The World Today for February 24, 2023

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When Spring Comes


As the US and Germany send advanced armored vehicles to help Ukraine’s cause, Russia has lost almost half of its battle tanks, reported the Guardian recently. Half of Russia’s airborne troops have died in the war between the two former Soviet republics, added Newsweek. Russian artillery fire has also decreased by 75 percent in some regions, signaling a shortage of shells and other materials, CNN wrote.

Meanwhile, Russia has lost as many as 60,000 soldiers in the war, the Wall Street Journal wrote.

These setbacks and shortages are taking their toll. Recent Russian defeats in fighting around the city of Vuhledar, which was supposed to be a prelude to an expected spring offensive against Ukraine, have exposed the limits of Russia’s capabilities, the New York Times concluded.

“Russia’s actions over the past year have raised questions not only over the competence of its military and senior military leadership, but also over command cohesion,” said International Institute for Strategic Studies director-general and chief executive, John Chipman.

Yet, on Feb. 24, as the world marks the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russia is preparing to send as many as 700,000 more troops into battlefields across the vast country’s western border, noted the New York Post. That’s more than twice the 300,000 soldiers drafted last year to prosecute the war, a move that led to hundreds of thousands of Russian men leaving the country to avoid conscription.

In that year, the war has upended the global order, noted the Associated Press. Countries around the world have been suffering shortages: In the Middle East and Africa, for example, it’s been wheat. Others have been grappling with sky-high inflation and spiking gas and oil prices, leading to mass suffering, especially in the Global South.

On the diplomatic front, the European Union has pulled together and heavyweights France and Germany have abandoned their prior romances with Russia. Former Soviet satellite countries such as Kazakhstan are quietly distancing themselves from their former mothership, the Economist noted. Yet China and some countries in the Global South, including South Arica and India, have sought a middle ground or even actively support Russia, blaming Europe and the US for the war, noted the Washington Post.

Closer to home, parts of Ukraine are completely destroyed and it will cost tens of billions of dollars to reconstruct the country. “In some areas, the ruins of apartment buildings and crumbled bridges are now the prominent features of Ukraine’s new war-ravaged landscape,” the Associated Press wrote. “Bodies lie in the streets, in gardens, in houses. Fire-gutted cars and armored vehicles dot the roads.”

Meanwhile, more than 8 million people have fled the country, mainly to Poland and other Eastern European countries, but also to the Middle East, Asia and elsewhere. Some have returned. Most want to.

“It is a tragedy and I try to keep going, but it’s difficult,” Iryna Zoria, 60, a teacher who fled Ukraine’s east for Poland, told the Post. “I always thought of myself as a strong woman, but it turns out that I’m less strong … than I thought I was.”

Meanwhile, the US and other NATO members are training tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers using Western arms and armor. In a press release, the British government said it expected to train 20,000 Ukrainian soldiers this year alone, in addition to the 10,000 trained in the last six months of 2022. The US trained around 3,100 between April and December last year, a Pentagon statement said. According to National Public Radio, American trainers in Germany are now also preparing almost every month around 500 Ukrainians to fight.

Russia’s new troops will likely be poorly trained, badly led and unmotivated, US defense officials recently argued, adding that they expected Ukraine to launch an offensive against Russia in the coming months with the goal of seizing the momentum in the spring, Voice of America reported.

Experts warned against expecting the fighting would continue to resemble the World War I-like trench warfare that has typified the conflict so far, the Financial Times wrote. They expected the Russians to employ new tactics, including a greater reliance on air support, to reframe the war and surprise their enemies.

This spring will not bring peace.


The Disrupters


Northern Irish police arrested a fourth individual Friday in relation to the shooting of an off-duty police officer, an attack suspected to have involved dissident republican paramilitaries and which has revived memories of Northern Ireland’s bloody past, the BBC reported.

On Wednesday night, unknown gunmen shot Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell at point-blank range in the city of Omagh. Authorities said Caldwell is stable but remains in a critical condition.

Police are questioning four men between the ages of 22 and 47 in connection with the attack, three having been arrested on Thursday. No one has claimed responsibility, but police officials believe the dissident group, the New Irish Republican Army (IRA), is responsible for the attack.

The last time any of the IRA factions killed a Northern Ireland police officer was in 2011, also in Omagh, while the town was also the target of a bomb blast in 1998 that killed 29 people, an attack carried out in the hope of wrecking that year’s Good Friday Agreement, Politico noted.

Politicians and leaders across the United Kingdom and Ireland of all parties strongly condemned Wednesday’s attack as “terrorist” and “shameful.”

Many Northern Irish also expressed horror at the shooting that comes more than a month before the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement that ended decades of violence in the region – a period known as the Troubles.

At the time, the Provisional IRA fought to end British rule of the region and loyalist paramilitaries battled to remain part of the UK.

This week’s shooting also came as the UK and the European Union continue to negotiate an agreement on Brexit trade regulations for Northern Ireland, which some campaigners fear would destabilize the province, where local politics has been paralyzed since May of last year.

The Road to Peace


The United Nation’s top court ordered the Azerbaijani government this week to remove its roadblock from the only route linking Armenia and the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region in Azerbaijan that has raised tensions between the neighboring countries, Al Jazeera reported.

The case relates to the Lachin Corridor, the only road that connects Armenia with the Armenian-majority territory. Late last year, protesters posing as environmental activists blocked movement via the route by setting up camps.

Armenia criticized the move, saying it was part of an Azerbaijani “ethnic cleansing” campaign, Reuters noted.

Each country filed a case with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) accusing the other of breaching a convention aimed at eliminating racial discrimination.

In its legally binding 13-2 ruling, the court said the evidence presented by Armenia showed that the blockade has prevented the transport of essential goods, medicine, and food, as well as “impeded the transfer of persons of Armenian national and ethnic origin hospitalized in Nagorno-Karabakh to medical facilities in Armenia for urgent medical care.”

The ICJ, however, rejected Armenia’s request for an order to force Azerbaijan to desist from blocking gas supplies to Nagorno-Karabakh, saying that the Armenian side did not provide enough proof that Azerbaijani officials were disrupting them.

The ICJ also dismissed Azerbaijan’s request for an order to stop or prevent Armenia from laying landmines and booby traps in areas of the region to which Azerbaijani citizens are set to return.

The ruling comes more than two years after a bloody conflict between the two former Soviet republics in Nagorno-Karabakh that killed about 6,800 soldiers and displaced 90,000 civilians.

Nagorno-Karabakh is within Azerbaijan but has been governed by ethnic Armenians backed by Armenia since the end of a separatist conflict in 1994.

A ceasefire negotiated by Russia ended the 2020 war and gave Azerbaijan control over sections of the disputed area, as well as adjacent land occupied by Armenians. Russia dispatched a peacekeeping force of 2,000 troops to protect the peace.

Courts and Candidates


Thousands of Guatemalans blocked over a dozen national highways this week to protest a court’s decision to ban an Indigenous candidate from registering for the country’s elections on June 25, the Associated Press reported.

Protesters took to the streets demanding that leftist candidate Thelma Cabrera of the Peoples Liberation Movement (MLP) be allowed to run in the upcoming polls.

The issue began earlier this month when Guatemala’s electoral tribunal ruled that former human rights official Jordán Rodas cannot run as Cabrera’s vice-presidential pick because he allegedly did not have a letter certifying he had no legal cases pending against him.

As a result of Rodas’ case, Cabrera cannot run either, despite the fact that a few other candidates with pending cases have been allowed to register.

Cabrera and Rodas can appeal to the Constitutional Court, according to TeleSUR, a Venezuelan-based news organization.

Cabrera, a 52-year-old Indigenous leader, ran in the 2019 elections for the first time, finishing fourth with 10 percent of the vote.

Local analysts and supporters told TeleSUR that the court order might be an effort to derail her participation in the June 25 vote, in which she is expected to perform well.


This week, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia’s nuclear forces would be strengthened as fears increase about the larger global impact of the Ukraine war, NBC News reported. The Russian leader added that Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missiles, which can carry several nuclear warheads, will be deployed for the first time this year. His announcement came a few days after he said that Moscow would suspend its involvement in the New START treaty, the last such arms agreement between Russia and the United States, and just before the one-year anniversary on Feb. 24 of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping plans to visit Moscow for a meeting with Putin, during which the Communist Party leader is likely to encourage his counterpart not to use nuclear weapons, according to the New York Post. The high-level gathering, which is to take place in the coming months, will be part of a multi-party drive for peace negotiations as Russia’s conflict in Ukraine enters its second year.

Also this week:

  • Russia is “covertly mapping” important infrastructure in the North Sea, including gas pipelines and wind farms, in preparation for potential acts of sabotage, according to a report by Dutch intelligence agencies, Politico wrote. Meanwhile, the Netherlands is closing its consulate in St. Petersburg and will limit the number of Russian diplomats allowed at Moscow’s diplomatic mission in the Hague, Radio Free Europe reported. Dutch officials said the move comes as Moscow is trying to “secretly get intelligence agents into the Netherlands under cover of diplomacy.”
  • At the same time, Russia convened a United Nations Security Council meeting this week to discuss the bombing of the Nord Stream pipelines after circulating a resolution calling for an urgent UN probe, blaming the US and other Western countries for the damage, Al Jazeera noted. In advance of the meeting on Tuesday, the ambassadors of Denmark, Sweden, and Germany addressed a letter to council members claiming their investigations had proved the pipes were significantly damaged “by massive explosions owing to sabotage.”
  • Indian officials hosting the Group of 20 finance chiefs this week are attempting to avoid using the word “war” in any unified statement when referring to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a source familiar with the situation said, the Straits Times reported. It would be a departure from the agreement made by leaders in Bali in November. According to the source, the use of phrases like “crisis” is more acceptable.
  • The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), a global organization that represents up to 600,000 media workers worldwide, said on Wednesday it had suspended the Russian Union of Journalists (RUJ) from the organization, the Moscow Times added. The IFJ’s move was in response to the RUJ’s recent decision to expand its activities to Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine, which it claimed violated the organization’s ideals.
  • In a symbolic bid to address an “accountability gap” in the absence of an international tribunal with jurisdiction over Russia, a “people’s court” put Putin on trial for the crime of aggression over his invasion of Ukraine on Monday, according to the Independent.
  • Russia offered a range of weaponry – from Kalashnikov rifles to missile systems – for sale Monday at a biennial arms show in the United Arab Emirates, despite facing Western sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine, the Associated Press reported.


Live Long and Together

There is safety in numbers – but as a new study suggests, there is also enhanced longevity, too.

Scientists recently studied more than 970 mammal species and found that those who lived in social groups had longer lives, the Guardian reported.

For their paper, the research team split the mammals into three categories: Solitary, pair-living, and group-living. They also conducted a genetic analysis for 94 species and identified 31 genes related to social organization and longevity.

The findings showed that animals living in bigger groups – such as zebras and elephants – tended to live longer on average than solitary species, such as the aardvark and eastern chipmunk.

Even when the researchers took into consideration a correlation between larger species size and longer lifespan, the correlation of group living and longevity held up.

For example, shrews have a maximum lifespan of roughly two years, while bowhead whales have a lifespan of more than 200 years. Instances of longer life in groups have been documented in chacma baboons, but a 2018 study discovered the opposite: Yellow-bellied marmots – a “socially flexible” species – linked strong social relationships to decreased longevity.

Biologist Celine Frere – who was not involved in the new study – cautioned that sociality and longevity are not so easily linked.

“It’s much more complicated than that,” she said. “(Lifespan) is tied to their ecology. It’s tied to their reproductive biology, it’s tied to their mating system.”

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