The World Today for February 22, 2024

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Running Out the Clock

UKRAINE/ RUSSIA

Near the front line in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, Ukrainian soldiers detail how two years of fighting their giant neighbor, Russia, is wearing them down, as they cope with losses, fatigue and shortages.

Titushko, 39, explained to the Guardian how he and his men, part of an artillery division in Ukraine’s First Tank Brigade, received back in November a supply of about 300 shells every 10 days. Now, he said, they have a “firing limit” of just 10 a day. “Back then, we could keep (the Russians) on their toes, fire all the time, aim every time we saw a target,” he said from a base in the forest to the soundtrack of artillery fire. “Now we fire exclusively for defense.”

Adding insult to injury, his fellow soldier piped in, some of the remaining reserves of ammunition are Iranian shells that were seized en route to Yemen, and mostly don’t work.

As the second anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia approaches, territorial advances are rare, casualties are high and there’s no ending in sight. This conflict has become a kind of “frozen war,” one that is a default win for Russia, argued Paul Poast, a political science professor at the University of Chicago in World Politics Review.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, the mood two years later has turned sour.

Last year, on the first anniversary, Ukrainians were still fired up to fight, united as never before to repel the Russian invader. Now, morale is low, as are ammunition, soldiers and supplies, wrote Business Insider. Some ordered up for the draft who fight the orders get arrested, according to the Kyiv Independent. There is infighting within the government as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy moves to clean up corruption and shake up the military order – he fired his top general earlier this month.

Meanwhile, as life mostly goes on away from the battlegrounds, occasional attacks still take lives, destroy buildings and homes, and cause disruption to power and energy supplies and daily life. The economy is in shambles. About 6.3 million Ukrainians remain out of the country and almost four million more are displaced within its borders. No one feels they can plan for the future, even the next moment.

“The situation in Kharkiv over the last month is one of terror – the shelling is not stopping,” Dmytro Dmytrenko, who works with a charity, told Bond, “with the way the news is going we see it will be a long road ahead.”

On the Russian side of the border, some Russian soldiers and civilians continue to question why they are fighting. But they have to do so quietly now because President Vladimir Putin has instituted laws and tactics so harsh that many say they are worse than those suffered in Soviet Union times.

Still, there are sporadic protests and the predictable resulting crackdowns. Millions of Russians have fled the country to all corners of the planet. Some, meanwhile, have fled to fight for Ukraine.

“I was disillusioned with my own people,” Karabas told the Associated Press, estimating that tens of thousands of Russians are fighting for Ukraine and to liberate their own country, too. “That is why I wanted to come here … and fight for a free Ukraine.”

Still, while the sanctions imposed by the West have done considerable damage to Russia’s economy – GDP would be five percent larger without them, the Financial Times noted – they haven’t been enough to deter Putin.

Ordinary Russians sometimes feel the bite, even if oligarchs and the political elite don’t, however.

Now, what’s next is anyone’s guess.

After an underwhelming spring offensive, Ukraine’s army is bogged down and no one to date is predicting a military victory, the New York Times wrote. Instead, on Saturday, Ukraine’s military command said it was withdrawing from Avdiivka, further east in the Donetsk region, handing Russia its first major territorial gain since May last year. The Russian win is attributed to the lack of equipment and supplies for the Ukraine army.

Meanwhile, many American lawmakers are questioning whether American taxpayers should continue to finance the bloodshed. So far, Europe lacks the muscle to play a more decisive role in helping Ukraine. But without more funding and weapons, the Ukrainians won’t last much longer, analysts say.

At the same time, Russia’s industrial complex is massive. Their forces are expected to peak in late 2024, explained the Royal United Services Institute. Still, massive Russian casualties on the battlefield have taken their toll: Russia has lost 87 percent of the troops it had two years ago, CNN said, about 315,000 people. The Russians, however, still largely support the war, wrote the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, shrug over the casualty numbers, and say they aren’t worried.

Now, some analysts say all Russia has to do is play the waiting game, essentially waiting for the US and Europe to grow tired of the “frozen war.”

Some players already have.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni told Russian pranksters pretending to be African diplomats that “there is a lot of fatigue” among Ukraine’s allies, the Christian Science Monitor wrote. “We are near the moment when everybody understands that we need a (diplomatic) way out.”

This is what Russia wants, and Zelenskyy fears.

“Freezing the war, to me, means losing it,” Zelenskyy told Time magazine, explaining that a kind of “exhaustion” had set in among allies. “The scariest thing is that part of the world got used to the war in Ukraine.”

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Poetic Justice

CHILE

Chile will reopen the investigation into the death of renowned Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda, who died under mysterious circumstances shortly after the coup that brought strongman Gen. Augusto Pinochet to power over 50 years ago, Sky News reported.

The case’s reopening comes a few months after a Chilean court initially rejected a request by Neruda’s nephew Rodolfo Reyes to probe his uncle’s death.

On Tuesday, an appeals court overturned the lower court’s verdict.

Neruda’s passing occurred just 12 days after the military coup in 1973 that ousted his close friend, President Salvador Allende, and installed Pinochet as the country’s leader.

His death was initially attributed to complications from prostate cancer, but his driver Manuel Araya had suggested for decades that the left-wing politician had been poisoned.

His body was exhumed in 2013 for further investigation, leading to speculation that a third party may have been involved in his death.

Recent forensic evidence verified Araya’s claims, after tests from Danish and Canadian labs showed the presence of a “great quantity of Clostridium botulinum (bacteria)” inside Neruda’s body. The pathogen produces a potent toxin that can cause paralysis in the nervous system.

This finding has prompted the reopening of the investigation, with a focus on reanalyzing Neruda’s death certificate and seeking input from bacterial researchers.

Known for his love poems, Neruda had planned to go into exile following Pinochet’s coup. But a day before departure, he was admitted to a clinic in the capital Santiago, where he had been treated for cancer, and died there.

Suspicions that Pinochet’s regime was involved in this death continued even after Chile returned to democracy in 1990.

Mirror, Mirror

ALBANIA

Thousands of Albanian citizens took to the streets of the capital Tirana this week to protest against government corruption, Euronews reported.

Demonstrators, including many supporters of Albania’s opposition, protested in front of Prime Minister Edi Rama’s office, with some protesters throwing stones and flares at police officers.

Tuesday’s unrest is the latest opposition-led protest to grip Albania since October.

At issue is the refusal by the ruling left-wing Socialist Party to probe cases of corruption involving Rama and other top officials. The government has refused calls to form parliamentary commissions to investigate the accusations.

Many demonstrators also expressed solidarity with former Prime Minister Sali Berisha, who is currently under house arrest amid an ongoing investigation for allegedly abusing his post to help his son-in-law privatize public land to build apartment complexes.

Berisha – currently one of the disputed heads of the center-right Democratic Party (DP) – has accused Rama of graft and of attacking his family. The former prime minister was banned from entering the United States in 2021 and the United Kingdom in 2022 because of the corruption accusations.

But supporters of another wing of DP did not participate in Tuesday’s protest and criticized Berisha for exploiting it for personal gain.

The protests took place on the 33rd anniversary of the fall of the communist regime in Albania.

Et Tu?

HAITI

A judge in Haiti probing the killing of President Jovenel Moïse indicted a group of individuals that includes his widow, the former prime minister, and a police chief for involvement in the murder – the latest indictment related to the killing that set off the worst turmoil seen in modern times in the country, the Associated Press reported.

Haitians are struggling with growing gang violence, already present under Moïse’s presidency, and have recently taken to the streets to demand Prime Minister Ariel Henry to step down. Amid the situation described as anarchy, four judges successively tasked with investigating Moïse’s murder in July 2021 have since vacated their positions, some out of fear for their safety.

The incumbent prosecutor, Walther Wesser Voltaire, published a 122-page report in which he accused the former leader’s widow Martine Moïse and Claude Joseph, whom Jovenel Moïse had appointed as interim prime minister, of complicity and criminal association. The head of Haiti’s National Police at the time of the assassination, Léon Charles, faces more serious charges, including murder and conspiracy against the internal security of the state.

Voltaire based his accusations on testimony by witnesses, including the former secretary general of the National Palace, Lyonel Valbrun. Valbrun said that Martine Moïse, seen removing “a bunch of things” before her husband’s death, pressured him after the killing to open the presidential office to Joseph.

“The president told Ti Klod to create a council of ministers; he will hold elections in three months so I can become president, now we will have power,” Martine Moïse allegedly said in a phone call to Valbrun. While not confirmed in the report, “Ti Klod” is a known nickname for Claude Joseph.

Joseph criticized the report and accused current Prime Minister Aerial Henry of benefitting from Moïse’s death by pushing to prosecute political opponents. The newswire could not reach Martine Moïse and Léon Charles for comment.

Other people facing charges in the case are a former senator and Haitian-American citizens, while 40 people are currently in prison awaiting trial, including 20 former Colombian soldiers allegedly hired to kill the president.

US judges have indicted 11 suspects and sentenced three, claiming Moïse’s assassination was the result of a plot hatched in Haiti and Florida.

Judge Voltaire also noted that the president “was assassinated with ease,” as he accused the police officer in charge of presidential security of receiving $80,000 to bribe colleagues “to remain inactive” on the night of the attack. Some officers were disarmed and handcuffed.

DISCOVERIES

Hot Wheels

In Paris, London and Madrid, tourists use Segways or scooters to see the cities. In Medellín, Colombia, some use wheelchairs to get a whole new view of the cityscape – and of mobility, the World reported.

“It puts you in the shoes of someone with a disability,” Andres Pulido, a tourist seeing the city, told the World.

Founded by local entrepreneur Martin Londoño, his company MATT is offering innovative electric wheelchairs equipped with “handbikes” that can reach speeds of up to 25 miles per hour.

These tours, guided by individuals with disabilities, not only showcase the city’s attractions but also provide participants with a firsthand experience of accessibility challenges faced by those with mobility impairments.

Inspired by his own experiences after losing the ability to walk at the age of 18, Londoño embarked on a mission to improve mobility options for people with disabilities.

His company has so far built around 80 handbikes, all powered by lithium batteries.

He hopes the electric vehicle will offer a “second opportunity” in life to many disabled individuals in Colombia.

Many disabled individuals in the South American country are unemployed, have very low incomes and are unable to afford Londoño’s handbikes – which cost around $2,500.

The entrepreneur is now negotiating with insurance companies to buy the vehicles for those who can’t walk.

“We have to try every avenue there is to finance these handbikes for people,” said Londoño.

Recently, the city’s government purchased seven handbikes from his company and is lending them to disabled people as part of a test run.

So far, officials welcomed their performance and are now planning to place at least one handbike vehicle at each of the city’s public bicycle stations.

“We have lots of hills here, and someone (in) a regular wheelchair just can’t get around on their own,” Jonathan Hernandez, the deputy director for transport of Medellín’s Metropolitan Area, told the broadcaster.

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