The World Today for July 06, 2023

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Humbled but Unbowed


Now that Russian President Vladimir Putin has survived Yevgeny Prigozhin and the Wagner Group’s apparent coup attempt, the world is wondering what happens next.

Charges against Prigozhin, who supposedly is in Belarus, and the Wagner military contractors who marched on Moscow have been dropped. As France 24 noted, nobody has verified that Prigozhin ever arrived in the East European country, however. Wagner troops are now back to fighting Ukrainians, though. Meanwhile, Russian army Gen. Sergei Surovikin, who allegedly had ties with the Wagner Group, has gone missing, CNN reported.

The fates of those various actors are intimately tied to Putin’s future. Pundits from around the globe are saying that the Russian president’s relatively soft approach to the coup plotters could make him look weak inside and outside the country. The headline in the Economist – “The humbling of Vladimir Putin” – summed up this sentiment. Even former US President Donald Trump, who seems to have a love-hate relationship with Putin, said that the Russian president was “somewhat weakened,” added Reuters.

As Foreign Policy magazine reported, Putin appeared “rattled and angry” when he went on national television to denounce the coup. He said he would bring the plotters to justice, prosecuting them to the greatest extent of the law – then reversed himself. Coupled with horrific losses on the battlefield to the Ukrainians fighting for their lives and their country’s sovereignty, Putin no longer looked like the “clever, manipulating strongman” who exercises autocratic control, but an overwhelmed, aging dictator struggling to react to the chaos that he has unleashed.

Doubts and debates about Putin’s competence have spread in the Russian military and security services, wrote Bloomberg. Critics of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu are demanding his removal. Prigozhin had been calling for Shoigu’s dismissal, but Shoigu is a close ally of Putin.

Most concerning, wrote Russian journalist Mikhail Zygar in a New York Times op-ed, was that Putin might not know that his authority is crumbling. Putin attended the Scarlet Sails celebration of high school graduates in his hometown of St. Petersburg, for example, on May 24, the same day when Prigozhin launched the coup. The move made him look like he was divorced from reality. “Nothing, not even armed revolt, would deter him from his favorite party,” Zygar wrote.

Perhaps Putin orchestrated the coup attempt so he could avert regime change and, in the process, cement his authority, as a Newsweek op-ed suggested.

Others in Politico speculated that the world might be lucky that Putin retained power. The collapse of his regime could pave the way for instability and even more violent Russian leaders to assume power.

No matter what is the truth, as long as Putin is in office, time is on his side.


New Fronts


China will restrict the export of two important metals used to manufacture semiconductors, a move that could further escalate the global trade war over access to microchips, CNBC reported.

The Chinese commerce ministry announced that the new regulations will require exporters to seek a license to ship compounds of gallium and germanium starting next month. These licenses must identify importers and end users, as well as explain how these metals will be used.

Officials said the restrictions were imposed on grounds of national security, but are not targeted at any specific country.

The two metals are integral for creating electronic circuits, semiconductors, and fiber optics for the transfer of data and information. China produces 60 percent of the world’s germanium and 80 percent of the world’s gallium, according to the Critical Raw Minerals Alliance.

The restrictions are part of an ongoing global battle for technological supremacy: In October, the United States launched regulations to cut off exports of key chips and semiconductors tools to China.

It has also lobbied chip-making nations and allies to introduce their own restrictions.

Last week, the Netherlands also imposed its own export curbs on advanced semiconductor equipment.

Analysts explained that Beijing’s decision will have a limited impact on the global supply because of its targeted scope.

However, they added that the move serves as a reminder to the US and its allies “that China has retaliatory options and to thereby deter them from imposing further restrictions on Chinese access to high-end chips and tools.”

Semiconductors are vital tech components used in smartphones, cars, even refrigerators, and have strategic importance in military applications and advancing AI.

On Edge


The European Union’s General Court rejected an appeal by Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont to maintain his immunity as a lawmaker of the European Parliament, a ruling that could pave the way for his extradition to Spain to face trial, Reuters reported Wednesday.

Puigdemont and other Catalan politicians are wanted in Spain over their involvement in the failed independence bid for the Spanish region of Catalonia in 2017. Puigdemont fled Spain that year and has since been living in exile in Belgium as a lawmaker of the European Parliament.

Previous attempts by Spanish authorities to extradite him on charges of sedition have failed.

But in 2021, Parliament voted to strip Puigdemont and two other self-exiled Catalan politicians of their immunity.

In its Wednesday ruling, the General Court sided with the Parliament, saying the latter “cannot adopt decisions to defend immunity which produce binding legal effects with regard to the Spanish judicial authorities.”

Puigdemont and others plan to appeal the verdict to the Court of Justice.

While the court’s decision could facilitate his extradition to Spain, Puigdemont will only face lesser charges of disobedience and embezzlement that carry jail terms of up to eight years.

In January, Spain’s Supreme Court dropped sedition charges against him following a reform of the country’s criminal code. Sedition charges carried a maximum jail term of 15 years.

Even so, Wednesday’s decision could stoke tensions in Spain ahead of a general election, Bloomberg wrote.

Observers noted that opposition parties could use the verdict to attack Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who has been accused of siding with Catalan parties behind the secession attempt that almost tore the country apart.

Sanchez has relied on a Catalan party and pro-independence Basque groups to pass key legislation in Spain’s heavily-fractured parliament.

Major Doubts


Guatemala’s presidential election took an unexpected turn this week when the Constitutional Court suspended the certification of the results, a move that raised concerns about the stability of the Central American country’s fragile democracy, Al Jazeera reported Wednesday.

Results of Saturday’s elections showed that the progressive Seed Movement party’s candidate, Bernardo Arevalo, was one of the front-runners in the first round with 11.8 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, his conservative rival Sandra Torres of the National Unity of Hope party received 15.8 percent.

But the top court issued the ruling following complaints from 10 political parties, including the UNE, alleging inconsistencies and irregularities in the vote count.

Constitutional lawyers rejected the claims, but the court ruled to suspend the certification and review the vote tallies, which also included congressional and municipal races.

The verdict quickly sparked a backlash in Guatemala and abroad over concerns of potential interference in the election results.

The United States and the Organization of American States have expressed support for the election results and urged the Constitutional Court to respect democratic norms.

Guatemalan officials responded to those concerns by calling on foreign governments to respect the country’s sovereignty.

Analysts said the review will not change the presidential contest’s outcome but it could impact lower-level contests with narrower victory margins.

Even so, questions also remain about the fate of the second round of the presidential election, scheduled for Aug. 20, pending the court’s review.

The Seed Movement has faced criticism beyond the vote count, with opponents labeling them as socialist or communist and accusing them of threatening private property ownership and religious freedom.

Arevalo has denied these accusations.


Truth In Stones

Archaeologists recently used a forensic method to discover what could be the first evidence of prehistoric people in North America hunting large mammals some 13,000 years ago, the Washington Post reported.

First discovered in the 1930s, the Clovis people were believed to be the first humans in North America. Although they left behind a strong genetic imprint, new studies suggest that there was a “pre-Clovis people” on the continent.

Even so, historians had scarce information about the diet of the prehistoric people living in what is now the western United States – until now.

For their study, a research team collected around 120 Clovis stone artifacts – including tools – from North and South Carolina.

The researchers sought to find if there were any blood residues in those objects to determine what the Clovis hunted. At first, they collected protein residues and used an old technique called crossover immunoelectrophoresis, which was previously used to identify blood or semen from crime scenes.

The procedure takes advantage of the way the immune system responds to foreign substances by confronting them with antibodies.

The team got five matches of Proboscidea, an order of large mammals that includes modern elephants as well as extinct mastodons and mammoths. Other stones showed evidence of animals in the horse family and other ruminants, such as bison.

The findings show that the Clovis hunted – and possibly consumed – mammoths thousands of years ago. Still, other scientists remained very skeptical of the findings, noting it was highly improbable for blood residue to survive for millennia and not be contaminated.

But if confirmed, the study hints at new details about what led to the extinction of giant Ice Age herbivores.

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