The World Today for May 10, 2023

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A Pyrrhic Victory


Ukrainian commanders have been establishing protected supply lines and funneling soldiers and weapons to Bakhmut, the eastern Ukrainian city that could become a fulcrum for the long-awaited spring offense against Russian-controlled lines, wrote US News and World Report. Russian forces, meanwhile, are fortifying the Crimean Peninsula, highlighting Russian fears that the Ukrainians might strike behind their lines.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, who leads the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary force that has been fighting alongside Russian soldiers in Ukraine, recently told Reuters that the Ukrainian offensive had technically already started. He was worried because his fighters around Bakhmut needed more shells. “The [Russian] Ministry of Defense has not provided us with artillery ammunition and we only have resources for a few days,” said Prigozhin. “They ignore all requests from Wagner.”

Wagner got what it wanted after it threatened to pull out, the Moscow Times reported this week.

Regardless, the “grueling cat and mouse fight” along the Dnipro River that separates the two sides is now heating up, wrote the Guardian.

Many expect the Russians to eventually take the city – they have been trying for the past year at the cost of thousands of soldiers, even if they have little to show for it other than forcing the Ukrainians back, inch by inch. Meanwhile, there is little to win here: The city with a pre-war population of 70,000 is decimated. It has limited strategic significance. What it does have is symbolic weight: A Russian victory could be a prize to hand the Russian leadership and a morale boost – ditto for the Ukrainians, who want to deny the Russians this tarnished prize, the Economist noted.

And so the battle for Bakhmut goes on, a near stalemate for the moment, looking ahead to a “Pyrrhic victory.”

A CNN analysis found that Ukrainians were blowing up fuel dumps and other Russian infrastructure necessary to fight. The Russians, meanwhile, were flying drones and lobbing artillery fire into population centers with the goal of traumatizing the residents and breaking the Ukrainian people’s will to fight. The Ukrainians have shown little signs of wavering, however, according to US Army Gen. Mark Milley who delivered a speech last month on the issue at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Ukrainian boosters shouldn’t necessarily think the momentum is on their side, however. As leaked Pentagon documents illustrated, explained the Daily Mail, Russia has not lost as many forces as many in the West believe. Ukraine, meanwhile, while losing around half the number of troops as Russia, has suffered numerous injuries that are undermining its punching power. Ukraine is also in desperate need of equipment and ordnance, too.

That’s likely why the US is sending Ukraine another $300 million worth of artillery and mortar rounds, the Hill reported. American taxpayers have sent a total of $36 billion in military aid to Ukraine since the Russian invasion began in February last year. European nations have also given aid to the country, including German-made Leopard tanks that will prove crucial in the coming confrontation with Russia, as might the long-range missiles the British are considering sending.

Still, the US and its European partners in NATO haven’t given Ukraine their most advanced weapons, argued Foreign Policy. Russia, meanwhile, is firing at Ukraine from ships as far away as the Caspian Sea and from jets flying in Russian airspace.

Expect the climactic encounter to kick off any day now.


Stepping Up, Sitting Out


Israeli airstrikes killed three Palestinian militant group commanders and 10 others in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, the latest round of violence in one of the deadliest periods in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in years, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Israel’s military said the strikes targeted senior leaders of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a US-designated terrorist group blamed for recent cross-border rocket fire and for coordinating militant activities in the occupied West Bank.

It added that the three individuals had been involved in rocket fire or attacks on Israelis in recent weeks. Tuesday’s bombing is part of a new operation against Islamic Jihad, including hitting sites the group uses to manufacture weapons and rockets, and store cement for building underground tunnels, the military noted.

Palestinian officials, meanwhile, countered that the death toll included civilians, adding that at least 20 people were injured. Israeli authorities are probing reports of civilian casualties.

The airstrikes come amid a particularly acute flare-up in violence in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict: More than 100 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces or civilians since January. At least 16 Israelis and two foreigners have been killed in Palestinian attacks – all of them civilians except one police officer.

Both Islamic Jihad and Hamas – another US-designated terrorist group, which controls the Gaza Strip – vowed to respond to the commanders’ killings.

Even so, Israeli military officials questioned whether Hamas – which has fought Israel in a number of conflicts – would join the current hostilities.

Israeli jets assassinated prominent Islamic Jihad militants in both 2019 and 2022, sparking days of Palestinian rocket barrages and Israeli bombings.

Hamas did not participate in the fighting in either conflict.

Fed Up


Pakistani paramilitary forces arrested former Prime Minister Imran Khan in the capital Tuesday, a move that risks exacerbating the political and economic crises in the South Asian nation, NPR reported, as violent demonstrations erupted across the country.

The troops arrested Khan at an Islamabad courthouse, where he was slated to attend a court hearing concerning one of the dozens of cases he is embroiled in.

A call from Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) party for protests against the detention saw supporters clashing with police in several cities and storming military buildings in Lahore and Rawalpindi, Reuters reported, while one person was killed and several injured in Quetta.

Authorities have banned demonstrations in three out of Pakistan’s four provinces as well as in Islamabad and shut down Internet services in some areas of the capital, where demonstrators are expected to march Wednesday.

It wasn’t clear why Khan was arrested but local media reported it was connected to a case filed in Pakistan’s anti-corruption court, which some analysts say is used to target critics of the country’s powerful military.

In recent weeks, the former cricket star-turned-politician accused a military intelligence official of orchestrating a plot to assassinate him. Pakistan’s military released a statement criticizing the political leader’s claims as “highly irresponsible and baseless allegations.”

The former prime minister was ousted last year following a no-confidence vote in parliament after the military said it would no longer support him.

Since then, Khan and his supporters have been holding protests across the country to demand early elections. Pressure against the current government increased after the PTI won a series of by-elections last year, suggesting it had only grown in power since Khan’s removal.

Pakistan’s political turmoil has contributed to the country’s economic crisis, which has led to an increase in food prices and pushed millions to the brink of starvation. Due to the country’s limited foreign currency reserves, there are fears that Pakistan will default on its debt.

Opening Doors


Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger stepped down this week after numerous ministers in his government resigned, a move that may likely deepen the political crisis in the country just months before an election that could see a pro-Russian party win, the Guardian reported.

Heger handed his resignation to President Zuzana Čaputová, who later picked the central bank’s deputy governor, Ľudovít Ódor, to become the leader of a technocrat government.

The resignation comes after a number of ministers resigned in recent weeks, including Agriculture Minister Samuel Vican who stepped down following a scandal involving a more than $1.5 million subsidy to his company, according to Euronews.

Slovakia’s political situation worsened after parliament passed a no-confidence motion against Heger’s four-party coalition in December. The vote came a few months after a party left the coalition in protest at the government’s efforts to ease the cost of living crisis caused by the impact of the Ukraine war.

Slovakia, an EU member and NATO ally, has firmly supported Ukraine since Russia’s invasion last year. Under Heger’s center-right coalition, Slovakia has provided military assistance to Kyiv in the form of weapons.

But polls suggest that the left-wing, populist opposition party, Smer-SD, led by former Prime Minister Robert Fico is on the course to win the Sept. 30 elections.

Fico has opposed military aid to Ukraine and accused “Ukrainian fascists” of starting the conflict there in 2014. He has also criticized “Western propaganda” and vowed to veto “pointless” further sanctions on Russia.


Ancient Globalization

Archaeologists recently discovered a two-foot tall Buddha at the site of an ancient Egyptian port city, the first such artifact found west of Afghanistan, and one that underscores the international links of ancient civilizations, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

An excavation team of Polish and American researchers said the statue was located at the site of Berenike, a port city on the Red Sea that became an important trading hub when Egypt was under Roman control.

Analysis of the artifact showed that it was made from Mediterranean marble and, judging by its stylistic details, it was created in Alexandria around the second century CE.

Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said in a statement that the find and other recent discoveries provide new evidence of trade links between ancient Rome and India, and how interconnected the Roman Empire was to its ancient Indian counterpart.

These include an inscription in Sanskrit dating to the reign of Roman emperor Marcus Julius Philippus – also known as Philip the Arab – who ruled from 244 to 249 CE.

The ministry noted that the discoveries also shed light on the unique role played by Egypt, which was “centrally located on the trade route that connected the Roman Empire to many parts of the ancient world.”

Meanwhile, the American team’s leader Steven Sidebotham, a historian at the University of Delaware, said the find underscores how globalization isn’t a modern phenomenon.

“You hear a lot about globalization today but there was a ‘global economy’ linking Europe, Africa, and Asia during the first century of the Christian era, and the city of Berenike is a perfect example of that,” he told University of Delaware Research. “In the Roman era, Berenike became a very international emporium, trading as far west as Spain and as far east as Indonesia, and it was an extremely cosmopolitan place.”

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