The World Today for July 02, 2024

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‘Meat-grinder’ Recruitment

RUSSIA

The Russian army is recruiting female convicts to ship to the frontlines in Ukraine. In exchange for enlisting to serve as medics, radio operators and snipers, the former prisoners receive a $2,000-a-month salary, reported the New York Times. The newspaper estimated that around 40 of 400 inmates in a Saint Petersburg prison for women recently accepted the offer.

They are just the latest example of the Russian military’s desperation to find more bodies to throw into the “meat grinder” of war that has developed in the two years since Russia invaded Ukraine. Tens of thousands of male convicts have also joined the Russian effort, including murderers and rapists.

President Vladimir Putin claims that NATO provoked the invasion and has prolonged the war due to Western military aid to Ukraine. But he has also rejected the idea of Ukraine as a sovereign state outside Mother Russia. To realize his policy goals, more than 150,000 Russian soldiers have perished in fighting citizens of a country that the president claims doesn’t exist, according to Agence France-Presse.

To make up for such epic losses, Russia has welcomed recruits from Cuba, Kazakhstan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, Zambia, Somalia, and elsewhere, wrote the Kyiv Independent, an English-language Ukrainian new site. He’s offering citizenship, high salaries and jobs in Moscow to those foreigners who help Russia fight Ukraine.

Even so, many of the thousands of Nepalis in the Russian army want to quit. Now, Nepal has even stopped issuing foreign work permits for citizens who would seek employment in Russia to prevent more from entering the war. Nepalese leaders have been in talks with Russian leaders to repatriate the remains of fallen Nepali soldiers amid other issues, added Al Jazeera.

Around 2,000 Sri Lankans have also been fighting on Russia’s side. They claim they were duped into coming to Russia, where they believed they would find a civilian job but instead found themselves pressed into the country’s military.

The salary of $2,000 a month has lured Cubans who generally receive less than $25 a month, noted the BBC. An offer of Russian citizenship also entices African mercenaries who might find more opportunities in a Eurasian power than in their struggling, developing countries.

These efforts have helped Russian officials make the claim that 100,000 people have joined up since the beginning of the year, reported Reuters.

But some have been tricked into coming, according to Babel, a site funded by supporters of Ukraine. Recruiters promise jobs – and then tell the applicants they must first pay off their recruitment expenses by serving in the army.

Or they respond to fake ads for jobs or to study in Russian universities, as did Siddhartha Dhakal, 22, from Mandandeupur in Nepal.

Dhakal, a student, had paid to go to Russia to study medicine, but found on his arrival that he had been tricked and that his only option was to join the military. He was sent to the front and captured by Ukrainian forces in November.

“He is our only one son, our only hope,” his father, Biru Dhakal, told the Guardian, sobbing. “Please bring him home.”

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

We Won’t Go

ISRAEL/ GAZA STRIP

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men took to the streets of Jerusalem this week to protest a supreme court ruling mandating their participation in Israel’s military, a decision that threatens to destabilize the country’s coalition government and exacerbate societal divides amid fighting in the Gaza Strip, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Demonstrators gathered outside a yeshiva – a Jewish religious school – to listen to rabbis speak against the draft. Some carried banners opposing conscription and the top court’s decision, with phrases such as “To jail and not the army.”

The protests later turned violent, with some protesters throwing rocks, as well as attacking police and the car of an ultra-Orthodox cabinet minister. Israeli authorities used water cannons and mounted officers to disperse the crowd, resulting in five arrests.

The unrest comes nearly a week after Israel’s Supreme Court removed long-standing exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox community that were in place since Israel’s founding in 1948. The verdict also challenged the core beliefs of the ultra-Orthodox community, which claims that their religious studies and prayers are vital to the state’s spiritual well-being.

The court’s decision, meanwhile, halted government funding for ultra-Orthodox religious students who do not have a valid military exemption, potentially impacting the financial foundation of the community.

The ruling and unrest come at a particularly volatile time as Israel is engaged in intense military operations against Hamas in Gaza. The war has heightened the controversy over military service, with many Israelis saying that the ultra-Orthodox community is avoiding the national duty that others bear, especially as hundreds of thousands of reservists have been called up.

Ultra-Orthodox political parties, crucial to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s slim parliamentary majority, are also facing a dilemma: Support the draft and risk losing their voter base, or oppose it and potentially bring down the government.

Analysts said there is the possibility of some religious men who are not serious scholars joining the army, but significant concerns remain about maintaining their religious lifestyle within the military framework.

Separately, Israeli forces continue their offensive in Gaza that began soon after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas and its allies in southern Israel.

That assault killed around 1,200 people and saw more than 240 others taken hostage.

On Sunday, an Israeli airstrike in the northern West Bank killed a commander of the Islamic Jihad group and injured five others, raising the death toll in the region to at least 500, according to Palestinian officials, the Los Angeles Times noted.

Meanwhile, more than 37,800 Palestinians have died in Gaza since the war began, according to Gazan health officials.

A Little Dash of Peace

COLOMBIA

A splinter group of Colombia’s former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group agreed to a “unilateral ceasefire” this week, an agreement that marks another step toward ending decades of violence in the South American country, Agence France-Presse reported.

Last week, ceasefire talks took place between the Colombian government and the Segunda Marquetalia in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. On Sunday, the two sides issued a joint statement agreeing to the unilateral ceasefire and the release of captives held by the guerilla group.

The deal will take effect when leftist President Gustavo Petro issues a decree to “de-escalate offensive operations,” although it does not specify a precise date.

The two sides are expected to meet in western Colombia before July 20 to unveil the “de-escalation” agreement and to define a timetable for identifying social and economic projects.

Segunda Marquetalia is a dissident faction of the now-demobilized FARC group, which had been fighting the Colombian government since the 1960s. FARC leaders and fighters laid down their arms in 2016 following a historic peace agreement between the group and the Colombian government.

Even so, some fighters rejected the talks, while others such as Segunda Marquetalia launched a new rebellion in 2019.

The agreement marks the latest efforts by Petro to negotiate with Colombia’s armed groups and achieve “total peace.”

However, the Colombian government’s efforts have continued to face obstacles in ending the conflict, including ceasefire violations and internal divisions among rebels.

Currently, authorities are holding negotiations with another rebel group the National Liberation Army, as well as the armed group Estado Mayor Central, another former faction of the FARC that never signed the 2016 agreement, Reuters noted.

The Pretenders

CANADA

A Canadian court sentenced a woman to three years in jail this week for fraudulently claiming her daughters were Inuit to access more than $100,000 in benefits, marking the first custodial sentence for such an offense in Canada, the Guardian reported.

Karima Manji pled guilty to the charges of fraud in February after her daughters, Amira and Nadya, received more than $115,000 in benefits between 2020 and 2023 from organizations in Canada’s Nunavut territory using falsely obtained Inuit identity cards.

The fraudulent enrollment was based on Manji’s claim of adopting the girls from an Inuit woman named Kitty Noah, despite their lack of any real connection to the Inuit community or Nunavut lands.

In September 2023, authorities charged Manji and her daughters with fraud but dropped the charges against the twins earlier this year after the mother pled guilty.

Manji has returned around $95,000 of the funds, but still owes more than $20,000 to another organization supporting the Inuit community.

The case underscored the issue of “Pretendians” in Canada, where there have been instances of false Indigenous identity claims, although cases involving Inuit identity are rarer. Manji had previously been convicted of fraud in a different context but had not served jail time, which influenced the current sentencing.

Nunavut justice Mia Manocchio, who oversaw the case, said the sentencing will “serve as a signal” to others who pretend to be Indigenous for financial gain, according to Radio Canada International.

DISCOVERIES

A Frosty Welcome

Just like on Earth, temperatures on Mars’ equator are higher. That’s because the atmosphere is thinner and there’s more sunlight.

Now, the European Space Agency (ESA) shared pictures showing frost atop volcanoes in the Martian tropics.

“We thought it was impossible for frost to form around Mars’s equator,” said Adomas Valantinas, lead author of the study, who made the discovery at the University of Bern, Switzerland.

It all started with a picture taken on the Tharsis Plateau, a large mountainous region. It includes Olympus Mons, a volcano three times taller than Mount Everest – making it the largest volcano not only on Mars but also in the entire Solar System.

“We saw a shiny, blue deposit there, a particular texture that we only see in the early morning and during the cold seasons,” Frederic Schmidt of Paris-Saclay University, France, told Agence France-Presse.

The team of scientists established that the deposit was indeed frost, and that it was due to peculiar air circulation above Tharsis.

The long-extinct volcanoes have large hollows called calderas, allowing for a microclimate to develop there.

“Winds travel up the slopes of the mountains, bringing relatively moist air from near the surface up to higher altitudes, where it condenses and settles as frost,” explained the ESA’s Nicolas Thomas.

Though the layer of frost is as thin as a human hair, the area it covers is so massive that the water could fill up to 60 Olympic swimming pools.

Determining the water cycle that makes frost develop atop the Tharsis volcanoes could help researchers identify water resources that could allow human exploration. Water “could also be used as rocket fuel,” they wrote in the Conversation.

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