The World Today for April 20, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

On a High Wire

TURKEY

Turkish leaders have said that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is illegal. They have delivered drones and ammunition to Ukraine that have been key to helping Ukrainian forces repel Russia’s invasion. The drones have been used in “pop-up attacks on the invaders with a lethal effectiveness that has surprised Western military experts,” wrote the Associated Press. Turkey has also closed the Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits to Russian warships, though Foreign Policy magazine noted that legal questions about that policy remain.

But Turkish society is split on who is to blame for the war in Ukraine.

As Middle East Eye explained, Turkish television features pundits who believe the US and NATO created the conditions that left Russia little choice but to invade – even though Turkey is a NATO member. One admiral said the invasion was “a step to end the imperialist Atlanticist” age. Another military leader said that NATO welcomes the conflict, knowing it would weaken Russia for generations.

Yet Turkey has also become the go-to country for mediating the conflict, according to the Guardian.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is now trying to balance those two approaches as the war drags on. It’s not an easy job.

On one hand, Erdogan hopes that his close ties with Putin might help him negotiate an end to the fighting, boosting his standing on the world stage and cementing his place in NATO, wrote the Washington Post. On the other hand, that closeness comes with a price.

In a bid to retain ties with Putin and help his country’s struggling economy – Turkish inflation is at a 20-year high – Erdogan has declined to join the US and the European Union in imposing sanctions on Russia. In fact, Turkey has welcomed the cash of Russian oligarchs seeking to avoid sanctions, the Economist noted. That has hurt Erdogan’s reputation in Berlin, Paris, London and Washington.

Turkey has faced this conundrum for years. The heir of the former Ottoman Empire, the country has long bounced between East and West.

As Politico reported, a Turkish fighter jet shot down a Russian bomber over the Syrian-Turkish border in 2015. Yet Turkey also angered its NATO allies when it purchased a Russian anti-aircraft system in 2017. More recently, Turkey backed Azerbaijan in a conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan. Moscow supported Armenia. At the same time, Turkey continues to import 45 percent of its natural gas from Russia.

The world should hope Turkey can play the role of peacemaker that Erdogan appears to yearn for, even when that means angering its allies.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Formalizing Fear

SOLOMON ISLANDS

China and the Solomon Islands signed a security pact Tuesday, an agreement that drew the ire of Australia and the United States amid concerns over Beijing increasing its military presence in the Pacific, the Guardian reported.

Chinese officials said the deal was signed by the foreign ministers of both countries, although they did not provide details of where or when the signing took place.

Last month, a leaked draft of the agreement showed that China could deploy armed police at the request of the Solomon Islands to maintain “social order.” But the contentious deal has sparked fears of a potential Chinese military base on the island nation, located about 1,200 miles from Australia.

The Australian government denounced the pact due to “the lack of transparency” and said it would “seek further clarity on the terms of the agreement and its consequences for the Pacific region.”

The US government, meanwhile, plans to send a delegation to the Solomon Islands to discuss concerns about China and also the reopening of the US embassy in the capital, Honiara.

Meanwhile, China and the Solomon Islands dismissed concerns, saying the security cooperation pact is a “normal exchange and cooperation between two sovereign and independent countries.”

Solomon Island’s prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare, has reiterated that the Pacific nation will not allow the construction of a Chinese military base on its soil.

His assurances, however, have done little to assuage Australian and US concerns.

Dry Tinder

ISRAEL/ WEST BANK & GAZA

Israel’s fragile unity government faces a potential collapse after an independent Arab party suspended its membership in the ruling coalition, amid the breaking out of fresh violence between Israelis and Palestinians and recent attacks by Hamas, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The Islamist Ra’am party said it was freezing its membership to protest against the government’s handling of the clashes at the Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, a site considered holy for both Muslims and Jews.

The party – as well as Palestinians and other Arab citizens in Israel – have accused the government of changing the status quo and degrading Muslim control over the holy site in favor of Jews.

However, the government denied that it has changed the rule that only Muslims can pray at the site. It also accused Hamas and other groups of inciting violence.

The mosque is the third holiest place for Muslims, as well as an important site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it was the location of Jewish temples in antiquity.

Ra’am’s move comes a few weeks after a right-wing coalition member left the government, causing it to lose its majority in parliament. Analysts noted that if the Arab party – or one of its members – abandons the coalition, it would reduce the unity government to a minority in parliament.

It would also leave it vulnerable to a vote to dissolve the legislature and send the country to a fifth election in about three years.

The recent events come amid a wave of deadly violence in the country that is coinciding with overlapping holidays for Jews and Muslims. The situation has raised fears of a wider conflict breaking out as it did last year when war broke out in the Gaza strip.

On Tuesday, the Israeli military struck a number of targets in Gaza, including a site used by Hamas to manufacture weapons, the Times of Israel wrote. The Israeli strike came hours after a rocket attack from Gaza, which was intercepted by the country’s “Iron Dome” defense system.

Although military officials did not blame Hamas for the attempted attack, it said it held them responsible for the rocket’s launch.

Walking Backwards

LIBYA

Libya’s rival factions failed to reach a deal on constitutional arrangements for elections this week, a development that has raised concerns about another potential split in the North African country following more than a decade of civil war, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

On Monday, lawmakers from Libya’s east-based parliament and the Tripoli-based High Council of State ended the United Nations-brokered talks in Egypt.

UN special adviser on Libya, Stephanie Williams, said the officials agreed to meet next month. She said they were working to reach a deal on a constitutional and legislative framework for parliamentary and presidential elections.

The negotiations halted less than two years after the warring factions agreed to an UN-backed ceasefire to create an interim unity government and end years of conflict following the ouster of autocrat Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The interim government led by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah was to usher the country toward elections scheduled in December 2021. But those polls failed to materialize amid disputes over election rules.

The east-based parliament then named Fathi Bashagha as the country’s new interim prime minister, saying that Dbeibah’s mandate ended after the vote failed to take place.

However, Dbeibah rejected efforts to replace him and said he would only hand over power to an elected government.

The situation has escalated with heavily armed militias mobilizing in western Libya. Meanwhile, tribal leaders and protesters in the southern region have shut down oil facilities, including Libya’s largest oil field, demanding Dbeibah’s resignation.

The region is controlled by forces loyal to eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • Ukrainian officials are hurrying to evacuate the last residents from the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions as Russia launches a fresh military attack near the area’s key population centers, the Wall Street Journal wrote. Meanwhile, UN officials said humanitarian ceasefires between Ukrainian and Russian forces are not on the horizon but might happen in the next several weeks, Al Jazeera added.
  • Russia urged Ukrainian soldiers to “immediately lay down arms” Tuesday, issuing a fresh ultimatum for the defenders of the besieged port city of Mariupol to stop resisting, the South China Morning Post reported. At the same time, Russian forces continued their new offensive in eastern Ukraine after launching attacks on cities and towns along a 300-mile front with a renewed focus on the Donbas region, according to USA Today.
  • Russia has been accused of using a variety of weapons in Ukraine, from vacuum bombs to chemical weapons, raising concerns about their impact on civilian populations, the Hill noted.
  • The Russian Education Ministry has unveiled plans to require children as young as seven to learn history as part of a larger drive to promote “patriotic” education in the midst of Ukraine’s conflict, the Moscow Times wrote.
  • Hungary will not support any sanctions on Russian oil and gas, saying it will do “everything” to ensure the safety of its energy supply, the Independent reported.

DISCOVERIES

Ship Ahoy

In 1863, a powerful storm around Cape Cod revealed the wreckage of a legendary long-lost ship believed to be the oldest remains of a vessel that sailed during Colonial America.

But uncertainty surrounded the origins of the Sparrow-Hawk which sank around 1626.

Recently, a thorough study of the ship’s timber revealed that it was indeed the 17th-century vessel, CBS News reported.

The Sparrow-Hawk was a small ship bound for Jamestown, Virginia and onboard were English merchants and their indentured servants.

The arduous voyage from Europe, however, came to an abrupt end in 1626 after a storm caused a shipwreck near the current town of Orleans, according to accounts by Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford. The passengers survived and were aided by the local Indigenous population and the Pilgrims in nearby Plymouth.

And while many for years believed the ship was, in fact, the Sparrow-Hawk, it was never proved so until now.

For their study, a research team used a form of radiocarbon dating and dendrochronology – the study of tree ring growth – to determine when the nearly 40-foot Sparrow-Hawk was built.

Their findings suggested that the wood used to make the boat was harvested between 1556 and 1646, adding that the ring patterns resembled tree-ring chronologies from 17th century southern England.

The ship’s remains are currently stored at Plymouth’s Pilgrim Hall Museum and have been previously displayed to the public.

The authors are planning to use digital modeling to build a 3D model of the vessel and display it once again to the public during its 400th anniversary in 2026.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 505,976,186

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,203,385

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,192,787,916

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

  1. US: 80,733,172 (+0.06%)
  2. India: 43,047,594 (+0.005%)
  3. Brazil: 30,275,219 (+0.05%)
  4. France: 28,006,219 (+0.09%)
  5. Germany: 23,658,211 (+0.85%)
  6. UK: 22,033,383 (+0.53%)
  7. Russia: 17,829,009 (+0.05%)
  8. South Korea: 16,583,220 (+0.68%)
  9. Italy: 15,758,002 (+0.17%)
  10. Turkey: 15,003,696 (+0.03%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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