The World Today for November 16, 2022

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Out With the Old


The president of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, appears to be enacting a series of reforms that promise to reorganize the country’s politics and its economy as former Soviet republics navigate the instability following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

On the political front, Al Jazeera wrote, Tokayev called a snap election for Nov. 20 that will cut his current term short but likely give him a new, longer seven-year term. On the economic front, the president has been cracking down on corruption, seeking to redistribute money downwards and shifting his country’s economic ties away from Russia.

Tokayev, for example, is giving amnesty to around 1,500 people charged with crimes in connection with violent protests earlier this year that resulted in the deaths of 238 people, including 19 police officers, Eurasianet reported. The protests began over energy prices but spiraled into widespread unrest that Tokayev said was organized to topple his government. Russia sent troops to Kazakhstan to help put down the demonstrations.

The amnesty won’t apply to around 100 people charged with terrorism and other serious crimes, including top security officials whom Tokayev claimed were seeking to restore the influence of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who left office in 2019. Nazarbayev had tapped Tokayev as his successor. But Tokayev removed Nazarbayev from the powerful National Security Council during the January protests and stripped him of his honorary title as “leader of the nation.”

The president has also cracked down on allegedly corrupt Nazarbayev allies and family members. After Nazarbayev’s nephew, Kairat Satybaldy, for example, was convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to six years in jail even as prosecutors lodged new corruption charges against him, he handed over more than $230 million worth of jewelry to authorities. According to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, he has $300 million in shares in foreign companies that he will also hand over to the state.

Tokayev is also repositioning his country vis-à-vis Russia. Recently, for example, he said the country needed to prepare for new threats from abroad, reported the Caspian News, an English-language news outlet that covers the region. Observers said his comments signaled an interest in loosening ties with Russia while retaining deterrents against Russian meddling.

Meanwhile, earlier this month, Kazakhstan announced that it plans to deliver up to 1.5 million tons of oil through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline in 2023 as part of growing efforts to find export routes bypassing Russia, Eurasianet reported. Currently more than two-thirds of Kazakhstan’s oil exports are sent to Europe – but have been frequently disrupted this year because of the country’s refusal to support the war in Ukraine.

In another sign of Kazakhstan’s diplomatic distancing from Russia, Tokayev has welcomed thousands of Russians who have fled their country to avoid conscription in the Russian military, added the Financial Times. Tokayev is also increasing commercial ties with Iran and selling shares in its state-owned oil company as inflation skyrockets due in part to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and supply chain snarls.

As the Diplomat noted, the country has a long way to go to reform its rigid, state and oil-dominated economy. And think tank Stratfor warned that antagonizing Russia could come at a cost that may yet include military coercion and cutting off pipeline access for Kazakh oil exports.

Even so, the Russian grip on Kazakhstan appears to be weakening as Tokayev’s gets stronger.


Collateral Damage


Poland and its NATO allies are probing into whether a missile that landed in the country Tuesday and killed two people came from Russia, a strike that risks widening the conflict outside of Ukrainian borders, USA Today reported.

The strike came as Moscow launched its largest missile attack to date on Ukrainian soil, causing widespread blackouts in Ukraine and also spilling into Moldova, cutting off much of its electricity, CNBC reported.

At least 85 missiles were fired at Ukraine’s power facilities, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who stood defiant against the attack and declared “we will survive everything.”

Polish media reported that two people died when a projectile hit Przewodów, a Polish village near the border with Ukraine.

Polish officials identified the missile as being made in Russia, but Polish President Andrzej Duda later said it “most probably” was Russian and that authorities are still looking into its origin or who fired it.

US President Joe Biden suggested that the missile was unlikely to have been fired from Russia, but offered to assist Polish authorities with the investigation. US officials, meanwhile, acknowledged that the circumstances are complex, adding that the deadly missile – or parts of it – may have come from a Ukrainian intercept missile that was attempting to halt an incoming Russian strike.

Russia denied involvement in any strikes near the Ukrainian-Polish border, saying photographs of alleged damage “have nothing to do” with Russian weapons.

The strike could further escalate the ongoing war in Ukraine and risk triggering NATO’s Article 5, the mutual defense clause between the organization’s members.

The clause states that if a NATO ally is the victim of an armed attack, every other member of the alliance will regard the act of violence as an armed attack on all members and will take whatever actions are necessary to support the attacked ally.

Still, Article 5 is not automatically invoked, analysts noted, adding that an attack on Poland was always possible due to its proximity to Ukraine.

Unfriendly Fire


The United States will conduct an investigation into the death in May of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank, a move that was welcomed by the reporter’s family but criticized by the Israeli government, Fox News reported.

On Monday, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz confirmed that the US Department of Justice had launched an investigation into the death of the Al Jazeera journalist while covering a military raid by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) targeting Palestinian militants in the town of Jenin.

A number of media investigations, including one by the United Nations, concluded that the shot that killed the journalist was fired by a soldier with the IDF – a conclusion that was also supported by Palestinian officials.

The IDF initially blamed Palestinians and dismissed the accusations. But in September, following an extensive investigation monitored by the US, the IDF admitted that an Israeli soldier likely shot the journalist by mistake.

Even so, the Israeli military closed the investigation and refused to indict those involved, saying that no laws had been broken, the Guardian noted.

The US was also prepared to drop the matter but Abu Akleh’s family – with support from members of Congress – pressured the Biden administration to launch an inquiry.

While there are no precise details about the investigation, observers said the probe into Israeli actions would be a rare, if not unprecedented, step.

Abu Akleh’s family welcomed the move as “an important step.” Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, meanwhile, defended the IDF as “a moral and ethical army.”

He told the Israeli parliament Tuesday that IDF soldiers will not “be investigated by the FBI or by any foreign country or body, however friendly.”

Orchestrating Democracy


Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Mexico this week to protest against President Andres Manuel López Obrador’s controversial proposal to overhaul the country’s electoral commission, which many fear will hand too much power to the government, Reuters reported.

The proposed reform would allow citizens to pick electoral authorities from a list chosen by the president, congress and supreme court. Judges on Mexico’s electoral court, which certifies elections, would be elected through a popular vote as well.

The plan would also reduce the financing of political parties and limit advertising time, according to the Wall Street Journal.

López Obrador had initially proposed the plan in April after long criticizing the National Electoral Institute (INE), including accusing it of being responsible for his defeats during his 2006 and 2012 presidential bids.

His government has also cut the budgets of the INE and other autonomous agencies.

Following the mass demonstrations, he criticized protesters as people who oppose his policies in favor of the underprivileged.

Critics say the proposed bill would strip the INE of its autonomy ahead of the 2024 general elections, which would favor the government and the president’s ruling Morena party. Observers noted that the potential changes are contentious in a country that has a history of electoral fraud and authoritarian regimes.

Others pointed out that the present electoral institutions organized and validated the 2018 elections which handed López Obrador his third presidential run. Since 2018, Morena’s party has also won 22 state governorships.

The governing party, however, will need a two-thirds majority in Congress to make changes to the constitution. Currently, the party is short of that majority.



Astronomers have discovered “planet killer” asteroids orbiting not too far from the Earth, raising concerns that the celestial bodies could pose a threat to humanity in the future, USA Today reported.

In a new study, a research team detected three asteroids roaming around the orbits of Earth and Venus, noting that the giant rocks were previously undetectable via telescope due to the glare from the Sun.

They were only able to spot them during twilight at an observatory in Chile using a dark energy camera from a telescope.

The largest – and most dangerous – rock is 2022 AP7. Nearly one mile wide, the asteroid has an orbit that could reach our planet’s path in the distant future – although the timetable is uncertain.

The other two asteroids, 2021 LJ4 and 2021 PH27, pose less of a risk, the team noted.

Even so, the authors and officials at NASA suggested that it was unlikely that any world-ending events were going to happen soon.

NASA’s Paul Chodas, who was not involved in the study, countered that the fear of a potential crash distracted scientists from the main point: How the Sun can act as a blindspot when hunting for “planet killer” asteroids.

He added that the agency plans to better monitor these blindspots and prepare planetary defense plans – similar to the recent DART mission where a spacecraft was crashed into an asteroid and successfully changed its path.

“The most important thing in planetary defense is to find them … with lots of warning time,” Chodas said.


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