By Kester Kenn Klomegah
On November 17, under Russia’s BRICS Chairmanship, Vladimir Putin hosted the 12th BRICS Summit via videoconference.
The leaders of Brazil, India, China and South Africa participated to discuss the state and prospects of cooperation within BRICS. They discussed the global stability and security, and most importantly exchanged views on joint efforts to halt the spread of coronavirus pandemic.
President Vladimir Putin reviewed BRICS activities since Russia took over from Brazil, highlighted achievements and set the challenges for the future of BRICS. During the Russia’s BRICS Chairmanship, Russia has held 130 events, including some 25 ministerial meetings, many of them online.
Within the context of the current global health situation, Putin pointed to the subject of medical cooperation among BRICS and reminded the Ufa Declaration which was adopted five years ago included an agreement to work together to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
Pursuant to that agreement, the BRICS countries created an early warning system for infectious disease outbreaks, which could be used during the COVID-19 pandemic. The BRICS countries promptly responded to the disease outbreak and took practical measures to combat the pandemic.
He said that the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) has signed agreements with Indian and Brazilian partners on clinical tests of the Sputnik V vaccine and with pharmaceutical companies in China and India on the production of this vaccine not only for own use but also for third countries. There are Russian vaccines, and they are effective and safe. The next task is to launch large-scale production. It is very important to join forces for the large-scale manufacturing of this product for public use.
Besides this, it important to accelerate the establishment of the BRICS Vaccine Research and Development Centre, as agreed at the Johannesburg summit two years ago at the initiative of South African.
Due to the pandemic, many countries have taken emergency measures to support national industries, finance and the social sphere, to revive their economies and return them to a trajectory of sustainable growth. This is the goal of the Strategy for BRICS Economic Partnership for the period until 2025, prepared for this summit.
The New Development Bank is in great demand in the current situation. The Bank has reserved $10 billion to combat the pandemic, while its overall portfolio of investment projects now exceeds $20 billion. As many as 62 large projects are being implemented in the BRICS countries. Incidentally, a regional branch of the bank will soon open in Moscow to implement lending programs across the Eurasian space. The BRICS countries have a special insurance tool in case of a crisis in the financial markets: the BRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement, with a $100 billion fund.
The BRICS Interbank Cooperation Mechanism is important in the parties’ cooperation on credit and investment policy. This year, they have agreed on the rules and principles of responsible financing of development institutions within its framework.
The five countries are enhancing cooperation in science, technology, and innovation. Intensive contacts have been underway between our academic and scientific centres. Their coverage is truly impressive – from the ocean and polar research to astronomy and artificial intelligence. Experts from the five countries carry out joint energy research: reports have been prepared on the projected development of the fuel and energy sectors in the BRICS countries until 2040.
Putin further highlighted the challenging global and regional security environment. International terrorism and drug trafficking continue to pose serious threats, and cybercrime has greatly expanded its reach.
“We are witnessing dangerous destabilizing trends in the Middle East and North Africa. The armed conflicts in Libya and Yemen are continuing. There is still a lot to be done to bring about a political settlement in Syria, and the risks of escalation persist in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and in the Persian Gulf,” he told the gathering.
It is highly satisfying that the BRICS countries have been closely coordinating their efforts on current international and regional matters. A policy document, the BRICS Counter-Terrorism Strategy, drafted for the summit. The BRICS countries are expanding their cooperation on combating drug trafficking and corruption, as well as on international information security.
During the meeting, the leaders of the BRICS member countries heard reports from other speakers who have overseen the work on each track of the association’s activity.
Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev spoke about cooperation in the coronavirus pandemic response, in combating terrorism and cybercrime.
President of the New Development Bank Marcos Troyjo cited the financial institution’s performance data and plans for next year.
President of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Sergei Katyrin spoke about the Business Council events, while Chairman of VEB RF Igor Shuvalov covered the BRICS Interbank Cooperation Mechanism.
The report by Chair of the Board of Directors of Global Rus Trade Anna Nesterova addressed the establishment of the BRICS Women’s Business Alliance.
President of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, President of China Xi Jinping and President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa, during the meeting, exchanged views on the state and prospects of the five-sided cooperation.
The 12th BRICS Summit Moscow Declaration was adopted which reflects the five countries’ consolidated approach to the further development of the association, as well as the Strategy for the BRICS Economic Partnership until 2025 and the BRICS Anti-Terrorism Strategy.
“India, China, South Africa and Brazil commend Russian BRICS Chairmanship in 2020 and express their gratitude to the government and people of Russia for holding the XII BRICS Summit,” the adopted document says. Besides that, Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa extended full support to India for its BRICS Chairmanship in 2021 and the holding of the 13th BRICS Summit.
Kester Kenn Klomegah writes frequently about Russia, Africa and BRICS.
Empowering Women in the Changing World
By Kester Kenn Klomegah
Women play an increasingly important role in resolving issues that society and the state encounter and in the modern world, they should not face the choice between family and self-fulfilment, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the third Eurasian Women’s Forum held in St. Petersburg on October 13-15.
“It is completely obvious that in modern conditions a woman should not face the choice between children and family or professional fulfilment. That is why in Russia the conditions are consistently created for a woman after childbirth to begin or resume her professional career at any moment, to become accomplished, to achieve growth in what she enjoys,” Mr Putin stressed.
The Eurasian Women’s Forum, held since 2015, is one of the largest international platforms uniting female leaders from all continents to examine and discuss the role of women in the modern world and work out new approaches to solving global problems.
The forum was organized by the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation and the Interparliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States (IPA CIS).
Speaker of the Federation Council, Valentina Matviyenko, gave the opening speech at the plenary session. She stressed that the main goal of the global women’s community is to improve people’s quality of life as well as build mutual understanding and trust between countries and peoples in the name of peace and sustainable development.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Viktoria Abramchenko, noted in her speech that women are directly involved in implementing these tasks in Russia and on international platforms.
Vietnamese Vice President, Vo Thi Anh Xuan, made a video conference presentation. She said that the Forum is bringing together the majority of women around the world. “The role of women today is extremely important. We can make the world more just and help fight global challenges,” she said.
Chairwoman of the National Assembly of Azerbaijan Sahiba Ali gizi Gafarova believes that the topics discussed at the Eurasian Women’s Forum provide an opportunity to consider the most pressing issues of modern life and enhance women’s status around the world. Gafarova stated that fully unleashing women’s potential would be the foundation for building a healthy society.
Chairwoman of the Senate of Uzbekistan Tanzila Narbaeva noted that the forum once again demonstrated women’s growing role in resolving the socioeconomic issues facing their countries. The Forum demonstrates new approaches to the women’s agenda, she said.
Narbaeva stressed that Uzbekistan is ready to share its experience in various areas and is open to cooperation. She invited the participants to take part in the women’s forum during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in 2022, planned in Samarkand.
Chairwoman of the Lower Chamber of Parliament of Turkmenistan, Gulshat Mammedova, said the forum is an important platform for interaction between women and helps to harmonize efforts in addressing various issues of the changing world as well as exchange views and experience in promoting women’s rights.
Participation of African women was modest, that included for example President of the Senate of Gabon Lucie Milebou Aubusson, Liberian Dr Jewel Howard-Taylor and Zimbabwean First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa among a few others. President of the Assembly of Mozambique, Esperança Laurinda Francisco Nhiuane Bias, delivered a speech at the forum.
Zimbabwean First Lady, Auxillia Mnangagwa, on the sidelines held a special working discussion with the Speaker of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, Valentina Matviyenko, focusing on developing inter-parliamentary relations, women in sustainable development, education and charity.
The First Lady and the Speaker snapshotted the possibility of greater participation of Russian economic operators in the development process in the southern African region. Both women have expressed an appreciation for cooperating on common questions on international platforms. Diplomatic relations between the two marked their 40th year.
On October 15, African women took part in an exclusive discussion solely on “the Role of Women in the Integrated Development of the African Continent” at the Tauride Palace. It was attended by women from international organizations, business circles, the scientific community and non-governmental organizations.
The entire third forum was held offline using modern formats such as video conferencing and online broadcast, intended to ensure extended outreach and provide audience engagement. The physical presence was organized in strict accordance with safety measures aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.
UK Flags Borno, Yobe, Others as Danger Zones
By Ashemriogwa Emmanuel
The United Kingdom (UK) has advised its citizens against travelling to some northern and middle belt states in Nigeria it described as danger zones as a result of the heightened kidnap cases and increased insecurity in those regions.
These states include Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Gombe, Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River.
In a travel advisory for its nationals released on Saturday, October 16, the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) announced to foreign nationals that there was a high threat of kidnap throughout Nigeria for ideological, financial or political reasons.
According to the advisory, “The groups have previously shown intent and capability to conduct kidnaps in Nigeria. Foreign nationals, including humanitarian workers, are likely targets for kidnap.
“Humanitarian hubs and workers have been targeted during attacks in the North East, including Monguno, Borno State on June 13, 2020.
“There’s a high threat of kidnap throughout Nigeria. Kidnaps can be motivated by criminality or terrorism and could be carried out for ideological, financial or political gain. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the risk of kidnap increases after dark.
“The security environment in the North East has deteriorated since 2018 and there is a heightened risk of kidnap. Kidnaps in the North East have included humanitarian and private-sector workers.
“There are also reports that Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa, ISWA, are continuing to actively plan to kidnap foreigners.
“In North-East Nigeria, extremist groups operate in some northern and middle belt states, including Bauchi, Gombe, Kano, Kogi, Kaduna, Niger and Adamawa states. If you’re working or travelling in these states then you should be aware of the risk of terrorist kidnapping.”
The information also disclosed the increased protests and demonstrations in the South East region of Nigeria Since August 9, 2021, warning that stay-at-home protests are likely during October in the South East region.
“There have been reports of violence during Stay at Home protests previously. You should monitor local media, avoid any demonstrations or large gatherings and follow any instructions from local police and security forces.
“There have been a number of attacks and targeted killings in the South-east and Southsouth regions of Nigeria, including in the states of Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Imo, Abia, Anambra, Delta, Edo and Ebonyi.
“Some of these attacks have been on isolated roads and in remote locations, but there is a chance that they could occur in metropolitan areas. There is also a heightened risk of indiscriminate attacks on police and security infrastructure, which may inadvertently affect bystanders,” it read.
The UK government then advised travellers to these regions to exercise caution if travelling in remote areas at night and follow local news outlets for further information.
New US Travel Rules Excludes Foreigners Vaccinated with Russia’s Sputnik V
By Kester Kenn Klomegah
Local and foreign media have stepped up reports about rising COVID-19 infections in Russia. While the reports indicated high deaths in the country, the other highlighted new trends that are noticeably appearing there.
Interestingly, directors at the Russian tourism and travel agencies say that many Russians are lining up for vaccine tourism in Serbia, Bulgaria and Germany and a few other foreign countries.
These Russians aim at getting foreign vaccines including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca.
Here are a few facts about Russian vaccines.
Russia’s Sputnik V was the first officially registered coronavirus vaccine on August 11, 2020. Russia is using four vaccines for mass vaccination for COVID-19. These are Sputnik V and Sputnik Light developed by the Russian Health Ministry’s Gamaleya Center.
EpiVacCorona developed by the Vector Center of the Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (Rospotrebnadzor), and CoviVac developed by the Chumakov Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Clinical trials of the EpiVacCorona vaccine on teens aged from 15 to 17 might begin in the near future.
China has a 1.3 billion population and has given the two billionth vaccine by the end of August, the United States has 380 million and has vaccinated 60% of its population. In Europe, the vaccination rate is high at an appreciable level.
Overall, Russia with an estimated 146 million people has Europe’s highest death toll from the pandemic, nearly 210,000 people as of September 30, according to various authentic sources including the National Coronavirus Task Force.
More than 42 million Russians have received both components of a coronavirus vaccine, according to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova.
“The number of citizens who have received the first component of a vaccine has topped 44 million, and more than 37 million people have completed a full vaccination course,” Golikova said.
She gave an assurance back in July that once the population have been immunized with at least the first component of a two-shot vaccine, herd immunity to COVID-19, or at least an 80% vaccination rate, should be reached by November 1.
Even though Russia boasted of creating the world’s first coronavirus vaccines, vaccination is very low. Critics have principally blamed a botched vaccine rollout and mixed messages the authorities have been sending about the outbreak.
In addition, coronavirus antibody tests are popular in Russia and some observers suggest this contributes to the low vaccination numbers.
Western health experts say the antibody tests are unreliable either for diagnosing COVID-19 or assessing immunity to it. The antibodies that these tests look for can only serve as evidence of a past infection. Scientists say it’s still unclear what level of antibodies indicates that a person has protection from the virus and for how long.
Russia has registered Sputnik V in more than 150 foreign countries. The World Health Organization is yet to register this vaccine. For its registration, it must necessarily pass through approved procedures, so far Russia has ignored them, according to reports.
There have also been several debates after the World Health Organization paused its review process of the Sputnik V vaccine over concerns about its manufacturing process, and few other technical reasons. While some talked about politicizing the vaccine registration, others have faced facts of observing recognized international rules for certifying medical products as such vaccines.
During the first week of October, Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko has reiterated or repeated assertively that a certain package of documents was needed to continue the process for the approval of the Russian coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V by the World Health Organization. The final approval is expected towards the end of 2021.
Still, one of the problems with registration is unfair competition in the global market. For instance, Russian Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov said in an interview with the Rossiya-24 television channel on October 5: “I think it is an element of competition. Until Pfizer covers a certain part of the market, it is pure economics.”
On the other side, Pyotr Ilyichev, Director for International Organization at the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry, told Interfax News Agency, for instance, that World Health Organization has been playing politics around Russian vaccine especially when it is needed in most parts of the world.
“The world is facing an acute shortage of vaccines for the novel coronavirus infection. In certain regions, for instance in African countries, less than 2% of the population has been vaccinated. The Russian vaccine is in demand, and the UN stands ready to buy it,” he told Interfax.
“However, certification in the WHO is a complex, multi-step process, which was developed in the past in line with Western countries’ standards. It requires time and serious efforts from our producers. We hope that this process will be successfully finalized in the near future,” Ilyichev said.
Chairman of the State Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee Leonid Slutsky has described as discriminatory a decision reported by foreign media that the United States, under its new consular rules, would deny entry for foreigners immunized with the Russian COVID-19 vaccine Sputnik V.
“Thus, the U.S. will blatantly embark on a path of ‘vaccine discrimination.’ There are absolutely no grounds for such decisions. The efficacy and safety of the Sputnik V vaccine have been confirmed not only by specialists but also by its use in practice,” Slutsky said on Telegram.
He cited an article in The Washington Post saying that from November the United States may begin denying entry to foreigners vaccinated with Sputnik V.
It means that if such additional border measures are adopted, foreigners seeking entry to the United States will have to be immunized with vaccines approved for use either by American authorities or the World Health Organization.
According to an article published in The Washington Post, for the first time since the pandemic began, the United States intends to loosen entry restrictions for foreigners vaccinated against COVID-19.
The new rules, which enter into force in November, will not apply to Russians vaccinated with Sputnik V and citizens of other countries using this Russian vaccine.
Under the new rules, foreigners will enter the United States only if they are immunized with vaccines approved for use by the United States Food and Drug Administration or the World Health Organization. Russia’s Sputnik V is yet to be approved by the World Health Organization and is not recognized by the United States.
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