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Friday 10 August 2018

Geopolitics

Image: Getty Images

Growing isolation

As more sanctions hit Russia, the country’s economy enters a perilous downturn.

Despite predictions that the latest round of US sanctions on Russia – announced on Wednesday and effective from 22 August – would have little impact, the Russian stock market is in disarray. Within minutes of the Moscow Stock Exchange’s opening on Thursday morning, the value of the rouble compared to the dollar slumped to a two-year low; government-owned companies have also suffered, with the value of Aeroflot shares depreciating by 12 per cent. Russian analysts fear that the new sanctions – which specifically target the energy sector – will hamper the state’s flagship Nord Stream 2 project: a €9.5bn natural gas pipeline, which has already been hampered by funding problems. In response, Russia plans to retaliate with its own round of sanctions but with Russia’s economy dwindling and more dependent on foreign markets than it admits, any sanctions will simply further isolate the Kremlin.

Diplomacy

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Tapped out

Canadian officials’ struggle to contain their thoughts has whipped up a social-media storm with serious consequences.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has been defending Canadian officials who have waded into a human-rights debate on social media – and caused an international spat as a result. The officials have been commenting on Saudi Arabia’s arrest of peaceful activists and Riyadh isn’t happy, choosing to respond harshly. The Middle Eastern nation has severed diplomatic ties with Canada by expelling its ambassador, freezing all new trade deals between the countries and launching plans to remove all Riyadh-funded Saudi students from Canadian universities. While sensitivity to criticism is nothing new for the Saudi government, the debacle has raised questions about Twitter’s role in international diplomacy. “It’s a pretty blunt instrument,” says David Carment, professor at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. “It’s a poor substitute for active engagement and in this case, it kind of backfired.” Donald Trump take note.

Urbanism

Image: Getty Images

Reap what you sow

Tokyo’s newest area of green space makes smart use of existing structures to bring fresh life to the city.

Japan’s most expensive corner of real estate, Ginza in Tokyo (renowned as a retail and hospitality hub) has a new park. Designed by one of the nation’s largest corporations, Sony, the approach is far from conventional. For starters it actually sits on the site of the former Sony Building opened by the company’s late founder Akio Morita in 1966. The 13-storey showroom – a landmark modernist hulk that was designed by Yoshinobu Ashihara – was demolished last year ahead of a new tower that’s slated for completion in 2022. The new park incorporates part of a below-ground stairwell that belonged to the old building as well as four basement floors which connect to an above-ground vertical park. Plants and shrubbery are selected by master gardener Seijun Nishihata and the lower levels feature a handful of cafés, shops, retail spots and even a music venue. More than just a nugget of turf, then.

Media

Image: Alamy

Turned off

Melbourne’s metro commuters will have to do without Sky News after the media outlet’s misstep.

Melbourne has banned Sky News from transmitting at the city’s metro stations following a failure of editorial judgement by the broadcaster. Earlier in the week Sky News aired an interview with a far-right extremist who’s most famous for encouraging schools to display pictures of Adolf Hitler in classrooms. The issue has also been playing out on new media this week after Alex Jones, mouthpiece for far-right conspiracy site InfoWars, was banned from all major social-media sites apart from Twitter. It’s an interesting shift given that social-media outlets have long trumpeted themselves as communication “facilitators”. Now they seem to be waking up to the idea that they need to make editorial calls. Broadcaster Robin Lustig told Monocle 24 that the decision to offer a platform to extreme views should be contingent on the significance “to the society in which they are expressed”. In other words, unless these people are contributing to the debate they shouldn’t be entertained. But are social-media bosses prepared to accept responsibility and act more as editors?

From Monocle 24

What does Ontario’s new premier tell us about politics in Canada?

The Foreign Desk: Explainer

Anyone wanting a glimpse of what might be unfolding in Canadian politics should look to Ontario, which has just elected Doug Ford – brother of the late crack-smoking mayor of Toronto, Rob – as its new premier. In the opening weeks of his time in office Ford laid down the kind of populist agenda that Donald Trump could be proud of. Monocle’s bureau chief in Toronto, Tomos Lewis, has more.

From Monocle Films

Quality of Life Survey: top 25 cities, 2018

Our annual ranking is back as we take a fresh look at the best cities to call home. From open-minded mayors and improved transport links to fresh retail openings and investment in public space, find out who’s doing it best.

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