The World Today for December 19, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

Creating a New Chapter

UKRAINE/ RUSSIA

Russian soldiers have been building trenches on the Black Sea coast of the Crimean Peninsula, a Ukrainian territory Russia invaded and illegally annexed almost nine years ago in a move that now clearly presaged the wider war.

The trenches run in a zigzag pattern that runs along beaches and promenades that were once tourist attractions, as the Telegraph reported.

That digging came after Ukrainian partisans within Crimea blew up Russian army barracks and other targets. “Our agents worked pitch perfect,” the Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars Movement, a guerilla group, told the New Voice of Ukraine. “We worked on this ‘project’ for a long time and, of course, everything worked out for us. We will continue to destroy the Russian army from the inside.”

Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces also blew up a crucial bridge in Crimea, one of Russia’s most embarrassing defeats in the war so far, according to the New York Times.

With the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion only a couple of months away, the prospect of Ukraine taking the fight to Crimea is becoming more likely, a remarkable turnabout for Russian forces who began the war thinking they would steamroll their way across Ukraine to victory.

Retired US Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the former commander of the US Army in Europe, recently said he expected Ukraine to liberate Crimea by next summer, Newsweek reported.

The Ukrainians’ success could present problems, however. As the Washington Post explained, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy sees retaking Crimea as an essential condition for his country’s victory. But Russian President Vladimir Putin views the territory as an essential part of his legacy. In other words, if Russia loses Ukraine, Putin loses face. The issue is one of the many impasses that are preventing a diplomatic end to the fighting.

To complicate matters, historian and visiting professor at the London School of Economics Dominic Lieven noted that Putin actually has good arguments as to why Russia should keep Crimea. Speaking to Radio Free Europe, Lieven argued that Ukraine might be better off if Russian sympathizers in Crimea, the Donbas and other eastern Ukrainian regions were allowed to split off and join Russia if they really wanted to do so. That’s because they are more historically aligned with Russia.

For example, Russia won Crimea from the Ottoman Empire in 1783 and controlled it until 1954 when Soviet officials transferred it to Ukraine due to internal politics and power struggles, wrote the Wilson Center.

The peninsula’s next chapter is still being written, in blood.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

The Hand That Feeds

MEXICO

Mexican lawmakers have passed a reform bill that would cut funding for the country’s electoral authority, a move critics warn will undermine the institution’s independence and its ability to organize elections, the Financial Times reported.

The bill is part of a push by populist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador following an attempt to amend the constitution that was rejected by lawmakers.

The new bill will slash the budget of the National Electoral Institute (INE), which arranges elections and regulates political activity. The funding cuts also eliminate much of the agency’s professional staff, remove a system for communicating early poll results transparently and restrict the institute’s ability to sanction parties and candidates.

The reform is part of a long-running spat between the INE and the president, who has accused the electoral body of fraud, as well as criticized its large bureaucracy for being bloated and overpaid.

The INE and its predecessor, the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), have played a key role in Mexico’s transition from one-party rule to pluralistic democracy, which culminated in the defeat of the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary party in 2000.

INE President Lorenzo Córdova warned that the cuts “could put the technical quality of elections at risk and with it the democratic governance we have achieved.”

In recent weeks thousands of Mexicans have taken to the streets to protest the changes, Reuters reported.

Some analysts believe the move against the election body is part of an effort by López Obrador to cut funding from a number of institutions and public trusts to find money for other priorities, such as state oil company Pemex.

Tick Tock

JORDAN

Three police officers have been killed and five wounded in a raid over the weekend on the suspected killer of a high-ranking police officer shot dead during protests against high fuel prices that have swept Jordan, the Emirate-based the National reported.

The suspect behind the death of deputy police director Abdul Razzaq Abdel Hafez Al Dalabeh last Thursday in the city of Maan was killed during the raid, according to state media, but no further details were given.

Truck drivers have staged strikes across the country in recent weeks to demonstrate against rising fuel prices that have significantly increased the cost of living in the Arab kingdom.

Videos of the unrest were dispersed via TikTok, prompting authorities to crack down on the demonstrations and suspend the popular app over the weekend “after its misuse” and its “inciting (of) violence and disorder,” the Associated Press reported, while dozens of protesters were arrested. Officials disrupted Internet services in a number of regions, including Maan, Al Jazeera noted.

Jordanian King Abdullah II vowed to “deal firmly” with the protesters.

Meanwhile, truckers said their only demand was the reduction of fuel prices, adding they will remain “steadfast” in their strikes. The government pledged to examine the trucker’s demands but said it has paid out more than $700 million to cap fuel prices this year.

Energy prices have previously sparked protests in Jordan, most recently in 2018 when Prime Minister Hani Mulki resigned following days of demonstrations against proposed tax reforms and energy price increases.

Justice, Delayed

KOSOVO

A Netherlands-based tribunal has sentenced a former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) guerrilla commander to 26 years in prison, the first war crimes conviction by the special court, which was established to investigate crimes during the 1998-99 independence war with Serbia, Radio Free Europe reported.

The Kosovo Specialist Chamber found Salih Mustafa guilty of the murder, arbitrary detention and torture of detainees at a facility in Zllash, Kosovo during the conflict. The detainees included fellow Kosovar Albanians, who were political opponents of the KLA and alleged supporters of Serbia.

The special court found that Mustafa participated in the beating and torture of at least two detainees and allowed his subordinates to mistreat another so harshly that he later died.

Mustafa has denied the charges and his lawyers accused witnesses of fabricating stories. Both the defendant and prosecution have 30 days to appeal the case.

The Kosovo Specialist Chamber was created in 2015 to handle cases under Kosovo law against former KLA fighters. It is separate from the United Nations tribunal for the former Yugoslavia – also located in the Netherlands. The latter tried Serbian officials for war crimes committed in the Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo conflicts.

The court has also detained Kosovo’s former president and KLA commander, Hashim Thaci, who is awaiting trial with other suspects on various charges, including murder, torture and persecution, according to the Associated Press.

More than 13,000 people are reported to have perished during the Kosovo war, which was still a part of Serbia under then-President Slobodan Milosevic. NATO air strikes on Serbian forces brought the war to a close.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008 but Serbia does not recognize it.

DISCOVERIES

Reading Fire

Homo sapiens and the now-extinct Neanderthals were thought to be unique in their ability to use fire as a tool.

Now, a discovery suggests that the two hominid species weren’t alone, according to The Hill.

Paleoanthropologist Lee Berger and his colleagues discovered evidence that another pre-human ancestor, Homo naledi, used fire for cooking and staying warm.

Berger’s team recently explored South Africa’s Rising Star caves where remains of H. naledi were first discovered in 2013. The hominid species is believed to have lived between 236,000 and 335,000 years ago – around the time H. sapiens appeared, Science News reported.

Excavations in the cave system showed evidence of soot on the walls and hearths containing burnt animal bones. Other caves also contained the remains of burnt wood, which suggests that the H. naledi used fire for warmth, cooking, and light.

This is particularly astonishing because the extinct hominids had smaller brains – about one-third the size of modern human brains.

“We are fairly confident…that this small-brained hominid, Homo naledi, that existed at the same time we believe Homo sapiens were sharing parts of Africa, was using fire for a variety of purposes,” Berger said during a lecture at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington earlier this month.

While researchers found no evidence of other hominid species, they are planning to radiocarbon date the remains of the fire and the bones to prove that the material comes from the same sediment layers as the H. naledi fossils.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 653,176,628 (+1.22%)

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,665,874 (+0.37%)

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 13,107,814,954 (+0.41%)

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

1. US: 99,892,513 (+0.93%)
2. India: 44,677,310 (+0.01%)
3. France: 39,004,649 (+2.17%)
4. Germany: 36,980,883 (+1.16%)
5. Brazil: 35,869,526 (+1.51%)
6. South Korea: 28,214,915 (+3.23%)
7. Japan: 27,138,615 (+7.51%)
8. Italy: 24,884,034 (+1.62%)
9. UK: 24,318,154 (- 3.20%)**
10. Russia: 21,408,756 (+0.46%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University
*Numbers change over seven days

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country.

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