The World Today for September 19, 2022

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Humiliating Goliath

RUSSIA/ UKRAINE

In the first few weeks of September, Ukrainian forces retook more than 2,300 square miles of territory that Russia had occupied. In what the BBC called “a potential breakthrough in the war,” Ukraine had control over cities in the northeastern region of Kharkiv, driving back Russian forces in what some experts were describing as a rout but which Russian officials were calling a “regrouping.”

The speed and scope of Ukraine’s blitzkrieg-like advance surprised Western military observers, reported Politico. Ukraine has deployed relatively few forces to the northeast but they have the latest Western weapons and highly motivated veteran troops. The Russians occupying the land were mostly ill-trained conscripts. Their leaders, meanwhile, have been slow to innovate and take advantage of intelligence on the ground, argued Washington Post columnist Max Boot.

In fact, the retreat of Russian soldiers stunned some villagers, who reported seeing Russians literally dropping their rifles and running away, be that on stolen bicycles, on foot, any way they could, the Post reported. Tanks, meanwhile, were just left abandoned.

It’s the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) that have been instrumental in Ukraine’s battlefield victories, explained Newsweek. In a war that often comes down to dueling artillery, the HIMARS’ range, accuracy and potency have laid waste to Russian military hardware. Voices in Europe are clamoring for more Western military aid to further bolster Ukraine. Pressure is mounting on Germany, for example, to do more to help the former Soviet republic repel the invasion from its larger neighbor, the New York Times added.

“It is 100 percent true that more weapons mean more Ukrainian territory,” a European diplomat told the Financial Times. “And less blood, (fewer) tears.” The success of the deadly technology has sparked a run on the weapons too, the Associated Press wrote, as other countries now want the same capability.

In Russia, the defeat is shaking the loyalty of some of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s core supporters. Far-right nationalists are already talking about how Putin has stabbed Russia’s troops in the back, explained Foreign Policy magazine. These nationalists are saying the Russian president has failed to devote sufficient resources or more competent tacticians to the conflict, which Russian officials call a “special operation.”

As CNN reported, the ex-leader of the Russia-backed Donetsk People’s Republic militia in eastern Ukraine recently noted that Russian generals failed to support frontline units sufficiently with air support. Municipal leaders in St. Petersburg, Moscow and other cities have braved potential criminal liability for undermining the Russian war effort by issuing rare calls for Putin to resign, according to Radio Free Liberty.

Russia still occupies massive swathes of Ukrainian territory, of course. Nobody knows for how long, though. In the meantime, Ukrainians are rejoicing, not least because they were able to force a rare admission of defeat from Russia.

That in itself is remarkable.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

The Queen and the Paupers

UNITED KINGDOM

Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral is becoming a diplomatic nightmare for British officials, as they try to accommodate the many requests by hundreds of world leaders and foreign dignitaries attending Monday’s ceremony, the Washington Post reported Saturday.

The queen, the longest-serving monarch in the United Kingdom, passed away on Sept. 8. Her son, Charles, became king upon her death.

Since then, British authorities have been working non-stop to organize the state funeral and have sent invitations to leaders of nearly 200 nations.

Officials working in “the Hangar” of the UK’s Foreign Office are involved in intense negotiations over protocols, including whether certain leaders are allowed to have their own armored cars, their personal doctors and assistants on hand, and their own private rooms to rest.

“You can’t just issue a blanket ‘no,’ but nine times out of 10 it is a ‘no,’” one official told the Post.

US President Joe Biden and a few other leaders will be allowed to travel with their own armored vehicles. But others, including Japanese Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako, will have to take a shuttle bus to attend the funeral.

Exceptions have been made for interpreters as some of the leaders do not speak – or at least are not very fluent – in English.

Although invitations have been sent to almost every country or territory with diplomatic relations with the UK, some nations did not make the list. These included Russia and Belarus because of the war in Ukraine, and Myanmar because of its human rights abuses under its junta leadership.

Meanwhile, some nations, such as North Korea and Iran, were allowed to send their ambassadors but not their heads of state.

Some leaders also will not attend, including Chinese President Xi Jinping and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – the latter sent his foreign minister in his stead because he was not allowed to have his own presidential car.

The idea of many world leaders fitting in one bus was amusing to many Britons, the Post added.

“All the world leaders are on a field trip,” said British comedian Jimmy Carr.

Former diplomats and officials told the Post that the event offers a rare opportunity for world leaders to talk without aides and notetakers. Some cautioned that there is a possibility of disputes among heads of states, who might have strong personal or national differences.

Still, others said that the queen’s death also sparked “an outbreak of civility,” citing the case of French President Emmanuel Macron, who praised the queen and the UK’s relationship with France.

Macron has had a frosty relationship with UK Prime Minister Liz Truss and her predecessor, Boris Johnson.

Death and the Headscarf

IRAN

Protests erupted in Iran’s capital over the weekend following the death of a 22-year-old woman, who died after being detained by the country’s morality police enforcing the government’s stringent dress code, the New York Times reported.

Last week, Iran’s notorious religious police detained the woman, Mahsa Amini, for failing to properly adhere to the hijab (scarf) regulations, which require women to cover their hair and wear loose-fitting clothes.

Amini was later taken to a detention center where she was subjected to so-called “educational training” on the hijab laws. It was from the center that Amini was taken to hospital, fell into a coma, then died on Friday.

Authorities said the young woman suffered a heart attack. Her parents disputed this claim, saying their daughter was very healthy – and in any case had followed the Islamic dress code.

Her death has sparked widespread outrage in Iran, including criticism from officials, senior clerics and celebrities centering on the morality police, which has a reputation for arbitrarily enforcing the rules and employing tactics that include violently dragging women into vans.

In recent years, Iranian women have challenged the law – in force since 1981 – and have appeared in public without a required scarf or robe.

Following Amini’s death, many Iranians called for an end to the practice of harassing women for failing to strictly adhere to the hijab rules. Others, meanwhile, criticized the country’s Islamic government, including chanting “death to Khamenei,” referring to the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Amid the outrage, government officials said they will launch an investigation into Amini’s death.

Even so, human rights advocates doubt there will be any accountability for Amini’s death, saying that the roots of the problem are laws that allow security forces to detain women for their choice of attire.

The New Phase

ETHIOPIA

Drone strikes killed 10 people and wounded 13 others in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region in recent days, the latest flareup in a conflict that began almost three years ago, Reuters reported.

The attack in Tigray’s capital, Mekelle, came just days after the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which controls swathes of the territory, offered a ceasefire with the Ethiopian government

The federal government has not commented on the airstrikes or allegations that neighboring Eritrean troops had joined the conflict.

The civil war began in 2020 and has killed tens of thousands, displaced millions and led to starvation in the northern region. Tigrayans remain cut off from the world with communications and banking services severed.

The conflict has also dragged Eritrean forces into Tigray. They are accused of perpetrating abuses such as gang rapes, mass civilian killings and torture. The Eritrean government has rejected the allegations.

Following this week’s strike, Tigrayan rebels warned that Eritrea is attempting to re-enter the war, which erupted again in August after a brief lull earlier this year, according to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, eyewitnesses in Eritrea told the AP over the weekend that the government is mobilizing its armed forces and sending them to Ethiopia to shore up forces there. They said people including students and public servants, are being rounded up across the nation.

Eritrea, one of the world’s most isolated countries, requires all citizens between the ages of 18 and 40 to serve in the military. According to human rights organizations, the practice, which lasts in most cases indefinitely, is driving thousands of Eritrean youths into exile.

DISCOVERIES

Death-defying Blobs

The “immortal jellyfish” lives up to its name.

Scientifically known as Turritopsis dohrnii, the marine creature is the only species capable of rejuvenating itself after sexual maturity.

Once the jellyfish is damaged or stressed, it can turn itself into a small blob that settles on the sea floor. The blob then becomes a new branching, plant-like polyp which later forms into a full-fledged jellyfish.

This immortality has long stupefied scientists. But recently, they were able to figure out how the jellyfish can manage such a feat after studying its genes, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

In their study, researchers compared the genetic sequence of T. dohrnii to T. rubra, a close cousin that doesn’t share the former’s rejuvenation abilities.

They found that the immortal species had double the number of genes that repaired and protected DNA, allowing it to produce more restorative proteins. T. dohrnii also had differences in other genes, including mutations that defend the end of the chromosomes called telomeres.

Unlike the jellyfish, human telomeres shorten with age, the team noted.

They added that the study could also provide clues for human aging by finding “better answers to the many diseases associated with aging that overwhelm us today.” This could lead to new regenerative medicines and treatments.

Still, the authors acknowledged that further research is needed to understand the jellyfish’s immortality, such as whether the newly-formed medusae are the same individuals they were before reverting to their polyp stage.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 611,966,806 (+0.55%)

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,526,466 (+0.18%)

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 12,230,650,864 (+0.28%)

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

  1. US: 95,658,236 (+0.43%)
  2. India: 44,539,046 (+0.09%)
  3. France: 35,076,991 (+0.51%)
  4. Brazil: 34,568,833 (+0.15%)
  5. Germany: 32,680,356 (+0.70%)
  6. South Korea: 24,413,873 (+1.55%)
  7. UK: 23,803,311 (+0.13%)
  8. Italy: 22,161,016 (+0.52%)
  9. Japan: 20,693,615 (+2.67%)
  10. Russia: 20,143,127 (+1.86%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over seven days

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