The World Today for February 08, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

Chutes and Ladders

War on the Russian-Ukrainian border has arguably been NATO’s biggest concern in Europe since 2014.

On Tuesday, after fighting in the pro-Russian separatist republics in Eastern Ukraine flared up once again last week, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or OSCE, warned that the conflict could escalate still more, Britain’s ITV reported.

But at the same time NATO has also been making moves thousands of miles away on the northern end of the border of the former Soviet Union.

The former Soviet republics of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, which share a border with Russia, have grown increasingly wary of their neighbor since Moscow seized the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.

After that display of Russian military prowess, the Baltic states and Poland are also worried they might be next, wrote the Independent. The National Interest noted they’ve been buying up anti-tank weapons in anticipation of beating back a Russian armored assault.

To reassure these members, NATO leaders agreed at their annual summit last summer to bolster troop reinforcements along the Baltic borders.

Under that plan, NATO members will rotate four battalions of 3,000 to 4,000 troops in and out of northeastern Europe “to send a signal of resolve to Russia,” reported Reuters.

Now, the troops have begun arriving.

Soldiers from Germany and Belgium made their way to the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius last month, with more on the way.

The significance of the deployment shouldn’t be underestimated, Reuters noted. The presence of German troops in Eastern Europe is still a delicate issue seven decades after World War II.

But it shows how rampant concerns over Russia in the region have become.

Estonia announced last week that it will also host NATO exercises to simulate cyber assaults this year during its six-month presidency of the European Union, reported Bloomberg.

Even ordinary Estonians are getting involved in these war games.

Volunteer forces throughout the Baltics – though still small – have been growing as citizens become increasingly unnerved by Russian aggression in Ukraine and shifting attitudes in the US toward the defense union, wrote the Wall Street Journal.

Still, the US has committed itself to this current NATO operation – the biggest since the Cold War and the first in which US troops will be permanently stationed on Russia’s western border, according to the Guardian.

While that may be a source of comfort for the Baltics, it could ultimately serve to make the region even more tense. The deployments have drawn plenty of criticism from Russia, after all.

WANT TO KNOW

Permission Not Granted

Yemen has withdrawn permission for the United States to carry out Special Operations ground missions against suspected terrorist organizations in the country, US officials said Wednesday.

The Yemeni government’s decision comes as outrage remains high in the country following the US raid last week that caused civilian casualties and the death of one Navy SEAL.

Despite the White House’s insistence that the raid was a success and had all requisite legal approvals, the suspension of these operations is a setback for President Trump and his plan to take aggressive action against Islamic militants, wrote the New York Times.

The suspension also raises the question over whether the Pentagon will receive permission from the president for more autonomy when executing counterterrorism missions in Yemen – something it sought unsuccessfully from President Barack Obama, wrote the newspaper.

It’s unclear if the Yemeni ban on operations – which US officials say does not extend to military drone attacks – was influenced by Yemen’s inclusion on President Trump’s list of seven nations from which he temporarily suspended all immigration, said observers.

Smoke and Mirrors

A judge ruled that former French President Nicolas Sarkozy must stand trial over charges that his party falsified accounts in order to hide $20 million of campaign spending in 2012.

Sarkozy has said he was not aware of the overspending, and will appeal the order that he must stand trial, the BBC reported.

Known as the Bygmalion scandal, the case centers on charges that Sarkozy’s UMP party conspired with the Bygmalion public relations company so that invoices were made in the name of the party rather than the campaign, allowing it to spend almost double the amount permitted under France’s campaign finance laws.

Sarkozy would be the second French president to face trial. Former President Jacques Chirac was tried and given a two-year suspended prison sentence in 2011 for diverting public funds and abusing public trust. The case also comes amid an investigation into whether Francois Fillon, who beat Sarkozy to become the center-right’s candidate for the presidential race, misused public funds to employ his wife and two children.

Rhetoric and Echoes

Iran this week reminded the world that US President Donald Trump didn’t exactly pioneer his abrasive rhetorical style – though he might be the first major world leader to package his bombast in 140-character tweets.

First it was the head of the air force of the Revolutionary Guard, who said over the weekend that “roaring missiles will rain down” on its enemies if they make the mistake of provoking Iran. Then it was Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sarcastically thanking Trump on Tuesday for revealing “the true face” of the United States – which his most famous predecessor christened “the Great Satan” in 1979, the New York Times reported.

Experts say Iran’s leaders are actually concerned that tough times may be ahead for the country during the Trump administration, and President Hassan Rouhani has defended the US-Iran deal as a “win-win.”

Now, however, the Trump administration is reportedly considering labeling the powerful Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization – a move that would complicate deals of any sort with Iran, Reuters reported.

DISCOVERIES

Lost at Sea

Scientists may not have found the mythical forgotten continent of Atlantis. But the discovery of a piece of continent lost to the ages in the Indian Ocean is still garnering quite the buzz among geologists.

It all started some 500 million years ago when the former supercontinent of Gondwana gave way and splintered into modern-day Africa, Australia, South America and Antarctica.

The exact details of the split are unclear. Geologists like Lewis Ashwal of Wits University in South Africa have been using data models for years to try and tell the exact story of the supercontinent’s breakup.

Now they’ve made some headway studying rocks from the island nation of Mauritius.

According to Ashwal, radioactive dating of the mineral zircon within samples from the island revealed they contained sediments between 2.5 and 3 billion years old. A relatively young island, no rock on Mauritius should have been older than 9 million years.

“The fact that we have found zircons of this age proves that there are much older crustal materials under Mauritius that could only have originated from a continent,” Ashwal said.

Talk about seeing the world in a grain of sand.

Click here to see Ashwal present the full picture.

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