The World Today for March 18, 2022
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When Dreams Become Nightmares
When Russia recognized the independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine shortly before it invaded the country in late February, some locals were thrilled. They thought eight years of war would finally come to an end.
“The recognition of the republics was treated with great joy here,” said Natalia, 38, of the town of Ilovaisk in Donetsk. “Everyone was happy and thought that peace would finally come.”
Now, however, some are having second thoughts, especially in light of the increasing violence and destruction that has hit their cities – most in the region didn’t expect that, or the brutality of what is hitting the rest of Ukraine. “Our people support the president of Russia but we do not support the war in Ukraine, we do not support the killing of civilians,” Christina, 32, in Donetsk city, said. “We love our Ukrainian brothers. We all woke up in this hell and we don’t wish this on anyone.”
Maxim, 36, of Luhansk city, told Al Jazeera how he and other men of military age have been in hiding since the invasion to avoid being picked up by militias and forced to fight. No males between the ages of 18 and 60 are on the streets these days, he said: “Recognition was just an excuse to attack Ukraine. People in Donbas are still being shelled despite that Russia promised it would stop. Except how they started picking up men on the streets, nothing has changed. This is not our war, not the war of ordinary people, but the war of someone’s ambitions and whims.”
He added that while he doesn’t think Ukraine has treated its eastern regions fairly in the past and understands why the regions wanted independence, the Russians are just as bad: “Here it is such a circus…the evacuations are staged, it’s just another window dressing…a friend’s daughter went to a rally – in fact they were put on buses ‘for evacuation,’ photographed for the press and sent home.”
The residents of these regions have been living with war since 2014. That’s when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula and sent troops to help separatists take control of the two regions, where ethnic Russians historically constitute a large minority of the population. Since then, some of the residents of the two regions have received Russian passports, drawn on Russian-funded pensions, used the Russian currency, the ruble, and seen their children study the official Russian state education curriculum, Reuters wrote.
Life in the people’s republics was difficult before the invasion, though. The conflict was never far away, killing thousands and destroying homes and factories. Jobs were scarce. Independent journalists were shut out, reported Rolling Stone. Local leaders banned all dissent, especially criticism of Russia’s military activities. Authorities detained hundreds and killed dozens to maintain their rule. “Amid routinized brutality, they (had) tried to fashion some semblance of a normal existence,” the New Yorker wrote.
Now, after eight years of fighting and a brutal step-up in violence since late last month, residents in Donetsk and Luhansk are now suffering from war fatigue and exhaustion – shelling and fighting have made the republics into war zones, the Wall Street Journal wrote. “They’ve experienced war not as a grand struggle of civilizations but as something nasty and grueling, to be managed and survived,” the New Yorker added. “But now, as the Russian military unleashes the full force of its arsenal throughout the country, any pretense of normalcy has been ripped away.”
Donetsk leader Denis Pushilin and Luhansk boss Leonid Pasechnik, meanwhile, have become stars in the firmament of Russia’s supporters and propaganda hucksters, said the Guardian.
Recently, Pushilin ordered people in Donetsk to evacuate through humanitarian corridors that lead to Russia, according to the Daily Beast. Many Ukrainian ethnic-Russians are not so eager to go to their supposed homeland, however, the Washington Post reported. The majority identify with Ukraine, not Mother Russia, in spite of their heritage.
The big question is whether those who identify with Russia will continue to do so as the war gets more intense and their cities get destroyed. Some scholars think it will increase opposition to Russia. “I hear from Russians the following: ‘Well, if we are one people, as Putin says, how come we’re making war on some of our own people and now launching attacks on the cities?’” noted Ronald G. Suny, a history professor at the University of Michigan, in the Post.
Others, however, say too much has already been invested in fighting for independence and that goal won’t be given up easily.
Regardless, one thing is clear: Through all the smoke and terrible noise, it’s hard to see any definitive future for Donetsk and Luhansk. Many interviewed in the region, regardless of what side they were on, had wanted to leave to secure their own future even before the invasion. And now, Western Ukrainians have been brought down to their situation, they say.
“It hurts me for the people on the (government-controlled) side of Ukraine,” said Maxim. “I realize that they will plunge into the darkness and poverty in which we (in the separatist regions) have lived all these eight years.”
THE WORLD, BRIEFLY
A Slow Spiral
Thousands of Sri Lankans took to the streets of the capital, Colombo, this week to protest against the government’s handling of the economy, as the country faces a deepening economic crisis and potential debt default, the Financial Times reported.
Sri Lanka has for months faced a worsening economic situation including shortages of fuel, power blackouts and double-digit inflation.
Initially, the government said it would be able to handle the crisis without assistance from the International Monetary Fund. It has been securing funds from a post-pandemic revival in tourism and bilateral aid from other countries, such as neighboring India.
But investors’ skepticism and this week’s unrest prompted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to begin talks with the IMF over a debt relief package.
Sri Lanka had debt and interest repayments worth about $7 billion due this year, and the country’s usable foreign currency reserves are estimated at $500 million.
One of the country’s most immediate issues is a $1 billion bond due in July, which many investors doubt the country will be able to repay without debt restructuring.
Sri Lanka is Asia’s largest high-yield bond issuer and has borrowed substantially in the years after the conclusion of its civil war in 2009.
It has never gone into default.
In the Crosshairs
A Honduran judge approved the extradition of former President Juan Orlando Hernandez to the United States, where he is facing drug trafficking charges, Agence France-Presse reported.
The decision comes a month after the Court of the Southern District of New York requested Hernandez’s extradition – he is accused of facilitating the smuggling of about 500 tons of drugs to the US since 2004.
He faces three charges, including conspiracy to import a controlled substance into the US and conspiracy to use or carry firearms. US authorities also allege that Hernandez received millions of dollars from narco-traffickers for protection, including infamous Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Hernandez, who governed between 2014 to 2022, was linked to the crimes during the trial of his brother, Tony, who was sentenced last year to life in prison in the US for drug trafficking.
The former president has denied the allegations and said they stem from statements made by convicted drug traffickers, out for revenge.
The right-wing leader had been a staunch US supporter and is said to have made efforts to fight drug smuggling. However, Honduras has long been a crucial transit nation for narcotics transported from South America to the US.
More recently, it has also become a place where cocaine is produced, according to BBC.
Even so, Judiciary Spokesman Melvin Duarte said the extradition can be appealed within the next three days. If it is, the Supreme Court would weigh in.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev promised to implement a series of reforms in the tightly-controlled former Soviet country, just two months after Kazakhstan witnessed deadly, unprecedented nationwide protests, the Associated Press reported.
Tokayev proposed sweeping changes in order to avoid deepening “stagnation” in the resource-rich Central Asian nation. Changes would include a transition away from the country’s super-presidential system and the easing rules for registering new political parties.
The reforms would also allow 30 percent of lawmakers to be elected in single-mandate districts and prevent the president from firing regional officials at will.
The proposals follow the deadly unrest that swept the nation in January: Protests ignited in western Kazakhstan over rising car fuel prices but soon devolved into violence that left at least 230 dead.
The changes are seen as an attempt to address the wealth gap between the nation’s richest citizens and the rest of the population, adding urgency to the government’s desire to be recognized as accountable.
Another factor is concern over the potential economic collapse of neighboring Russia, Kazakhstan’s chief trading partner. The Russian economy has been battered by international sanctions following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Despite the pledges, Kazakh leaders have made similar promises to democratize in the past but have failed to implement any changes.
Meanwhile, as Kazakh leaders promise change, in neighboring Turkmenistan, newly elected leader Serdar Berdymukhamedov, the son of autocratic incumbent Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, pledged to keep things as they are after winning elections earlier this week, according to Radio Free Europe.
The weekend presidential election was widely viewed as a formality to the transfer of political power within the family.
- Russia rejected an order by the United Nations’ highest court to cease its attack on Ukraine, saying both sides had to agree to end the hostilities for the ruling to be implemented, Radio Free Europe reported. The International Court of Justice said in its decision that it was “profoundly concerned” by Moscow’s unprovoked invasion and that both parties must “refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute before the court or make it more difficult to resolve.”
- Rescuers began extracting survivors from the debris of a theater in the besieged coastal city of Mariupol on Thursday, a day after an airstrike demolished the structure where hundreds of people were said to be seeking refuge, the New York Times wrote. The number of casualties was unknown, according to Ukrainian officials, as Russian forces continued to shell the region – the city is being hit by up to 100 bombs a day, local officials said – delaying rescue attempts. More than 4,000 people were evacuated from Ukrainian cities Thursday. Meanwhile, the United Nations’ refugee agency said that more than 3 million refugees have left Ukraine since Russia started its invasion of the country on Feb. 24, according to the Hill. The UN also said at least 2,000 Ukrainians have died in the war, a number that is likely a vast undercount.
- Chinese officials vowed to “never attack Ukraine,” adding that China was a “friendly country for the Ukrainian people,” in what has been considered Beijing’s most supportive comments toward the war-torn country, Bloomberg wrote. US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart will speak Friday morning about the war in Ukraine. Meanwhile, India, another friend of Russia, agreed to buy Russian oil and weapons as Russia remains economically isolated by international sanctions, the Washington Post reported. At the same time, India’s central bank is in preliminary talks with Moscow over a rupee-ruble trading arrangement that would allow shipments to Russia to continue after Western sanctions hindered international payment methods, according to the Financial Times. The Russian government made a $117 million interest payment to foreign bondholders on Wednesday, averting what would have been its first foreign debt default since 1918.
- A fourth Russian general was killed during the fighting in Ukraine, according to Ukrainian officials, the BBC noted. Officials said that Major General Oleg Mityaev was killed near Mariupol. His death has prompted questions about why senior members of the Russian military are so close to the front line.
- Ukraine joined the European electricity grid, which will allow the country to separate its power system from Russia, the Associated Press reported.
- Russia has called for an emergency meeting at the United Nations Security Council on Friday to discuss American biological labs in Ukraine they say are manufacturing bioweapons, a move denounced by the US as promoting “disinformation,” and by Russian scientists who say the accusation is false.
Weekly World Quiz
A recent archaeological discovery in the Jordan desert is shedding new light about the hunter-gatherer populations that roamed the area during the Neolithic period, CNN reported.
Archaeologists of the Jordan-based South Eastern Badia Archaeological Project (SEBAP) uncovered a 9,000-year-old ritual complex at a Neolithic campsite located near large structures known as “desert kites.”
Researchers have described desert kites as mass traps that were used to entrap gazelles in the area: They consisted of long stone walls which led prey to an enclosure in which they could be corralled.
A number of these structures can be found throughout the deserts of the Middle East, according to the Associated Press.
The discovery of the ritual complex is comprised of two stone carvings of different heights and designs, as well as an altar, hearth and marine shells.
The taller stone carving showed a representation of a desert kite incorporated with a human figure, while the smaller one depicted a detailed human face.
The researchers noted that these unusual anthropomorphic engravings are among the earliest creative expressions in the Middle East, and the altar and adjoining hearth imply that they were most likely utilized for sacrificial offerings.
“It sheds an entirely new light on the symbolism, artistic expression as well as the spiritual culture of these hitherto unknown Neolithic populations [who] specialized in mass hunting of gazelles using the ‘desert kites,'” said the team.
COVID-19 Global Update
Total Cases Worldwide: 465,955,287
Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,065,575
Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 10,757,197,229
Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*
- US: 79,683,782 (+0.07%)
- India: 43,004,005 (+0.01%)
- Brazil: 29,532,810 (+0.15%)
- France: 24,046,213 (+0.43%)
- UK: 20,061,841 (+0.45%)
- Germany: 18,325,720 (+1.65%)
- Russia: 17,231,013 (+0.20%)
- Turkey: 14,644,382 (+0.15%)
- Italy: 13,645,834 (+0.61%)
- Spain: 11,260,040 (+0.00%)**
*Numbers change over 24 hours
**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country