The World Today for August 09, 2016

NEED TO KNOW

Russian Roulette

Negotiating with Russian President Vladimir Putin must feel a bit like Russian roulette. You know there’s a bullet in the chamber somewhere; you’re just not sure when it will go off.

With his 2014 invasion of Ukraine and his 2015 bombing campaign in Syria, the crafty Russian leader has pioneered a new sort of post-Cold War diplomacy.

His invasion of Ukraine – as indicated by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s recent gaffe — is all-but forgotten. With the rest of the world’s attention fractured across various conflicts from Afghanistan to Syria, however, his troops and proxies have actually “steadily escalated the fighting” this summer, according to the Washington Post.

Over the past two months, 20 civilians were killed and 122 more were injured, which was more than double the monthly average from the previous nine months. Meanwhile, at least 13 soldiers of the Ukrainian army were killed in July – mostly due to shelling attacks that had been expressly prohibited by the two peace agreements between Russia and Ukraine, known as the Minsk Protocol and Minsk II.

International monitors say that Russian troops never abided by the terms of those deals, while in March Ukraine stymied further progress with its failure to push through a law to facilitate elections in the eastern region where the separatist struggle is underway.

Since it began in April 2014, the conflict has killed more than 10,000 people. Moreover, there is now no longer any question of Russian ceding any territory, as arms and troops reportedly continue to flood the front lines “despite repeated Russian commitments to pull all such weapons back,” the Washington Post reports.

Separatist forces have recently warned that full-scale military operations could soon resume.

Similarly, in Syria, Russia’s battlefield support of troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have not only turned the tide of the conflict – which appeared to be leading toward the ouster of the despot last year. It has also put Moscow in a stronger position to dictate terms in the Middle East than it has been since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In neither theater, it has become clear, will a resolution be possible without Putin’s cooperation. And in neither theater is he prepared to compromise. In fact, Putin’s negotiators have repeatedly agreed to plans to end the fighting, while on the ground Russian forces have continued their assault, and Kerry goes back to Moscow to receive more assurances.

It’s obvious that Putin is betting that the U.S. doesn’t have the same stomach for battle that he does, particularly after Washington invested vast sums to achieve dubious outcomes in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 15 years.

But the talk percolating in the Trump campaign of rethinking America’s commitment to its NATO allies left many seasoned wonks aghast. And the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, for its part, signaled that it was tired of Putin’s double dealing by approving the so-called STAND for Ukraine Act on July 14.

If the full House passes the bill, U.S. President Barack Obama (or, more likely, his successor) will only be able to lift sanctions on Russia if Ukraine regains full sovereignty over Crimea or the status of the peninsula has been resolved to the Ukraine government’s satisfaction.

But that’s only if the U.S. legislators are willing to pull the trigger.

WANT TO KNOW

An Alarming Development

At least 70 people were killed and over 100 injured Monday by a suicide bomber in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta. The bombing was claimed by the so-called Islamic State (IS) and a faction of the Taliban.

The suicide bomber struck a hospital where a crowd of mourners had gathered to accompany the body of a prominent Pakistani attorney who had been shot and killed in Quetta earlier on Monday.

IS and Jammat-ur-Ahrar, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban group, said they were responsible for the bombing in two separate announcements.

If Islamic State is behind the bombing, it would be an alarming development for Pakistan, reported Reuters. While the country has long had to contend with Islamist militant violence, most of it has been locally-based.

Jamaat-ur-Ahrar likewise took responsibility for the bombing in an earlier announcement. The Taliban faction had once sworn loyalty to IS but later switched its allegiance back to the Taliban. It’s unclear whether Jamaat has maintained ties to IS, and if so, in what capacity, say analysts.

Ferocious Strikes

Syrian rebel forces in Aleppo have been under heavy aerial bombardment from forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad since they fought through regime lines last weekend, breaking the Syrian government’s siege on the rebel-held eastern half of Aleppo.

Airstrikes have continued on Syria’s second-largest city even after the rebels seized Ramouseh, a district in south-western Aleppo, in a move that enables rebels to open a corridor into besieged areas, said activists.

Government forces have been using cluster and vacuum bombs against the rebels in “airstrikes of unprecedented ferociousness,” a commander in the rebel coalition said.

Aleppo has been a key battleground in the Syrian civil war since 2012, when it was divided into government-held west Aleppo and an eastern half under rebel control. East Aleppo has since been decimated by continuous air raids from the Assad regime, and it is unlikely that the rebel victory in Ramouseh will bring relief to residents of the east, say observers.

Making Nice?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan plans to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday in his first trip abroad since the failed coup in Turkey last month.

The meeting represents another step in the sharp turnaround in relations between the two countries, which had been acrimonious since Turkey shot down a Russian warplane on the Turkish-Syrian border last November.

Until last month, when Erdogan sent a letter expressing regret to Putin, the two countries had lobbed accusations at one another, with Russia accusing Turkey of supporting terrorism and Turkey claiming that Russia was bombing hospitals in Syria. Russia has since signaled that it would be interested in dismantling sanctions against Turkey.

Erdogan’s visit also comes at a time of increased tensions between both countries and the US and the EU. The two countries are also contending with struggling economies at the moment, and the meeting will likely focus on business as much as politics, say Turkish officials.

DISCOVERIES

India’s Shortcomings

More children suffer from stunted growth in India than anywhere else in the world.

Partly, that’s due to the country’s enormous population. But it’s also the result of endemic poverty and government failures to provide proper sanitation and safe drinking water, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much-ballyhooed “Clean India” campaign, according to a new report by the nonprofit WaterAid titled “Caught Short.”

The result is 48 million children under the age of five with stunted growth due to malnutrition, which affects not only height and other physical attributes but also mental development, according to the BBC.

The news channel’s stunning, and touching, photos illustrate the key reasons for the problem, which include more than half a billion people that continue to defecate outdoors due to lack of adequate toilet facilities.

The good news? Probably due to a significant reduction in poverty during the last decade of rapid economic growth, the percentage of children suffering from stunting dropped from 48% in 2006 to 39% in 2014, according to WaterAid.

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