Developments in Russia and Ukraine
The Russia-Ukraine has witnessed some key developments in recent times.
On the military front, the Ukrainian counteroffensive, which started off at a tepid note, has picked up pace. The supply of cluster munition bombs by the US as well the rise in frequency of Ukrainian drone attacks inside Russian cities reflect the tilting balance in Ukraine’s favour.
Beyond the Russia-Ukraine theatre, signs of tense conflict are also visible between Poland and Belarus. With Russian private military group, the Wagner Group, stationing its base in Belarus, their threatened incursions near Poland have begun. Although, Poland, being a NATO member, will not be directly attacked by Russia, yet, indirect proxy war or conflicts through the private militia, Wagner Group, could be a likely possibility.
Diplomatically, the peace conference on Ukraine in Jeddah represented the engagement of countries of global South with the implications of the war. It saw the participation of more than 40 countries, including India, China, US, UK, France and others. While Ukraine was part of the conference, Russia was not invited. The conference discussed prospective peace plans for ending the war. However, no particular agreement could be reached. Ukraine was consistent in the peace plan it had originally come up with. This involved, among other things, complete Russian withdrawal from all Ukrainian territories, compensation to be paid to Ukraine, as well as initiating war crimes prosecution against Russia. This has not worked out due to Russia’s refusal. China’s peace plan, while calling for respecting sovereignty and integrity of all nation-states yet supported Russian position on negative implications of NATO expansion.
Besides the Jeddah peace talks, another significant conference that took place was the NATO annual summit. This year the summit took place at Vilnius, Lithuania. The summit fell collectively short of articulating how Ukraine will defeat Russia in this war. As the summit convened, the Ukrainian counteroffensive was faltering due to a lack of air support and long-range precision fires. Rather than arming Ukraine adequately for its counteroffensive to succeed, however, the alliance merely invoked its “steadfast … commitment to further step up political and practical support to Ukraine … for as long as it takes.” However, the summit saw some breakthrough in terms of relaxing conditions for facilitating Ukraine’s membership of NATO. The demand of a Membership Action Plan that was required earlier was dropped and the alliance committed that it will in the future facilitate Ukraine’s membership. Furthermore, this summit has upgraded the old, ineffective Ukraine-NATO Commission to the NATO-Ukraine Council where the alliance members and Ukraine would sit as equal members.
These indications from the NATO summit have produced some anxiety in Russia, as this summit was definitively better in terms of affirming Ukraine’s path to future membership of NATO, as compared to previous NATO summits. Russia’s discomfort is further visible in the withdrawal from the grain deal that was brokered by Turkey last year, under which Ukrainian grain exports were insured from the war. That is no longer the case, as Russian bombing of Odesa shows. As reflected in the statements of African leaders to Putin, this was a diplomatic failure for Russia.
Developments in Science and Technology
Increasing use of Artificial Intelligence in general applications continues to pick pace steadily, so much so that now the conversation has shifted from AI to Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), which threatens to take over human jobs and other activities. What distinguishes AGI from AI is that the former is not simply intelligent but is also performative, that is, it can perform the tasks that humans do just like humans, if not better. This has greatly widened the scope of AI, not only for general purpose tasks, but also devious crimes and cyber-attacks. Often these involve the use of tools like deepfake (creating fake video and audio of a person to fool others and scam them or worse) and even create malware or computer viruses. Earlier it used to take time to create such viruses. But now AI can do it in minutes and create a much worse virus that can evade existing security measures. Recently, members of the US Congress, in a hearing before a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also warned that criminals can use AI to develop biological weapons as well.
In recent weeks, British Airways and BBC fell victims to such cyberattacks, with the attackers exploiting vulnerabilities in third party file transfers, gaining access to personal data and subsequently resorting to blackmail and demands to negotiate with victims. The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has predicted a significant increase in cyber services over the next five years as more state and non-state actors obtain capabilities and intelligence not previously available to them. Even the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the US had to issue public advisories in the face of rise of cyber-crime.
The application of AGI has also witnessed other repercussions. The recent strikes by Hollywood organizations against big media streaming platforms are a case in point, as Hollywood turns increasingly towards the greater use of AI in entertainment industry.
In politics too, AGI is seeping in, although in a much less publicized manner and in a limited form yet. An interesting example is a tool called Polis which is used by politicians in US and UK to frame consensual policies in an interactive manner (through direct people participation) and gain public support. This tool has been compared with potential to bring in elements of direct democracy through AI citizen assemblies, repair the relationship between state and citizen and facilitate conversation between elected politicians and their constituents for policy implementation. Few politicians who have used it have described themselves as AI-powered politicians. Polis is an open source, real-time system for gathering, analyzing and understanding what large groups of people think, enabled by advanced statistics and machine learning. It is maintained and designed by a platform called the Computational Democracy Project.
Important Parliamentary Legislations
The Monsoon session of the Parliament was held between July 20, 2023 and August 11, 2023. While it was disrupted by the Opposition hold-up over the Manipur crisis and also saw the tabling of a No Confidence motion against the government, the session saw the passage of several key bills. Some of the bills passed and those which will be passed are:
|Bills passed||Key features|
|The Integrated Goods and Services Tax (Amendment) Bill, 2023||It amends the Integrated Goods and Services Tax (IGST) Act, 2017. The 2017 Act provides for the levy and collection of IGST on the inter-state supply of goods and services. Following changes were made:
|The Central Goods and Services Tax (Amendment) Bill, 2023||The Bill provides that suppliers of specified actionable claims will be liable to pay CGST. The Bill defines specified actionable claims as actionable claims involved in: (i) betting, (ii) casinos, (iii) horse racing, (iv) lottery, (v) gambling, or (vi) online money gaming.|
|Anusandhan National Research Foundation Bill, 2023||It repeals the Science and Engineering Research Board Act, 2008 and dissolves the Science and Engineering Research Board set up under it. The Bill provides for establishing the Anusandhan National Research Foundation (NRF). NRF will be the apex body in the country to provide direction for research, innovation, and entrepreneurship in the fields of: (i) natural sciences including mathematics, (ii) engineering and technology, (iii) environmental and earth sciences, (iv) health and agriculture, and (v) scientific and technological interfaces of humanities and social sciences.|
|The Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2023||The Bill will apply to the processing of digital personal data. Its key features are:
|The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2023||
|Offshore Areas Mineral (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2023||The Bill amends the Offshore Areas Mineral (Development and Regulation) Act, 2002. The Act regulates mining in maritime zones of India. The Act categorises offshore mining-related activities into: (i) reconnaissance, which involves a preliminary survey to locate mineral resources, (ii) exploration, which includes exploring, proving, or locating mineral deposits, and (iii) production, the commercial activity of the extraction of minerals. The bill provides various concessions in exploration activities.|
|The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023||
|The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill||It allows the private sector to mine six out of 12 atomic minerals, such as lithium, beryllium, niobium, titanium, tantalum and zirconium. Currently, only government entities are allowed to mine atomic minerals. Also, the Act will now allow private sector entities to explore deep-seated and critical minerals, such as gold, silver, copper, zinc, lead, and nickel. The bill empowers the central government to exclusively auction mining leases and composite licences for critical minerals. The Bill further seeks to establish a National Mineral Exploration Trust (NMET) to fund mineral exploration activities in India.|
|The Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill||It brought changes to the Cinematograph Act,1952, which is the primary law governing the film industry in India. It aims to combat film piracy and revamp film certification.|
|Pharmacy (Amendment) Bill||It made changes to the provisions of the Pharmacy Act, of 1948, that regulate the practice and profession of pharmacy. The bill recognises pharmacists qualified under the J&K Pharmacy Act, 2011.|
|Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order (Amendment) Bill||This bill amends the Constitution (Scheduled Caste) Order, 1950, to modify the list of Scheduled Castes in Chhattisgarh. The new Act includes Mahara and Mahra communities as synonyms of the Mehra, Mahar, and Mehar communities in Chhattisgarh.|
|Registration of Births and Deaths (Amendment) Bill||It amends the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969, seeks to create a National and State level database of registered births and deaths. This database can be used for other services such as maintenance of population register, electoral rolls, ration cards, property registration etc.|
|Inter-services Organisations (Command, Control and Discipline) Bill||It seeks to empower the Commander-in-Chief or Officer-in-Command of Inter-services Organisations (ISO) with all disciplinary or administrative control over all personnel under them even if they are from other services. Though all Army, Navy and IAF personnel will continue to be governed by their respective Service Acts, the heads of Inter-Services Organisations will now have powers over the armed force staff irrespective of the service they belong to.|
|National Dental Commission Bill||It repealed the Dentists Act, 1948. It proposes to establish the National Dental Commission (NDC) as the apex regulatory body for dental education and the profession in India. The NDC will have the power to grant approval to dental colleges, to prescribe the curriculum for dental education, and conduct examinations for dental students.|
|National Nursing and Midwifery Commission Bill||It proposes the formation of the National Nursing and Midwifery Commission (NNMC) as the apex regulatory body for nursing and midwifery education and practice in India. The bill that repealed the Indian Nursing Council Act, 1947, also created three autonomous boards under the NNMC.|
|Mediation Bill||It requires settling civil or commercial disputes through mediation first, especially institutional mediation, before approaching any court or tribunal. The bill proposes setting up of the Mediation Council of India (MCI) as a statutory body.|
|Indian Institutes of Management (Amendment) Bill||It entrusts the management accountability of the Indian Institute of Management (IIMs) to the President of India. The bill grants the President the role of Visitor, bestowing upon the office powers to audit their functioning, order investigations, and appoint or remove directors.|
|Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill||It amends the existing Biological Diversity Act, 2002 aims to facilitate the fast-tracking of research, and patent application process, and decriminalise all the offences under the Act. The new Act proposes a benefit-sharing mechanism where the local communities and traditional knowledge holders receive a fair share of the benefits of biodiversity commerce. It exempts registered practitioners of AYUSH, local people and communities of the area, including growers and cultivators of biodiversity, from giving prior intimation to state biodiversity boards for accessing biological resources for commercial utilisation.|
Violence in France
Violence in France escalated to unprecedented levels in the wake of shooting of a 17-year old Algerian Muslim migrant. The migrant, Nahel M, had a criminal background and was wanted by the police. What started as peaceful demonstrations soon turned into mob violence and rioting as protests spread across various major French cities, including Paris, Marseilles etc. The violence was mainly led by youth, including minors, from Black and Arab communities. Libraries, buildings and iconic French heritage were set afire. Even the Mayors residence in Paris was not spared. Over a span of five days, nearly 3000 arrests were witnessed.
The violence was not just limited to France itself but also spread to the country’s overseas territories, such as French Guiana. It has also polarized the country. Crowdfunding petitions show that the amount of money and support that came in for the policeman who had shot Nahel topped one million dollars, far exceeding the support that had come for Nahel, which amounted to around 189,000 euros. The incident brought to fore not only the racial tensions within France, but also religious tensions, as many of the Black community migrants belong to Islam. In addition, socialist and Left-leaning activist groups have also actively participated in rioting. Islamic radicalism has been on a rise in France recently, with major incidents such as Charlie Hebdo attack in 2015, the Nice attack in 2016, and the Paris attacks in 2015.
The existing French system of neutral secularism which does not recognize identities like religion, race and ethnicity have made things worse in this era of identity-based Black Islamic religious radicalism. France, therefore, collects no census or other data on the race (or ethnicity) of its citizens. The non-recognition of race and ethnicity make it difficult to assess racism and take preventive steps. It is important to maintain data of different identities not only so that targeted measures could be taken, but also so that profiling of citizens can be done in the interest of national security.