The World Today for March 30, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

Between a Hammer and an Anvil

HUNGARY

Most Central and East European leaders have been outspoken in their condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin and support of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Polish, Czech, and Slovenian leaders made a risky visit to Kyiv earlier this month to demonstrate that they stand with Ukraine, for example.

But, as Al Jazeera noted, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been less vocal about the Russian invasion’s needless horrors. Known before the invasion as one of the most pro-Russian leaders of a European Union member state – the Wilson Center documented the two countries’ close ties – Orban has backed sanctions against Russia and permitted NATO troops to deploy to western Hungary near its 85-mile long border with Ukraine.

But Orban has opposed curtailing Hungarian imports of Russian oil and gas. He has refused to end work on a Russian-funded expansion of a nuclear power plant, reported Time. He won’t send weapons to Ukraine, unlike other European countries. And state-owned media has been broadcasting Kremlin talking points for weeks, wrote Politico.

Orban has long been viewed as the ringleader of the so-called “illiberal democrat” EU politicians in formerly communist states who have used their success at the ballot box to rewrite election laws, alter judiciary rules, consolidate government structures and weaken independent journalism while investing in propagandizing and state surveillance. Orban has created a near-authoritarian state, the Atlantic magazine argued. And he has sought to protect “family values”: For example, a government-pushed referendum on LGBTQ issues is taking place along with the election, which, if successful, would ban teaching about homosexuality in schools,

Now, as Orban and his Fidesz political party seek a fourth consecutive term in parliamentary elections in what is looking like a tight race on April 3, his coziness with Russia and affinity for authoritarianism have taken on a different light given events in Ukraine. “Putin and Orban belong to this autocratic, repressive, poor and corrupt world,” Orban’s main rival, opposition candidate Peter Marki-Zay, told the New York Times. “And we have to choose Europe, (the) West, NATO, democracy, rule of law, freedom of the press, a very different world. The free world.”

In response, Orban has described Marki-Zay as wanting to intervene in the fighting. In contrast, he portrayed himself as a responsible leader who will avoid foolish moves that could lead to bloodshed. “The opposition has lost its mind,” the prime minister said at a campaign rally covered by the Guardian. “They would walk into a cruel, protracted and bloody war and they want to send Hungarian troops and guns to the frontline. We can’t let this happen. Not a single Hungarian can get caught between the Ukrainian anvil and the Russian hammer.”

Extending that analogy, one might say that Hungarian voters will be deciding whether they sympathize with the anvil or the hammer when they cast their ballots.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Disturbing the Peace

UNITED KINGDOM

London’s police will fine 20 people who attended lockdown-defying parties at Downing Street and Whitehall during the pandemic in 2020, the latest development in a scandal that prompted calls for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s resignation, Axios reported Tuesday.

Police officials said those fined will have 28 days to pay or contest the charges. They did not name the recipients but added that those fined will only be named if they challenge the penalty.

The fines are related to the parties that took place at government offices, including Johnson’s Downing Street residence, during a strict coronavirus lockdown in May 2020.

Johnson apologized for attending at least one party even as the scandal caused widespread public outrage: The Conservative prime minister also faced calls to resign, including from members of his own party, over the gatherings.

Earlier this year, an investigation into the lockdown parties found there was a “serious failure” to observe the standards expected of government officials, and “failures of leadership and judgment.”

Three of Johnson’s top advisers quit in February as part of a backroom reshuffle aimed at resetting the prime minister’s relationship with a disgruntled Conservative Party, Politico noted.

Even so, the leadership challenge faded away following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

No Quarter

SINGAPORE

A Malaysian man with learning disabilities lost a last-minute attempt to appeal his death sentence after Singapore’s top court rejected his request Tuesday, the Guardian reported.

Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam was arrested in 2009 for attempting to smuggle about 1.5 ounces of heroin into Singapore. He said he was coerced into carrying the package with narcotics and that he did not know what the contents were.

Since then, he has been on death row and was originally scheduled to be hanged in November. However, his death sentence was stayed due to an appeal.

Nagaenthran’s case has drawn a global outcry with human rights groups and lawyers saying that his execution is a violation of international law considering his intellectual disability.

An earlier court found that the Malaysian man had an IQ of 69, which indicates a learning disability, as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to the Associated Press.

Nagaenthran’s family, advocates and critics of the death penalty have called for the sentence to be stayed. Last year, Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob also asked his Singaporean counterpart, Lee Hsien Loong, for leniency in the case.

But Singapore’s Court of Appeals said that he had been “afforded due process” and rejected his lawyer’s arguments that executing a mentally disabled person was illegal under international law.

Following the verdict, Nagaenthran’s execution could take place in a matter of days.

Singapore has one of the toughest drug laws in the world, which the government calls an effective deterrent.

Rough Waters

TURKEY

Turkey and Romania dispatched their navy to defuse potential explosive mines in the Black Sea following reports that the weapons may be drifting from Ukraine’s shores to neighboring countries, the Washington Post reported.

Mines of unknown origin began appearing near the coasts of both countries in the past few days as the fighting between Russian and Ukrainian troops continues.

The disposal operations began after Russia’s intelligence service said on March 19 that poor weather caused hundreds of naval mines to detach from cables anchoring them. Russian officials warned that the mines were “drifting freely in the western part of the Black Sea,” which includes the territorial waters of Ukraine, Romania, Turkey and Bulgaria.

Ukraine previously dismissed the announcement as “complete disinformation,” saying it was a ruse to justify cordoning off parts of the Black Sea.

As of Monday, Turkey reported two mines near its waters but did not specify whether the explosive weapons belonged to Russia or Ukraine. Meanwhile, Romanian authorities said they undertook an operation to neutralize a mine in southeast Romania but also did not specify its origin.

The event has raised concerns that the crisis between Russia and Ukraine will jeopardize transportation in the Bosporus, a critical passage for global oil supplies and commerce.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • The European Union is willing to establish special trade routes between Poland and Ukraine to ensure that food and live animals may be transported as smoothly as possible in both directions, Politico wrote. The proposed green corridors are aimed at securing and facilitating agri-food goods in Ukraine after the country’s vast food exports from Black Sea ports have been cut off by Russian attacks, dealing a blow to its economy and food supply. The World Food Program chief told the UN Security Council that Ukraine had been reduced “from the breadbasket of the world to bread lines.”
  • Russian and Ukrainian representatives failed to reach a ceasefire agreement during a meeting in Turkey on Tuesday but they did provide a potential avenue to the first meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, since Moscow’s invasion of its neighbor, Bloomberg reported. At the same time, Russia’s defense ministry said it will reduce its attacks on the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv and Chernihiv “to increase mutual trust” for the peace negotiations, according to Insider. Ukraine and its allies were skeptical of that promise, the Washington Post reported. While it looked as if Russian troops were pulling back from Kyiv, shelling continued to hit other cities. Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces claimed to retake some territory outside of Kyiv.
  • Belgium, the Netherlands and Ireland expelled dozens of Russian diplomats suspected of spying on Tuesday, in coordinated action taken in the shadow of Moscow’s war in Ukraine, Agence France-Presse reported.
  • Russian developers introduced a local version of Instagram on Tuesday, just weeks after the government banned the popular photo-sharing app from the United States, according to Moscow Times. The new app, called Rossgram, duplicates several of Instagram’s distinctive features, including identical iconography, a dedicated bar for stories and even a pink-and-purple color scheme.
  • The Kremlin denied Tuesday that Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich was poisoned while participating in Ukraine peace negotiations but admitted he is serving as a mediator, Agence France-Presse reported. Abramovich and Ukrainian negotiators were the targets of a suspected poison assault, which some believe was carried out by Moscow hardliners looking to derail peace negotiations, according to the Wall Street Journal.

DISCOVERIES

Nicely Frosty

A research team discovered a novel way to prevent ice cream from becoming icy and crunchy after long periods in the freezer, Cosmos Magazine reported.

Ice cream tends to lose its softness because of tiny ice crystals in it: These crystals are very small – less than 50 micrometers – but when they grow, they add a crunch to the icy dessert.

Lead author Tao Wu and his colleague searched for a natural additive that could prevent the formation of large ice crystals. As such, they decided to test cellulose, a polysaccharide that is commonly found in nature and that is also amphiphilic – meaning it can repel and attract water.

For their experiments, researchers added cellulose nanocrystals to “model ice cream,” which were solutions with different concentrations of sucrose.

Their findings showed that cellulose was able to prevent the formation of large ice crystals but its effectiveness depended on the freezing period and sucrose concentration.

In one example, the peculiar additive completely halted the ice crystals from getting larger after five hours in the freezer: The ice crystals couldn’t grow more than 25 micrometers – well below the crunch limit.

The team added that cellulose nanocrystals worked by attaching themselves to the surface of the ice crystals and stopping them from growing.

Wu suggested that the novel method can also be used to preserve other frozen foods and organs.

“At present, a heart must be transplanted within a few hours after being removed from a donor,” he said. “But this time limit could be eliminated if we could inhibit the growth of ice crystals when the heart is kept at low temperatures.”

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 485,213,252

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,133,459

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 10,903,965,306

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

  1. US: 80,019,128 (+0.03%)
  2. India: 43,023,215 (+0.003%)
  3. Brazil: 29,887,191 (+0.10%)
  4. France: 25,464,389 (+0.86%)
  5. UK: 21,052,730 (+0.39%)
  6. Germany: 20,867,314 (+7.05%)
  7. Russia: 17,544,419 (+0.11%)
  8. Turkey: 14,832,231 (+0.12%)
  9. Italy: 14,496,579 (+0.70%)
  10. South Korea 12,774,956 (+3.44%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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