June 08, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

BELARUS

The Laws of Air

Ryanair flight 4978 was over Belarus on a trip from Greece to Lithuania when an air traffic controller announced that they had a bomb on board. Soon after, a MiG fighter jet suddenly appeared to escort the commercial flight to the Minsk National Airport.

The bomb scare turned out to be a pretext for Belarussian authorities to arrest Belarusian dissident Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega, his Russian girlfriend, both who live outside of the country, as the New York Times recounted in a podcast. Almost everyone else on board was allowed to continue to their destination.

The episode was a historic turn in global affairs, especially regarding international travel and transportation.

“Flying over a foreign country has, until now, felt to most people like teleporting past it,” wrote the Atlantic in an article that compared the flight 4978 incident to a hijacking that could compel airliners to stop at international borders like passenger trains often must do today.

Belarus did not change or break any laws, however. States can force down airliners flying in their airspace with impunity, Financial Times columnist Peggy Hollinger wrote. When Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko ordered Protasevich and Sapega apprehended, however, he clearly broke the “spirit” of the conventions that governments leave commercial planes alone unless they are landing in their territory, she argued.

Lukashenko’s critics, who have long detailed his corruption and civil rights violations, preferred the second line of thought. European air regulators recommended that their airlines avoid Belarusian airspace from now on, redrawing the aviation map of Europe, CNN reported. Many now fly over Russian airspace.

European airports have also banned incoming flights on Belavia, the Belarussian state-owned air carrier, added Tass, a Russian state-owned news agency. The company, the country’s only airline, is now on the brink of insolvency, wrote Reuters.

The US and Europe have already imposed sanctions on top Belarusian officials after they ordered the arrests of 34,000 people protesting over Lukashenko’s win of a sixth term in an election last year that critics said was rigged, CNBC explained.

The incident is also likely to complicate the meeting between American President Joe Biden and Russian leader Vladimir Putin on June 16, argued Tatsiana Kulakevich, a Russia expert at the University of South Florida, in the Conversation.

Biden is likely to view the incident as a violation of goodwill. Russia, on the other hand, is Belarus’ closest and most important ally. Lukashenko has made gestures to maintain Belarus’ independence from its big neighbor but he is squarely within Russian President Vladimir Putin’s zone of influence, according to France24.

Protasevich, meanwhile, recently praised Lukashenko’s leadership on public television. The dissident, who many believe has been tortured, might face the death penalty.

WANT TO KNOW

MEXICO

Bullets and Ballots

Mexico’s ruling coalition secured a majority in the country’s midterm legislative elections but failed to win the supermajority needed to pass major bills and constitutional reforms, CNN reported Monday.

Preliminary results showed that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s party, Morena and its governing partner are expected to win between 265 to 292 of the 500 seats in the lower house of parliament.

Morena currently holds 256 seats but is projected to lose at least 50. Meanwhile, López Obrador’s political opponents are expected to pick up seats, according to the country’s National Electoral Institute.

Election officials said that the voter turnout was more than 51 percent, described as the largest in Mexican history.

Analysts have called the midterms a referendum on López Obrador, who was elected in 2018 on pledges to root out corruption and tackle the violence that has plagued Mexico for decades.

The populist leader remains popular among the middle and lower classes but critics say that he has failed to stop the organized crime that continues to plague Mexico. Opponents have also accused him of failing to respect the Mexican political system’s checks and balances.

The election cycle was marred by a wave of violence months before the contest, including nearly 100 political assassinations.

Human remains were found in at least two voting booths in Baja California state, while in Sinaloa state, several voting centers were forced to close early after facing threats from armed groups.

NIGERIA

Access Denied

The Nigerian government came under fire this week after it ordered the country’s telecoms to shut down access to Twitter, a move that civil rights advocates consider the latest example of “Nigeria’s full descent into authoritarianism,” the Financial Times reported Monday.

Officials ordered the ban after the tech company deleted a post by President Muhammadu Buhari for violating its abusive speech policies: Buhari’s tweet threatened to crack down on the banned secessionist Indigenous People of Biafra group in southeastern Nigeria.

Western diplomats said the move undermines Nigeria’s freedom of expression. Local activists, meanwhile, said the move underscored the government’s anger at Twitter after anti-police brutality protests swept the country last year using the hashtag “#EndSARS.”

The hashtag refers to the protest movement against Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad, which has been accused of torturing and executing suspects with impunity, according to Amnesty International. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey voiced support for the movement.

Following the criticism, Buhari’s government backtracked on the ban and said it was merely “temporary.”

However, the incident marks another instance of growing tensions between social media companies and political leaders, most famously, former US President Donald Trump, who has been banned from Twitter and other social media sites.

On Saturday, the Indian government warned Twitter to comply with the country’s new social media regulations, which critics say give the government more power to police online content, Business Insider reported.

RUSSIA

Flying Away

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law Monday that formalized Russia’s exit from the Open Skies Treaty, an international pact that allows surveillance flights over fellow members’ military facilities, the Moscow Times reported.

Russia’s departure follows the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the agreement last year after it accused Russia of non-compliance. The Biden administration said last month that it had no intention of returning to the pact.

The Open Skies Treaty, which was signed in 1992 and came into force in 2002, allowed its more than three dozen members to conduct joint unarmed short-notice observation flights over countries’ territories to monitor potential military operations.

The agreement was aimed at fostering trust between member countries but the United States and Russia have long accused each other of violating the treaty.

The move comes 10 days ahead of a summit between President Joe Biden and Putin in Geneva, Switzerland.

The two leaders are expected to discuss a set of issues, such as Russia’s support of separatists in Ukraine’s east and Moscow’s interference in US elections, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

DISCOVERIES

Post-Battle Ritual

Iron age warriors celebrated the defeat of their opponents in the oddest way: They would bend swords and spears, according to Daily Mail.

Archaeologists came across a hoard of ancient weapons buried in the remains of a hillfort on the mountain of Wilzenberg, in western Germany.

The archaic arsenal included around 40 blunted spear tips and lances, as well as broken shield bosses and remains of horse harnesses. The research team determined that the weapons were deliberately damaged and dumped near the hillfort following a battle.

“According to current research, it is conceivable that a fight took place in the area around Wilzenberg,” said archaeologist Manuel Zeiler. “The damage was clearly not caused during a fight, and consequently the Wilzenberg is not a battlefield.”

The team has narrowed down the finds to around 300 – 1 BCE but has yet to determine the precise date of the weapons. It’s also unclear if the damaged items were discarded after one battle or accumulated over many centuries.

But the destruction of armaments is not unique to the Wilzenberg warriors.

Archaeologists working at sites in Gournay and Ribemont-sur-Ancre in France have noted that Celtic cultures would ritually destroy the armaments of their vanquished opponents.

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: 33,378,148 (+0.05%)
  2. India: 28,996,473 (+0.30%)
  3. Brazil: 16,984,218 (+0.22%)
  4. France: 5,775,535 (+0.02%)
  5. Turkey: 5,293,627 (+0.11%)
  6. Russia: 5,076,543 (+0.18%)
  7. UK: 4,538,399 (+0.12%)
  8. Italy: 4,233,698 (+0.03%)
  9. Argentina: 3,977,634 (+0.56%)
  10. Germany: 3,710,342 (+0.04%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours