Authors: Edgar Gandra and Charles Pennaforte*
Geopolitics and international relations have undergone several transformations throughout the 20th century. One of the most important of these is the two major world wars and the post-war cold re-organization of the world.
The re-order of the world-system in the post-war period involved the “Pax Americana “and the creation of a world order linked to the United States, parallel to the rise of the USSR to the status of military and ideological power, disputing with the US the condition of hegemonic power, in a bipolarity that has vanished with the disintegration of the socialist ideological bloc. While the United States consolidated as hegemon, they had to deal with the end of their systemic cycle of accumulation and their consequent decline trajectory.
The first two decades of the 21st century marked the resurgence of other powers, with the reappearance of Russia and China: Russia recovering part of its sphere of influence in its surroundings, under the leadership of Vladimir Putin; and China consolidating itself as a global economic power, both of which play an important role on the geopolitical board.´
These countries took advantage of the gaps generated by another structural crisis of world capitalism, materialized in the financial crisis of 2008, the consequences of which have influenced the relative decline of the United States ability to impose its majority will on the world system, as it has since the end of the 2nd World War.
Based on the decline of US influence in recent decades, the emergence of important actors at the beginning of the 21st century and the questioning of their unilateral postures, the emergence of the BRICS represented a common multipolar and multilateral world perspective for tackling global problems.
Despite the disbelief of the central core of capitalism (EUA – Europe), the BRICS gained geopolitical projection of great importance at the beginning of the 21st century. The countries that participates up this power bloc own 26% of the territory, 42% of the population and 14% of the world’s GDP, as well as contributing more than 50% of the world’s GDP increase between 2005 and 2010.
For many Western analysts, the BRICS had no possibility of organizing a common agenda that would involve a large-scale articulation on the international stage. Such a prediction has not come true.
China and Russia, the two currently most powerful BRICS countries, face competition from the United States for areas of influence. The aggressive rhetoric of Washington and the economic measures against Beijing demonstrated the great concern of the Donald Trump administration with the development of the country’s economic and geopolitical in recent years. Despite the decline in its economic growth, Beijing has been increasing its economic influence in various parts of the world, either through the New Silk Road project or through its operations on the African continent, for example. In addition to its companies competing on an equal footing with Western companies (Huawei, for example), China has been taking advantage of the geopolitical and economic gaps created by the US in recent years to increase its influence.
On the other hand, Moscow has been suffering the impacts of a series of economic measures that seek to weaken its national project carried out by Vladimir Putin. This is with more emphasis since 2014, when Russia returned Crimea to its borders, faced with the possibility of a pro-Western government (NATO) in Ukraine and at the gates of its territory with clear objectives of creating “fragile spots” along its borders. Washington, for example, sees Moscow in recent years as a growing “threat” to American strategic interests. It’s worth remembering that Russia has never adopted an offensive stance against any country, except when its geopolitical security may be affected as in the case of the totally unnecessary NATO approach.
Russia has showed no “expansionists” or “imperialists” perspectives. On the contrary, Russia has defended in international forums the basic principles of diplomacy, against any form of unilateral actions.
Western media reports a reversal of intent by placing Russia as a belligerent country with expansionist aspirations. The historical facts show just the opposite. The Obama, Trump and now Joe Biden administrations aimed to prevent in every way the consolidation of Russian role of global protagonists in the construction of an environment without hegemony in the international system (geopolitical primacy).
As China and Russia are the main actors of the BRICS, the weakening of both in the geopolitical and strategic aspect (the actions of Washington and partners go in this direction) would represent the very decline of the bloc and its objectives of building a new global governance in a multipolar and multilateral world.
The New Development Bank
The BRICS consolidation since its foundation has gained shape, its economic initiatives such as the New Development Bank (NBD), which point to a still increasing intra-bloc and extra-bloc concertation. The so-called BRICS Bank can still accelerate the institutionalization of the group, which until then functioned more as a forum for discussions than as a formalized institution.
The creation of the NDB was seen by some analysts as a timely reflection on the changes in world power, while others accentuated the fact that the bank is yet another illustrative element of China’s global ambitions in terms of power projection. The creation of a possible competitor in offering financial resources on fairer bases than those offered by the IMF and/or World Bank would change the traditional monetary power centre set up since the end of WW II. As a consequence, the geopolitical center of power would be altered, accentuating the decline of the traditional core of capitalism. The consolidation of the NBD as a real alternative would be an important gain for the Sino-Russian geopolitical architecture of creating another geo-economic pole.
In a context in which the world’s economy is suffering immense upheavals because of Covid-19, causing a large number of infections and deaths and forcing the most diverse regions of the world to make drastic isolations of their populations, global international cooperation takes on new importance, as the most affected countries, such as Brazil, need financial assistance to deal with the crisis, the NBD has reappeared with a prominent role in this context of the pandemic, which offered the most advantageous prospects of financial support to face the crisis, among the development banks that Brazil resorted to. In addition to the foreign ministers of the BRICS countries, members of the bank have held virtual meetings to develop financial solutions in the fight against Covid-19.
In the first moment, the NBD provided, in April 2020, a credit line of U$ 1 billion for each country of the block. A further disbursement of US$ 10 billion is planned to be divided between Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
The BRICS moves between the expectations of reaching half of world GDP in 2030, as assumed by the most optimistic perspectives before the pandemic and the estimated decline of 5% of the GDP of the countries in the bloc in 2020, as pointed out by the Analytical Center of the Government of Russia. Taking into account that the statistics of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund estimate about 5% of the fall of the World GDP for 2020, it can be assumed that the BRICS countries have not suffered great shock as a block, given the global scenario. China and India, in this sense, have good expectations of recovering their economy, compensating for the worse performance of Brazil, Russia and South Africa.
The Covid-19 pandemic is a further component in this geopolitical scenario in which the BRICS will have to demonstrate its ability to propose alternatives to the collapse of the world order, with a review of globalization, multilateralism, and the international trade regime.
Nowadays the BRICS is trying to establish itself as an alternative to the reordering of the world system. In this context of unforeseen circumstances, the BRICS has to deal with the demands for its affirmation as an institution and bloc of international power, as well as being subject to the systemic transformations engendered by the United States, which struggle to remain its hegemony.
In a scenario of uncertainties, the BRICS group, seeks to be an actor capable of proposing alternatives amid an order that collapses, facing the rearrangements of power in global geopolitics. The countries that make up the group, called emerging countries, will need to (re)emerge in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic and its correlated crises, another disruptive element in this geopolitical framework. The economic recovery capacity of the BRICS countries in relation to the rest of the world can foreshadow the future of the bloc.
*Charles Pennaforte , Professor at the Federal University of Pelotas (UFPEL), Brazil
From our partner International Affairs
Biden pushed China and Russia to rebel against one other
Biden’s anti-China measures have been increasingly regular in recent years. He not only continued to encircle China with his Asian and European friends, but he also began with Russia’s ideals. Biden used the occasion of the US-Russia meeting to instigate Sino-Russian ties, encouraging China and Russia to be “anti-objective” in order to cause difficulty for China. However, Biden’s wishful thinking is clearly incorrect, because Putin has already demonstrated through actual acts that he will not be duped by Biden.
According to a transcript of the press conference posted on the White House website, Biden stated after meeting with Putin that he felt the last thing Putin wanted to see was a cold war with the US. When discussing this problem, Biden brought up China, portraying it as a “danger” to Russia. Biden stated that China is currently expanding, whether economically or militarily, and that China has “big objectives.” Russia’s economy is suffering and needs to grow. As a result, he does not believe Putin desires a cold war with the United States.
In reality, Biden has already provoked Russia on a number of topics. At this point, he abruptly shifted his advantage to Russia. There must be something odd going on. Prior to the arrival of the US-Russia summit, Biden is said to have stressed his desire to build a “solid and predictable” relationship with Russia. Some experts say Biden wants to soften his ties with “established competitors,” such as Russia, before focusing on the “new strategic competitor,” China.
At the time, Biden wanted to focus not just on fixing China’s difficulties, but also on enlisting Russia’s assistance in dealing with China. However, Biden obviously misjudged the extent of China-Russia relations while overestimating the US’s own affinity to Russia.
Prior to the meeting, Putin stated in an exclusive interview with US NBC that Russia does not consider China to be a danger. China is a friendly country that has not declared Russia an adversary, as the US has. Putin also stated that due to the nature and quality of Sino-Russian ties, Russia will not be concerned about China’s development.
In reality, not just Putin, but many officials from both countries have jointly confirmed China and Russia’s deep relationship. Previously, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed that Sino-Russian ties are at their highest in history. Wang Yi, China’s State Councilor and Foreign Minister, also stated that the “China-Russia combination” is as strong as a mountain. The more volatile the globe, the closer China-Russia collaboration. Take a strong step forward. In contrast to Russia and the United States, Putin has stated unequivocally that Russia-US ties have reached a low point in recent years.
Under these conditions, it is nearly difficult for Biden to effectively instigate ties between China and Russia. Furthermore, China and Russia have demonstrated through actual actions that the two countries’ relationship is extremely excellent, and the two sides aim to expand friendly cooperation in other areas.
Rogozin, President of the Russian National Aerospace Corporation, stated that China and Russia are considering collaboration with a variety of parties to create an international lunar research station, and he also stated that Russia may send astronauts to China’s space station. Whether Putin provided the reassurance in person or by other means, it is sufficient to demonstrate that Sino-Russian ties are quite cordial, and there is no place for Biden to succeed. So Biden believed he could persuade Russia to negotiate with China with only a few words.
He was very naïve back then. Rather of wasting time worrying about some pointless and highly dull things to deal with China, Biden should focus on his own health, particularly cognitive problems. After all, he “cannot tell the difference between Trump and Putin.” Based on the existing circumstances, Biden should not be expecting any brilliant proposals for the future growth of the United States.
Russia and Japan: Inseparable Partners
By all accounts, Japan with its strong economy and many high-quality manufactured brands is practically searching to expand into foreign markets. Japan, with an estimated population of 126 million, has a small territory. According to UN’s assessment report on global population in 2019, Japan was the world’s tenth-most populous country. That compared with Russia, its vast territory and approximately 145 million, Japan’s investment is fast growing in the Russian Federation.
Despite its large investment and admirable brands from automobiles through mega-shops to healthcare and beauty, and to social service sector, Japan is consistently looking to expand its business tentacles. Without doubt, at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum held under the theme: “Together Again – Economy of New Reality” early June, Russia-Japan business session attracted unprecedented large number of participants.
While noting the fact that the coronavirus pandemic did not and will not hinder economic cooperation between Russia and Japan, Minister of Economic Development of the Russian Federation Maxim Reshetnikov, noted in his speech at the session, further reviewed some significant aspects of the Russia-Japanese economic cooperation, and finally painted the broad outlook for the future.
“Despite a difficult year, we managed not only to continue existing projects but were even able to launch new ones. An express test for coronavirus was created, and a container train with Japanese goods was launched for the first time on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Construction began on a centre for preventive medicine in Khabarovsk. The Japanese company Fanuc opened an engineering centre in Skolkovo,” he told the gathering.
According to Maxim Reshetnikov, the plans for cooperation with Japan include the creation of liquefied natural gas trans-shipment complexes in Kamchatka and Murmansk region and the construction of an ion therapy centre for cancer treatment in Obninsk. Both countries are preparing to enter new and promising tracks in hydrogen energy, climate change, the creative economy, and e-commerce.
That however, Russia has encouraged potential foreign investors to venture into the regions. For example, Kaluga, which is provincial city and stands on the famous Oka river about 150 kilometers southwest of Moscow, has adopted few favourable measures, among others, and as a result has attracted five foreign automobile manufacturing companies including Japanese Nissan.
Governor of the Kaluga Region Vladislav Shapshа took part in the discussion. “Japan has been and remains our most reliable partner, a partner in a variety of areas. In terms of investments, this of course includes, the development of projects with Mitsubishi and Toyota Tsusho. Mitsubishi has placed its headquarters in Kaluga this year, and together with Peugeot Citroën has been working with us since 2009. Along with Volkswagen and Volvo, it makes up the core of the automotive cluster, which accounts for 12% of the automobiles produced in the country today,” Governor Shapshа said, giving a full business profile in his region.
The Autonomous Republic of Tatarstan also attracts foreign investors and business people. As part of the Volga federal district, its capital and largest city is Kazan, one of the most important cultural cities in the Russian Federation. “We operate a wonderful plant built in Tatarstan by Mitsubishi and Sojitz. I must say that Japanese equipment has proved its reliability. We are very pleased with this plant. Its capacity is 720 thousand tonnes of ammonia and methanol. We are grateful for this contribution,” Founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the AEON Corporation, Roman Trotsenko.
Japanese manufacturing stories are exceptionally useful and needed to be shared among business leaders. In his contribution, General Director of Sollers Group Vadim Shvetsov told the attentive gathering: “We launched a machine shop for Mazda engine parts. It was a very difficult at first, given that cooperation was interrupted, and we could not communicate directly. On the other hand, however, we have introduced a lot of interesting digital communication methods. Thanks to such mobile cooperation and even VR technologies, we still managed to launch production.”
The new environment has pushed the countries to seek new resolutions to overcome challenges. “The coronavirus pandemic has forced us into many challenges. At the same time, it has highlighted, illuminated in a new way some of the problems that we had seen and been aware of even before the epidemic. These are the problems of healthcare, energy, and digitalization. It seems to me that now is the moment for us to start new cooperation in these areas, especially in healthcare,” emphasized the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan Hiroshi Kajiyama.
“Our trade and economic work together probably suffered a little from that period of forced isolation. Nevertheless, I certainly believe that the crisis is pushing us to search for new ways to create benefits for our consumers,” remarked Chairman of Delovaya Rossiya (Business Russia) and Chairman of the Board of the Group R-Pharm Alexey Repik.
The speakers have acknowledged that Russia and Japan face similar environmental challenges while developing economic cooperation. “Amid the growing trend of decarbonization, in October of last year, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced a goal aimed at achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Moreover, the goal is to reduce 2013 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 46% by 2030. Achieving these targets will require that Japanese industry be heavily involved and adaptable,” according to President of the Japan Association for Trade with Russia, and Special Advisor of Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. Shigeru Murayama.
Chairman of Delovaya Rossiya (Business Russia) and Chairman of the Board of the Group R-Pharm, Alexey Repik, reminded that it is of great significance that President Vladimir Putin in his address to the Federal Assembly set the task of significantly limiting the accumulated volume of carbon emissions in our country just as similar goals were set by the Prime Minister of Japan, Yoshihide Suga, for the Japanese economy.
For the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan Hiroshi Kajiyama, natural gas, which can reduce carbon emissions, is a very important resource, and Russia is a leader. Thus the unification of these Russian resources and the Asian market could be highly promising area for cooperation.
Russian business needs to attract investment. “The demand for equipment and the demand for capital both remain in Russia. Russia’s capitalism, in the positive sense of the word, is young and there is little national capital in the country. Interest rates on loans remain very high, and the requirements of the national bank, the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, to credit policy remain stringent,” observes Founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the AEON Corporation Roman Trotsenko.
“There are forecasts that the Russian economy will resume growth this year and ultimately grow by more than 3%. Japan also aims to recover as soon as possible from pandemic-related failure. For this, of course, the primary and first step to build a healthy and sustainable post-covid society across the globe, will be to work together with Russian partners on the basis of the eight-point plan,” Director of Mitsui and Co. Ltd., Masami Iijima, informed the gathering.
Avoiding sanction-related restrictions is a key for business. “The challenge is to move the financing relationship between Japan and Russia outside of these sanctions. For example, financing in euros or in yen. This would be very positive and would allow us to take advantage of the cheap rates on loans in Japan and in Russia,” Founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the AEON Corporation Roman Trotsenko.
Healthcare and energy partnership also remain significant for both and, need not be overlooked. “New areas are emerging. For us it is hydrogen and ammonia; it is the capture and storage of carbon, carbon dioxide, and its use as a resource. Here, it seems to me, we must increase our work together,” according the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan Hiroshi Kajiyama.
“The health sector is the first item in the eight-point economic cooperation plan. I think that our countries should increase cooperation in this area,” added the President of the Japan Association for Trade with Russia and Special Advisor of Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. Shigeru Murayama.
“We believe that Japan can help achieve the goal of increasing healthy life expectancy set by the government of the Russian Federation,” suggested Chairman of the Japan-Russian Committee for Economic Cooperation and the Federation of Economic Organisations Keidanren and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Marubeni Corporation Fumiya Kokubu.
Ahead of St Petersburg forum, Japanese Ambassador in the Russian Federation, Toyohisa Kozuki gave an interview to Interfax News Agency, listed a wide-range of concrete and significant projects as part of efforts toward strengthening Russian-Japanese economic cooperation. According to the ambassador, widening economic cooperation between Japan and Russia is primarily part of the current eight-point strategic cooperation plan.
Within this plan, the Okura Hotel project in Vladivostok is an example of progress in urban development in 2020. This will be the first Japanese hotel in Russia. The Okura Hotel’s refined services will make Vladivostok more comfortable and accessible not only to its residents but also businessmen and tourists visiting this international city. Vladivostok catches the attention of the Japanese as the nearest ‘European’ city, it can be reached from Tokyo by air in 2.5 hours. That is why the opening of the Hotel Okura Vladivostok will definitely make the city more attractive to Japanese tourists.
As part of cooperation, Japan is also making an effort to develop postal services in Russia, and some results in this sphere have already been reached, the efficiency of postal deliveries was increased thanks to the use of Japanese-made sorting machines at international postal exchange centers in Moscow. Cooperation between postal services of both countries is growing stronger also through the exploration of e-commerce opportunities on both sides. In the future, it is anticipated that a system will be in place, thanks to which Japanese consumers can order Russian goods online and the EMS postal service will deliver them to Japan.
In December 2020, Japanese entertainment center Round One, which brings together arcade games, bowling and other amusements, opened at the Yevropeisky shopping mall in Moscow. Round One is the most popular closed amusement parks chain in Japan. The new venue is a unique leisure venue for Moscow residents, in the sense, that they can get acquainted with Japanese culture without leaving their native city.
There is progress in promoting the use of the Trans-Siberian Railway as far as cooperation in the Far East, primarily in transport and infrastructure, is concerned. In particular, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism of Japan in cooperation with the Russian Railways is implementing a pilot project to promote the use of the Trans-Siberian Railway.
The first container train carrying cargo from Japan to Europe was dispatched in 2020. And those were not individual containers as before but a whole container train. This was done in the expectation that it will make it possible to ship freight more cost effectively compared to container transportation, and many Japanese companies showed an interest and took part in the pilot project.
The companies that participated in the pilot project said that against the backdrop of destabilized logistics between Japan and Europe amid the coronavirus pandemic, the use of the Trans-Siberian Railway can be seen as a third option in addition to sea and air transport.
As an example of such expectations, Ambassador Toyohisa Kozuki informed that Japan’s logistics company Toyo Trans started regular container shipping services with consolidated freight to Europe, to the Polish city of Poznan, along the Trans-Siberian Railway in February. This service provides for regular shipments every Thursday from a Japanese port. The cargo reaches Poznan in 22 days. Transit time decreases by about half compared to sea routes. We hope that the transit along the Trans-Siberian Railway will give a boost to logistics between Japan, Russia and Europe and lead to the further development of economic cooperation.
Next, regarding agriculture, forestry and fisheries, the relevant agencies of Japan and Russia in January 2020 signed a memorandum of cooperation on a joint Japanese-Russian project to increase the efficiency of agriculture and fish production in Russia’s Far East. Current projects are now getting support, and the search is on for new projects in three areas that provide for the use of technologies and know-how of Japanese private companies.
These include, firstly, increasing the productivity and export potential of soya, corn and other crops; secondly, expanding production of vegetables through expanding vegetable greenhouses in Yakutsk and other cities; and thirdly, increasing production and deliveries of fish and seafood inside and outside Russia. Greenhouse vegetable growing in Yakutsk is a particularly large project in this sphere. Greenhouses allowing fresh vegetables to be grown all year long in severe climates and permafrost have been built in the framework of this project. Construction began in 2016, it continued in 2020, and should be completed this year, 2021.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the forum this year was held, a combination of off-line and online format, with all epidemiological precautions observed. The Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), often dubbed the Russian Davos, is the country’s main showcase for investors, attracting political and business leaders from around the world. The SPIEF is held annually, and since 2006 it has been held under the patronage and with the participation of the President of the Russian Federation.
Putin and Biden meeting – a chance for a better world
The whole world is looking forward to the meeting of the new US President Joe Biden with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. Although the Kremlin and the White House urge people not to expect too much from the June 16 summit, one still wants to believe that a personal meeting by the leaders of the two rival powers will lead to a thaw in bilateral relations and help defuse global tensions. At the same time, statements coming from the White House about negotiation plans sound rather vague. The bottom line is about “understanding Russia’s position and its aspirations.” The impression is that hundreds of Russologists working for the State Department, NSA, CIA and other agencies are unable to provide a definitive answer to this question, and the not very young 46th President of the United States has been forced to personally go for information. Moscow makes it clear that negotiations are a good thing, but the initiative comes from the United States, so the agenda will largely be agreed right on the spot.
At the same time, there are a number of key topics that the leaders of the two countries simply can’t ignore. Of course, there will be questions about human rights that Biden wants to ask Putin so badly, but the Russian leader too may want to ask about certain “inconvenient” things. First of all, about the United States participation in conflicts in the Middle East, where the “liberation movements,” indirectly supported by Washington continue to attack Russian and Syrian government forces. In fact, the parts of Syria and Iraq controlled by the Americans and their allies have become areas where there is no effective conflict against terrorists. The militants from that area are killing people in Germany and France, and spreading the ideas of extremism and radical Islam throughout Europe.
The United States has every right to defend its interests in the oil-producing regions, but such methods are hardly acceptable. The Kremlin apparently has obtained enough evidence of the “dirty methods” of warfare practiced by the United States in the Middle East. The spare parts for the numerous drones shot down over the Khmeimim airbase alone prove beyond any doubt the American involvement in organizing aerial attacks on the Russian military. However, a dialogue between Russia and the United States could quickly extinguish the flames of war in Syria and, more importantly, help ensure Europe’s security against terrorist attacks. So, Putin has a very important trump card up his sleeve, which he can’t fail to play. The only question is how Biden will react to this win-win move by Moscow.
As to the question about human rights, it may prove rather unpleasant for Biden. During preparations for the summit, the Swiss government pointedly indicated (apparently at the suggestion of the White House) that the vaccine race continues. Geneva is ready to accredit, without PCR tests, journalists who have been vaccinated with Western vaccines, but not with Sputnik, which has already proven its effectiveness. Needless to say, the Russian negotiators also used their own country’s vaccine. However, such a move, designed to show once again who is the “boss” in the upcoming meeting, only reflects a complete disregard for the European`s right to vaccination, and this is only the beginning. And the demonstrative support and financing of the Russian opposition – hardly gives Biden any reason for accusing Russia of human rights violations.
Even the case of the Belarusian oppositionist Protasevich, who was taken from the plane which grounded in Minsk due to a terrorist threat immediately brings to mind the “arrest“ of the plane of Bolivian leader Morales, or the US-approved extrajudicial detention of Russian sociologist Shugalei in Libya. In addition, the long history of the Guantanamo detention center hardly gives US officials any moral grounds to lecture anyone about human rights.
If, during the Geneva summit the United States and Russia can heal the festering wound of the Middle East conflict, this would be a giant step forward in the war on terror. The question is whether Biden will try to turn the dialogue with Putin into a series of accusations to increase his approval rating back home. A similar incident has already taken place and made the 46th President of the United States to look not so good. That being said, we can hope that in Geneva Joe Biden will lean back on his many years of experience and good knowledge of Russia, and emotions will not prevent him from achieving a breakthrough in relations with Moscow and mending bilateral ties, thus easing tensions in Europe and allaying peoples fear of a new global conflict.
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