The World Today for April 11, 2017


Mutual Mistrust

Even under the best circumstances, tensions between Russia and the US would probably have been high ahead of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Moscow Tuesday.

A number of “difficult subjects” had made their way onto the agenda for the highly anticipated Moscow meeting, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Those include the allegations of Russia’s election meddling in the US and military interventions in Ukraine, they noted.

Other challenging issues slated for discussion include Russia’s apparent violation of an arms control treaty in February – when it deployed a cruise missile – and finding ways to cooperate in the fight against Islamic State, said Reuters.

But overshadowing those issues undoubtedly will be the missile strike the US government launched on a Syrian air base last week in retaliation for a nerve gas attack allegedly carried out by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

US officials said Tillerson plans to press Russia to reevaluate its continued support for Assad during his visit.

As the Syrian civil war enters its seventh year, Russia remains Assad’s most important source of military and diplomatic support.

Reversing a former more conciliatory stance, Tillerson has taken a hard line against Russia in advance of his trip.

The US chief diplomat called Russia “incompetent” last week for allowing Syria to maintain a stockpile of chemical weapons when it was supposed to supervise the Syrian government’s surrender of these weapons in 2013.

Other American officials – notably UN Ambassador Nikki Haley – have spoken openly of the need for “regime change” in Syria to finally bring the conflict to an end.

Moscow maintains there is no proof the Syrian army used chemical weapons and condemned the US missile strike as a “violation of international law,” wrote CBS.

The Kremlin said Monday that the Secretary of State would only be meeting with his Russian counterpart – Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov – and not with President Vladimir Putin.

Russian officials didn’t cite a reason why Putin declined to meet with Tillerson.

But the fact that former Secretary of State John Kerry, Tillerson’s predecessor, often met with Putin – as well as the fact that Putin and Tillerson enjoy a congenial relationship from Tillerson’s time as an oil executive at Exxon – suggests the US missile strike may have further exacerbated existing tensions, said observers.

All of this indicates that President Trump’s intentions to improve relations with Russia might be shifting.

That’s another way of saying US-Russian relations are reverting to the norm, the New York Times wrote, one where distrust and friction dominate.


Of Cronies and Provocations

If North Korea is indeed to blame for the recent assassination of dictator Kim Jong-un’s half-brother in Malaysia, Pyongyang may well be regretting the decision.

With Kuala Lumpur’s relationship with the Hermit Kingdom coming under closer scrutiny following the killing, Malaysia’s deputy home minister on Tuesday called for a probe into reports that the head of conglomerate Malaysia Korea Partners (MKP) has been funneling cash to the central committee of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party for decades, Reuters reported.

The United Nations is already investigating MKP’s bank subsidiary in Pyongyang over possible violations of sanctions that bar foreign firms from forming joint ventures with or taking stakes in North Korean banks.

The home minister’s call comes as China, too, appears to be cracking the whip on Pyongyang – turning back cargo ships carrying North Korean coal – and South Korea’s acting president warns of “greater provocations” from Pyongyang over the next few days. Many fear those may include a fresh nuclear test.

Jungles and Flames

Not long after the dismantling of the massive migrant camp near Calais known as “the Jungle,” France’s refugee crisis boiled over again Monday night, as residents of the Grande-Synthe migrant camp in northern France clashed with security forces.

At least six migrants were injured in skirmishes between Afghan and Kurdish residents before the authorities intervened, Reuters reported. That led to clashes between security forces and more than 100 migrants. Subsequently, a fire broke out and raged through the wooden huts of the camp – which houses up to 1,500 people.

The BBC reported that the flames had destroyed the camp and injured at least 10 people by Tuesday morning, citing a local official as saying, “There is nothing left but a heap of ashes.”

Last week, camp residents tried to stop traffic on a nearby highway so they could climb onto vehicles headed for the United Kingdom, across the Channel. France will now have to scramble to find someplace else to house them.

‘Premeditated Murder’

A Pakistani military court sentenced an alleged Indian spy to death on Monday in a move that promises to escalate tensions between the nuclear adversaries.

Pakistan released a videotaped confession in which Kulbhushan Jadhav, a former Indian Navy officer, admits to the crime of espionage – though the interrogation techniques that led to that admission are not clear. For its part, India called the proceedings “farcical” and said that if Pakistan follows through with Jadhav’s execution New Delhi would consider his killing “premeditated murder,” Foreign Policy reported.

Notably, Pakistan hanged an Indian citizen accused of espionage in 1999 without precipitating an all-out war.

Jadhav was arrested more than a year ago, and Islamabad denied him consular access during his imprisonment despite 13 different requests from New Delhi, the Indian Express reported. In its official diplomatic response to his death sentence, the Indian foreign ministry said that Jadhav “was kidnapped last year from Iran and his subsequent presence in Pakistan has never been explained credibly,” the paper said.

Last year, the head of Pakistan’s Inter Services Public Relations unit accused Jadhav of plotting to disrupt the development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor – a $50 billion infrastructure project to connect Pakistan’s seaports with China and Central Asia.


A Solid Investment 

As one of the world’s most ubiquitous brands, Coca-Cola often pairs with the world’s biggest celebrities to boost its already impressive reach among consumers.

Sometimes the Atlanta-based soda giant tailors its celebrity endorsements to fit a certain market – creating some humorous and head-scratching partnerships as a result.

Take a recent pairing in China for example, where Coca-Cola put the likeness of billionaire investor Warren Buffett on Cherry Coke cans to capitalize from Buffett’s popularity in the country.

Cherry Coke cans featuring Buffett – whose Berkshire Hathaway is Coke’s largest investor – were released in March after the company received Buffett’s permission to be featured on the cans for Cherry Coke’s launch in China.

To the uninitiated, Buffett – who at times has claimed to drink five cans of Coke a day – might not be as recognizable as, say, Beyoncé.

But he has so many fans in China that large delegations frequently fly to Omaha, Nebraska, just to watch Buffett at Berkshire’s annual meeting, according to Reuters.

Check out a picture of a Buffett Cherry Coke can here.

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