The World Today for February 11, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

A Revanchist Reset

UKRAINE

Despite the buildup of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border, Russian President Vladimir Putin probably doesn’t really want to launch a full-scale war that might drag in the United States and European powers, argued Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev recently in the New York Times.

On the contrary, rather than starting a hot war, Putin wants to precipitate a crisis that drives a wedge between Europe, which needs Russian oil and gas, and the US, where domestic concerns today are paramount. In the ensuing chaos, says Just Security, both sides will be under pressure to help Putin achieve his real goal of redividing Europe and ending the Western-dominated regime that has dominated the continent’s politics since the end of the Cold War and breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

That could be one reason why Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has downplayed the possibility of a Russo-Euro-American war while still exhorting the West to stand united against Putin’s aggression.

First, Ukrainians have been fighting against Russia since the latter country occupied the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. They’ve grown accustomed to Russian “bombast,” claimed the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Second, as Politico explained, rather than fearing a Russian invasion that has already happened, Zelenskyy is concerned that the West will believe Putin’s threats of escalation and sell out the Ukrainians, forcing them to give in to Russian demands to cede sovereignty of Russian-controlled regions in eastern Ukraine to officials in Moscow.

Nonetheless, Zelenskyy recently ordered 100,000 more Ukrainians to enlist in the army, added the Hill, even as Russia began military drills on Thursday with Belarus. In the unfortunate event of an invasion, he said, a Russian-Ukrainian war would inevitably become a full-scale European war, reported CNBC.

At that stage, after all, Putin, in theory, would have had no recourse in his view but to use bullets and bombs to rearrange Europe’s strategic balance – the nightmare scenario.

Could that happen? The Russian president feels as if the US and NATO are encircling his country, the Washington Post wrote. He wants a guarantee that Ukraine will never be allowed to join NATO. American and European leaders have rejected that proposal, saying it would compromise Ukraine’s sovereignty.

“Ignoring our concerns, the US and NATO generally refer to the right of the states to freely choose ways to ensure their security,” Putin said recently, according to Newsweek. “But this is not just about giving somebody the right to freely choose how to ensure their security. No one should be allowed to strengthen their security at the expense of the security of the other states.”

Anything could happen. But in matters of war and peace, how leaders calculate the odds is what matters.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Here We Go Again

LIBYA

Libya’s eastern-based parliament voted to replace interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah on Thursday, a move that risks deepening the political crisis in the North African country as it tries to emerge from years of conflict, Reuters reported.

Lawmakers picked former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha, who previously served as the security chief in the internationally-recognized Tripoli government when Libya was split between two warring factions.

His appointment comes amid an ongoing crisis following the collapse of last year’s presidential elections. Libya has been plagued by civil war since the 2011 ouster of autocrat Muammar Gaddafi, with the country divided into two dueling administrations supported by different foreign powers.

A United Nations-backed peace plan in 2020 resulted in a ceasefire between the factions and the formation of an interim unity government headed by Dbeibah that would usher in elections.

However, lawmakers said that Dbeibah’s mandate ended after the December elections were canceled – they are scheduled for next year, according to Bloomberg.

On Thursday, the prime minister said he would only step down after the presidential polls, which could derail the UN peace plan and plunge the country back into conflict.

The fears of conflict were further exacerbated this week after it was reported that unknown assailants had attempted to assassinate Dbeibah before the scheduled vote.

The prime minister escaped unharmed.

Full Circles

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO/ UGANDA

The International Court of Justice ordered Uganda to pay the Democratic Republic of the Congo $325 million in compensation over a conflict that occurred more than 20 years ago, Africa News reported Thursday.

The verdict is related to the 1998-2003 conflict in the mineral-rich Ituri region in eastern Congo. A land dispute in the area morphed into a regional war that saw Congo’s neighbors support different militias in an attempt to gain influence.

The Congolese government initially brought the case to the ICJ in 1999 against Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda, saying their involvement in the conflict was a “flagrant breach” of the United Nations charter, the Associated Press noted.

Congo later dropped the case against Burundi in 2001 and the world court ruled a year later that it had no jurisdiction in the case against Rwanda. In 2005, the tribunal ruled that fighting by Ugandan troops in Congo breached international law but the amount of compensation wasn’t set.

Following the 2005 decision, Congo demanded $11 billion in compensation, which Uganda rejected.

But in Thursday’s verdict, the court acknowledged that Uganda was to blame for a “significant part” of the casualties in the war even as it said the Congolese government failed to prove that Ugandan forces were responsible for the deaths of 180,000 civilians.

Uganda rejected the ruling as “unfair and wrong” and accused the ICJ of “undue interference.” Many Congolese expressed regret that the amount was much smaller than previously demanded.

Still, relations between the two nations have improved since the 2019 election of Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi: Both countries are now allies and their armies are jointly fighting rebels in eastern Congo.

Not Sorry

MEXICO

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador called for the “pausing” of diplomatic relations with Spain in what is the latest spat between Mexico and its former colonial ruler since the populist leader took office nearly four years ago, Voice of America reported.

The president admitted “the relationship is not good” and that both countries need a “breather.” His recent comments are part of a series of jabs he has lobbed against Spain.

Since he took office in 2018, López Obrador has accused Spanish authorities and corporations of exploiting Mexico, describing the European country as the “owners of Mexico.” López Obrador also sent a letter to the Spanish king and Pope Francis asking them to apologize for their exploitation of Mexico in the 500 years since the Spanish conquest.

Spain rejected the request.

Meanwhile, the president has proposed controversial changes to Mexico’s energy sector, saying they would end exploitation in the Central American country by Spanish companies such as Iberdrola (power) and Repsol (oil) who found favor from previous Mexican governments.

Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares criticized the Mexican president’s comments, saying that Spain “has done nothing that could justify any declaration of this kind.”

Weekly World Quiz

DISCOVERIES

Fake Fruit, Real Hope

Ethiopia’s “false bananas” could be the solution to food scarcity caused by climate change, a new study reported.

The plant relative of the banana – known as “enset” – is a starchy crop that is also a food staple in the East African country: Although its fruit is inedible, the plant’s stems and roots can be fermented to make porridge and bread.

Currently, about 20 million Ethiopians rely on enset as a food source.

A research team recently discovered that the crop has “significant potential” to feed millions across the continent amid climate change, according to CTV News.

Researchers said that the plant is only cultivated in Ethiopia but noted that enset has also been spotted in the wild across Africa. This suggests that the plant can grow in other regions.

Using agricultural surveys and ecological modeling, the team found comparable highland climates where enset farming might help alleviate food and nutritional shortages while offering few hurdles to adoption.

Their findings also show that “false bananas” can feed more than 100 million people in the next 40 years and boost food security in Ethiopia and other African countries with suitable environments.

But the authors added that there are a number of issues in proliferating “false bananas.”

The Ethiopian government restricts the plant’s international transfer to protect native bioresources from exploitation. Enset cultivation is also strongly tied to “cultural groups who hold the required knowledge.”

Even so, the study maintains that “false bananas” provide “an opportunity to adopt an improved suite of climate-resilient crops with multiple food security co-benefits.”

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 406,071,123

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,790,139

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 10,147,503,505

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

  1. US: 77,437,156 (+0.22%)
  2. India: 42,536,137 (+0.14%)
  3. Brazil: 27,135,550 (+0.60%)
  4. France: 21,513,044 (+1.58%)
  5. UK: 18,287,720 (+0.91%)
  6. Russia: 13,323,972 (+1.49%)
  7. Turkey: 12,653,276 (+0.79%)
  8. Germany: 12,068,411 (+2.00%)
  9. Italy: 11,923,631 (+0.64%)
  10. Spain: 10,555,196 (+0.51%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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