The World Today for August 20, 2021

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Weaponizing Passports

Russian officials have been issuing Russian passports to residents of eastern Ukraine, a region that has declared independence and affiliation with Moscow in a strategy the Atlantic Council called ‘the weaponization of citizenship.”

They plan to distribute about 1 million.

Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea in 2014. Later, Russian forces and Russian-backed separatists led an uprising in eastern Ukraine, kicking off a war between the two former Soviet republics. The fighting has claimed more than 13,200 lives.

The passports aren’t designed to make it easier for Russia to someday annex the so-called Donbas republics of Eastern Ukraine, according to a top Russian official quoted in the Russian state-owned Tass news agency. The official estimated that around 470,000 Russian passports have been issued in the region. The passports, he said, are a humanitarian gesture.

Yet Russia is allowing holders of Russian passports in contested Ukrainian territories to vote in upcoming Russian parliamentary elections, Radio Free Europe reported. That’s arguably a clear extension of Russian sovereignty over a neighbor.

It’s not a new tactic by the Russians, who have used it before in the breakaway republic of Transnistria – officially part of Moldova – and Abkhazia and South Ossetia, breakaway enclaves that are officially part of Georgia.

Meanwhile, an analyst at the Kyiv-based Ukrainian Institute for the Future told the Washington Times that local authorities are planning to restrict property rights in eastern Ukraine for those who can’t produce a Russian passport, preventing anyone who doesn’t support Russia from buying or selling a home in the region.

Locals including a teacher said they were under pressure to get the Donetsk People’s Republic passport, the document of the local region in eastern Ukraine and a prerequisite for the Russian document.

Anastasia, 29, a public school teacher and single mother with an infant in Makiivka, a town near Donetsk, said the pressure is increasingly difficult to resist. “The local authorities are doing everything they can to make life uncomfortable for people with Ukrainian documents to ensure that everyone gets Russian passports as soon as possible,” Anastasia told the Washington Times. School administrators, she said, “won’t get off my back.”

Meanwhile, another local was “thrilled” to finally become Russian, the paper reported.

Regardless, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fascination with Ukraine is deep. In July, Putin penned an essay demonstrating how he doesn’t view Ukrainians as separate from Russians, a notion that Yale University Historian Tim Snyder, an expert in authoritarianism, suggested provides a nationalist justification for Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Writing in the Hill, Harlan Ullman wondered whether Ukraine is Putin’s Taiwan, referring to the politically independent island allied to the West that China views as a breakaway region that someday will come back to the fold of the mother country. Joint Russian, Belarussian and Kazakh military exercises near Ukraine have many thinking that Russia is preparing for more aggression, Reuters reported. Such an acquisition would reassemble a key part of what was once the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union.

Regardless, the tensions continue. Ukraine has blocked fresh water to the occupied Crimean Peninsula, for example, reported the Financial Times. Russia, meanwhile, is struggling to keep up the supply of this vital resource to demonstrate the benefits of coming under Putin’s rule.

Weapons aside, in the war of hearts and minds, Ukraine is losing.



A Killer Is Loose

Authorities in Ivory Coast began a vaccination campaign this week in the economic capital, Abidjan, after detecting a single case of Ebola, the first one since 1994 in the West African country, Radio France Internationale reported.

Fears of an Ebola outbreak sparked when an 18-year-old woman from Guinea traveled to Abidjan last week aboard a bus. She was admitted to a hospital with a fever and is currently undergoing treatment.

Within 48 hours of the discovery, the government began vaccinating high-risk populations in the Abidjan neighborhood where the woman lives, hoping to vaccinate 2,000 people in three days, including those who traveled with the woman.

Meanwhile, Guinean officials are conducting their own investigation: So far, they have quarantined and vaccinated around 50 people, including members of the infected woman’s family.

The caution is due to fears of another severe outbreak in the region: From 2014 to 2016, Ebola killed 11,300 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The vaccine rollout comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) is warning of a second suspected case of the virus. WHO has provided Ivory Coast with 5,000 Ebola vaccines.

The Ebola virus is transmitted through bodily fluids and its symptoms include a high fever and – in severe cases – unstoppable bleeding.


Independence Day

Afghan protesters marched in the streets of multiple cities Thursday, the second day of protests against the newly established Taliban regime amid ongoing evacuations, Reuters reported.

Crowds of people in Kabul waved the Afghan black, red and green national flag in defiance of the Taliban. Elsewhere, some demonstrators also tore down the white flag of the Taliban.

Witnesses said that an unknown number of people were killed during a rally in the eastern city of Asadabad – although it’s unclear if the casualties resulted from Taliban gunfire or a stampede.

The demonstrations Thursday took place on the day Afghanistan usually marks independence from British control.

On Wednesday, similar protests took place in the city of Jalalabad in the east, where the Taliban killed three people, Reuters reported separately.

The unrest comes just days after the Taliban entered Kabul and took over the country. That followed a string of victories across Afghanistan in recent weeks as US troops finalized their full withdrawal from the country.

The insurgents are trying to present a more moderate face to the world, vowing to respect women’s rights and grant amnesty to opponents and people who cooperated with the government and foreign troops.

Meanwhile, Kabul’s international airport has been plagued by chaos since the Taliban entered the capital. Thousands of people, Afghans and foreigners, have been trying to flee the new regime. On Wednesday, the Taliban began blocking routes to the airport.

Even so, since Sunday, around 8,000 people have been flown out of Kabul.

The Taliban maintains that they are “keeping their word” by offering support to foreign powers evacuating their nationals.


The Freedom of Apparel

Uganda’s Constitutional Court scrapped a controversial anti-pornography law whose provisions included a ban on wearing miniskirts, a ruling welcomed by women’s rights activists in the country, Agence France-Presse reported.

Judges ruled that the 2014 legislation – dubbed the “anti-miniskirt law” – was “inconsistent with” the constitution.

The law criminalized any activity that could be deemed pornographic such as wearing provocative clothing or writing risqué songs. Many advocates said the law resulted in public harassment and the mistreatment of women and denied them control over their bodies.

In 2014, Ugandan popstar Jemimah Kansiime was detained for performing in a music video while wearing only underwear. Currently on trial, she faces up to 10 years in prison. The status of the case is unclear in light of the ruling.

The verdict also limited the power of the nine-member committee tasked with enforcing the anti-porn law.

The contentious legislation was championed by former Minister of Ethics and Integrity Simon Lokondo. He is remembered for once describing a local dating show as prostitution.


Living the Martian Life

Fans of the science fiction book and movie “The Martian” now have the chance to experience what it’s like to live alone on Mars, the Associated Press reported.

Earlier this month, NASA began taking applications for four people to live in a simulated version of the red planet for a whole year.

The four spacefarers will spend their time in Mars Dune Alpha, a 1,700-square-foot Martian habitat, created by a 3D printer, which is hosted by the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

The paid volunteers will experience a make-believe Martian exploration mission, including spacewalks, limited food and resources and equipment failures. Food will comprise of ready-to-eat space food but the participants will also be able to grow plants – similar to the movie.

“We want to understand how humans perform…,” said lead scientist Grace Douglas. “We are looking at Mars-realistic situations.”

Meanwhile, the application is restricted to specific individuals: They must be American citizens or permanent US residents with a master’s degree in a science, engineering or math field, or have pilot experience. The potential Martians need to be between 30 and 55 years old, in good health and not prone to motion sickness.

Former Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield said that the selective application shows that the space agency is looking for people who are similar to astronauts. Apparently, past Russian efforts at a pretend Mars mission didn’t go well – the people were too normal, he said.

Click here to become a Martian.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 210,016,156

Total Deaths Worldwide: 4,403,709

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 4,831,685,914

Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*

  1. US: 37,294,291 (+0.37%)
  2. India: 32,358,829 (+0.11%)
  3. Brazil: 20,494,212 (+0.18%)
  4. France: 6,636,833 (+0.38%)
  5. Russia: 6,592,705 (+0.31%)
  6. UK: 6,422,528 (+0.57%)
  7. Turkey: 6,157,742 (+0.31%)
  8. Argentina: 5,116,803 (+0.21%)
  9. Colombia: 4,880,516 (+0.07%)
  10. Spain: 4,758,003 (+0.26%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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