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U.N. Development Program warns of massive shocks from Ukraine conflict

Russia’s war with Ukraine threatens scores of countries and over 1 billion people with a triple shock — soaring fuel prices, surging food costs and financial turmoil — that can spark political upheaval. And no nation is perfectly secure, no matter how rich or distant from the battlefield.

Brace for impact, in other words. That’s the sobering message United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Administrator Achim Steiner delivered in a telephone interview with The Daily 202 on Wednesday about the war’s ramifications well beyond central Europe.

In a profoundly interconnected world, “being wealthy does not guarantee greater security,” said Steiner, who worried that the war’s impact would stack on top of the massive disruptions and human suffering of the pandemic.

How are Americans affected?

  • “Just walk out of your door,” he said. “If you own a car, look at what you pay for petrol [gasoline]. Walk into the supermarket and start looking at what you paid a month ago and what you pay now for your weekly shopping. You suddenly begin to realize you’re part of a global economy.”

“Look at [it from] a geopolitical security perspective: Does America … really feel more secure if in 25 countries across the world, somewhere in the next 3 to 6 months, national economies will default and go, for all intents and purposes, bankrupt,” causing unpredictable damage to the global financial system, he said.

Ukraine and Russia produce a third of global wheat and barley exports, by some calculations.  They also produce over half of the world’s sunflower seed oil, used in cooking and snacks. About 36 countries count on them for more than half of their wheat exports. Russia and Belarus export about one fifth of the world’s fertilizer. Russia is the world’s second-largest exporter of crude oil behind Saudi Arabia.

The war’s disruptions stack on top of effects from the covid pandemic: disrupted supply chains, surging food and energy costs. That means empty shelves and inflation and, as governments strain to help their populations meet both needs, potential political upheaval.

That, in turn, will ultimately threaten “America’s own security and economic well-being,” Steiner said.

UNDP estimates about 1.7 billion people in 107 economies are “severely exposed” to either rising food prices, surging fuel prices, or have governments struggling to make debt payments and stabilize their economies. That includes 41 countries in Africa, 38 in the Asia-Pacific and 28 in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Sixty-nine economies grouping 1.2 billion people are “perfect-storm countries,” exposed to all three disruptions at once, Steiner said. The result is domestic politics defined by “a general climate of insecurity” — and therefore instability.

(Back in mid-March, Bloomberg News’s David Fickling had a really great look at the potential for a profoundly destabilizing wheat crisis in Egypt, and the opportunity that presents for China. Key paragraph: “Egypt is the world’s biggest wheat importer, and close to half of the flour it consumed in 2020 came from Russia and Ukraine. While the government says it has sufficient stockpiles to see it through to the end of the year, it could rapidly become an existential issue if the war drags on and disrupts planting.”)

Ground Zero for UNDP’s response to the vast challenges unleashed by the eight-week-old war is, of course, Ukraine itself, where the agency has helped the beleaguered government provide basic services and address the needs of more than 7 million internally displaced people.

  • “Ukraine is not like Afghanistan, or Yemen, or Libya: You have a functional government,” Steiner said. Millions of people, including those who fled their homes, “are living in areas of the country where the Ukrainian government has to continue to function” and provide basic services like water and power.

(Among its innovations, UNDP has worked with Ukraine’s government to build a digital app that lets internally displaced people see where to get critical government services, and allows the government to keep track of where they are and what they need, he explained.)

UNDP has been working with local authorities and nongovernmental organizations on matters like removing rubble, reconnecting water and electricity, and has taken the lead on getting rid of unexploded ordnance — not just dud rockets but a proliferation of mines, which can kill long after soldiers are gone.

The agency has also been taking steps to fend off “economic implosion” in Ukraine, recognizing that you can’t feed or house the country’s population entirely from the outside. Local businesses and services need to survive — or come back as soon as is feasible.

In mid-March, UNDP warned the war risked wiping out “18 years of socio-economic achievements in Ukraine.” The agency warned Ukraine’s economy could shrink a calamitous 35-45 percent, with up to 90 percent of its population either in poverty or vulnerable to falling into poverty.

To talk about reconstruction right now may seem like science fiction,” Steiner said. “But in some places, people have to reconstruct immediately … that’s what allows people to go back into their homes.”

Biden unveils $800 million in new Ukraine military aid and a ban on Russian-affiliated ships

“Biden pledged $800 million in more weaponry for Ukraine on Thursday and said he would ask Congress for more money to help bolster support for the Ukrainian military as it faces a fresh onslaught by Russia on its eastern flank,” Reuters‘s Steve Holland reports.

  • The details: “Biden pledged to send heavy artillery, dozens of howitzers, and 144,000 rounds of ammunition, as well as tactical drones, as he called on Congress for supplemental funding to provide additional aid for Kyiv.”

But wait, there’s more: Biden also announced $500 million in direct economic assistance to the Ukrainian government and said the U.S. plans to ban Russian-affiliated ships from docking at U.S. ports.

Biden administration rolls out plan for Ukrainian refugees

“The Biden administration announced plans Thursday to expedite the arrival of Ukrainian refugees, creating a new system that will allow ordinary citizens and organizations such as churches to sponsor them and warning that Ukrainians attempting to cross via Mexico will be denied entry starting next week,” Maria Sacchetti reports.

The context: “The announcement comes as more than 5 million people, upward of 10 percent of Ukraine’s population, have fled to Poland, Romania and other neighboring countries, intensifying calls for the Biden administration to admit more into the United States.”

Putin tells troops not to storm Mariupol steel plant but ensure no one escapes

“Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier ordered his forces not to storm the last holdout of Ukrainian fighters at a steel plant in Mariupol, calling the military offensive to control the southern port city a success. But he insisted that no one at the plant would escape without surrendering, and told troops to ‘block the industrial zone so that even a fly couldn’t get through,’” Ellen Francis, Bryan Pietsch, Amy Cheng, Annabelle Timsit, Adela Suliman and Rachel Pannett report.

Follow our live coverage of the war here

Lunchtime reads from The Post

GOP turns to false insinuations of LGBTQ grooming against Democrats

Michigan state Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D) on April 19, decried the unfounded “pedophile” and “groomer” allegations made by fellow state Sen. Lana Theis (R). (Video: Michigan Senate)

“In recent weeks, Republicans have reverted to verbal and legal assaults on the community, sometimes employing baseless tropes that suggest children are being groomed or recruited by defenders of gay rights. The efforts ahead of the midterm elections are intended to rile up the Republican base and fill the campaign coffers of its candidates, without offering evidence that any Democrat had committed a repugnant crime,” Colby Itkowitz reports.

Widow wins case after protesting military trashing husband’s remains

“The Pentagon’s policy on death in action is clear. Defense Department directive no. 1300.22 says the remains of military service members will be handled with ‘dignity, respect, and care of the deceased,’” Joe Davidson writes.

“That’s not what happened after Army Sgt. 1st Class Scott R. Smith was blown apart by a roadside bomb in Iraq on July 17, 2006 — nor is it the way his widow, once an Army civilian employee, was treated when she complained because some of his remains were literally dumped in the trash.”

‘I’ve had it with this guy’: GOP leaders privately blasted Trump after Jan. 6

“In the days after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol building, the two top Republicans in Congress, Representative Kevin McCarthy and Senator Mitch McConnell, told associates they believed President Trump was responsible for inciting the deadly riot and vowed to drive him from politics. Mr. McCarthy went so far as to say he would push Mr. Trump to resign immediately: ‘I’ve had it with this guy,’ he told a group of Republican leaders,” the New York Times‘s Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin report.

But within weeks both men backed off an all-out fight with Mr. Trump because they feared retribution from him and his political movement.”

Biden administration to appeal ruling striking down transit mask mandate

It is CDC’s continuing assessment that at this time an order requiring masking in the indoor transportation corridor remains necessary for the public health,” the CDC said in a statement Wednesday evening, Dan Diamond and Ann E. Marimow report. “CDC believes this is a lawful order, well within CDC’s legal authority to protect public health.”

Biden to stress harm reduction in his plan for the drug epidemic

“The Biden administration is poised to release its first overall plan for attacking drug addiction – a persistent, national epidemic that only worsened throughout the coronavirus pandemic,” Lenny Bernstein reports.

“The plan, which President Biden will announce today, focuses on countering untreated addiction and drug trafficking. A summary of the plan doesn’t mention the still-controversial idea of supervised drug consumption sites.” 

Biden to issue Earth Day order to safeguard old-growth forests

“President Biden will sign an executive order on Friday in Seattle laying the groundwork for protecting for some of the biggest and oldest trees in America’s forests, according to five individuals briefed on the plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it was not yet finalized,” Anna Phillips reports.

This Earth Day, Biden faces ‘headwinds’ on climate agenda

“Administration officials defend Biden’s record on global warming while saying that more work is needed,” the Associated Press‘s Matthew Daly and Chris Megerian report.

“Two things can be true at the same time,” said Ali Zaidi, the president’s deputy national climate adviser. “We can have accomplished a lot, and have a long way to go.”

Biden chooses Arizona prosecutor as interim director of ATF

“President Biden has tapped Gary M. Restaino, the top U.S. prosecutor in Arizona, to serve as interim director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives until the Senate votes on the president’s nominee, Steve Dettelbach,” Eugene Scott and Tyler Pager report.

If Biden’s plan is like a ‘New Deal,’ why don’t voters care?

“Getting voters excited about the American Rescue Plan is a tall order when so many are preoccupied with the price of gasoline and the cost and availability of other basic goods — concerns the emergency-spending bill was not designed to address,” the NYT‘s Alexander Burns reports.

When to wear a mask, visualized

“The abrupt end of the federal mask mandate for public transportation and an uptick in coronavirus cases across the country have left some Americans wondering: Should I still wear a mask in certain situations or places?” Our colleagues answer your questions here.

Democrats fear for democracy. Why aren’t they running on it in 2022?

“Despite a broad consensus on the left that the country’s most revered institutions are in trouble, with President Biden and other leaders warning gravely that protecting voting rights and fair elections is of paramount importance, the vast majority of Democratic candidates are veering away from those issues on the campaign trail,” the NYT‘s Reid J. Epstein and Jonathan Weisman report.

“Instead, they are focusing on bread-and-butter economic topics like inflation and gas prices. Continuing to win elections must come first, the thinking goes — and polls and focus groups show that the issue of voting rights is far down the list of voters’ most urgent concerns.”

Youngkin prepares to wade into national politics

“Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin is preparing to take a step into national politics by launching a pair of new political groups ahead of the midterm election,” Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports.

Youngkin’s new operation will allow him to wade into gubernatorial races across the country on behalf of GOP candidates. Youngkin can also use the apparatus to target a pair of Democratic House members in Virginia whom Republicans are looking to unseat.”

Today in Washington (all times eastern)

Biden will visit the Portland International Airport at 4:05 p.m. and will deliver remarks at 5:10 p.m.

He will then attend a Democratic National Committee fundraiser at 6:30 p.m. 

The president will depart Portland for Seattle at 7:25 p.m., where he is scheduled to arrive at 8:15 p.m.

At 9:30 p.m., Biden will attend another DNC fundraiser.

Nicolas Cage is in on the Nicolas Cage jokes

In his new movie, “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” the actor plays “himself” in all his meme-ified glory, the NYT’s Sarah Lyall writes.

Cage might project the aura of someone loath to laugh at himself, but that is not the case. In fact, he has a record of high-concept self-awareness, as when he appeared on ‘Saturday Night Live’ alongside Andy Samberg playing Nicolas Cage. The pair riffs on Cage’s reputation as an ‘exaggerated, screaming psychopath’ whose dream “is to appear in every film ever released” and in whose action movies ‘all the dialogue is either whispered or screamed.’”

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.