Friday. 11/3/2022

The Monocle Minute

Breaking news / Ukraine

Latest headlines

• Russian forces have edged closer to Kyiv and some troops are now within 15 kilometres of the city centre, according to the latest US state department briefing. Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko said that around half of the civilian population have left the Ukrainian capital, which the former boxing world champion described as a “fortress”.

• China’s premier Li Keqiang has told reporters that Beijing is “deeply concerned” about the “grave” situation in Ukraine, although he refused to call Russia’s attack on Ukraine an invasion. Speaking at the conclusion of China’s annual National People's Congress, Li said sanctions would hurt the global economy and dodged a question about the support that China will offer Russia.

• The UN Security Council will meet later today at the request of permanent member Russia to discuss Moscow’s claims ⎯ deemed “laughable” by Washington ⎯ that the US is funding the development of biological weapons in Ukraine. The US has accused Russia of using Friday’s emergency meeting to deceive the world while creating a pretext for Moscow’s own use of chemical weapons in Ukraine.

• The US congress has passed a $13.6bn (€12.3bn) emergency aid package for Ukraine with around half of the huge sum earmarked for supplying weapons to Ukraine and deploying US troops to neighbouring Nato countries. "We promised the Ukrainian people they would not go at it alone in their fight against Putin," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said late on Thursday.

• Facebook and Instagram are to allow users in Ukraine, Poland and certain other countries to call for violence against Russian soldiers and for the death of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Parent company Meta has reportedly advised its content moderators to relax a blanket ban on hate speech on its social media platforms in relation to posts about the invasion of Ukraine.

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Ed Stocker

Personal conflict

Global conflicts attract foreign fighters. In the case of Ukraine, it has been sanctioned from the very top by Volodymyr Zelensky, who established an international legion at the end of last month. Since then, some 16,000 foreign nationals have registered to defend the country from the Russian invasion.

History shows us that foreigners have time and again been lured by the fight. During the Spanish Civil War, the communist opponents of General Franco formed the International Brigades. Yet rarely are they openly encouraged by officials from non-combatant nations. The UK’s foreign secretary, Liz Truss, was criticised for saying that if people wanted to support Ukrainians fighting for freedom and security she would “support them in doing that”. Meanwhile, in Denmark, prime minister Mette Frederiksen has said that going to Ukraine to fight is a choice that “anyone can make”.

How different this all sounds to the approach of governments to the most notorious foreign fighters of them all: those going to join the ranks of Isis in the Middle East. In many cases, the full weight of the law was brought down on them when they returned to their home countries, and rightly so. The waters can get murky around individual motivations for being in the middle of the fight­­­. Far-right narratives have been taken up to support both the Russian and Ukrainian sides. Italian neofascist Andrea Palmeri, who goes by the name “Generalissimo”, has been working with Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region of Ukraine since 2014, when that conflict began. He’s far from the only one.

Governments and their ministers should choose their words more carefully. Support for a sovereign and democratic nation such as Ukraine is one thing; encouraging private citizens to go and fight in a complex warzone­­­­ is another.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / Turkey

Enter the mediator

The first meeting between the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine since the invasion began bore little fruit, neither concerning a ceasefire nor agreements on creating additional humanitarian corridors. But Sergei Lavrov and Dmytro Kuleba have committed to continuing the dialogue and potentially working towards a meeting between Volodymyr Zelensky and Vladimir Putin. However bleak the situation may now be, the meeting on the sidelines of a diplomacy forum in Antalya has cast Turkey in the role of mediator. The country’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (pictured), who hosted the talks between his Ukrainian and Russian counterparts, said that Turkey had offered its services to facilitate a possible summit between the two leaders. At the opening of the mediation conference that followed the talks, Cavusoglu warned that conflicts around the world were becoming increasingly complicated and the humanitarian costs all the greater. He also stressed the urgency of seeking peace: “There are no frozen conflicts,” he said. “Only the solutions are frozen.”

Image: Shutterstock

Conflict / Ukraine

Waste not want not

The bravery of Zelensky and his country’s armed services have won plenty of hearts and minds over the past few weeks but the efforts of Ukraine’s municipal and energy workers have barely been mentioned. At a conference of bureaucrats earlier this week, a number of mayors said that their power and water stations, pipelines and power lines were being shelled by the Russian army in efforts to render their cities unliveable. But even the threat of attack, according to the mayors, hasn’t stopped workers from attempting repairs and carrying out other duties.

“We are still removing the trash from the city, despite the shelling,” said Kharkiv mayor Ihor Terekhov. “This is important to us; by removing the garbage and even salting the roads, residents see that we are still living and operating.” Such moves underline the importance, for people everywhere, of taking pride in your patch – and, in Ukraine, it carries added weight, as an act of resistance against an invading force.

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / Chile

Taking what’s left

Today, Chile swears in its new president Gabriel Boric (pictured), a leftist former student protest leader, who at 36 years old is the country’s youngest ever head of state. Boric has pledged to bury the legacy of right-wing former leader Augusto Pinochet, following a mass protest movement against income inequality in a country whose politics have long veered right. His proposed policies include plans to increase public spending and install a welfare state. The big question is whether Boric’s win marks a wider shift to the left in Latin America. Not everyone is so sure. “These political shifts are contingent on different political dynamics, so it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in Mexico, for example, in which a Boric-type candidate could emerge,” Christopher Sabatini, senior fellow for Latin America at Chatham House, tells The Monocle Minute. “While I hope he does inspire voters to look for more stable, pragmatic alternatives, I don’t think this is indicative of any wider movement.”

Image: Allyson Riggs

Entertainment / USA

Now showing

Film, TV and music festival South by Southwest (SXSW) finally returns to Austin in all its in-person glory today. In 2020, the event was among the first international film jamborees to be forced to cancel and its comeback heralds a turning point in the cinema season. Expect the usual quirky, independent and offbeat titles, some of which will also be available to watch digitally as part of a shift towards a hybrid model. Infallible indie production house A24’s Everything Everywhere all at Once (pictured), starring the excellent Michelle Yeoh, is set to kick off proceedings with its story set across parallel universes. Nicolas Cage, meanwhile, takes centre-stage in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, in which he plays his unbridled self in a strange but surely crowd-pleasing black comedy. Look out also for nostalgic Nasa-themed animation Apollo 10½ and multi-faceted diamond documentary Nothing Lasts Forever.

Image: Claude Cormier

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Claude Cormier

Claude Cormier is one of Canada’s most celebrated landscape architects. His eponymous studio, which he founded in Montréal in 1995, has created several notable public spaces in Canada over the past few years. He tells Tomos Lewis about the evolution of his practice and explains how to reconcile design ideas with entrepreneurship in public-space commissions.

Monocle Films / Sweden

Sweden’s Arctic: green innovation

Norrbotten in Sweden is blessed with natural resources but more recently has been turning heads because of its growing roster of innovative start-ups. We bear witness to the region's effort to change heavy industries into clean businesses.

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