The World Today for April 06, 2022

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Bullets and Choices

MOLDOVA

Moldovans looking to the east can see smoke on the horizon as Ukrainian troops fend off Russia’s invasion, the Scotsman newspaper recently reported. As a result, one can understand why many in the former Soviet republic wedged between Romania and Ukraine feel as if they might be next.

“For decades, Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova have been in the same geopolitical boat, living uneasily next to a neighbor with a long history of violence,” wrote Sergi Kapanadze, a Georgian journalist and former politician, for the Center for European Policy Analysis, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, DC. “They were bullied by Russia, changed governments despite or because of Russia’s intervention in their domestic affairs, and had problems with democratic development and security.”

Russia currently has 1,300 troops stationed in Transnistria, a Moldovan region where Russian-backed forces staged an insurrection in the early 1990s. As Foreign Policy magazine explained, a ceasefire was reached in 1992 but the conflict has yet to be resolved. Today, Russia subsidizes Transnistria’s economy and has given many of its residents Russian passports.

Holding sway in Transnistria serves a few purposes for Russian President Vladimir Putin. It gives him influence in Moldova, a largely Romanian-speaking country that has ties to the West. It serves to prevent Moldova from joining NATO, whose rules say that members can’t join the alliance if they have contested borders, as Clark University Political Scientist Valerie Sperling noted. Lastly, it might satisfy Putin and other Russians’ aspiration to knit the former Soviet Union back together again – an initial objective in the invasion of Ukraine.

Unsurprisingly, many Moldovans, therefore, fear that Putin has designs on expanding his control in their country – and feel as if they have been compelled to make a black-or-white choice between East and West, the Washington Post wrote.

They appear to be choosing the West. In early March, Moldovans officially submitted their application to join the European Union, a move that Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilița called a vote for “freedom.” The country has little interest in joining NATO and antagonizing Russia, however, added Al Jazeera, and would likely remain neutral in the event it joined the EU, like Austria, Ireland and other nations.

The 370,000 Ukrainian migrants who have been pouring into the country of about 3 million in the past month seem to be solidifying these plans. An obvious Russian disinformation campaign that paints the Ukrainian migrants as ungrateful and dangerous might have further soured some Moldovans on Russia, too, the Guardian reported.

When the bullets start flying, choices become clearer.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Slow Wheels

THE NETHERLANDS

The trial of an alleged commander who fought in the Darfur conflict began Tuesday at the Dutch-based International Criminal Court, the first tribunal for war crimes in the ongoing Sudanese civil conflict that began nearly two decades ago, Canada’s Globe and Mail reported.

The long-awaited trial has been hailed as a major milestone for the victims of the genocidal campaign by then-President Omar al-Bashir and the notorious Janjaweed militias.

The case centers on Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-al-Rahman – also known as Ali Kushayb – and his alleged role in the conflict that killed more than 300,000 and displaced 2.7 million during a government crackdown on rebels in the western region of Darfur.

Abd-al-Rahman is accused of serving as a commander in the Janjaweed and responsible for the death of hundreds of people in towns and villages in 2003 and 2004. He faces 31 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and torture.

He denied the charges.

The defendant is the first to be tried in the court, but three other former Sudanese officials and a former rebel leader remain wanted by the ICC. Among them is Bashir, who has been charged with genocide and other crimes.

Bashir was deposed in 2019 following mass popular protests and is currently in a Sudanese prison on separate domestic charges. Sudanese authorities have yet to agree on whether to hand him to The Hague-based court.

Human rights groups welcomed the proceedings, saying that “would-be abusers should take note that they can end up in court” despite the long delay in seeking justice.

Even so, the delayed trial has raised questions as to how the ICC can be used to prosecute alleged war crimes following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Analysts and advocates feared that the Ukraine case can lose momentum – similar to the Darfur conflict – when it will fade from the global spotlight: The United Nations Security Council submitted the Darfur atrocities to the ICC in 2005, at a time when there was widespread public support for global justice.

Still, some noted that the recent trial began following changes in Sudan, adding that any hope of justice for war crimes in Ukraine will depend on events in Ukraine itself.

Keep Your Friends Close

INDIA

India and Australia signed a trade deal this week to boost economic ties in an effort to curb China’s influence in the Asia-Pacific region, the Independent reported.

Leaders of both countries hailed the new Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement as “a watershed moment.”

The trade agreement aims to remove tariffs on more than 85 percent of Australian exports to India, while 96 percent of Indian imports to Australia will be duty-free.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the deal will generate trade diversification opportunities for domestic manufacturers and service providers bound for India.

His Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, added that it would facilitate the exchange of students, professionals and tourists to expand work, study and travel opportunities between the two countries.

The agreement is seen as a way for Australia to diversify its export markets and reduce its dependence on China, its biggest trading partner, Reuters noted. Both Australia and India have strained relations with Beijing.

Still, the signing also comes during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has placed India in an awkward position: The country has consistently called for a diplomatic solution while continuing to trade with Russia, despite pressure from Western nations – including Australia – to take a firmer stance on the matter.

Punting

TURKEY

Turkish authorities are considering transferring the trial of those accused of murdering Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia, a move seen as an effort by Turkey to improve relations with the Gulf kingdom amid ongoing economic woes, the Washington Post reported.

A Turkish prosecutor asked to halt the trial for the 2018 killing of Khashoggi, following a Saudi transfer request in March.

The prosecutor noted that the defendants are being tried in absentia and attempts to pursue them via Interpol remain fruitless. The court referred the matter to Turkey’s Ministry of Justice and the next hearing is scheduled for April 7.

The move marks a significant turnaround by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose administration played a major role in implicating Saudi Arabia and its de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Khashoggi’s killing.

Erdogan released evidence that showed how a team of Saudi operatives had traveled to Istanbul to hunt for Khashoggi, killed and then dismembered him. Khashoggi’s remains have never been found.

The killings sparked international condemnation of Saudi Arabia, which later prompted Turkish authorities to initiate a public trial with witness testimony, which analysts describe as symbolic.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, said in 2020 that it convicted eight people involved in Khashoggi’s murder but did not name any of them. Saudi officials have also denied that the crown prince was involved.

Meanwhile, Turkey has been plagued by economic struggles, including a weak currency and rising living costs. The country has been trying to improve relations with Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries.

Erol Onderoglu of Reporters Without Borders warned that if the request is approved, “it will have terrible consequences for the idea of justice.”

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on the United Nations Security Council Tuesday to penalize Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and limit Russia’s influence on the important UN body, Politico reported. He chided the organization for its inability to hold Russia responsible, adding that if the UN is unable to address the Russian threat, it should disband.
  • The United States, the European Union, and the Group of Seven are planning a fresh set of sanctions on Russia to punish the Kremlin for crimes in Ukraine, including a ban on all new US investments in the country, Bloomberg noted. Meanwhile, a number of European nations have announced the expulsion of dozens of Russian diplomats in response to allegations of war crimes committed by Russian soldiers in Ukraine, especially in Bucha, where many residents are believed to have been slaughtered, Radio Free Europe wrote.
  • Russia’s invasion has risked the lives of many medics and other healthcare workers treating HIV-positive and AIDS patients in Ukraine, a country that has one of the highest rates of HIV in Europe, according to the Independent.

DISCOVERIES

Dressed To Listen

Some types of fabric can muffle sounds and music but scientists recently developed a fabric that can listen to noises, including human heartbeats, according to Science News.

In a new study, a research team created a new fiber that acts as a microphone and can capture a variety of sounds – such as speech and rustling leaves – and turn them into electrical signals.

Lead author Wei Yan and his team explained that the novel fiber was inspired by the human eardrum: Sound waves create vibrations in the eardrum, which the cochlea converts to electrical impulses.

Their new fabric is a combination of cotton fibers and a stiff material called Twaron that converts incoming sounds to vibrations. It also includes a single fiber that contains piezoelectric materials, which produce voltage from mechanical stress.

When bent or pressed, the piezoelectric-containing fiber generates electrical impulses that are delivered via a small circuit board to a device that reads and records voltage.

In a series of experiments, the team wrote said the cloth was sensitive to different degrees of noise levels, from a silent library to noisy traffic. In one instance, they incorporated the fabric into a shirt and were able to listen to the wearer’s heartbeat.

The authors suggested that the special textile could be used as a diagnostic tool to monitor people’s health, including their heart rates.

And the best part is that it is machine-washable.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 493,710,804

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,158,922

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,046,673,345

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

  1. US: 80,209,028 (-1.58%)**
  2. India: 43,030,925 (+0.00%)
  3. Brazil: 30,042,272 (+0.09%)
  4. France: 26,428,476 (+0.80%)
  5. Germany: 21,886,726 (+0.83%)
  6. UK: 21,479,722 (+0.24%)
  7. Russia: 17,664,790 (+0.08%)
  8. Italy: 14,966,058 (+0.60%)
  9. Turkey: 14,919,591 (+0.08%)
  10. South Korea 14,553,644 (+2.01%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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