The World Today for April 13, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

Sovereignty Un-Stifled

FINLAND

Finlandization has been proposed as a final status for Ukraine after Russia concludes its ongoing brutal invasion. But the Finns might counsel against it.

The Finns are themselves considering joining NATO rather than continuing to accept what the New York Times described as the “stifled sovereignty” of Finlandization – a term that signifies independence on the condition of accepting Russian foreign and economic policies, as Finland did during the Cold War.

In the past, Finns likely didn’t see much reason to antagonize Russia. Now, with allegations of Russian troops perpetrating atrocities in Ukraine, as Human Rights Watch explained, they appear to think they have very little to lose.

A recent poll found that, for the first time, around 60 percent of Finns want their country to join NATO, a huge bump compared with past years, Business Insider reported. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, meanwhile, said that the alliance would be happy to have them.

Experts who spoke to the Financial Times described the shift as “radical.” Finland is now neutral. But it joined the European Union in 1995, a clear signal that it wanted to embrace Western European political and economic culture. To be safe, however, since then, the country has invested heavily in defense to deter Russian aggression.

The logic behind the change is clear. Russian President Vladimir Putin used the pretext of a feared NATO expansion to justify the invasion of Ukraine, even though nobody believed it was on the brink of joining the alliance. If those are the consequences for dithering, why should Finland wait? In other words, Putin’s ploy backfired, CNN wrote.

“Russia is ready to take bigger risks, as we can see in Ukraine, bigger risks also for its own security,” Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told the Associated Press. “We can also see that Russia is capable of gathering more than 100,000 men against just one country, even without touching its reserves.”

Finnish citizens have collected a total of 100,000 signatures for petitions that call for a referendum on NATO membership and call on lawmakers to discuss the issue in parliament, Time wrote. Under public pressure, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin has said she expected a decision in the next few months.

In response, the BBC noted, Russia warned that NATO membership would further destabilize Europe.

Officials now expect Russia to launch a misinformation campaign to sway public opinion against the idea, Reuters reported. Others worry that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, traditionally a Russian ally whose Fidesz political party won another majority recently, could somehow stymie Finnish pro-NATO efforts, Euractiv added.

The Finns don’t seem to care. If Russian tanks roll on Helsinki, they want allies to come to their aid fast.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Priorities

SRI LANKA

Sri Lanka defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt Tuesday amid an economic crisis that has prompted mass demonstrations demanding the government’s resignation, Agence France-Presse reported.

The suspension of payments marks the country’s first default since Sri Lanka became independent in 1948. Officials said that the move will free up foreign currency reserves to purchase desperately needed food, fuel and medicine imports amid severe shortages and long daily electricity blackouts.

The government initially imposed an import ban to preserve its foreign reserves and use them to service its debt. But the move sparked large protests demanding the resignations of government leaders and featuring attempts by the crowd to storm their homes.

Economic analysts said that the current crisis began to be felt after the coronavirus pandemic halted vital revenue from the tourism sector and remittances. It was worsened by government mismanagement, years of accumulated borrowing and ill-advised tax cuts.

Market borrowings through international sovereign bonds account for a little under half of Sri Lanka’s debt, including a $1 billion bond that was maturing on July 25.

The default comes as the Sri Lankan government is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout aimed at preventing a worse hard default.

Sri Lanka has also requested debt relief from China and India, but both nations have instead offered more credit lines to buy commodities from them.

According to estimates, Sri Lanka required $7 billion to cover its debt load this year, against just $1.9 billion in reserves at the end of March.

Party’s Over

UNITED KINGDOM

London’s Metropolitan Police fined British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Tuesday for attending illegal parties held on government premises during a strict Covid-19 lockdown, reigniting calls for the Conservative leader to resign, CNBC reported.

Police have been investigating 12 gatherings in Downing Street and Whitehall that allegedly breached Covid-19 lockdown rules. Police officials announced Tuesday that they had made an additional 30 referrals, including Johnson and Sunak, bringing the total number of fines to at least 50.

Carrie Johnson, the prime minister’s partner, also received a fine for breaking lockdown rules.

Following the announcement, opposition politicians revived their calls for Johnson and Sunak to resign, saying they had both lied to the public.

The embattled prime minister has been facing calls to step down for weeks over the issue.

One of the gatherings in question –which Johnson attended – was held in May 2020, when the public was only allowed to meet one other person from outside their household in an outdoor setting.

Johnson admitted in January that he attended the event for 25 minutes to “thank groups of staff” for their hard work and that he “believed implicitly that this was a work event.”

He apologized for the blunder but has since refused calls to resign.

Staying Transparent

BRAZIL

Brazil’s electoral authority for the first time invited European Union representatives to observe its upcoming presidential elections amid fears that far-right President Jair Bolsonaro will reject the results if they do not show him winning reelection, Al Jazeera reported Tuesday.

The Superior Electoral Court (TSE) said the invitation aims “to amplify the transparency of its electoral system and make cooperation possible.” The authority said that it is also negotiating with other groups that have previously observed Brazilian elections, including the regional Organization of American States.

The invitation comes after Bolsonaro made unfounded allegations of fraud following Brazil’s 2020 regional elections and questioned the validity of the country’s electronic voting system. The president has demanded the adoption of paper ballots and accused the TSE of favoring his main opponent, the left-wing candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said that he will consult the bloc and the European Parliament before making a decision. Sources said the EU is also planning to send a mission to Brazil to assess the viability of being an official observer in the upcoming vote.

Recent polls show da Silva ahead of the incumbent president, who faces criticism over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and accusations of crimes against humanity over his approach to the public health crisis.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • The United States and the United Kingdom are investigating reports that Russian forces used chemical weapons in their onslaught on the Ukrainian port of Mariupol, according to the BBC. Russian-backed forces denied the allegations, Al Jazeera noted. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia will “calmly” continue its military operations in Ukraine following talks with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
  • British intelligence suggested that Russian troops are preparing for a larger and more concerted assault to expand Russia’s authority in Ukraine’s east, CNBC reported. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has also warned that Russia has sent tens of thousands of troops to “prepare for further strikes.”
  • The United Nations called for an independent probe into reports that Russian forces committed rape and sexual assault during the ongoing invasion, Al Jazeera wrote. According to human rights organizations, witnesses reported that Russian troops carried out rapes in front of children and family members and threatened the lives of their victims. Russia denied the allegations.
  • French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen said she completely backed sanctions against Russia for the Ukraine crisis, except those targeting energy supplies, Reuters reported. Le Pen explained she did not want “French people to face the (cost of living) consequences of decisions aiming to stop the imports of oil and gas.” Her comments came as US President Joe Biden is urging Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi not to accelerate purchases of Russian oil as the US and other countries seek to cut off Moscow’s energy revenue, the Associated Press added.

DISCOVERIES

Real BFFs

Male Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins are known for their peculiar and complex social systems that resemble those of chimpanzees.

The male marine mammals can form intricate alliances to patrol large home ranges and attract females for mating.

Now, two new studies are shedding new insights into the bottlenose dolphins’ social system and how they maintain their friendships, Science Magazine reported.

In the first study, researchers looked into which factors influenced a male dolphin’s reproductive success. They analyzed which males had the strongest bonds – based on how much time individuals spent together – and which spent more time with many members of their alliance.

Their findings showed that males with the most offspring had the strongest social bonds and were friends with all members of their alliance. The animal’s age or size of his home range did not predict paternity success.

“A lone male stands no chance in this system,” said primatologist Frans de Waal, who was not involved in either study.

The second paper, meanwhile, discovered that males use vocal exchanges – such as whistling – to maintain friendships.

In general, males with strong bonds would have more physical contact among themselves, such as petting and rubbing. But researchers observed that the dolphins employed whistling to keep in contact with other males with whom they were weakly bonded. They described this exchange as “a low-cost way” to maintain relationships between males.

De Waal noted that the findings provide more evidence of dolphins’ high social skills, which further underscores that humans are not the only creatures with that capability.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 500,903,088

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,185,143

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,121,406,217

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

  1. US: 80,478,065 (+0.04%)
  2. India: 43,036,934 (+0.002%)
  3. Brazil: 30,184,286 (+0.07%)
  4. France: 27,353,225 (+0.69%)
  5. Germany: 23,017,079 (+0.61%)
  6. UK: 21,749,703 (+0.18%)
  7. Russia: 17,756,183 (+0.06%)
  8. South Korea: 15,830,644 (+1.25%)
  9. Italy: 15,404,809 (+0.55%)
  10. Turkey: 14,972,502 (+0.04%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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