The World Today for May 11, 2022

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The Boogeymen


Ukraine’s Azov Battalion started off eight years ago as a group of far-right activists who launched attacks against pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian region of the Donbas. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, they have been incorporated into the Ukrainian military.

Russia has always labeled the Azov Battalion as a neo-Nazi force. In fact, the invasion was intended, in part, to “liberate” Ukraine from its Nazi elements, as CBS News explained. The battalion’s yellow and blue flag features the “Wolfsangel” logo that is similar to the German Nazi SS units’ insignias in World War II. Its membership before the invasion was estimated at around 1,000.

The battalion is reportedly no stranger to fearsome, hateful gestures, either. In March, fighters released a video of them coating their bullets in pig’s fat designed to mock the religion of Muslim Chechens who were fighting on behalf of Russia, for example, Al Jazeera reported.

Some Ukrainians disputed those claims, however. “These are guys who simply love their country and Ukrainian people,” Azov Battalion member Alexi Suliyma told the Washington Post. “I never knew them to be Nazis or fascists, never heard them make calls for the Third Reich.”

A Briton who joined the battalion also told Sky News its fighters were patriots and warriors rather than “monsters and psychos.”

But experts at Stanford University Center for International Security and Cooperation described the Azov Battalion as extreme, far-right nationalists.

That said, Russian fulminations about the battalion can raise eyebrows. These neo-Nazis are so tough, so craven, that they will even work with Israeli mercenaries, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson recently alleged, according to the Times Israel.

Those comments, incidentally, came after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Hitler had “Jewish blood.” Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish, by the way. Russian President Vladimir Putin has since apologized for the Hitler comments.

Whether Ukrainians or other folks believe Russian propaganda is not so relevant anymore as members of the Azov Battalion have now become Ukrainian national heroes, as Agence France-Presse wrote.

These fighters have been key in the defense of Mariupol, especially the Azovstal steelworks that is now besieged by Russian troops. Around 100 civilians remain in the steelworks as the fighting rages, Radio Free Europe reported.

In an interview with the Kyiv Post, the second in command of the battalion, Sviatoslav Palamar, who was defending the steelworks, said Russia was concealing mass graves where thousands of Mariupol civilians and others were being interred.

It will take a while. But the world will eventually figure out who the monsters are.


And Here Come the Children


The son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. won Philippine’s presidential elections this week, a victory that has raised questions about the future of the Southeast Asian nation’s democratic values and its stance against China’s increasing influence in the region, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr. – also known as Bongbong – secured nearly 31 million votes in early returns, more than double those of his closest rival.

Marcos will take office in June for a six-year term with Sara Duterte – the daughter of outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte – as his vice president.

Political analysts believe the newcomer will continue the policies of his predecessor: Duterte attempted to foster closer relations with China and Russia while clashing with the United States, the Philippines’ traditional ally. Still, he maintained close ties with Washington and walked back previous efforts to break a defense pact between the two countries.

However, analysts added that it’s unclear whether this trend with the US will continue. They say it will depend on how the Biden administration responds to Marcos. Washington has been trying to counter China’s increasing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

Observers added that Marcos himself has not been transparent about his foreign policy stance: While he said he would continue the Philippines’ alliance with the US, Marcos has also expressed interest in pursuing closer ties with China.

The situation is complicated due to the US’ support for the administration that took power after his father was deposed in the 1980s. In 2011, a US District Court fined Marcos Jr. and his mother roughly $354 million for failing to provide information on assets in connection with a 1995 human rights class action suit against Marcos Sr.

The amount has never been paid and could make it difficult for him to visit the US in the future.

Others have also expressed concerns about eroding democratic values in the Philippines, a situation exacerbated by Duterte. Some believe Marcos will crack down on dissent and curb press freedoms while others say it’s unlikely the country will return to the brutal, kleptocratic rule of his late father.

Out of the Shadows


Colombia’s largest drug cartel shut down dozens of towns in the country’s north this week and threatened to shoot all who disobeyed its stay-at-home orders, a move seen as retaliation for the extradition of the group’s leader to the United States, CBS News reported Tuesday.

Last week, the Gulf Clan issued an “armed stoppage” decree, forcing the closure of businesses and schools, and suspending intercity bus services and the delivery of gas to homes.

The criminal group warned that it would shoot people who violated the rules and torch their vehicles. Colombian authorities said more than 180 cars were burned and dozens of people were killed, including three police officers.

The decree follows the extradition of the Gulf Clan’s leader, Dairo Antonio Úsuga David – also known as Otoniel – to the United States, where he faces drug trafficking charges and allegations of assisting a far-right paramilitary group designated as a terrorist organization by the US government.

Otoniel was arrested last year in a high-profile operation involving hundreds of soldiers.

Although the situation appeared to be winding down Monday, analysts warned that the cartel’s ability to shut down towns highlighted flaws in the government’s long fight against drug trafficking organizations.

Meanwhile, the Colombian government tried to play down the cartel’s stoppage, saying that it had deployed 52,000 troops to the affected areas to protect citizens. President Ivan Duque described some of the cartel’s activities as “isolated incidents,” adding that the organization was now weaker.

The Vessels


A Salvadoran court sentenced a woman to 30 years in prison for the death of her unborn child following an obstetric emergency, a verdict that comes amid rising criticism of the Central American country’s strict abortion laws, Al Jazeera reported Tuesday.

The case is related to a 28-year-old woman, who had suffered a health emergency in 2019 and sought assistance at the local hospital. Abortion rights advocates said Monday that the woman – known as Esme – was convicted of homicide and handed a lengthy sentence after serving two years of pre-trial detention.

Esme’s lawyers said they will appeal the decision. They added that the verdict is the first of its kind under the government of President Nayib Bukele, who had previously said that no woman should be jailed for an obstetric emergency.

Activists described the ruling as “a hard blow for the road to overcome the criminalization of obstetric emergencies.” The ruling would mark a step backward for El Salvador, analysts said, which has attracted international condemnation for its abortion rules.

Abortion is illegal in the country even in cases of rape and when the mother’s health is threatened. Women’s rights advocates said authorities have sometimes used the 1998 law to prosecute women that suffered miscarriages, stillbirths or other obstetric emergencies.

Over the last 20 years, the government has criminally prosecuted more than 180 women who suffered obstetric emergencies.

In 2021, advocates and celebrities protested as part of the “Las 17” movement, referring to the 17 women who had been convicted for suffering a miscarriage or an obstetric emergency.

Only five of them have been released.


  • US intelligence officials warned that Russia is preparing for a prolonged conflict in Ukraine, adding that Moscow will not stop fighting even after taking the country’s eastern Donbas region, Al Jazeera noted. Meanwhile, the United Nations warned that thousands more civilians have been killed in Ukraine since the war began in February than reported, according to Reuters. An estimated 3,381 civilians have been killed, the UN said but in reality, no one yet is able to provide an accurate number of casualties.
  • Russia bombarded the key port of Odesa on Tuesday in an apparent attempt to disrupt supply lines and Western weapons shipments critical to Ukraine’s security, the Associated Press reported. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged the international community to take prompt action to lift the Russian blockade of his country’s ports, allowing for wheat exports and averting a worldwide food crisis, the Guardian said. His pleas come as US President Joe Biden signed legislation that will shorten the lengthy process of giving Ukraine military equipment for its war against Russia, CNBC added.
  • Lithuanian legislators unanimously passed a resolution branding Russia a “terrorist state” and describing Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine as an act of “genocide,” Euronews wrote. At the same time, Germany and the Netherlands’ foreign ministers paid an unexpected visit to Ukraine, stopping in the Kyiv suburbs of Bucha and Irpin, where Russian forces are accused of committing war crimes before fleeing last month, Radio Free Europe added.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin sacked Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), which was in charge of supplying intelligence on the invasion of Ukraine, and replaced it with the military’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), Insider reported. Russian investigative journalists said Putin was fed up with intelligence failures by the FSB during Russia’s operations in Ukraine, adding that the president also purged the agency, which is considered the successor of the Soviet Union’s KGB. Meanwhile, The European Union and Britain criticized Russia Tuesday for an “unacceptable” cyberattack on satellite communications provider Viasat in February, which brought Ukrainian networks down, according to Politico. The cyberattack came hours before Russia began its invasion of Ukraine.
  • The United Nations said Tuesday that it had “received credible information of torture, ill-treatment and incommunicado detention” by Ukrainian forces of Russian prisoners of war and others from affiliated armed groups, the Washington Post reported. “We continue to see the publication of videos, which show inhumane treatment, including prisoners from both sides being coerced to make statements, apologies and confessions, and other forms of humiliation,” Matilda Bogner, head of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, told a news briefing. “While the scale is significantly higher on the side of allegations against Russian forces, we are also documenting violations by Ukrainian forces.”


Someone to Watch Over Me

Scientists fear that climate change is threatening the existence of Antarctica’s endemic emperor penguins.

A study last year found that warming temperatures and the melting sea ice could result in 98 percent of the penguin species disappearing by 2100.

To prevent this extinction event, researchers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts have set out to closely monitor the flightless avians using a robot, CNN reported.

ECHO, a small, remote-controlled automaton, has infiltrated an emperor penguin colony in the Atka Bay to silently observe them as they go about their daily activities. The penguins were initially curious and fascinated by the three-foot-tall robo, but remain unbothered by its presence.

“We realized the birds were accepting ECHO really well,” said researcher Céline Le Bohec.

Le Bohec and her colleagues explained that the machine helps scientists keep an eye on the birds without adding any human interference to their colony. They added that the technology will aid researchers to observe the impact of climate change on other marine animals.

But ECHO is not the only one watching over the birds.

Recently, a post office at the British territory of Port Lockroy on Goudier Island was looking for someone that could sort mail, sell postage stamps and – most importantly – count penguins, according to NPR.

The lucky candidate will get to experience Antarctica and its fauna from November to March.

Still, the job application warned that life on the frozen continent is harsh: Temperatures can dip as low as 23 degrees Fahrenheit and accommodations are very limited.

Weeks can go by without any showers or running water, and communication is extremely limited – there is no internet access or cellphone reception.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 518,794,928

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,255,791

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,372,215,663

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

  1. US: 82,060,775 (+0.11%)
  2. India: 43,110,586 (+0.01%)
  3. Brazil: 30,594,388 (+0.07%)
  4. France: 29,212,276 (+0.19%)
  5. Germany: 25,503,878 (+0.38%)
  6. UK: 22,329,180 (+0.05%)
  7. Russia: 17,971,207 (+0.02%)
  8. South Korea: 17,658,794 (+0.25%)
  9. Italy: 16,872,618 (+0.33%)
  10. Turkey: 15,046,779 (+0.01%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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