It’s stormy out there
Eunice & Putin ratchet it up Edition 52
I’ve just wrapped up at the Munich Security Conference (MSC) and am one of the many, who have found themselves stranded by the strong winds and destruction of Storm Eunice. With my British Airways return to London cancelled and scrambling to find a way home - I am keeping this week’s Chief Brief to just a handful of stories!
I’ll will update you all with a mid week letter to touch on the all-white maleness that dominated the MSC, the constant drumbeat of Putin’s tank diplomacy (yes one of the sessions I moderated was actually named that), and the women redefining our security in 2022!
In the meantime, I am going to join the many, many people trying to get home post the UK’s worst storm in decades! Wish me luck at the Munich airport!
Caught my eye
The Ukraine contingent at the MSC had their phones buzzing every few seconds. On Saturday afternoon Galyna Mykhailiuk, a member of the Ukrainian parliament (Verkhovna Rada) and Deputy Head of its Committee on Law Enforcement pointed out to me the forgotten story of Ukraine. That Putin’s aggression was timed with the worst wave of Covid yet in the country. That not only meant pressure on their health system but also meant MPs being unable to vote on emergency measures at times. But what was heartening she said was even opposition parties had come together in unity so thankfully, every emergency measure was passing the floor.
A little later, as we were taking a bit of a break — she approached me with more worrying news from Kyiv. She’d been send two urgent messages 1) That in the event of a power cut (which could signal an attack), all MPs were being instructed to go to the Ukrainian Parliament - the warning came because Ukrainian officials, including the interior minister, and journalists had to take cover from shelling while in the eastern part of the country. 2) A whole lot of them couldn’t follow that guidance because they could even be in Kyiv! All flights back had been cancelled just moments before she spoke to me. This was supposed to have been a only a quick 2 days of security talks so returning home was a pressing concern for a many of the parliamentarians (quite a few of whom are women). Yes, they had to be with their constituents during an emergency. But more importantly, they needed to return to the young children they had left behind in what could now blow up into a war zone any minute.
The backdrop of Galyna’s news about seeking shelter and flight cancellations to Ukraine? In addition to Parliamentarians getting shelled, Russia's strategic nuclear forces had held exercises overseen by Putin himself on Saturday, while Washington accused Russian troops massed near Ukraine's border of advancing and being "poised to strike".
Rio Tinto’s CEO was new in the job, taking on the role in 2021. He immediately commissioned a report to find out just how bad it was for women at the company. Awful, was a good way to describe the independent report’s finding. He made it public, with a promise to change the culture. The board’s now announced perhaps he isn’t right for the job, since he was a senior manager at the company before becoming CEO. Scapegoating a brave leader who was open and transparent about the issues facing women and minorities in his organisation is just going to make others fear outing the problems they face, and drive work place harrassment and issues behind an opaque screen.
Hindu fundamentalists and the Indian government are hard to tell apart nowadays. First it was waging a “love jihad” on the women marrying muslim men. Then came the horrific story of muslim women being auctioned off on an Indian website. Now, India’s politicians seem to be targeting the group again. In a bid to win votes, headscarves (hijabs) were banned in schools and colleges in India’s southern state of Karnataka. The hijab ban has resulted in students denouncing it as targeted harassment of muslim women. This week U.S. Ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom said the ban violates religious freedom. India’s foreign ministry hit back accusing the U.S. of “motivated comments” on its internal issues. The case is now under judicial review.
It’s been a bit of a damp squib week for the movies. Gal Gadot starrer ‘Death on the Nile’ topped a quiet box office last weekend and is just about chugging along this week. The Agatha Christie movie adaptation has been plagued with issues - from actor Armie Hammer put under investigation for for sexual assault, actors Letitia Wright and Russell Brand embroiled in anti-vaxxing controversies and star Gal in Israel-Palestinian ones (she’s Israeli). The movie’s been banned in Lebanon and Kuwait over Gal’s alleged IDF involvement. If you get to watch it, let me know whether it is worth all the noise!