The World Today for December 01, 2017



Not Quiet on the Eastern Front

The fighting continues between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine despite a ceasefire.

Though the conflict has largely fallen out of the news, a few soldiers and civilians are regularly killed or injured in Donbass, the region that includes two breakaway Ukrainian provinces allied to Moscow, according to the Kyiv Post.

And the numbers are rising.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) recently reported a weekly average of more than 220 incidents involving heavy weapons in Donbass, up from around 40 a week after a ceasefire was instituted this summer.

“The warning signals of this uptick have been out there,” OSCE Principal Deputy Chief Monitor Alexander Hug told Reuters. “We have been warning through our reporting that the situation is gradually deteriorating again.”

Western efforts to deploy peacekeeping troops in the Ukraine could change that.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the United States and others want to deploy 20,000 United Nations peacekeepers to eastern Ukraine.

The idea has something for everyone.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gets to look like a peacemaker. Ukrainian leaders who support the idea get time to regroup militarily and economically. American defense officials hope to use the opportunity to engage with Moscow over alleged Russian violations of arms control treaties.

But, as the Toronto Star explained, Russia would want the peacekeepers only to monitor the front line between the two sides, effectively sealing off one part of Ukraine from the other. Ukraine has rejected that idea, saying the peacekeepers should patrol all occupied territories.

Since the UN Security Council must approve peacekeepers and Russia holds a veto on the council, the diplomatic gyrations around the issue could be intense – and come to naught.

Context is key here.

Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin recently wrote that President Donald Trump can’t make up his mind about providing Ukraine with weapons, continuing the previous administration’s policy of equivocating as Donbass burns.

But the US is sending coal to Ukraine, a move that could provide leverage to Kiev because Moscow provides the country with much of its energy, reported Newsweek.

Ukraine, meanwhile, is considering breaking off all ties with Russia, reported Radio Free Europe. That move that could force Putin to devote more time and resources to a military solution for Ukraine that could lay bare Moscow’s meddling in the region.

Regardless, many say it would be a sad failure of the international community if, as leaders debate endlessly and jockey behind the scenes, worse bloodshed flares up on one of Europe’s most remote borders.



Passing the Mantle

Japan’s Emperor Akihito will abdicate the throne on April 30, 2019, marking the first imperial succession from a living emperor in some 200 years.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet is expected to formalize the decision of the Imperial House Council on Dec. 8, paving the way for the emperor’s elder son, Crown Prince Naruhito, to assume the throne on May 1, 2019, the Nikkei Asian Review reported.

In a rare video message in August 2016, the emperor expressed fears that his failing health would stop him from fulfilling his duties, implying he would seek to step down. This June, Japan’s parliament enacted a law allowing him to pass the mantle to his son.

Though the emperor holds no political power under Japan’s post-war constitution, his abdication comes amid a period of potentially radical change for the country – as the prime minister is seeking a more active role for the military in world affairs.

Notably, Akihito has been “at odds with” recent developments such as prime ministerial visits to a shrine that honors war criminals, among others, CNN quoted Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University Japan, as saying.


Staying Afloat

OPEC and non-OPEC producers led by Russia agreed to extend curbs on oil output until the end of 2018 in their continued battle against a supply glut that has driven prices down to levels that have caused havoc for oil-dependent economies.

While desperate Venezuela could use a spike in prices, Saudi Arabia needs production curbs to work – but not too well, according to Reuters. An “elongated” price rise would give Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman the time and the mandate to follow through on his pledge to diversify the economy – as well as his corruption purge that has hit several members of the royal family.

Cuts have already increased Brent crude prices more than 10 percent this year, and the Saudis have become more disciplined spenders. Prices rose another 1 percent to nearly $64 after the news of the extension Thursday.

But the International Monetary Fund reckons Riyadh’s fiscal breakeven lies at $73.10 per barrel – and predicts prices will drop back to $50 soon.


Flexing Muscle

French President Emmanuel Macron said he will propose military action against human traffickers in the fight against modern slavery and invited the United States to attend this month’s summit of the new G5 Sahel force, a security alliance comprising Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

Speaking at the African Union-European Union (AU-EU) summit in Ivory Coast, Macron said world leaders should cooperate in annihilating those networks and gangs involved in human trafficking, the French Tribune reported. These networks operate across the Sahel region, moving people through Libya across the Mediterranean Sea.

He didn’t elaborate on what kind of military action was proposed, except to say that he was not advocating a war in Libya, a nation still reeling from the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

At the G5 Sahel summit on Dec. 13, the Sahel leaders will meet with officials from the European Union and the African Union to discuss plans for a joint force of 5,000 regional troops supported by 4,000 French soldiers that have been deployed in the area since France’s 2013 intervention in Mali.


Three Courses, Au Naturel

Naturalists in Paris can now wear their birthday suit all year round – even in the heart of the city – after restaurant O’Naturel became the first establishment catering exclusively to a nudist clientele earlier this month.

In fact, while patrons aren’t allowed to wear clothes, the waiters must be fully clothed in accordance with French law, the BBC reported.

“We’re in the heart of Paris, it’s almost ten o’clock at night, and we’re in a restaurant, completely naked,” said Yves Leclerc, vice president of the French Federation of Naturism.

To offer a pleasant and comfortable experience, the restaurant covers its windows and prohibits the use of camera phones.

The restaurant’s co-founder Stephane Saada told the BBC that the restaurant remains respectful toward its customers and wants to avoid any confusion about what goes down within its walls.

In case you were wondering, the chair covers are changed between every sitting.

Click here to have sneak-peek at the restaurant.

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