The World Today for February 22, 2017


Third Time’s the Charm

The ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine brokered at the G20 Security Conference in Munich last weekend wasn’t looking “too good” said Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Secretary General Lamberto Zannier on Tuesday, a day after the ceasefire was supposed to take hold.

“What we see is in various areas is a continued ‘kinetic activity,’ as we call it, with light weapons mainly used, but in some cases also explosives, which means that they’re also using mortars or some other heavier weapons,” Zannier told Reuters.

The deal marked the third attempt to quell violence in Ukraine since the conflict began in 2013, NBC News reported.

There were omens the deal might fall short of expectations.

Shortly following the announcement of the new ceasefire, Russian President Vladimir Putin okayed Moscow’s recognition of passports issued by the pro-Russian, self-declared “people’s republics” in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine.

While Russia advertised the move as a “humanitarian” effort, it’s been largely condemned by international players and the Ukrainian government as a power play by Putin to undermine Kiev’s claims to the region, the Financial Times reported.

Kiev is now calling for new sanctions against Russia in response.

The Minsk Protocol, a set of peace provisions adopted in February 2015 to restore Ukrainian control over the war-torn east, has been shaky from the get-go. While major spats have been rare since the accord took effect, a sustainable political solution to the bloody conflict is still out of reach.

Coupled with an uptick in violence in Ukraine’s east in recent months, that bumped Ukraine to the top of the diplomatic agenda in Munich.

The US and Europe officially are condemning Russia’s involvement in Ukraine. But President Donald Trump’s stance toward Russia has emboldened separatists and called into question the administration’s commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, the Guardian reported.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, prosecutors might charge lawmaker Andrii Artemenko with treason for working with Trump associates to promote a plan to bring Ukraine’s conflict with Russia to an end, the New York Times reported.

Artemenko hatched a plan to let voters decide whether to lease Crimea to Russia for as long as a century – an unorthodox deal that raised eyebrows but deserves credit at the very least for its out-of-the-box creativity. Artemenko has not been charged yet.

International diplomatic conferences don’t seem to be working. Back-channel diplomacy doesn’t appear to be working, either.

Moscow, Kiev and the rest of the world must do more or else these newest peace accords might just end in a three-peat failure.


Top to Bottom

Once the city’s highest-ranking public official, former Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang was sentenced to 20 months in jail Wednesday on charges of misconduct in public office.

“Never in my judicial career have I seen a man falling from such a height,” Reuters quoted High Court justice Andrew Chan as saying as he passed sentence.

A nine-person jury on Friday found Tsang guilty of concealing private rental negotiations with property tycoon Bill Wong Cho-bau while his cabinet discussed and approved a digital broadcasting license for a now defunct radio company, Wave Media, in which Wong was a major shareholder. He will face retrial in September for another bribery charge on which jurors failed to return a majority verdict.

While some argued that the guilty verdict confirmed the primacy of the rule of law in Hong Kong, others see the case as one of a number of scandals ensnaring powerful officials that have damaged the city’s reputation as one of Asia’s least corrupt.

A Bitter Verdict

The sentencing of an Israeli soldier who killed a badly wounded Palestinian assailant as he lay on the ground has further divided the country.

Liberal Israelis and Palestinians criticized the 18-month sentence awarded to Sgt. Elor Azaria as too lenient, while nationalist Israeli politicians called any jail time unfair and urged an immediate pardon, the Associated Press reported.

The sentence follows a year-long debate over the case, and was lighter than most people expected, the AP wrote. Still, dozens of people demonstrated outside the court in support of Azaria.

A bystander with a cellphone filmed the army medic as he shot and killed a Palestinian who had stabbed a soldier in the West Bank city of Hebron last March. The Palestinian, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, was lying on the ground unarmed when Azaria shot him in the head.

Azaria was convicted of manslaughter last month in a rare case of a military court ruling against a combat soldier for lethal action taken in the field.

El Chapo’s Legacy

Homicide figures jumped by more than a third in Mexico in January due to fighting between rival factions of the Sinaloa drug cartel.

Nationwide, Mexico recorded 1,938 homicides in January, up 34 percent from 1,442 in the same month last year. But the number of murders in the northern states of Chihuahua and Sinaloa were up more than 50 percent, Reuters reported.

In comparison, the FBI estimates there were around 1,300 murders a month in 2015, though the US population is more than double that of Mexico.

The spike in violence south of the border comes as a result of the arrest and extradition of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the powerful boss of the Sinaloa cartel. His absence has led to an internal power struggle in the cartel, causing gang violence to surge in northern Mexico, Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos said earlier this month.


From the Desert to Mars

As evidenced by Dubai’s glistening skyscrapers, the United Arab Emirates, or the UAE, has grown at a seemingly otherworldly pace in recent decades thanks to windfalls from oil and gas.

Now the UAE leaders are literally taking their ambitions out of this world – to Mars. The emirates have announced a plan to build the first city on the red planet by 2117.

Engineers from the UAE recently unveiled their concept city – roughly the size of Chicago – at the World Government Summit in Dubai.

The idea sounds grandiose, but the Emiratis are approaching their 100-year-plan practically, wrote the Washington Post.

Early steps to Mars include increasing the appeal of space travel among young Emiratis, creating a team of Emirati and international scientists who can develop faster transportation to and from Mars and researching settlements and sustainable food and energy.

While 2117 is far off, the UAE’s long-term program enjoys an advantage over more ambitious time frames: such a faraway date makes the UAE’s city seem more realistic.

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