The World Today for May 03, 2024

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Staying in the Ring

UKRAINE

More than two years after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops to invade his western neighbor, Ukrainian forces are showing signs of breaking.

In recent months, the Russians have reclaimed territory that Ukraine had seized back. Putin has been striking more forcefully at Ukrainian civilian energy infrastructure, too, as Amnesty International explained. For example, a recent Russian attack destroyed the Trypillia Thermal Power Plant, which was the main electricity supplier for Kyiv and two other regions, the Kyiv Independent wrote. Meanwhile, morale and manpower are both in short supply in the Ukrainian military, as are artillery shells, other munitions and air defense systems that can repel Russian attacks.

“Ukraine’s long-range capabilities, artillery, and air defense are critical tools for restoring just peace sooner,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently.

Russia’s so-called “glide bombs,” or enormous projectiles fitted with wings and crude guidance systems, have wrought devastation in Ukraine, for example, wrote Gerald Hughes of Aberystwyth University in the Conversation. Planes outside the range of Ukrainian air defense drop the bombs, which then glide for miles before hitting their targets.

In an interview with CNN, a Ukrainian artillery reconnaissance commander was more blunt. “To win, we need ammunition… our artillery is starving,” he said.

Still, Ukraine is doing what it can. It’s reaching farther into Russia to strike targets, hoping to make ordinary Russians feel the war more closely, wrote CNN. For example, one recent attack saw dozens of long-range strike drones target energy infrastructure in eight regions of Russia, including Moscow.

At the same time, Ukraine is addressing its manpower issues in the military: Earlier this month, for example, the president signed a controversial bill lowering the draft age to 25 among other mobilization measures, Le Monde reported.

Because of all this, the passage of legislation this month in the US Congress that appropriates almost $61 billion for Ukraine in military aid and other assistance is a potential game-changer in the war, say analysts. Ukraine will now be able to fight for the remainder of the year, King’s College London Visiting Professor in War Studies Michael Clarke told the Associated Press.

After signing the bill, President Joe Biden said the Pentagon would immediately be sending Ukraine $1 billion in equipment, including surface-to-air missiles, 155-millimeter shells, anti-tank guided missiles, and cluster munitions, reported the New York Times.

The aid package also includes ATACM-300 long-range missiles, wrote Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. These weapons can hit Crimea, Donbas and other Russian-held positions, destroying the invader’s logistics, supply hubs, and command centers.

Analysts who spoke to Times Radio argued that the US aid package was a major defeat for Putin. These efforts, moreover, coincide with stronger European action opposing Russian aggression.

The Czech Republic is leading a campaign with a host of European and other nations to find and purchase artillery shells for Ukraine, according to Radio Free Europe. France has raised the prospect of sending troops to Ukraine, noted Foreign Affairs. Though Germany has ruled that out, added World Politics Review, it provides aid and training for Ukraine’s military and recently stationed troops in Lithuania, its first long-term military deployment since World War II.

Still, Russia’s military-industrial complex is more formidable than many experts initially thought, reported the Guardian, and able to replace the vast amounts of military equipment and munitions the country has lost. Putin has also concluded that Russians have accepted the staggering losses that the Russian military has suffered, which some estimates put as high as 450,000 troops killed or wounded, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation wrote.

Now, another year without a decisive victory for Russia is likely even as most analysts and officials aren’t really talking about victory for Ukraine anymore. Instead, the discussion focuses on how long the besieged country can remain in the ring.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Laying Down Tracks

SOLOMON ISLANDS

Solomon Islands lawmakers on Thursday elected a pro-China former foreign minister as the country’s new prime minister in a move that is expected to continue the archipelago’s tilt toward Beijing, the Guardian reported.

The victor, Jeremiah Manele, oversaw the transition when the Pacific nation severed its decades-long ties with Taiwan in favor of Beijing in 2019 under his predecessor, outgoing Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.

Coming just days after Sogavare declared he was withdrawing from the race, as his Ownership, Unity and Responsibility (OUR) Party to secure a majority in last month’s parliamentary polls, the vote that was closely watched by China, Australia and the United States, which are competing for influence in the region.

Since cutting ties with Taiwan, Sogavare in 2022 reached a security pact with China, which has been expanding its reach in a region long dominated by the United States and Australia. Along with other security agreements, the alliance with the Solomons archipelago, which is made up of hundreds of islands near important international shipping lanes, will further extend China’s influence.

Some of Manele’s past statements suggest he will stay the course. At the time of the shift from supporting Taiwan to allying with China, for instance, Manele told Chinese state media that the switch had “paid off” and was “putting us on the right side of history,” according to Nikkei Asia.

However, political analysts noted that Manele could move to improve ties with the West, adding that he had “a strong track record of working well with all international partners,” unlike Sogavare who was “a polarizing figure.”

Meanwhile, some in the Solomon Islands are expressing concern about being too aligned with China, even as it remains the country with the closest ties to China in the region.

MayDay

FRANCE

Paris’ regional authorities temporarily suspended funding for Sciences Po this week, in response to pro-Palestinian demonstrations held at one of France’s most elite universities over the war in Gaza, Agence France-Presse reported.

Valérie Pécresse, the rightwing head of the greater Paris Île-de-France region, said she was concerned by escalating tensions fueled by what she described as “a minority of radicalized people calling for antisemitic hatred.”

The suspension, which includes a financial allocation of more than $1 million earmarked for 2024, underscores the deepening divide over the Israel-Hamas conflict within France and elsewhere in Europe.

Students at Science Po and the Sorbonne – another top French university – have held a series of demonstrations over the conflict and the ensuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza over the past few weeks, with some saying the students are inspired by similar protests at universities in the United States. In France, the protesters are demanding an end to the war.

Despite Pécresse’s stance, the French government has not followed suit, saying there had been “no anti-Semitic remarks” and no violence had been committed during the demonstrations. Even so, police moved in earlier this week to clear the protesters from the grounds of the Sorbonne.

Meanwhile, mass protests and demonstrations by unions and labor rights activists hit the capital and other cities during the May Day celebration this week, with tens of thousands expressing grievances that ranged from inflation to anti-Olympic sentiment to opposition to the war in Gaza, the Washington Post added.

Concerned about the Paris Olympics taking precedence over pressing social issues and community welfare, demonstrators clashed with the police and made symbolic gestures of defiance, such as the burning of Olympic rings.

This week’s demonstrations had a smaller turnout compared to previous years – May 1, or Labor Day, is traditionally a day for demonstrations in France and elsewhere in Europe – but the atmosphere remained charged and fueled concerns about potential disruptions to the upcoming Summer Olympics.

The situation has prompted French authorities to handle negotiations with different unions – including police, transport and sanitary workers – delicately in an effort to prevent strikes and ensure that the Games run smoothly.

Fighting Nature

BOTSWANA

Botswanan authorities and conservation groups are attempting to save hundreds of hippopotamuses stuck in drying pools and ponds in the country’s northwest as the El Niño-induced drought takes its toll on wildlife, the Voice of America reported.

Officials said around 500 hippos are stranded as the scorching heat dries up water sources. More than 200 of the animals are stuck at the northwestern Nxaraga lagoon near the town of Maun.

The country’s wildlife department and Maun-based Save Wildlife Conservation Fund have been pumping water into the lagoon and feeding the animals to prevent them from dying. Proposals to move them to areas with reliable water sources have been rejected because of “high costs and lack of budget.”

Botswana is home to one of the world’s largest hippo populations. The large animals need water to protect their sensitive skin from the heat.

Meanwhile, other hippos are stuck in the mud caused by the receding waters in the Chobe River, which flows from neighboring Namibia. Authorities from both countries are cooperating to drill more boreholes in hopes of refilling the drying channels.

Even so, some local conservationists are telling authorities to allow nature to “take its course.”

The El Niño-induced drought in southern Africa has resulted in limited water, leading to the devastation of food supplies and essential habitats for various wildlife species, wrote researcher Joshua Matanzima in the Conversation.

DISCOVERIES

Slithering Forests

India’s prehistoric forests were home to a massive, extinct snake species that scientists believe was one of the largest to have ever existed, Newsweek reported.

In a new study, a research team uncovered the fossilized remains of Vasuki indicus in the western Indian state of Gujarat.

The team found 27 vertebrae of this snake, each part measuring between 1.5 and 2.5 inches in length. Using this data, they estimated that the reptile was 36 to 50 feet long. It is believed to have lived around 47 million years ago.

In comparison, two of the longest snakes alive today, the Burmese python and the reticulated python, can grow up to 19 feet and 32 feet, respectively.

V.indicus was a member of the Madtsoiidae family, an ancient lineage of snakes that lived for about 100 million years. It was named after the Vasuki, the mythical snake depicted around the neck of the Hindu god Shiva.

Judging by its size, the researchers believe that it was a bit smaller than another extinct snake, Titanoboa, which is the longest snake to have ever lived.

Its great size most likely meant that V. indicus was slow-moving and ambushed its prey like the modern-day anaconda. It also gives researchers clues about the climate during its lifetime.

“The large size of Vasuki suggests that the tropics were comparatively warmer than at present,” noted co-author Debajit Datta. Previous studies “have shown a correlation between increase in ambient temperature and body size of poikilotherms (e.g., snakes).”

Datta and his colleagues theorized that the cooling climate and hunting by early humans contributed to the creature’s disappearance.

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