The World Today for February 08, 2023

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Tanking Diplomacy


A Russian company that makes materials for oil fracking, Fores, is offering more than $70,000 to the first Russian soldiers who capture or destroy any of the tanks given to Ukraine by the US and Europe.

The announcement of the bounty came around a week after the US, Germany and other European countries said they would send advanced American M1 Abrams and German Leopard 2 tanks to help Ukraine in its nearly year-long fight against its larger neighbor, reported Reuters.

Fores’ reward might symbolize the desperation as well as resignation that is settling in among Russian military commanders.

Experts believe the new advanced battle tanks will give Ukraine a technical edge on the battlefield that could compensate for the massive numbers of soldiers that Russian President Vladimir Putin is throwing at the conflict, wrote the Independent. Observers forecast that hostilities will erupt in earnest in the spring when both Ukrainian and Russian forces are expected to attempt to claim contested territory in the country’s war-torn east.

Ukraine has been performing well so far in the tank department. The Ukrainians have been capturing and retrofitting Russian tanks left on the battlefield, for example, NBC News explained. Some of these refurbished tanks have outperformed Russia’s repurposed Soviet-era tanks, Insider added. Tank commanders told ABC News they will do even better with state-of-the-art vehicles.

But some fear that Western tanks could trigger an expansion of the conflict, too, which is why the US and its allies delayed their approval of sending tanks for so long – and why the US and most in Europe are naysaying the providing of powerful fighter jets such as F-16s, for now.

Bloomberg Opinion columnist Pankaj Mishra, for example, warned that the West was adding fuel to the war. Speaking at the VISION Consulting Annual Leadership Forum in London, historian Adam Tooze likened the tanks to American lend-lease programs that provided vital warships and other goods to Britain during World War II, a move that undoubtedly helped drag America into the war.

These fears are one reason why Germany dragged its feet for months on sending tanks to Ukraine or allowing other countries like Poland to ship them (under purchase agreements, Germany has the right to veto exports of German-made tanks to third countries).

Of course, Germany’s past as the instigator of World War II and the horrors that followed also weighed on German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s mind, the BBC added. Since the end of the Cold War, Germany has sought to reduce militarism both domestically and abroad in order to mitigate the chances of a European or worldwide conflict. This policy, argued German journalist Jan-Philipp Hein in the Guardian, is why Scholz was reluctant to send the tanks.

Now, however, German tanks shall be once again rolling through Eastern Europe and fighting the Russians. This time, however, the US and Germany are on the same side.


Ruling on Responsibility


A South Korean court ordered the government to compensate a Vietnamese woman who was wounded by South Korean troops during the Vietnam War, in a test case that could pave the way for similar lawsuits, the Associated Press reported.

The case concerns 62-year-old Nguyen Thi Thanh, who was 7 years old when South Korean marines allegedly fired at unarmed civilians during search operations at Phong Nhi and the nearby village of Phong Nhut in February 1968.

Thanh survived a gunshot wound but five of her family members – including her mother and two siblings – died of their wounds.

In 2020, Thanh filed a lawsuit against the South Korean government. During the trial, the court heard the testimony of other survivors and a South Korean war veteran who was part of the unit that allegedly conducted the attacks.

In its ruling, the court dismissed the government’s arguments that South Korean troops were not responsible for the massacre and that civilian killings were unavoidable. It ordered the government to pay Thanh $24,000 in compensation.

It is the first time a South Korean court has held the government responsible for mass killings of Vietnamese civilians during the war.

According to US military documents and survivors, more than 70 people were killed and around 20 others injured during the attacks.

During the Vietnam War, South Korea – then ruled by anti-communist military leaders – sent more than 320,000 troops to the Southeast Asian country, the largest foreign contingent fighting alongside US troops.

Posthumous Victory


A mayoral candidate in Ecuador, who was gunned down hours before polls opened, won the elections in the western city of Puerto López this week, even as the murder underscores the rising tide of crime in the South American nation, the BBC reported Tuesday.

On Saturday, unknown gunmen killed Omar Menéndez, 41, after breaking into a room where he was meeting campaign workers. A teenager was also killed in the attack.

Police are investigating the possible motive behind the murder. No arrests have been made so far.

A member of Menéndez’s party is expected to take over as mayor in place of the assassinated politician.

Before Menéndez, another mayoral candidate, Julio César Farachio, was shot dead in the coastal town of Salinas. Authorities detained a suspect, who had previously served time on drug trafficking charges and had threatened Farachio.

President Guillermo Lasso condemned the murders.

The municipal elections took place as the country has seen an uptick in crime attributed to the rising influence of violent drug gangs in the Andean country.

Lasso recently proposed a series of constitutional amendments on crime which were put to a vote over the weekend.

One of the changes would allow Ecuadoreans with ties to transnational organized crime to be extradited overseas if they are facing a trial or have already been sentenced in absentia in another country.

Officials said extraditing criminals to maximum security prisons in the United States would help reduce pressure on Ecuador’s overwhelmed justice system.

Still, the proposals were defeated during the vote.

‘Changing the Equation’


Israeli lawmakers voted in favor of a bill that would strip Israeli citizenship or residency from individuals convicted of terrorism and who receive financial support for violent acts from the Palestinian Authority (PA), the Times of Israel reported.

The bill – introduced by the conservative ruling coalition – received cross-parliamentary support and followed a deadly terror attack outside of a Jerusalem synagogue last month.

The draft law applies to both Israeli citizens and permanent residents imprisoned after being convicted of terrorism. It says that anyone who commits an act of terror or any other offense that “seriously harms the State of Israel” and then accepts a reward for it from the PA is “testifying that he renounces his status as a citizen or resident.”

Those whose citizenship gets revoked would be transferred to PA territory in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip at the end of their prison sentence, on the assumption that anyone being paid by the PA is entitled to status in its territory.

So far, the bill has passed its first reading and has moved on to other parliamentary committees for further discussion.

Lawmakers who sponsored the legislation said it would “change the equation.” Supporters say it would help prevent attacks in the future.

But some opposition legislators and Arab advocate groups denounced the bill as “racist from its roots,” noting that it creates “two separate legal tracks based on racial identity, as the state designed this measure to be used exclusively against Palestinians.”

Some point to a practice by the PA they say has been incentivizing terror by paying allowances to people convicted in Israel of carrying out terror attacks, and to the families of those killed while carrying out such acts.

Palestinian officials have defended the practice as a form of social welfare to aid victims of Israel’s military justice system in the West Bank.

Last year, a PA official told the Times of Israel that the authority may have paid around $181 million in stipends to Palestinians imprisoned by Israel for security offenses and their families in 2020.

Israel’s new government, widely regarded as the most right-wing in its history, has pledged to crack down on Palestinian terrorism and isolate the PA, which many of its lawmakers perceive as a terror-inciting organization.


Cool Bubbles

Animals have different ways to stay cool in scalding weather, such as sweating or licking themselves to lose heat.

Short-beaked echidnas, meanwhile, blow snot bubbles to cool down in the scorching deserts of Australia, Science Magazine reported.

The pug-sized hedgehog with a snout like an anteater is equipped with a coat of thick spines and can’t sweat to survive temperatures that can reach 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a new study, a research team used infrared cameras to monitor how these odd creatures handle the heat in the wild. The images showed that most echidnas’ bodies displayed signs of varying degrees of heat, such as red, orange and pink.

However, their beaks were usually a dark shade of navy blue.

The team observed that the animals would blow mucus bubbles that broke over the tip of their beaks. When this snot evaporates, it takes away heat, keeping the beak nearly 18 degrees Fahrenheit colder than the rest of the echidna’s body.

But there’s more: The creatures’ spines also act as insulation. When they get cold, their spines lie flat along their back and stop heat from escaping. When it gets too hot, the spines stand up to allow the heat to escape.

The authors explained that this cooling method could help scientists conserve these mysterious mammals, whose populations are declining because of habitat loss and vehicle accidents.

This study could also help other researchers predict how this ancient mammal will fare in a warmer future.

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