Tracking cookies

To make our website even easier and more personal, we use cookies (and similar techniques). With these cookies we and third parties can collect information about you and monitor your internet behavior within (and possibly also outside) our website. If you agree with this, we will place these tracking cookies.

Yes, I give permissionNo thanks
Logo

Gas prices rise in Europe and patriotic sentiment in Afghanistan

31-8-2022 |

Fresh - freshly squeezed news from the international press. We prepare it 3 times a week.

Reuters: Farewell to a symbol of the era - Mikhail Gorbachev has died

Former president of the USSR and Nobel Prize winner Mikhail Gorbachev, who ended the Cold War without bloodshed but failed to prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union, died on Tuesday at the age of 91, hospital officials in Moscow said.

Gorbachev, the last Soviet president, forged arms reduction deals with the United States and partnerships with Western powers to remove the Iron Curtain that had divided Europe since World War Two and bring about the reunification of Germany.

But his internal reforms helped weaken the Soviet Union to the point where it fell apart, a moment that President Vladimir Putin has called the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the twentieth century.

"Mikhail Gorbachev passed away tonight after a serious and protracted disease," said Russia's Central Clinical Hospital.

Putin expressed "his deepest condolences", Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Interfax. "Tomorrow he will send a telegram of condolences to his family and friends," he said.

Putin said in 2018 he would reverse the Soviet Union's disintegration if he could, news agencies reported.

World leaders were quick to pay tribute. European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Gorbachev, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990, had opened the way for a free Europe.

U.S. President Joe Biden said he had believed in "glasnost and perestroika – openness and restructuring – not as mere slogans, but as the path forward for the people of the Soviet Union after so many years of isolation and deprivation."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, citing Putin's invasion of Ukraine, said Gorbachev's "tireless commitment to opening up Soviet society remains an example to us all".

After decades of Cold War tension and confrontation, Gorbachev brought the Soviet Union closer to the West than at any point since World War Two.

"He gave freedom to hundreds of millions of people in Russia and around it, and also half of Europe," said former Russian liberal opposition leader Grigory Yavlinsky. "Few leaders in history have had such a decisive influence on their time."

But Gorbachev saw his legacy wrecked late in life, as the invasion of Ukraine brought Western sanctions crashing down on Moscow, and politicians in both Russia and the West began to speak of a new Cold War.

"Gorbachev died in a symbolic way when his life's work, freedom, was effectively destroyed by Putin," said Andrei Kolesnikov, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

He will be buried in Moscow's Novodevichy Cemetery next to his wife Raisa, who died in 1999, said Tass, citing the foundation that the ex-Soviet leader set up once he left office.

"We are all orphans now. But not everyone realizes it," said Alexei Venediktov, head of a liberal media radio outlet that closed down after coming under pressure over its coverage of the Ukraine war.

When pro-democracy protests rocked Soviet bloc nations in communist Eastern Europe in 1989, Gorbachev refrained from using force - unlike previous Kremlin leaders who had sent tanks to crush uprisings in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.

But the protests fuelled aspirations for autonomy in the 15 republics of the Soviet Union, which disintegrated over the next two years in chaotic fashion.

"The era of Gorbachev is the era of perestroika, the era of hope, the era of our entry into a missile-free world ... but there was one miscalculation: we did not know our country well," said Vladimir Shevchenko, who headed Gorbachev's protocol office when he was Soviet leader.

On becoming general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in 1985, aged just 54, he had set out to revitalise the system by introducing limited political and economic freedoms, which entailed the self-identification of the former republics and the development and establishment of a democratic perestroika.

"He was a good man - he was a decent man. I think his tragedy is in a sense that he was too decent for the country he was leading," said Gorbachev biographer William Taubman, a professor emeritus at Amherst College in Massachusetts.

Gorbachev's policy of "glasnost" allowed previously unthinkable criticism of the party and the state, but also emboldened nationalists who began to press for independence in the Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and elsewhere.

Many Russians never forgave Gorbachev for the turbulence that his reforms unleashed, considering the subsequent plunge in their living standards too high a price to pay for democracy.

France24: This burqa-covered holiday - Taliban celebrates victory anniversary

The Taliban declared Wednesday a national holiday and lit up the capital with coloured lights to celebrate the first anniversary of the withdrawal of US-led troops from Afghanistan after a brutal 20-year war.

The country's new rulers -- not formally recognised by any other nation -- have reimposed their harsh version of Islamic law on the impoverished country, with women squeezed out of public life.

But despite the restrictions, and a deepening humanitarian crisis, many Afghans say they are glad the foreign force that prompted the Taliban insurgency has gone.

"We are happy that Allah got rid of the infidels from our country, and the Islamic Emirate has been established," said Zalmai, a resident of Kabul.

The withdrawal of troops at midnight as August 31 began last year ended America's longest war -- a military intervention that began in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York.

Some 66,000 Afghan troops and 48,000 civilians were killed in the conflict, but it was the deaths of US service members -- 2,461 in total -- that became too much for the American public to bear.

More than 3,500 troops from other NATO countries were also killed.

"The burden of the war in Afghanistan, however, went beyond Americans," the US military said Tuesday.

Two weeks before the end of last year's withdrawal, the Taliban seized power following a lightning offensive against government forces.

Banners celebrating victories against three empires -- the former Soviet Union and Britain also lost wars in Afghanistan -- were flying in Kabul on Wednesday.

Hundreds of white Taliban flags bearing the Islamic proclamation of faith flew from lampposts and government buildings.

Late Tuesday, the skies above Kabul were lit up with fireworks and celebratory gunfire from crowds of Taliban fighters.

In Massoud Square, near the former US embassy, armed fighters carrying Taliban flags chanted "Death to America". Others drove across the city honking their horns.

Taliban social media accounts posted scores of videos and pictures of newly trained troops -- many flaunting the US military equipment left behind in the haste of Washington's chaotic withdrawal.

"This is how you troll a superpower after humiliating them and forcing them to withdraw from your country," read the caption of one post on Twitter featuring a photo of a giant Taliban flag now painted on the wall of the former US embassy.

Despite the Taliban's pride in taking over, Afghanistan's 38 million people now face a desperate humanitarian crisis -- aggravated after billions of dollars in assets were frozen and foreign aid dried up.

Hardships for ordinary Afghans, especially women, have increased.

The Taliban have shut secondary girls' schools in many provinces and barred women from many government jobs.

They have also ordered women to fully cover up in public -- ideally with an all-encompassing burqa.

"Now I'm sitting at home without a job," said Oranoos Omerzai, a resident of Kandahar, the de facto power centre of the Taliban.

Government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid insisted "major achievements" had been recorded in the past year.

"Afghans are no more being killed in war, foreign forces have withdrawn, and security has improved," he told reporters last week.

CNN: Hunger or cold - Britain's pensioners face a tough choice

When she first started to shed some weight, Yvonne DeBurgo quipped that she could afford to lose it.

But over the past three months, the 77-year-old widow from the southern English county of Oxfordshire has lost nearly 25 pounds, a result of eating just one cooked meal a day -- with just a piece of fruit or a sandwich for dinner.

DeBurgo lost the weight while trying to save money -- a sobering manifestation of the country's cataclysmic cost-of-living crisis, one that appears to have no end in sight.

In July, inflation rose above 10% for the first time in 40 years, driven by the skyrocketing cost of energy, food and fuel. The Bank of England forecasts inflation will soar to 13% by the end of the year. Analysts say it could go even higher early next year.

DeBurgo, who relies on her state pension and a supplementary Pension Credit benefit, says her grocery bills have already nearly doubled over the course of about a month, with the rising cost of fuel even more worrying for her winter energy bills.

"I don't want to end up, like, skeletal... eventually it's gonna have to stop. But whether I'll be able to afford to eat by then, I don't know," she told CNN in a phone interview.

The average British household will see its annual energy bill rise to £3,549 (approximately $4,180) from October -- a rise of £1,578 ($1,765), an 80% increase -- after the country's energy regulator raised the price cap last week. The price cap sets the maximum amount that energy suppliers can charge for each unit of energy and gas.

It's a crisis that should be at the forefront of government action. But instead, outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been all but absent, taking two vacations in less than a month. His critics have accused him of washing his hands of the energy crisis and deflecting the blame onto Russia's war in Ukraine.

"We also know that if we're paying in our energy bills for the evils of Vladimir Putin, the people of Ukraine are paying in their blood," Johnson said in a visit to Kyiv on August 24.

Meanwhile, Downing Street has said it is up to the next prime minister to introduce any major new spending plans to support those suffering hardship.

Two candidates, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, are currently battling to become the next Conservative Party leader, and so prime minister, with results expected on September 5.

And while research shows older people are more likely to vote Conservative, neither candidate has outlined a clear plan on how to tackle a cost-of-living crisis that's already being felt acutely by many in that age group.

Around 2 million pensioners were already living in poverty prior to the crisis, according to data from the Center for Ageing Better, a charity focused on improving the lives of older people.

2022 annual report of the Center for Ageing Better found that there were more than 200,000 more poor pensioners in 2021 than in the previous year.

Around 44% of people who have reached the current UK state pension age of 66 say it is their main source of income, according to figures from the Money and Pension Service, which is sponsored by the Department for Work and Pensions. Most pensioners are on the basic state pension at £141.85 a week (around €165), or about £7,400 (€8 626) a year. The state pension rose by 3.1% in April, a figure far below the inflation rate at the time, at 9%. The next increase in state pension will be next April.

"So those people were already struggling, and now we're in a situation where they will be having an even worse time and many more will have fallen into poverty because of what's happening," said Morgan Vine, head of policy and influencing at the charity Independent Age:

People who responded to a survey conducted by Independent Age in June and July painted a dismal picture of their daily life. "I have turned my heating off, I don't mop my floor as often. I do not vacuum as often, I only wash up if I really have to, I can no longer bake with my grandchildren which breaks my heart," said one, whose name was not given.

"Holiday a thing of the past, social life a thing of the past, if the costs continue to rise I have no answers, wouldn't mind work but am 88 no one wants me," said another respondent, also unnamed.

Such poverty is exacerbating health conditions, with life expectancy also dropping, according to the Center for Ageing Better report, which noted that the number of years older people are spending in good health is also on the decline.

The NHS Confederation, a body representing leaders in the UK's National Health Service (NHS) said this month that fuel poverty in particular is creating a "vicious cycle of healthcare need," explaining that doctors can treat a patient's illness but that if the ailment -- for example, a chest infection -- is caused by cold, damp housing, the cycle of infection will continue when the patient returns home.

Almost 10,000 people died in England and Wales in 2021 because their homes were too cold, according to the NHS.

In a statement last week, NHS leaders warned of an impending "humanitarian crisis" if the government doesn't address energy costs, saying that fuel poverty "will inevitably lead to significant extra demand on what are already very fragile services," and could increase the number of annual deaths associated with cold homes.

While the energy crisis has garnered more attention from the Conservative candidates, besides ruling out a price freeze on energy costs, Truss and Sunak's plans are still unclear.

Truss has said that tax cuts should be the main response to soaring bills and hinted last week that if chosen, she'd swiftly help pensioners with an emergency cost of living package, without providing specifics.

Sunak has said he would find up to £10 billion (€11.6 bn) to help people facing rising energy bills.

Meanwhile, the government has announced that eligible households in England, Scotland and Wales will receive £400 (about €466) spread over the course of six payments to help with rising fuel bills from October.

Many activists say that these payments are not enough and expect clear programmes and decisive action from the candidates.

BBC: Nord Stream-1 has shallowed - Russia continues gas blackmail

Russia has completely halted gas supplies to Europe via a major pipeline, saying repairs are needed.

The Russian state-owned energy giant, Gazprom, said the restrictions on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline would last for the next three days.

Russia has already significantly reduced gas exports via the pipeline.

It also rejects accusations of using energy supplies as a way to punish Western nations for imposing sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.

The Nord Stream 1 pipeline stretches 1,200km (745 miles) under the Baltic Sea from the Russian coast near St Petersburg to north-eastern Germany.

It opened in 2011, and can send a maximum of 170m cubic metres of gas per day from Russia to Germany.

The pipeline was shut down for 10 days in July - again for repairs, according to Russia - and has recently been operating at just 20% capacity because of what Russia describes as faulty equipment.

European leaders fear Russia could extend the outage in an attempt to drive up gas prices, which have already risen by 400%.

The steep rise threatens to create a cost of living crisis over the winter months, potentially forcing governments to spend billions to ease the burden.

On Tuesday, French Energy Minister Transition Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher accused Russia of "using gas as a weapon of war".

She was speaking after Gazprom said it would be suspending gas deliveries to the French energy company Engie.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman has rejected the accusations and insisted that Western sanctions have caused the interruptions by damaging Russian infrastructure.

He insisted that that "technological problems" caused by Western sanctions are the only thing preventing Russia from supplying gas via the pipeline, without specifying what the problems were.

The most recent controversy has been over a turbine which arrived in Germany after being repaired in Canada and which Russia refused to take back , arguing it was subject to the Western sanctions.

Germany, however, denies this.

Earlier this month, Economy Minister Robert Habeck said the pipeline was fully operational and said there were no technical issues as claimed by Russia.

At the beginning of the week EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen promised to intervene in energy markets, telling a conference in Slovenia that they are "no longer fit for purpose".

"We need a new market model for electricity that really functions and brings us back into balance," she said.

Last week, the BBC revealed that Russia has been burning off an estimated $10m worth of gas every day at a plant near the Finnish border.

Picked and squeezed for you: Irina Iakovleva