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SEEKING NATO

While Russia's war against Ukraine may have sought to prevent further EU and NATO expansion and sow division it appears to have provoked exactly the opposite, giving new life to once struggling institutions and fostering some sense of unity. 


A sense only, as divisions have emerged on a number of issues. Unity was certainly not evident from the get go, as the lack of a European common foreign policy and defense force caused much introspection the first days of the conflict. After some period of adjustment a common approach to the war did emerge, but still not all were ready to speak with one voice. 


Hungary said it would not host more NATO troops and declined to ban Russian oil, something a number of countries were in agreement with. But as the conflict stretches into another month, a common trend is developing, Ukraine, Moldo-va and Georgia are seeking EU membership while once reticent Scandinavian coun-tries have now applied to  formally join NATO. And  French President Emmanuel Macron's proposal to create a new broader European com-munity of nations that could welcome non-EU members such as Ukraine and Britain, suggested no one would be left behind on the continent where the common currency was once considered under threat. 


Similarly NATO faced a  bit of a crisis after the end of the Cold war. Now it stands to recruit new members, Finland and Sweden rushing to reverse decades of neutral policies by applying for NATO membership despite Moscow's condemnation, the Kremlin saying at first, not for the first time, it considered the move a threat. It later toned down this rhetoric but said it would respond to troop deployments.There's no lack of irony in that it was another neighbor's flirt with the West and NATO which sparked the Russian attack against Ukraine, and that this may only result in another border nation joining the Atlantic alliance. 


But the would-be newcomers have to convince a well established member, Turkey, which threatened to veto their candidacies. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims these Nordic countries harbor "terrorist organizations", including Kurdish militant groups and followers of cleric Fethullah Gulen, which he says carried out a 2016 coup attempt. Erdogan said supporters of these groups included members of parliament, prompting Helsinki and Stockholm to send a mission to Ankara for talks on their membership bid. 


Finnish officials  were optimistic they would be able to convince Ankara to change its mind but Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his country's conditions would be for both countries to stop backing what he called terrorist organizations, including, the Kurdistan Worker's Party,  and lift export bans on Turkey. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto called applying to join NATO the opening of a "new era", adding he wasn't too concerned about Ankara's reaction. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also said he was "confident we'll be able to find common ground." Some called Turkey's reticence a negotiating ploy, but Ankara blocked attempts to fast-track the candidacies. 


In the mean time the two countries are wary they may be vulnerable to possible attacks, as they do not yet benefit from NATO protection, but Russia's fumbling war in Ukraine hardly leaves it likely to launch another front any time soon. But Russia says it planned to create new military bases in response and was already cutting off Finland's gas supply. 


These are just the most recent applications for NATO membership, but other countries are also seeking to join the alliance, from Bosnia Herzegovina to Georgia, and others including Ireland, are reingaging in debates about possible membership. It is a far cry from the 1990s when NATO's purpose was cast into doubt with the end of the Cold war. It only took the prospect of a new one to make joining the Atlantic alliance attractive again. Russia has been seeking reassurances Ukraine would never join NATO, the possible condition to eventual peace in the region. 


While Turkey is a key NATO member which has sent crucial drones in support of Ukraine's defenses, it has, like a number of other allies of Kiev, balked at some of the sanctions levelled against Moscow. Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech republic and Bulgaria, which had previously been much closer to Moscow before the war, asked for exemptions if only to  have time to find alternative energy providers before observing a full ban on Russian oil and gas. 


Cutting off Russia's energy-based revenues is as key to stopping its war machine as weapons deliveries, the EU's 27 member states having spent over 24 billion euros on oil and 34 billion euros on Russian gas since the invasion. This isn't the only area where there are divergences. Macron's revival of an old idea to form a wider European club that would include aspiring EU members and other non-members on the continent is another one, as even those the club would seek as members, Ukraine, insist it should be no substitute for full EU membership. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda also called the idea "an attempt to cover up the obvious lack of political will to take decisive decisions on granting candi-date status" for Ukraine. 


But Macron insists a new broader European body could tackle cooperation in key continental issues such as security, energy and movement between countries. The idea of a confederation of nations was first proposed by predecessor Francois Mitterrand in 1989 as the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, but never took off. With nearly a dozen countries currently seeking EU membership, the idea isn't without appeal for some, but still lacks formality. 


There is no doubt Western and EU institutions are drawing new interest in this time of crisis and uncertainty. Kosovo said it would seek to join the Council of Europe, its human rights group, an institution Russia quit after the launch of the war. But one organization which however did not meet expectations for some was the OSCE, which Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said represented a failed security infrastructure which "did not work and was not able to prevent war."


LE RETOUR DES MARCOS


Le goût pour les hommes forts reste une constante aux Philippines, qui après le mandat d'un président controversé qui a dirigé le pays avec une poigne de fer vient d'élire avec une rare majorité absolue Ferdinand Marcos Junior, fils du défunt dictateur. 


Donné largement favori par les sondages, Marcos Jr. a promis de restaurer l'unité nationale, mais à quel coût. 


Rassurés de voir disparaitre Rodrigo Duterte en raison des excès des ses politiques antidrogues, les groupes de droits de l'homme craignent cependant l'arrivée au pouvoir du nouveau dirigeant de 64 ans, sa majorité lui facilitant la tâche de réviser la constitution et d'affaiblir la démocratie. 


"Duterte n'a jamais eu la discipline et les moyens d'aller au bout de son programme autoritaire, confie à France24 l'analyste Richard Geydarian. Cette opportunité historique pourrait échoir aux Marcos." 


D'autant plus que ce dernier ajoutait sous son aile la fille de l'homme fort sortant, Sara Duterte, une combinaison qui fait frémir certains observateurs. "Il pourrait y avoir un retour de la loi martiale et des morts associées à la campagne contre la drogue, comme ce qui s'est passé quand leurs parents étaient au pouvoir," note Myles Sanchez, militant des droits de l'homme. 


Le tandem avec Sara pourrait mettre son père à l'abri des poursuites de la Cour pénale internationale pour crimes contre l'humanité en raison de la sévère campagne antidrogue. Par ailleurs la dynastie Marcos a beau avoir connu ses effusions de sang, la campagne électorale a été marquée par un effort de désinformation afin d'assainir ce triste chapitre de l'histoire des Philippines, une révision des faits passés qui aurait pu avoir l'approbation de Poutine. 


Entre 5 et 10 milliards auraient été soutirés aux trésors publics lors du règne de deux décennies des Marcos, qui ont fui à Hawaii lors de la révolution People power des années 80. Beaucoup d'électeurs sont trop jeunes pour se souvenir de cette période noire et sanglante de l'histoire du pays. 


Comme à l'accoutumée, les élections ne se sont pas déroulées sans débordement, des hommes armés ayant ouvert le feu dans un bureau de vote de l'ile de Mandanao, région proie aux violences de groupes armés. 


C'est le genre de violence qui persiste malgré les promesses et les méthodes des dirigeants même autoritaires au pouvoir. Le pays reste proie aux éclats entre groupes armés, notamment dans le sud, mais également à la pauvreté et au sous-emploi qui peuvent alimenter ces crises. Marcos Jr. a par conséquent du pain sur la planche en ce début de mandat, déclarant "Ne me jugez pas selon mes ancêtres mais selon mes actions." 


Mais la controverse s'est invitée plutôt vite après les résultats de l'élection. En effet on aurait, sur les murs de la maison de sa mêre où il était allé célébrer sa victoire, noté la présence d'une pièce de Picasso qui devait avoir été saisie par les autorités parmi les biens pillés par la famille Marcos dans les années 80. 


Il s'agit d'un rappel qu'alors que Marcos Jr. prend les rênes du pouvoir sa famille est toujours aux prises avec des dizaines d'affaires judiciaires concernant l'accumulation plus ou moins doûteuse de son importante richesse. Le groupe des droits de l'homme Karapatan a fait appel à un rejet de la nouvelle présidence par les masses, estimant qu'elle était bâtie de toutes pièces par le mensonge et la désinformation "afin de déodoriser l'image détestable des Marcos."


US LEAK SPARKS DEBATE

While the leak of a draft decision of the U.S. Supreme Court suggesting abortion could soon no longer be a constitutional right came as a shock to right to choose activists and galvanized the right during primary season, it also came at a time a number of conservative and Catholic Latin American countries were coming around to legalizing the practice. 


Earlier this year Colombia's constitutional Court legalized the procedure until the 24th week of pregnancy, in line with simlar reversals in other parts of the Latin world. Argentina's congress legalized elective abortion until the 14th week   of pregnancy while  Mexico's highest court declared a total ban on abortion unconstitu-tional, even if restrictions remain in many of its states. 


Is this what is in store for the U.S., where over 20 states were ready to halt the procedure? If so a number of corporations, such as Amazon and Starbucks, were ready to step up and assist those seeking abortions in states that would still permit it, further deepening the great U.S. divide. 


Canada also served notice it would permit Americans seeking abortions to cross the border. The great White North wasted no time entering the debate, the ruling Liberals vowing to protect the right to abortion and announcing new funding to make access to abortion easier. 


But not all countries have been moving in the same direction on the delicate topic. The year Argentina changed course a court ruling in Poland sparked protest and "women strikes'" when it introduced a near total ban on abortion in the heavily Catholic country. There, as in a number of US states which may revert to ban the procedure, a majority of people polled were against the change. Termina-tions were only allowed in cases of rape, incest, or to protect the mother's life. 


This wouldn't be the case in some US states looking to turn back the clock further. For at least half of the world's population this is what the new restrictions would amount to, and a U.S. reversal would have a global impact. "In a country that is a political, financial, military empire, a supreme court decision has a contagious effect. Because everything moves together,” told the Guardian Debora Diniz, co-founder of an NGO pushing to decriminalize elective abortion in Brazil. In that country the procedue is only allowed in cases of rape, risk to the woman’s life and certain congenital conditions. 


“For Latin American countries, like Brazil, like Mexico, like Colombia, the US supreme court was a very important precedent behind the simple idea that courts are a legitimate space in which to decide abortion [rights],”  Diniz said. Central America is where sweeping prohibitions remain in place against the practice, leading to long prison sentences in case of transgressions. 


"It is an awful precedent for the coming years for the region and the world," said Catalina Martínez Coral of the Center for Reproductive Rights. The issue is as divisive in non-Catholic countries. 


While the procedure is widely available in Israel since the late 70s, Iran went in the other direction after the revolution, while Tunisia has allowed abortions for up to 12 weeks since the 1960s. The Ukrainian crisis has exposed its refugees to differences between European countries on the matter. 


According to local authorities over 100 women were raped by Russian soldiers and some reconsidered relocating to Poland because of its restrictive policies. Similarly in Croatia pro-choice supporters have rallied behind a woman who was denied the right to get an abortion despite the fact her unborn child had a life altering brain tumour. She was at fist told to go to nearby Slovenia instead, before the decision was reversed and permission granted for the procedure. This in turn provoked massive anti-abortion rallies in the Catholic country.


L'ANNÉE SUIVANTE


Moins d'un an après la chute de Kaboul, la réalité reflète bien les craintes d'un recul du droit des femmes, dont l'effacement se poursuit à une vitesse virtigineuse. Evincées du monde du travail pour la plupart, elles perdent leur avenir en étant exclues des écoles après un certain niveau, et sont finalement rendues invisibles par l'imposition du voile intégral. 


C'est une transformation qui a eu lieu en plein jour et dont le monde a été le témoin, impuissant, comme il l'était pendant la chute de ce pays aux mains des Talibans. Ces derniers doivent cependant encore livrer certains combats, non seulement face à des extrémistes encore plus radicaux sur une terre que le bon sens semble avoir abandonné, mais entre eux-mêmes. 


Alors que le monde est captivé par la toute dernière urgence interna-tionale, celle de l'Ukraine, la catastrophe de ce pays trop souvent conquis mais jamais maîtrisé prend de l'ampleur  en voguant tout droit vers la crise humanitaire. 


Les nouveaux maîtres de Kaboul pourraient venir en aide aux plus souffrants en prenant une position moins radicale et gagner un peu de la faveur des agences d'aide occidentales, mais certains ont chosi de pousser la souffrance à l'extrême en réduisant les libertés individuelles, surtout celles des femmes, au strict minimum. Et encore. 


Mais ces dernières  n'ont pas pour autant été réduites au silence, osant manifester contre les nouvelles mesures des Talibans, malgré les violences que ces actes peuvent déclencher. "Les Talibans ne peuvent pas nous effacer, déclare Zarifa Ghafari, une militante, ils doivent accepter (les femmes). Ils n'en ont pas le choix." 


Alors que certaines ont pu conserver leur emploi dans le secteur public, elles risquent le renvoi si elles ne se plient pas aux exigences sur le port du voile, une exigence aux antipodes de celles que l'on peut retrouver dans plusieurs pays de l'Ouest. "Nous voulons vivre en tant que créatures nobles, déclare Saira Sama Alimyar pendant une manifestation contre le voile intégral. Ne pas être retenues dans la cage de la maison, pendant que nos maris vont mendier pour de la nourriture." 


Il y a quelques mois les femmes se voyaient interdire le droit de voyager, surtout sans la supervision d'un "gardien" mâle s'il s'agit d'un trajet dépassant les 60 kilomètres. Depuis les Talibans ont ignoré leurs promesses d'assurer  l'éducation des filles en interdisant l'accès à l'école des moins jeunes. 


Mais certaines ont décidé de risquer gros en participant à des cours clandestins, un risque là encore non négligeable qui selon elles reste tout de même moins important que la condamnation d'une vie sans instruction. 


Les dirigeants talibans ne sont d'ailleurs pas unanimes sur l'interdiction de l'instruction des filles après la sixième année,  les hauts dirigeants y voyant une polémique qui encourage plusieurs familles à contester le pouvoir et chercher à quitter le pays, tout en soulevant la consternation en Occident, mettant en péril toute aide internationale.




BEYOND UKRAINE

The ripple effects of the war against Ukraine have been felt around the world for weeks, but Russia's decision to cut gas flows to Poland and Bulgaria, which heavily depend on it, and suspicious blasts in Moldova, have practically brought the war beyond Ukraine's borders at a time Russia is warning the West over arming Kyiv.

Warsaw and Sofia's refusal to pay for gas shipments in Ruble, which Moscow required to prop up its currency, prompted Russia to make good on its threat to cut gas flows, sounding alarms in countries depending on Russian energy exports.

The European Union slammed Moscow's move as "blackmail" against the former East bloc nations and stressed it will find energy alternatives in the short and long term, declaring the age of fossil fuels is coming to an end.

The EU has proposed to phase out Russian oil by the end of the year and reduce gas imports by two thirds, but in the mean time skyrocketing oil prices have boosted Russian revenues. Among the countries dependent on Russia energy is small Moldova, a country bordering Ukraine which has received large flows of refugees and has recently been rattled by explosions in its breakaway region of Transnistria.

The separatist region of half a million, which is home to a large Russophile population and some 1,500 Russian troops, was targeted by blasts of unknown origin, sparking concerns of new schemes to bring Russia's war efforts further West, the sort of false flag operation seen in Eastern Ukraine. Moldova's Europe-friendly prime minister accused the perpetrators of wanting to destabilize Moldova and possibly draw it into the conflict.

Maia Sandu's decision to seek EU membership has not been to Moscow's liking, just as Ukraine's past European overtunes have infuriated the Kremlin. Bringing Moldova into the mix could however prove problematic. While its capture could seem like an extension of cutting Ukraine's access to the Black Sea, Russian forces have yet to take the major bastion on these waters, nearby Odessa.

Despite focusing its latest military efforts in Eastern Ukraine, Russia has in fact seen its efforts there stall in the face of stiff resistance. But Ukraine has been doing more than simply defending itself; it has also been striking targets in Russia, infuriating the Kremlin. Taking place with the permission of a West arming Kyiv as best it can to defend itself, the strikes have not only claimed more Russian casualties among soldiers, but civilians as well, and this is making it harder for Moscow to sustain its domestic propaganda claim that what is going on in little more than a special operation in Ukraine. In fact there are rumors it may be about to declare war.

Russia has been trying to strike the infrastructure used to arm Ukraine, and has warned the West it should stop doing that. Tensions were also emerging on Russia's own eastern front as Moscow warned Tokyo of "retaliatory measures" if it expanded joint naval exercises with the United States. But all this could be a little bit of an over-reach for Russia, which is struggling to hold to parts of Ukraine it has captured.

OUF, MACRON

Il y eut un éclat de joie au rassemblement organisé aux pieds de la tour Eiffel à l'annonce des résultats du second tour de l'élection présidentielle, mais beaucoup de soulagement également, là comme ailleurs. Car le travail ne fait que commencer.  Mais encore, et pour combien de temps encore, plusieurs électeurs s'étaient rassemblés aux urnes peu charmés par le choix de candidats et se sentant obligés d'effectuer un vote d'opposition plutôt qu'un vote d'adhésion.

Vingt huit pourcent des 49 millions d'électeurs avaient choisi de ne pas se présenter aux urnes lors d'un exercice qui a enregistré le meilleur résultat de l'extrême droite de l'histoire française. Alors qu'Emmanuel Macron, avec 58% des voix, devenait le premier chef d'état ré-élu en vingt ans, il savait qu'il aurait la lourde tâche de rassurer des millions de ses concitoyens peu emballés par les projets de son nouveau quinquennat.

Nombre d'entre eux, qui l'avaient élu à contre-coeur au second tour, étaient par ailleurs sûrs de voter autrement dans quelques semaines lors du soi-disant troisième tour de l'élection: la législative de juin.

A ceux qui avaient voté pour lui afin de faire barrage à l'extrême droite plutôt que pour soutenir ses idées il déclarait: "Je suis dépositaire de leur sens du devoir, de leur attachement à la république et du respect des différences qui se sont exprimées ces dernières semaines", tout en tenant compte de ceux qui qui se sont abstenus ou voté pour son opposant. "Le vote de ce jour nous impose de considérer toutes les difficultés et de répondre avec efficacité aux colères qui se sont exprimées."

Des colères non seulement exprimées en faveur de la droite dure mais contre sa candidature. Car le chiffre record du Rassemblement national n'épousait lui aussi pas totalement les politiques de Marianne LePen, pour qui le chiffre de 42% constituait "une victoire", lui permettant de remettre à plus tard l'idée de se retirer de la vie politique. "Déterminés nous le sommes plus que jamais," dit-elle, soulignant la "grande défiance" du gouvernement exprimée par les urnes.

Du coup elle réitérait son "engagement pour la France et les Français" au fil de départ des législatives des prochaines semaines. On est bien loin des promesses de Macron affirmant il y a cinq ans que les Français n'auraient "plus aucune raison de voter pour les extrêmes", ceux-ci restant bien d'actualité à gauche comme à droite.

Difficile dans un tel environnement de voir comment Macron pourrait ré-éditer son exploit d'éviter la cohabitation. Alors que la fracture nationale rendait fort probables des gestes d'ouverture de la part du chef de l'état il faut noter que celui-ci n'a plus à se présenter aux urnes, lui permettant de se concentrer sur son héritage.

Ailleurs, au sein d'un continent qui vit l'angoisse de la guerre en Ukraine, le résultat était accueilli avec soulagement par les dirigeants régionaux, qui craignaient un virage géopolitique dramatique en  cas de victoire d'une extrême droite proche de Poutine.

Le chancellier allemand Olaf Scholtz, y voyait "un signal fort en faveur de l'Europe" après  les discours alarmants de la candidate. Même réaction rassurée à Washington ou Ottawa tout comme en Ukraine, qui remerciait la France se son appui, tout en l'encourageant de la soutenir davantage.    

KIM'S FUNNY IDEAS

Around the same time Russia's foreign minister warned in a television interview that the West shouldn't underestimate the possibility of nuclear war, North Korea held a military parade showcasing banned inter-continental ballistic missiles  and vowing to boost its capabilities. Russia has dared to raise the issue of weapons of mass destructions on a number of occasions as its war against Ukraine suffered setbacks, and who's to say Pyongyang hasn't been paying attention? 

In fact recently the two isolated countries have reinforced relations and sent warm wishes to each other. “The friendly relations between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Russia, which have been continuously strengthened and developed by its predecessors, are entering a new heyday," penned an state newspaper in North Korea, which had previously published support for Russia's war in Ukraine.

“The DPRK-Russia friendship was forged in blood on the battlefield against the imperialists’ act of invading and maneuvering a war, and it has been reinforced and developed in the struggle to protect peace and security.”

Both countries have backed each other when isolated by other nations at the United Nations, North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently stressing relations between the two were deepening in view of “challenges and pressure by the US and its followers”, in other words, in opposition to the established world order.

The hermit kingdom certainly hates to be ignored on the world stage, especially during major crises, and has as of late been firing a number of projectiles, including an ICBM, into nearby waters and uttering threats to use nuclear weapons if provoked. "We will continue to take steps to strengthen and develop our nation's nuclear capabilities at the fastest pace," Kim Jong Un vowed as his army displayed ICBMs during a parade to mark its 90th anniversary. Kim later hinted he may even use nuclear weapons pre-emptively.

ICBMs could leave much of North American territory within reach. Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies told CNN Kim was working his way down a laundry list of weapons of mass destruction. "(Kim) said these are all the things that North Korea is going to do and that included a multiple warhead ICBM, a solid-propellant ICBM, launching a military satellite, and even putting a nuclear-powered submarine to sea," he said. "I don't think he's going to stop until that list is completed."

Could Russia's repeated mention of nuclear weapons during the Ukrainian conflict be making North Korea more bellicose? As far as the recent swaggering goes, it's actually quite tame compared to previous outings, noted Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies.

"There was no direct reference to South Korea or the United States, and even though there is a mention of nuclear force, there is no extreme expression, so it seems North Korea tried to manage the level of intensity this time," he said. Like Russia, North Korea is crippled by sanctions, and Kim wants them to end but the US administration, much less receptive than the previous one, says this cannot happen unless he ends his nuclear weapons programme.

Pyong-yang is counting on help from Russia to mitigate the strict sanctions it faces. But observers note such defiance, and acts such as firing projectiles into the waters off the peninsula, as he did again this week, tend to be a domestic rather than international show of force, his economy having suffered even more under the pandemic.

Last year, amid reports of starvation, the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization estimated North Korea would be short by about 860,000 tons of food, or about two months of normal demand. Pyongyang's messages may also be targeting its neighbor South Korea after the election of Yoon Suk-yeol, who has vowed to use a tougher line on the North. His defence minister hinted in April South Korea could strike the North's missile launch sites, sparking immediate outrage in Pyongyang.

Not helping in the least was the deployment by anti-Kim activists of propaganda banners carried by balloons near the tense border between the two countries. One of them carried a photo of Yeol with the inscription: A great nation where a prosecutor has become a national leader. Another carried a South Korean flag and called for a unified Korea of 80 million souls.

This sort of action is illegal in South Korea since a 2020 agreement, with sentences reaching up to three years in jail.The leader of the group, the Fighters for Free North Korea, a former North Korean citizen himself, has already been charged for deploying propaganda banners previously as well as dropping $1 notes across the border. This was a method previously used by the army to send messages across the border and sometimes medical supplies and radios as well, until the recent ban. The government says the tactic increases tensions and puts residents at risk.

While such acts by themselves won't send  Kim firing nuclear weapons there are fears a cumulation of provocations and irrespon-sible statements by a nuclear power such as Russia, could heighten tensions. Last week US president Joe Biden said Moscow shouldn't be making idle comments about using nuclear weapons under any circumstances.

"It shows the desperation that Russia is feeling about their abject failure in being able to do what they set out to do in the first instance," he said. "I think it's more of a reflection not of the truth, but of their failure." Trying to lower tensions is another nuclear power keeping a close eye on North Korea, China, which called for "calm and restraint." Sadly this seemed in short supply.


HOLDING ON

Sure they have been resisting, heroically, against all odds even, and maybe with the help of a little luck considering the lack of preparation of their opponents, but the losses have been devastating. And now they say Ukraine must expect worse still as Russia focuses its military might on the East where it has massed another endless convoy of deadly war machines.

In an address to the South Korean legislature last week president Volodymyr Zelensky said nearly 1,000 educational facilities and 300 hospitals were "wiped off the face of the earth" by Putin's forces, and countless cities razed to the ground. As he spoke Russia had closed in on the port of Mariupol, the long besieged city now close to falling to the invaders and enabling them to control a band of territory from the Donbas to Odessa running along the sea and leaving that part of Ukraine land locked, increasingly cut from the world.

Tens of thousands had been killed in Mariupol already as Russia began a new and more devastating wave of attacks on Ukraine's eastern region, Zelensky said, decrying the fact the Russians wanted to make an example out of the city to shock the rest of the country into submission.

And sadly the ongoing shipments to Ukraine from the West involved not reconstruction materials, but, understandably, weapons, hundreds of military vehicles, even helicopters, which some said was upping the ante, threatening all out war with the West.

Some of the weapons have had such success defending Ukraine they have become symbols of the resistance, such as the anti-tank javelin, or subject of songs, such as Turkish-made drones. Arming Ukraine has been swift to the point of depleting some NATO countries' defence stocks, such as Germany, which has begun tapping directly into manufacturers.

Missile defences showed their worth as Russia's flagship missile cruiser in the Black Sea sank following a Ukrainian strike. Calls by Ukraine to provide fighter jets and tanks have however led to fears about sparking a wider war, a deal for Poland to provide its Sukhois in exchange for US fighter jets having been scrapped because Warsaw wanted them to be sent from a US base in Germany.

The opponent they faced, General Alexander Dvornikov, made a terrible name for himself leading Russia's troops in Syria to commit what some have called war crimes. Adding to such existing accusations were charges of chemical weapons use in the attack on Mariupol.

This has led US president Joe Biden to describe Russia's actions against its neighbor a genocide, a term not embraced by all, but Canada's Justin Trudeau said the use of the word was increasingly justified. In the mean time Russia vowed to strike Kyiv anew, enraged by the loss of its ship, a vengeful act in a war campaign which has lost all focus, after losing so many soldiers on both sides.

WAR'S IMPACT

With a crisis triggering political resignations in Sri Lanka, a gas shortage causing economic paralysis in Kenya and deadly clashes in Peru requiring a curfew, the shockwaves of Russia's war on Ukraine have been felt far and wide, sending energy and food staple prices skyrocketing. As if a world economy dealing with the aftermath of a pandemic which triggered supply shortages needed any more excitement.

“Russia’s actions represent an unacceptable affront to the rules-based, global order, and will have enormous economic repercussions in Ukraine and beyond,” said U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, stressing low-income countries needed help dealing with their debt burdens. But often the crises were already underway and only made worse by the war in Eastern Europe, and the ripple effects were felt quite far away from the trenches.

Power cuts due to fuel shortages in Sri Lanka for instance have triggered protests amid inflation topping 18% as the island struggled with its worst economic crisis since independence. Cabinet mini-sters were turfed in the country which suffered from setbacks before the invasion of Ukraine, which made things more difficult.

The government of Gotabaya Rajapaksa had cut taxes just before the pandemic hit, slashing tourism arrivals as the world went into lockdown. It also banned fertilizer imports right before the Russian attack against its neighbor made the commodity crucial for food production even harder to get. Poor decision making and external factors sweeping the globe have sent the rupee plunging 30%.

Rajapaksa imposed a state of emergency to deal with discontent, and later a curfew, and when this failed to end protests sacked his cabinet. Soon after Rajapaksa's coalition partners withdrew their support, adding political uncertainty to the crisis.  The country is so short of hard currency it has asked expats to send money back, meanwhile the list of items facing shortages is growing.

Sri Lanka's medical association warned the lack of medication and medical equipment was starting to leave hospitals unable to provide emergency services.

Fuel and other shortages were also testing the relatively fresh presidency of Pedro Castillo in Peru, where a temporary curfew sought to calm tensions which spilled into the streets. Similar movements evicted the previous head of state. But tensions erupted anew, clashes with police over high fuel and food prices resulting in the death of at least one demonstrator.

Castillo cut some fuel taxes and raised the minimum wage but this failed to calm tensions. Despite having been recently elected the president has faced calls to resign amid two recent impeachment procedures. Here again the Ukrainian crisis has only exposed the mismana-gement of government affairs, Castillo having already shuffled four cabinets in his short time in office and standing accused of corruption.

"In a country with a weak state, in a country with lack of reforms, in a country which has a lot of social demands, he has been able to make things much worse in a very brief time," told the Guardian political science professor Eduardo Dargent. Unlike Volodymyr Zelensky, who played a school teacher who became president, Castillo is a former school teacher himself.

In Greece, on a continent still trying to figure out how to keep the lights on without Russian energy, a national day of strike took place to protest inflation as unions sought salary hikes for workers seeing their buying power plummet.

But the price pressures and shortages have particularly hit poorer economies. Already threatened by famine due to its ongoing war, Yemen fears the worst as it gets a third of its wheat from the region. Europe's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, suggested Russia's actions have been provoking hunger across the world.

The World Food Program appealed for $777 million to help feed some 22 million people in the Sahel region and Nigeria, regions that rely on affordable supplies of grains from the Back Sea region. In the East of the continent the situation was hardly more encouraging. Fuel shortages made local economies in Kenya ground to a halt.

Long lines formed at the rare gas stations of the capital lucky enough to receive new fuel shipments. The situation was made worse by the government's failure to make payments to gas companies, in a country where fuel is highly subsidised, leading them to delay oil imports. It's hardly the only part of Africa suffering. Inflation is at 6.29 percent in Kenya, but double that (13.3%) in Burundi and double that (25%) in struggling South Sudan.

In parts of Uganda gas prices reached $3 a litre, leading to accusations some were taking advantage of the crisis to hoard fuel and exploit consumers. “Some companies have increased the price by a small margin, but others have hiked it to exploit Ugandans,” said Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja.

Added pressures due to dependence on grains from the war-torn region have also impacted the region.  “We have been exposed to global events — whether it is the Ukraine crisis that has disrupted the supply chain. For far too long, we have neglected domestic production, which tends to be more resilient,” Ken Gichinga of Mentoria Economics told the East African.

Inflation has also been threatening the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, who has been the target of massive protests notably concerning the rise of fuel prices. But the controversial president, who stayed neutral on the war, has been gaining in polls against his opponent Lula da Silva as the two gear up for October elections.

And increasingly suffering from the fallout of the war is the instigator itself, Russia, which according to credit agencies is close to defaulting in its debt. "Steeper prices for fuel and food may spur a greater risk of unrest in some regions," warned the IMF.

"Longer term, the war may fundamentally alter the global economic and geopolitical order should energy trade shift, supply chains reconfigure, payment networks fragment, and countries rethink reserve currency holdings." Oxfam had a more stern warning: a quarter of a billion more people could face extreme poverty by the end of the year as a result of the combination of covid measures, inflation and fallout of the war.


DRÔLE DE VAGUE

Plus de deux ans après la confirmation de la pandémie les règles semblent s'être assouplies dans plusieurs coins du monde alors que l'on entre dans une nouvelle vague d'infections, mais pour certains pays l'heure n'a jamais été aussi grâve, un rappel que l'état de la pandémie n'a jamais été uniforme à travers le globe.

Dans le pays à l'origine de la crise sanitaire les éclosions n'ont jamais été aussi importantes, enfermant des millions de citoyens de Shanghai chez eux alors que Hong Kong et d'autres localités prennent des aspects de ville fantôme, applicant une politique zéro covid abandonnée ailleurs.

Ce sont des scènes presque oubliées en occident, où on accuellait les hausses de cas avec fatalisme mais aussi avec la notion que les efforts de vaccination ont porté fruit. Il n'est plus question de refermer les frontières, et certains pays ont même supprimé les exigences de tests à l'entrée, même si on encourage à nouveau le port du masque... de manière volontaire.

Il faut dire que le virus a évolué sous une forme moins virulente mais plus contagieuse à la fois, poussant plusieurs états à proposer une quatrièmedose pour les plus faibles. Alors qu'on ne connait pas toute l'ampleur de la vague qui se profile en raison du manque de données régulières et du manque de tests dans plusieurs régions, l'analyse des égoûts permet de constater que celle-ci est importante, l'Ontario estimant à plus de 120,000 les nouveaux cas quotidiens, du jamais vu.

Pourtant aucun retour en arrière à propos des mesures sanitaires n'est prévu dans de nombreux cas, les amphithéâtres étant remplis à temps pour les séries éliminatoires et les concerts affichant complet pour la saison estivale. Le Québec a cependant décidé de prolonger l'obligation du port du masque pour quelques semaines. Mais certains paradoxes de cette nouvelle vague sont frappants.

La Corée du sud accuse le nombre le plus élevé de cas lors des 28 derniers jours et a en mars enregistré des pointes de 600,000 nouveaux cas par jour. Or le taux de mortalité était parmi les plus faibles au monde grâce au taux élevé de vaccinations. Résultat ses citoyens on repris le chemin du voyage en chiffres records et le pays a même éliminé ses exigences de quarantaine à l'entrée.

En fait si le chiffre est si astronomique c'est parce qu'il reflète plus la réalité qu'ailleurs en raison du nombre élevé de tests, qui sont plus difficiles à obtenir dans d'autres pays. Coûteuse peut-être, mais la politique a permis au pays de poursuivre ses activités sans trop de soucis et surtout de limiter les débordements dans les hôpitaux en pratiquant des approches plus ciblées.

Pas encore de craintes mais une augmentation de cas en Amérique du nord où  le nombre d'infections, notamment dans la classe politique, augmente. De Québec à Washington, le nombre de politiciens infectés secoue les chambres législatives. Mais les infections y ont rarement été sévères, à l'opposé de l'aggravation des cas à Hong Kong, qui accuse un des taux de mortalité les plus élevés.

A blâmer dans la région, les manquements des campagnes de vaccination des plus âgés, dont la plupart étaient peu vaccinés. Le président Xi Jinping a pourtant fait les éloges de la gestion de la crise, alors que celle-ci enregistrait des chiffres d'infection record à Shanghai, où  de nombreux citoyens barricadés chez eux remettaient en cause l'approche prônée et se plaignaient des conditions de leur confinement, notamment le manque de nourriture. Les confinements dans plusieurs villes ont touché les systèmes de distribution, entrainant des délais à travers le monde.

Selon le réseau d'analyse des risques RANE la pandémie représente toujours le risque le plus important auquel fait face le monde des affaires "particulièrement si un nouveau variant  s'avère plus dangereux aux vaccinés et se répand plus facilement". D'une manière ou d'une autre "il y aura sans doute un écart plus important d'activité économique entre pays" selon la proportion des vaccinés.


DEFIANCE AND HORRORS

When the initial strikes failed to decimate Ukrainian defenses, Russia resorted to targeting civilian areas with dumb bombs to sap morale. When this failed Russia deployed hypersonic weapons for the first time, with devastating effect, but well short of undermining the resolve of the resistance. Would chemical weapons or weapons of mass destruction be next?

Because the Russian advance didn't only stall four weeks into the campaign, it lost ground, Ukrainian fighters managing to regain some territory in the outskirts of Kiev, the country's most important battlefield. But the levelling of Mariupol in the south and steady stream of refugees fleeing to Western neighbors left behind a gutted country and a president increasingly desperate to end the carnage.

Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated calls for a ceasefire amid suggestions he would embrace neutrality and abandon hopes to one day seek NATO membership, and used increasingly critical language against NATO leaders who refused to impose a no-fly zone. He warned NATO members, including the Baltic states and Poland, would be next in line for Russian aggression if the current attacks in Ukraine were allowed to continue. He caused some shock  comparing the targeting of civilians with the holocaust, in a speech to Jewish lawmakers.

With every country he was appealing to for help the president didn't hesitate to bring up terrifying chapters of their past. Addressing lawmakers in Japan he invoked memories of Fukushima and a chemical attack in Tokyo. Desperate? Sure, but then again so was the situation of a country he was dedicated to defend. He appealed to a sense of horror, and delivered a dose of harsh reality.

For the Russians he upped the defiance, saying Ukraine would be their graveyard, and asking the leadership to avoid decimating a generation of Russians in a lost cause. Exaggerations in a propaganda campaign waged on both sides? Well that depends considering NATO was at the same time shoring up capabilities in areas that would have been considered absurd just recently: chemical, biological and nuclear defenses. What if the alliance was facing a certifiably mad man with a finger on the button after all?

Could Zelensky be criticized for lashing out when faced with such a formidable and disturbing opponent? Short of using weapons of mass destruction Russia did send mercenaries of its Wagner group to the Eastern part of the country as it slowly reduced its grip on Kyiv and focused on the more winnable parts of Ukraine.

But even there, including in the levelled town of Mariupol, the remaining Ukrainian fighters refused to lower their weapons and kept up their resistance. Russia has tried to throw everything it could into the conflict, including neighboring Belarus troops and war savvy Chechens and Syrians, with little success against soldiers battle hardened by conflict in Eastern Ukraine for years who knew the terrain and cities well.

By Ukrainian accounts increasingly confirmed by the West, the Russian losses are massive, perhaps including up to 15,000 soldiers and hundreds of tanks, planes and helicopters. In a few weeks they had lost what a decade in Afghanistan had caused. It wasn't another Afghanistan after all, it was worse. US officials in fact suggested it was so bad Putin himself wasn't being properly briefed on the state of the war by his military officials, who feared his reaction.

At the negotiating table this lack of truth made reaching any deals difficult, as Russia kept shelling cities where it said it would reduce operations. Of course Moscow has not been forthright from the beginning, vowing it wasn't going to invade right before it did, and even telling its soldiers they were conducting military exercises before moving them in for an attack they were not prepared for.

Just over a month into the conflict however it was Ukraine's turn to strike back, pushing back Russian positions around Kyiv and even daring an attack on an oil depot into Russia near the border. Neither denied nor confirmed by Kyiv, the strike was certainly sure to make the sides less likely to reschedule new peace talks.

Meanwhile the areas Russian troops were leaving to refocus on the East of the country were scenes of utter devastation that left little for residents to come back to. In addition to being bombed many communities were looted by invading troops, an indication the Russians were ill equipped to dig in for a long fight, and sometimes digging in itself had tragic consequences. Troops occupying the Chenobyl nuclear site were contaminated when they started digging trenches and had to be evacuated due to exposure.

But the withdrawal of Russian troops in some areas wasn't always greeted with relief, leaving behind much despair, and in abandoned areas around Kyiv, landmines sure to haunt returning locals. But few were ready to return as the flood of refugees continued into neighboring nations, reaching over 4 million, with the smaller states appealing for help to deal with the continuing flow.

And some scenes left behind what some called evidence of war crimes. This was the accusation of Ukrainian officials echoed by German minister Robert Habeck after Ukrainian troops entered the town of Bucha near Irpin West of Kyiv. There dozens of bodies were found lying in the streets, some with their hands tied behind their backs in what local officials decried as deliberate massacre.

"All these people were shot," said the mayor of the bodies in civilian clothing including a photographer who had been missing. "These are the consequences of Russian occupation." The UK says it is working to collect evidence for the International Criminal Court, as some of its leaders called for a new round of sanctions against Russia. 

LA BOITE DE PANDORE

Déjà préoccupée par la crise ukrainienne, la France vient-elle d'ouvrir une boite de pandore, en pleine période électorale, à propos de la question Corse?

Car le mot tabou d'autonomie - et déjà faut-il confirmer ce que les partis entendent par là - une fois prononcé pour tenter de mettre fin aux éclats de l'ile de beauté, pourra-t-on s'arrêter là alors que Basques, Bretons et autres suivent ces développements avec beaucoup d'intérêt, alors qu'on venait semble-t-il de clore le sujet calédonien.

Car la France redoute ce mot que bien des efforts et peut-être un certain geste du désespoir ont mis sur la table. «Nous sommes prêts à aller jusqu’à l’autonomie. Voilà, le mot est dit, déclarait le ministre de l'intérieur Gérald Darmanin après des jours d'éclats violents dans les rues de cette collectivité pas comme les autres.
Après la question est de savoir ce qu'est - cette autonomie. Il faut qu’on en discute.»

C'est la flambée de violence qui a suivi l’agression mortelle du nationaliste Yvan Colonna, incarcéré pour meurtre, qui a mis ce mot aux lèvres pour une première fois et précipité la visite sur l'ile du ministre. Celui-ci condamna «un acte manifestement terroriste» qui emporta Colonna, condamné à perpétuité pour meurtre. 

Toute "discussion sans précédent autour de la question institutionnelle" serait cependant sous condition de mettre fin aux violences qui se sont emparées de la Corse depuis le geste posé par un codétenu jihadiste le 2 mars.

"Il ne peut pas y avoir de dialogue sincère en démocratie sous la pression des bombes agricoles et la présence, ou l'omniprésence, des forces de l'ordre", dit-il. Huit ans après avoir déposé les armes cependant le groupe menace de reprendre la lutte armée.

"Si l'Etat français demeurait encore sourd, il ne pourra y avoir de sacrifice de la jeunesse qui n'entraine une réaction proportionnée de notre part, et rapidement les combats de la rue d'aujourd'hui seront ceux du maquis de la nuit de demain," avertissait un communiqué.

Mais il faut dire que les dernières années ont été marquées par certains incidents, dont une tentative d'attentat près d'Ajaccio en septembre dernier.

A l'autre bout du pays, comme on peut s'y attendre, le geste du gouvernement a eu comme effet de réveiller les nationalistes. Parmi eux le Front de libération de la Bretagne demandait à son tour l'autonomie et un référendum s'il vous plait, faute de quoi on menace d'avoir recours à des actions violentes.

Ce n'était pas sans donner des idées au pays basque non plus, un dirigeant ayant annoncé,  dès la création de l’Agglomération Pays basque, en janvier 2017, son souhait d’aller au-delà du statut communautaire, à terme. Suite à l'enterrement de Colonna, les violences reprenaient alors que les tensions persistent en Corse.

AN OPPORTUNITY?

Perhaps there hasn't been a better time to be a dictator, if you're not that dictator. With Vladimir Putin in isolation as war rages in Ukraine, other formerly shunned tyrants have been slowly coming out of the wood works, some even looking to play a useful role to alleviate some of the sanctions that are coming back to bite the West.

A decade after war erupted in his own country, Syria's Bashar Assad has been making a return of sorts on the world stage, making a recent visit to the United Arab Emirates, a country itself divided on the Ukrainian crisis, a first visit in an Arab state in years.

Victims of sanctions themselves, Syria, Iran and Venezuela have seen their leaders try to reclaim a bit of a comparably acceptable status in a world filled with Cold war-like tensions where heads of state have been asked to decide what side of the fence they stand on. This is an opportunity for suffering Venezuela, which remains racked by sanctions and divided by two leaders but stands to play a key role in the energy crisis caused by the war.

The oil-rich nation has faced stiff sanctions since the contested 2018 elections, but Nicolas Maduro, in a move not without controversy consi-dering the brutality of his regime, has been approached by the United States to help alleviate some of the oil shortages triggered by sanctions against Russia.

Also resources-rich and eager to alleviate some of its own sanctions, Tehran has also been approached as the country is negotiating a new nuclear deal, one Russia has been working to obstruct. Only a few weeks ago these leaders represented an undeniable axis of evil, but the realities, like much of the world, have changed with the ruthless attack on Ukraine which even caused Afghanistan's Taleban regime to condemn Vladimir Putin's actions against his neighbor.

As that regime as well seeks to alleviate some of the sanctions it has faced since last fall's Taleban takeover, perhaps a door of opportunity seemed to open even for those who have clamped down on rights and put in place the machinery of oppression. But the Taleban have little more to offer than good wishes for a peaceful resolution of the a crisis, and their recent decision to shut down girls' schools have infuriated human rights groups.

Other countries facing sanctions without oil, such as Cuba, are also on the outside looking in a possible opportunity to lessen the bite of economic restrictions. “A pity that Cuba doesn’t have oil to attract their attention," observed John McCauliff, director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development. It does have location, but forestalling the strategic risk of a greater Russian presence would take a big lift, probably ending the embargo.”

But countries with the resources to offer are given unique opportunities to improve their image somewhat, even if they aren't at the stage of letting bygones be bygones. Iran sits on a ready reserve of 80 million barrels of oil that it could  quickly market. Iranian officials say that their country could sell another 1.2 million barrels a day in little time, helping lower oil prices worldwide.

But some observers say any deals with these rogue nations would have to keep the pressure on the regimes. Some say Iraq's oil-for-food programme of the 1990s, which helped avert starvation there, could be a solution for struggling Venezuela without rewarding Maduro's regime.

It may even take Russia, which has been supporting Caracas,  out of the picture and pressure Maduro to restore democracy with oil as leverage, says Jason Marczak of the Atlantic Council. "That's why this moment should be seized."

L'ELDORADO

En pleine guerre, depuis le fond de son bunker le président ukrainien Volody-myr Zelensky signa sa demande d'adhésion à l'Union européenne et la leva devant les écrans. Faites de nous un état membre immédiatement puisque vous voyez que nous livrons à nous seuls le combat pour l'Europe toute entière et ses valeurs que nous partageons.

Incapable de lutter directe-ment aux côtés du pays assiégé par l'armée russe de peur d'élargir le conflit, l'Union acceptait cependant de livrer des millions d'euros d'armes à l'Ukraine, une première. Mais pendant ce temps d'autres pays dans la mire de Moscou hébergeant également des minorités russophiles annonçaient leurs propres candidatures.

D'abord la Géorgie, ciblée en 2008, qui dut abandonner deux de ses régions après l'intervention de l'armée rouge. Puis, la Moldavie, un petit pays de 2,5 millions d'habitants à l'ouest de l'Ukraine qui compte, à la frontière, une république autoproclamée dont le drapeau est toujours orné de la faucille du marteau si chers à Vladimir Poutine. Si celui-ci finit son emprise sur l'Ukraine, étendra-t-il ses projets dans cet autre ancienne république soviéti-que?

Une carte utilisée par le président biélorusse semblait le suggérer alors que les premiers éclats avaient lieu. Un accord d'association existe d'ailleurs entre la Moldavie et l'UE depuis 2014, l'année de l'annexion de la Crimée, à quelques centaines de kilomètres de sa frontière. Un semblable accord existe avec la Géorgie et l'Ukraine.

Mais dès le début des éclats en Ukraine, il s'agissait de franchir la prochaine étape là comme ailleurs. « Nous signons aujourd’hui la demande d’adhésion à l’UE, déclarait Maia Sandu, une chef d'état pro-occidentale élue il y a deux ans. Certaines décisions doivent être prises de manière prompte et déterminée ». 

C'était quelques heures après la demande d'adhésion de la Géorgie, mais ces candidats savent que tout processus d'adhésion sera long et compliqué car exigeant des négociations complexes afin de rapprocher leurs lois à celles du droit européen, respectant des critères stricts et nécessitant l'accord des 27 pays membres. Mais cela reste plus accessible que l'adhésion de l'Otan.

La tâche est d'autant plus difficile que la Moldavie est un des pays les plus pauvres de l'Europe, victime d'un exode du tiers de sa population depuis l'indépendan-ce et minée surtout par l'existence d'une région autonome comme l'est de l'Ukraine pouvait l'être avant l'invasion. Autrement dit ces trois candidats de l'est représentent des nations disloquées peu idéales pour se joindre à l'UE.

Evidemment les immenses efforts d'accueil de réfugiés en Moldavie ont été notés. En plus de sa situation territoriale l'Ukraine est critiquée par certains organis-mes des droits de l'homme en raison du traitement des immigrés non-européens lors de la crise, qui se voyaient parfois interdire l'accès à certains modes de transport ou abris, et étaient retardés aux passages frontaliers, la priorité ayant été laissée aux Ukrainiens.

De l'aveu du premier ministre géorgien, cette demande d'adhésion constitue un «objectif stratégique» en temps de crise dans la région. «La Géorgie est un État européen et continue d'apporter une contribution précieuse à sa protection et à son développement», dit-il, alors que l'UE débute l'étude de ces candidatures.

DON'T FORGET THE ENVIRONMENT

At the tail end, one would hope, of an exhausting fight against covid-19 and with an ongoing war in Europe, who needs another global effort to stave off disaster? Yet that is precisely what the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is recommending to fight global warming after a report U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres calls "an atlas of human suffering."

This suffering will increasingly be felt by all but is especially the people least responsible for global warming, in the third world, and especially African residents, who stand to lose significant chunks of their agricultural production, raising the risk of further food insecurities. The degrading quality of soil will impact food production, rising prices more than they already are, affecting all but especially the world's poorest.

According to Guterres half of the world’s population is threatened by water shortages and more than 14 percent of the world’s species are at high risk of extinction as weather events become increasingly severe. Urgent action taken to limit warming around 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels would "substantially" reduce climate hazards and risks to ecosystems and humans, but even such concerted action “cannot eliminate them all.”

Scientists have been warning for years of the closing small window left to avoid a catastrophe, but are no longer talking about decades left to correct the path, but a handful of years. What urgent action is required? As the world struggles with concerns the impact the war in Ukraine will have on global output of Russian oil, the report stresses the need to transition to clean energy, retrofitting buildings and major conservation efforts in up to half of the world's land, freshwater and oceans.

"Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future," it states. Alarmingly however a number of countries rushing for alternatives to Russian oil are considering firing back up coal plants. For some specialists this is missing an opportunity to finally bolster efforts in favor of clean energy.

Protecting nature is one way to fight climate change, but global policies on everything from clean energy generation to careful urban planning and transport will need mobilize governments. Some already have. In the torrid city of Ahmedabad, India construction regulations have helped reduce the heat trapped by buildings. But time is running out not only to avoid irreversible changes but to adapt to global warming after years of "failed climate leadership."

And the world can't entirely depend on technology to battle global warming. In fact some technologies, such as the ones which developed devices to vacuum CO2 from the air, may ultimately cause the release of more carbon dioxide down the road. The required global mobilization of will and means can perhaps consider the response to wars and pandemics as templates.

The slow boil of global warming however is unlike the screaming emergency of a bloody conflict or a raging pandemic, making it harder to prompt some actors into action, especially after decades of warning. As urgent and dramatic as it is however, the refugee emergency prompted by the war in Ukraine may pale in comparison with the global displacements of populations due to climate change down the road.

These, more permanent in nature, in fact have already begun, and are at this stage just a trickle of what they could ultimately become. Some even see a connection between three seemingly separate crises: the frequent root causes of war and climate change, which will make pandemics more likely, is dependence on fossil fuels. But as Ukraine is reminding us, weaning off oil is easier said that done, and it certainly can't be cut off in a hurry.

LES LIBERTÉS

La tendance est dure à renverser: depuis 2005 le nombre de pays améliorant leurs libertés est moins important que celui des pays en déclin, et en ce début 2022 cette image de la planête semble plus sombre que jamais.

La démocratie avait déjà été prise d'assaut dans le pays le plus étendu de la planête, après des années d'incarcérations et même d'assassinats d'opposants et de journalistes, mais la nouvelle règlementation interdisant tout reportage négatif sur la guerre en Ukraine, et même de la seule mention du mot "guerre", a causé un exode sans précédent de la presse étrangère et la fermeture de ce qui pouvait rester de presse libre en Russie. Et le régime que réserve le Kremlin pour une Ukraine envahie sera sans surprise.

Jusque tout récemment c'était l'écroule-ment des libertés dans le pays le plus peuplé de la planête qui hantait les observateurs, notamment après le traite-ment réservé aux médecins qui osaient parler de l'état de la pandémie en Chine avec des termes absents du langage officiel. Les deux pays accordent d'ailleurs dangereusement des violons qui sonnent faux sur l'Ukraine.

Rien qu'à eux ces deux pays couvrent un territoire et une population immense, mais en plus ils inspirent des gestes semblables ailleurs, des limites sur internet ou alors au droit de manifester, laissant une face de plus en plus importante de la terre plongée dans la noirceur de la désinformation et la propagation de fausses nouvelles.

Une propagation qui existe, on ne le cache plus surtout avec le débat sur les mesures sanitaires, au sein des démocraties occidentales. L'an dernier l'organisme Freedom House n'enregistrait que 25 pays où une amélioration des conditions démocratiques avait été démontrée, le chiffre le plus faible des dernières décennies, contre 60 allant dans le sens inverse.

L'année d'avant c'était 73 pays aggravant leur sort avec cette flambée de coups d'états en Afrique. Au Pakistan, on observe un renforcement des lois mettant en péril la liberté de la presse qui s'étend aux médias sociaux.

Selon les observa-teurs ceci punit davantage les journalistes tout en multipliant les cas de censure et d'auto censure. Reporters sans frontières condamnait récem-ment des cas d'empri-sonnement et de violences contre des journalistes au Ghana, un pays qui jusqu'alors faisait figure d'exception, selon l'organisme."

Les autorités doivent cesser ce recours aux peines de prison et doivent punir ceux qui s'attaquent aux médias," déclarait Sabidou Marong de RSF. Pas besoin d'aller si loin pour entendre de tels appels après les nombreux cas de menaces et attaques envers les journalistes couvrant les manifestations anti vaccin au Canada du mois dernier.

"La liberté mondiale est en péril," résume l'organisme des droits de l'homme, et qu'en est-il alors que la guerre éclate aux portes de l'Europe? Fort heureusement les manifes-tations monstre à travers la planête contre le conflit en Ukraine laissent espérer que la majorité sort de son silence. Car il faut bien s'accrocher à l'espoir.


RUSSIA ATTACKS

By some fearful accounts it should have been over by now, at least the initial invasion of Ukraine resulting from a surge on three fronts of 150,000 swarming Russian soldiers and countless pieces of military equipment supported by aerial cover, ruling the skies after an initial barrage of missiles. The occupation would be another thing altogether. But on paper at least, the outcome of the long-awaited offensive, delayed by ruse and outright lies, seemed like a fait accompli. It would be shock and awe with a dash of Stolichnaya.

After all hadn't residents who had never had proper military training only received a crash course in urban warfare with wooden guns just days before while the real fire arms were somewhere in transit? Hadn't Crimea and then the recent takeover of the Donbas  been a cakewalk? How could taking over the rest be any different? Wasn't the country run by a five-foot-five comedian with little political experience much less knowledge of modern warfare? To be certain there are no clear winners in many wars, even in uneven contests against much smaller neighbors. But the losses the bear itself has faced days into the conflict wasn't limited to its surprise battlefield setbacks.

A rare global unity has condemned Vladimir Putin's actions, unifying NATO and much of the world in ways few thought possible, and even Ukraine itself. While the besieged country of 44 million faced bloody attacks Russia may have been surprised by the challenges it faced not only in its advance, but by the push back from the international community, and segments of its own population. The sudden decision to hold talks as fighting was raging, in addition to hints Belarus troops may join the fight, were itself perhaps signs that, barely a week in, Moscow was growing more concerned about its losses than an increasingly bold Ukraine.

This was first and foremost owed to the fierce resistance encountered, one led by an inspiring president Volodymyr Zelensky, who refused offers to be evacuated and quipped: "I need ammunition, not a ride." Equally defiant in the capital and speaking while wearing a bullet proof vest, his predecessor Petro Poroshenko talked with pride of the successes of a military he had started rebuilding over the years. The inspiring resistance brought out volunteers taking on the invaders with everything from molotov cocktails to their fists or insults, stopping some advances and cutting off Russian supply lines. Citizens hunkering in subway stations acting as bomb shelters or sweeping their apartment blocks targeted by missile fire weren't alone, and neither was Ukraine.

Despite stating clearly they weren't sending troops, regardless of the insistence of a growing number of protesters across the world, Western countries upped their military shipments to Ukraine including, for the first time, Germany, putting an end to restrictions going back to the Second World War. Usually neutral countries were also picking sides. Sweden and Finland sent large shipments of arms and even Switzerland was willing to join much of the Western world freezing Russian assets.

And while the sanctions first imposed by Western countries were criticized as being too little in the face of a raging conflict, new restrictions clearly started taking a bite, as Putin and his direct entourage were directly targeted and Russian banks cut off from the world's Swift transaction system, while the pariahed country was being isolated as a number of air spaces were being shut to Russian commercial airliners and private companies closed up shop in Russia. Ships carrying goods to Russia were also being intercepted as a blockade of goods and transactions was growing in scope.

Even Turkey, which had moved closer to Putin, called the war unacceptable, warned against the passage of warships in its straits and planned to send arms to Ukraine. Western capitals acknowledged the sanctions would also impact their own citizens. The hurt was also starting to register in Russia, where thousands where arrested for protesting the war and many lined up for hours at ATMs as the sanctions hit, the Ruble crumbled and the economy reeled. Would the backlash rattle Putin, whose state of mind has been called into question after two years of pandemic-related isolation?

Oligarchs close to him were also starting to talk against the war. After all what was supposed to be a quick invasion some feared would capture Kyiv in days was turning into a nightmare that this early rattled the struggling Russian economy further and for some  harkened memories of Afghanistan's failed campaign. "We were really scared, in the morning, many, many people from all over the world ... were ready to wake up to the news that we have had fallen," said Ukrainian parliamentarian Kira Rudik. "Not only we haven't fallen, we don't plan to fall."

It was quite a turn around for a population who for the most part had been reluctant to believe warnings of an imminent attack, despite weeks of US alarmist reminders. The attacks however triggered a rush to the Polish border, where over a million fleeing women and children sought safety, while the men were being turned back to fight. But many did so enthusiastically and others from around the world planned to answer calls for the creation of a Ukrainian foreign legion to defend the homeland.

Ukraine would have to do this alone, as the consequences of deeper NATO involvement were chillingly reminded when  Russia moved its nuclear force into alert, a decision condemned as dangerous and unwarranted. This alarmed China as well, a country Russia was counting on to help mitigate some of the sanctions but now increasingly careful about its ties to Moscow, amid calls to investigate Russian war crimes as its military hit civilian targets, sometimes with banned cluster or vacuum bombs.

Amid this gloom and destruction "light will win over death, will win over darkness," Zelensky said from his underground bunker. Still the prospects looked grim for Ukraine, but local optimism failed to be rattled. The Ukraine Library Association said it was going to reschedule a conference "as soon as we have finished vanquishing our invaders.

MACRON FAVORI

Cinq ans plus tard et à la veille du premier tour, Emmanuel Macron affiche un appui un peu meilleur que le soutien d'environ un quart des électeurs qu'il avait au coup d'envoi des élections de 2017.

La division de la droite, dans laquelle s'est glissé le chroniqueur extrémiste Eric Zemmour, laisse une plus comfortable marge de manoeuvre dans les sondages au chef de l'état, qui multipliait les grandes sorties en raison de la crise entre l'Ukraine et la Russie. Si celles-ci ont connu un certain échec il n'empêche qu'elles lui ont permis d'afficher l'image d'un dirigeant engagé dans les grands sujets de l'heure, donc plus "présidentiable".

La guerre a visiblement touché la campagne d'ordre général et plutôt mis à mal certains opposants du président, qui annonçait sa candidature cette semaine. La diplomatie française a bien fait ses preuves à travers les âges, et revêtait ces derniers temps sans doute un caractère plutôt politique.

«Macron essaie de maximiser son statut de président, car c’est ce qui le différencie des autres candidats, estime le politologue Gaspard Estrada. Il a tout intérêt à maintenir cette image, parce que c’est essentiellement ce qui met ses adversaires à distance».

En veille du premier tour la partie est loin d'être gagnée, surtout si on prend en considération les difficultés associées à l'infla-tion, agravée par la crise, et les manifestations contre les mesures sanitaires, mais Macron reste favori pour remporter un nouveau mandat, le magazine Economist estimant ses chances à 79%.

Car si la marge de manoeuvre s'était élargie au second tour en 2017, elle ne sera pas moins importante cette année contre une droite dont le vote a été divisé depuis l'entrée en scène du controversé Zemmour, dont l'appui chute cependant. Macron de son côté a été plutôt rassembleur, regroupant sous ses fanions des éléments de centre-droite ainsi que de  centre-gauche.

La républicaine Valérie Pécresse, quant à elle, ne faisait guère mieux que Zemmour, soutenu par des partisans dévoués mais qui fait peur à la plupart de l'électorat francais, qui voit dorénavant le camp Le Pen comme une version plus modérée de la droite. «A ce stade, le vote pour Emmanuel Macron prend les allures d’un choix par défaut, notait de son côté Le Monde. Un choix par dépit même, si l’on observe le peu d’enthousiasme pour cette présidentielle».

En attendant l'opposition accusait Macron de faire campagne avec des fonds publics en retardant le lancement officiel de sa candidature, Le Pen y voyant une politisation de la crise sanitaire. Celle-ci dut cependant suspendre sa campagne pour recueillir les parrainages  manquants afin d'être officiellement inscrite.

Son accusation guette tout chef d'état en temps de pandémie. Mais Macron affiche tout de même une popularité qui dépasse celle de ses prédécesseurs à ce stade-ci de leur quinquennat, et a par rapport à Zemmour et Le Pen plutôt visé juste sur la Russie. Ces derniers doivent en effet faire marche arrière après avoir affiché un penchant avec Moscou, laissant dans l'embar-ras les rivaux de Macron.

APRÈS LE GRAND MANÈGE

Après les klaxons, discours, soirées disco et bains en plein air dans les rues de la capitale, le silence, un retour au calme bienvenu par les résidents ottaviens. Mais un silence qui rappelle le vide de la pandémie, avec ses rues dégagées de camions encombrants mais abandon-nées de ses habitants et de sa vie.

Car l'opération policière a perduré plusieurs jours, remplaçant les barricades des manifestants par des clôtures et une interdiction de circuler à qui n'a pas besoin de s'y rendre dans un important quadrilatère du centre.

En fait jamais quelquechose de semblable n'avait été en place ni durant la pandémie ou durant les semaines de manifestations, faisant craindre une nouvelle période de malheur pour des commerçants éprouvés qui ne s'étaient pas remis de la pandémie et de la fuite de leurs clients, malgré les millions promis par le gouvernement pour alléger leurs pertes.

Plusieurs rues, notamment l'artère de Bank, comptaient de nombreux commerces disparus même avant la pandémie, le reste souffrant après le départ des fonctionnaires, travaillant de chez eux depuis, deux mondes jadis si rapprochés qui vivaient une toute autre réalité pandémique.

Chez les premiers, le désastre, chez les autres, des ajustements, mais une adaptation rapide et une hésitation à revenir dans les tours du centre. Puis alors que les mesures et barricades policières perduraient, la police craignant un retour de manifestants campés aux portes de la ville, le manque d'accès aux places publiques de cette capitale laissait presque craindre un changement permanent au droit de circuler.

Les mesures d'urgence à présent levées et la plupart des barricades démantelées, ce sentiment d'avoir perdu quelquechose persiste avec la décision garder inaccessible aux véhicules la rue longeant la colline parlementaire. Après tout la fusillade de 2014 n'avait-elle pas déjà transformé la zone de manière permanente, tout comme un autre incident 17 ans plus tôt?

Ses cinq voies restent vides en attendant l'élection d'un nouveau conseil de ville et des décisions sur la sécurité de la zone. Tout manifestant n'aurait certes plus le droit de rester sur place après un certain temps, sûrement, mais quels autres changements pourraient être annoncés après ces trois semaines de chaos ambiant?

Il fallait certes protéger les monuments et lieux sacrés, comme la tombe du soldat inconnu, si lâchement piétinée, mais des vétérans avaient eux-mêmes exprimé leur réserve lorsqu'une clôture a été érigée pour entourer le site, la première d'une légion de clôtures qui ont peu après fait leur apparition dans le centre de la ville, rappelant la tristesse des murs il y a plus de 20 ans lors du sommet des Amériques à Québec.

Là n'est pas le seul endroit où des murs ont été érigés. Un convoi se dirigeant vers Ottawa aurait été refoulé à la frontière ontarienne en vertu des mesures d'urgence, des mesures en place pour cette raison entre autre, selon le premier ministre. Rares dans le passé, ou ridicules lorsqu'il s'agissait du transport de l'alcool, ces murs inter-provinciaux ont fait leur apparition lors de la pandémie. Il faut croire qu'ils ont disparu avec la fin des mesures d'urgence, éphémènes mais marquantes. Celles-ci faisaient d'ailleurs l'objet de poursuites de la part de groupes de libertés civiles.

Mais quel avenir pour ce que le maire d'Ottawa appelle la rue la plus importante au pays? Le débat est lancé, et pour certains représente une occasion de créer un tout nouvel espace, possiblement sans l'encrom-brement de véhicules, mais une place publique néanmoins, dans une zone qui resterait ouverte aux manifestations... tempo-raires. Certains n'ont pas tardé samedi à mettre les rues du centre à l'épreuve en manifestant symboliquement à pied, drapeau canadien à la main, contre les mesures sanitaires. Puis ils sont repartis, un soulagement pour tous.


MAD(E) IN CANADA

As cars and pick ups paraded up and down the street, carrying flags and honking their horns, police warned residents they should expect disturbances tied to the protest against pandemic restrictions for days, especially around the legislature. Ottawa? Toron-to? Quebec City? Actually Helsinki, but it could have been Paris or other cities.

The protest movement which had begun with a trucker's movement against border vaccine mandates and morphed into an occupation of Canada's capital to end all health measures, had made it overseas. "Convoy Finland" threatened the same shut down of the Nordic capital, promising a gridlock of trucks after an online campaign by the country's right wing, sensing an opportunity to make political gains in a country usually respective of health measures but where a growing segment of the population was losing patience.

"The Finnish far-right takes their cues immediately from what happens in the US and North America, and they have key points here and they sort of do similar activities" told Euronews Oula Silvennoinen who specializes in fascist movements. The Finns needn't have looked that far. Protests against health measures in nearer European countries such as the Netherlands and Germany had been taking place for months, sometimes even turning violent.

In the great white north, where this particular blockade movement had spawned, one inspired and supported by protesters in the US, authorities were cracking down after incidents both in the nation's capital and on the US-Canada border, the prime minister invoking the Emergencies Measures Act for the first time. This act had replaced the War Mesures Act his father had famously invoked during the October crisis. How had weeks of protest and a lockdown of the national capital come to reach the threshold of endangering the safety of Canadians? By then protests had grown more and more organized, causing long-term disruptions, to the dismay of city residents wary of weeks of protest.

By the time police stepped in protesters had built shacks, installed saunas and stored 3200 litres of fuel to keep their trucks humming. Some more radical protesters were calling for a government  over-throw, making any sit down meetings unlikely, especially after Alberta protesters were arrested with weapons. Four were charged with plotting to kill officers. Meanwhile the patience of Ottawa residents was running thin after days of honking, loud music and fireworks. Counter protesters soon organized, bolstered by an injunction - which quieted the honking - and a class action lawsuit against convoy organizers, blocking convoys from going downtown and staging demonstrations in front of the headquarters of a police service criticized for having let so many trucks block roads in central Ottawa and initially failing to enforce laws by fear of enflaming the situation.

Did residents have to take the law into their own hands? Key to stopping the movement was targeting funding police said was backed nationally and internationally. Eventually an online campaign to support the convoys which had raised $10 million was found in violation of GoFundMe's terms of service and shut down, but another soon popped up on another platform, also raising millions. Demon-strations had taken little time to go from peaceful to controversial after early images emerged of participants carrying racist signs and flags, desecrating national monu-ments and harassing residents.

Police in Ottawa issued hundreds of tickets, made dozens of arrests and launched more than 100 criminal investigations into the incidents but didn't have the resources to handle so many protesters. Making things more difficult was the presence of children in the convoy. Shortly before quitting, Ottawa's  police chief asked for an additional 1,800 officers for support as the screws were being tightened on the truckers. The city eventually declared a state of emergency in a downtown "out of control."

Residents complained of incessant noise, rude behavior ignoring mask mandates and psycholo-gical strain. Businesses and government offices remained closed as a result. For some city dwellers, this so-called "freedom" convoy was leaving them trapped and under siege. Similarly border blockades appearing West to East were affecting businesses and plants relying on just-in-time deliveries, grinding activity to a halt on both sides of the border. Other cities were taking notes as the protest spread from the nation's capital to the Alberta-Montana border, the Ambassador bridge, Toronto and Quebec City, where officials were determined not to repeat the mistakes of the nation's capital.

Ottawa police were criticized for claiming there was no policing solution to the occupation, suggesting the intervention of the armed forces may be necessary, a solution the federal government said it was not ready to consider. It at times seemed authorities were at a loss to end the blockades, the removal of one at the Canada-US border in Alberta at first only resulting in displacing the problem further away. Police have generally been accused of being much more tolerant of convoy protesters than Native and other protesters who set up blockades in the past.

 Oddly, while the protesters were hoping to target the federal government, despite the fact the provinces are responsible for many of the restrictions and mandates, the impact of the demonstrations was felt in the ranks of the Tories, a party divided on the convoys, which ditched its leader after he showed weakness on the issue. The Liberals were also divided on the need to maintain mandates some said were no longer needed. Both sides stand accused of politicizing the mandates.

Ironically governments from Canada to New Zealand, which faced its own legislature-blocking "convoy" protest, were determined to hold the line against the convoys even as they recognized the time to start living with the virus is coming, which, like the invocation of the Emergencies Act, made it seem actors were one step behind. Alberta and others are ending many health restrictions, and Canada's own chief health officer indicated a "need to get back to some normalcy."

But perhaps not at the speed convoy supporters intended. Still even after Alberta said it was lifting all its health restrictions, protesters remained at the Montana border, adding to supply chain woes. Nowhere was this more of a concern than at the largest border crossing, between Windsor and Detroit, where traffic was shut down for a week before arrests were made. By then convoys were taking to the road on both sides of the border and beyond.

EUROPE ON GUARD

In the walled city of Visby, the soldiers march on, men in uniform once more returning to guard this outpost on a strategic waterway as Europe hears the sabre rattling of war. While Sweden sent troops to the Baltic island of Gotland, Estonia warned of a possible flood of refugees and cyberattacks.

The Russian buildup around Ukraine was being felt far and wide in Europe, where countries hoped the Ukrainian president was right to appeal for calm, but were planning for the worse. The standoff left few neighbors untouched. As NATO troops got an injection of soldiers from the US and moved into Ukraine's immediate neigh-borhood, Hungary on the other hand said it had enough of them on its soil, being part of the Atlantic alliance.

Perhaps because, as a former member of the Eastern bloc, its membership and that of others such as the Czech Republic and the Baltic states, is rubbing Moscow the wrong way, the Kremlin seeing itself surrounded by rivals. Among them Estonia shares a border with Russia, and feared a flood of refugees if invasion comes after months of Russian military build up near the Ukraine border, in Belarus and Crimea.

“As a society, we must be prepared for a surge of war refugees, a deepening energy crisis, cyberattacks, as well as a wider economic and social impact,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said recently. The conflict could create up to 5 million refugees according to a US estimate, making the recent migrant crisis with Belarus a cakewalk in comparison.

But some Baltic countries fear more than a flood of refugees, but one of soldiers as well. “If Ukraine falls to Russia … then we are next in line. That is very clear,” told the Globe & Mail Latvia’s Deputy Prime Minister Artis Pabriks. Countries around the Baltics are used to both Russian incursions and migratory issues.

Sweden was haunted by Russian submarines during the Cold War, and is bolstering its military presence in Gotland, which stares at the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad across the waters, home to Russia's Baltic fleet. There were no soldiers on Gotland until the Crimean invasion, an event which changed everything according to Niklas Granholm of the Swedish Defense Research Agency.

"That Russia is prepared to use military force against its smaller neighbors — that changed the assessment here," he told Deutsche Welle. "What we want to do now is to be very clear that we are ready to defend Sweden and because of that, we are also doing what we're doing on the island of Gotland."

Sweden however isn't a member of NATO, but some want to change that as the growing threats over the years change Swedish sentiment on the alliance. Finland has also tightened its special relation-ship with NATO, but a Russian official warned last year either countries joining NATO “would have serious military and political consequences which would require an adequate response on Russia’s part.”

One current member of NATO however has decided it had enough troops on its soil at a time of military positioning across the continent. More US soldiers have been sent to Poland and Romania and Germany increased its troops presence in  Lithuania. Hungary's foreign minister says his country is already home to NATO troops, its own, and hopes talks will de-escalate the crisis, as war would leave  central Europe among its biggest losers, harkening memories of the suffering of the Cold War.

On the other hand one country ready to welcome troops is Denmark, which has received offers of bilateral defence cooperation with the US that may end decades of a policy preventing foreign troops in the small Scandinavian country. While the Ukrainian crisis did not precipitate this, the move does come at a rather critical moment when many countries are on edge.

IL EST PARMI NOUS

Une collègue l'a attrapé pendant les fêtes. Ce n'était pas de sa faute. Elle avait pris toutes les précautions, avait passé un test PCR, un vrai, pas celui que l'on fait en 15 minutes qui est moins dispendieux et mois précis, mais celui que l'on ne peut plus se procurer et qui est dorénavant réservé au personnel essentiel. Ses parents cependant avaient participé à quelque soirée et lui avaient transmis le virus.

Environ en même temps une voisine pensait qu'elle avait un simple rhume, mais les symptômes sont parfois semblables à ceux du variant omicron. Un test PCR s'était bien révélé négatif, mais quand son garçon est tombé malade et a eu un test positif, elle a repris un test, antigène cette fois, qui a révélé une résultat positif. Ils ont été trois membres de la famille à attraper le virus, mais sans résultat trop fâcheux.

Puis c'était au tour d'un autre voisin, qui ne fréquentait pas le premier, puis d'une autre collègue, qui ne fréquentait pas la première. Chez un ami Québécois deux filles l'on aussi attrapé, puis finalement des membres de la famille sans contact récent... on ne les compte plus. Tous vaccinés, la plupart même boostés. Tout le monde connait quelqu'un, plusieurs person-nes sans doute, qui ont attrapé le virus depuis l'éclosion du variant omicron, et les symptômes ont rarement été grâves, du moins chez les vaccinés - parmi eux le premier ministre Justin Trudeau.

Un petit mal de tête parfois, ou sinon une affaire plus pénible mais ne durant que quelques jours. Cette nouvelle vague est celle de la cohabitation avec un virus qui dorénavant frôle la banalité presque. Mais qu'on se garde bien de le penser. Les chiffres de nouvelles hospita-lisations et fatalités ont rappellé la gravité de la pandémie qui a fait de l'isolement une affaire courante, et récurrente. C'est presque entré dans les moeurs.

On n'en est plus à se demander des victimes: mais qu'est-ce qu'elles ont-elles bien pu faire pour mériter ça? On n'en est plus au stade de la terreur, car il faut bien vivre notre vie. Car on a parfois goûté à l'après pandémie, entre les vagues, les mesures moins restreintes, les rencontres au bar, les voyages et même les concerts de masse. Certains gouvernements tiennent d'ailleurs moins compte des cas d'infection, il y en a trop et pas assez de tests, mais se contentent de rapporter les hospitalisations et les décès.

On en est presque habitué, mais notre corps lui, le sera-t-il jamais? Ces multiplications d'infections et de vaccinations nous emmèneront-elles vers notre délivrance? Alors que certains seraient portés à penser que laisser l'infection s'étendre pourrait entrainer une certaine immunité généralisée des experts en santé y voient une logique irresponsable qui n'épargnerait pas les membres plus faibles de la société, dont certains qui ne peuvent être vaccinés pour des raisons médicales valables.

Un rappel des risques, la mort d'une chanteuse tchèque opposée au vaccin qui avait délibérément contracté le virus pour obtenir son pass sanitaire. Il faut dire qu'envers les non vaccinés la patience semble atteindre ses limites, surtout du côté des politiciens. Alors qu'en France le président a promis d'"emmerder" ceux qui refusent de se faire vacciner sans raison valable et que des obligations de vaccinations sont à l'étude dans d'autres pays, au Québec, le premier ministre a fermé la porte de la Société des alcools et des dispensaires de cannabis aux non-vaccinés tout en leur promettant une facture à titre de "contribution au système de santé" qui croûle sous les cas positifs; une idée ensuite abandonnée pour préserver "la paix sociale" mais pas avant d'avoir fait son effet.

Autrement dit, Macron aurait dit tout haut ce que de plusieurs n'osent pas encore dire en public sur les non-vaccinés, même si cela lui a valu d'être conspué lors de multe manifestations. Le Québec n'était pas le seul à penser faire payer les non-vaccinés. En Grèce les citoyens de plus de 60 ans qui ne le sont pas devront débourser 100 euros chaque mois sans vaccin.

Singapour, championne des PVs, exige que les non-vaccinés règlent leurs propres factures en matière de santé. Le résultat a été presque immédiat, le nombre de personnes au Québec cherchant un premier vaccin a visiblement augmenté les heures suivant ces annonces. Fort bien, mais n'y va-t-on pas un peu trop fort parfois? En Italie Amnistie internationale reproche au gouvernement la sévérité de ses mesures contre les non-vaccinés, estimant qu'il s'agit de la discrimination et rappelant son obligation de respecter tous les citoyens.

Pendant ce temps dans plusieurs pays les manifestations contre les mesures sanitaires s'intensifient, notamment au Canada, où des milliers de camionneurs ont manifesté à Ottawa et ailleurs au pays contre l'obligation vaccinale pour passer la frontière, même si celle-ci est également de rigueur du côté américain. Mais les mesures les plus draconiennes nous viennent sans doute du pays à l'origine de la pandémie, la Chine, qui a bouclé des villes entières après avoir enregistré de rares cas du variant omicron. L'arrivée de celui-ci à Pékin à quelques semaines des Jeux olympiques a suffi à renforcer davantage les mesures en vue de ce spectacle qui aura dorénavant lieu devant des estrades largement vides.

C'est une approche de confinement total différente de celle que prévoient plusieurs pays européens qui commencent à entrevoir une coexistence plus routinière avec le virus. Le premier ministre espagnol parlait notamment d'une gestion de la pandémie avec des "paramètres différents", une fois la vague omicron passée cependant. Entre temps certains se demandent si il n'est pas encore trop tôt pour lever les restrictions dans certains pays comme le Royaume uni, qui dit avoir passé le pire de la vague omicron.

Dans un certain sens la notion de vivre avec omicron est déjà présente. Le variant pourrait contaminer 60% des Européens d'ici le printemps selon l'OMS, possible solution de dénouement. Mais l'organisation note qu'il est risqué de penser qu'il s'agit du dernier variant de covid-19, rappelant la nécessité de vacciner 70% de la population mondiale. Mais chez certains la patience a ses limites. Au Danemark c'est bas les masques et un retour à la normale en ce mois de février, alors qu'un nouveau variant omicron fait surface.

WHAT KIND OF INVASION

As the closing ceremonies were being held Russia planned its invasion of Crimea. It was 2014. Could something similar take place after the Beijing Games? As tensions continue to rise over Ukraine with constant military buildup in that region of Eastern Europe, are we on the verge of the largest invasion in Europe since the Second World War, something more limited, or is it all just for show?

The huffing and puffing of the last weeks, despite a number of high level discussions, has built up forces on both sides of the sensitive zone after an early, since corrected, statement suggesting a small land grab by Russia would not be as serious.

This hardly seems surprising after a Crimean invasion which has gone largely unpunished if you consider the weakness of the sanctions imposed. Could a small incursion still be in the cards? If so it could take the form of a takeover or recognition of Eastern Ukraine's rebel-held region of Donbas, though one rejected by most countries, as was the case of Crimea.

Russia has recognized other entities with large supportive minorities in areas formerly under the cloak of the URSS, sometimes even with the support of a few international allies. South Ossetia and Abkhazia declared independence after the breakup of the USSR and the emergence of Georgia, which does not recognize either of the pro-Russian enclaves as being separate states.

The scenario is not unfamiliar, as Georgia, which was flirting with the West and plans to join NATO, came to blows with Russia in a brief 2008 clash. Russia was able to summon the outside recognition of Nicaragua, Venezuela, Syria and Nauru, an odd coalition of the willing all on its own, of these two contested states.

Last year the European Court of Human Rights found Russia had "direct control" of these separatist regions and was accountable for human rights abuses there. It is hardly the only contested vision of a world map rife with different interpre-tations of territorial identities.

Among the most famous is Taiwan, a state not recognized by China and an increasing amount of nations seeking to curry favours with Beijing. It is hardly alone, Israel, a UN member, is not recognized by dozens of UN members, and reciprocitally Palestine, a UN observer member, is itself not recognized by dozens of countries.

In the same way Cyprus is not recognized by Turkey, which is the only country to recognize Northern Cyprus. As these things go in pairs, South Korea is not recognized by North Korea, but the latter is not recognized by a dozen UN members including France and Japan, no less. Another UN member, Armenia, is not recognized by Pakistan, due to its ties with rival Azerbaijan.

A formal Donbas takeover, a region already under Russia's control, is a likely scenario, says Peter Jennings of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, starting a year he predicts could see China act on another contested land, Taiwan.

LES MERCENAIRES

Ca n'a pas pris très longtemps, le drapeau français à peine baissé sur une base militaire dans le nord troublé du Mali, les soldats russes étaient à pied d'oeuvre pour combler les lacunes militaires de ce pays proie aux attaques jihadistes.

Alors que l'intervention au Kazakhstan et la lourde présence de troupes près de la frontière ukrainienne font la manchette, l'envoi des militaires russes, sans fanfare et sans déclaration officielle mais avec l'appui de Moscou, se multiplient sur ce plus grand continent . Parfois sous la bannière privée de la firme Wagner, ils font la manchette de Tripoli au Mali.

Condamné par 14 pays de l'UE, le Royaume Uni et le Canada comme geste qui « ne peut qu’accentuer la dégradation de la situation sécuritaire en Afrique», l'envoi de Wagner au Mali est suivi de près avec intérêt chez les autres voisins qui  font face à la menace extrémiste également.

La firme fait l'objet de sanctions de la part de l'UE, la France et ses alliés, estimant ce déploiement "incompatible" avec leur mission d'aider à sécuriser la région, à un moment où Paris revoit son engagement militaire. Wagner s'est par ailleurs notamment implantée en Libye, où selon la presse locale non moins de 7,000 de ses mercenaires étaient encore actifs à la fin de 2021.

Le groupe a également déployé des forces au Soudan, en Centrafrique et au Mozambique avec des bureaux dans une vingtaine de pays africains en tout. Les crises extrémistes se sont répandues du nord du Nigéria au nord du Mali, entrainant les voisins dans la tourmente. Parmi eux le Burkina Faso, qui a vécu un coup d'état sur fond de critique de la gestion des opérations antijihadistes (voir article).

Malgré la multiplication de ces agressions terroristes, faisant plus récemment de nouvelles victimes au Mali, plusieurs observateurs ne sont pas sûrs qu'une approche militaire soit la meilleure à prendre. Voilà là plutôt les symptômes de questions plus profondes qui sont à la traine depuis des lunes, disent-ils, notamment l'ineffica-cité du gouvernment ou l'impunité de ses représentants, le manque d'occasion d'emploi et même les changements climatiques.

Le malheur de populations notamment assez jeunes déborde alors et va alimenter les filières jihadistes qui sont en pleine campagne de recrutement sur le continent. L'injustice et le problème d'accès aux services publics a notamment attiré les jeunes vers ces groupes, selon Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim de l'International Crisis Group.

Et ce recrutement chez certains groupes ethniques a eu l'effet de provoquer une levée de boucliers dans des groupes rivaux qui développent à leur tour leurs propres milices, causant un cycle de violences.

Ajoutez Wagner ou d'autres groupes militaires privés à la recette et le plat prend une dimension plutôt explosive. D'autant plus que ce genre de militaire à contrat ne risque pas de "comprendre le contexte de cette violence, de souche très locale, avec une certaine complexité entre les communautés, poursuit Ibrahim. Au moins les Français parlaient la langue comprise par les locaux."

Ce qui n'est pas le cas avec l'arrivée de Wagner. L'ONU enquête d'ailleurs sur un massacre en Centrafrique qui aurait fait des douzaines de victimes à la mi-janvier, une opération conjointe des forces centrafricaines assistées de mercenaires de Wagner. Et on est loin des premiers rapports troublants de ce genre.

Le changement de donne au Mali se fait sur fond de questionnement du rôle français sur un continent où il fait face à un certain rejet - notamment pour avoir soutenu des régimes autoritaires dans le passé -  un sentiment que Paris accuse la Russie entre autre d'alimenter davantage. Les relations avec Paris se sont certainement envenimées, la junte expulsant l'ambassadeur alors qu'on évoque des ruptures diplomatiques et militaires avec le Mali, un pays dont la situation est désormais un thème de la campagne présidentielle française.

BURKINA FASO'S TURN

Islamic militancy has been on the offensive everywhere from Afghanistan to northern Iraq and Mali, but it has notably rattled the African continent, fraying the nerves of underequipped soldiers who seized power last month in Burkina Faso, citing president Roch Kaboré's inability to unite the nation and meet the challenge head on.

This seemed to herald more of the same on the continent after a year marked by coups, making this four in the last 17 months in West Africa alone. Days later yet another coup attempt, unsuccessful this time, took place in Guinea Bissau. Two of these recent coups were in neighboring Mali, also targeted by Islamic insurgents, the latest just last May.

The deaths of dozens of security forces in a clash with jihadists in Burkina Faso in November had rattled the population and members of the military in particular. Some 2,000 people have been killed since the start of militant attacks in 2015 in the country, over 1.5 million displaced; 2.5 million if you count other parts of the Sahel.

The killing of 100 people in the village of Solhan alone last June was enough to embitter critics of government inaction further. The recent sacking of the government was not enough to lower tensions. A dozen soldiers were arrested for plotting a coup days ahead of the military's arrest of Kaboré, who himself came to power shortly after a coup attempt divided the military in 2015.

The brass said last week they had acted without violence to take over the West African nation of 20 million, putting an end to Kaboré's presidency but vowing to return Burkina Faso to "a constitutional order" as soon as possible as international organizations and various capitals condemned the putsch.

Among them United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on the soldiers to drop their weapons and ensure Kaboré's safety. He was the first democratically elected civilian in decades in the country which saw eight coups since independence in 1960. In the mean time the coup is rattling Ouagadougou's other neighbors dealing with insurgency, the Ivory Coast and Niger, whose president also faced a coup attempt last year.

But in Ouaga as in Mali months ago protesters descended in the streets to welcome the coup, citing their exasperation after months of insurgency. But not all shared the same opinion. "I welcomed the news with bitterness because it's not only a step back for democracy but for the rights of free expression," told local media student Tinouboi Ouoba.

Meantime a citizens' group has proposed a civilian vice-president be selected for the transition period, which they hoped would eventually lead to free and fair elections. As the experience showed in Mali, where polls anticipated for February were pushed back three years, the waiting could be long.

Another country ruled by a junta awaiting elections is Chad, which pushed back voting day by three months. Meantime the Burkina Faso coup caused the 15-member West African economic bloc to suspend the country during an emergency meeting. While people have been taking to the streets to celebrate coups in subsaharan Africa, they are still protesting in Sudan following last October's putsch, bringing an end to months of shared civilian and military rule.

LES RUSSES DÉBARQUENT

Voilà des mois que l'Occident craignait une invasion de troupes russes en Ukraine, mais début janvier c'est chez un autre voisin, le géant kazakh, que des troupes ont été déployées, une expédition à l'invitation d'un président débordé. En effet le début de l'année a commencé avec un coup d'éclat au Kazakhstan lorsque le dégel du prix du carburant a provoqué de violentes manifestations qui ont pris la ville principale et plusieurs autres municipalités d'assaut, entrainant la chute du gouvernment.

Après quelques interventions sans conséquences, le président Kassym-Jomart Tokaïev, ré-élu l'an dernier, a contacté son homologue russe afin d'obtenir de l'assistance afin de mater la révolte. Car même après avoir accepté la démission du gouvernement, nommé un nouveau premier ministre et ordonné un nouveau gel des prix, les violences se sont encore répandues à traves le pays, les protestataires s'en prenant aux forces de l'ordre et à plusieurs édifices, dont les banques et autres commerces.

C'est un choc dans ce pays autoritaire qui a réussi à attirer des milliards en investissements étrangers grâce à sa relative stabilité dans la région.  Tokaïev, qui a pris les rênes du pouvoir suite à la démission choc de l'homme fort Nursultan Nazarbaïev il y a presque trois ans, a accusé des 'provocateurs" étrangers et "extrémistes" de déstabiliser l'ancienne république soviéti-que d'Asie centrale de 18 millions d'habitants, les bouc émissaires privilégiés par les dictateurs.

Tokaïev s'est en premier lieu engagé à mettre fin à la crise en proposant de nouvelles réformes en vue d'une "transformation politique" du pays afin de clore "cette sombre période dans l'histoire du Kazakhstan." Dans le passé ce dernier a beaucoup parlé du besoin de réformes afin de créer un environnement encoura-geant la "compétition politique", mais sans y donner suite, et la patience de ses sujets semble avoir atteint ses limites.

Le pays reste sous l'emprise d'un parti unique alors qu'internet et les communications étaient  plongés dans le noir pendant la crise, le caviardage électronique de plusieurs régimes tyranniques. Les marches initialement pacifiques ont vite dégénéré en violence lorsque les forces de l'ordre et édifices publics ont été pris pour cible, notamment le bureau du procureur d'Almaty. Des manifestants ont par ailleurs pénétré dans le bâtiment du gouvernment d'Aktioubé, dans l'ouest du pays.

"Les citoyens sont surpris par la vitesse à laquelle la situation est devenue violente, témoigne un jeune Kazakh expatrié à France 24. Nous sommes très choqués. Nous avons peur de perdre notre indépendance" et que des pays voisins, dont la Russie, en profitent. Tokaïev n'a d'ailleurs pas tardé de faire appel à l'assistance de Moscou et de ses alliés pour mettre fin aux émeutes.

Ces pays font partie d'une alliance cherchant à tenir tête à l'Otan dans la région, comptant notamment le Belarus et d'autres pays anciennement réunis sous la bannière de l'URSS. Ce genre d'appui entre despotes a bien été documenté lors de la crise à la frontière du Belarus, et récemment dans notre série READ. Le premier ministre arménien, à la tête de cette alliance, a déclaré que des forces seraient envoyées "pour une période de temps limitée".

En 2010 la Russie avait rejeté l'appel du Khirghizstan pour une pareille intervention lors des éclats qui secouaient cet autre ancienne république. C'est la levée du plafond du prix du gaz liquéfié qui a précipité la crise au Kazakhstan, plus que doublant le prix du carburant. Mais la crise se développe sur fond d'appel aux réformes de longue date, provoquant une grogne généralisée contre le pouvoir.

Les participants ne se gênaient plus de s'en prendre à l'homme fort Nazarbaïev, qui conservait une influence importante, brandissant des pancartes où l'on a inscrit "vieil homme va-t-en" dirigés contre l'octagénaire qui est resté au pouvoir une trentaine d'années. Tokaïev profita de la crise pour mettre fin aux derniers rôles de l'ancien dirigeant, dont les supporters ont d'ailleurs été accusés de tentative de coup d'état. Le pays était-il proie a une lutte de clans?

Avec cette répression sans pitié, autorisant l'utilisation d'armes à feu avec l'instruction de tuer, certains craignent que le peu de soi-disant libertés permises lors des dernières années soit chose du passé. "On avait un genre de pseudo-liberté, expliqua un résident d'Almaty de 29 ans à l'AFP. On pouvait mener une vie normale. Mais c'est fini. Il faut blâmer le système mis en place par les autorités."

Selon Marie Dumoulin du Conseil européen des relations internationales, les revendications faisaient appel à des réformes en profondeur. "Les contestataires réclament des changements politiques profonds et des réformes beaucoup plus larges comme un retour à un système parlementaire ou la possibilité d’élire les autorités régionales désignées jusqu’à présent par la présidence. Il s’agit d’un ensemble de mesures qui ont un impact sur la gouvernance politique et économique du pays."

Celle-ci note que l'intervention russe ne pourrait que compliquer la donne car elle "peut potentiellement déstabiliser ce pays à dominantes ethniques. Le Kazakhstan est en effet composé d’une mosaïque d’ethnies au sein de laquelle il y a une très importante communauté russe. Il y a toujours eu, depuis l’indépendance, des tensions récurrentes." Des tensions qui pourraient éventuellement se répandre chez des voisins méfiants de Moscou malgré leurs relations rapprochées, notamment au Khirghizstan où les manifestations kazakhes pouvaient être vues avec sympathie.

Mais la répression (plus de 200 morts) a-t-elle réussi à tuer tout esprit de révolte dans l'oeuf pour l'instant? Puis, alors qu'elles se retirent, à quel prix cette décision de faire appel aux troupes russes, notamment par un dirigeant dont l'image a été affaiblie? On redoute que cette intervention étrangère risque d'avoir changé les enjeux géopolitiques dans une région ordinairement plutôt tranquille.

ELUSIVE PEACE

More than half a decade after the 2016 peace agreement many hoped would end the violence in Colombia, occasional skirmishes between familiar acronymns show ending conflict takes more than a few signatures.

As a new year began old rivalries caused further bloodshed in the country's border area, as two dozen people were lost to the latest fighting between National Liberation Army (ELN) and dissident factions of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who rejected the peace process.

The dismantling of most of FARC and its transition into a political party left ELN as the country's largest guerilla group, and the shootout in Arauca on the Venezuelan border is just the latest clash between the two groups there, which go back over a decade. Bogota reacted swiftly by sending  two helicopter-backed battalions to the area all the while accusing neighboring Venezuela of harbouring the armed groups.

"As you know these groups have been operating freely in Venezuelan territory with the consent and protection of the dictatorial regime," claimed Colombian president Ivan Duque. This has (Page 3) (From Cover) - been vehemently rejected by the Maduro regime. Colombia's army says drug trafficking is behind the clashes while the human rights ombudsman office deplored "the escalation of the armed conflict in Arauca due to the confrontation between illegal armed groups that put the civilian population at great risk."

The office says the situation in the border area has fallen out of control. "There have been homicides, threats, illegal detentions, mass displacements and risk of forced displacement in border municipalities," a region where the violence has reached its most alarming levels in a decade.

The largely uncontrolled Venezuelan border, crossed by thousands fleeing the regime in Caracas as the situation has worsened in recent years, has made it a volatile flashpoint as groups have come to replace the security void. "Everything from drugs to stolen cattle, to kidnapped people crosses," Adam Isaacson of the Washington Office on Latin America told Al-Jazeera. "Armed groups tax every-thing, even beer and food. Also there's a lot of oil Arauca, which means there's a lot of extractive businesses that armed groups could extort."

These groups are also challenging the government in other parts of the country, such as the familiar Western city of Cali, where troops were deployed last year to stop the violence which exploded as the country's third largest city reeled from anti-government protests.

At the time intelli-gence reports said in the lead up to the violence that Cali had seen “a more active presence of irregular armed groups, the ELN and the FARC, both with their militias." ELN said it was behind a recent bomb blast. But local experts said these groups weren't solely to blame, citing violent local gangs competing in drug turf wars and the attack of protesters by paramilitary groups as police looked on.

The violence some hoped would end with the peace agreement has far from come to a close.  And activists say what is feeding the conflict at a local level, as in Arauca, is lack of government support  and social programs in areas where unemployment is high. "The solution is not military," says local activist Mayerly Briceno, "the state must make social investments ."

LA RUE NE LÂCHE PAS

Las de coups d'état, les manifestants refusent de lâcher prise au Soudan et poursuivent leurs manifes-tations osées depuis le putsch d'octobre dernier qui a mis fin au partage du pouvoir entre civils et militaires.

Lorsque le premier ministre Abdallah Hamdok a avancé une nouvelle proposition de partage ils l'ont rejetée, précipitant son départ. Les derniers mois ont été plutôt mouvementés pour le chef de l'état sortant. Arrêté dans les premières heures du coup d'état, Hamdok fut relâché et retrouva son poste pour tenter d'apporter une entente entre des civils et le pouvoir, qui se livrent depuis à des éclats sanglants ayant causé la mort de douzaines de personnes.

Selon le général Abdel Burhan l'armée a agi l'an dernier pour "protéger la transition démocratique" et pour que le pays ne sombre pas au bord de la guerre civile, mais ses opposants  civils disent que l'armée n'a fait que rafler le pouvoir une nouvelle fois sans justification, ridiculisant les promesses d'organiser des élections en juillet 2023.

Ils disent refuser un retour au partage du pouvoir entre civils et militaires mis en place après le départ en 2019 du dictateur Omar Al-Béchir, à la tête du pays pendant 30 ans. Le Secrétaire général de l’ONU António Guterres a condamné « la violence continue visant les manifestants » et s'est dit regretter de départ du premier ministre ainsi que le fait «qu'un accord politique sur la voie à suivre ne soit pas en place malgré la gravité de la situation au Soudan », selon son porte-parole.

Le Comité central des docteurs soudanais a fait état de plusieurs morts aux mains des militaires, accusant les forces de l'ordre de "violations des droits de l'homme, conventions interna-tionales et normes sociales soudanaises" en faisant irruption dans les hôpitaux pour arrêter des suspects en balançant du gaz lacrymo-gène.

Dans un hôpital les policiers auraient tenté de retirer les corps de personnes tuées lors des affrontements, ailleurs ils étaient à la recherche de blessés qui avaient participé aux manifestations. L'ONU par ailleurs se disait préoccupée par l'utilisation de violences sexuelles et de tirs par balles de la part des forces de l'ordre lors des manifestations qui ont eu lieu dans les rues du pays, notamment Khartoum et Port Soudan.

Selon le représentant spécial de l'ONU pour le Soudan Volker Perthes « les auteurs de violences doivent être traduits en justice », ajoutant que pour lui: « les aspirations du peuple soudanais à une voie démocratique et à l'achèvement du processus de paix devraient être la pierre angulaire de tous les efforts visant à résoudre la crise actuelle ».

La pression internationale se poursuit contre le Soudan suite à la suspension de l'Union africaine et le gel de l'aide procurée par la  Banque mondiale, alors que le Conseil de sécurité de l'ONU réclame le rétablissement d'un gouvernement de transition dirigé par des civils. Entre temps un appel à la désobéissance civile après la mort de sept manifestants.

 
YEAR 3

If all people wanted for Christmas in 2020 was a vaccine, in 2021 it was a rapid test, as the number of people seeking peace of mind soared in the lead up to holidays once again disrupted by the pandemic which brought record infections in a number of countries and sent many schoolchildren home days early. The age of the vaccinated has so far not brought us back to the days of pre-pandemic freedoms.

"What was it all for? We're right back where we started," lamented one Ottawa parent in desperation as she replugged her child's computer in anticipation of the resumption of virtual learning. After lining up for PCR tests early in the pandemic, then again to enter stores reopened with limited capacity, and finally to get covid-19 shots, people living in the age of pandemic were lining up to get tested, pick up home rapid test kits or roll up their sleeves for boosters during  the holiday season.

In another blast from the past, N95 masks were once more prized and emptied of the shelves as health officials suggested better protection against an omicron variant which has been effective causing mass infections. The familiarity of the situation, as the pandemic enters its third year, is nothing less than dis-heartening, especially for those who had followed all recommen-dations and protocols only to see their efforts fall short. But this was not entirely unrewarded.

Those playing it safe and getting their boosters have tended to stay out of emergency rooms and, if infected, usually dealt with mild symptoms. Three years on this is the lesson to be drawn as indoor capacity limits were being reduced once more and cross border restrictions reinstated. And that rapid asymptomatic testing, while not as accurate as PCR testing,  was proving all the more necessary considering the large percentage of people walking around with no symptoms, according to one study.

One of four covid patients were asymptomatic carriers, according to a sweeping review of 30 million global cases, doubling previous estimates. “The high percentage of asymptomatic infections highlights the potential transmission risk of asymptomatic infections in communities,” wrote author Professor Min Liu of Peking University. The large number of participants was indicative on its own of the tremendous impact and staying power of the coronavirus pandemic.

For some, this latest wave is the straw that broke the camel's back. "That's it, I'm done!" lashed a Montreal correspondent, whose daughters were doubly vaccinated when they contracted the virus. "We've done everything we had to do: getting vaccinated 2-3 times, masks, distancing, vaccination passports... all to get back to square one? Screw them!"

Quebec closed a number of businesses before the holidays, from gyms to bars, and later closed restaurant dining rooms, Sunday shopping and extended the school break. Others went further, the Netherlands entering a complete shut down while Morocco extended its ban on flights.

Already closed to much of the world with a ban of tourists, Israel started a 4th dose immunization campaign for the most vulnerable, previous boosters having simply reinstated levels of protection to where they had been before the rise of the omicron variant. A British study warned boosters may lose their potency quicker, but experts also cautioned about distributing too many doses, saying it may affect the body's ability to fight the virus.

Data showed the highly transmissible omicron variant was less aggressive than its delta predecessor, leaving propor-tionally fewer in hospital. But the growing number of infections meant this could still up hospitalizations to the breaking point in many countries, which registered daily infection numbers higher than anything experienced earlier in the pandemic. "It's unlike anything we've ever seen," Dr. James Phillips told CNN.

"What we're experi-encing right now is an absolute overwhelming of the emergency departments." It was enough to discourage many in the fight against the virus, but not all. "We decided to postpone our trip to France where we planned to visit with family," wrote a Quebec correspondent. "So we're summoning the resilience we've developed over the last two years."

And with outdoor mask mandates in some European countries and curfews in others, that was certainly the operative word. In Canada Nunavut and Newfoundland restricted access from other parts of the country once more as some politicians lamented an apparent lack of progress, blaming federal government policies.

But others, such as Bruce Anderson of Abacus research, drew a sharp comparison with the neighbors. "Canada has lost 30,000 souls to Covid, the US 800,000. On December 17th we lost 20, the US 2,000," he Tweeted. "Pandemic manage-ment has clearly been better here." And this despite the fact Canada had to import both protective equipment and vaccines, often from the US.

The white north however maintained one of the most restrictive border measures in the world, requiring PCR tests before travel and upon entry, while imposing mask mandates on all modes of transport. And many of these were also disrupted during the holidays, as thousands of flights were cancelled due to cabin crew shortages caused by the pandemic.

Helping address shortages across the board of everything from pilots to emergency personnel, the CDC halved the period of isolation for asymptomatic infected indivi-duals from 10 to five days, measures which were quickly adopted by a number of Canadian provinces. Quebec, among others, said it would permit asymptomatic infected medical personnel to leave isolation sooner in order and get back on the job to avoid critical staff shortages.

Another small adaptation to life three years on. In one encouraging sign, South Africa, where omicron was first identified, said it had reached the peak of its new wave of infections without a considerable uptick in covid-related deaths. Perhaps a promising sign as the health industry mobilizes to target the variant causing chaos world-wide. But some still worry: "What will the next variant look like?" the Ottawa parent asked.

LA PAIX?

Il est difficile de parler le paix sur la péninsule coréenne, même 70 ans après les éclats de 1950-53, avec la présence de ce no man's land barbelé et miné entre les deux voisins, surveillés par des milliers de troupes de plusieurs nations.

La notion a cependant été évoquée en fin d'année lorsque les deux Corées, les Etats-Unis et la Chine ont accepté "en principe" de déclarer la fin de la guerre. Quelques mois plus tôt les responsables nord-coréens avaient bien rejeté un appel en faveur d'une telle déclaration, montrant du doigt la présence de troupes notamment américaines dans la région malgré la signature de l'armistice qui mit fin aux hostilités directes.

Pyong-yang dénonce encore et toujours l'"hostilité" de Washington à son égard - des sanctions économiques aux exercices militaires annuels- empêchant les camps de se retrouver pour des négociations officielles sur la déclaration.

A l'aube de 2022 il était clair que Kim Jong-Un avait d'autres préoccupations immédiates deux ans après que le royaume ermite se soit encore davantage isolé du reste du monde. Le pays a en effet rompu tous les liens, fermant notamment la frontière avec son allié chinois, dès l'apparition du coronavirus.

Depuis, un portrait de plus en plus alarmant de la situation économique et alimentaire se dessine, des rumeurs récemment nourries par le discours de Kim Jong-Un à la réunion plénière du Parti des travailleurs, marquant les 10 ans de son règne. Désignant l'économie et l'alimentation du peuple les grandes priorités de son pays en 2022, Kim qualifia les défis de "grande bataille entre la vie et la mort" sous forme de "mission importante pour faire des progrès radicaux afin de résoudre les problèmes d'alimentation, d'habillement et de logement."

 Son discours a largement ignoré les affaires internationales, ne faisant aucune allusion directe aux Etats-Unis ou aux voisin sud- coréen. "On peut dire qu'il s'agissait de loin de la plus brève mention des relations inter-coréennes et internatio-nales" dans le cadre du rapport de la plénaire, fait remarquer le chercheur Cheong Seong-chang de l'institut Sejong.

Alors que le pays a toujours nié l'existence de cas de covid-19 sur son territoire, Kim a fait du travail de "prévention épidémique" une des urgences de l'état, sans toutefois abandonner les projets coûteux - voire ruineux - d'armement, citant l'environ-nement militaire "instable" sur la péninsule.

Les misères du pays le plus pauvre de la région ont été exacerbées par plusieurs catastrophes naturelles en 2021, dont d'importantes inondations, laissant les organismes internationaux craindre l'aggravation des carences alimentaires, au point même de parler de famine. Mais pour ce qui est de la déclaration, Pyongyang continue d'exiger avant tout le départ des troupes américaines et la fin des sanctions, ce que refuse Washington  sans l'abandon du programme nucléaire nord-coréen. Le temps presse pour le président sud-coréen, qui quitte ses fonctions en mars.

SWEDEN'S NEW PM

It took a century of Sweden's progressive politics to emulate its neighbors and finally see the country's first female prime minister ovated in Stockholm's parliament, and little over 100 minutes for her to resign as the head of a minority government.

One hundred years after women were given the right to vote in the Scandinavian country Magdalena Andersson could only follow tradition after a party in the ruling coalition quit the government and her budget failed to pass. This paved the way for a new budget drafted by an opposition including the anti-immigrant far right, which has been gaining in strength over the last years. "I don't want to lead a government whose legitimacy will be questioned," she said after the Green Party pulled out of the alliance.

The Social Democrat was however promptly re-elected by the parliament, ending  days of topsy turvy politics in the land of the vikings. A feat in Scandinavia's most populous country, the election was hardly earth shattering for those other lands of the north. The previous month the election of Jonas Store in Norway had in fact made him the only male leader of the five Nordic countries, replacing Erna Solberg in Oslo after an eight-year run.

Andersson's leadership is sure to be tested as her party obtained only 100 seats in the 349-seat Riksdag, forcing her to work with others in the eight-party parliament, including the far right. The 54-year-old will then have less than a year to prove her worth before the country holds elections that may confirm the rise of extremist parties in Sweden.

Such parties have had influences in neigboring Denmark, which has considerably tightened its immigration policies in recent years. “We have the biggest group in parliament and a long tradition of working with others,” she said. “We are willing to do what it takes to move Sweden forward.” But the Nazi-rooted Swedish Democrats led by Jimmie Åkesson vow to boot her from power by supporting her Moderate Party rivals, who claim their alliance will be able to take over next September.

But the current state of affairs, despite the fragmented parliament, may not be the worst situation for Andersson. “Single-party governments tend to last longer than coalition governments, so there is reason to think that a government like this could be effective,” political scientist Jan Teorell told Swedish radio. “But we have never seen a single-party government tested in the complex parliamentary situation we have now.”

For now the region remains heavily Left-leaning, even if parties such as the Danish Social Democrats have had to toughen immigration policies to win support on the right. Observers say this may be a way for Sweden's Social Democrats to cling to power as well, but such moves could also drive away potential coalition supporters.

Anders-son wasn't the only one making Swedish political history recently, her female-majority cabinet also included the country's first transgender minister, Lina Axelsson Kilhblom, 51, who becomes the country's school minister. Among Andersson's priorities was the tabling of an action plan to tackle the country's covid-19 crisis as well as championing "a green industrial revolution" while improving a welfare system tested by the pandemic.