The World Today for August 01, 2022
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NEED TO KNOW
The Revanchist’s Folly
Russia plans to hold elections in the occupied Ukrainian territories of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and others as early as September, paving the way for Russian President Vladimir Putin to annex those regions in the same way he did in 2014 when he seized Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula.
Of course, Russian officials deny they covet these territories. “The determination of the future destiny of those people is in their hands,” a Kremlin spokesman told Bloomberg. “If they are going to make any referendums, it will be their decision.”
But Putin is clearly planning on annexing territories that Ukrainians have failed to reconquer since Russia invaded the country in late February.
Before the war caused millions across the country to leave their homes, more than 2.5 million people lived in the regions. Russian hardliners don’t view their Ukrainian citizenship as legitimate. “The so-called ‘party of war’ believes that Russia should annex these territories,” that they are “part of Russia historically and so it [sic] must be returned,” said Russian political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya in an interview with the Washington Post. “For them, it’s inevitable.”
Russia is already using a mix of “terror, state propaganda, handouts and promises to rebuild destroyed areas” to drum up loyalty, she added, while detaining or killing local politicians, activists and journalists who might resist their efforts.
Such a move as elections would potentially bolster Putin’s revanchist claims on Ukrainian soil even as the Russian military fails to achieve a decisive victory and continues to lose significant personnel and equipment, wrote Agence France-Presse, a testament to Ukrainian resolve, Western military support, and poor Russian planning and execution.
It would also likely make it much harder for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to agree to any peace deal in the future, added Axios, as Russia would insist that the conquered land was Russian sovereign territory. Conversely, if Putin annexed the regions and then lost them to a Ukrainian counteroffensive, he could suffer a stinging embarrassment.
Diplomats in Syria, a Russian ally, recently said they would recognize the independence and sovereignty of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, effectively saying they have the freedom to join the Russian Federation if they so choose, the Associated Press reported. In 2015 Russia first interceded with military assistance to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad quash rebels in the Syrian Civil War.
The president of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, despite being another Russian ally, refused to recognize Luhansk and Donetsk as “People’s Republics,” however, because he said they were “quasi-states” on Ukrainian occupied territory, noted Ukrainska Pravda via Yahoo! News.
After all, Kazakhstan is another former Soviet republic that Putin might set his eyes on one day.
THE WORLD, BRIEFLY
Money For Nothing
The UK’s High Court ruled against the Venezuelan government over the weekend in a long-running case pitting President Nicolás Maduro’s regime against his rival, Juan Guaidó, for control of Venezuela’s gold reserves, Agence France-Presse reported.
The case centers on demands from President Maduro’s government to release the country’s gold assets – valued at more than $1 billion but held by the Bank of England – to aid Venezuela’s ailing economy.
The Maduro administration has been unable to access the reserves because the UK – and also the United States – recognizes Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president, the Associated Press noted.
Two opposing boards of the Banco Central de Venezuela (BCV) – one nominated by Maduro and the other by Guaidó – are vying for the release of the gold. However, Venezuela’s top court, the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, which is packed with pro-government judges, blocked Guaidó’s appointments and considered them unconstitutional.
The UK High Court, however, said there was “no basis” for the recognition of the judgments of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, adding there was “clear evidence” the Venezuelan top court had been filled with Maduro-supporting judges – although it also noted the evidence was not conclusive.
The decision brings opposition leader Guaidó a step closer to taking control of the gold reserves. Still, the case is not quite settled because the UK’s Supreme Court ruled last year that the matter should be reviewed again by the lower Commercial Court in London.
The Venezuelan government said it would appeal, while the BCV accused the UK court of violating international law.
The case is part of a years-long saga between Maduro and Guaidó following the 2018 presidential election. The US and its allies accused Maduro of rigging the polls and severed diplomatic relations with Venezuela in 2019.
Guaidó, who at the time was head of the Venezuelan legislature, declared himself interim president, citing the constitution. Even so, he has never been able to assert his authority, despite international recognition.
Meanwhile, the US dispatched a high-level delegation to Venezuela in March this year, days after Russia attacked Ukraine, in a tentative step toward thawing relations with the Latin American nation.
Tunisian judges said they would continue their hunger strike against President Kais Saied’s controversial decision to dismiss them in what many observers call a rare act of protest for any judge anywhere in the world, the Washington Post reported Saturday.
In June, Saied issued a decree that allowed him to fire judges and dismissed 57 members of the judiciary over allegations of corruption and the protection of terrorists.
Many of the dismissed judges, however, began a general strike against the decision, and later turning it into a hunger strike, and demanded a reversal of the decree. So far, a number of judges have been hospitalized, some ending up in intensive care units.
Legal analysts said that Saied’s decision is part of a politically motivated effort to undermine the judiciary’s independence and secure his grip on power.
The dismissal came nearly a year after Saied, amid a period of political and economic turmoil, suspended parliament and fired Tunisia’s prime minister. Since then, the president has been ruling by decree, while moving to dissolve the independent High Judicial Council and remove judges.
While some Tunisians supported Saied’s so-called power grab, others have decried the move as eroding Tunisia’s democratic gains made since 2011, when mass anti-government protests forced the autocratic leader Zine Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country, a movement that later reverberated across the region and came to be known as the Arab Spring.
However, from all of the regional turmoil it was only Tunisia that ultimately emerged as a democracy, and in 2014 the country created a new constitution that enshrined the independence of the judiciary and established the High Judicial Council to oversee judicial affairs.
But Saied has since pushed for a new constitution to replace the 2014 charter and give the president more power. Last week, the new constitution was passed in a contentious referendum, where less than one-third of eligible voters participated. Opponents boycotted the vote.
Meanwhile, the judges vowed to continue their struggle against what they say is the destruction of the checks and balances mechanism required for a functioning democracy.
Russia is threatening to shutter a prominent Jewish organization, raising concerns among Jews in the country who wish to emigrate and prompting a diplomatic row between Moscow and Israel, Haaretz reported.
A Moscow court began a preliminary hearing last week after Russia’s Justice Ministry filed a lawsuit to close the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency for Israel over allegations of privacy violations because of its data collection practices.
A new court hearing will take place on Aug. 19.
Founded more than 90 years ago, the agency is affiliated with the Israeli government and is integral to helping foster Jewish identity and also assisting families to emigrate to Israel, including organizing and paying for air travel, according to the Washington Post.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, more than 16,000 Russian Jews have moved to Israel amid concerns over President Vladimir Putin’s brutal campaign to “denazify” Ukraine and remove its Jewish president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid criticized the proposed shutdown, saying that it would be a “serious event with repercussions on ties.” He has sent a diplomatic delegation to Moscow.
But Russian officials countered that the Kremlin simply has legal questions and that the issue shouldn’t be “projected” onto bilateral relations with Israel.
Still, tensions between the two countries have escalated in recent months over a series of scandals including anti-Semitic remarks by Russian government officials and the forced exile of Moscow’s chief rabbi.
Russia has also expressed anger at Lapid’s condemnation of the invasion and accusations of “war crimes” committed by Moscow in Ukraine.
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of committing a “war crime” by striking a jail housing Ukrainian prisoners of war in the eastern Donetsk area, Politico noted. According to officials in the Donetsk People’s Republic, more than 50 Ukrainian prisoners of war were killed in strikes on the town of Olenivka, which has been occupied by Moscow-backed rebels since 2014.
- A ship carrying grain from Ukraine sailed out of the port of Odesa on Monday morning with a destination in Lebanon, the first one since the beginning of Russia’s invasion in February, the Guardian reported. The Sierra Leone-flagged ship “Razoni,” carrying 26,000 tons of corn, eventually took sail following weeks of negotiations between Ukraine and Russia, led by Turkey and the United Nations.
- Hundreds of thousands of citizens in eastern Ukraine were told to flee their homes this weekend after months of Russian shelling devastated the infrastructure required to provide heat and power, the New York Times wrote.
An international research team trained virtual robots on CLIP, a large language model created by the US-based company OpenAI. The artificial intelligence (AI) in the model visually classifies objects and its algorithm grows by scraping billions of images and text captions from the Internet.
CLIP allows robotics companies to rely on an already-existing AI, instead of creating their own original program. But the AI is still in its early stages, as the researchers discovered.
In their experiment, they gave the bots 62 commands to scan blocks with people’s faces and then identify them by certain titles, such as “homemakers,” “doctors” and “criminals.”
The AI, however, provided some disturbing results: Black and Latina women were more likely to be picked as “homemakers” than White men. In the case of “criminals,” Black men were nine percent more frequently chosen than White ones.
Women were also less likely to be identified as a “doctor” than men, the findings showed.
The authors and Open AI representatives noted that more research and fine-tuning are needed before CLIP is deployed on the market.
But they warned that the findings show that the racist and sexist biases baked into AI systems can seep into robots that use them to guide their operations.
This could be very problematic in the future, particularly as these systems are taking a bigger role in human life – such as crime prediction algorithms.
“(Robotic systems) have the potential to pass as objective or neutral objects compared to algorithmic systems,” said Abeba Birhane, a senior fellow at the Mozilla Foundation who was not involved in the study. “That means the damage they’re doing can go unnoticed, for a long time to come.”
COVID-19 Global Update
Total Cases Worldwide: 577,366,232 (+1.26%)
Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,400,346 (+0.25%)
Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,965,173,948 (+0.39%)
Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*
- US: 91,316,648 (+1.00%)
- India: 44,036,275 (+0.30%)
- France: 33,997,224 (+1.12%)
- Brazil: 33,833,900 (+0.72%)
- Germany: 30,854,175 (+1.72%)
- UK: 23,515,888 (+0.40%)
- Italy: 21,040,025 (+1.84%)
- South Korea: 19,820,739 (+2.98%)
- Russia: 18,330,786 (+0.38%)
- Turkey: 15,889,495 (+2.35%)
*Numbers change over seven days