Putin visits India. Russian President Vladimir Putin visited India for a few hours on the 6th December 2021 for the 21st bilateral Annual Summit. The visit attracted a great deal of attention. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic this was only Putin’s second visit abroad, after the summit with US President Joe Biden in Geneva in June. The timing of the visit is crucial as currently an intense churn in regional and global geopolitics is taking place.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi underlined the bilateral relationship as a “special and privileged strategic partnership [that] continues to become stronger” and Putin couched India “as a great power, a friendly nation and a time-tested friend.” A key outcome of the summit was the signing of a 10-year defence technical cooperation agreement with both countries setting an ambitious goal of enhancing the bilateral trade to $30 billion by 2025. This summit and its outcomes come against the backdrop of the shifting geo-strategic dynamics in the Indo-Pacific region. Historically, India has followed a non-alignment policy with strong friendly ties with the former Soviet Union which in the post-USSR world had shifted to maintaining strategic autonomy between Russia, China and the US.
Ann San Sui Kui given sentence. A court in military-ruled Myanmar has ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi and found her guilty of inciting dissent and breaking Covid rules, in the first of a series of verdicts that could see her jailed for life. Aung San Suu Kyi was initially given a four year term. The sentence was reduced after a partial pardon from coup leader and army chief Min Aung Hlaing, state TV reported. UN Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet condemned the “sham trial” and said it would only “deepen rejection of the coup”. UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, meanwhile, called on Myanmar to release all political prisoners and allow a return to democracy. “The arbitrary detention of elected politicians only risks further unrest,” she said. Aung San Suu Kyi spent nearly 15 years in detention at the hands of the military between 1989 and 2010, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work to bring democracy to Myanmar. However her reputation abroad was severely damaged when she supported the military’s action against the Rohingyas, which started in 2017. After five decades of rule, the Myanmar military opened up the country from isolation. Suu Kyi was the bridge between the international community and Myanmar. After the Rohingya crisis, Myanmar military sees it as a pretext of foreign meddling in the country. The military now wants to remove Suu Kyi once and for all as she is supported by the international community.
Virtual Conference to save Democracy. In a video linked gathering of 80 world leaders, Joe Biden launched his virtual “Summit for Democracy” with a warning that democratic rights and norms are under threat around the world, including in the US. He cited studies that found that global freedom has now been in retreat for 15 consecutive years and that more than half of all democracies experienced a decline in the past decade, acknowledging the decline in his own. A watchdog group, Civicus Monitor, reported that nine out of ten of the world’s population live in countries where civic freedoms are severely restricted. A series of initiatives were announced which aim at supporting civil rights with a total spend of $424 million with some of it earmarked to independent media in places where they are under threat, through a fund to be run by “leading international media experts”. He urged leaders to “lock arms” to strengthen democracies and demonstrate their worth. The summit and the list of initiatives by President Biden were widely criticised at home and abroad when critics pointed out that he hasn’t been doing much to stem the democratic decline in the US. The Russian and Chinese (both nations were excluded from the summit) ambassadors to Washington published a joint commentary in the National Interest, denouncing the Biden administration for adopting a divisive “cold-war mentality”. Pakistan had pulled out of the summit without giving a reason, a decision cheered by the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson.
China’s largest property developer defaults on debt. China Evergrande Group, the Chinese developer has defaulted for the first time on its dollar debt. Evergrande has liabilities exceeding $300 billion, leading some observers to fear a default could collapse the Chinese property market and the country’s economy. Evergrande has outstanding offshore bonds worth $19 billion and Kaisa, with a debt worth $12 billion, are just two among a growing number of Chinese developers that are engulfed in China’s liquidity crisis. Analysts have predicted more defaults at other Chinese property developers are likely in the near future. China’s real estate sector accounts for more than a quarter of the country’s economic activity. This has signalled a prolonged period of volatility for China’s indebted real estate market, but analysts expect that Beijing will contain the damage and predicted market volatility should continue to persist with more defaults still to come.
US-Russia talks. Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden spoke in a virtual conference on Wednesday 8th December. It lasted for just over 2 hours and the two leaders did not resolve the crisis along Ukraine’s borders, and neither the Kremlin nor the White House reported substantial progress. Biden warned Putin that there would be “severe consequences” if Russia launches an attack on Ukraine and said the US would be providing “defensive capabilities” to the Ukrainian military. Putin blamed the tensions on the West, which he said was building up its military capability in and around Ukraine. The recent escalation by Russia began when Biden agreed to send military advisors and new military equipment to Ukraine. The battle to dominate Europe by both powers made little progress as both have diametrically opposite agenda’s and see the other as competitors.
UN official meets with Muqtada al-Sadr. The UN’s special envoy to Iraq met with the head of the Sadrist movement in the south of the country ahead of a planned meeting between pro-Iranian factions. Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert visited the southern province of Najaf, where she spoke with the Sadrist movement leader, and came ahead of a planned meeting between Iran-backed groups to discuss the election results.
The Sadrist movement was the most successful party in the Iraqi elections, which has been contested by the Iranian-backed Fatah Alliance. The Dutch envoy has previously said that the elections were generally transparent. An official from the Sadr movement, Riyadh Al-Masoudi, said Plasschaert’s visit was to discuss the new government formation in Iraq and Al-Sadr’s viewpoint on the matter, to relay to the UN the latest developments. “There are international efforts aimed at persuading everyone in Iraq to accept the election results and speed up the formation of a new cabinet in order to spare the country more risks and danger,” political sources told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.