The World Today for June 27, 2023
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In the 1770s, a Cossack named Emelian Pugachev rebelled against Catherine the Great. As described in Alexander Pushkin’s novel, “The Captain’s Daughter,” peasants furious at the Russian army’s corruption fueled the rebellion.
But Pugachev’s uprising failed. He was captured and publicly executed in Moscow. Today, Russians remember him with the term “pugachevshchina,” which means a “senseless, doomed rebellion,” wrote New York Times columnist recently.
The term might perfectly describe recent events in Russia involving Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary company that staged a brief mutiny to oust corrupt and incompetent Russian military officials whom Prigozhin claimed were the reason why Moscow was losing the war against Ukraine.
A former convict and caterer who gained the trust of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prigozhin turned the Wagner Group into an unofficial arm of Russian foreign policy, Axios explained. Wagner troops – often Russian veterans and convicts – deployed to the Middle East, Africa, and South America, granting Putin influence and plausible deniability about the Russian state’s role in crisis spots while enriching Prigozhin and his cronies.
In Ukraine, however, Wagner had fared poorly, like its Russian army counterparts. Blaming the Russian defense ministry and others for his troops’ failures, Prigozhin instructed his fighters to seize Russia’s southern military command headquarters in Rostov-on-Don and marched to Moscow ostensibly to bring Putin’s military officials to justice. Like the peasants who supported Pugachev – Russians in Rostov-on-Don cheered the Wagner fighters as they embarked on their trip to the capital, according to Business Insider.
As the Intercept noted, Prigozhin stopped short of his goal, however, and fled to Belarus after Putin condemned the march, ordered Russian aircraft to attack the convoy – at least six Russian helicopters and a plane were shot down – and granted the Wagner fighters immunity from prosecution.
It’s not clear why Prigozhin lost his nerve, the Atlantic Council wrote. Perhaps he bit off more than he could chew, New York Magazine speculated. It’s not clear if the episode will harm the Russian campaign in Ukraine, either, although Wagner had been seen as the best force on the Russian side.
It’s also not clear why Putin “blinked,” making concessions to Prigozhin after vowing revenge on the mercenary leader. After Belarus’ leader mediated, Putin agreed to allow his former protegee to escape to Belarus. Commentator and author David Ignatius said that the speed with which Putin backed down suggests that his sense of vulnerability might be higher than most people realized. “Putin might have saved his regime on Saturday, but this day will be remembered as part of the unravelling of Russia as a great power — which will be Putin’s true legacy,” he wrote.
On Monday, Putin spoke to the nation, telling Russians that he had ordered “bloodshed to be avoided,” by agreeing to compromise with his mercenary chief while vowing retribution for the mutiny. But Russians including pro-war bloggers continue to wonder why Prigozhin wasn’t punished and quietly talk about how the episode demonstrates Putin’s collapse of control.
Undoubtedly, though, the Wagner uprising suggests that Putin faces enormous pressure from within his circle to defeat the Ukrainians quickly, sue for a peace that allows leaders in Moscow to maintain their dignity, or find some other path from the army’s current flops. “While the war and sanctions have increased Putin’s power and decreased the elite’s autonomy, the system still rests on the elite’s sense that Putin rules in their interest,” argued the Centre for European Policy Analysis.
Washington Post columnist Ishaan Tharoor contended that the short rebellion was the natural consequence of Putin’s power grab. One who lives by the sword, the logic goes, will eventually die by it.
Tharoor’s assessment might be premature. Or maybe not.
THE WORLD, BRIEFLY
Clashes broke out in parts of Guatemala as the country held general elections, a high-stakes vote that comes amid years of corruption, poverty and violence, Euronews reported Monday.
Locals stopped election authorities from opening polling stations in San Jose del Golfo, in central Guatemala. They complained that individuals from outside the municipality were being bussed in to vote.
The situation resulted in police using tear gas to clear out a crowd of about 300 people, which then prompted locals to throw stones at authorities.
The unrest came as Guatemalans cast their ballots Sunday to choose the country’s next president, vice president and a new parliament.
But the polls had been overshadowed by widespread frustration over high crime, poverty and other issues that have pushed thousands of Guatemalans to migrate each year.
Many voters had also lamented the choice of presidential candidates after authorities blocked a number of opposition politicians from running. Among them was businessman Carlos Pineda, whose disqualification garnered criticism from the United States and the European Union, Reuters noted.
More than 20 candidates ran for president, with former First Lady Sandra Torres and center-left candidate Bernardo Arevalo emerging as the leading contenders.
Even so, preliminary results showed both candidates fell short of the 50 percent plus one vote needed for an outright victory, which means they will head to a runoff on Aug. 20.
The Comeback Kid
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was sworn in Monday, a day after his center-right New Democracy party won a resounding victory in Greece’s repeat parliamentary elections, Reuters reported.
Results showed that New Democracy secured a majority by receiving 158 of 300 parliamentary seats, while the leftist opposition Syriza party only gained 48 seats.
The victory marks a return for Mitsotakis, who became the country’s prime minister in 2019 until stepping down in favor of a caretaker role following an inconclusive vote last month.
The polls were overshadowed by ongoing economic hardship and rising prices, as well as a deadly rail incident that exposed shortcomings in Greece’s public transport system.
Mitsotakis vowed to push ahead with his reforms to rebuild the country’s credit rating following the debt crisis more than a decade ago, boost Greece’s tourism industry and increase wages to become close to the European Union average.
Political analysts noted that Sunday’s election was a major blow for Syriza, which had previously governed Greece from 2015-2019, at the height of the decade-long economic crisis.
Others also noted a surge for the far right after three parties, including the anti-immigrant “Spartans,” entered parliament with a combined 35 seats, according to the Associated Press.
Fun By Fiat
Indonesian workers will enjoy a five-day weekend at the end of the month after the president ordered additional holidays in an effort to boost travel and consumption in Southeast Asia’s largest economy, Bloomberg reported.
President Joko Widodo declared June 28 and 30 as collective leave days around the Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday on June 29.
The extended break will apply to all civil servants, with companies likely to follow suit by giving their workers time off. The stock exchange will also be closed during those days.
Widodo said that the extra leave days “should encourage the economy, especially in the regions and local tourism areas, to be better.”
The move marks the latest instance that the president has used unusual tactics to increase consumer spending in Indonesia.
During the coronavirus pandemic, he urged Indonesians to shop online. Following the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, he told local authorities to approve permits for concerts and sports events to encourage people to go out more.
In Indonesia, consumption plays a crucial role in driving economic growth, representing more than 50 percent of the country’s total output. However, the combination of elevated prices and slow job creation in the aftermath of the pandemic has begun to impact spending and retail sales.
This has been more evident in the weaker-than-usual activity observed toward the end of Ramadan, which is typically the busiest holiday period in the nation.
Building the Way
Most people hunt for landmarks to find their way when lost but one desert ant species goes even further – it builds them in order to survive the scorching salt flats of Tunisia, according to New Scientist.
The Cataglyphis fortis are known to travel long distances to forage for food and have remarkable navigation skills.
Yet, scientists have wondered how the insects manage these arduous tasks in hot temperatures and in areas without any plants or hills.
In a new study, a research team sought to understand the purpose of strange mounds of different heights built by the ants.
They observed that the ants’ foraging was a very dangerous endeavor: Around 20 percent of them failed to return home following a more than one-mile journey.
This failure drastically increased between 250 and 400 percent when the team removed the ant-built mounds near some nests.
Still, the foragers’ nest mates would quickly begin rebuilding the missing structures in nearly all cases.
When researchers replaced the mounds with large artificial landmarks, the ants didn’t rebuild them and the foragers had an easier time coming home.
The study showed that the mounds served as a type of location marker for the laborious insects, but the authors are still puzzled about the intricacies of the navigation trick.
They hope to understand how the colony keeps track of when it needs new landmarks and how the C. fortis organize themselves to build them.
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