The World Today for April 22, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

Wanted: Redemption

RUSSIA

A few years before the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian satirist Vladimir Voinovich imagined a story about a former KGB agent who became head of state, created a class of corrupt oligarchs around him, draped himself in the mantle of the Russian Orthodox Church and launched a bloody war to remain in power.

Voinovich’s 1986 novel “Moscow 2042” predicted Vladimir Putin, the Washington Post reported. It was not necessarily a hard thing to do. Putin and his crony elites put Russia on the road to autocracy after the fall of the Berlin Wall, noted JSTOR Daily, the magazine of the not-for-profit academic institution.

However strategic the strongman was, however, Putin failed to predict how events would play out, however. He underestimated the ferocity of Ukrainian resistance and misjudged ordinary Russians.

“It’s the classic mistake of every tyrant: Surround yourself only with sycophants, suck-ups and yes-men, and you never get a reality check in your echo chamber,” argued Zoya Sheftalovich in a Politico opinion column. “Eliminate dissenting politicians, and you assume that means you’ve eliminated dissent.”

The Russian president is now playing a “face-saving” game in Ukraine, University of Toronto political scientist Olga Chyzh wrote in the Guardian. The Ukrainians sunk Russia’s Black Sea flagship, the cruiser Moskva, and have killed six generals. Low morale and defection plague conscripts, some of whom blow up their own equipment, according to Ukrainians. Mercenaries are being called in.

Shrinking his ambitions, added NBC News, Putin appears now to be aiming only to seize the eastern Ukrainian region of the Donbas, where Russian separatists already held sway. Meanwhile, with the ferocity of this war, even some of those pro-Russian Ukrainians are questioning their past allegiances.

Voinovich died in 2018. His obituary in Radio Free Europe portrayed him as a dissident writer who foresaw the rise of a Russian regime that looked nostalgically and bitterly to an imagined past rather than forward to a better present.

Another iconoclastic Russian writer, Vladimir Sorokin, took aim with a similarly withering perspective. In an interview with the New York Times, Sorokin said that Putin was trying to manipulate the truth to misrepresent the invasion to ordinary Russians.

The power over the truth will be a potent weapon in Putin’s upcoming great battle against allegations that he allowed war crimes to occur in Ukraine while pursuing a genocidal war against the country, according to the BBC.

Officials at the International Court of Justice in the Hague don’t have the power to seize a head of state and drag them into the court, the New Republic explained. But leaders could convene some kind of entity to begin an investigation to grease the creaky wheels of justice and get them moving.

As a Russian writer might say, the souls of the Russian and Ukrainian nations will need closure to find redemption.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Just Paper

CHINA

China ratified two international conventions on forced labor this week in an effort to reduce international criticism over its treatment of the Uyghur ethnic minority in the Xinjiang province which has hindered trade ties with Western nations, Bloomberg reported.

The National People’s Congress agreed to ratify the Forced Labor Convention and Abolition of Forced Labor Convention on Wednesday. The conventions were adopted in 1930 and 1957 respectively by members of the International Labor Organization (ILO).

The move comes amid accusations that the Chinese government has forced members of the Muslim Uyghur population into forced labor and subjected them to other abuses. President Xi Jinping has continuously denied the allegations, pledging to improve labor standards and ratify ILO conventions.

The allegations prompted US President Joe Biden to sign a bill last year, which banned the import of goods from Xinjiang unless companies can prove they weren’t made with forced labor. The European Union also paused its long-anticipated trade deal with China over the issue.

While the ILO hailed the ratification as “highly significant,” many analysts said Beijing’s move would not satisfy its critics.

European officials noted that the belated decision was unlikely to sway the EU without “a real policy change by China in Xinjiang.”

Even so, others said the ratifications signify “an important signal that China aims to be a responsible stakeholder in the international economic system.”

Offshoring Desperation

DENMARK

Denmark began negotiations with Rwanda this week about establishing a reception center for asylum seekers, a proposed plan that resembles a similar scheme between the African country and Britain, Euronews reported.

Danish Immigration and Integration Minister Mattias Tesfaye said the two governments are conducting talks but have not reached a deal on asylum centers.

The talks come a year after Denmark passed a contentious law that would allow the European country to move refugees to asylum centers in a partner nation while their cases are processed.

Last year, Tesfaye also traveled to Rwanda to sign an agreement to boost cooperation on immigration issues.

The legislation has drawn condemnation from human rights organizations and the European Union, who said it undermined “the foundations of the international protection system for the world’s refugees,” Politico noted.

The proposed plan follows a similar scheme by Britain, which intends to send asylum seekers for processing to Rwanda as part of a tough new immigration plan.

Human rights advocates have admonished both schemes as “unethical.”

But the Danish government maintains that the plan is a “more dignified approach” that will stop illegal immigration and people smugglers. Tesfaye added that the current European asylum system is “unsustainable” and praised the British plan.

Danish lawmakers will meet next week on the issue.

Happy Birthday(s)!

SOUTH KOREA

South Korea’s incoming president is proposing to abolish a centuries-old method of counting a person’s age, a move that could have a significant impact on the country’s society and culture, the BBC reported.

There are three ways to count the age of an individual in South Korea, including the standardized international system that the country has been using since 1962.

South Korea also uses another official method in which babies born at the age of zero automatically gain a year every Jan. 1 – meaning that a baby born in December 2020 would be two years old by January 2022. This system is primarily used to define the legal age for areas of the law that affect a significant percentage of the population, such as military service.

But there is also the “Korean age” method, which is used frequently used by everyone in society: Every person is automatically a year old at birth and becomes a year older on New Year’s Day regardless of their birth date.

Scholars say that age is important in South Korean society and determines how to “address (a) person and the honorific or title… required.” But others noted that the peculiar counting system has caused legal conundrums, such as difficulties in setting an age bracket to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

The intricate system originated in China and other parts of Asia, even though most of those nations have dropped it.

President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol plans to revamp the system, saying that it has caused a lot of confusion and resulted in social and economic costs for the country.

Analysts pointed out that other attempts to alter the age-counting method have failed, while others questioned what this would mean for South Korean culture and society.

Even so, they suggested that if the international counting standard is adopted, South Koreans would still continue to use the “Korean age” method.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his forces Thursday to blockade the steel plant where Ukrainian troops are holding out in Mariupol, saying it would be “impractical” to attack the factory, the New York Times reported. Putin’s announcement came as Russia claimed victory over the strategic southeastern city.
  • US President Joe Biden announced another $800 million security package and an additional $500 million in direct economic assistance to Ukraine as its military fights off a renewed Russian assault, CNBC noted. The announcement comes less than a day after finance ministers for the Group of Seven countries pledged more than $24 billion in 2022 in support for Ukraine, according to the Hill.
  • Russian forces now control 80 percent of Luhansk, one of the two eastern Donbas districts, while hospitals and morgues in the controlled territories are “overcrowded,” according to a Ukrainian official, Al Jazeera wrote.
  • China’s credit card processor has refused to cooperate with Russian banks out of fear of being hit by Western sanctions imposed on Russia due to the war in Ukraine, especially after Visa and Mastercard Russia stopped serving them, the Associated Press added. American officials have warned that governments or companies that try to undermine sanctions will face consequences.
  • Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny voiced his support for incumbent French President Emmanuel Macron and urged voters to reelect the incumbent when they go to the polls in the second round Sunday, the Washington Post wrote. Meanwhile, he rebuked Macron’s opponent, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen for a past loan — worth $12.2 million in 2014 from a “shadowy” Russian state bank for her party. Le Pen, meanwhile, called for reconciliation between NATO and Russia, and again vowed to pull France out of NATO’s integrated command if she is elected president.

Weekly World Quiz

DISCOVERIES

The Birds and the Bees

Birds and bees play a major role in the makings of a great cup of coffee, Daily Mail reported.

Researchers wrote in a new study that the coffee beans are bigger and the plants produce more when birds and bees cooperate to pollinate and protect the crops.

“Nature is an interacting system, full of important synergies and trade-offs,” said lead author Alejandra Martinez-Salinas. “We show the ecological and economic importance of these interactions, in one of the first experiments at realistic scales in actual farms.”

In a series of experiments, researchers used 30 real-world coffee farms to observe how this synergy between the two species contributed to better crops.

They analyzed how the fruit’s weight and uniformity were affected in four different scenarios: In two scenarios, birds and bees operated separately on the farms – meaning they didn’t work with each other. In another, the birds and bees worked together.

But the team also tested a scenario where there was no bird and bee activity.

The findings showed that the beans were larger and more prolific when the two species worked together. However, when they were absent, the average yield declined nearly 25 percent – a loss of about $432 per acre.

Co-author Natalia Aristizabal said the study shows the integral ecological role the two species play in nature and how crucial they are to our livelihood.

“Birds, bees, and millions of other species support our lives and livelihoods but face threats like habitat destruction and climate change,” she said.

The researchers now intend to investigate how shifting farm landscapes affect the birds’ and bees’ abilities to help out on getting us that cup of joe.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 507,949,365

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,211,987

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,217,539,274

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

  1. US: 80,850,937 (+0.06%)
  2. India: 43,052,425 (+0.01%)
  3. Brazil: 30,330,629 (+0.06%)
  4. France: 28,266,099 (+0.37%)
  5. Germany: 24,006,254 (+0.68%)
  6. UK: 22,082,374 (+0.10%)
  7. Russia: 17,846,818 (+0.05%)
  8. South Korea: 16,755,055 (+0.49%)
  9. Italy: 15,934,437 (+0.48%)
  10. Turkey: 15,010,718 (+0.02%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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