The World Today for January 13, 2023

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The Balancing Act


Kazakhstan recently memorialized the first anniversary of Bloody January, the term for the four days of civil unrest and police clashes a year ago that led to the deaths of almost 240 people before Russian forces intervened and restored order.

“It was a time of trial for our people. The foundations of our statehood were under threat,” said President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev at a commemorative event, according to Foreign Policy magazine. “But thanks to the unity and solidarity of our people, we were able to confront all challenges resolutely.”

As recently reported, government officials described the events as a coup attempt by members of organized crime groups and allies of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who lost any power he still retained after the crisis subsided. Nazarbayev led the former Soviet Republic from 1991, when communism fell, to 2020, when he stepped aside, but he retained the title “Elbasy”, or “leader of the nation.”

The demonstrations started peacefully as protests against high fuel prices but ballooned into near chaos in the streets of Almaty, the country’s financial capital, as protesters expressed their grievances about corruption and nepotism, Radio Free Europe explained.

Officials also were forced to admit that police cracked down too harshly on protesters. Tokayev, who emerged as the undisputed leader of the country after January 2022, has still not brought police who tortured protesters to justice, while Kazakh courts have convicted more than 1,000 people of rioting, Human Rights Watch wrote.

Still, Tokayev launched a series of new reforms with the intention of addressing his people’s complaints, including limiting the terms of presidents to a single seven-year stint. His allies claim these moves will modernize the country’s politics, reported the Astana Times, a local English-language publication.

Those claims might be suspect, critics say. Regardless, Tokayev has definitely made waves diplomatically. Although he arguably owes his presidency to Russian President Vladimir Putin, he also came out against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Tokayev is planning on bypassing Russia and selling oil for top dollar to Europe via pipelines that run through the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, added Euractiv.

Tokayev won reelection in November with more than 80 percent of the vote, noted Reuters, though the news agency added that election monitors found that Tokayev’s opponents stood little chance of defeating him due to electoral issues and human rights violations. On Jan. 14, Kazakh voters will cast ballots for their senators, further giving them a stake in how they are governed, at least in theory.

It is too early to say that Kazakhstan has embraced true democracy or experienced a so-called “color revolution” like the one that occurred in Ukraine, analysts say. But the direction arguably looks promising.


The Best Offense …


Japan and the United States are planning to strengthen their defense alliance and upgrade the US military’s posture in the country, moves aimed at countering China’s influence, CNN reported Thursday.

Officials from both countries announced the plan during the US-Japan Security Consultative Committee meeting on Wednesday, days before US President Joe Biden plans to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the White House.

Officials said a newly redesignated US Marine unit with advanced intelligence capability will be based on Japan’s Okinawa Island. The revamped unit is intended to be a stand-in force that could defend Japan and quickly respond to contingencies. This move has been described as one of the most significant adjustments to the US military force posture in the region in years.

The changes come after simulated war scenarios conducted by a Washington think tank revealed that Japan, and particularly Okinawa, would play a crucial role in a military clash with China, giving the US forward deployment and basing options.

US and Japan also said they are expanding their defense treaty to include attacks to or from space, in response to China’s fast-developing space program and hypersonic weapons.

The announcement comes less than a month after Japan unveiled a new plan that signals the nation’s biggest military buildup since World War II. The new national security strategy would double defense spending and move Japan away from its pacifist constitution in the face of growing threats from regional rivals, including China.

China has been boosting its navy and air force in the region, while also increasing its military pressure on self-governing Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own territory.

Before the US-Japan announcement, Chinese officials cautioned that any such military cooperation “should not harm the interests of any third party or undermine peace and stability in the region.”

The Death of a Village


German riot police began dragging climate activists away from an abandoned village in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia this week, after more than a year of occupation by the protesters who were trying to prevent the expansion of a coal mine, the BBC reported.

The village of Lützerath is owned by the energy giant RWE and its last resident abandoned the area more than a year ago. RWE operates the nearby Garzweiler open coal mine and plans to begin excavating for lignite under the village.

But hundreds of climate protesters have been squatting in the village’s abandoned buildings for more than a year, trying to stop the energy firm by setting up barricades and treehouses to make eviction more difficult.

More than 1,000 police officers from across Germany took part in the operation, which is expected to take weeks.

Demonstrators said the new lignite mine will only benefit RWE and rejected the assertion that Germany needs coal to fulfill its energy requirements now that it could no longer rely on supplies from Russia.

The government has vowed to move up the phase-out of coal in North Rhine-Westphalia to 2030. The national goal is 2038.

RWE and the regional officials have agreed to limit the mine’s expansion while plans to demolish and excavate five additional villages have been abandoned.

The Pillars Fall


Haiti’s last remaining lawmakers saw their terms expire this week, a development that is deepening the Caribbean nation’s political crisis and solidifying what observers call a de facto dictatorship in a country wracked by gang violence, the Associated Press reported.

Ten senators, who had been symbolically representing the country’s 11 million people, saw their terms end Tuesday because the island nation has failed to hold legislative elections since October 2019, leaving Haiti without a single legislator in either the lower or upper house of parliament.

The situation underscores the ongoing crisis in Haiti, which took a turn for the worst following the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, who had also been ruling by decree.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ariel Henry has failed to improve the situation since assuming office shortly after Moïse’s death. For more than a year, Henry has pledged to hold general elections but has failed to do so.

Earlier this month, he vowed to restore the Supreme Court and tasked a provisional electoral council with setting a date for elections. Still, he has not offered a timeline – while asking Haitians to “take me at my word when I speak of my government’s desire to do everything possible to reconstitute our democratic institutions.”

However, analysts are skeptical, pointing out that Henry is “behaving like a dictator” without any checks on his power.

Meanwhile, Haiti’s security situation has deteriorated as organized crime groups continue to all but run much of the country: Murders and kidnappings for ransom have increased, with analysts suggesting that criminal gangs control around 60 percent of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

The crisis and unrest have resulted in thousands of Haitians fleeing their country to neighboring nations, including the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas and the US.


This week, Russia replaced the general in charge of its troubled campaign against Ukraine, amid hints of discord among President Vladimir Putin’s senior allies – a reshuffle that opponents say will not repair the Russian military’s problems, the New York Times reported. Gen. Valery Gerasimov, who has taken the place of Gen. Sergey Surovikin, is a longstanding Kremlin ally who has served as chief of the military general staff since 2012. He was a key figure in the February invasion. It was the defense ministry’s second replacement in three months.

Meanwhile, Russian began sending more troops to neighboring ally Belarus this week, Al Jazeera noted. Ukraine claims that Moscow may use Belarus as a staging area for a northern invasion, opening up a new front in the conflict. Meanwhile, Ukrainian intelligence officials have warned that the Kremlin intends to mobilize up to 500,000 men to fight in Ukraine beginning in mid-January, according to Politico.

Also this week:

  • Putin hailed the Russian Orthodox Church for its support of his war in Ukraine on the first Orthodox Christmas since launching the invasion, which he has characterized as a kind of holy war against a decadent West, the Wall Street Journal wrote. At the same time, the Russian leader secretly pardoned scores of convicts before sending them to Ukraine to fight, revealing legal issues in the recruitment plan that promised jailed criminals that their sentences would be commuted only after they completed their military service, the Washington Post added.
  • The US unveiled a series of new sanctions and extra measures aimed at Iran’s aviation and defense sectors, upping the ante in its campaign against Tehran for supplying Moscow with weaponry for its war in Ukraine, CNBC reported.
  • Justice ministers from around the world will meet in the UK capital London in March to increase support for the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) investigations into alleged war crimes in Ukraine, the Evening Standard noted. The meeting aims to enhance worldwide financial and practical support for the ICC, as well as to coordinate efforts to ensure that it will be able to conduct investigations and prosecute those involved.


The Stress Virus

Stress, like laughter, is highly contagious.

Previous studies have shown that levels of the stress hormone cortisol can spike in people simply observing other individuals experiencing stress.

Now, researchers are focusing on whether stress contagion is also common among other members of the animal kingdom, the Washington Post reported.

In 2014, neuroscientists Jaideep Bains and his team studied how stress can pass between mice, discovering that stressed rodents produced a pheromone from their anal glands, which would then be sniffed by other mice nearby.

The pheromones really did a number on the mice, too: When one mouse took a whiff, its pheromones became identical to the other stressed-out rodent.

Bains’ team noted that a similar shift also occurred in a third mouse.

However, their experiments took place in lab environments, leaving scientists wondering if the same phenomenon occurs in the wild.

New technology has helped researchers better monitor how stress impacts animals and spreads: For example, researcher Hanja Brandl has used GPS trackers, video camera traps, and heart-rate loggers to monitor how stress moves among guinea fowl in Kenya.

But just like humans, animals also relieve their stress with help from their community: For instance, vampire bats relax by sharing food.

Still, Brandl suggested that science is merely taking the “first steps” in understanding animal stress transmission, adding that more research “can really fine tune any actions that improve animal well-being in captivity and in the wild.”

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