The World Today for December 07, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

RUSSIA

The Return of the Tsar

Russia’s Vladimir Putin has a coy side.

Even though everyone knew he would run for reelection next year, a few months ago when asked who his rival might be in the March 2018 ballot, he demurred.

“Not only have I not decided who I will run against, I have not decided whether I will run at all,” he said at an energy conference in Moscow, adding that he would decide this month.

He did. He’s running. And of course, no one thinks he could lose.

“Enter Tsar Vladimir,” went a headline in the Economist, before his announcement Wednesday.

A former KGB agent from St. Petersburgh, Putin has been running Russia since 1999, exercising autocratic power from the Kremlin in an unmistakably Russian fashion. Recently, for example, he’s cracked down on foreign news outlets, labeling them as spies – a line straight out of the tsarist secret police and commissars’ playbooks.

His “legendary cloak and dagger mentality” applies to all walks of life, including his daughters, explained VICE. Western news outlets consider it a scoop to snap a picture of them.

Accordingly, Putin’s government opted last month not to celebrate the centennial of the Russian Revolution, the beginning of 70 years of communist rule.

“The last thing an authoritarian regime feeling its foundations wobble wants to do is celebrate revolution,” Russia specialist Mark Galeotti told USA Today.

Putin certainly has few compunctions about cracking down on those who oppose him.

In Tsarist style, Russian officials under Putin jailed would-be presidential contender Alexei Navalny for organizing public protests, then declared his candidacy void due to his time in jail.

Still, Carnegie Foundation for Peace scholar Julia Gurganus argues that Putin needs to step up his political campaign if he wants to achieve the absolute supremacy he desires.

Putin has been making moves toward those ends. He’s spending $8.6 billion on encouraging Russians to bear more children through mortgage help and other subsidies.

It’s a smart move, especially with the Russian economy growing again despite business leaders’ fear of US sanctions slated to take effect soon.

“People are on edge,” a businessperson told Reuters. In response, Putin accused the US of seeking to foment discord.

His primary rivals next year are likely to be two well-known women, Ksenia Sobchak and Yekaterina Gordon.

Sobchak is a television personality related to Putin’s old political mentor in St. Petersburgh. Gordon is a member of the opposition running on a pro-women’s platform. Alluding to shoddy public health, unemployment and other problems in the country, she had a perspective on bearing Russian children.

“We are a country of single mothers whom no one cares for,” said Gordon, according to the New York Times.

The tsar probably didn’t like that too much.

WANT TO KNOW

ISRAEL

Let the Blowback Begin

The diplomatic blowback has begun from President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with a host of mostly Muslim nations expressing worries and disapproval – even as Washington asked Israel not to crow too loudly.

Fearing a backlash and a possible threat to US staff and facilities abroad, Washington has asked Israel to temper its response to Trump’s announcement Wednesday, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, leaders from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia and Qatar, among other countries, have already condemned the move and voiced fears that it will escalate tensions in the Middle East.

At the request of eight other nations – Bolivia, Britain, Egypt, France, Italy, Senegal, Sweden and Uruguay – the UN Security Council will meet Friday morning to discuss how to react to the decision, along with other issues.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the president’s decision “deplorable,” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “courageous and just,” while a spokesman for Hamas said it would “open the gates of hell on US interests in the region,” the BBC reported.

CUBA

Sonic Mystery

New medical evidence has heightened skepticism that US embassy staff in Cuba were targeted by some kind of sonic device. That doesn’t, however, eliminate the possibility of some other kind of attack.

Seeking to explain hearing, vision, balance and memory damage, doctors treating the victims have discovered physical damage to their brains, the Associated Press reported. Tests revealed the embassy workers developed changes to the white matter tracts that let different parts of the brain communicate. Acoustic waves have never been shown to cause such damage.

Though the victims reported hearing loud, mysterious sounds before experiencing hearing loss and ringing in their ears, US officials now suspect that noise might have been the byproduct of something else that actually caused the damage.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday he’s “convinced these were targeted attacks,” but the U.S. doesn’t know who’s behind them. Cuba has denied responsibility.

The mystery may never be solved where we’re concerned, as any information about who might be responsible will not be made public. Most patients have fully recovered. About one-quarter had symptoms that persisted for long periods or remain to this day.

KENYA

Costs of Contention

The political crisis engendered by Kenya’s disputed presidential election has hit the country where it hurts, adding to the impact of a drought to drag economic growth down to its slowest pace in five years, according to the World Bank.

The World Bank this week cut its 2017 growth estimate for Kenya’s economy to 4.9 percent from an April forecast of 5.5 percent, Reuters reported.

After the Supreme Court nullified the Aug. 8 poll re-electing incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta and ordered a re-run that was boycotted by the opposition, private investment has slowed due to political risk. Meanwhile, a drought has already driven up inflation and reduced consumer demand, the bank said.

The crisis isn’t over yet. While Kenyatta has been sworn in for a second five-year term, opposition leader Raila Odinga has said he will hold a parallel “swearing-in” ceremony next week.

Nevertheless, the bank expects the economy to rebound to 5.5 percent in 2018 and 5.9 percent in 2019.

DISCOVERIES

Out of the Ashes

More than 30 years ago, the Chernobyl disaster was one of the worst nuclear accidents in history, with a release of radiation 10 times larger than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War Two.

But soon enough it could be the epicenter of solar power for Eastern Europe.

Ukrainian and German energy companies recently announced a partnership to develop a $1.2 million project to build a one-megawatt solar farm near Chernobyl’s reactor, Business Insider reported.

The area surrounding the nuclear site is still largely desolate and the soil is too radioactive for farming, so the Ukrainian government is offering cheap prices for feed-in tariffs, or the amount companies receive for providing electricity into the grid.

Construction on the site will start in December, and the companies are hoping to build 99 megawatts of solar panels to supply the area.

It’s still a far cry from the previous nuclear reactor, which had four 1,000 megawatt reactors.

But with wildlife already flourishing in the aftermath of the nuclear accident, it seems so too could a new business built from the ashes of that disaster.

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