The World Today for January 08, 2024

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Cops & Robbers

RUSSIA/ UKRAINE

In 2022, a Russian court sentenced Vladislav Kanyus to 17 years in jail for “torturing, suffocating and stabbing” his girlfriend. Today, following a pardon for his crimes by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kanyus is fighting for Russia in Ukraine, reported the Washington Post.

A similar fate unfolded for Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, an ex-cop who received a 20-year prison sentence for conspiring to murder Anna Politkovskaya, a prominent journalist. Putin pardoned Khadzhikurbanov. He also joined the Russian army’s campaign in Ukraine, the New York Times wrote.

As the fighting between the two former Soviet republics grows more intense – even as Al Jazeera explained, strategically it remains a stalemate – Kanyus and Khadzhikurbanov illustrate the lengths that Putin will go to keep his war machine running.

“Russia’s military has institutionalized the recruitment of convicts into its ranks as it seeks to shore up its numbers for the war in Ukraine,” according to the Moscow Times.

The Wagner Group, the Russian private military contractor that was an arm of the Kremlin, allowed convicts to join these so-called “Storm-Z” squads comprised of malefactors-cum-soldiers.

That’s not the only precedent in Russian history for this practice. The battalions echo the so-called “punishment battalions” that Soviet leader Josef Stalin created in the 1940s in the fight against Nazism in World War II, explained Reuters. These battalions were comprised of soldiers who panicked or left their posts in other units.

With enthusiasm to volunteer diminishing, Ukraine also has freed convicts who agree to fight, and employed some harsh tactics against those unwilling to join up, RFE/RL noted. But Russia might have deployed as many as 100,000 killers and other criminals to fight Ukrainians resisting Putin’s attempt to absorb their nation into Mother Russia, reported Business Insider.

At the same time, Ukrainian police officers are taking up the fight, waging some of the riskiest battles as part of a special national police assault brigade called Lyut (or “Fury”), created last year, the Washington Post wrote.

These units have made it easier for Russian commanders to throw wave after wave of cannon fodder against Ukraine’s defenders, as Russia lobs artillery shells and fires missiles at Kyiv and other important targets.

In Avdiivka to the northwest of Russian-occupied Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, for example, Ukrainian forces have been eliminating “truckloads” of Russian troops at a time when the Russians seek to push their front forward and occupy more Ukrainian land, noted Forbes.

Conscripting criminals might also illustrate how Russia is facing difficulties recruiting volunteers to realize Putin’s vision of regaining former Soviet and Russian imperial territory in order to assert Russian influence against Europe and the US. As the Kyiv Post wrote, in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory of Luhansk, few young men are stepping forward to enter the meat grinder that Russia has set up in their backyards.

When soldiers have nothing to lose, the war might already be lost.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Stacking the Deck

SENEGAL

Senegal’s leading opposition figure, Ousmane Sonko, is unlikely to be able to run in next month’s presidential elections following a decision by the country’s Supreme Court to uphold a defamation conviction against him, and one by the Constitutional Council rejecting his candidacy, Al Jazeera reported Friday.

Sonko’s lawyer, Cire Cledor Ly, said the council rejected his candidacy on the grounds that it was incomplete. Ly called the decision an “electoral farce” and plans to appeal it.

The rejection came shortly after Senegal’s top court upheld a conviction dating from May against the opposition figure, who received a six-month suspended sentence for defamation after being sued by a government minister.

Under Senegalese law, the conviction disqualifies his candidacy in the Feb. 25 elections.

Regardless, the opposition leader remains a popular figure among the country’s youth, and his supporters say that legal actions against him are politically motivated.

Meanwhile, the government had already dissolved Sonko’s Patriots of Senegal Party, or PASTEF, in July, accusing him of inciting violence, a charge the opposition leader denies.

Sonko’s legal troubles began in 2021 when he was accused of rape, leading to widespread unrest across the West African country. Last June, a court found him guilty of morally corrupting a young person and sentenced him to two years in prison, according to Agence France-Presse.

In December, a court in the southern city of Zinguichor – where Sonko is mayor – ordered that he should be reinstated onto the electoral register.

The electoral commission is reviewing applications, with a final list of cleared presidential candidates expected by Jan. 20.

Out Of Stock

FRANCE

Global supermarket chain Carrefour will stop selling PepsiCo products in some of its European stores in protest over price increases for some popular items, such as Lay’s potato chips and Lipton tea, the Associated Press reported.

The French multinational, one of the largest supermarket chains in the world, removed PepsiCo items from shelves in France, adding a sign saying they will “no longer sell this brand due to unacceptable price increase.” The ban will also extend to Belgium, Italy and Spain. The grocery chain has not specified when it would take effect.

The move follows a new law in France aimed at fighting inflation. Under the law, supermarkets and their suppliers have to reach a deal on prices by Jan. 31. Failure to do so will incur fines of more than $5 million for grocery companies that do not meet the new deadline for setting prices.

Lawmakers are concerned that inflation is being fueled by price gouging, or “greedflation”, and is hurting French consumers already struggling with the surging cost of living over the past few years.

Retailers in the United States have also battled with suppliers to lower food prices, the Washington Post noted.

Following Carrefour’s decision, PepsiCo said it had been in discussions with the supermarket chain for months and “will continue to engage in good faith in order to try to ensure that our products are available.”

PepsiCo, known for brands like Cheetos and Mountain Dew, has implemented double-digit price increases for seven consecutive quarters, with the most recent hike coming in at 11 percent from July to September 2023. While the company’s profits have risen, sales have been impacted as consumers opt for cheaper alternatives.

The company predicts that price increases will ease and align more closely with the overall decrease in global inflation, attributed to improved supply chains post-Covid-19 and a decline in prices following Russia’s war in Ukraine.

However, recent data for the 20 European Union countries using the Euro currency indicates a rebound in consumer prices, rising to 2.9 percent in December from the previous year – following seven consecutive monthly declines.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported this week a 13.7 percent decrease in its food price index for 2023 compared with the previous year. But despite this overall decline, families are not experiencing relief at supermarkets, especially considering the rise in sugar and rice prices during the same period.

Fresh Wounds

URUGUAY

A new bill to allow elderly prisoners to serve their remaining prison time under house arrest is causing outrage in Uruguay, because it could see the release of former military officials jailed for abusing human rights during the country’s dictatorship four decades ago, the BBC reported.

The bill, passed in the Senate last month, would ease the process for prisoners over the age of 65 to serve their sentences at home.

Among those who could be released are military officials who were involved in Uruguay’s 1973-1985 dictatorship. In that period, the regime committed numerous human rights abuses, including torture and extra-judicial executions. It is accused of disappearing nearly 200 people.

Still, supporters of the legislation describe it as “humanitarian,” preserving the “human dignity” of ill detainees.

However, victims’ organizations called the legislation a “big step backward.” Activist Sara Méndez, who was kidnapped during the dictatorship period and had her baby son taken from her, said it failed to consider the victims’ perspective and to distinguish crimes committed by individuals and crimes committed by the state.

In the nearly four decades since the restoration of democracy in the country, little justice has been done, victims of the dictatorship told the BBC.

While those convicted of crimes such as killing, torturing, or disappearing citizens would be exempted from early release provisions, only 28 people have been convicted of such crimes, and most of the dictatorship’s perpetrators have been charged with lesser offenses than crimes against humanity.

Meanwhile, ahead of voting on the proposal, a senator from the far-right Open Cabildo party, part of the ruling coalition, said dictatorship-era military officials were now facing “a process of revenge and not justice,” El País reported. Lawmakers rejected his proposed amendment to automatize house arrest for prisoners over 70, leaving the transfer in the hands of judges.

DISCOVERIES

Charting the Sky

At an ancient fort in northeastern Italy, archaeologists uncovered a 2,400-year-old detailed map of the night sky – including a mysterious star that vanished thousands of years ago, the Miami Herald reported.

About the size of a car tire, the man-made celestial map, dating to between 1800 and 400 BCE, was etched into a circular stone and made up of 29 engravings that closely aligned with the stars we still see at night, including the constellations of Orion and Scorpius, the research team wrote in a new study.

The team noted that one of the stars, however, did not match up with an existing star, sparking speculations about what it might be.

“One intriguing possibility is that a bright star was present in that position that produced a supernova or more likely a failed supernova, leaving a black hole as a remnant,” they said.

While it might be one of the oldest depictions of the night sky, the researchers pointed out that creating the map did not require extreme knowledge of the universe.

“A unit of measurement of angular distances such as the width of a hand finger or a simple ruler are sufficient, together with a very basic ability of elementary counting,” the authors suggested.

They added that the map might have been used to keep track of the seasons, helping people know when to start important farming tasks.

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