The World Today for March 03, 2022

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The End, the Beginning

UKRAINE

A week ago, Russia began bombing Ukraine. Seven days later, it’s a different world.

That’s because in that week, as massively outgunned Ukrainians put up fierce resistance, nations around the world have moved to express outrage in ways big and small, turning the tables on Russia and putting it under siege.

From biting financial sanctions to the removal of Russian vodka from store shelves, to the shunning of Russian businesses and joint ventures, musicians and artists, media and athletes – and diplomats – it’s become a world where a major power has become a pariah, isolated and scorned.

Countries in North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region have not only signed up to sanctions but banned Russian planes and moved to send money and arms to Ukraine. As the Japanese government offered millions in loans, ordinary Japanese people raised $17 million in donations for the country in just days. Aid for Ukraine in cryptocurrency surpassed $30 million on Thursday, Time reported. And thousands have come out in protests across Europe and the US but also in South Africa, Japan, South Korea, Myanmar and Taiwan. Even pro-Russia Brazil condemned the invasion along with Chile, Colombia and Argentina.

Some countries have made radical changes to longtime policy that would have been unthinkable a few weeks ago, upending post-Cold War era paradigms that have reigned supreme for three decades. For example, Finland and Sweden, long neutral because of their proximity to Russia, are openly considering NATO membership and are sending arms and funds to Ukraine, drawing threats from Vladimir Putin, ABC News wrote.

Switzerland, which has clung to its neutrality for centuries and is a haven for Russian business and assets not only because of its strict banking secrecy laws, broke that longstanding tradition and imposed sanctions mirroring that of the EU, the Financial Times explained. The country, like Germany and others in Europe, did so at a huge cost to itself: It is dependent on Russian energy to fuel its homes and industry.

And Germany, with its WWII legacy and its close business ties to Russia, doubled its defense budget overnight, canceled a key gas pipeline project with Russia, and for the first time in 70 years, said it would ship arms directly into a conflict. The new chancellor, Olaf Scholz, once a leftist youth leader who complained about NATO imperialism, is overseeing a seismic shift mirrored in the German public: Thousands have marched in support of Ukraine and 78 percent support a massive increase in defense spending, a recent poll showed.

Meanwhile, in a sign of the fear and fury that the invasion inspired within the EU, the usually slow-moving, divided bloc managed to overnight to issue its harshest sanctions in its history, cutting off Russian banks from the SWIFT financial transaction infrastructure, sanctioning its central bank, finance ministry and sovereign wealth fund and seizing state and private assets in an effort to “bring about the collapse of the Russian economy,” as Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said bluntly.

Eastern Europeans, long fretting over their security because of the Soviet Union’s post-war domination and also geographic proximity, felt like they were getting whiplash as they looked on these changes in disbelief, the Washington Post reported.

“It’s the end of an era…What you grew up in, the last 30 years, is over,” said former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who explained how he was used to being dismissed by other EU leaders as paranoid over his fears of Russia. “The situation on the ground has led countries to understand neither Biden nor the East Europeans were crazy.”

And as world leaders moved to punish Russia, so did business and individuals. Some of the world’s biggest companies – Exxon, Adidas, H&M and GM to name a few of a long and growing list – pulled out of Russia in the past week, said Business Insider. The Ukrainians even managed to shame Big Tech into falling into line after it initially held onto its mantle of neutrality: Apple stopped selling in Russia Tuesday following moves by Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google to shut down Russian state channels and other measures after years of appeasing tyrants abroad, Wired reported. Meanwhile, Elon Musk agreed to provide satellite coverage for communications after being tweeted by Ukrainian officials as concerns grew about the country’s communications infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Hollywood studios have canceled premiers of films in Russia, bands such as Green Day have canceled concerts. Eurovision cut Russian contestants out of its competition, while the International Olympic Committee and FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, among other sporting organizations have frozen Russian athletes. Tours of Russia have been canceled, “sister cities” have broken up.

At the same time, Russia’s friends – Cuba, Venezuela, China, India and others – have mumbled quietly about respecting borders and expressing hope for a quick end to the conflict. China on Wednesday made its strongest protest in defense of Russia yet when it complained about the sanctions against Russia, the New York Times reported. Still, analysts say it is unlikely China will violate sanctions and rescue Russia’s economy, which has been badly damaged by sanctions in its first week, the Economist noted. Its business interests in the West are too important.

The outpouring over Ukraine and the economic weapons unleashed against Russia doesn’t mean a change in the course of the war. While Ukrainians have done startling damage to Russian tanks and killed or captured hundreds of enemy soldiers, analysts say Russia is just getting started – and learning from its mistakes. On Wednesday, it won its first trophy after it captured the regional capital of Khersen. Its advance has already captured smaller towns and according to Ukrainian sources, killed more than 2,000 people while sending a million more pouring over the borders into Poland and other countries in the largest exodus of European refugees the continent has seen in decades.

And while more peace talks are likely in the near future, it’s unlikely that either Ukraine or Russia will back down anytime soon. That means where the conflict is headed – and its repercussions on the world – is anyone’s guess. But one thing is clear, the Atlantic noted: “The world is not the same today as it was last week…there will be no full reversion to the global status quo ante.”

In a week, an era has ended.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Too Many Chefs

LIBYA

Libya’s east-based parliament approved a new government this week to replace the cabinet of interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, a move that could reignite tensions and again divide the war-torn nation into rival administrations, Reuters reported Wednesday.

A majority of lawmakers voted to appoint Fathi Bashagha as the country’s new prime minister to replace the incumbent Dbeibah, who was installed via a United Nations-backed process last year.

Officials in Dbeibah’s government questioned the validity of Tuesday’s vote, noting that some lawmakers said that their votes had been registered although they were not present in parliament.

The recent tensions are part of a broader crisis that began following the postponement of the December presidential elections. Since the overthrow of tyrant Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has been engulfed in civil war, with the country split into two rival administrations, each backed by various foreign powers.

In 2020, an UN-backed peace proposal resulted in a ceasefire between factions and the installation of an interim unity government led by Dbeibah, which was to lead to elections.

But the polls failed to materialize amid disputes over rules. The parliament moved to take control of the political process and voted to replace Dbeibah’s government last month.

Critics of the parliament have accused it of trying to sabotage the elections to remain in power indefinitely. Lawmakers have denied the allegations.

Meanwhile, opposing armed groups have mobilized in the capital, Tripoli, in recent weeks and foreign forces supporting rival factions remain in the country.

Political analysts said it was unclear if the current crisis will reignite an armed conflict but added that it could result in Libya returning to a country with warring administrations.

Boiling Over

NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand police clashed with protesters in front of the country’s parliament Wednesday before authorities regained control following three weeks of anti-vaccine mandate demonstrations, Evening Standard reported.

Officers moved in on hundreds of protesters who had been camped on the parliament’s grounds, tearing down tents and towing hundreds of vehicles used to block streets. At least 65 people were arrested for trespassing, causing damage and carrying weapons.

The operation has been described as the most significant use of force to date by New Zealand police.

The weeks-long demonstrations were inspired by the “Freedom Convoy” demonstrations in Canada, where thousands of people camped out in the capital, Ottawa, to oppose Covid-19 mandates.

Many protesters in New Zealand demanded the repeal of mandates and the right to make their own decisions regarding health, free of compulsion and penalty.

The protests have generated a very charged political atmosphere in the country with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying she was “both angry and deeply saddened” by Wednesday’s situation.

The unrest comes as New Zealand is experiencing its biggest outbreak since the coronavirus pandemic began: Health officials have reported a record 22,000 new daily cases as of Wednesday.

Ardern said she plans to ease regulations and restrictions after the omicron outbreak peaks.

Tilting at Windmills

NIGERIA

Hundreds of Nigerian women protested in front of the country’s parliament Wednesday following lawmakers’ decision to reject amendments to the constitution promoting women’s equality, Al Jazeera reported.

Among the rejected changes, the upper house of parliament voted against a provision that would allocate 35 percent of parliamentary seats to women and reserve 35 percent of political party leadership positions for women.

It also rejected a proposal to grant citizenship to the foreign-born husbands of Nigerian women – the constitution confers automatic citizenship on foreign-born wives of Nigerian men.

Many women said the rejections are a setback after years of efforts by female lawmakers, lobbyists and advocates. They noted that the vote against the bills was symptomatic of what remains a deeply conservative society.

Nearly half of Nigeria’s population is female but women are highly underrepresented in the country’s political space: Only 19 out of 469 lawmakers in both houses of parliament are female – about four percent. Meanwhile, no woman has ever held the position of governor or president and only a small number of cabinet positions have been filled by women.

The demonstrations followed a session of parliament on Tuesday focused on amending the constitution, the fifth time lawmakers have tried to change it since it was adopted in 1999 during the transition from military rule to democracy.

During that session, lawmakers also rejected a constitutional amendment that would permit Nigerian citizens living abroad to vote in the national elections, according to Reuters.

Africa’s most-populous nation is scheduled to elect a new president next year.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • Russia captured the Ukrainian southern city of Kherson Wednesday as its forces pound the cities of Mariupol and northeastern Kharkiv, Al Jazeera reported. Early Thursday, Russia continued its bombardment of Kyiv. Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials said they foiled an assassination attempt against President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Euronews wrote.
  • NATO airspace will not be used to transfer fighter planes to the Ukrainian military, alliance leaders said Tuesday after a meeting in Poland, according to Stars and Stripes. Some countries such as Poland worry about provoking Russian attacks on their soil. Ukrainians, meanwhile, accuse alliance leaders of not doing enough. In a video that went viral this week, a Ukrainian activist dressed down an uncomfortable British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, telling him that “rich Russians were still living in their London mansions while Ukrainians died from Russian bombs,” the Guardian said.
  • Just over one million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began, according to the UN’s refugee agency, an exodus that is already on par with the number of refugees who were displaced from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in Europe’s refugee crisis in 2015, the Washington Post reported.
  • The International Paralympic Committee on Thursday quickly reversed an earlier decision that would have allowed Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete at the Beijing Games to begin Friday, CBS News reported. IPC President Andrew Parsons said that while the organization believes sports and politics should not mix, it has come under pressure from an “overwhelming number of members.”

DISCOVERIES

Quick Bloomers

As the warming climate threatens to melt Antarctica’s glaciers, it is also helping plants to grow more quickly on the frozen continent, according to New Scientist.

Antarctica houses only two flowering plants, Deschampsia antarctica and Colobanthus quitensis.

In their paper, a research team studied their growth at a number of sites on Signy Island from 2009 to 2019. They compared their findings with surveys from the previous 50 years and discovered a change in growth patterns.

Not only had the sites become more densely populated with the two flowering plants but they had also grown faster annually as the climate warmed: The Deschampsia grew as much in 10 years as it did from 1960 to 2009, while the Colobanthus grew five times as much.

The team noted that their growth seems to be accelerating, which they described as the beginning of a “step change or a tipping point.”

Lead author Nicoletta Cannone acknowledged that other factors have also contributed to the plants’ growth, such as the declining fur seal population. But she maintains that the links to rising temperatures are clear.

She added that the warming climate could also lead to more invasive species occupying the continent and potentially destabilizing local ecosystems and biodiversity.

“If we extrapolate what we observed on Signy Island to other sites in Antarctica, a similar process can also occur,” she said. “This means that the Antarctic landscape and biodiversity could change rapidly.”

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 440,199,649

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,972,810

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 10,557,656,435

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

  1. US: 79,143,716 (+0.07%)
  2. India: 42,945,160 (+0.02%)
  3. Brazil: 28,846,495 (+0.10%)
  4. France: 23,018,397 (+0.25%)
  5. UK: 19,081,610 (+0.24%)
  6. Russia: 16,353,868 (+0.59%)
  7. Germany: 15,174,376 (+1.33%)
  8. Turkey: 14,206,121 (+0.40%)
  9. Italy: 12,867,918 (+0.30%)
  10. Spain: 11,054,888 (+0.17%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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