The World Today for December 14, 2021

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RUSSIA AND UKRAINE

Russia is amassing troops on the Ukrainian border. Ukrainian leaders say they can’t repel an invasion without American and European help. The potentially biggest battle on the continent since World War II is in the offing, Business Insider wrote. It could spill over into Europe, causing untold devastation.

Or maybe it’s just posturing that in truth reflects a weakened Russia looking for marginal gains on the world stage.

At present, Russia has around 175,000 troops on Ukraine’s border. It has established medical and fuel lines that could sustain a multi-pronged, prolonged assault following air and rocket strikes that would cripple Ukraine’s supply lines. An attack could come in January or February, the Washington Post reported.

“They will hold up as long as there are bullets,” Ukrainian General Kyrylo Budanov told the New York Times. “They’ll be able to use what they have in their hands, but believe me without delivery of reserves, there’s not an army in the world that can hold out.”

[holidaypromo]

In a recent two-hour-long phone call, American President Joe Biden told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the US was prepared to impose economic sanctions that would be tougher than those slapped on Russia in 2014, when tensions between the two first started heating up, according to CNN. Those tough sanctions could cripple the Russian economy, at least in the short term, noted Russia Matters.

After protests and civil unrest ousted Ukraine’s pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych in 2014, Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of the Crimea and started “arming and abetting separatists” in southeast Ukraine who have established new contested regions that refuse to acknowledge the authorities in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, the Council on Foreign Relations explained. Since then, Ukraine and Russia have been in a state of war. More than 14,000 people have died.

More bloodshed would be a tragedy. But if the conflict spreads to other parts of Europe, or especially if NATO members become embroiled in the fighting, catastrophe is possible. Millions of refugees who would likely flee the fighting would spill over into Central Europe, putting untold pressure on European politicians who are already struggling to handle migrants from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, the Daily Beast warned.

What does Putin want? He wants NATO countries to promise not to admit Ukraine to the alliance, to never deploy permanent forces or bases in Ukraine and end military exercises near Russia, the BBC reported. NATO leaders have countered that Ukraine is a sovereign country whose people have the right to make their own strategic decisions.

One wonders whether Western leaders will sacrifice the freedom of the Ukrainian people to protect the lives of their own.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

The Longest War

SOUTH KOREA

South and North Korea, China and the United States agreed “in principle” to declare a formal end to the Korean War, paving the way for a potential peace treaty between the neighboring nations, the Guardian reported Monday.

Since 1953, the two nations have remained in a technical state of war: Despite signing an armistice to end the fighting, there is no peace treaty between Seoul and Pyongyang.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the four main parties are working on a peace declaration that would end the “unstable” armistice that has been in place for almost seven decades.

He noted that a peace treaty could improve prospects for a breakthrough on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Even so, North Korea warned that it would not join the talks, citing “US hostility” – referencing the presence of American troops in South Korea and the annual US-South Korea military drills that Pyongyang considers a rehearsal for an invasion.

Meanwhile, the potential peace treaty has also divided opinion in the US and South Korea.

Supporters believe it could encourage North Korea to restart stalled nuclear talks but critics warn that the deal could reward Pyongyang’s provocative behavior and threaten the presence of US troops in the South.

The Friend of My Friend…

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Emirati de facto ruler Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan on Monday, the first official visit by an Israeli leader to the United Arab Emirates, the New York Times reported.

The meeting in Abu Dhabi is seen as a foreign policy victory for Bennett and comes more than a year after the two countries agreed to normalize relations.

The August 2020 deal was seen as historic as most Arab leaders have refused to establish relations with Israel without resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, the agreement later prompted other Arab nations such as Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan to follow suit, a move that Palestinian leaders have condemned.

Monday’s visit also highlighted the changing geopolitical priorities for some Middle Eastern leaders, who consider the threat of a nuclear Iran as the main regional issue.

Since last year’s deal, Emirati officials have seldom spoken about the Palestinian issue while the topic of Iran’s nuclear program has formed the bedrock of the Israeli-Emirati relationship.

Even so, Saudi Arabia – a regional power – has refused to establish similar ties with Israel, unless the Palestinian issue is resolved.

Drifting Apart

BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

The regional Bosnian Serb legislature approved proposals to secede from greater Bosnia and Herzegovina this week, a move that would weaken the country’s central government and violate the 1995 peace agreement that ended the Bosnian war, Euronews reported.

Lawmakers from the ruling coalition led by Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik had enough votes to approve the measures, which would allow the regional government – known as Republika Srpska – to draft new laws, including changes to the entity’s constitution.

The new changes would also allow Republika Srpska to withdraw from Bosnia and Herzegovina’s army, security services, tax system and judiciary.

The controversial proposals come amid rising tensions among the country’s three main ethnic groups –Muslim Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs – in recent months. In July, former high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Valentin Inzko, amended the criminal code to ban the denial of genocide and the glorification of war criminals, according to the Turkish-based Anadolu Agency.

Dodik – who is currently the Bosnian Serb member of the tripartite Bosnian presidency – denounced the move and called for a boycott of the country’s institutions. Dodik has previously called for the secession of Republika Srpska.

Despite the approval, opposition lawmakers in the regional assembly denounced the move as a “direct threat to peace,” saying it could lead the region “into the spiral of war.”

Meanwhile, officials in Bosnia and Herzegovina called on the United States and other Western nations to crack down on Dodik and his allies. The US has already imposed a travel ban and assets freeze on Dodik and has threatened further sanctions.

If the proposals are implemented, they would violate the 1995 Dayton Accords that ended the war and created Bosnia’s current – and complex – political system comprised of two administrative units: The Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat majority Federation of BiH.

DISCOVERIES

Sperm Solutions

Salmon sperm could one day resolve the world’s plastic pollution, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

Scientists in China have developed a new, eco-friendly plastic by combining salmon DNA with a chemical derived from vegetable oil. The resulting mixture creates a gel-like squishy substance called hydrogel, which can be molded into different shapes once the moisture has been removed, according to a new study.

The team then used a process known as “aqua-welding” to create a few objects with the new plastic, such as puzzle pieces, a cup and even a plastic DNA model.

Researchers noted that the process of making their bioplastic results in 97 percent less carbon emissions than current plastics. They added that it’s also very easy to recycle: Either add some DNA-digesting enzyme or dump it in water to turn it back into hydrogel.

The new hydrogel could potentially help replace current oil-based plastics – the latter needs a lot of heat and toxic substances to manufacture and can take hundreds of years to break down.

Even biodegradable bioplastics from algae or cornstarch, which leave a small carbon footprint, require energy provided by the fossil-fuel energy grid. A previous study found that some bioplastics contain substances made from both petroleum and bio-based mixes.

While the hydrogel lacks water resistance, the authors hope their sperm-based product could help reduce plastic waste if it enters the market.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 270,835,885

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,313,420

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 8,480,383,577

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

  1. US: 50,119,437 (+0.40%)
  2. India: 34,703,644 (+0.02%)
  3. Brazil: 22,177,059 (+0.00%)**
  4. UK: 10,935,788 (+0.50%)
  5. Russia: 9,871,229 (+0.30%)
  6. Turkey: 9,060,945 (+0.21%)
  7. France: 8,363,479 (+0.01%)
  8. Germany: 6,581,435 (+0.54%)
  9. Iran: 6,157,519 (+0.04%)
  10. Argentina: 5,361,967 (+0.07%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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