The World Today for March 09, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

War Games

UKRAINE/ RUSSIA

Ukrainian forces recently attacked Russian vehicles after they received a tip through the encrypted, unmoderated social media app Telegram. As NBC News wrote, Telegram has become an essential tool for Ukrainians in the real world and a battleground in the virtual war between the country and its aggressive adversary, Russia.

Co-founded, ironically, by Pavel and Nikolai Durov, two Russian billionaire brothers living in exile, Telegram has become a “24-hour news lifeline” for civilians, the press and combatants, wrote the Guardian, noting that the Durovs are contemplating a $50 billion public offering of Telegram next year.

The app is only one sign of how cybersecurity and information have become key factors in the Ukraine-Russia conflict, a revolutionary change in how wars are conducted, and a harbinger of the future. Google Maps and other open-source tools contain clues about troop movements that block traffic. Russian civilians’ TikTok videos posted from the roadside contain intelligence about what vehicles and weapons systems are headed to the Ukrainian front. Online websites crowdsource aerial movements of Russian planes.

“Secrecy is harder,” Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy expert at the Federation of American Scientists, told BuzzFeed News. “Clandestine operations are harder. Certain kinds of deception are more difficult and the possibilities for press and public accountability are increased.”

At the same time, the cyberwarfare has evened the playing field between Russia and massively outgunned Ukraine: “Ukrainians and their supporters have used social media to bruise, belittle and humiliate the Russians, seeking to boost citizens’ spirits and sap invaders’ morale during the most Internet-accessible war in history,” the Washington Post wrote, noting how a flood of real-time videos across social media has countered Kremlin propaganda and rallied the world to Ukraine’s side using memes, photos and videos of ordinary Ukrainians thwarting tanks and making Molotov cocktails, all while documenting Russia’s most embarrassing tactical and logistical errors or the destruction and death of its bombardments.

Meanwhile, other sources of information are turning off within Russia. Netflix, TikTok and other Western media companies are shutting down operations in the country in protest against new rules designed to shut down domestic criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion, NDTV reported. Russia also blocked access to Facebook, compelling that company to close down in the country, too.

While these information wars have been ongoing, a parallel cyberwar has also broken out. But surprisingly, it has not been as serious as some would imagine. While Russian and Ukrainian hackers appear to have launched a free-for-all of phishing and poking around systems in each other’s governments, reported the Associated Press, Russia has not launched an all-out cyberattack that has debilitated Ukraine’s electric grid, internet and other vital infrastructure.

Russian officials might be holding back on more aggressive cyberattacks, especially against the US, because they could be afraid of blowback, the Hill speculated. Alternatively, Russian cyberwarfare might have already begun but Putin has not yet unveiled the worst it can do, the National Interest argued. That could be one reason that New York City, for example, recently issued a warning related to potential Russian hackers retaliating for sanctions imposed on their country, as WABC explained.

The US and American businesses, in particular, are especially vulnerable to cyberattacks if Putin decides to open that Pandora’s Box,  noted Glenn Gerstell, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who formerly served as the general counsel of the National Security Agency and Central Security Service, in the New York Times. The war should be a wake-up call for anyone seeking to defend themselves and their country against cyberattacks, added Harvard Business Review.

It’s just another example of how nobody is fully insulated from the horrors unfolding before the world’s eyes.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Letting Go

SAUDI ARABIA

A Saudi man accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks was released from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba and sent back to his home country this week, the latest detainee to be released and repatriated from the US base, CNN reported.

Mohammed al-Qahtani was an al Qaeda operative who had planned to be the “20th hijacker” on Sept. 11, 2001 but failed to board the United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed in rural Pennsylvania.

His release comes a month after the US Periodic Review Board recommended al-Qahtani’s repatriation, saying he could safely be released from the detention center after spending 20 years in custody there, the New York Post noted.

It also follows a decision by the Biden administration to drop the legal fight initiated by former President Donald Trump, who contested the prisoner’s repatriation.

The former operative was captured near the Afghan border in December 2001 and later transferred to Guantanamo Bay in 2002, where he was imprisoned and tortured.

Al-Qahtani’s lawyers have said their client is severely mentally ill, suffering from schizophrenia, depression and post-traumatic stress stemming from his torture.

He will be flown to Saudi Arabia, where he will be placed in a mental health facility there.

His release marks the second repatriation of Guantanamo detainees and comes as the Biden administration is considering closing the controversial base.

There are currently 38 detainees left in Guantanamo Bay and half of them have been approved for repatriation or resettlement by the review board.

The Ties That Bind

UNITED KINGDOM

The European Court of Justice ordered Britain to reimburse the European Union for failing to prevent fraudsters from flooding the bloc with undervalued imports of goods from China and avoiding billions in duties, the Financial Times reported.

The verdict is related to a case brought by the European Commission involving imports between 2011 and 2017. The EU’s executive body calculated that it lost nearly $3 billion in tariffs and value-added tax because Britain failed to prevent undervalued products from entering the single market.

The bloc’s top court said that the UK had failed to fulfill its obligations under EU law to “apply effective customs control measures or to enter in the accounts the correct amounts of customs duties” on imported Chinese goods.

Even so, it ordered the commission to recalculate its claim before it received any compensation.

And even though the United Kingdom left the 27-member bloc two years ago, under the Brexit withdrawal agreement, Britain remains subject to ECJ jurisdiction for legal breaches that occurred during its membership in the bloc.

The UK government said that it is reviewing the judgment.

Hear Them Roar

NIGERIA

Nigeria’s lower house of parliament rescinded its decision to discard three gender equality bills Tuesday, following outrage and mass protests from women in the West African country, Al Jazeera reported.

Last week, lawmakers rejected the bills described by women’s rights activists as “a slap to the face of Nigerian women.”

The proposed amendments included granting citizenship to the foreign-born husbands of Nigerian women, assigning 35 percent of the country’s legislative seats to women and reserving 35 percent of political party leadership positions for women.

The reversal came hours after thousands of women launched demonstrations in three states and the commercial capital of Lagos on International Women’s Day. It was the second such protest in a week, with protesters also calling for justice following the recent spate of sexual violence and ritual killings targeting women.

About half of Nigeria’s population is female but women are rare in politics and the government: Female lawmakers make up about 4 percent of the legislature, a decrease from the 5.8 percent in 2015.

Analysts and advocates have said that a lack of women’s participation in government contributes to the erosion of women’s rights in Nigeria, as well as the high proportion of gender-based violence and economic inequality.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • The United States banned the import of Russian gas and oil in an effort to target “the main artery of Russia’s economy” following the latter’s invasion of Ukraine, NBC reported. The United Kingdom said it would phase out the import of Russian oil and oil products by the end of the year. European Union countries, which rely more heavily on Russia for energy, have been more reluctant: On Monday, Germany rejected a ban on Russian oil and gas. Still, the bloc plans to reduce its dependence on Russian energy by cutting gas imports by two-thirds this year, Al Jazeera added. Meanwhile, Russia threatened to cut off Europe from gas.
  • After dozens of nations responded to its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine with sanctions, Russia became the world’s most sanctioned country, according to Axios. Meanwhile, despite massive protests against the war at home, a new poll showed that about 58 percent of Russians support the invasion of Ukraine, the Washington Post reported.
  • German prosecutors began an investigation into suspected war crimes perpetrated by Russian troops in Ukraine following an international outcry over attacks on civilians and essential infrastructure, Agence France-Presse reported.
  • The Russian invasion of Ukraine has driven more than 2 million people out of the country, the United Nations said Tuesday. Half are children.
  • A US Defense Intelligence Agency official told lawmakers that between 2,000 and 4,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in the war to date, NBC News reported. Meanwhile, Poland announcedit would give Ukraine all of its Russian-made MiG-29 fighter planes and asked for other NATO nations to do the same.
  • Russia and Ukraine agreed to a ceasefire in the northeastern city of Sumy early Tuesday, allowing civilians to escape the area after another night of heavy shelling there by Russian forces. About 1,000 foreign students were also evacuated, the Economist wrote.
  • McDonald’s said it would temporarily close its 850 restaurants in Russia after coming under heavy pressure on social media to quit the country. The company, along with Starbucks, Coca-Cola and KFC, were among the last large US firms left in the country. Starbucks announced it was halting its business Tuesday and Coca-Cola and PepsiCo followed soon after. Also disconnecting are the US-based internet service providers Cogent and Lumen, which allow “data to flow through the guts of the internet,” Reuters said. A list of companies and organizations that have left Russia can be found here.

DISCOVERIES

The Lone Wanderer

Scientists recently discovered a “rogue” black hole (BH) roaming free around the galaxy for the first time, Newsweek reported.

The astronomers said the discovery comes after an arduous decade-old study into the elusive celestial event.

The existence of wandering black holes has been debated for years mainly because they are elusive: Black holes are usually hard to spot and previous ones have only been discovered through studying the X-ray emissions given off when black holes “eat” nearby material, also known as accretion.

“Isolated BHs are extremely difficult to detect directly,” the authors explained in their study. “They emit no light of their own, and the accretion rate from the interstellar medium is generally likely to be too low to produce detectable X-ray or radio emission.”

But the team had been studying the rogue event – known as MOA-11-191/OGLE-11-0462 – since 2011.

They wrote that it was located in a crowded area toward the center of the Milky Way galaxy and about 1,580 parsecs (5,153 light-years) away from Earth. It appears to move at speed of around 28 miles per second.

Researchers hypothesized that the black hole received a tremendous cosmic “kick” from a star that was formerly its binary neighbor but later erupted in a supernova.

While the study still needs to be peer-reviewed, other researchers said this event could be the first of many.

“This difficult detection confirms the existence of an isolated stellar mass black hole for the very first time, and is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Angelo Ricarte of the Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 449,750,235

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,014,881

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 10,623,161,142

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

  1. US: 79,369,296 (+0.04%)
  2. India: 42,975,883 (+0.01%)
  3. Brazil: 29,152,318 (+0.26%)
  4. France: 23,347,357 (+0.40%)
  5. UK: 19,360,942 (+0.32%)
  6. Russia: 16,835,844 (+0.39%)
  7. Germany: 16,326,087 (+1.63%)
  8. Turkey: 14,425,638 (+0.26%)
  9. Italy: 13,109,527 (+0.47%)
  10. Spain: 11,159,574 (+0.21%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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