponds to around 25 per cent of GDP.
Russia has also made considerable investments in Vietnam’s heavy and light industries, transportation, post, aquatic culture and fishing. These projects have led to other spinoffs – impressed by the profits generated by Russian corporations, a slew of other companies such as Mobil, BP and TOTAL have ramped up investments in Vietnam.
Vietnam’s strategic hedging towards Russia is closely connected to its economic cooperation in oil exploration, which brings significant economic benefits to both sides. Strong defense ties between the two countries has enabled Vietnam to acquire modern military equipment, providing the country with the ability to advance joint explorations of oil and gas despite growing Chinese opposition towards these projects.
At the same time, Russia is returning to reclaim its great power legacy. It offers Moscow a myriad of opportunities to secure political and economic influence with the various emerging powers in the heart of the most dynamic region on the planet.
Alexander’s Dugin’s Neo Eurasianism in Putin’s Russia
The sheer vacuum created in the ideological realm of Russia after it deviated from Communist ideology in the backdrop of Perestroika became a prime factor in Russia’s melancholy during its time of troubles in the ’90s. It was by no means an exaggeration that every epoch in modern Russian history was illuminated by some kind of ideology and it constrained people to move on regardless of the realities that they were surrounded. However, the ideological anarchy that existed in Yeltsin era in Russia was followed by his hobnobbing with the Western liberal democracy which eventually resulted in utter failure. The rise of the lesser-known kooky character named “Alexander Dugin” was mainly bolstered by this socio-political and economic discontents of Russia in the ’90s.
Dugin’s penchant for mysticism, traditionalism and more importantly his antipathy on the US-led Liberal order made him the guru of the neo-right-wing brigade in Russia. Especially, Dugin was responsible for reviving a principle propounded by Sir Halfeld Mackinder on the importance of geopolitics. Mackinder was plucked from obscurity to fame as Dugin clung to the idea of “Geopolitics “as his cardinal thesis for Post-Soviet Russian space. Dugin’s publication of his major work in 1997 called The Foundation of Geopolitics “sprang out of Mackinder’s idea and this work created a heavy brainstorm in Russian intelligentsia that paved the path for Dugin to become the new prophet for Russian right-wing ideology. The reasons impacted on the popularity was essentially attributed to Russia was envisaging in the late ’90s in limbo and the book arrived in Moscow when Russian elites were in an ambivalent position about Yeltsin’s dream on Western Liberal democracy. The basic argument Dugin narrated in “The Foundation of Geopolitics “was an appealing one. He argued that that geography, not economics is the pivotal cause of world power and Russia by its intrinsic physical location providing a prime global role. The US was illustrated as the biggest villain which persisted in its “ Atlanticism “ over continental Europe. Dugin argued that Eurasian empire will be constructed on denying the common enemy the USA and its liberal values. In writing his classic work that Dugin insisted on the grave necessity of keeping a rapport with common allies like Iran against the common enemy. Yet, in Eurasian project Dugin clung to the idea of preserving the ethnic and cultural diversity of Eurasian civilization. Quoting the words of new right-wing ideologist Jean Francis Thiriart’s famous saying “The main mistake of Hitler was that he tried to make Europe German. Instead, he should have tried to make it European”, Dugin affirmed that Eurasianism would not be an imperial force.
The rigour of Dugin’s influence in Russia has seen a steeping increase under Putin’s rule and mainly his classic text “The Foundation of Geopolitics “has become a canonical reading for senior officers in Russian military indicating the depth of Dugin’s rapport with the state apparatus. Dugin is known for his intellectual fascination with Heidegger and Julius Evola, especially he has revered Evola for being a true traditionalist in Europe who rejected the decadent concepts like liberalism and pacifism. In establishing the international Eurasianist movement Dugin vowed to expand his campaign against America’s Atlanticism beyond Ruski Mir and the growing popularity of Dugin outside Russia as a public intellectual reveals the power of his ideas.
Following the Russian Federation’s military campaigns in Georgia in 2008 and the hostile situation in Crimea in 2014 Dugin became an advocate for Kremlin’s military machinery and Putin’s chauvinist foreign policy. In particular, his harsh remarks on Eastern Ukraine got the world attention as legitimized Russia’s military intervention there and called it “Russian Spring “. His obsession on annexing Russia dates back to Georgian invasion and Dugin was known to travel to disputed South Ossetia to encourage the separatist movement there. However, regardless of his partiality towards Putin at outset, he started to critique Putin in the post-Crimean period. Mainly Dugin went on to criticize President Putin’s affinity with the liberals and the businessmen with western influence, which Dugin regarded as a weakening action of Russia’s nationalist revival under liberal’s inherent inclination to hobnobbing with the West. Dugin’s newest publication “Putin Vs Putin” is a sentimental plea to the Russian president to change his stances.
Today Dugin stands as a stalwart in Russian nationalism and it is an indispensable fact that his Neo Eurasian project has consolidated many forces against the US and its liberal values. Taking Moscow as an idea standing for the Orthodox creed based on Filofi’s 16th century “Third Rome Doctrine “, the alternative suggested by Alexander Dugin invokes the Eurasian nations to drift away from the Atlaantists led by the US and its market civilization. Dugin lampooned it as “The world of the sea, beginning with Carthage and ending with the US, embodies the pole of merchant regime “. Nevertheless, many scholars have argued that Dugin’s sway over Putin is highly overstated. In fact, there is no plausible evidence to show a direct link between Putin and Dugin, but the palpable ideological similarities shown by both of them regarding specific issues denote that Dugin has left some influence over Vladimir Putin’s mind. Especially Russian president flare for reviving the traditional Russian family values and his ardour on Orthodoxy are rooted in Dugin’s ideas. It becomes more than a conjuncture by analyzing 2020 Russian constitutional reforms, wherein president Putin has proposed to include the marriage as purely a heterosexual union between man, which was exactly akin to Dugin’s position on Russian family and his vehement criticism on homosexuality. It is true that depiction of Alexander Dugin’s portrayal as influencer reminding of Rasputin is a hyperbolic attempt. But, it is evident that his Neo Eurasian project has become an appealing trajectory for Kremlin in shaping Russia’s new geopolitical order.
Humanitarian Aid vs Sanctions
On the pretext of the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia seeks lifting sanctions. It is already clear to everyone that unprecedented world crisis is approaching, which will affect the economies of all countries without exception. Strict quarantine measures, border closures were introduced, amid destroying supply chains and the oil war which resulted in a sharp drop in consumption and the collapse of the world market. The situation for the Russian resource-based economy, to be honest, is not the best. Therefore, it is quite natural that Russia, in face of a great economic storm, is desperately trying to improve its position and is looking for allies to fight sanctions.
Russia has called on the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to facilitate lifting of “sanctions that impede the fight against the coronavirus spread.” It has China, Iran, Cuba, Syria, Nicaragua, Venezuela and the DPRK as allies. Although formally the request concerned lifting of the restrictions on food, medicine and equipment supplies, it is quite obvious that such a precedent will make the path for Russia to get rid of the imposed restrictions.
Yet at the G-20 summit, Vladimir Putin calls for a moratorium on sanctions during the pandemic period for unimpeded supplies of humanitarian aid, goods of first priority and financial transactions for their procurement. But, despite the humanitarian context of the Russian leader’s statements, their subtext is obviously motivated by the desire to use the situation for their own purposes and to get rid of the sanctions that have plagued Russia for six years now.
Then Moscow is developing a teeming international “humanitarian” activity. First, it sends a military aircraft with humanitarian aid to Italy. However, 80% of this assistance was practically useless as it later turned out (according to La Stampa). The cargo included equipment for disinfection of territories, instead of the necessary masks, tests for coronavirus and lung ventilators. Those specialists arrived turned out to be military virologists rather than medical anesthetists. But it is Russia that ostentatiously came to the aid of Italy, while the closest neighbors were trying to curb the epidemic in their states and did not respond to the appeal of Rome. It doesn’t matter anymore that France and Germany have already donated more protective masks to Italy as humanitarian aid than both China and Russia together, and that Austria, Luxembourg and Germany have now made available their hospitals for patients from the states the most affected by coronavirus. Who knows about this? After all, these states provide real aid, and do not make shows during a pandemic.
Hardly had the scandal around this event subsided than a Russian military transport aircraft carrying humanitarian aid on board landed in the USA amid the glare of cameras. Strange thing, all the sanctions for some reason made it possible! It seems as if there is no epidemic in Russia and all problems with protective equipment and medical supplies in local hospitals have been resolved.
A video filming delivery of Russian “humanitarian” aid to the United States immediately circled the globe. Trump is excited, “a very, very large planeload of things, medical equipment, which was very nice.” However, later it turns out that such widely-spread humanitarian aid is not an aid at all — Russia just kindly offered, and the United States purchased so unprocurable protective equipment and ventilators. Just a business. Still, everyone is happy!
Meanwhile, it is obvious that such “goodwill gesture” is in no way selfless. That is just a publicity stunt pursuing the aim to demonstrate to the whole world the humanitarian nature of the Russian politics in such a low-cost (economically and politically) way and to ease the sanctions imposed by the United States for Russia’s interference into the 2016 United States presidential elections.
All these examples demonstrate quite eloquently that Russia does not leave the attempts to put the pressure on EU states in one way or another, seeking a review of sanctions. Russia will keep pretending that it is not an aggressive, but a humanitarian state, which is ready to help everyone, and strongly pushes for the cooperation in fight against the pandemic. Yet whenever possible, Russia will demand easing or lifting of sanctions in exchange for a service.
In this situation it is crucial that the principles of democracy remain inviolable. Moreover, anti-Russian sanctions have nothing to do with the pandemic, since they were introduced for the annexation of Crimea, the war in Donbas, the accident with MH17 flight, which was shot down over Donbas sky by the Russian-supported militants. Therefore, the talks on their lifting are possible only subject to cease of aggressive foreign policy by Russia and restoration of inviolability of the Ukrainian borders.
Coronavirus: Why Russians Are Lucky to Be Led by Putin
On Tuesday, March 24th, the following happened:
Reuters bannered “U.S. has potential of becoming coronavirus epicenter, says WHO” and reported that,
The World Health Organization said on Tuesday it was seeing a “very large acceleration” in coronavirus infections in the United States which had the potential of becoming the new epicenter.
Over the past 24 hours, 85 percent of new cases were from Europe and the United States, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told reporters. Of those, 40 percent were from the United States.
Asked whether the United States could become the new epicentre, Harris said: “We are now seeing a very large acceleration in cases in the U.S. So it does have that potential.
Right now, on Wednesday the 25th, the U.S. again has the world’s largest number of new cases reported, 11,074. That’s a 25% increase added to the 43,734 cases total on March 24th. And, within just three more days, America will have the world’s largest total number of cases, if Italy won’t. And after yet another day, the U.S. will almost certainly have the world’s largest total number of cases, because Italy has been adding only around half as many new cases per day as the U.S., though Italy’s total right now is higher than America’s, and is actually the second largest total after only China’s. China will have the world’s third-largest total number of cases by this weekend, the 28th or 29th, and America will be #1 then, not only on the number of new cases, but on the total number of cases, of this infection. That quickly, then, China will become no longer the #1 coronavirus-19 nation, but, instead, #3, behind the #1 U.S., and the #2 Italy.
America has been in political chaos because each of its two houses of Congress, and both Parties, and the President, have been blocked from agreeing on what to do — all of them were ignoring that this is an existential emergency and thus dealt with it as if it were instead just another way for each to increase its chances of re-election at the expense of the others. Both political Parties, Republicans and Democrats, and Congress and the President, agreed on a “$500 billion fund for corporations” to reduce the negative impact on billionaires’ wealth, but Democrats demanded that limits be placed on executives’ pay, and “included reducing student debt and boosting food stability programs. Some of the ideas would be major sticking points with Republicans: The bill, for example, would invest money ‘to eliminate high-polluting aircraft’ and ‘research into sustainable aviation fuels.’” Democrats also wanted, but Republicans refused, some costly measures to continue workers’ incomes during their plague-induced period of unemployment. Agreement had been reached only on the billionaire-bailouts — protections especially of stock-values. This is the way America’s ‘democracy’ works. Rule by the billionaires is considered to be ‘democracy’. Luxuries are treated as being more important than necessities are. (Billionaires are thought to be superior people, who must be served before anyone else.) Dollars rule, people don’t. And this chaos is the result of that.
On March 23rd, the prominent progressive economist James K. Galbraith headlined “What the Government Needs to Do Next” and described in detail what a governmental policy-response would be that would subsidize the public to deal with this crisis, but not subsidize the billionaires (who already have way too much and can well afford to become merely millionaires while not actually suffering at all), and that would be of maximum benefit to the total economy by protecting the assets of the most-vulnerable (who could then continue to shop and work), but his common-sense proposal wasn’t even being considered by the legislators, nor by the President.
Only a few countries had a faster rate of increase in cases than the U.S. did on March 24th, but all of them had far fewer cases: Portugal, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda. For example, Rwanda had the world’s highest percentage-increase from the day before, almost a doubling, but that was 17 new cases, up from a total of 19 on the day before. So, America’s 30% increase was clearly the world’s worst performance, on that single day.
Russia’s performance is perhaps the world’s best.
On March 22nd, CNN headlined “Why does Russia, population 146 million, have fewer coronavirus cases than Luxembourg?” (that’s a country of 628,000 people) and reported that
Russia’s early response measures — such as shutting down its 2,600-mile border with China as early as January 30, and setting up quarantine zones — may have contributed to the delay of a full-blown outbreak, some experts say.
Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to criticism over the number of recorded cases.
A strong record on testing
“The director-general of WHO said ‘test, test, test,’” Dr. Melita Vujnovic, the World Health Organization’s representative in Russia, told CNN Thursday. “Well, Russia started that literally at the end of January.”
Vujnovic said Russia also took a broader set of measures in addition to testing.
“Testing and identification of cases, tracing contacts, isolation, these are all measures that WHO proposes and recommends, and they were in place all the time,” she said. “And the social distancing is the second component that really also started relatively early.”
Rospotrebnadzor, Russia’s state consumer watchdog, said Saturday that it had run more than 156,000 coronavirus tests in total. By comparison, according to CDC figures, the United States only picked up the pace in testing at the beginning of March.
On March 20th, the permanently anti-Russian U.S. organization, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (whose “Orwellian” name was perhaps one of the inspirations for George Orwell’s permanent-warfare novel, 1984) headlined “Confronting the Challenges of Coronavirus, Russia Sees Its Worldview Vindicated”, and tried to put as bad a face on Russia’s coronavirus performance as they could, such as by alleging that (alleged) dictatorships were performing no worse than ‘democracies’ at controlling the coronavirus threat:
The state has reasserted itself as the prime actor on the global scene. International institutions like the World Health Organization have become mere statisticians, and even the EU has taken a back seat to the governments of member states.
The world’s democracies are not faring better in the crisis than nondemocracies.
However, back on 27 July 2015, that organization had bannered “How Authentic is Putin’s Approval Rating?” and reviewed more than 15 years of Putin’s approval ratings from the Russian public, and reluctantly concluded that it was and had always been “Authentic,” and almost always high.
Internationally, too, Putin’s leadership of Russia is more highly regarded than is the current U.S. President’s leadership of America.
Back in 2017, the British firm of WIN/Gallup International issued “Gallup International’s 41st Annual Global End of Year Survey Opinion Poll in 55 Countries Across the Globe”, which sampled 1,000 persons in each country in order to determine in each one the percentage of the public who rated “Favorable” and who rated “Unfavorable” each of the following 12 national heads-of-state (listed here in descending order of their net favorability, or “favorable” minus “unfavorable”): Merkel, Macron, Modi, May, Xi, Putin, Saud, Netanyahu, Rouhani, Erdogan, and Trump. (Merkel globally scored highest, Trump lowest.)
Amongst Russians, the score for Putin was 79% Favorable, 11% Unfavorable, for a net score of +68%.
Though Germany’s Merkel had the highest score worldwide, her score in Germany was only 54% Favorable and 44% Unfavorable, for a net of +10.
Macron’s net score in France was -1%.
May’s net in UK was -18%
Rouhani’s in Iran was +37%
Erdogan’s in Turkey was +22%
Modi’s in India was +72% (that’s 84%-12%)
Trump’s in U.S. was -23% (35%-58%) — the worst of all.
The following leaders weren’t surveyed in their own countries: Xi, Netanyahu, and Saud.
So: Putin’s net +68% score amongst his own country’s population was second ony to Modi’s — and, whereas Modi had been in office for only 3 years and had not yet begun his controversial actively anti-Muslim campaign, Putin had led Russia for 17 years, and was a very firmly established high performer in these figures. Here are some of the reasons for this.
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