The World Today for May 30, 2022

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The Grim Reaper’s Harvest

UKRAINE

The Russo-Ukrainian War has now crossed the three-month mark. So far, it’s a stalemate.

At the Brookings Institution, researchers see “a war of attrition, with neither side capable of a decisive military breakthrough.” How the war will end remains unclear. When is another question.

As they carried out Russian President Vladimir Putin’s revanchist plan, Russian troops failed to capture the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, departing from the region in late March. They captured the important city of Mariupol but failed to capture the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv. In recent weeks, their focus has shifted to consolidating their gains in the eastern regions of Ukraine, including within two Russian-backed separatist states in the Donbas territory where Ukrainians have been fighting to reclaim their land since 2014, as Vox explained.

According to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who was attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this month, Putin “made a big strategic mistake,” reported the Washington Post. The lightning strike to take Kyiv failed. The Ukrainians have managed to repel Russians in some places, and even strike at Russians across the border. They have also at times done serious damage to the Russian army and its weapons.

Even so, Russian fortunes have improved in the Donbas region in recent weeks.

Russian forces had broken through Ukrainian lines in the town of Popasna with the goal of cutting off strategic villages in anticipation of a renewed assault to the west, wrote the Air Force Times. Agence France-Presse photographer Aris Messinis released a harrowing video of his travels in the war-torn region on Twitter.

Now Ukrainian leaders are admitting that Russia has the “upper hand” in the Donbas area while Ukrainian troops are repeatedly falling back to more fortified positions on their side of the front, the Guardian reported. “We need to hold back this horde,” said Serhiy Haidai, the Ukrainian-backed governor of Luhansk, referring to the Russian troops pushing back against Ukrainian momentum. These developments have led Ukrainian commanders to plead for more of the Western armaments that, after their heroism, make their cause possible.

Still, the Russians are suffering heavy losses, especially among elite forces who have been deployed extensively throughout the campaign even though straightforward heavy infantry would be better suited to the tactics that Russian generals have chosen, noted ABC News. A failed river crossing near the town of Sievierodonetsk was one of the most lethal fights for the Russian army, added the New York Times, describing the aftermath of the scene: “Blown-up tanks, the detritus of pontoon bridges, heaps of branches shorn off by explosions and the bodies of Russian soldiers, some half-buried in the mud.”

Elsewhere in Ukraine, tens of thousands of Ukrainians have died in the fighting and bombardments. No one knows how many though, not yet.

But one thing is clear, as the months pass, the human toll grows – and there is no end in sight.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Bare Minimum

POLAND

Polish lawmakers approved a law that partially alters a controversial system for disciplining judges, a move observers described as an attempt by Poland to gain access to billions of euros from the European Union’s pandemic recovery fund, Politico reported.

The lower house of parliament voted in favor of a proposal by President Andrzej Duda, who proposed the changes to the system ahead of a planned June 2 visit to Warsaw by EU chief President Ursula von der Leyen.

The issue is related to the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court, a body that critics say is aimed at penalizing judges who defy the government. The EU had criticized the chamber’s establishment, saying it violates the bloc’s laws and thwarts the independence of the courts.

Last year, the EU’s top court ruled against Poland, ordering the government to suspend the chamber and hitting it with a daily fine of more than $1 million.

Meanwhile, the EU has threatened to block nearly $39 billion in grants and loans under the bloc’s Recovery and Resilience Facility unless Poland reverses changes it made to the court system that Brussels says breach EU democratic norms.

Poland has ignored the order and has yet to pay the fines. But amid rising inflation and the war in Ukraine, President Duda proposed changes to the chamber in an effort to secure the funds.

His proposal aims to meet three Commission criteria, including dismantling the chamber and reinstating judges dismissed as a result of disciplinary proceedings.

Despite passing in the lower house, the bill still needs approval from the opposition-controlled upper house. The opposition has criticized the proposal for being too watered down. Meanwhile, Euroskeptic members of Poland’s ruling coalition also condemned the bill for kowtowing to the EU’s demands.

The recovery funds became a recurring issue for the Polish government, which was hoping for an investment boost following the coronavirus pandemic to increase its prospects of reelection in 2023.

Paying Dues

JAPAN

The founder of one of the world’s most infamous terrorist groups in the 1970s walked free from a Japanese prison Saturday after serving a 20-year sentence, apologizing for the damage she and her group had inflicted on the innocent decades ago, Sky News reported.

Fusako Shigenobu, 76, was the co-founder of the Japanese Red Army, an armed group that was labeled a terrorist organization in Japan and the United States. Formed in 1971, the radical leftist organization had strong ties to Palestinian militants and conducted a series of attacks worldwide in support of the Palestinian cause.

Shigenobu, who has been labeled the “empress of terror,” is alleged to have masterminded the 1972 attack on Tel Aviv’s Lod airport in Israel, which left 26 people dead and injured about 80, Agence-France Presse added.

Her organization is also responsible for storming diplomatic missions worldwide: In one incident, the group took more than 50 people hostage at the US Consulate in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1975.

Shigenobu lived as a fugitive in the Middle East for decades but was arrested in Osaka after secretly returning to Japan, disguised as a man, and with a forged passport, in 2000. She was later found guilty of involvement in the 1974 siege of the French embassy in the Netherlands.

One year after her imprisonment, she declared the Japanese Red Army dissolved. Following her release, she apologized for causing “damage to innocent people who were strangers to us.”

Meanwhile, some other Red Army members remain at large. Kozo Okamoto was arrested in Israel following the 1972 airport attack but was later released in 1985 in a prisoner exchange between Israeli and Palestinian forces. He is believed to be living in Lebanon.

Foxes and Hen Houses

FRANCE

A French court charged the former head of the Louvre museum in Paris with fraud this week over his alleged role in trafficking millions of dollars worth of art, the Washington Post reported.

The court accused Jean-Luc Martinez of “complicity in fraud” and “false facilitation of the ‘origin of property derived from a crime or misdemeanor.’” The defendant allegedly ignored documents on the provenance of a number of Egyptian artifacts sold for $8.5 million in 2016 to the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Among the antiquities in question is a pink granite stele with a decree by Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen guaranteeing the protection of a high priest, dating to 1327 BCE.

The former head of the Louvre denied the charges.

Authorities opened their probe against Martinez and two other suspects in 2018. Since then, the two individuals were released without charges. But in March, police detained gallery owner Roben Dib, who brokered the deal.

Dib is accused of involvement in other related cases, including the sale of a stolen ancient Egyptian stele to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The city later returned the stele to Egypt.

Investigators believe that hundreds of artifacts from Egypt and the Middle East were stolen during the chaos of the 2011 Arab Spring.

Martinez ran the Louvre in Paris from 2013 to 2021. He is now serving as the French Foreign Ministry’s envoy in charge of international cooperation on cultural heritage, a position that handles art trafficking.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • The leaders of France and Germany held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the weekend to discuss unblocking grain shipments from Ukraine as well as arms shipments to Kyiv, Agence France-Presse reported. Putin said Moscow was ready to find solutions for the grain shipments from Ukrainian ports but demanded the lifting of Western sanctions. He also warned the European leaders against ramping up arms supplies to Ukraine.
  • Russia said Saturday that its soldiers and separatist rebels had taken control of a vital railway junction in eastern Ukraine, the second minor city to fall to Russian forces this week as they sought to take control of the entire contested Donbas area, the Associated Press wrote. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that using force to reclaim all land lost to Russia since 2014 is unfeasible, saying that doing so “would cost us hundreds of thousands of lives,” according to the Washington Post.
  • A resident of a Russian village near the Ukrainian border died after a “full day” of bombardment, according to Russian authorities, making her the third civilian casualty on Russian soil as a result of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, which has killed thousands and displaced millions, Moscow Today reported.
  • The World Health Organization endorsed a Western-led resolution denouncing Russia’s activities in Ukraine, which it claims have resulted in a health emergency, Reuters added. The resolution was adopted with 88 votes in favor, 12 against, and 53 abstentions.

DISCOVERIES

Bug Lives Matter

It is common to see insects splattered on a car windshield and license plates but in the United Kingdom, it’s a rare occurrence these days.

A recent survey by the British-based charity Buglife found that the number of flying insects in the country has declined by nearly 60 percent since 2004, the Guardian reported.

For their survey, participants downloaded the app, “Bugs Matter,” to record their journeys and also the number of bugs squashed on their license plates. The survey authors also measured the “splat rate” – the number of insects recorded per mile – for roughly 5,000 journeys in 2021.

The results were then compared to a 2004 survey conducted by the charity Royal Society for the Protection of Birds: While the older findings showed that only eight percent of all journeys failed to kill any insects, the new survey showed that this number had increased to 40 percent.

“This vital study suggests that the number of flying insects is declining by an average of 34 percent per decade – this is terrifying,” said Matt Shardlow at Buglife.

Shardlow and other authors warned that this drop marks a worrying trend, adding that more intensive and more frequent studies need to be conducted to establish a pattern.

Insects are key to maintaining a healthy environment as they recycle organic matter, pollinate plants and control pests.

Similar drops have also been recorded in Denmark, while recent findings have raised the alarm that the decline of insects threatens to cause a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”.

“It is essential that we halt biodiversity decline now,” Shardlow noted.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 528,999,265

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,287,786

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,388,825,141

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

  1. US: 83,984,644 (+0.01%)
  2. India: 43,155,749 (+0.01%)
  3. Brazil: 30,953,579 (+0.03%)
  4. France: 29,671,838 (+0.06%)
  5. Germany: 26,244,107 (+0.003%)
  6. UK: 22,463,265 (+0.00%)**
  7. Russia: 18,086,462 (+0.03%)
  8. South Korea: 18,056,662 (+0.02%)
  9. Italy: 17,388,877 (+0.09%)
  10. Turkey: 15,070,864 (+0.01%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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