November 05, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

RUSSIA & UKRAINE

The Other Side of Scandal

Some Americans might have noticed that Ukraine has been in the news a lot lately.

The sparring between US lawmakers and the White House over impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump put a spotlight on the corner of Eastern Europe where the political drama began.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is among those who think the allegations against his American counterpart are, well, trumped up, reported the Washington Times.

Regardless of why Trump froze US military aid to Ukraine, however, the decision is having real consequences for the Ukrainian forces struggling against their giant neighbor in a war that has claimed around 13,000 lives in the past five years. The New York Times wrote about how Ukrainian soldiers “stuff straw into empty uniforms to make dummies, and put logs on their shoulders to make it look like they are carrying American antitank missiles.”

There’s hope, though.

Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatists in the country’s eastern provinces recently pulled back from zones along the front as an early step toward a peace deal, the BBC reported. The two sides signed a cease-fire in 2015, but both sides regularly flout it.

One of those zones includes Zolote, a mining town split since the war began. News website Coda described how Zolote was poor even before the war. In recent years, its citizens have endured military checkpoints that sever neighborhoods and other hurdles to living normally.

Under the deal, the regions under separatist control would receive special autonomous status, explained Foreign Policy magazine, adding, however, that no text of the agreement has been released. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy saw the arrangement as the best way to bring the military impasse to an end.

But the withdrawals have proved controversial. Critics viewed the move as a capitulation to an aggressor that annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea in 2014 and then fomented an insurgency a year later, the Independent reported. A group of far-right Ukrainian fighters even sought to prevent the pullback, forcing Zelenskiy to dispatch troops to disarm the renegades.

Zelenskiy is pressing forward with more withdrawals, however, arguing that ending the conflict with Russia might speed up Ukraine’s access to NATO, Reuters wrote.

That’s probably wishful thinking, however. Frustration among ethnic-Russians in Ukraine over the long fight and shifts in public opinion in Russia suggest that Putin might be more open to a peace deal, according to a study cited in Russia Matters, a publication by Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. But the study also argued that Putin would veto any arrangement that involves Ukraine joining NATO.

In an ideal world, American leadership would provide a solution here.

WANT TO KNOW

IRAQ

No More Puppets

Iraqi security forces killed at least five people and wounded more than 30 Monday during the latest anti-government protests in Iraq, which are gathering momentum, Reuters reported.

Thousands rallied in the streets of the capital Baghdad in the largest demonstration in decades, defying a plea by Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi to stand down.

Last week, Abdul-Mahdi offered to resign if a replacement can be found, but protesters say that the entire political elite must to go.

Since October, Iraqis have been protesting over the country’s dire economic conditions and widespread corruption, while also criticizing the government for being a puppet of Baghdad’s main allies, the United States and Iran.

Monday’s fatalities were in addition to three demonstrators killed late Sunday, when security forces shot at protesters trying to breach the Iranian consulate in the city of Karbala.

The incident in Shiite-dominated Karbala underscores anger toward Iran, which protesters see as the main power behind the Shiite political parties that have wielded power in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion.

INDIA

Choking Hazards

Delhi’s government imposed vehicle restrictions Monday in a desperate bid to reduce air pollution in the Indian capital that has hospitalized thousands with respiratory problems.

Monday’s car rationing system aims to keep half of the 3 million cars in Delhi off the road each day and will remain in place through Nov. 15, CBS News reported.

Officials have also ordered the closing of schools and universities and a ban on construction activities until at least Tuesday.

Last week, India’s pollution control board declared a public health emergency for Delhi, after the city was engulfed by thick smog for more than week.

Thousands have complained of respiratory problems and burning eyes, while flights had to be canceled or delayed due to low visibility.

Air pollution in Delhi spikes during the winter due to calmer winds and farmers from neighboring states burning crop waste before sowing winter seeds.

Farmers, meanwhile, complained that they lack the machines and resources to properly dispose of crop waste, and that the government failed to provide better alternatives.

EUROPEAN UNION

Show Me The Money

The European Commission said Monday that it has a “zero tolerance for fraud” after an investigation by the New York Times suggested that some of the EU’s farm subsidies end up in the pockets of oligarchs and populists, CNBC reported.

The report suggested that part of the European Union’s $65-billion subsidy system meant to help farmers is “warped by corruption and self-dealing.” It also alleges that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban used the funds to enrich his inner circle while punishing political opponents.

In the Czech Republic, Prime Minister Andrej Babis is accused of taking at least $42 million in farming funds in 2018. Babis has denied any wrongdoing.

Commission spokespeople responded that the European Anti-Fraud Office has caught past abuses and they will look into the new allegations, Ireland’s RTE reported.

The Commission has previously proposed reducing the subsidies, which consume about 40 percent of the budget.

Powerful EU members, however, argue that this portion of the budget is important for developing the bloc and its cohesion.

DISCOVERIES

Back from the Dead

Climate change is threatening reef-building corals around the world, such as those that make up the famous Great Barrier Reef near Australia.

Warming waters have left many coral reefs “bleached” and seemingly dead, but scientists discovered that coral is much tougher than originally believed, New Scientist reported.

In their study, researchers Diego Kersting and Cristina Linares observed that corals of the slow-growing endangered species Cladocora caespitosa are able to recover from heat damage and recolonize reefs.

The team monitored colonies of C. caespitosa in the Mediterranean Sea for 16 years and witnessed how “dead” corals came back to life.

They noted that C. caespitosa’s polyps – the “tentacles” on a reef – would shrink and recede deep within the coral’s skeleton, and re-emerge once water conditions were suitable for growth.

It was known from fossils that ancient corals had this ability, but the study shows that today’s corals also display this trait.

“We can see why and when this strategy is put in place and how the recovery process evolves through time,” says Kersting.

Unfortunately, this strategy will prove “highly ineffective” under current climate change scenarios, argued researcher Gergely Torda, who was not involved in the study.

“Adaptation and acclimatization (are) the only chance corals have – in tandem with us doing our part and curbing greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.