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While India profits from Russian oil, Emmanuel Macron’s coalition level with new leftwing group

13-6-2022 |

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

The Guardian: Emmanuel Macron’s coalition level with new leftwing group in French elections

Emmanuel Macron’s centrist grouping Ensemble was neck and neck with a new leftwing alliance Nupes led by the hard-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the vote share of the first round of parliamentary elections.

A frantic final week of campaigning will begin on Monday before the second round, as Macron’s centrists still hope to edge ahead but face uncertainty over whether they can win a crucial majority of seats in parliament.

Macron’s centrist alliance, Ensemble (Together), took 25.75% of the vote, according to results published by the interior ministry on Monday morning. A historic alliance of parties on the left, led by Mélenchon’s France Unbowed party and including the Socialists and the Greens, took 25.66% – presenting a challenge to Macron.

Turnout on Sunday was estimated to have hit a record low of about 47%, according to polling firm projections, after candidates described the mood among voters as angry and disillusioned at the political class.

Shortly after the first projections emerged, Mélenchon urged voters to turn out in a week’s time to “reject definitively the disastrous policies of Mr Macron’s majority”, and claimed the “presidential party is beaten and defeated”.

New prime minister Élisabeth Borne said: “We have a week ahead of us to mobilise … One week to convince, one week to obtain a powerful and clear majority.” Ensemble was “the only political grouping capable of getting a majority”, she said.

Photo: Reuters

Macron, who was re-elected president in April against the far-right’s Marine Le Pen, needs a majority for his centrist grouping in the national assembly in order to have a free hand for his proposals to cut taxes and make changes to the welfare system.

The parliamentary results will set the balance of power for Macron’s second term, defining his capacity to deliver domestic policies such as raising the retirement age and overhauling the benefits system.

Mélenchon’s alliance – known as the Nupes, or the New Popular Ecological and Social Union – is seeking to increase its seats and reduce the number of Macron’s centrists. The coalition’s platform includes a significant minimum wage increase, lowering the retirement age to 60 and a freeze in basic food and energy prices to address the cost of living crisis.

France’s constituency-based, first-past-the-post voting system for parliament means that the exact number of seats for each grouping remains hard to predict. The shape of the new parliament will become clear only after the second round on 19 June.

Based on early estimations, Ispos predicted Macron’s centrist alliance would win the greatest share of the 577-seat parliament – taking between 255 and 295 seats.

This suggested there was a chance they could fall short of an absolute majority, which requires 289 seats.

If Macron’s party and his allies fail to secure a majority, it would be a setback for the president and could prompt messy bill-by-bill deals with rightwing parties in parliament or an unwanted cabinet reshuffle.

AP: India, China growing markets for shunned Russian oil

India and other Asian nations are becoming an increasingly vital source of oil revenues for Moscow despite strong pressure from the U.S. not to increase their purchases, as the European Union and other allies cut off energy imports from Russia in line with sanctions over its war on Ukraine.

India, an oil-hungry country of 1.4 billion people, has guzzled nearly 60 million barrels of Russian oil in 2022 so far, compared with 12 million barrels in all of 2021, according to commodity data firm Kpler.

Shipments to other Asian countries, like China, have also increased in recent months but to a lesser extent.

In 2021, China was the largest single buyer of Russian oil, taking 1.6 million barrels per day on average, equally divided between pipeline and seaborne routes, according to the International Energy Agency.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Sri Lanka’s prime minister said he may be compelled to buy more oil from Russia as he hunts desperately for fuel to keep the country running amid a dire economic crisis.

Since Russia’s invasion in late February, global oil prices have soared, giving refiners in India and other countries an added incentive to tap oil Moscow is offering them at steep discounts of $30 to $35, compared with Brent crude and other international oil now trading at about $120 per barrel.

“It seems a distinct trend is becoming ingrained now,” said Matt Smith, lead analyst at Kpler tracking Russian oil flows. As shipments of Urals oil to much of Europe are cut, crude is instead flowing to Asia, where India has become the top buyer, followed by China. Ship tracking reports show Turkey is another key destination.

“People are realizing that India is such a refining hub, taking it at such a cheap price, refining it and sending it out as clean products because they can make such strong margins on that,” Smith said.

India’s foreign minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, has emphasized his country’s intention to do what is in its best interests, bristling at criticism over its imports of Russian oil.

“If India funding Russian oil is funding the war … tell me, then buying Russian gas is not funding the war? Let’s be a little even-handed,” he said at a recent forum in Slovakia, referring to Europe’s imports of Russian gas. 

India’s imports of crude from Russia rose from 100,000 barrels per day in February to 370,000 a day in April to 870,000 a day in May.

India’s exports of oil products like diesel have risen to 685,000 barrels per day from 580,000 barrels per day before the invasion of Ukraine.

Much of its diesel exports are sold in Asia, but about 20% was shipped via the Suez Canal, headed for the Mediterranean or Atlantic, essentially Europe or the US, said Lauri Myllyvirta, a lead analyst at CREA.

It’s impossible to quantify the exact amount of Russian crude in refined products being shipped out of India, he said. Still, “India is providing an outlet for Russian crude oil to get through the market,” he said.

China’s imports also have risen further this year, helping Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government record a current account surplus, the broadest measure of trade, of $96 billion for the four months ending in April.

It’s unclear if such exports might eventually be subject to sanctions meant to cut the cash flowing to Russia.

Reuters: Russian artillery destroying Sievierodonetsk, hundreds of civilians shelter in chemical plant

Russian troops swarmed into Sievierodonetsk, as their artillery pounded parts of the city where Ukrainian defenders mounted a desperate rearguard action in the fiercest fighting of a wider battle for control over Ukraine's eastern Donbas region.

Hundreds of civilians in Sievierodonetsk were sheltering in the city's Azot chemical plant, creating a scenario similar to the fall of the southern port city of Mariupol, where hundreds of people were trapped for weeks in the Azovstal steelworks.

"Russians continue to storm the city, having a significant advantage in artillery they have somewhat pushed back the Ukrainian soldiers," said Serhiy Gaidai, governor of the Luhansk region.

"The Russians are destroying quarter after quarter," Gaidai said on Monday.

Russian forces have taken most of Sievierodonetsk, having pulverized parts of the city in one of the bloodiest assaults since they invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address on Sunday that Russia was trying to pour military reserves into the Donbas.

"The key tactical goal of the occupiers has not changed: they are pressing in Sievierodonetsk, severe fighting is ongoing there - literally for every metre," Zelenskiy said.

Zelenskiy said attacks that resulted in child casualties had created a lasting image of Russia for the rest of the world.

"These very facts will underscore the way in which Russia is seen by the world," he said.

"Not Peter the Great, not Lev Tolstoy, but children injured and killed in Russian attacks," he said, in an apparent reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin's remarks last week comparing Moscow's military campaign to Russian emperor Peter the Great's 18th century conquest of lands held by Sweden.

Putin launched what he called a "special operation" to restore Russian security and "denazify" its southern neighbour. Ukraine and its Western allies call this a baseless pretext for a war which has raised fears of wider conflict in Europe.

In the biggest assault on a European country since World War Two, more than five million people have fled Ukraine, thousands have died and cities left in rubble.

The war has sparked a global energy and food crisis by disrupting gas, oil and grain supplies from Russia and Ukraine.

After failing to take the capital Kyiv, Moscow turned its attention to expanding control in the Donbas, where pro-Russian separatists have held territory since 2014.

In Sievierodonetsk, the last pocket of Ukrainian land held in the strategic Luhansk region, Ukrainian troops were fighting street by street to hold onto the city, with both Ukrainian and Russian forces suffering heavy losses, Roman Vlasenko, head of Sievierodonetsk district administration, told local TV.

Russian shelling had hit the Azot chemical plant area three times, said Luhansk governor Gaidai.

"About 500 civilians remain on the grounds of the Azot plant in Sievierodonetsk, 40 of them are children. Sometimes the military manages to evacuate someone," he said.

The destruction of a bridge over the Siverskyi Donets River linking Sievierodonetsk to Lysychansk has left just one of three bridges still standing, he said.

"If after new shelling the bridge collapses, the city will truly be cut off. There will be no way of leaving Sievierodonetsk in a vehicle," Gaidai said, noting the lack of a cease-fire agreement or agreement on evacuation corridors.

In Pokrovsk, southwest of Sievierodonetsk, women, children and elderly, some in wheelchairs, boarded the only train evacuating people on Saturday, at the start of a long journey from the conflict zone to safety in Lviv near the border with Poland.

"We held on until the last moment, we didn't want to leave, but life has forced us to survive," Lyuba, a woman from Lysychansk, told Reuters Television as she waited for the train to depart. "We are leaving, we don't know where, to whom, but we are leaving.”

Politico: Senators strike bipartisan gun safety agreement

A group of 20 senators struck a bipartisan gun safety framework on Sunday, marking a significant breakthrough in Congress’ attempts to address recent back-to-back mass shootings.

In a Sunday morning statement, 10 senators in each party announced support for the deal. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer blessed it, vowing to “put this bill on the floor as soon as possible,” and President Joe Biden said it “would be the most significant gun safety legislation to pass Congress in decades.” The president urged both chambers of Congress to finish the package quickly.

Photo: Evan Vucci / AP

The emerging package is anchored around extra scrutiny for gun buyers under the age of 21, grants to states to implement so-called red flag laws and new spending on mental health treatment and school security. While translating the agreement into legislation will take time, the large group of supportive senators shows that the package could gain 60 votes on the Senate floor before heading to the House.

“Our plan saves lives while also protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans. We look forward to earning broad, bipartisan support and passing our commonsense proposal into law,” the 20 senators said in their statement.

“Families are scared, and it is our duty to come together and get something done that will help restore their sense of safety and security in their communities,” the 20 senators said.

In addition to provisions on red flag laws, which allow law enforcement to seek temporary removal of firearms from an individual who is a threat to himself or others, the package also would close what’s known as the “boyfriend loophole” by broadening firearms restrictions on those who have abused their romantic partners.

The package also aims to crack down on straw purchasers and illegal unlicensed firearms dealers, according to a summary of the agreement.

“Each day that passes, more children are killed in this country: the sooner it comes to my desk, the sooner I can sign it, and the sooner we can use these measures to save lives,” Biden said Sunday.

While the nascent framework is modest compared to Democrats’ long-running push for expanded background checks, it could result in a high-water mark for GOP support for any level of gun restrictions. And at the moment, it’s the closest the chamber’s been to a broader gun safety deal since 2013, when Manchin and Toomey wrote bipartisan legislation in response to the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“After an unrelenting wave of gun-related suicides and homicides, including mass shootings, the Senate is poised to act on commonsense reforms to protect Americans where they live, where they shop, and where they learn. We must move swiftly to advance this legislation because if a single life can be saved it is worth the effort,” Schumer said in his statement on Sunday.

Picked and squeezed for you: Irina Iakovleva