The World Today for October 24, 2022

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Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are clashing on their border. Kazakhstan is poised for a “color revolution”. Uzbekistan is welcoming Russians fleeing conscription while its neighbors are wondering how to cope with the sheer numbers of these new arrivals.

For years, Russia was the dominant power in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. Now, however, President Vladimir Putin is too busy losing the war in Ukraine to exert influence in the region. “Of course, they are distracted by Ukraine,” said Kyrgyz President Sadyr Zhaparov in an interview with the New York Times. “(They are) taking care of so many problems of their own.”

Scores died and around 136,000 people were displaced when Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan started fighting last month despite a ceasefire designed to quell tensions over the “jigsaw-puzzle political and ethnic geography” along the two countries’ border, Reuters reported. The conflict especially disrupted education in the two countries and schools closed, noted Human Rights Watch.

Both countries are part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russian-led military alliance.

In January, before the invasion of Ukraine, Russia sent troops to Kazakhstan to defend the administration of Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev during a civil uprising, as CBS News explained. Now, however, as a Newsweek op-ed argued, Tokayev is proving to be a squishy ally of Moscow. He’s refused to recognize the Russian-controlled separatist republics in eastern Ukraine, for example. Corruption and economic inequality, meanwhile, are setting the stage for more potential uprisings that Putin might not be able to help put down this time.

At the same time, thousands of Russians have been fleeing to Central Asia to avoid conscription in the Russian war machine, Radio Free Liberty reported. Uzbekistan has announced that it has no plans to deport them, Voice of America added. Uzbek officials even “reprimanded” a Russian dancer who performed in the capital, Tashkent, for supporting the invasion.

Meanwhile, Eurasianet described how Russia is seeking to recruit Central Asians for its military – against local wishes. At the same time, Central Asian countries are also feeling the bite of Western sanctions, which have been hindering these nations from realizing the benefits of trade with Russia, even as Russia uses these countries to subvert sanctions.

As a result, Central Asian leaders are reacting, showing their displeasure in assertive ways unusual in their relationships with Russia. For example, Putin recently was subjected to a tirade from the leader of Tajikistan: “We want respect. Nothing else. Respect,” said Emomali Rahmon, Tajikistan’s president since 1994, complaining that Moscow’s attitude had not improved since the Soviet era, Reuters noted.

At the same time, at a recent summit in the region, the Kazakh president held no bilateral meetings with Putin, while Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov kept him waiting in front of cameras for more than five minutes.

These developments point to a “destabilization of post-Soviet space,” wrote Visegrad/Insight. The vacuum resulting from the instability has a clear consequence. Chinese power now looms larger in the region, according to the Lowy Institute, an Australia-based think tank.

Writing in The Hill, experts in Central Asian politics warned that Chinese economic ties to the region, from infrastructure projects connected to the so-called Belt and Road Initiative to military sales, would likely make China the new hegemon here.

Even if Russia wins in Ukraine, it might lose much more elsewhere.


Band-Aids Versus Stitches


The United Nations has approved sanctions against Haiti’s most powerful gang boss for blocking fuel and aid supplies in the ailing Caribbean country but stopped short of ordering the deployment of a multinational security force to restore the nation’s security, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The resolution calls for nations to immediately freeze gang leader Jimmy Cherizier’s assets and ban him from entering their countries. Cherizier leads a coalition of nine gangs and his gunmen have been blockading the main fuel terminal at the port in the capital of Port-au-Prince since last month.

The blockade has halted most fuel, food and medicine from entering Haiti, which continues to grapple with a political crisis, gang violence and natural disasters. The country has been paralyzed by the violence and sporadic political protests against Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

Recently, cholera broke out as a result of deteriorating sanitary conditions.

Meanwhile, the criminal leader has demanded Henry’s resignation and rejected requests by the government to open humanitarian corridors.

UN officials said the resolution is the first step to aiding Haiti but many analysts questioned whether the move will impact Cherizier. The US sanctioned the gang leader in 2020 for his role in organizing a 2018 attack on a Haitian slum that destroyed more than 400 homes and left at least 71 people dead.

Others noted that the resolution dropped an earlier proposal encouraging the immediate deployment of a multinational rapid action force to support Haiti’s beleaguered security forces. The US and Mexico are working on a second resolution but diplomats said that it will take time to put together such a force.

While some Haitians say a delay would result in worse gang violence, opposition groups worry that foreign intervention would just shore up Henry’s government, which is considered illegitimate by some.

The Force Be With You


President Xi Jinping secured a third term as the head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and unveiled a new leadership team packed with loyalists while also removing former rivals as the Chinese leader further solidifies his grip on power, the Financial Times reported.

The ruling CCP’s 20th congress ended Saturday with Xi receiving another term as General Secretary of the party. The Chinese leader said during the event that China’s “strong fundamentals will not change,” noting that the country’s very strict “zero Covid” strategy to curb the spread of the virus will continue – despite it causing a slowdown in the economy.

The congress’ final day made headlines around the world when Xi’s predecessor, former President Hu Jintao, was firmly escorted off the leadership rostrum. State media initially did not report the episode but later said that Hu was having some health issues and needed to rest.

The closing sessions also unveiled the new leadership of the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, which saw the exit of Premier Li Keqiang and Wang Yang. Li, a former protégé of Hu, has been largely sidelined by Xi over the past decade.

Four new members were added to the new committee, including Shanghai party head Li Qiang who is likely to replace Li Keqiang as premier.

Li Qiang presided during China’s worst Covid-19 outbreak in March, with his administration imposing a harsh lockdown that crushed economic activity in one of China’s most prosperous regions.

Meanwhile, Xi replaced half of the CCP’s 24-member politburo with individuals who previously worked for him when he was a mid-career provincial party official. No women were appointed to the politburo, breaking with the tradition of naming one female cadre to the group.

Political analysts noted that the appointments constituted “quite a show of force by Xi,” and “showcases to everyone that loyalty rather than popularity is the key.”

Guns and People


Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau imposed an immediate nationwide freeze on the sale of handguns in Canada over the weekend, the latest move by the government to address recent shootings that have rocked the North American country, NPR reported.

The government order would ban handgun sales and prohibit the introduction of newly acquired firearms into Canada.

Trudeau said the freeze is an “immediate action” his government is taking as lawmakers consider gun-control measures in parliament.

Since May, Canadian legislators have been debating the passage of a handgun freeze bill that would impose the strictest gun control measures in decades. Trudeau had initially announced the draft legislation following two shootings in the neighboring US, including the Uvalde school massacre in Texas.

While firearms-related deaths are lower in Canada, the country experienced one of its deadliest mass shootings in 2020, which saw the killing of 22 people in the province of Nova Scotia. That event led to the ban of assault-style firearms and renewed discussions around gun control and access to illegal weapons, according to USA Today.

Gun control groups welcomed Trudeau’s recent decision but the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights countered that placing stricter legislation on weapons does not decrease gun violence.


Get Smart

Not a lot of brain power is needed to play the 1970s video game “Pong” – a few brain cells can do it.

Recently, scientists taught a dish of living brain cells how to play the cult table tennis game, in a study that aims to understand how neurons learn and how computers can become smarter, NPR reported.

Researchers at the Australia-based Cortical Labs used a system called “DishBrain,” which consists of a layer of living neurons grown on a special silicon chip at the bottom of a thumb-sized dish filled with nutrients.

The chip – which is linked to a computer – detects the electrical impulses produced by the brain cells and also sends signals to them.

The team then observed how the cells performed when the computer started the two-dimensional Pong: The computer would deliver signals to the cells to indicate where the ball was moving and monitor information coming from the neurons in the form of electrical pulses.

While the cells didn’t understand what was happening at first, researchers used a combination of electrical stimulation to hint when the cells hit or missed the ball.

The approach helped the neurons become more skilled – but none mastered the game. Still, the authors noted that human brain cells proved to be more capable at Pong than mouse or cockroach neurons.

Study author Brett Kagan said the findings point to a future in which biology assists computers in becoming more intelligent by altering the way they learn.

“We’ve made huge strides with silicon computing but they’re still rigid and inflexible,” he noted. “That’s something we don’t see with biology.”

Meanwhile, other scientists added that the DishBrain system could be a great tool to learn more about the mysteries of the mind.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 627,631,619 (+0.47%)
Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,578,440 (+0.17%)
Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 12,821,432,441 (+0.30%)

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

1. US: 97,198,630 (+0.25%)
2. India: 44,644,076 (+0.03%)
3. France: 36,741,974 (+1.00%)
4. Germany: 35,172,694 (+1.63%)
5. Brazil: 34,780,462 (+0.10%)
6. South Korea: 25,311,636 (+0.72%)
7. UK: 24,079,325 (+0.24%)
8. Italy: 23,348,075 (+1.07%)
9. Japan: 22,020,274 (+1.07%)
10. Russia: 21,068,678 (+0.32%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over seven days

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