The World Today for June 20, 2023

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End Game


Commemorated on June 12, Russia Day celebrates the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic’s declaration of independence in 1990. Festivities in Moscow this year lacked much patriotic fervor, however. “For me, it’s a holiday of bureaucracy,” an anonymous Muscovite told the Moscow Times. “I never thought it was a day that brings people together.”

The Ukrainian army’s success in the war that Russian President Vladimir Putin started in February last year might also have cast a pall over the national event.

As Euronews reported, the much anticipated Ukrainian spring counteroffensive was making slow headway. Russian officials claimed they were mauling the oncoming Ukrainian forces and their Western-supplied tanks and equipment, though the West was expected to send more.

Russian officials also announced they would hold local elections in Ukrainian regions now occupied by Russian forces, Reuters added, in a likely bid to demonstrate that Putin would not even acknowledge the risk of failure and the prospect of retreating from the regions.

Putin’s stance might be courageous. Or it might signal that he has no other options. Western sanctions and war expenditures have sapped the Russian economy. Russian Central Bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina recently worried that private enterprise was becoming impossible in the country as resources dried up.

Signs of desperation are appearing. Putin recently announced that he would impose a windfall tax on companies that would extract $3.6 billion from the country’s biggest oligarchs.The Financial Times quoted an unnamed Kremlin official’s completely unbelievable explanation of the tax, made without irony. “One senior cabinet official claimed the idea for the levy had come from the companies themselves, who realized they had made ‘gigantic’ profits during the period that needed to be properly taxed,” the newspaper wrote.

Many Russian elites are becoming sick and tired of stalemate and losses on the battlefield and bad economic conditions at home, Bloomberg News reported. The most optimistic among them believe that Ukraine might someday resemble Russian-occupied South Ossetia in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, or Transnistria in Moldova, another former Soviet republic where Russia maintains a military presence.

In these so-called “frozen conflicts,” Russian forces and Moscow-supported enclaves cultivate Russian influence and control in neighboring foreign regions, destabilize the local national governments, and prevent the expansion of Western influence.

Despite Putin’s faults and the failings of the Russian military, he has remained in power in Russia since 2000, the Atlantic Council wrote. He is a survivor.

Still, everyone’s time comes to an end sometime.


Open For Business


Israel’s government approved this week a series of changes to expedite the process of constructing buildings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, a move that has unnerved many of the country’s allies and angered the Palestinian leadership, the Hill reported.

The new resolution would curb the amount of control the prime minister and defense minister have to approve building plans in the occupied settlements. It would also limit the capacity of the United States and other nations to exert pressure on the government in order to halt those plans.

Building permits will only need to be approved twice at the political level – a significant reduction compared with decades ago which required four or five times that amount.

“This is a historic decision that changes the treatment of the settlements in Judea and Samaria” and helps normalize it so that it is more akin to the process “in all of Israel,” Binyamin Regional Council head Israel Ganz told the Jerusalem Post. “Residents of Judea and Samaria have the right to build and develop without piling up unnecessary difficulties.”

Still, analysts said the resolution risks raising tensions about the issue of Israeli settlements in occupied territories.

Most countries deem these settlements – in land which Israel captured following a war in 1967 – as illegal and their presence has been a major point of contention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Reuters added.

US officials said they were “deeply concerned” about Israel’s move and warned that the expansion undermines the country’s plans to achieve a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Palestinian officials criticized the resolution and announced they will boycott Monday’s meeting of the Joint Israeli-Palestinian Economic Committee.

Meanwhile, the Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, condemned the move and vowed to “resist it by all means.”

Since reentering office in January, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his nationalist–religious coalition government have approved the promotion of more than 7,000 new housing units – the majority of them deep in the West Bank.

The Palestinians hope to establish an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Peace negotiations facilitated by the US have remained frozen since 2014.

The Voice


Australia’s upper house of parliament approved a bill to hold a referendum on Indigenous rights Monday, clearing the final hurdle for a vote that would enshrine the country’s Indigenous population in the constitution and better represent them in government, the Financial Times reported.

The passing of the bill is part of a push by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his Labor party to recognize Australia’s Indigenous people. It also seeks the establishment of an independent body – known as “the Voice” – that will advise the government on matters related to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Albanese said the referendum is “a chance to make our nation greater,” with supporters describing it as critical to Australia’s national identity.

The vote will take place in the next six months, with October as the speculated time.

But despite the bill’s passing, tensions have simmered over the upcoming public vote.

Opposition parties criticized the proposed constitutional amendment as “divisive,” adding that it would abolish “equality of citizenship” in Australia. They have adopted a “no” stance on the referendum, decreasing its chances of success.

Complicating matters is also waning public opinion over the referendum. Detractors noted that there is not enough detail about how much power the advisory body would wield.

Others questioned if the Voice is merely symbolic and would not significantly impact the life of Indigenous people.

Indigenous lawmaker Lidia Thorpe objected to the Voice and instead called for Australia to adopt a treaty that guarantees the sovereignty of the country’s Indigenous population – similar to legislation in Canada and New Zealand.

Referendums on constitutional amendments in Australia face a high bar in gaining bipartisan support, and most have failed.

Stop the Melt


Swiss voters backed a referendum proposing a series of carbon-cutting measures in the country amid worries that Switzerland’s famous glaciers are melting away at an alarming rate, the Evening Standard reported Monday.

More than 59 percent of voters supported Sunday’s referendum, which would require Switzerland to achieve “net zero” by 2050. The proposed plan will also set aside more than $3.3 billion to help companies and homeowners transition from fossil fuels to green energy.

The vote comes after scientists and environmentalists have been warning about the country’s glaciers.

Glaciers in the Alps lost a third of their ice volume between 2001 and 2022.

Supporters of the referendum warned that Switzerland would be heavily impacted by global warming and it was already experiencing rising temperatures on its famous glaciers.

But opponents countered that the measures will lead to an increase in electricity prices.

Meanwhile, environmental groups hailed the vote, saying that its approval “means that at last the goal of achieving net-zero emissions will be anchored in law.”

In a second referendum, voters also their support for implementing a global minimum tax rate of 15 percent for multinational corporations, with 78.5 percent voting in favor of the proposal.


Free to Be Me

The early months of the coronavirus pandemic saw people huddled in their homes as city streets emptied.

That was a boon to wildlife and that period saw many animals roaming around freely in cities and suburban or small-town neighborhoods, including pumas, reindeer, and sea lions.

It was also helpful for scientists who recently released a study about how animal movements changed and adapted during the lockdowns, NPR reported.

Researchers studied the movements of more than 2,000 animals from 43 mammalian species that were being tracked with GPS devices around the globe.

Their findings showed that many creatures traveled 73 percent further during the first Covid-19 lockdowns than they did during the same period the year before. The lack of traffic and humans also allowed for a 36 percent increase in mammals approaching roadways.

Lead author Marine Tucker explained that the study provides new insights into how everyday human behavior can impact the lives of wild animal populations. But it also shows how quickly mammals adapt to sudden changes.

“This was quite sort of exciting to see,” she said, “because it shows that animals still have the capacity to change their behavior in response to us changing our behavior.”

Biologist Colleen Cassady St. Clair, who was not involved in the study but wrote a commentary on it, added that the paper could help develop strategies for the management of wildlife and protected areas.

“Changes in road traffic can profoundly affect other species and their use of landscapes,” said St. Clair.

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