The World Today for April 14, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

Fear and Vindication

BALTICS

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have become the first European countries to cut off gas imports from Russia, a move that seeks to curtail Russian President Vladimir Putin’s main revenue source.

Lithuania described the move as a “response to Russia’s energy blackmail in Europe,” reported the Associated Press, alluding to Putin’s expectation that Western Europe’s dependence on Russian energy would make the continent’s leaders reluctant to challenge his brutal invasion of Ukraine. Germany and other major economies are contemplating ending their imports but can’t do so immediately due to a lack of alternatives.

It’s no surprise that the Baltic states are at the diplomatic forefront of punishing their overbearing neighbor, Russia. The three NATO members, all former Soviet republics, have resisted Moscow’s rule since former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin absorbed them during World War II. For years, they have been combating Russian misinformation and efforts to stir up unrest among their Russian-speaking citizens. The war in Ukraine has vindicated their fears.

“For years, they have raised the alarm that Russia is their most existential threat,” wrote NBC News. “Yet, they feel they received little response prior to the invasion of Ukraine.”

Now, Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson is warning that Putin might invade the Baltics next. Exiled Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, formerly the richest man in Russia, shares that view. Jailed for nine years on charges of financial crimes he said were politically motivated, Khodorkovsky now believes Putin has gone insane and has no compunctions about waging a war against NATO, starting with the Baltics, according to Insider.

Each of the three countries has unique experiences with the crisis, of course.

Estonian officials are working overtime to find accommodations for Ukrainian war refugees. None will go without lodging, they said, according to Estonian Public Broadcasting.

Latvian lawmakers banned the use of the ‘Z’ or ‘V’ symbols that Russian leaders have come to identify with the Ukrainian invasion, reported Euronews. People found guilty of violating the law face fines of as much as $380 while businesses may be fined as much as $3,160.

Lithuanians are expressing outrage over reports that Russian troops kidnapped and killed filmmaker Mantas Kvedaravičius, who was thought to have been killed in fighting near Mariupol, Ukraine, Lithuanian National Radio and Television wrote.

But Lithuanians were also prepared for the crisis. Eight years ago, for example, the country built a floating liquified natural gas facility that allows them to receive gas from other sources in case Russia attempted to weaponize its energy exports, the Hill noted. They’ll soon be heating their homes with American and Norwegian energy.

Three different experiences. One common sense of outrage.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Striking the Heart

UNITED KINGDOM

A British court sentenced an Islamic State supporter to life in prison for the murder of Conservative lawmaker David Amess last year, an attack that has been described as a strike “on the heart of democracy” in Britain, the Guardian reported Wednesday.

The court ruled this week that London-born Ali Harbi Ali was guilty of murdering Amess and of planning a series of terrorist attacks against other lawmakers, including cabinet minister Michael Gove. Ali is the son of Harbi Ali Kullane, a former media adviser to Somali prime minister Hassan Ali Khaire. Kullane told media he was “traumatized” by the incident.

Last October, Ali stabbed Amess multiple times with a knife at a church in Leigh-on-Sea, while the lawmaker was meeting his constituents.

The attack was a retaliation for Amess being one of the legislators who voted for taking action against IS during its territorial expansion in Syria and Iraq between 2014 and 2015.

The whole-life sentence means that Ali will never be eligible for parole, according to Agence France-Presse.

Amess’ death marked the second time a lawmaker was killed by extremists. In 2016, Labour party lawmaker Jo Cox was murdered by a far-right extremist who is now also serving a whole-life sentence.

Meanwhile, the latest attack has raised demands to beef up security for elected representatives when they meet their constituents.

Bolder and Deadlier

NIGERIA

Gunmen killed more than 150 people in northern Nigeria this week in a series of attacks described as the worst violence the West African country has seen this year, CBS News reported Wednesday.

Armed assailants on motorcycles attacked a group of villages in the northern Plateau state over the weekend. Witnesses said the attackers also torched more than 100 houses and a cell phone tower.

Some survivors said women and children were also kidnapped, but it’s unclear how many were abducted.

President Muhammadu Buhari vowed there will be “no mercy” for the attackers and urged residents to “expose the perpetrators of such incidents, their sponsors and those who encourage such criminals who carry out these dastardly acts of murder.”

Criminal gangs – locally known as bandits – from the neighboring Kaduna state are believed to have been responsible for the attacks. Analysts noted that the bandits have become bolder in recent years, with killings and kidnappings spiking in the region, according to Al Jazeera.

In late March, such bandits blew up a train traveling from Nigeria’s capital to Kaduna state, killing eight people and kidnapping dozens more. Last week, gunmen killed a dozen soldiers during an attack at an army base in Kaduna.

Nigeria’s security situation remains dangerous as security forces are currently fighting a 12-year jihadist insurgency in the country’s northeast. Since 2009, that conflict has displaced more than two million people and killed more than 40,000.

Meanwhile, the Northern Elders Forum, a council of local leaders, called on Buhari to resign immediately, claiming that the president has failed to address killings, kidnappings, and overall insecurity in the country during his seven years in power.

Winners and Losers

NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a man accused of murder could be extradited to China, a ruling that could set a precedent for future extradition cases and has raised concerns over whether the defendant will receive a fair trial in China’s legal system, the Associated Press reported.

The defendant, South Korean national Kyung Yup Kim, was arrested in 2011 after China asked New Zealand to extradite him for the alleged 2009 murder of a young woman in Shanghai. Since then, he has been incarcerated in New Zealand prisons for more than five years and spent three more years on electronic monitoring.

Kim claims innocence, but Chinese authorities say they have forensic and circumstantial evidence linking him to the murder of Peiyun Chen, a 20-year-old waitress and sex worker.

Previous courts have appealed his extradition, with Kim’s lawyers saying that he would not get a fair trial in China and could be tortured while in detention.

Concerns over the mistreatment of suspects have also stopped other democratic countries from extraditing alleged criminals to China.

But New Zealand’s top court said that China gave enough assurances that Kim would get a proper trial, adding that he will be jailed in Shanghai, where New Zealand consulate staff could monitor him before and during the proceedings.

Kim’s lawyers said they will try to stop the extradition.

The decision could be hailed as a legal and diplomatic victory for the Chinese government. One of Kim’s lawyers, Tony Ellis, warned that Beijing could see the verdict as an encouragement to start extradition cases against other people who have fled the country.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • Russian forces commenced airstrikes on Ukrainian positions inside the besieged city of Mariupol early Wednesday, a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin said that peace negotiations with Kyiv had failed, while troops from both sides exchanged fire ahead of an expected escalation of bloodshed, according to the Wall Street Journal. In anticipation of that escalation, the United States will send another $800 million in military assistance to Ukraine for its fight against Russia, Reuters wrote.
  • More than 1,000 Ukrainian marines surrendered to Russian forces in Mariupol, according to Russia’s Ministry of Defense, a development that could be a major blow to Ukraine’s efforts to hold the city if Moscow’s claim is true, Radio Free Europe reported. Ukrainian officials have neither confirmed nor denied the allegations.
  • Russia violated international humanitarian law by deliberately targeting civilians during its invasion of Ukraine, according to a fact-finding report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Washington Post noted. Meanwhile, Putin called the reports about war crimes in the town of Bucha “fake” and blamed British intelligence agents for the atrocities, CNBC added.
  • The OSCE report came a day after US President Joe Biden accused Putin of committing genocide in Ukraine, the Hill wrote. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy praised Biden for his statements, but French President Emmanuel Macron warned that such verbal escalations will not end the war, Agence France-Presse added.

DISCOVERIES

Thick Boned

Paleontologists finally settled the debate over whether the Spinosaurus was a semiaquatic beast or just preferred to hunt near bodies of water, according to Reuters.

Known as the largest carnivorous dinosaur, the Spinosaurus surpassed the intimidating Tyrannosaurus rex in size.

Yet, the extinct reptile has been labeled as “simply weird” by scientists, because of its unique features. About 50 feet long and weighing seven tons, the dinosaur had a small pelvis, short hind legs, and a paddle-like tail and feet to propel itself through the water.

It also sported an unusual, seven-foot-tall, sail-like structure of bony spines on its back that would make it hard for such an animal to hide underwater.

Even so, a new study analyzed the bone density of the Spinosaurus and its closest relatives, Baryonyx and Suchomimus. The paper also looked into the bones of nearly 300 living and extinct animals, including land- and water-dwellers.

Researchers noted that bone density and compactness are defining characteristics for creatures adapted to marine life.

In the case of the dinos, the Spinosaurus and Baryonyx both possessed incredibly compact bones, which would have helped them stay submerged when swimming underwater as semiaquatic predators hunting huge prey.

Suchomimus, however, lacked this density and might have been a wading predator, the researchers noted.

“Spinosaurus was perhaps moving along shallow waters using a combination of ‘bottom-walking’ – like modern hippos – and lateral strokes of its giant tail,” said co-author Guillermo Navalón.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 501,915,884

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,189,808

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,130,405,470

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

  1. US: 80,528,450 (+0.06%)
  2. India: 43,039,023 (+0.005%)
  3. Brazil: 30,210,934 (+0.09%)
  4. France: 27,499,728 (+0.54%)
  5. Germany: 23,182,447 (+0.72%)
  6. UK: 21,785,682 (+0.17%)
  7. Russia: 17,767,760 (+0.07%)
  8. South Korea: 15,979,061 (+0.94%)
  9. Italy: 15,467,395 (+0.41%)
  10. Turkey: 14,978,031 (+0.04%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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