The World Today for November 15, 2022

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A Game of Chicken


As Russian forces retreated from Kherson and Ukrainian forces poured into the strategic southern Ukrainian city, one could be forgiven for wondering if the world was seeing the beginning of the end of the war. Six weeks ago, noted National Public Radio, Russian President Vladimir Putin had illegally annexed the region and others into the Russian Federation just as he did with the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. If one believed the Russian president’s propaganda about Kherson, Ukraine had just invaded Mother Russia herself.

The change of fortunes on the battlefield has come as Russian and Ukrainian leaders have hinted they are willing to sit down and talk – even as each side says the other has been stalling, Al Jazeera reported. Ukraine is on a roll and sees little reason to stop defeating the Russian military. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said he won’t join peace talks until Putin is removed from power. The Russians, meanwhile, are happy to wait until the cold winter arrives and energy prices continue to increase, providing more reasons for the international coalition backing Ukraine to split apart, perhaps forcing the Ukrainians to the bargaining table.

The US, for example, has asked Zelenskyy to tone down his rhetoric and signal a willingness to speak to the Russians, the Washington Post wrote. Unnamed American officials said that European leaders were beginning to feel “Ukraine fatigue.” Even under that pressure, however, Zelenskyy will likely not budge. Ukrainians have suffered too much: “Russia’s devastating military campaign … has destroyed civilian areas and resulted in massacres, rape and looting,” the New York Times explained. They are not inclined to stop or go soft on the Russians.

Zelenskyy repeatedly calls for a “just peace”, which would include: “Respect for the UN charter, respect for our territorial integrity, respect for our people, and due responsibility for terror – that is, punishment for all those who are guilty and full compensation by Russia for the damage caused to us,” according to the Kyiv Independent.

The prospect of a nuclear strike on Ukraine, NATO members in Eastern Europe or anywhere else is giving many analysts pause, however. As the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace noted, Putin is treating the war like a game of chicken. The more he loses territory or suffers defeats that could result in his loss of power, the more he is forced to escalate the Russian response to Ukrainian attacks to the most unthinkable, nuclear levels.

Zelenskyy is in a tricky position now: He has to keep Ukraine and many other countries from losing everything just as they are on the threshold of victory.


Defining Lines


US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping met in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta Monday, with both leaders signaling desires to stabilize relations that have reached their lowest point in decades, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The roughly three-hour meeting – and the first in-person talks since Biden was elected two years ago – took place as both presidents were taking part in the summit of the Group of 20 major economies in Bali.

It came after months of escalating tensions following US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August, as well as other ongoing issues, including trade and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Regarding Taiwan, Xi told the American president that the self-governing island, which Beijing claims as its territory, is the first red line in the China-US relationship that can never be crossed. The Chinese leader also warned that any visit from senior US politicians would be seen as a provocation and could raise the possibility of clashes between the two superpowers.

Biden, meanwhile, stressed that the longstanding US policy regarding Taiwan hasn’t changed, while also objecting to China’s increasingly coercive and aggressive moves toward the island.

He also raised the issue of China’s human rights record, including its treatment of the ethnic Uyghurs and the suppression of civil liberties in Hong Kong.

The US president added that his Chinese counterpart is willing to compromise on some issues, although he did not name them.

Regarding Ukraine, the White House said the two leaders agreed that “a nuclear war should never be fought and underscored their opposition to the use – or threat of use – of nuclear weapons in Ukraine.”

Xi also restated China’s support for peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. He also hoped that Western nations would begin comprehensive negotiations with Moscow.

The talks marked a reopening of official communication between the two sides, with both leaders also enabling senior officials to expand dialogue on significant global issues.

It followed remarks by the International Monetary Fund chief over the weekend that highlighted how the rivalry between the two countries is splintering the world economy and threatening to leave everyone worse off, the Washington Post reported.

Dying To Be Free


An Iranian court issued the first death sentence against a protester linked to the unrest that has gripped Iran following the death of a 22-year-old woman in police custody two months ago, Axios reported Monday.

The judiciary-linked Iranian website, Mizan Online, said the protester was sentenced to death for taking part in “riots” and accused him of multiple felonies, including burning a government building, as well as being “an enemy of God and corruption on Earth.”

Five other people were sentenced to prison terms of up to 10 years for “gathering and conspiring to commit crimes against national security and disturbing public order.”

The sentences come as mass protests continue across Iran over the death of Mahsa Amini in September. She died after Iran’s morality police had detained her for wearing an “improper hijab,” the country’s mandatory head covering.

Her death sparked unprecedented criticism of Iran’s ultra-conservative government as well as calls for it to step down. Meanwhile, Iranian authorities have responded with violence and also charged more than 2,000 people for participating in the demonstrations. Many of these individuals have been charged with crimes that carry the death penalty such as “waging war against God.”

The Norway-based non-governmental organization Iran Human Rights estimates that at least 326 people have been killed in the unrest, considered one of the largest sustained challenges to Iran’s regime since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, CNBC noted.

Meanwhile, United Nations officials urged Iran to stop using the death penalty and immediately release all protesters.

They warned that the government might issue more death sentences.

Bailing Water


France and the United Kingdom signed an agreement Monday that aims to stop migrants from crossing the English Channel to the UK, a deadly pathway that has also become a source of friction between the neighboring countries, the Associated Press reported.

The accord, which was signed in Paris by the UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman and French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, includes recommendations to combat crime along migrant routes.

Under the deal, the UK government will pay France $75 million over 2022-2023 – a hike of over 13% year-on-year – in exchange for French authorities increasing security patrols along the French coast by 40 percent. This would include 350 more French security force personnel guarding two beaches, as well as more drones and night-vision equipment to help officers detect crossings.

The deal follows a surge in the number of migrants and refugees attempting to cross the Channel using dinghies or small craft. Although the UK receives fewer of these individuals than many other European countries, thousands from around the world make their way to northern France annually in the hope of crossing the Channel.

Dozens have died over the years, including 27 people in November 2021 when their packed boat capsized.

Meanwhile, the deal is part of several measures proposed by the UK’s newly-appointed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to repair ties with France. Relations between the two countries deteriorated under former Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his briefly-serving successor Liz Truss.

Sunak hailed the agreement as “a foundation for even greater cooperation in the months ahead.” Critics and migrant rights organizations countered that the deal will do little to stop Channel crossings.

Meanwhile, others have also slammed a controversial plan by the UK to send people who arrive in small boats on a one-way journey to Rwanda.

British officials say the plan will break the business model of smuggling gangs. Critics, however, have labeled it as immoral and impractical, and have challenged it in the courts.


Endless Supply

Patients suffering from blood disorders won’t have to worry about finding proper donors in the future, according to the Washington Times.

Last week, two British patients became the first people in the world to have laboratory-grown red blood cells successfully transfused into them.

The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) said neither individual experienced any “untoward side effects” after they were infused with between 5-10 milliliters of the lab-grown blood.

The agency added that the patients were taking part in the NHS’s “RESTORE” clinical trial, where scientists are trying to determine if lab-grown red blood cells will last longer in the body than freshly donated blood.

Officials explained that the special cells were created using blood taken from donations. Researchers then separated stem cells from the donated blood, which were then used to create the lab-grown ones.

The trial currently seeks to give a minimum of 10 people small transfusions at least four months apart – one of donated blood cells and one of lab-grown cells – to test if the new cells can persist longer in the body.

NHS representatives noted that if the lab-grown cells are safe, effective and long-lasting they could be given to patients with various blood disorders, or those with very rare blood types.

“If our trial, the first such in the world, is successful, it will mean that patients who currently require regular long-term blood transfusions will need fewer transfusions in the future, helping transform their care,” said Cedric Ghevaert of NHS Blood and Transplant.

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