The World Today for February 25, 2022

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Bully, Unmasked


Air raid sirens sounded in Kyiv Thursday as the Ukrainian government warned of bombs following Russia’s morning attack on dozens of targets across Ukraine. Streets were clogged with locals trying to withdraw money or stock up on supplies – some also looked for bomb shelters, others carried suitcases to head out of the city, joining a miles-long jam.

There was a brave face overlaying the resignation of inevitable defeat. “Ukraine is defending itself and won’t give up its freedom no matter what Moscow thinks,” said its defiant leader, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, pleading for saviors.

That’s because Russian forces moved like lightning from three directions across Ukraine, advancing on the capital, Kyiv, from two sides as heavy fighting raged elsewhere in the country, the Washington Post reported. The Russians captured some small cities along the way, moving toward the prize. Friday, Zelenskyy said “enemy sabotage groups” had entered the capital as rockets began to rain down.

And as Goliath bullied and battered David, Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to bray about threats from the comparatively tiny, massively outgunned country, saying he would achieve the “demilitarization and de-Nazification of Ukraine… and free the country from those who took it hostage.”

Meanwhile, he warned those who tried to interfere: “If you do, you will face consequences greater than any you have faced in history.”

He detailed how he doesn’t plan to occupy Ukraine, or “impose anything on anyone by force.” No, he wants Ukrainian neutrality and disarmament, he said, and offered direct negotiations with the Ukrainian leader for the first time.

But to Zelenskyy, it was a Faustian bargain, rejected with bravado. He said Ukrainian soldiers are pushing back Russian offensives, shooting down aircraft and blowing up Russian tanks. Still, he begged the West for weapons to be able to fight on. A non-NATO country, he asked for the impossible – the alliance’s help.

Now, the questions over Putin’s limits have been answered. But others linger: What next? How bad is it going to get? What does Putin really want? Who will he threaten next?

Some analysts believe that Putin wants to reverse the Maidan Revolution of 2014, which ousted a pro-Russian president, a revolt the Russian leader calls a coup d’état. Others say Putin’s true motive is shaking up the US-dominated world order, sowing disunity and chaos among Western allies and breaking up the Western world’s security architecture.

If that was his goal, he miscalculated. Hours after the first missiles hit, unity kicked in. The EU offered its “harshest” sanctions in history, as EU officials described. These measures would freeze Russian assets in the bloc, stop Russian banks from accessing European financial markets, and impose export controls including the blocking of Russian access to much-needed technology, Reuters reported. These add to the first round of EU sanctions earlier this week targeting members of Putin’s inner circle, including his defense minister. Elite Russians who have long used European banks, bought European mansions and shopped in European stores have become “persona non grata” in most of Europe, diplomats said.

The US, Australia, Japan and the UK have also imposed harsh sanctions intended to, as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday, cripple “Russia’s military, industrial and technological capabilities for years to come,” the Wall Street Journal reported. The UK also banned Russian airline Aeroflot from landing in the UK.

While countries from Turkey to Taiwan, Israel to Kenya, New Zealand to Chile, have condemned the assault on Ukraine, and protests against the invasion broke out in capitals – including Moscow – around the globe, some world leaders reacted with the fury of the scorned. That’s because, as commentators noted, they had appeased Russia for years, talking themselves into a policy of peace through inclusion no matter what Putin did.

“There are many fathers of the disaster unfolding in Ukraine,” wrote Politico EU. “The United States refused for years to believe that Putin was as dangerous as he has turned out to be. The United Kingdom was more interested in attracting oligarchs’ wealth than in asking where it came from. But make no mistake: No country has done more to downplay and forgive Russia’s transgressions than Germany. The truth is, Germans like to do business with Russia.”

And as the handwringing and recriminations go on, the betrayed say they see more clearly now: “Russia’s target is not only Donbas, the target is not only Ukraine, the target is the stability in Europe, and the (entire architecture of international peace),” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

Meanwhile, as Ukrainian casualties mount – more than 100 are reported dead as of Friday morning even as the true count remains unclear – countries in the region such as Moldova, the Czech Republic and especially Poland are bracing for refugees, saying they expect up to one million Ukrainians to cross the border, the Associated Press reported.

And as some Ukrainians leave to go abroad, others try to return home, the Guardian reported.

Marta Mulyak, a Ukrainian who lives in London, says she knows Ukrainian expatriates who are going to Ukraine to fight for their homeland: “The reality is that no one except Ukrainians will defend Ukraine.”


A Circular Backlash


Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revoked the use of emergency powers to deal with the “Freedom Convoy” trucker protests, just days after lawmakers voted to extend them, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Trudeau said the decision followed consultations with police and other security officials, adding that law enforcement has been able to control the demonstrations and maintain public safety without extraordinary measures.

Last week, Trudeau became the first Canadian leader in history to invoke emergency powers. He did so to dismantle the protests that had paralyzed the capital, Ottawa, blocked crucial US-Canada border crossings for three weeks and disrupted trade. The “Freedom Convoy” was initially a protest against vaccine mandates for truckers but soon turned into a broader movement against all pandemic-related measures.

On Monday, the lower house of parliament agreed to extend the powers for 30-days, which would allow the authorities to designate no-protest zones and compel service providers to remove vehicles. It also permitted police to freeze the bank accounts of those connected to the protest movement.

Authorities said that financial institutions had frozen more than 200 accounts. While the government defended the freezing of accounts as a way to “disrupt illegal activity in Canada,” some analysts warned that the decision could impact people unaffiliated with the demonstrations, the Journal reported separately.

On Tuesday, Canada ordered banks to unlock their financial accounts.

Meanwhile, many criticized the invocation of the emergency powers. They labeled the move as government overreach and an infringement on individual rights.

At least two civil-liberties organizations said last week they would take the government to court over the issue, and the western province of Alberta announced that it will launch its own legal challenge.

Hit the Books


Britain is planning to bar high school students who fail math and English exams from taking out college loans under a set of government proposals that ignited criticism from education advocates and educators, CNBC reported.

The Department of Education said the proposals would block students from getting a state-funded college loan if they fail to get at least a Level 4 – the equivalent of a ‘C’ grade in the US – on their high-school exams, known as GCSEs. Other requirements require decent grades on their pre-college exams – also known as A-Levels.

In 2021, around 22 percent of students failed to get a Level 4 in math, while roughly 19 percent failed to pass English, according to the government.

Meanwhile, officials said they are extending the student loan repayment term to 40 years for students as of September 2023. Previously, loans were written off 25-30 years, CNBC reported separately.

In the UK, student loans are state-funded and repayments are taken straight out of graduates’ paychecks after they earn above a certain amount.

The proposed changes came following a review of the funding of higher education. The Department of Education said that outstanding loans reached more than $215 billion a year ago, and could reach more than half a trillion dollars in 20 years.

Even so, critics warned that the reforms put an “unprecedented fiscal squeeze on future graduates,” noting that many students would end up paying loans into their sixties.

Others admonished the government for turning “the clock back on progress made by universities to get more people from disadvantaged backgrounds into higher education and better jobs.”

Words and Swords


Pakistan toughened laws to stop the spread of fake news that would regulate posts on social media platforms, a move many critics described as an attempt to crack down on journalists and opponents of the government, Bloomberg reported.

Earlier this week, President Arif Alvi approved an ordinance that would amend Pakistan’s Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act which allows individuals to file a complaint against a social media post.

The changes would increase prison terms for violations from three to five years and make the spread of fake news online exempt from bail.

Officials said the measure follows rumors on social media about a rift between Prime Minister Imran Khan and the first lady, VOA reported.

Journalists and media advocates criticized the ordinance, saying that it is “unwarranted and deplorable and undermines democratic, political and media freedoms.” They vowed to challenge the measures in court and hit the streets in demonstrations.

The decision also comes days ahead of a planned 10-day demonstration by Pakistan’s second-largest opposition party aimed at dislodging Khan from power.


Missed Spots

Cars are very filthy and that’s not only because of the environmental pollution they cause, according to a new study.

Scientists found that vehicles are more unhygienic than toilet seats and rife with various bacteria, including E. coli, Deutsche Welle reported.

For the study, a research team swabbed the insides of five used cars and compared them to samples taken from two toilet seats. They found that the filthiest part of the car was the trunk, while the steering wheel was the cleanest.

Researchers said the trunk had large traces of E. coli, a bacterium that causes food poisoning. They explained that the microbe’s prevalence stems from people transporting pets or muddy shoes in the trunks of their cars – and rarely cleaning them.

“We tend to care a little bit less about the cleanliness in the (trunk) of our cars because it’s the main place we put things to transport them from A to B,” said lead author Jonathan Cox.

As for the steering wheel, Cox noted that the increased use of hand sanitizer during the coronavirus pandemic has prevented microorganisms from occupying the vehicle’s most used part.

The team said they used toilets as a comparison because other studies did so and therefore provided good comparative value: Previous findings have found that phones also host more microorganisms than toilet seats.

The study serves as a reminder that just because a surface appears clean, it isn’t necessarily so.

“Most of us bleach our toilets, probably on a daily basis, but when do we ever bleach our cars? We don’t,” Cox added.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 431,443,223

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,928,567

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 10,445,905,858

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

  1. US: 78,799,264 (+0.09%)
  2. India: 42,894,345 (+0.03%)
  3. Brazil: 28,589,235 (+0.34%)
  4. France: 22,707,796 (+0.30%)
  5. UK: 18,906,546 (+0.21%)
  6. Russia: 15,697,674 (+0.84%)
  7. Germany: 14,458,827 (+1.45%)
  8. Turkey: 13,841,889 (+0.58%)
  9. Italy: 12,651,251 (+0.38%)
  10. Spain: 10,949,997 (+0.33%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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