The World Today for May 26, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

A Faustian Bargain

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

Soldiers with links to Russia recently beat, tortured and executed civilians in the Central African Republic. The soldiers included mercenaries employed by the Wagner Group, a Russian private military security contractor, said Human Rights Watch. The United Nations is now investigating the incident. As many as 15 people were believed to have been killed.

Ironically, the Wagner Group “came to prominence” in 2014 when Russian-backed separatists launched a war in the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine, reported CNN. They have also been deployed in Syria and in Ukraine.

The Central African Republic’s president, Faustin Archange Touadera, is notoriously close with the Wagner Group, whom he invited into the country in 2018 to help put down rebels and kept them around after violence marred his reelection in 2020. As the Africa Report showed, Touadera has been unapologetic for enlisting their help to maintain “peace and order.”

Russia, incidentally, has blocked UN efforts to probe the atrocities that the Wagner Group and the Central African Republic’s government might have committed in the country, added PassBlue, an outlet that covers the UN.

Rich in resources like gold and diamonds, the Central African Republic has been politically unstable since it achieved independence from France more than 60 years ago, wrote the BBC.

While he deploys foreign mercenaries, Touadera has been importing other ideas, too. Recently, he adopted bitcoin as an official currency, for example. His representative called it “a decisive step toward opening up new opportunities for our country,” Reuters reported.

Critics at the New Scientist magazine warned that the cryptocurrency experiment would likely be a failure, noting that in the only other country in the world that has adopted bitcoin as an official currency, El Salvador, the results have been poor. El Salvador’s bitcoin investments have lost value. The Central American country is expected to default on its debt within the year.

A through-line might link El Salvador and the Central African Republic. El Salvador adopted bitcoin because its leaders were desperate for cash, argued Slate magazine. Its bonds are rated as junk. Other credit sources have been drying up due to corruption. It had few other options but to embrace a new untested financing tool. Now, the Central African Republic, one of the poorest nations in the world, as PYMNTS noted, appears to be following the same strategy.

Touadera has offloaded two traditional sovereign powers, security and money, to remain in charge. It is likely to work, at least for a while.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Shame and Deflection

CHINA

A trove of leaked files detailing the mistreatment of Muslim Uyghurs is providing new details on China’s crackdown on the community and cast a shadow over a six-day visit by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.

The leaked information includes thousands of mugshots and documents that show police tactics, such as how to subdue detainees and a shoot-to-kill policy for escapees. The documents date back to 2018 and also provide a rare glimpse into the “reeducation camps,” which Chinese officials say are vocational training schools.

The data leak was published by the Washington-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and a consortium of media including the BBC and USA Today.

The foundation described the information as “unprecedented evidence on every level” of the treatment of the minority by Chinese authorities. Others noted that the documents add to a growing body of witness accounts and public records, as well as confirm the allegations of forced labor and sterilization of Uyghur women.

The leak comes as Bachelet visits the region following years-long negotiations with Chinese authorities. Critics believe her visit – the first by a UN human rights official since 2005 – risks becoming little more than a publicity stunt for the Chinese government.

British and US officials also questioned the validity of the visit and urged China to allow Bachelet the freedom to investigate the claims in light of the leaked documents.

China, however, criticized the leak as “the latest example of the anti-China forces’ smearing of Xinjiang.” Beijing described the international pressure by the US and the UK as an attempt to “sabotage” Bachelet’s visit.

Bachelet has yet to comment on the leak.

Despite skepticism, some human rights groups acknowledged that Bachelet’s visit is still important in raising awareness about the Uyghur issue.

Party Animals

UNITED KINGDOM

A long-awaited report focusing on the lockdown-violating parties held in British government offices blamed Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other senior officials for “failures of leadership and judgment,” Axios reported.

Senior civil servant Sue Gray released a scathing report Wednesday following an investigation into 16 events held between May 2020 and April 2021 at the prime minister’s premises on Downing Street and the Whitehall offices.

At the time of the parties, the government had imposed coronavirus lockdowns that barred people from socializing, or even from visiting sick or dying relatives.

Gray concluded that the “senior leadership team … must bear responsibility” for a culture that allowed events to take place that “should not have been allowed to happen,” the Associated Press noted.

She detailed that staff “drank excessively” and damaged property during the festivities – in a scandal that has been dubbed “partygate.” She also cited “multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff” during the parties.

The report comes as London police fined dozens of officials for violating the rules, including Johnson.

Following the report, Johnson apologized to Parliament and took “full responsibility” for the events, adding that he was “appalled” by the treatment of security and cleaning staff. But he emphasized that he “simply wasn’t there” on some of these occasions and continued to refuse calls to resign.

Critics and opposition politicians have accused the embattled leader of lying to lawmakers about the events. Officials who knowingly mislead Parliament are expected to resign.

Observers noted that the report could revive calls within Johnson’s Conservative party to push for a no-confidence motion against the prime minister.

Meanwhile, Labour Party leader Keir Starmer is facing allegations that he broke Covid-19 rules during a campaign event last year. A fierce critic of Johnson, Starmer vowed to resign if he was fined for violating the rules.

Covert Affairs

IRAN

Iran had access to confidential reports by the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog almost two decades ago, which were used by top officials to prepare cover stories and forge records to hide suspected past work on nuclear weapons, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

A series of documents provided by Middle East intelligence officials show how Iran used subterfuge tactics with investigators of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who were monitoring Tehran’s compliance with nuclear nonproliferation treaties and later, the 2015 nuclear deal.

According to the officials, Iranian intelligence received the classified materials, which were then shared among senior Iranian military, government, and nuclear-program personnel between 2004 and 2006.

The files and accompanying Persian-language Iranian records show multiple occasions in which Tehran misled investigators: One document described how Tehran took measures to keep a container containing radiation-monitoring equipment out of the hands of IAEA investigators by saying that it had been sold and that no trace of it remained.

Analysts and former IAEA inspectors affirmed the validity of the documents, which some described as a “serious breach of IAEA internal security.” Both Iran and the nuclear agency did not comment on the Journal’s report.

The agency’s files were among more than 100,000 documents and files seized by Israeli intelligence in January 2018 from a Tehran archive. Israel has given the nuclear archive to the US intelligence community and granted independent specialists limited access.

The US and IAEA have said for years that Iran has been opaque regarding its past nuclear work, efforts that continue to this day.

The recent findings and Iran’s continuous stonewalling of the agency’s investigations could further complicate the renewal of the 2015 agreement, which removed most international sanctions from Tehran.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • European energy corporations appear to have caved to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demand that they purchase natural gas via an intricate new payment mechanism, avoiding future gas shut-offs but also giving Putin a public relations triumph while continuing to support his war in Ukraine, the Washington Post reported. The arrangement allows Europe to claim that it is officially paying for natural gas in euros, while Russia claims to be getting payment in rubles – a condition Putin placed on “unfriendly” countries.
  • China and Russia conducted their first coordinated military drill since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, launching bombers in northeast Asia as US President Joe Biden visited the region, according to the New York Times.
  • President Vladimir Putin signed a decree granting Russian citizenship to inhabitants of two Ukrainian districts, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, which were captured by the Russian military during Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Radio Free Europe noted. Meanwhile, Russian soldiers continued their attacks on two important towns in Ukraine’s industrial Donbas region Wednesday, with incessant shelling damaging buildings, killing residents, and threatening the remaining escape routes, Reuters added.
  • Russian lawmakers have removed the age restriction for military enlistment in the face of growing casualties following the invasion of Ukraine, the Washington Times wrote. Previously, only Russians between the ages of 18 to 40 and foreigners between the ages of 18 to 30 could enroll as professional troops. Officials said the new policy would make it simpler for military officials to recruit, especially hard-to-find personnel such as those with medical and engineering backgrounds.
  • Russian legislators voted this week to prohibit foreigners from hiring Russian surrogate mothers, a practice not uncommon for Westerners, Reuters reported separately.

DISCOVERIES

What Lies Beneath

Researchers found that there is a large amount of groundwater buried beneath Antarctica’s ice, a discovery that confirms decades of speculation, New Scientist reported.

Scientists have come across “ice streams” which they say are responsible for bringing much of Antarctica’s ice to the ocean.

“They’re sort of like water slides in that if there’s water at the base of your ice stream, it can go very quickly but if there’s no water there, you can’t go very fast,” said Chloe Gustafson, the lead author of a new study on Antarctica’s underground water.

In their paper, Gustafson and her team studied the seismic activity and electromagnetic fields beneath the Whillans ice stream in western Antarctica. Their findings showed a kilometer-thick layer of sediment saturated with a combination of fresh glacier water and old saltwater.

The team said that previous research has unveiled mainly shallow pools of water sitting between the ice streams and the ground below. But this reservoir had 10 times as much water as the shallower pools.

Despite showing that Antarctica packs groundwater, the authors explained that the discovery could be essential for controlling the flow rate of the ice streams, a process that is crucial to understand for predicting the effects of climate change on sea levels.

“Ultimately, we want to understand how quickly that ice is going to flow off the continent into the ocean and affect that sea-level rise,” Gustafson concluded.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 527,393,956

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,283,228

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,486,093,655

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

  1. US: 83,718,160 (+0.25%)
  2. India: 43,144,820 (+0.01%)
  3. Brazil: 30,851,191 (+0.05%)
  4. France: 29,605,758 (+0.07%)
  5. Germany: 26,198,811 (+0.15%)
  6. UK: 22,462,129 (+0.03%)
  7. Russia: 18,038,920 (+0.02%)
  8. South Korea: 18,036,720 (+0.10%)
  9. Italy: 17,312,432 (+0.14%)
  10. Turkey: 15,066,784 (+0.01%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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