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Blinken says EU and US need to show the world that democracy can deliver

Catherine Feore

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Yesterday (24 March) US Secretary of State Tony Blinken visited the European Commission, meeting with the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and the EU’s High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security, Josep Borrell. The meetings took place ahead of the European Council where President Biden will address European leaders.

In a statement, Blinken said that the United States was recommitting to its alliances and revitalizing its partnerships to meet the challenges of our time. Von der Leyen thanked the Secretary of State for the US’s renewed commitment to the Paris climate agreement and cooperation on fighting the pandemic.   

Blinked said that he saw the European Union as a partner of first resort, the discussion was wide-ranging and included: COVID-19, the challenges of Russia and China, and economic recovery. 

Blinken underlined the importance of the US and EU’s shared values: “There is a fundamental debate underway about the future and whether democracy or autocracy offers the best path forward. I think it's up to us to come together and show the world that democracy can deliver for our people, and also for each other.”

Russia

US set to slap new sanctions on Russia: sources

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The United States were set to announce sanctions on Russia as soon as Thursday (15 April) for alleged election interference and malicious cyber activity, targeting several individuals and entities, people familiar the matter said, write Trevor Hunnicutt, Humeyra Pamuk and Steve Holland.

The sanctions, in which 30 entities are expected to be blacklisted, will be tied with orders expelling about 10 Russian officials from the United States, one of the people said.

The United States is also expected to announce aggressive new measures targeting the country’s sovereign debt through restrictions on U.S. financial institutions’ ability to trade such debt, according to another source.

The White House, the US State Department and the US Treasury Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The action will add a new chill to the already frosty relations between Washington and Moscow, which has tested the West’s patience with a military build-up near Ukraine.

The wide-ranging sanctions would come partly in response to a cybersecurity breach affecting software made by SolarWinds Corp that the U.S. government has said was likely orchestrated by Russia. The breach gave hackers access to thousands of companies and government offices that used the company’s products.

Microsoft President Brad Smith described the attack, which was identified in December, as “the largest and most sophisticated attack the world has ever seen.”

The United States also intends to punish Moscow for alleged interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. In a report last month, U.S. intelligence agencies said Russian President Vladimir Putin likely directed efforts to try to swing the election to then-President Donald Trump and away from now-President Joe Biden.

Biden has also vowed to take action on reports that Russia offered bounties to Taliban militants to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The expected moves by the Biden administration are likely to exacerbate tensions in a relationship that slumped to a new post-Cold War low last month after Biden said he thought Putin was a “killer.”

In a call on Tuesday, Biden told Putin that the United States would act “firmly” to defend its interests in response to those actions, according to U.S. officials’ account of the call.

Biden also proposed a meeting with Putin “in a third country” that could allow the leaders to find areas to work together.

In the past few weeks, Washington and its NATO allies have been alarmed by a large build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Crimea, the peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

“The hostility and unpredictability of America’s actions force us in general to be prepared for the worst scenarios,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters last week, anticipating the new sanctions.

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Climate change

Big business seeks unified, market-based approaches ahead of climate summit

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Corporate executives and investors say they want world leaders at next week’s climate summit to embrace a unified and market-based approach to slashing their carbon emissions, write Ross Kerber and Simon Jessop.

The request reflects the business world’s growing acceptance that the world needs to sharply reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, as well as its fear that doing so too quickly could lead governments to set heavy-handed or fragmented rules that choke international trade and hurt profits.

The United States is hoping to reclaim its leadership in combating climate change when it hosts the 22-23 April Leaders Summit on Climate.

Key to that effort will be pledging to cut US emissions by at least half by 2030, as well as securing agreements from allies to do the same.

“Climate change is a global problem, and what companies are looking to avoid is a fragmented approach where the US, China and the EU each does its own thing, and you wind up with a myriad of different methodologies,” said Tim Adams, chief executive of the Institute of International Finance, a Washington-based trade association.

He said he hopes U.S. President Joe Biden and the 40 other world leaders invited to the virtual summit will move toward adopting common, private-sector solutions to reaching their climate goals, such as setting up new carbon markets, or funding technologies like carbon-capture systems.

Private investors have increasingly been supportive of ambitious climate action, pouring record amounts of cash into funds that pick investments using environmental and social criteria.

That in turn has helped shift the rhetoric of industries that once minimized the risks of climate change.

The American Petroleum Institute, which represents oil companies, for example, said last month it supported steps to reduce emissions such as putting a price on carbon and accelerating the development of carbon capture and other technologies.

API Senior Vice President Frank Macchiarola said that in developing a new U.S. carbon cutting target, the United States should balance environmental goals with maintaining U.S. competitiveness.

“Over the long-term, the world is going to demand more energy, not less, and any target should reflect that reality and account for the significant technological advancements that will be required to accelerate the pace of emissions reductions,” Macchiarola said.

Labor groups like the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of U.S. labor unions, meanwhile, back steps to protect U.S. jobs like taxing goods made in countries that have less onerous emissions regulations.

AFL-CIO spokesman Tim Schlittner said the group hopes the summit will produce “a clear signal that carbon border adjustments are on the table to protect energy-intensive sectors”.

Industry wish lists

Automakers, whose vehicles make up a big chunk of global emissions, are under pressure to phase out petroleum-fueled internal combustion engines. Industry leaders General Motors Co and Volkswagen have already declared ambitious plans to move toward selling only electric vehicles.

But to ease the transition to electric vehicles, US and European automakers say they want subsidies to expand charging infrastructure and encourage sales.

The National Mining Association, the US industry trade group for miners, said it supports carbon capture technology to reduce the industry’s climate footprint. It also wants leaders to understand that lithium, copper and other metals are needed to manufacture electric vehicles.

“We hope that the summit brings new attention to the mineral supply chains that underpin the deployment of advanced energy technologies, such as electric vehicles,” said Ashley Burke, the NMA’s spokeswoman.

The agriculture industry, meanwhile, is looking for market-based programs to help it cut its emissions, which stack up to around 25% of the global total.

Industry giants such as Bayer AG and Cargill Inc have launched programs encouraging farming techniques that keep carbon in the soil.

Biden’s Department of Agriculture is looking to expand such programs, and has suggested creating a “carbon bank” that could pay farmers for carbon capture on their farms.

For their part, money managers and banks want policymakers to help standardize accounting rules for how companies report environmental and other sustainability-related risks, something that could help them avoid laggards on climate change.

“Our industry has an important role to play in supporting companies’ transition to a more sustainable future, but to do so it is vital we have clear and consistent data on the climate-related risks faced by companies,” said Chris Cummings, CEO of the Investment Association in London.

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Russia

Biden proposes summit with Putin amid tensions over Ukraine

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US President Joe Biden (pictured) proposed a summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a telephone call on Tuesday (13 April) in which he stressed the US commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and voiced concern about a Russian military build-up in Crimea and on Ukraine’s borders, the White House said, write Andrea Shalal and Arshad Mohammed.

“President Biden also made clear that the United States will act firmly in defense of its national interests in response to Russia’s actions, such as cyber intrusions and election interference,” the White House said in a brief statement.

“President Biden emphasized the United States’ unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The President voiced our concerns over the sudden Russian military build-up in occupied Crimea and on Ukraine’s borders, and called on Russia to de-escalate tensions,” it added.

The conversation was only the second between the two leaders since Biden became president on Jan. 20 and it took place amid growing U.S. and European concerns about Russian treatment of Ukraine.

Western officials say Russia has moved thousands of combat-ready troops to Ukraine’s borders this year, the largest massing of Russian troops since it seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Fighting has escalated in recent weeks in eastern Ukraine, where government forces have battled Russian-backed separatists in a seven-year conflict that Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people.

“President Biden reaffirmed his goal of building a stable and predictable relationship with Russia consistent with US interests, and proposed a summit meeting in a third country in the coming months to discuss the full range of issues facing the United States and Russia,” the White House statement added.

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