The World Today for September 26, 2022

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The Dangers of Desperation

RUSSIA/ UKRAINE

The once-vaunted, now-demoralized Russian military could be on the brink of collapse – a retired British Air Marshal put the odds at 35 percent in a recent interview with Sky News.

By now, seven months after the invasion of Ukraine, this mighty military was to have overthrown the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and “cleanse the country of Nazis.” But the Russians’ lightning-quick strike on the capital of Kyiv failed in what the Associated Press described as a “defeat for the ages,” and they scaled back the invasion to focus on the south and east.

After withdrawing from Kyiv, the military held firm for a while in eastern Ukraine where they had previously established separatist regions or puppet states years ago, as Politico wrote, even as Ukraine managed to reclaim a large swathe of territory in Russia’s supposed strongholds in the east, National Public Radio reported.

As a consequence, four separatist regions – Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson – began holding referendums over the weekend to join Russia, sometimes forcing voters at gunpoint to go to the polls, to give Russia the excuse that it is defending its own territory, the Washington Post reported. The outcomes of the votes are a foregone conclusion, as is the switching of tactics the sign of a desperate dictator, the newspaper added.

“These are the hypocritical, backpedaling words of a dictator who badly miscalculated by seeking to destroy Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and who finds himself in need of a new rationale for war,” it wrote, referring to a speech Wednesday by Russian President Vladimir Putin, explaining the referendums, the instituting of a partial draft and the penalties for avoiding military service.

Putin has boxed himself into a corner; he needs more soldiers and equipment, but asking for them highlights his failure to protect the ones he has already deployed. Meanwhile, military experts doubt it will make a difference in the war.

It did, however, make a difference to the imposed peace within Russia itself, the Canadian Broadcasting Company wrote, noting the draft’s unpopularity among ordinary Russians. As men began receiving call-up orders, protests erupted around the country on Wednesday and again over the weekend with more than 2,000 people being arrested because protests are illegal. Meanwhile, Russians scrambled to find flights out of the country as tickets quickly sold out, and “how to leave Russia” searches began spiking on Google, Business Insider reported.

Meanwhile, it’s no secret to many Russians what the 300,000 being called up will face.

Letters left behind by Russian soldiers detailed their demoralization and sorrow, the Washington Post wrote, explaining also why some soldiers are refusing to fight after “humiliating losses on the battlefield,” according to the Daily Beast. This could explain the fast pace of Ukrainians’ advances against Russian troops, added the Kyiv Post, a Ukraine-based English-language newspaper.

Meanwhile, at the United Nations this week, Zelenskyy mocked Putin and demanded a peace plan on Ukraine’s terms, maybe following a script that bloodying the bully’s nose reduces his menacing aura. “A crime has been committed against Ukraine, and we demand punishment,” Zelenskyy told delegates at the UN in a virtual address in his trademark combat fatigues, CNN reported.

Zelenskyy also called for the UN to strip Russia of its veto power in the Security Council, a move that would pave the way for significant action in the council that presumably only China could stop. China is the only non-Western, veto-wielding Security Council member. The other three veto-power countries are the US, Britain and France.

But Chinese leaders are reportedly not very happy with Russia, either. As Newsweek wrote, Chinese President Xi Jinping is not sending weapons nor making public proclamations in support of the war, a stunning silence for two ostensible allies. And Xi has recently expressed concerns over the war. Putin acknowledged as much recently.

Meanwhile, India, another ally, also began criticizing Putin and the war recently, the Economist noted. And old Russia stalwart, Serbia, said it would not accept the results of referendums in eastern Ukraine. That’s even though Serbia signed a cooperation agreement with Russia last week.

The Atlantic Council believes that Putin’s empire is collapsing just like those of the Tsar and the Communists did in the last century.

Maybe so. Unfortunately, there will be a lot more pain in Ukraine, Russia and around the world before that happens.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

The Hunt for the Future

ISRAEL/ WEST BANK & GAZA

Prime Minister Yair Lapid expressed support for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, the first Israeli leader in years to explicitly endorse a two-state solution to the long-running conflict, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“An agreement with the Palestinians, based on two states for two peoples, is the right thing for Israel’s security, for Israel’s economy and for the future of our children,” Lapid said during a speech at the United Nations General Assembly.

Lapid – who is currently serving as Israel’s caretaker prime minister – has long supported a Palestinian state and recently reiterated his position in July during a visit to Israel by US President Joe Biden.

The speech comes as Lapid is facing a tough battle to retain his post in the upcoming November elections. Israeli political analysts said the announcement was an attempt to attract voters who support a two-state solution.

Even so, his speech drew condemnation from Israeli political opponents, who accused him of jeopardizing the country’s security. Palestinian leaders also criticized his comments, saying Lapid’s words are hollow without efforts for peace talks.

Meanwhile, the UN speech follows a months-long Israeli military operation in the West Bank to root out militants. According to the UN, more than 80 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank this year, the highest death toll in seven years.

The Oslo Accords, signed by Israeli and Palestinian delegates in 1993, outlined a peace process that would culminate in the establishment of an independent state, but there has been little progress since the last serious talks ended in 2014. Polls show that support for a two-state solution has been dropping in recent years among both Israelis and Palestinians.

Making Strides

CUBA

Cubans voted in a referendum Sunday that would revamp family rights and legalize same-sex marriage in the communist country, a move considered the most progressive in Latin America and one that defies a long tradition of machismo in Cuba, the Washington Post reported.

The proposed new Family Code would replace a 1975 law regulating family rights and comes after 79,000 neighborhood meetings, months of discussion and an outpouring of more than 300,000 suggestions from citizens.

The new measures would offer protections for women, children and the elderly. It also encourages couples to equally share housework, condemns domestic violence and insists on children having a say in family matters.

One of the key changes would be legalizing same-sex marriage and allowing gay couples to adopt children.

The pro-LGBTQ stance of the new code underscores a sign of openness toward the gay community in Cuba. The country’s communist government was long openly hostile to the gay community, sending males to forced labor camps for “reeducation.”

Analysts noted that this shifting stance is peculiar in Cuba because it has been channeled mainly through the single-party system, rather than independent civil-society groups, which are heavily restricted.

President Miguel Díaz-Canel said this week that support for the vote would also mean support for the current political system in the Caribbean nation.

While the government has promoted the referendum as a democratic exercise, some detractors said that homosexual people’s rights should not be put to a vote. At the same time, many Catholic bishops and other religious leaders have strongly opposed the changes.

The referendum will need more than 50 percent of the vote to take effect. Although measures put to a plebiscite usually receive overwhelming support in Cuba, it’s unclear what the outcome of Sunday’s referendum will be. Results will be published later this week.

The vote comes as Cuba grapples with widespread anger over food shortages and the worst electricity shortages and blackouts in decades. The ailing economy has been battered by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and US sanctions imposed by the Trump administration – and partially maintained by President Joe Biden. Emigration is the highest in the country’s history, Spanish newspaper El Pais reported.

The Man Who Cried Treason

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

The Central African Republic’s top court annulled a commission for constitutional reform over the weekend, dealing a blow to President Faustin-Archange Touadera’s attempts to remove presidential term limits, Reuters reported.

In May, Touadera’s supporters proposed plans to amend the constitution to remove term limits, saying the latter was an uncommon practice among most African countries.

In fact, many African leaders-for-life have either dismantled or done end-runs around constitutional term limits.

In the CAR’s case, Touadera this month created a commission to draft the proposed changes, which would include an amendment to allow the president and lawmakers to remain in office in case elections are delayed.

But on Friday, the Constitutional Court rejected the commission’s formation as unconstitutional and annulled the amendment. It added that the decision could not be appealed.

Opposition lawmakers welcomed the verdict, but parties allied to Touadera said it was “treason against the will of the sovereign people.”

Touadera was elected in 2016 following a civil conflict sparked by the toppling of former President Francois Bozizé three years earlier. He was re-elected in 2020 amid an offensive by rebel factions, including those supporting Bozizé, that briefly threatened the capital Bangui.

The removal of term limits would have made Touadera part of a group of African leaders – including Rwanda, Ivory Coast and Guinea – who have amended the country’s constitution to allow them to stay in office indefinitely.

DISCOVERIES

The Invasion

Humans host trillions of bacteria in their guts that help regulate digestion and general health.

These microbiomes are very complex and vary among individuals.

Now, scientists at Stanford University have created the first-ever synthetic human microbiome, New Atlas reported.

In their study, a research team came up with a list of 104 species of bacteria, considered the most prevalent microbes found in people.

Dubbing this group “hCom1,” they grew each bacterial species individually and mixed them all together. The team then successfully transplanted hCom1 to mice, which had no natural microbiome of their own.

They observed that the synthetic microbiome created a stable ecosystem and the animals had normal metabolisms.

Then the scientists attempted to fill the bacterial gaps left by the original microbial mix. The researchers did this by exposing hCom1 mice to a human fecal sample.

The researchers expected that any unfilled bacterial niches in hCom1 would be filled by these new invaders based on a theory known as ‘colonization resistance.’

They feared, however, that the human fecal sample would completely overtake the synthetic ones – but that wasn’t the case: While a number of bacteria died off, hCom1 survived the “invasion” and was colonized by 20 new species from the fecal matter.

The researchers ultimately cataloged 119 bacterial species and named this second microbiome generation hCom2. This new microbiome community performed as effectively as any general microbial composition in mice, they noted.

The authors hope that the findings will revolutionize gut microbiome research by providing scientists with a consistent working model for future trials.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 615,090,836 (+0.51%)

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,536,963 (+0.16%)

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 12,252,972,639 (+0.18%)

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

  1. US: 96,070,980 (+0.43%)
  2. India: 44,572,243 (+0.07%)
  3. France: 35,304,648 (+0.65%)
  4. Brazil: 34,624,427 (+0.16%)
  5. Germany: 32,952,050 (+0.83%)
  6. South Korea: 24,634,296 (+0.90%)
  7. UK: 23,840,524 (+0.16%)
  8. Italy: 22,303,606 (+0.64%)
  9. Japan: 21,060,267 (+1.77%)
  10. Russia: 20,493,730 (+1.74%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over seven days

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