October 09, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

LITHUANIA

Newton’s Mantle

The US recently sent troops to Lithuania to counterbalance security threats that could arise from social unrest in neighboring Belarus, where unprecedented demonstrations are calling for the resignation of Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko after a disputed election.

The US and Lithuania stressed that the troops were defensive, Reuters reported. Still, officials admitted they were in a flashpoint between East and West. “The rotation of the US troops in Lithuania is a deterrence factor,” Lithuanian Minister of National Defense Raimundas Karoblis told Fox News.

Lithuania makes no apologies for opposing Lukashenko’s Soviet-style of rule. The Baltic country accepted Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, for example, when she requested asylum. As the Financial Times explained, Tikhanovskaya lost the election – allegedly rigged – that resulted in Lukashenko’s inauguration. Lithuanian officials have countered Lukashenko’s assertions that the border between the two former Soviet republics is closed.

Lithuania also slapped sanctions on Belarus for election violations before other members of the European Union, a sign of where it stands on the question of Lukashenko’s future, Euronews noted. The Washington Examiner wrote that the country was at the “unexpected forefront” in the push for democracy in Belarus. (Leaders in Vilnius are similarly frank in their diplomatic attitude toward Russia, incidentally.)

In geopolitics, every action has a reaction, however.

Lukashenko has depicted American and European military maneuvers on his border as an excuse to adopt the mantle of the strong man-general who is standing up to foreign threats, the BBC reported. The Atlantic magazine similarly described how and why supporting opposition figures in nearby countries can support as well as undermine their interests.

In a small country that has long sought to look Westward but keeps on getting dragged back to the East, politics matter. On Oct. 11 and 25, Lithuanian voters go to the polls to determine whether they reelect Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis or a host of challengers.

A former police officer who unexpectedly won office amid the populist political surge in 2016 – see this New York Times article – Skvernelis had vowed to quit his job last year after he failed to win the country’s presidential election. But he scrapped his pledge and remained in office.

A month ago, polls predicted that Ingrida Simonyte, a conservative and a former finance minister, was leading the pack of contenders, Xinhua wrote. More recently, the Baltic News Network questioned whether Simonyte could gather enough voters to form a government without the help of other parties, including Skvernelis’ ruling Farmers and Greens Union.

Once the votes are counted, whoever wins will need to move fast, as fast as the events that surround them.

WANT TO KNOW

KYRGYZSTAN

Deadlocked

Kyrgyz lawmakers failed to gather enough support to resolve a power vacuum in the Central Asian nation following disputed elections last weekend, Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty reported Thursday.

One lawmaker told the news agency that only 40 lawmakers attended a meeting in a hotel in the capital to discuss whether to impeach President Sooronbai Jeenbekov. At least 61 out of 120 lawmakers must be present for decisions to be considered legitimate.

The second failed attempt comes after mass protests were sparked in Kyrgyzstan over allegations that Sunday’s parliamentary elections were marred by vote-buying and other irregularities.

The election commission initially said pro-government parties won a majority of seats but soon after annulled the results when demonstrations erupted.

Opposition groups have rejected the results and have been proposing their own candidates for interim prime minister, who would need to oversee a repeat vote in the coming months. The situation has forced Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov to resign and Jeenbekov to disappear from the public eye.

On Friday, Jeenbekov said he was ready to resign if a new cabinet was appointed, according to Reuters.

Russian officials, meanwhile, suggested that Moscow was obliged by an existing security treaty to prevent the situation from totally breaking down.

BRAZIL

Magical Thinking

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro ended the country’s long-running corruption probe known as Operation Car Wash, saying there is no more corruption within the government, Bloomberg reported Thursday.

The far-right president said he was “proud” to end the country’s largest corruption investigation which has led to the jailing of numerous political and business leaders since its inception in 2014. Those imprisoned include Bolsonaro’s rival, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, as well as multiple chief executives of construction companies, who were sentenced for taking part in a large bribery scheme that diverted billions of dollars from public coffers.

Following the announcement, Bolsonaro’s former Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who had overseen the probe as a lead judge before joining the government in 2019, countered that official corruption was still alive and well in Brazil and attempts to end the probe “represent the return of corruption.”

Despite its track record, critics have accused the probe’s overseers of playing politics. Meanwhile, the government has been slowly dismantling the probe.

Meanwhile, the federal police has been carrying out a number of investigations with potential to implicate Bolsonaro’s sons.

POLAND

Kicking Goliath

Poland imposed the world’s largest anti-trust fine on Russian gas giant Gazprom this week over the construction of the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline, turning up the heat on Russia, Politico reported.

Poland’s Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) slapped a $7.6 billion fine on the company, while also ordering five other Western companies to pay more than $60 million.

The regulator said that the project would negatively affect the Polish gas market, adding that the agreement reached between the Kremlin-linked firm and the other companies for the Russia-to-Germany undersea gas pipeline was done without UOKiK’s consent.

Gazprom said it would appeal the decision.

Analysts said that Poland’s move is meant to pressure Russia after the European Commission failed to impose a fine on Gazprom in its landmark 2018 antitrust case on abuse of dominance in the EU gas market.

The decision is a huge political blow for Russia, but also a snub against EU officials who weren’t informed of the ruling.

While the fine will not stop the pipeline’s construction – most of it is finished – it will add to Gazprom’s difficulties in making the project profitable.

DISCOVERIES

Potty-mouth Polly

Staff at the Lincolnshire Wildlife Park in Britain had to quarantine a group of African grey parrots from the public due to their potty-mouths.

The five birds would spew out such colorful language that they became a sensation in the park, using different curse words in different British accents. Then they would laugh…and laugh…and laugh.

Park chief Steve Nichols told the New York Times that visitors would crack up at the parrots’ curses and would occasionally insult them back for amusement.

“When a parrot swears, it’s very difficult for (…) humans not to laugh,” he said. “And when we laugh, that’s a positive response. And therefore, what they do is they learn both the laugh and the swear word.”

He explained that their shenanigans helped attract a crowd to the park following a 20-week lockdown to counter the coronavirus pandemic.

The problem was that the cursing could bother children and parents visiting the park.

Nichols said that the birds were moved to a temporary space to hang around more family-friendly birds and clean up their vocabulary.

The parrots came to the park in late August from five different owners – from whom they had picked up the curses

While parrots pick up frequently used words from their owners, Nichols said they usually eventually adapt their behavior to the larger colony.

“They’ve probably got a really good vocabulary, too,” he said. “It’s just that we’ve only heard the swear words.”

COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 7,607,250 (+0.75%)
  2. India: 6,906,151 (+1.03%)
  3. Brazil: 5,028,444 (+0.55%)
  4. Russia: 1,253,603 (+0.91%)
  5. Colombia: 886,179 (+0.97%)
  6. Argentina: 856,369 (+1.84%)
  7. Spain: 848,324 (+1.49%)
  8. Peru: 835,662 (+0.33%)
  9. Mexico: 804,488 (+0.66%)
  10. France: 711,704 (+2.61%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours