The World Today for June 06, 2018



From Russia with Love

Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin opened a $4-billon bridge linking mainland Russia with the annexed Crimean peninsula in a polished television event typical of the newly re-elected president’s trademark machismo.

With Russian oligarchs in tow, a jeans-clad Putin climbed into a truck cab and revved up the engine while talking to construction workers at the Russian end of the 12-mile-long expanse, the Washington Post reported.

A massive infrastructure project thrice proposed and thrice failed by Putin’s predecessors, the bridge, which finished ahead of schedule, showed that “even the most ambitious plans can be realized when they are implemented by him,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists before the event.

It also showed that Putin is far from done exerting his influence over Ukraine.

Though largely neglected nowadays, fighting continues in Eastern Ukraine against pro-Russian separatist forces and the Ukrainian government.

The conflict began in 2014 when Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine, a move condemned by Kiev and the rest of the West as an illegal land grab under the guise of protecting ethnic Russians.

Hefty sanctions were issued against Russia, a move that affected the livelihoods of Crimea’s some two million residents due to blockades and limited access to mainland Russia, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

The bridge, which can support some 40,000 passenger vehicles per day and 14 million tons of freight per year, will open to commercial traffic in the coming months, making access from Russia easier, wrote AFP.

But it’s bound to also ratchet up tensions between Russia and Ukraine as a symbolic move of the permanence of the annexation, researcher Gabriella Gricius wrote for Global Security Review.

Just days after its opening, Ukraine filed a complaint with the International Tribunal about the bridge, claiming that it violated the nation’s sovereignty.

Easier access between Russia and Crimea has also heightened concerns about a demographic shift on the peninsula.

Ukrainian officials say hundreds of thousands of Russians have migrated to Crimea since 2014, while 40,000 Crimeans have registered as displaced persons on mainland Ukraine, RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty reported.

One minority leader in Crimea, where an estimated 65 percent of the population is now Russian, asserted that as many as one million Russians have made their way across the Kerch Strait.

“Forcibly shifting the demographic composition of an occupied territory is a war crime under the 1949 Geneva Conventions,” Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev said in an interview with the news agency Ukrinform, RFE/RL reported.

In order to show the ills of the Kremlin – and in a plot fit for a James Bond film – the Ukrainian Security Service staged the murder of a Russian journalist in exile in Kiev last week.

He’d fled Russia in 2017 for his critical war reports, and in faking his death, Ukrainian authorities uncovered a Russian state-sponsored plot, the Associated Press reported.

But the machismo, bridge scenes and plot twists aren’t just made for TV, wrote the Economist: Ukraine is showing it’s willing to play Russia’s own game of covert operations and cover-ups in order to get ahead in the conflict.

The question now is how far it all goes.



A Tale of Two Nations

Ethiopia will fully recognize the terms of a peace deal forged with neighboring Eritrea almost two decades ago, signaling a long awaited détente between the two nations.

Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia in 1993, and in 1998, the two began a bloody conflict over the proper demarcation of their shared border, Al Jazeera reported.

Both sides signed a truce in 2000 allocating certain border lands to Eritrea in order to end the conflict that had already killed tens of thousands, but Ethiopia continued to occupy the ceded areas. The countries have been in a state of “no peace no war” ever since, the Financial Times reported.

Fully recognizing the peace accords is just the latest move in a string of reforms undertaken by newly inaugurated Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, whose premiership comes with promises to liberalize the nation after 26 years of authoritarian rule in Ethiopia.

Already this week, Abiy announced plans to allow private investment into traditionally state-run enterprises, and lifted a state of emergency in the nation two months earlier than originally planned.


Nuclear Fallout

Iran announced Tuesday the completion of a new centrifuge assembly center at its Natanz nuclear site, meaning it’s poised to ramp up nuclear enrichment to industrial levels should the 2015 nuclear accord further fray at the edges, the New York Times reported.

Despite the development, Iranian officials promised to keep enrichment within the parameters of the nuclear accord, which the United States withdrew from last month. European governments, whose companies have already heavily invested in Iran, are trying to salvage the deal.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, also said the completion of the new center was “in line with our safeguard commitments,” the newspaper reported, quoting Iranian state television.

Even so, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei continued to demand Europeans’ guaranteed purchase of Iranian oil to keep Iran committed to fulfilling its side of the deal.

He also said that the EU’s expectations of Iran living with the new US sanctions while also restricting its nuclear program was “a bad dream” and impossible.


On the Rocks

The European Union’s highest court ruled Tuesday that all member states must grant same residence benefits to same-sex spouses as it does to heterosexual ones, a decision that only adds to ideological tensions between liberal Western Europe and conservative Central and Eastern states.

In a case involving the return of a Romanian man and his American spouse back to the nation of his birth, the court ruled that EU regulations granting freedom of movement for all EU citizens and their spouses apply to same-sex couples as well – even if a member state doesn’t allow such unions.

Currently 22 of the EU’s 28 members allow gay marriage, or some form of same-sex civil union, the Wall Street Journal reported. Meanwhile, even with this latest decision, the issue of gay marriage remains one for national authorities.

But with conservative regimes in Hungary, Poland, Latvia and elsewhere already using Eurosceptic rhetoric to energize their bases in recent years, the decision has become a “lightning rod” for calls to constrain Brussels’ involvement in national matters, the Journal wrote.

In Romania, for example, a referendum to clearly specify marriage as a union between man and woman, rather than between “consenting spouses,” has already gained three million signatures.


Holy Rhymes

Many in his Nairobi parish know him as Father Paul, or “Masaa.”

But to young people around town, he’s known as “Sweet Paul” for his positive rhymes in freewheeling raps about youth community involvement.

“I rap sweet, I talk sweet, I dance sweet,” he told the BBC.

Father Paul began his unconventional preaching style in the wake of tragedy in 2007, when a stampede during a concert in Nairobi left several young people dead, according to Kenyan news agency, Standard Digital.

Afterwards, the Catholic priest started using his talent behind the mic to draw young people into safe spaces like the church to be entertained – and to discuss pressing political and cultural issues that will affect them as they come of age, like drug use, community involvement or climate change.

Father Paul sometimes delivers more traditional sermons, but some contemporaries criticize that his more-modern verses are “watering down [the] priesthood.”

But like any good rapper, Sweet Paul doesn’t let the haters affect his craft.

“Usually I tell them that we have the talents and we must use the talents.”

Click here to see this rapping priest spit his holy rhymes.

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