Global Pulse: Trump-Putin’s secret meeting, a new Ukranian state and the Chinese art of positive trolling

Vladmir Putin and Donald Trump at the G-20 meet. Source: Kremlin press office

TRUMP AND PUTIN HAD SECOND UNDISCLOSED MEETING

After a widely-scrutinized meeting on the sidelines of the Group of 20 meeting nearly two weeks ago, U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin conducted a second, previously undisclosed, roughly hour-long tête-à-tête over dinner. The White House confirmed the meeting’s existence Tuesday, which news reports indicate was overheard by only a Putin-supplied interpreter.

Other world leaders at the dinner table were reportedly surprised at the American president’s cozying up to the Russian president in the informal dinnertime setting, but the meeting fits into long-standing Trump administration efforts to court better relations with the Russian government. While the FBI, multiple Congressional committees and a Special Counsel appointed by the U.S. Department of Justice all investigate potential collusion between the Russian government and Trump’s presidential campaign, the president has repeatedly denied calls for punitive actions against Putin’s government to retaliate for its interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

SEPARATISTS DECLARE NEW STATE IN EASTERN UKRAINE

In a surprising break from their Russian backers, separatists in Eastern Ukraine declared a new state Tuesday named Malorossiya, or “Little Russia.” Though experts say the state has little chance of receiving international recognition without substantial political shifts, rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko released a constitution for the new country. Eastern city of Donetsk is the capital, and the state regards the traditional Ukrainian capital of Kiev as only a “historical and cultural centre.”

“We believe that the Ukrainian state as it was cannot be restored,” said Zakharchenko, according to a statement published in the Tass news agency. More than 10,000 people have died in Ukraine since April 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula and Russian-backed rebels began organising in the country’s east.

The announcement creates a potential challenge to a 2015 cease-fire which was intended to halt violence in the country’s east by offering the region some political autonomy. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko denounced the move, declaring his intention to restore sovereignty over not only rebel-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine, but also Crimea.

U.S. IMPOSES NEW IRAN SANCTIONS, DESPITE CERTIFYING NUCLEAR DEAL

The Trump administration announced new sanctions against Iran Tuesday, despite having certified the day before that the Iranian regime is in compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal between it and multiple powers.

The new sanctions, which target Iran for its support of terrorist groups, missile buildup and human rights abuses, include Treasury department restrictions on 16 entities or individuals allegedly involved in arms procurement, as well as State Department measures against two Iranian Revolutionary Guard companies for their involvement in missile development. Though the Trump administration has said these new sanctions do not relate to the 2015 international agreement curbing Iran’s nuclear program, Trump has been an outspoken critic of the Obama-signed deal. Even as his administration certified that Iran had complied with the letter of the agreement Monday, he announced that Iran had violated the “spirit” of the agreement, a statement that baffled international observers.

TURKEY’S NEW ANTI-DARWIN CURRICULUM

The Turkish government launched a new school curriculum Tuesday that conspicuously avoided Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. The chairman of a teachers’ union said the move reflects Islamist Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s assault on the nation’s secular foundations and continued government attempts to keep the next generation from “ask[ing] questions.”

Erdogan’s Education Minister Ismet Yilmaz responded by saying that the basic tenets of evolutionary theory would still be mentioned in science classes, though the theory’s full scope would not be outlined until university courses. He defended the decision at a news conference by saying Darwin’s theory “is above the students’ level and not directly related” to other science being taught. An opposition lawmaker countered that the move was simply “close minded and ignorant.”

The move fits into Erdogan’s longstanding efforts to raise what he has called a “pious generation,” more religious than its forbearers. The new curriculum also called on Turkish religious schools to teach the Islamic notion of Jihad, which Yilmaz said should not be defined as violent, but rather as “loving your nation.”

CHINA’S POSITIVE TROLLING

While nations across the world worry about the rise of fake news and coarse online discourse, a new study suggests that the Chinese government has effectively propagandized inane, positive “strategic distraction[s]” as a means of curbing dissent on the internet. According to columnist David Ignatius, the Chinese government mobilizes approximately a million internet commentators to combat online dissent with “bland party pabulum” rather than negativity—a tactic reminiscent of sixth-century Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu’s dictum that “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

The recently published study analyzed more than 40,000 posts from online pro-government commentators and found that four out of five were mindless “cheerleading” of government policies, while 14 percent contained non-argumentative suggestions. Almost none contained any negativity or attacks. Ignatius said this strategy helps China maintain a massive social media space, while still preventing anti-regime dissent from spreading.

“Quiet persuasion may be more effective than shouting,” he wrote. “The gradual accretion of facts may have more impact than a barrage.”

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