The World Today for April 25, 2022

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Coming Together, Coming Apart

UKRAINE

It’s been two months since Russia invaded Ukraine to push back against alleged NATO encroachments and bring back into the fold an important region of the former Soviet Union and the late Czarist Russian Empire.

Of course, some say that Russia’s invasion really began when troops annexed the former Ukrainian territory of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. From that perspective, as CNBC recounted, the last two months have been a violent escalation of years of pressure.

Either way, when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his forces to attack Ukraine from Russian-held separatist zones in the country’s eastern regions, Crimea and the former Soviet republic of Belarus, he aimed to quickly seize Kyiv. But he failed to achieve that goal.

“The myth about the invincibility of the Russian military as the second-most powerful in the world has been shattered to much surprise of the Ukrainians themselves,” Oleh Zhdanov, a Ukrainian military expert, explained to the Associated Press.

Now, Putin has had to rejigger his plans, the Indian Express explained. The Russian president intends to entrench his forces in Donbas, using the separatist region as a base for further attacks to the west.

In the meantime, the so-called special military operation, as Putin described it, has radically altered Ukraine and also the world. In Ukraine, thousands have died – no one knows exactly how many people have been killed but the UN has counted 2,345, while Ukraine says 20,000 have died in Mariupol alone. And many cities are unrecognizable, as this before-and-after photo essay shows: Skeletons of buildings on pockmarked roads, bombed-out shopping centers and crumbling hospitals are now the cityscape of Kharkiv, parts of greater Kyiv and elsewhere. Mariupol is almost flattened.

At the same time, like an upset apple cart, the geopolitics are quickly changing as Russia continues its invasion, wrote the Washington Post, citing new waves of migrants in Europe that have topped five million, harsh Western sanctions, a boom in German defense spending and other big changes that Putin triggered with the invasion.

These changes could fragment the global order, warned the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum. Their worst-case scenario involved the use of nuclear weapons and the reemergence of a Cold War paradigm where democracies stand opposed to totalitarian states.

China is certainly strengthening its ties with Russia, reported Bloomberg, noting how trade between the two countries has increased by 30 percent in the first quarter of the year. Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose poor human rights record puts him in good company with Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, has suggested he might align his oil-rich kingdom with Russia and China, too.

Such an alliance has fueled fears about the value of the US dollar plummeting, as Jacobin magazine noted.

But the US and Western European countries have also bonded together more closely through NATO, Vox added. Germany’s decision to become more involved militarily and diplomatically is potentially a gamechanger in Europe, too.

How things will shake out is unknown. But first, the shaking must stop.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

A Collective Exhale

FRANCE

Incumbent President Emmanuel Macron decisively defeated his far-right rival Marine Le Pen in Sunday’s presidential runoff, a vote closely watched around the globe due to its impact on the country’s future, the European Union and NATO, ABC News reported.

Macron secured 59 percent of the vote to Le Pen’s 41 percent, said Reuters, making Macron the first French president to win a second term in more than two decades. Meanwhile, about 28 percent of voters stayed home, the highest percentage in more than 50 years.

The runoff followed the first round earlier this month which resulted in Macron with 28 percent of the vote and Le Pen with 23 percent.

Macron previously faced Le Pen in the 2017 presidential runoff and defeated her by a margin of 30 percentage points. Analysts told the Washington Post that the level of enthusiasm for centrist Macron, however, has decreased since he first ran for the presidency five years ago. The election gave the far-right its highest support in a French presidential election.

A longtime critic of the bloc and an admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Le Pen, a Eurosceptic, has recently softened her image to attract more voters and focused her campaign on capturing public frustration with Macron’s economic and social policies.

She has criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and voiced support for sanctions but opposed restrictions on Russian energy imports due to concerns over inflation. She also wanted to reduce France’s commitment to NATO.

Macron, on the other hand, did not campaign during the first round, instead focusing on the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. He has been under fire for his pro-business policies including tax cuts for the wealthy and raising the retirement age. These in particular have alienated some of his left-leaning voters.

Political observers noted that a far-right win would have shaken up France, the EU, NATO and the bloc’s relationship with Russia while giving a boost to other far-right parties in Europe.

Even so, Macron is likely to face a tough second term – marked by street protests and an uncooperative parliament – that could further polarize the country and embolden the fringe parties.

Macron, understanding the waning enthusiasm for his leadership – analysts say many voted for him to prevent a far-right presidency – addressed that discontent Sunday night: He told supporters that addressing those concerns will be a priority.

The Kingpin

HONDURAS

Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández appeared virtually before a US court over the weekend, following his extradition to the United States where he faces multiple charges related to drug trafficking, CNN reported.

Hernández was extradited to the US on Friday, a month after Honduras’ top court authorized the transfer following a request by US authorities. The former president – who stepped down in January after eight years in office – has been indicted on various charges, including “cocaine importation conspiracy, possession of machine guns and destructive devices.”

The indictment in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York said the former politician partnered with some of the most violent drug trafficking groups and enriched himself through a network that funneled cocaine from Honduras to the US.

US authorities have accused Hernández of shielding and aiding these organizations, while also using the drug money to finance his campaigns “to impact Honduran presidential elections in 2009, 2013, and 2017.”

Hernández has denied the allegations, saying the accusations come from drug traffickers, whom he extradited to the US during his presidency, Fox News noted.

Last year, the same US court sentenced his brother and former lawmaker, Juan Antonio Hernández Alvarado, to life in prison on drug trafficking charges.

Pants On Fire

UNITED KINGDOM

British lawmakers approved an investigation into whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson deliberately misled Parliament about parties at his offices at Downing Street that violated pandemic lockdown rules, BBC reported.

The probe is part of the “Partygate” scandal that has embroiled the prime minister and other officials for holding gatherings – including a “bring your own booze” garden party and Christmas parties – while the government was imposing a strict lockdown that limited contact.

After the parties were first uncovered, Johnson told Parliament in December that “the rules were followed at all times” and that “no party and that no covid rules were broken.”

But separate investigations by London’s Metropolitan Police and others have already found violations. Last week, police officials determined that the rules were broken and fined Johnson, his wife and other officials – making him the first serving prime minister found to have broken the law.

Johnson apologized and paid the fine but denied that he had lied to Parliament.

The contempt probe will begin after the Metropolitan Police finalizes its investigation. If Parliament decides that Johnson willfully misled lawmakers, he could be suspended, expelled or forced to resign.

Johnson has dismissed previous calls to step down over the scandal. Analysts added that while many Conservatives are unhappy with his leadership, it’s unclear whether they intend to oust him.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • Russia wants to seize “complete control” of eastern and southern Ukraine, in part so it can access Moldova, according to a Russian commander, raising fears that the war could spill beyond Ukrainian borders, the Washington Post added.
  • Lawmakers from Latvia and Estonia officially declared that Russia has committed genocide in Ukraine, the Hill noted. The parliaments of both former Soviet states accused Russian troops of perpetrating acts of genocide in Ukrainian cities, including murder, rape, torture and desecration of corpses. They also urged countries and international organizations to step up sanctions against Moscow while increasing humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine.
  • According to an audio intercept captured by Ukrainian intelligence agencies this week, Russian forces in the strategically crucial Donbas area of Ukraine were told to execute prisoners of war, with instructions to make sure no one “sees them again,” according to the New York Post. The audio, which has not been independently verified, was shared on the Telegram channel for the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense’s Intelligence Directorate.
  • Russia’s new nuclear missile will be deployed by autumn, according to the chief of the country’s space program, a weapon capable of targeting Britain and the United States, the Telegraph wrote. The Sarmat missile – known as “Satan II” by Western officials – is considered a faster and deadlier replacement for its Soviet predecessor, “Satan.” Described as the most dangerous weapon in the world, the Kremlin called it a “present to NATO.” Meanwhile, Russia deployed Iskander-M mobile battlefield missile launchers near Ukraine’s borders, Al Jazeera noted. The weapon’s two ballistic missiles can carry conventional or nuclear weapons and have a range of up to 300 miles.

DISCOVERIES

MOST Promising

An international research team developed a novel system that can store solar energy in liquid form for 18 years and release it when needed, the Independent reported.

Named molecular solar thermal energy storage (MOST), the technology uses a specially designed molecule of carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen, scientists explained in a new study.

Once it comes into contact with sunlight, the molecule changes into an energy-rich isomer, which can be stored in liquid form for years, according to New Atlas.

The team then developed a compact thermoelectric generator to turn that heat into electricity.

“The generator is an ultra-thin chip that could be integrated into electronics such as headphones, smartwatches and telephones,” said co-author Zhihang Wang

Wang acknowledged that the current output generated by the chip is very small but added that the results of the system were “very promising.”

Researchers hope that MOST will lead to self-charging electronics that use stored solar energy on demand. The system also holds the potential to change the production of renewable and emissions-free energy.

“This is a radically new way of generating electricity from solar energy,” said lead author Kasper Moth-Poulsen

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 509,546,886

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,218,018

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,238,455,392

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

  1. US: 80,984,914 (+0.02%)
  2. India: 43,060,086 (+0.01%)
  3. Brazil: 30,349,463 (+0.01%)
  4. France: 28,494,054 (+0.21%)
  5. Germany: 24,200,596 (+0.08%)
  6. UK: 22,106,306 (+0.00%)**
  7. Russia: 17,872,625 (+0.05%)
  8. South Korea: 16,929,564 (+0.20%)
  9. Italy: 16,136,057 (+0.35%)
  10. Turkey: 15,018,547 (+0.02%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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