The World Today for June 16, 2022

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Truth and Consequences

RUSSIA

Renowned historian Timothy Snyder recently warned in his Substack newsletter that giving Russian President Vladimir Putin an “off-ramp” to quit the war in Ukraine after, say, a military challenge or a diplomatic or economic inducement, is folly. If he wants an off-ramp, argued Snyder, Putin can concoct one himself and compel Russians to consume his version of the truth at any time.

“The Russian media and political system (are) designed to keep Putin in power regardless of what happens in the outside world,” wrote Snyder. “Russian politics takes place within a closed information environment…[Putin] does not need our help in the real world to craft reassuring fictions for Russians.  He has been doing this for 20 years without our help.”

Accordingly, American intelligence officials don’t foresee public opinion undermining Putin’s regime, CNN reported. In fact, public support for the invasion is high in Russia despite the country’s surprisingly painful losses on the battlefield.

But it would be wrongheaded not to expect that many Russians – perhaps more than Russian polls would show – are suffering from war-weariness as the death toll mounts and economic sanctions undercut the Russian economy.

As the Washington Post explained, middle-class Russians have had to cancel vacations, forego Netflix videos and eschew foreign cars, fashion brands and foods. Those sacrifices might seem minor compared to the suffering of the people of Ukraine but these ordinary Russians are fearful that Putin’s “special operation” will result in them losing their jobs, defaulting on their mortgages and losing their life savings.

But many Russians understand that 100 days is too long for a special operation, as it is only allowed to be called in Russian media, argued Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Senior Fellow Andrei Kolesnikov. And many are starting to feel the moral responsibility of citizenship in a nation whose leaders have launched a war that they know involves incredible brutality and violence despite the Kremlin’s propaganda.

Cato Institute Senior Fellow John Mueller posited that public support for the war in Russia has plenty of room to plunge downward, however, as time goes on. As the US experienced in Iraq and elsewhere, sustained fighting yields sustained casualties that the public won’t ignore forever.

As Russia Matters wrote, one could see a potential harbinger of that perspective in the comments of retired colonel Mikhail Khodarenok in May, when he cast serious doubts on Russia’s military competence in Ukraine. He later backpedaled.

The next few months will be a test of Putin’s inhumane foreign policies and his obsessive domestic control. Russia, say researchers, is more split than the polls show.

“The divisions are clear,” said Alexei Titkov, writing in Meduza, an independent Russian news outlet banned in that country and operating from Latvia. “Around half of people are fairly convinced supporters of (Russia’s invasion) albeit without any bloodlust or militance. The rest feel differently.”

He says that about one-fifth or one-sixth are openly against the military operation, while a quarter feels overwhelmed and confused about their feelings and would say they support the war, “but without any joy, they’re not proud of it. They are just anxious and waiting for it all to end.”

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

The Tricky Isle

EUROPEAN UNION

The European Union launched new legal proceedings against Britain on Wednesday, the latest salvo over an agreement signed between the two parties following London’s exit from the bloc two years ago, CNN reported.

The bloc’s executive arm said it took action because the United Kingdom had failed to implement a deal known as the Northern Ireland Protocol “despite repeated calls” to do so. The move came after the British government announced plans to change a section of the deal that would keep a border open between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – part of the UK and the EU respectively.

The contentious section of the Protocol was put in place to protect the Good Friday Agreement, which helped end years of deadly sectarian conflict, and demands that there be no hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The protocol would keep Northern Ireland within the EU regulatory scheme but put checks on goods leaving the British territory for the rest of the UK.

The UK said that the agreement needs to be “fixed” to avoid “burdensome customs processes, inflexible regulation, tax and spend discrepancies and democratic governance issues.” But EU officials warned that changing the agreement unilaterally would violate international law.

Still, the bloc said that it was willing to work with Britain on finding “common ground and delivering for the people of Northern Ireland.”

Analysts told the Wall Street Journal that if the matter is not resolved, it will spark a trade war between the two and hurt their economies amid soaring inflation and the economic fallout caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the pandemic.

Hat in Hand

ISRAEL

Israel, Egypt and the European Union signed a natural gas deal Wednesday that would provide Europe with an energy source as the bloc works to replace the Russian supplies it has relied on for years, the Washington Post reported.

The trilateral deal would allow Israel to streamline and expand its natural gas exports through existing pipelines to Egyptian ports, where it would be compressed and liquefied before being delivered to Europe.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the agreement would contribute to energy security, and help the EU “to move away from Russia and diversify to trustworthy suppliers.”

Israeli officials noted that the deal will make Israel “a significant player” in the energy market. Israel and a number of Middle Eastern countries are working to increase output to Europe amid rising demand and surging prices.

Still, analysts cautioned that Israel’s provisions will not come close to what Russia has previously supplied: They noted that Israel produces nearly 12 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year, even though it’s believed to hold at least double that amount in unexploited reserves.

In 2021, the EU imported 155 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Russia, making up about 45 percent of the bloc’s gas imports.

Observers added that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the energy sanctions on Moscow have prompted the EU to implement a “fragmented strategy,” in which it will buy smaller amounts of energy from a number of different countries.

Wednesday’s export agreement comes as the Nord Stream pipeline, the main gateway of gas to the EU, reduced output by 40 percent due to repairs, raising already high natural gas prices by 15 percent.

The Friendliest War

CANADA

Canada and Denmark resolved a decades-long border dispute this week over a tiny island between a Canadian territory and Greenland, as leaders of both countries emphasized their commitment to peaceful negotiation in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Politico reported.

The two countries agreed to share ownership of Hans Island, a 0.5-square-mile rock situated halfway between Canada’s Nunavut and Greenland – which is part of Denmark.

Since 1973, the mound of rock had been the focal point of a lighthearted dispute between Canada and Denmark, after they established a border through the Nares Strait between Ellesmere Island and Greenland but failed to reach an agreement about the uninhabited outcrop.

The issue was labeled the “Whisky War,” after military ships from both sides would visit the island and plant spirits – Canadian whisky and Danish schnapps – to mark their territory. In a symbolic gesture, both countries exchanged bottles of liquor during this week’s ceremony.

Although described as “the friendliest of all wars,” both countries used Hans Island to raise public awareness for Arctic sovereignty, frequently sending soldiers or politicians to visit right before election campaigns.

Canadian and Danish leaders also used the ceremony to focus on the war in Ukraine and urge Russian President Vladimir “to make the resolution based on international law – not by the law of force but by the force of law.”

At the same time, the resolution will also preserve the freedom of movement on the island for the Inuit people, allowing them to hunt and fish, for example.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • The US Defense Department said the latest support package for Ukraine is worth around $1 billion and includes more howitzers, ammo and Harpoon coastal defense systems, CNN reported. Meanwhile, NATO member countries will continue to supply Ukraine with heavy weaponry and long-range systems, even as a new round of support is in the works, said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday, the New York Times added.
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping reaffirmed his country’s support for Russia on matters of sovereignty and security following a call with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, the Associated Press noted. Xi told Putin that “all parties should responsibly push for a proper settlement of the Ukraine crisis.”
  • The UN human rights director said on Wednesday that the agency is looking into accusations that children are being taken from war-torn Ukraine to Russia and subsequently adopted, according to Agence France-Presse. Michelle Bachelet told the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva that her office “has been looking into allegations of children forcibly deported from Ukraine to the Russian Federation.” Thousands of children are believed to have been sent to Russia since Moscow invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

DISCOVERIES

The Globetrotters

Termites are real globetrotters and that is not because of their ability to fly, Science Alert reported.

In a new study, scientists discovered that species in the drywood termite family have crossed the world’s oceans more than 40 times in the last 50 million years.

Drywood termites – known as Kalotermitidae – make their homes inside pieces of wood and live in smaller colonies compared to their other relatives. They are capable of flight but can’t pull off long distances. Instead, they tend to float because of their wooden homes.

Case in point: Researchers said the insects were able to recolonize the island of Krakatau in Indonesia within 100 years following a devastating volcanic eruption in 1883.

For their paper, the team thoroughly analyzed the genetics of around 120 species of drywood termites collected over the past three decades. They then discovered that their oldest common ancestor lived 84 million years ago and the early splits in the family tree began on land.

But most of the 40 or so splits occurred less than 50 million years ago, which shows that the arthropods were traveling across the sea. This spread was further amplified thanks to human travel.

The study also shows that aside from being wanderers and stowaways, older lineages of Kalotermitidae behaved far differently than today’s modern insects when it came to choosing their homes and living in colonies.

The authors noted that the findings only show “how little we know about termites, the diversity of their lifestyles, and the scale of their social lives.”

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 537,354,809

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,314,405

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,570,611,052

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

  1. US: 85,941,735 (+0.21%)
  2. India: 43,257,730 (+0.03%)
  3. Brazil: 31,611,769 (+0.22%)
  4. France: 30,175,534 (+0.17%)
  5. Germany: 27,096,571 (+0.33%)
  6. UK: 22,638,832 (+0.12%)
  7. South Korea: 18,256,457 (+0.04%)
  8. Russia: 18,116,672 (+0.01%)
  9. Italy: 17,736,696 (+0.19%)
  10. Turkey: 15,085,742 (+0.00%)**

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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