The World Today for December 09, 2020

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Peace and Disquiet

Families in Armenia and Azerbaijan are turning to Facebook to find missing-in-action soldiers after the end of the recently concluded 44-day war between the two former Soviet republics.

Suladdin Yusifov’s 23-year-old son, Ali, is a lieutenant in Azerbaijan’s armed forces. His father hasn’t heard from him since Oct. 3. “If anyone knows people on the front lines, or has connections to hospitals, I am appealing to the people of Azerbaijan as a father – if you have any news please call me,” wrote Yusifov on the social network, according to eurasianet.

Azerbaijan won the war, reclaiming territory that Armenian forces had seized more than 25 years ago, the Associated Press reported. What they won is a mountainous Armenian ethnic enclave within Azerbaijan called Nagorno-Karabakh as well as surrounding lands. Azeri leaders described the victory as a new start for the country. For Armenia, it’s a disaster.

Meanwhile, the six weeks of fighting claimed the lives of almost 2,800 Azeri soldiers, wrote Al Jazeera. More than 2,400 Armenian troops perished. Russia imposed a peace deal on both parties, inserting 2,000 Russian peacekeeping troops in Nagorno-Karabakh to prevent violence between local Armenians and the potentially 800,000 returning ethnic Azeris who had been expelled from the region after the Armenian conquest in 1994.

The Christian Science Monitor called the conflict a “diplomatic failure.” The territorial dispute between the two countries on the farthest frontiers of Europe and Asia was left unresolved. The violence escalated quickly. Now the strategic makeup of the region has changed almost overnight.

Turkey supported Azerbaijan. As a result, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won a diplomatic victory in his quest to make his country’s influence felt throughout the Caucasus. Analysts in the region told the Financial Times in rather strident terms that the war is a clear win for Erdogan. His client state beat Russia’s client state – Armenia is a military ally of Russia, as Agence France-Presse explained.

Some observers at the New York Times noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin applied a “deft new touch” that he might have learned while employing his more customary “iron-fisted tactics” in other ex-Soviet republics such as Georgia and Ukraine. Putin appeared to be using soft power and the threat of potential Russian intervention rather than the real thing, in other words.

Armenians, meanwhile, are disgusted with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, charging him with botching his nation’s response to the enemy threat, Reuters reported. Armenian forces were routed. People are taking to the streets of the capital of Yerevan calling for his resignation and decrying the ceasefire deal that signed away territory they considered their hard-won legacy.

On Tuesday, for example, hundreds chanted “Nikol, traitor,” during a demonstration after Pashinyan ignored a deadline set by the opposition for him to resign, Reuters reported.

Regardless of the politics, the key thing is that these neighbors have gone two rounds. The world should be thinking hard now about how to stop a third.




At the Top of the World

Mount Everest grew by nearly three feet Tuesday after China and Nepal announced a new official height following years of dispute over the world’s tallest mountain, the South China Morning Post reported.

The new height – 8,848.86 meters (29,031.7ft) – raises the previous estimate by 86 centimeters.

Both nations agreed to conduct surveys after decades of disagreement: China’s previous official measurement was nearly four meters lower than Nepal’s.

Analysts noted that the announcement also highlights a growing closeness between China and Nepal, as the latter attempts to move away from India’s orbit.

Chinese President Xi Jinping called the new figure “an important symbol of friendship,” and said he was willing to work closely with Nepal to protect the mountain’s environment.

Determining the mountain’s height was part of a series of deals concluded when Xi visited Nepal last year: The two neighbors also finalized trade and transport agreements to reduce Nepal’s reliance on India.


It’s Now Or Never

The leaders of Britain and the European Commission will make a last-minute push for a post-Brexit UK-EU trade deal Wednesday, with both sides warning that the chance of reaching an agreement by the year-end deadline is slipping away, the Associated Press reported.

With just over three weeks until an economic rupture that threatens upheaval for businesses on both sides of the English Channel, some are pessimistic that the leaders can bridge the deep political divide between Britain and the EU over what their relationship will look like once a post-Brexit transition period ends on Dec. 31.

“Whilst we do not consider this process to be closed, things are looking very tricky and there’s every chance we are not going to get there,” a senior British government source told Reuters.

Disputes remain on three key issues – fishing rights, fair-competition rules and the governance of future disputes.

The UK left the EU on Jan. 31 but remains within the bloc’s tariff-free single market and customs union until the end of the year. Failure to secure a trade deal would mean tariffs and other barriers that would hurt both sides starting on Jan. 1, although most analysts believe Britain would take a greater hit.

Meanwhile, there was a breakthrough in one area: The two sides announced an agreement on how trade will work with Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK that shares a land border with the EU, Politico reported.

The Brexit agreement last year contains specific provisions for Northern Ireland to ensure there are no customs checks or other trade barriers with EU member state, Ireland. But as trade talks foundered, the British government introduced legislation in September – deemed illegal under international law – giving itself powers to breach the legally binding withdrawal agreement.

British officials agreed to drop those proposals Tuesday.


Nowhere To Go

Hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers blocked national highways and rail lines Tuesday to pressure the central government into repealing controversial new farm laws, CBS News reported.

The shutdown, which was supported by trade unions and opposition political parties, follows two weeks of protests against three new farm laws approved in September.

The government says the new legislation will help deregulate the country’s agriculture sector by allowing farmers to sell their produce at a market price directly to private buyers, instead of relying on government-controlled wholesale markets with guaranteed prices.

Farmers, however, say the measures will benefit large corporations. They add they will lose vital government aid in the form of price guarantees and other support including payments when crops are destroyed by natural disasters.

After five rounds of talks, the government has failed to reach an agreement with the farmers. The government has expressed a willingness to amend some parts of the law but is ruling out a complete rollback.

The protests have gained international support including from American congressmen and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.


Covert Tactics

For thousands of years, the Fritillaria delavayi flower has been an important part of Chinese medicine, used to treat coughs and phlegm.

Found on the slopes of China’s Hengduan Mountains, this rare flower is known for its bright green bulb.

Recently, though, scientists noticed that some of these flower populations have evolved to hide themselves to avoid getting plucked, Science Alert reported. A research team found that some F. delavayi plants are now turning themselves gray and brown to better blend into their mountainous surroundings.

Initially, scientists believed this change was a defense mechanism to hide from herbivore predators – it turns out the plants are hiding from humans.

The team explained that this was only the way for the plant to protect itself from overharvesting: It takes more than 3,500 individual bulbs to make about two pounds of medicine.

The findings suggest that human behavior is shaping the evolution of plants.

Case in point: Similar behavior has been observed in the snow lotus, another medicinal plant used in Chinese medicine. The plant’s size has grown smaller over the past century.

“It’s possible that humans have driven (the) evolution of defensive strategies in other plant species but surprisingly little research has examined this,” said co-author Martin Stevens.

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: 15,171,935 (+1.46%)
  2. India: 9,735,850 (+0.33%)
  3. Brazil: 6,674,999 (+0.77%)
  4. Russia: 2,492,713 (+0.00%)**
  5. France: 2,363,197 (+0.60%)
  6. Italy: 1,757,394 (+0.85%)
  7. UK: 1,754,911 (+0.71%)
  8. Spain: 1,702,328 (+0.00%)**
  9. Argentina: 1,469,919 (+0.25%)
  10. Colombia: 1,384,610 (+0.55%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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