The World Today for February 28, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

Meanwhile, On the Home Front

RUSSIA

Elizaveta Peskova, the daughter of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, recently posted a “No to war!” message on Instagram.  As the Independent explained, 24-year-old Peskova was not the only child of a powerful Russian figure who has spoken out against the war.

“The biggest and most successful lie of Kremlin’s propaganda is that most Russians stand with Putin,” wrote Sofia Abramovich, 26, the daughter of Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich, on social media.

Oligarchs’ daughters don’t necessarily reflect the pulse of the nation. But they illustrate how many Russians are opposed to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to attack Ukraine.

A majority of Russians might not even support the war. Half of the Russians surveyed in a CNN poll said they believed Russia had the right to use force to prevent the former Soviet republic of Ukraine from joining NATO. Twenty-five percent didn’t support the use of force. Another 25 percent were undecided.

A journalist for the Toronto Star likened the tense mood on the streets of Moscow to the days of the Soviet Union when the government would brook no show of dissent despite percolating frustration with the country’s leadership. But those days are long gone. People are making their voices of opposition heard.

The police recently arrested thousands of protesters who took to the streets to call for an end to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. “I thought that we would never see a war like this in the 21st century,” protester Alexander Belov told the Guardian at an anti-war rally in Moscow. “It turns out we live in the Middle Ages.”

Despite those sentiments, the “rally around the flag” effect has sent Putin’s popularity soaring. Some Russians agree with Putin’s averred reasons for the war – the prevention of NATO pressuring or launching attacks against Russia from Ukraine, which has been taken over by “neo-Nazis,” the New York Times reported.

Meanwhile, as Westerners watch scenes of aggression against Ukraine, Russians are tuning into a completely different show, says Politico EU.

But analysts writing in a Washington Post op-ed also noted that Putin depends on scapegoating foreign (and domestic) enemies in order to retain his autocratic grip on power. That reasoning could explain why 69 percent of Russians now support their president, an eight percent increase since August. Less than 30 percent now disapprove of his job performance.

But such bumps in support don’t often last, argued Arik Burakovsky, a Russian expert at Tufts University, in the Conversation. As Ukrainian forces kill Russian troops and body bags return home, and as Western-imposed sanctions intending to choke Russia’s fortified but still-vulnerable economy, Russian public sentiment could quickly shift.

The Carnegie Center in Moscow, for example, warned that Russians are looking at a decade of “unpaid bills and economic stagnation.” Many might recall similar privations in the latter stages of the Soviet Union and wonder if Putin, a former KGB officer who is seeking to revive a glorified past, has their best interests in mind.

Acclaimed Russian writer, Vladimir Sorokin, says no, he doesn’t, just like all leaders before him going back to Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century who sat atop the “pyramid of power.” The Putin the world now sees, “is a monster – crazed in its desires and ruthless in its decisions (who) had grown gradually, gaining strength from year to year, marinating in its own absolute authority.” But Putin, he adds, sits on a “crumbling pyramid of power.”

On the Ukrainian home front, meanwhile, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has mobilized nearly the entire country to fight. Ukrainians are singing their national anthem in subways as they sit out Russian bombings, picking up guns at pop-up distribution centers and berating Russian soldiers on the street, all while bombing tanks, killing Russian soldiers and celebrating holding off Russian advances for another day. They are enduring a nation-building experience – paid in blood – that is likely to produce a more independent Ukraine with a greater sense of itself instead of the opposite.

Putin might be birthing a country only to destroy it while losing his own in the process.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Waiting, and Waiting

SOMALIA

Somalia again delayed its parliamentary elections set for next month, a move that risks further exacerbating the country’s situation amid budget issues, political infighting and an Islamist insurgency, Agence France-Presse reported over the weekend.

The lower house of parliament election was set for Feb. 25 and would have paved the way for lawmakers to pick a president. But on Friday, the government announced the polls would be postponed to March 15.

The Horn of Africa country was originally supposed to hold elections last year but they were delayed when President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed attempted to extend his term in office – it expired last February.

The move sparked deadly clashes in the streets of the capital, Mogadishu, prompting Prime Minister Hussein Roble to broker a new election timetable. But in the months that followed, the process derailed amid a spat between Roble and Mohamed, according to Al Jazeera.

The recent delay triggered criticism from the United States and the International Monetary Fund.

The US announced an extension of visa restrictions on officials and individuals “responsible for, or complicit in” undermining Somalia’s electoral process.

Meanwhile, IMF officials said they were halting funding for Somalia due to the election delay.

Somalia’s electoral process follows a complex indirect model: Roughly 30,000 clan delegates are tasked with selecting 275 lawmakers for the lower house, while state legislatures choose senators for the upper chamber, a process that has already concluded.

Currently, about 175 members of the lower house have been elected.

Separate, and Unequal

AFGHANISTAN

Public universities in Afghanistan reopened over the weekend to admit both female and male students, about six months after the Taliban took over the Central Asian country following the withdrawal of foreign troops last year, Voice of America reported.

The reopening was a pledge by the Islamist group to respect women’s rights and allow females to pursue an education, following their takeover in mid-August. The Taliban banned female education during their previous rule from 1996 to 2001.

The armed group said that the delayed opening was mainly because of financial difficulties and a lack of venues to separate females and males in accordance with the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Islam.

The opening day, however, was marked by low attendance and the lack of teaching staff. And strict rules for women prevailed such as separate classes for men and women, staggered operating hours and the requirement for women to wear hijabs.

Some students welcomed the reopening but many lamented the restrictions and the shortage of teachers.

Following the Taliban conquest, tens of thousands of educated Afghans fled the country fearing retaliation.

Taliban officials have allowed boys to rejoin secondary schools but many girls are still waiting for permission to go back to class. The group said it plans to allow Afghan girls to return to school in late March.

Eight Legs and Ethics

SPAIN

A Spanish company is planning to open the world’s first commercial octopus farm next year, raising questions among scientists over the ethics and environmental impact of such a venture, Reuters reported.

The company, Nueva Pescanova, said the proposed farm is set to be built on Spain’s Canary Islands and will cost about $74 million. It is currently pending environmental approval from local authorities.

The firm’s representatives said the farm will produce more than 3,000 tons of octopus meat per year by 2026 for domestic and international food chains. They added that it would also create hundreds of jobs on the island.

Nueva Pescanova noted that its project is built on decades of academic research and the company has beat rival ones in Mexico and Japan to perfect the conditions of industrial-scale breeding.

However, many scientists and animal rights groups have questioned the viability of such a farm, while also worrying about the welfare of octopi. They explained that these creatures are very intelligent and do not do well in captive conditions.

Previous attempts to farm the cephalopods failed due to high mortality and issues with aggression, self-mutilation and cannibalism.

Last year, a scientific review by the London School of Economics found that the cephalopods were sentient beings that can feel distress and happiness.

Even so, the European Union’s laws on the welfare of animals do not apply to invertebrates, and Spain’s new reforms on animal protection do not include octopi.

Meanwhile, traditional octopus fishermen worried that the plan could lower the price and undermine their reputation for quality produce.

According to UN Food and Agriculture Organization figures, the worldwide trade for octopi increased from $1.30 billion in 2010 to $2.72 billion in 2019.

Demand for the cephalopod is booming in Italy, South Korea and Spain – the world’s biggest importer – despite concerns from animal rights groups.

Dear Readers,
Because we believe the war in Ukraine is having an impact far beyond its borders or the region, starting today, we are temporarily adding a brief daily update to highlight key developments in this ongoing conflict and its repercussions.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced that Ukraine and Russia are planning to hold peace talks on the border between Ukraine and Belarus, the Hill reported, even as Belarus prepares to send soldiers to fight in Ukraine alongside Russians.
  • President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s nuclear forces to be placed on high alert on Sunday in reaction to what he called “aggressive words” by NATO’s key members, according to the Associated Press. Meanwhile, Belarus on Sunday renounced its non-nuclear status following a referendum.
  • The European Union and Canada said it is closing down airspace to Russian planes and the bloc will finance weapons purchases to Ukraine, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, the EU is also planning to block the Kremlin’s access to its sizable foreign currency reserves in the West and cut off some Russian banks from the SWIFT financial system. Russia’s central bank raised its key interest rate from 9.5 percent to 20 percent Monday, a significant hike designed to shore up the ruble, which fell 30 percent in value in early morning trading.

DISCOVERIES

Follow the Genes

Scientists and authorities recently gained ground in the fight against the illegal ivory trade by developing a novel method using DNA data from the seized tusks of African elephants to trace trafficking operations across Africa, Euronews reported.

In a new study, the team took genetic information from more than 4,000 elephant tusks from 49 ivory seizures. The samples were collected from 12 African nations from 2002 to 2019.

They then combined their findings with forensic evidence, such as phone records, shipping documents and financial records in order to map transnational criminal organizations across Africa.

“These transnational criminal organizations we’re trying to get – they are the key,” said co-author Samuel Wasser. “Because once the ivory leaves their hands and gets out of Africa, it becomes so difficult to trace.”

Wasser’s team discovered that about three major criminal groups are responsible for the bulk of elephant ivory smuggling operations out of the continent. They also identified pivotal locations where the ivory is poached and shipped and how traffickers have adapted in response to law enforcement crackdowns.

The authors hope the findings will aid law enforcement officials in targeting the major networks, instead of low-level poachers.

Annually, more than 550 tons of poached elephant tusks are shipped from Africa, mostly to Asia. The activity has threatened the continent’s elephant population, with numbers falling from around five million a century ago to around 415,000 today.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 435,293,002

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,948,775

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 10,514,085,611

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

  1. US: 78,939,203 (+0.01%)
  2. India: 42,924,130 (+0.02%)
  3. Brazil: 28,776,764 (+0.09%)
  4. France: 22,863,327 (+0.19%)
  5. UK: 18,938,546 (+0.00%)**
  6. Russia: 16,055,851 (+0.00%)**
  7. Germany: 14,779,825 (+0.32%)
  8. Turkey: 14,025,181 (+0.36%)
  9. Italy: 12,764,558 (+0.25%)
  10. Spain: 10,977,524 (+0.00%)**

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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