The World Today for August 07, 2023

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Some say the Ukrainian counteroffensive against Russia appears to be failing.

“I think that the Ukrainians expected the counteroffensive to gather sufficient momentum to allow them to continue to push south at a much faster rate,” military intelligence expert Konrad Muzyka told CNBC. “Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.”

A military technology first widely used in World War II – mines – are one of the main reasons why the Ukrainians have made far less progress than they hoped when they first sought to retake Russian-occupied land in the spring.

The Russians planted more mines in eastern Ukraine than Ukrainian forces expected, as many as five per square meter, or around 11 square feet, CNN wrote. They now blight a swath of territory equivalent to the land mass of Florida, the Washington Post reported. Many of the mines are now made from plastic, so metal detectors can’t find them, added France 24. Ukrainians have been using drones with thermal imagers to pick up mines that become hot in the sun.

To be sure, the Ukrainians use mines, too. Human Rights Watch accused Ukraine, for example, of firing rockets bearing illegal antipersonnel land mines into Russian-controlled territory. The mines are “inherently indiscriminate weapons,” the group said, according to the New York Times.

Mines, however, are largely defensive weapons. Since Ukraine is on the offensive, they are now bearing the brunt of the impact of the mines that Russian troops scattered across the land to stymie the counteroffensive. Ukrainians have accused Russia of booby-trapping doors, crates, and even the bodies of fallen Ukrainian and Russian service members with mines, Reuters wrote.

Ukrainian sappers who defuse the mines are in high demand, the BBC added. Many have died or lost limbs while performing their jobs, of course. They’ll likely be working for years after the war ends, clearing minefields. Experts estimated that the country’s 500 demining teams would need 757 years to complete their jobs of removing the unexploded ordinance. The World Bank estimated that demining would cost $37.4 billion through the next decade.

Some sappers said they believe their slow and meticulous work will eventually pay off, given how Ukraine has been attacking Russian logistical hubs and supply lines with long-range artillery and other weapons, while intelligence they have gathered indicates that the Russian army’s morale is critically low.

It’s a crisis that illustrates how even the winners lose in a war of attrition.


Force Against Force


A deadline for Niger’s military junta to reinstate the country’s ousted President Mohamed Bazoum ended Sunday, raising the prospect of a military intervention by a powerful West African regional bloc, the Associated Press reported.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed to intervene using force in Niger if the junta leaders did not step down following the coup late last month that deposed President Bazoum.

The threat of force comes after an ECOWAS delegation was unable to meet with junta leader Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani last week, who analysts said led the coup to avoid being fired.

Meanwhile, the regional bloc’s plan has faced resistance and criticism internally and abroad: Nigeria’s Senate on Saturday pushed back against the proposal and urged Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, the bloc’s current chair, to explore other options.

Niger’s junta closed off the country’s airspace on Sunday following the passing of the deadline, citing “the threat of intervention,” Deutsche Welle reported.

West African nations Mali and Burkina Faso – both ruled by military governments that came into power in coups – warned that intervention would amount to a “declaration of war” against them. Meanwhile, non-ECOWAS members Algeria and Chad oppose the use of force.

It’s uncertain how the West African bloc will respond but the ultimatum does not appear to have deterred Niger’s military rulers: Over the weekend, hundreds of youth rallied in support of the junta.

The military leaders also called on the Russian mercenary Wagner Group, an unofficial arm of the Russian government, for assistance while also severing security ties with Niger’s former colonial master, France, according to Euronews.

Niger became independent from France in 1960.

In response to the coup, ECOWAS nations have imposed a series of sanctions that have severely affected the daily lives of Nigeriens, including soaring food prices and electricity cuts.

The coup in Niger is a major blow to counterterrorism efforts in the Sahel, where jihadist groups are growing and expanding their territory. The United States and its allies had invested heavily in Niger’s military, but the recent coup raises concerns about worsening the security situation in the Sahel.

A Leg Up


India’s Supreme Court stayed Rahul Gandhi’s conviction in a high-profile defamation case over the weekend, a ruling that could allow the opposition leader to return to parliament as a lawmaker and run in next year’s general election, Bloomberg reported.

The case began in March when a court in the western state of Gujarat sentenced Gandhi to two years in jail for allegedly making defamatory comments about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surname during an election campaign in 2019.

That conviction resulted in Gandhi’s disqualification from parliament and jeopardized his participation in the 2024 elections.

But the country’s top court found that the lower court had not provided enough justification for its harsh sentence for Gandhi, who leads India’s main opposition Congress party.

The Supreme Court also noted that the conviction impacts “the rights of the electorate who have elected him to represent their constituency.”

Congress party officials and its supporters have criticized the March verdict and Gandhi’s disqualification as politically motivated. This accusation comes amid concerns that Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party are using the country’s police and other independent institutions to cement their grip on power, the New York Times added.

While the recent verdict will clear the way for Gandhi to return to the legislature, his legal woes are not yet over: The Gujarat state court still has to rule on the merits of the defamation case.

Meanwhile, his disqualification from parliament has become a significant political issue, leading over two dozen opposition parties to unite with Congress to defeat Modi in the 2024 national elections.

Non, Non, We Won’t Go


The iconic booksellers along Paris’ Seine River are refusing to move their stalls to make way for the Olympic Games ceremony taking place in the French capital next year, the Local France reported.

Paris officials sent a letter to the 200 booksellers along the river – known as “bouquinistes” – ordering their relocation in preparation for the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Organizers are expecting more than 600,000 people to attend the opening ceremony taking place on the Seine. Police also want to form a perimeter in the area to ensure the security of a “place or event exposed to a risk of acts of terrorism.”

But the plan will see the dismantling of almost 570 stalls – about 60 percent of the bouquinistes’ boxes. The booksellers have resisted such orders, saying that the move threatens to erase a symbol of Paris – which is also Europe’s largest open-air book market.

Jérôme Callais, president of the Paris booksellers’ association, said their boxes on the riverbank are as important as the most iconic landmarks of the city.

“We’re a major symbol of Paris – we’ve been here for 450 years,” he told France24. “To want to erase us from the landscape when the celebration of these Games should be a celebration of Paris seems a bit crazy.”

City authorities have offered to pay for the removal and reinstallation of boxes, as well as cover any repairs. Proposed solutions for book dealers include participating in a “Village des bouquinistes” near the Seine.

However, Callais said the suggested location, the Place de la Bastille, is impractical and claimed no compensation has been offered.


Coming Together

A new DNA study is highlighting how migrants made up a significant part of the population of Peru’s majestic Machu Picchu, Popular Science reported.

The historical site was once a former royal estate of the large Inca Empire that stretched throughout the Andean mountains.

Although it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, archaeologists continue to discover new details about the site.

Recently, scientists analyzed the DNA of 34 individuals who were buried in the citadel more than 500 years ago. They then compared them with the genetic information of other people from the Inca Empire and modern genomes from South America.

The findings showed that only a few were from the heartland of the empire, while the rest came from the Pacific coasts, modern-day Ecuador and Chile. And more than a third arrived from as far away as Amazonia, which includes modern-day Brazil and Colombia.

Researchers noted that these people were brought to the empire as individuals and not as part of a group. They added that these non-Incan people were not slaves but served the royal families “for life in different capacities, including that of retainers at country palaces such as Machu Picchu.”

“The sheer genetic diversity at Machu Picchu was remarkable and unprecedented,” said co-author Lucy Salazar, “and it suggests that the cultural diversity at Machu Picchu was more similar to a cosmopolitan center than a modern agricultural village.”

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