The World Today for July 12, 2022
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An Exclave’s Tale
Happenings today surrounding Kaliningrad echo a bygone era when European statesmen standing around an enormous map on a table negotiated borders over cigars and sherry.
Kaliningrad was born in that era. As the Guardian explained, Teutonic knights founded the region in the 13th century. It became the former Prussian region of Königsberg until World War II when the Soviet Union annexed it. Today it is a Russian exclave that is 300 miles from the mainland and surrounded by Lithuania, Poland and the Baltic Sea.
The Ukraine war has put the status of Kaliningrad into doubt once again as Europe enacted sanctions against Russia and instituted a diplomatic freeze against top Kremlin officials. Russia has long stationed nuclear-capable missiles and warships in the region, providing the country with a forward operating base in a conflict against NATO, National Interest magazine wrote.
Kaliningrad has been called Russia’s “unsinkable aircraft carrier,” added the Washington Post. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, the region became a special economic zone featuring low taxes and others costs to stimulate investment.
Lithuania, a former Soviet republic whose leaders are particularly anxious about the revanchist ambitions of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has stopped goods from traveling to and from Kaliningrad because of European sanctions against Russia. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said it was the small Baltic country asserting its sovereignty in the face of illegal aggression.
On Monday, the governor of Kaliningrad proposed a total ban on the movement of goods between Russia and the Baltic states in response to the “blockade” by Lithuania.
Meanwhile, officials in Moscow warned that the move by Lithuania could further escalate tensions in Eastern Europe, reported the BBC. Russian lawmaker Vladimir Dzhabarov engaged in saber-rattling over the act of containment. “If we feel that this security is violated and we are threatened with the loss of territory, then, of course, we will take extreme measures and nothing will stop us,” he said, according to European Pravda via Yahoo! News.
Language like that spurred European and Russian diplomats to move closer to sealing a deal to settle their disputes involving the region as Western leaders tried to balance their principles, economic needs and strategic assets and liabilities vis-à-vis Russia, Reuters reported. Under the proposed deal, the EU could lift sanctions that apply to other Russian lands so long as Russia doesn’t export from the region.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has especially pushed for a compromise to reduce tensions. As Politico explained, he has been pushing to “establish a de-escalation dynamic.”
Such European statesmen have defused violence with such deals. But they have also at times created cascading causes and effects that have led to far worse outcomes.
THE WORLD, BRIEFLY
Disrupting the Disruptors
American ride-sharing giant Uber used unethical practices, including hindering authorities and circumventing regulations, to expand its operations in cities around the world, according to a new investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists based on 124,000 leaked documents, including texts, emails and memos.
The leaked documents span the company’s operations from 2013 to 2017, under the leadership of Chief Executive and Co-Founder Travis Kalanick, Politico reported.
The correspondence showed that Kalanick and other Uber executives would shrug off the company’s questionable practices: At the time, Uber was expanding in a number of new cities, while also facing a global backlash for defying local laws.
One executive even referred to the group as “pirates” and said that “we’re just f—ing illegal.”
The report published by the Guardian and ICIJ also showed that Uber tried to lobby lawmakers and leaders worldwide, including French President Emmanuel Macron, who, according to the documents, went out of his way to help Uber develop in France.
But the French leader was just one of the many politicians, moguls and businesspeople the company secretly courted to cover up what the reports say were unlawful practices.
The “Uber Files” also show that the tech giant paid academics to publish research that would boost misleading economic claims about the company’s business model.
Uber responded to the leak by saying that it acknowledged the “mistakes and missteps” but insisted that the current leadership has transformed the company.
Meanwhile, spokespeople for Kalanick rejected the findings and accused the ICIJ of creating a “false agenda.”
The Pacific nation of Kiribati quit a key regional bloc Monday, fracturing the organization just as its leaders convene for a conference to address rising sea levels and China’s territorial ambitions in the region, Agence France-Presse reported.
The island nation said it had decided to leave the Fiji-based Pacific Islands Forum, saying that the bloc failed to honor a “gentlemen’s agreement” to appoint a Micronesian candidate to head the secretariat.
The dispute had briefly prompted Micronesian countries to threaten to leave the union before it was temporarily resolved with a compromise last month to rotate the top role, which will be debated at this week’s summit.
Pacific island leaders are meeting in Fiji’s capital this week to discuss a number of major issues, including climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic.
One of the main topics will be China’s efforts to increase its diplomatic and security engagements in the region. In April, the Chinese government signed a secret security pact with the Solomon Islands, which raised concerns in the United States and its allies about Beijing’s intentions.
Bloc members Australia and New Zealand have also emphasized the forum’s importance in deciding the security strategy of the region.
Kiribati’s exit comes more than a month after it signed 10 agreements with China involving climate issues and economic matters but none relating to security.
The low-lying island of 120,000 is at risk of sinking due to rising sea levels. It is located more than 1,800 miles from Hawaii and has one of the largest exclusive economic zones in the world.
The Faroe Islands will limit its annual dolphin hunt after an “unusually” large number of animals were killed during last year’s whaling season, sparking global outrage over the age-old practice, Newsweek reported Monday.
The islands’ whaling season begins in the summer months, a tradition that dates back 1,200 years. During this time, hunters capture and kill dolphins – including pilot whales and white-sided dolphins – for their blubber and meat.
But last September, officials counted an “unusually large catch of 1,423” of white-sided dolphins, believed to be the largest single catch of cetaceans – a classification that includes whales, dolphins and porpoises – ever recorded worldwide.
Because of global criticism, the government conducted a review of the hunt.
Officials said this week that the hunt will now be limited to 500 dolphins per year, adding that the limit will make the hunt more sustainable. They also said that meat and blubber from the animals “provide valuable food with a low carbon footprint, which is distributed for free in communities involved in the hunt.
Animal welfare groups criticized the curb, saying the new rules were just “damage control.”
They added that authorities have failed to take into account the impact of the hunt on the marine mammals, which are known for forming complex social bonds and feeling stress and pain.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Monday expanding a fast-track system for obtaining Russian citizenship for all Ukrainians in another push to enhance Moscow’s influence on war-torn Ukraine, the Associated Press wrote. Until recently, only inhabitants of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, as well as the southern Zaporizhzhia and Kherson areas, major portions of which are under Russian influence, were eligible for the streamlined procedure.
- At least 29 people were killed following a Russian strike on an apartment building in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine over the weekend, CNN reported. Ukrainian officials said the building in Chasiv Yar was attacked Saturday evening as Russia escalated its assault on cities and towns in eastern Ukraine in an attempt to seize control of the whole Donbas region.
- Europe is preparing for a prolonged shortfall of Russian gas supplies as repair work starts on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which transports gas to Germany across the Baltic Sea, according to CNBC. Nord Stream AG, the project’s operator, verified Monday morning that the construction, which is slated to last until July 21, began as planned.
- Russia’s alternative to McDonald’s will limit the sale of French fries this summer because of a shortage of potatoes, the Washington Post noted. Vkusno i Tochka, which translates as “Tasty and that’s it,” said it is out of country-style potatoes – a thicker-cut relative of the Americanized French fries – due to supply chain disruptions caused in part by the war and Western sanctions. The company replaced McDonald’s after the latter left Russia in May over Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
Humanity’s origins are much older and more complicated than initially thought, according to a new study on early human remains.
Scientists recently found that prehistoric fossils discovered in South Africa’s Sterkfontein Caves are a million years older than previously believed, the Washington Post reported.
The Sterkfontein Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is known as the “Cradle of Humankind” because of the hundreds of Australopithecus fossils of human ancestors found at the site since 1936.
Among the key discoveries was the complete skull of “Mrs. Ples” – although there is an ongoing debate that the fossil actually belongs to “Mr. Ples”
Despite being the “cradle,” anthropologists had long believed that the earliest hominin emerged in East Africa after the discovery of the 3.2-million-year-old skeleton Lucy in Ethiopia in 1974.
But the new findings suggest that Lucy and Mrs. Ples were “contemporaries” who lived around the same period and had time to evolve.
Researchers analyzed radioactive decay in rocks buried at the same time as the fossils in the Sterkfontein Caves and found they are 3.4 million to 3.6 million years old.
“This important new dating work pushes the age of some of the most interesting fossils in human evolution research, and one of South Africa’s most iconic fossils, Mrs. Ples, back a million years to a time when, in East Africa, we find other iconic early hominins like Lucy,” said co-author Dominic Stratford.
Stratford and his colleagues explained that the age of the remains helps scientists understand “how and where humans evolved, how they fit into the ecosystem, and who their closest relatives are and were.”