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Editorials

March 14, 2014

US options limited on Putin’s land grab in Crimea


Barring an unlikely change of heart, Russia has effectively annexed the Crimea from Ukraine. The use of troops without identifying patches and insignia was a cynical and clumsy ruse that fooled no one.


Indeed, for pure cynicism it’s hard to beat that while Russian President Vladimir Putin and other smiling top Kremlin officials were welcoming visitors to the winter games in Sochi, an Olympic event intended to promote international harmony, planning for the incursion was likely well under way.


The United States has a limited number of options to convince the Kremlin it made a mistake, one that can still be reversed. However, the United States is not without means of recourse.


The G8, the world’s eight largest industrial democracies, should not only move its upcoming summit from Sochi but consider excluding Russia altogether. It barely qualifies in any case; the World Bank ranks it as the world’s ninth largest economy and very soon it will be overtaken by India.


The United States and other Western nations should begin closing off Russia from the world banking system and denying visas to Russian officials who were actively complicit in the Crimean incursion.


The United States should suspend talks on pending trade agreements with Moscow. It’s not inconceivable that Russia will overplay its hand and cause Ukraine to split into a pro-European West and a pro-Moscow East. If that happens, we should stand ready with trade and aid and eventual membership in the European Union for the Western Ukraine.


A resolution denouncing the Russian action should be brought before the U.N. Security Council. The Russians will veto it, of course, but not before embarrassing themselves by having to defend Russia’s violation of international treaties.


The Obama administration should shed its customary caution and greatly increase its efforts to oust Russian ally Bashar Assad as president of Syria.


While no one thinks Russia’s land grab will result in a shooting war, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel should postpone his plans to downsize the American military. Just in case, mind you.


Finally, President Barack Obama should curb his insistence on publicly explaining and rationalizing his foreign policy initiatives. The actions should speak for themselves.


— The Commercial Appeal


World Cup preparations


The Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar, flush with oil riches and seeking to push its way to the front of the international stage, is in the midst of an enormous, decade-long building boom to construct facilities and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup soccer tournament, the largest and most-viewed sporting event in the world.


Unfortunately, Qatar is preparing for that moment of international cooperation and sport by grievously exploiting its foreign workers, subjecting them to dangerous conditions that should be drawing forceful condemnations from the world community.


A recent report by the government of India, which supplies a large share of Qatar’s workers, suggests that more than 500 of its citizens have died there since 2012, primarily, according to the Guardian, in either on-site accidents or from working in inhumane conditions.


Nepal, another big supplier of Qatar’s labor force, recorded the deaths of 383 Nepali workers in that country in 2012-13. International observers and human rights groups have described working conditions for foreign laborers in Qatar as intolerable and inhumane, citing dangerous work sites, confiscations of passports by employers, withheld wages, oppressively overcrowded worker dormitories and limited access to food and water despite 12-hour work shifts often in triple-digit temperatures.


Although conditions are difficult for foreign workers in many Gulf countries, Amnesty International notes that Qatar is different because of its unusual exit permit system — under which foreign nationals can’t leave the country without permission from their employers — its ban on unions and the sheer size of its foreign labor force.


In November, at the end of an eight-day trip to Qatar, United Nations special rapporteur Francois Crepeau urged the government to adopt basic labor protections involving worker safety and minimum wages, and calling for reform of the nation’s sponsorship system for foreign workers, in which the importing employer holds all the power.


Crepeau’s full report is due in June. The International Labor Organization also says Qatar’s policies fall far short of that group’s standards, which include workers’ right to organize, a set minimum wage and the freedom of workers to leave a job.


So why should the world care?


Beyond the basic human rights issue, Qatar is hosting so many foreign workers in part to turn itself into an international tourist destination, and to prepare for the 2022 World Cup …


Qatar needs to do more, and FIFA and the nations involved in the World Cup should press the emirate to safeguard the lives and livelihoods of its immigrant workers.


— The Gleaner