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Phuket Gazette World News: West prepares sanctions as Russia presses on with Crimea takeover

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Phuket Gazette World News: West prepares sanctions as Russia presses on with Crimea takeover | Thaiger

PHUKET: The European Union is expected to impose travel bans and asset freezes on Monday on dozens of Russians involved in Moscow’s gradual takeover of Crimea and will choose from a list of up to 130 names over the weekend, European diplomats said.

Moscow shipped more troops and armour into Crimea on Friday and repeated its threat to invade other parts of Ukraine in response to violence in Donetsk on Thursday night, showing no sign of bowing to Western demands to pull back.

EU diplomats will choose from a long list of 120-130 possible Russian targets for sanctions on Sunday, as pro-Moscow authorities who have taken power in Crimea hold a vote to join Russia in the worst East-West confrontation since the Cold War.

But European diplomats dismissed a German newspaper report that said the list would include the heads of Russia’s two biggest companies, energy giants Gazprom and Rosneft.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Russia would be guilty of a backdoor annexation of Crimea if its parliament ratified the Crimea referendum, which is taking place after an armed takeover of Crimea and gives voters no chance to say “no”.

Russia’s foreign minister, speaking after crisis talks with Kerry, played down his own ministry’s threat of wider conflict, saying Moscow had no plans to invade Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, where pro-Moscow forces have occupied state buildings.

But he said Russia would respect the referendum result.

Russia’s stock markets tumbled and the cost of insuring its debt soared on the last day of trading before the Crimea vote.

European officials told Reuters the EU was working on a five page list of 120-130 Russians who could be subjected to asset freezes and travel bans. An EU diplomat said he expected the final list of those to be sanctioned to be between “tens and scores” of people On Monday.

Germany’s Bild newspaper reported that Alexei Miller, boss of natural gas monopoly Gazprom, and Igor Sechin, head of Russia’s biggest oil firm Rosneft, would be among those targeted, along with senior ministers and Kremlin aides.

Reuters was not immediately able to confirm the Bild report and European diplomats dismissed it.

“(Business interests) is not the target initially, the focus is on the political decision that has been taken to act in Crimea and destabilise Ukraine,” said one diplomat involved in the negotiations.

Rosneft spokesman Mikhail Leontyev said sanctions on his firm’s boss would be “stupid, petty and obvious sabotage of themselves most of all. I think it will primarily affect Rosneft’s business partners in the West in an extraordinary way.” Gazprom and the Kremlin declined to comment.

Fellow citizens

The Russian Foreign Ministry, responding to the death of at least one protester in Ukraine’s eastern city of Donetsk, repeated President Vladimir Putin’s declaration of the right to invade to protect Russian citizens and “compatriots”.

“Russia is aware of its responsibility for the lives of compatriots and fellow citizens in Ukraine and reserves the right to take people under its protection,” it said.

Ukrainian health authorities say one 22-year-old man was stabbed to death and at least 15 others were being treated in hospital after clashes in Donetsk, the mainly Russian-speaking home city of Ukraine’s ousted President Viktor Yanukovich.

Organisers of the anti-Moscow demonstration said the dead man was from their group.

Moscow denies that its forces are intervening in Crimea, an assertion Washington ridicules as “Putin’s fiction”. Journalists have seen Russian forces operating openly in their thousands over the past two weeks, driving in armoured columns of vehicles with Russian licence plates and identifying themselves to besieged Ukrainian troops as members of Russia’s armed forces.

A Reuters reporter watched a Russian warship unload trucks, troops and at least one armoured personnel carrier at Kazachaya bay near Sevastopol on Friday morning. Trucks drove off a ramp from the Yamal 156, a large landing ship that can carry more than 300 troops and up to a dozen APCs.

In nearby Simferopol, around 300 Tatars protested against the referendum. Tatars, a majority in Crimea until Soviet leader Josef Stalin deported them en masse for alleged collaboration with the Nazis in World War Two, are strongly anti-Russian.

Facts on the Ground

Russian troops seized the Black Sea peninsula two weeks ago as a pro-Moscow regional government took power there. The new regional authorities intend to secede from Ukraine and join Russia in a vote described in the West as illegal.

U.S. President Barack Obama said he still hoped for a diplomatic solution, but Russia has shown no sign of veering from Putin’s plan to annex Crimea.

Putin declared on March 1 that Russia had the right to invade its neighbour, a week after its ally Yanukovich fled the Ukrainian capital following three months of demonstrations that ended with about 100 people killed in the final days.

In further signs of Moscow’s belligerent posture ahead of the Crimea vote, the Defence Ministry announced on Friday it would hold exercises with fighter jets and helicopters over the Mediterranean Sea. On Thursday it announced artillery drills near Ukraine’s border.

U.S. and EU sanctions on Russian officials and other figures, are now seen as inevitable.

U.S. and European officials say the targets will not include Putin or Lavrov, and an east European diplomat set out a scenario in which the EU might impose sanctions on one set of people on Monday, and then take further steps on Wednesday and then on Thursday-Friday during an EU summit in Brussels.

“It could start by sanctioning those directly involved with the situation in Crimea. Then if Russia doesn’t respond, expand to include senior figures in the Russian Senate, and then ultimately expand to include very senior people,” the diplomat said.

Bild’s list included Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, presidential administration chief Sergei Ivanov and the secretary of the National Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev.

Shares fall, debt insurance costs rise

Russia’s MICEX stock index has lost more than 16 percent of its value in the two weeks since Putin declared his right to invade. The cost of insuring Russia’s debt against default is now up by half since the crisis began.

Although Russian public opinion, fed by overwhelmingly state-controlled media, is still solidly behind the plan to annex Crimea, Western countries believe sanctions could undermine support for Putin among the wealthy elite.

Former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin told Russian media that the threat of Western sanctions was already imposing higher borrowing costs on Russian businesses and that further sanctions would push capital flight to $50 billion (30 billion pounds) a quarter.

Renaissance Capital estimated capital outflow in the first quarter would exceed $55 billion, compared with $63 billion for the whole of 2013.

The rouble has declined only slightly despite the fall in share prices, held aloft by a central bank that raised its lending rates on March 3 and has been spending reserves to keep the currency from falling.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Covid-19 vaccine CEOs say 3rd dose may be needed along with annual jabs

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Covid-19 vaccine CEOs say 3rd dose may be needed along with annual jabs | Thaiger
Stock photo of Pfizer vaccine via Flickr

The CEO for the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines says it is likely that people will need a 3rd dose of the vaccine and to receive it annually. Albert Bourla, told CNBC, that the booster, or 3rd dose, will be needed less than a year after being fully vaccinated.

“A likely scenario is that there will be likely a need for a 3rd dose, somewhere between 6 and 12 months and then from there, there will be an annual revaccination, but all of that needs to be confirmed. And again, the variants will play a key role. It is extremely important to suppress the pool of people that can be susceptible to the virus.”

Bourla’s comment echoes that of Johnson & Johnson’s CEO when he stated in February, that people may need to get vaccinated against Covid-19 annually, just like seasonal flu shots. Both statements reflect the fact that since the vaccine is new, and testing periods are shorter than most vaccines in the past, researchers are still unclear about how long the vaccine will protect against the virus.

Pfizer says that its Covid-19 vaccine was more than 91% effective at protecting against the coronavirus and more than 95% effective against severe diseases up to 6 months after the 2nd dose. Moderna’s vaccine, which uses technology similar to Pfizer’s, was also shown to be highly effective at 6 months.

Just yesterday, the Biden administration’s Covid response chief science officer, David Kessler, noted that new Covid variants could “challenge” the effectiveness of the shots.

“We don’t know everything at this moment. We are studying the durability of the antibody response. It seems strong but there is some waning of that and no doubt the variants challenge … they make these vaccines work harder. So I think for planning purposes, planning purposes only, I think we should expect that we may have to boost.”

Late last month, the National Institute of Health started testing a new Covid vaccine from Moderna in addition to the one it already has, designed to protect against a problematic variant first found in South Africa. The variant is similar to that of the UK one that has recently made landfall in Thailand.

Recent findings, by The Lancet, however, have stated that the UK variant, known as B117, has a higher reproductive rate than other strains, and it’s more transmissible. However, it refuted earlier reports that the strain is more severe. Meanwhile, Thailand’s health minister is confirming his commitment to making AstraZeneca the nation’s chosen vaccine.

SOURCE: CNBC

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Economy

China grows 18.3%, the only major economy to grow in 2020

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China grows 18.3%, the only major economy to grow in 2020 | Thaiger
PHOTO: China - the second largest economy, and only major economy to grow last year.

China’s economy set a record for growth in Q1, 2021, marking an 18.3% jump in year-on-year figures, the biggest quarterly growth in almost 30 years. China only started publishing growth statistics in 1992, and this drastic increase is the fastest growth recorded since then.

The figures, however impressive, are mainly due to what is called a “low base effect” where the change from a low starting point translates into big percentage statistics. Because of the devastating economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Q1 2020 figures were dismal, allowing the big gain over the last year.

Quarter to quarter, the last 3 months saw only a 0.6% growth, but in the last quarter of 2020 China recorded an economic boom of 6.5% according to the Chinese government. Still, the figures are admirable, as China was the only major economy in the world to achieve growth in 2020. Most of the planet struggled to contain global Covid-19 outbreaks, crippling economies across the globe. But China, now the second-largest economy in the world, managed a 2.3% overall expansion. Even Chinese officials called the impressive statistics “better than we had expected.”

China has been growing in terms of imports and exports as well, with exports expanding nearly 31% and imports up 38% by price over last years.

SOURCE: CNN

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Denmark becomes first country in Europe to ditch AstraZeneca vaccine

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Denmark becomes first country in Europe to ditch AstraZeneca vaccine | Thaiger
PHOTO: Flickr

Denmark has announced that it is abandoning the AstraZeneca vaccine, the first European country to do so, amid concerns about very rare but serious blood clots. The rollout of the vaccine has run into problems in several countries, with its use either temporarily suspended or restricted to older age groups.

When concerns first arose over the vaccine’s rare side-effects, Denmark was the first country in Europe to suspend its use. In Thailand, use of the vaccine was suspended last month, before officials judged it safe to proceed, with Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul going on to confirm it would become the Kingdom’s primary Covid-19 vaccine.

Both the European drugs regulator and the World Health Organisation are standing by the jab, saying the benefits outweigh the risks. However, health officials in Denmark have now decided to ditch it for good.

“Denmark’s vaccination campaign will go ahead without the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

Denmark has reported 2 cases of thrombosis (blood clotting) linked to administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine, one of which proved fatal. The blood clot incidents arose after 140,000 people had received the jab. The Bangkok Post reports that 8% of Denmark’s 5.8 million inhabitants have been fully vaccinated and 17% have received their first dose.

The country plans to continue its rollout using the Modern and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. Officials say they are confident that the availability of other jabs, coupled with the fact that Covid-19 is relatively under control in Denmark, means the country’s mass inoculation can continue without issue.

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca has released a statement acknowledging the decision taken by Danish health authorities.

“We recognise and respect the decision taken by the Danish Health Authority. Implementation and rollout of the vaccine programme is a matter for each country to decide, based on local conditions. We will continue to collaborate with the regulators and local authorities to provide all available data to inform their decisions.”

SOURCE: Euro News | Bangkok Post

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