The World Today for February 15, 2017


Fiddling While…

The resignation of US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, earlier this week over questions about his communications with Russian officials was arguably the first hard evidence – not conjecture, not assertions – of Moscow’s meddling in American politics.

Washington was understandably abuzz, with congressional Democrats demanding a broader investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia and a small group of leading Republicans acknowledging growing concerns on Tuesday. BloombergView columnist Eli Lake’s piece on the scandal was one of the best. The Guardian’s take on electronic music star and animal rights activist Moby insisting he had proof of “nefarious” doings that could lead to the impeachment of the president was one of the silliest.

But what was Russia doing while the world prognosticated the White House’s next move?

The answer isn’t flattering.

While Flynn was mulling over his future, administration officials were figuring out how to respond to Russia allegedly deploying cruise missiles that violated arms treaties dating back to the last days of the Cold War, according to the New York Times.

The Atlantic Council also released Breaking Aleppo, a report about how Russia had bombed civilians and a hospital in the Syrian city despite Moscow’s insistence that reports of those attacks were fake news.

Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in recent days had resumed shelling.

Some of the fire killed workers in Europe’s largest coking plant at Avdiivka near the front. The operation is a crucial part of Ukraine’s struggling economy.

“It would be nice if we could just come to work and not have to worry about the war, not have to always be ready to fling ourselves to the ground if there are particularly loud bangs,” Mikhail, a shift manager, told the Guardian.

American commanders recently told a Senate panel that Russia was providing aid to the Taliban in Afghanistan, NPR reported. Moscow is therefore helping militants and putting the lives of US soldiers in Afghanistan at risk.

In France, front-running presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron claimed that Russian hackers had targeted him, shutting down his website and fouling up his campaign computer networks, the Independent wrote.

One might be forgiven for feeling as if these events will lead to some catharsis that will put the shadiness to rest. But it’s just as likely the spying, scandals and hacking will continue for years on slow boil.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has little to lose, argued journalist Lisa Dickey in Vox. An author of books about Russia who said she has been visiting the country for 30 years, Dickey notes that Putin has ironically grown more popular than ever at home as he’s become more controversial in the West.

“Many ordinary Russians believe he has – to paraphrase a Trumpism – made Russia great again,” Dickey wrote.


Back in the Fold

With a new president at the helm, Gambia is becoming stable again after a rocky election season and will soon rejoin the Commonwealth.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that Gambia President Adama Barrow aims to reverse his predecessor Yahya Jammeh’s decisions to withdraw from both the Commonwealth and the International Criminal Court after a meeting with the newly elected leader on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

The United Nations has already received the Gambia government’s formal notice reversing the country’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, a UN spokesman said Tuesday.

Jammeh had pulled Gambia out of the 52-member bloc, which comprises mostly former British colonies, in 2013, and announced last year that he was withdrawing from the ICC.

Last week, the European Union announced an $80 million package of support for the new regime, following Jammeh’s flight into exile last month after diplomatic and military pressure forced him to accept the results of the December election.

Don’t Cry for Macri, Argentina

A prosecutor is seeking judicial permission to investigate Argentina President Mauricio Macri, the latest South American leader to come under the spotlight.

Federal prosecutor Juan Pedro Zoni says Macri and two other top officials should be investigated over their decision to settle a debt owed to the government by a company owned by the president’s father, the Associated Press reported.

Last year, Macri’s government agreed to settle a debt of almost $130 million owed by the country’s post office, Correo Argentina, which was owned by the president’s father in the 1990s until it went bankrupt in 2001. Under the terms of the deal, the company is to pay back twice the amount it owes in installments spread out until 2033.

However, the prosecutor alleges that deal means the company will repay only around 1.18 percent of the total debt, because it’s getting preferential interest rates and being allowed to pay off the bulk of what it owes toward the end of the 15-year period, the Guardian reported.

Family Affair

The half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-nam, was killed in Kuala Lumpur Monday in an apparent assassination that might have involved a cloth soaked in a poisonous substance or a poison needle.

Varying local reports said that a woman covered Kim Jong-nam’s face with a cloth that was soaked in liquid, splashed or sprayed his face with an unidentified substance, or stabbed him with a poisoned needle, the BBC reported.

Malaysian police official Fadzil Ahmat told the country’s Star newspaper that a woman had come at him from behind and “covered his face with a cloth laced with a liquid” that burned his eyes, and he died on his way to the hospital.

Kim Jong-nam, the oldest son of longtime dictator Kim Jong-il, is believed to have fled North Korea after being passed over to succeed his father in 2011.

The police so far have no suspects, but a former CIA expert on North Korea told the Los Angeles Times that the incident “sounds like a classic North Korean operation.”


Bow Wow Protest

Ever since the Romanian government first announced its plans last month to weaken anti-corruption laws, citizens have taken to the streets to protest what they view as a ploy to prop up shady politicians.

But some local media outlets contested the protesters’ intentions, claiming that some took the streets only because they were paid to do so.

Some outlets even reported – probably falsely, judging by reports – that protesters would get a bonus for bringing their dogs.

Enraged by what they saw as fake news, the protesters struck back – by making their dogs a symbol of the protest.

“Facebook is full of dogs with money,” Andi Singer, a protester in Bucharest, told the BBC.

Doctored photos and memes of dogs getting ready to spend their newly earned bonuses flooded the Internet, while protesters themselves outfitted their dogs with signs questioning why they hadn’t been paid yet.

Some say every protest needs a symbol. In Romania, it seems a pooch waiting for a payout is doing the trick.

Click here for a video with some of the memes.

Correction: Tuesday’s leader, “The Lesser Evil” incorrectly stated that France is the sixth-largest economy in Europe. It is the sixth-largest in the world and the third-largest in Europe, after Germany and the United Kingdom, according to the World Bank. We apologize for the error.

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