World News Roundup

Ukraine Under Attack: Documenting the Russian Invasion (The New York Times): “… with some of the victories came unimaginable terror. Retreating Russian troops left a trail of bodies in the suburbs of Kyiv. In the town of Bucha, evidence unearthed by local officials, residents and journalists suggested the Russians had killed civilians recklessly and sometimes sadistically, in part out of revenge. Those killings emerged after a maternity ward and a theater where civilians were sheltering in the besieged port city of Mariupol were bombed … For the past 12 weeks, photographers with The New York Times and other news organizations throughout Ukraine have chronicled the ordeal of war.”

The Intellectual Catastrophe of Vladimir Putin (Foreign Policy): “Vladimir Putin may have gone out of his mind, but it’s also possible that he has merely gazed at events through a peculiar and historical Russian lens and has acted accordingly … He grasps at political rhetorics from times long gone. They disintegrate in his hands. He delivers speeches and discovers that he is speechless, or nearly so … It is not a psychological failure, then. It is a philosophical failure. A suitable language of analysis eludes him; therefore lucidity eludes him … The problem that he is trying to solve is the eternal Russian conundrum … of what to do about a very odd and dangerous imbalance in Russian life. The imbalance consists of, on one side, the grandeur of Russia’s civilization and its geography, which are massive strengths, and, on the other side, a strange and persistent inability to construct a resilient and reliable state, which is a massive weakness. Russian leaders across the centuries have tried to cope with the imbalance by constructing the most thuggish of tyrannies, in the hope that brutality would compensate for the lack of resilience … Putin was no more able than Khrushchev and Brezhnev to achieve … the creation of a Russian state sufficiently sturdy and resilient to avoid any further collapses. He worries about this. Evidently he panics. And his worries have brought him to a version of the same fundamental view of the problem that one after another of his predecessors arrived at in times past … This is a fear that warm principles of liberal philosophy and republican practices from the West, drifting eastward, will collide with the icy clouds of the Russian winter, and violent storms will break out, and nothing will survive. It is, in short, a belief that dangers to the Russian state are external and ideological, instead of internal and structural … A philosophical doctrine cannot be worked up at will, the way speechwriters work up speeches. Powerful doctrines exist, or do not exist. And so Putin has had to make do with whatever ideas are floating about, grabbing one idea and another and tying them with a knot.”

Photos: In Ukraine, Limbs Lost and Lives Devastated In an Instant (Al Jazeera): “The stories of people who undergo amputations during the conflict are as varied as their wounds, as are their journeys of reconciliation with their injuries. For some, losing a part of their body can be akin to a death of sorts; coming to terms with it is a type of rebirth.”

Vladimir Putin, Family Man (The New York Times): “Members of Mr. Putin’s family circle are beneficiaries of a kleptocratic system that Mr. Putin rules over like a mafia don, with oligarch lieutenants paying him tribute in the form of wealth, lucrative jobs or luxurious villas lavished on his family and those in the potential orbit of his affection. For decades, few succeeded in penetrating the opaque protective bubble built around them and their resources, but Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has changed that … Sanctions experts say those measures were less meant to do Mr. Putin concrete financial harm than to send him a message that his aggression had crossed a line, and that his invisible and untouchable private world could be seen and reached by the West.”

The Russian Military’s People Problem (Foreign Affairs): “… [Russia’s] problems do not stop at technical equipment issues, poor training, or corruption. Rather, they are linked by a core underlying theme: the military’s lack of concern for the lives and well-being of its personnel. In Ukraine, the Russian military struggles to retrieve the bodies of its dead, obscures casualties, and is indifferent to its worried military families. It may spend billions of dollars on new equipment, but it does not properly treat soldiers’ injuries, and it generally does not appear to care tremendously whether troops are traumatized. This culture of indifference to its personnel fundamentally compromises the Russian military’s efficacy, no matter how extensively it has been modernized … the Russian high command behaves as if its troops are an afterthought, making tactical decisions as if it can simply throw people at poorly designed objectives until it succeeds. This is a self-defeating attitude that both lowers troops’ morale and degrades combat effectiveness. The results are plain to see … Indeed, it’s difficult to make sense of Russia’s preinvasion strategy unless one assumes that operational security trumps all and that soldiers are easily expendable.”

Putin’s War Means Russia’s Rich Aren’t Welcome at Davos Anymore (Bloomberg): “It will be the first WEF in Switzerland since the fall of communism without a single Russian official or business leader … That’s a far cry from the heyday of Moscow’s largess in Davos, when vodka and caviar-fueled parties sponsored by Russians were notorious for hosting large groups of young women without accreditation who claimed to be translators.”

In Hungary, Cheap Russian Oil Fuels Right-Wing Culture Wars (The New York Times): “Hungary has for years served as a beacon for foreign conservatives who admire Mr. Orban’s hostility to immigrants, L.G.B.T.Q. rights, George Soros and liberals in general. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, however, has put severe strain on that role, stirring anger among some conservatives about Mr. Orban’s cozying up to the Kremlin … A steady supply of Russian energy has become such a central part of Mr. Orban’s economic and political model that ending it ‘is a red line for him … Russian oil and gas are absolutely vital to his whole scheme.’ “

Africa’s Stolen Art Debate Is Frozen in Time (Foreign Policy): “As a result of violent plunder over the centuries, Europe—more than any other region in the world, including Africa—holds the largest collection of ancient African artifacts … Belgium’s Royal Museum for Central Africa alone has 180,000 objects, Germany’s Ethnological Museum has 75,000, France’s Quai Branly Museum has almost 70,000, the British Museum has 73,000 from Africa, and the Netherlands’ National Museum of World Cultures has 66,000. It has been 50 years since African governments, against a backdrop of hard-fought independence, started asking for the return of looted objects. Despite celebratory press coverage on returns and Western curators’ recent commitments to decolonize museums, very few items have been physically repatriated. In February, Nigeria welcomed back to Benin City just two statues out of more than 3,000 Benin Bronzes—a collection of sacred works made from ivory, bronze, and wood—still held mostly in Europe. Western institutions’ rebuttal against timely restitution has essentially boiled down to two components: Western museums, they claim, must both conduct lengthy provenance research to prove items were indeed stolen and determine whether African museums can preserve their own artifacts—notwithstanding the fact that those relics survived for centuries in Africa before they were looted … Europe’s museum administrators ‘knew perfectly well that the great majority of the African objects in their collections stemmed from the colonial era.’ After all, most European institutions, especially in Germany, have long held detailed catalogues and inventory lists.”

‘Perfect Climate Storm’: Pakistan Reels from Extreme Heat (Al Jazeera): “Since April, South Asian nations have been experiencing an unpredictable heatwave that has seen some areas touch 50°C (104°F) … Pakistan is one of the most vulnerable nations in the world when it comes to the effects of climate change over the past two decades. Between 2000 and 2019 … the sub-continent nation lost on average 500 lives annually … One of the most alarming effects of the ‘torrid’ heatwave is the accelerated melting of Pakistan’s glaciers in the north … Pakistan has more than 7,000 glaciers – one of the highest numbers in the world – many of them in the Himalayan region … the Himalayas, which also covers other countries in South Asia such as Nepal and India, had lost 40 percent of their ice over several hundred years.”

Two Million Stranded as Worst Floods in Decades Hit Bangladesh’s Northeast (SCMP): “Rivers in Bangladesh have burst their banks and caused the worst floods in the country’s northeast for nearly two decades, with about two million people marooned by rising waters … Many parts of Bangladesh are prone to flooding, and experts say that climate change is increasing the likelihood of extreme weather events around the world.”

Countering China in Africa (The Economist): “Chinese lending, construction or other business activities are not inherently bad or dangerous. Its growing role also offers a chance to understand how the world looks from Africa. African politicians have appreciated not just material help from Beijing, but also the sense of not being patronised. They like seeing their economies treated as business opportunities rather than places to run randomised trials for foreign aid. Appreciating why China is seen as powerful and popular would help Western policy towards Africa … America makes valuable contributions in Africa, but less visibly. Its armed forces help African governments fight extremist groups. It has invested massively to improve public health, providing Western-made covid vaccines … In April the administration gave more than $200m in aid to the Horn of Africa, in response to a food crisis aggravated by Russia’s war in Ukraine. There is usually no harm in advertising Western efforts to support democracy, still the most popular form of government among Africans. And Mr Biden should also visit Africa.”

It’s Africa’s Century—for Better or Worse (Foreign Policy): “Unlike Asia, the African continent was historically characterized by low population density. As far as records allow us to tell, Africa’s population around 1914 numbered 124 million people, or little more than 7 percent of the world’s population … It was the 20th century that brought a demographic revolution to Africa. Africa’s total population today is some 1.4 billion … and it is set to rise further in the coming decades … The extent to which young Africa will shape the 21st century becomes apparent when we rank-order societies by median age … The current median age of Japan’s aging population is 48 … In China, the median age is 38. In India, it is 28. In Nigeria, it is 18. This means that, barring disaster, a large part of the Nigerian population alive today will live to see the 2080s. With regard to climate policy, for instance, it is their world that we are shaping now … to absorb Africa’s exploding youth populations is a challenge comparable in pace and scale to China’s giant wave of urbanization between the 1990s and 2010s. Yet nowhere in Africa has any track record of growth at the Chinese pace.”

Yemen: A Glimmer of Hope in a Devastating War (Al Jazeera): “Although the bombs have stopped falling, seven years of brutal conflict have taken a devastating toll on an already impoverished country and led to what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Since the start of the war in 2015, the UN Development Programme estimates that more than 370,000 people have died, 60 percent of them from indirect causes such as lack of food, water, and health services. Two out of three Yemenis require humanitarian aid and protection, and four million are internally displaced … With much of the attention on the Houthi-held north, many people living in the country’s government-held south talk of facing an ‘economic war.’ “

How to Bolster Yemen and Saudi Arabia’s Brittle Peace Deal (Brookings Institution): “… the Saudis and Americans have wisely abandoned the United Nations Security Council resolution passed at the start of the war that tilted entirely toward Hadi and the Saudis. The resolution was America’s diplomatic gift to the Saudi war effort. U.S. President Joe Biden has quietly moved away from the Obama administration’s policy. Obama reluctantly backed the Saudis because his priority was the Iran nuclear deal and he did not want Saudi opposition to it. Biden has instead moved to a more balanced approach, and for their part the Saudis are increasingly determined to end the expensive quagmire they fell into seven years ago. The immediate priority should be to get the commercial flights going to allow Yemenis access to the world, especially those with health issues that need attention that is unavailable in Yemen’s weak medical infrastructure … The next big step is to get the cease-fire extended indefinitely. Both sides accuse the other of violating the truce especially around the city of Marib, the last major city in the north outside Houthi control. Agreement on a long-term truce should help resolve local conflict by setting a strategic framework within which to solve tactical problems.”

How a Group of Female Independents Aims to Revive Australian Democracy (The New York Times): “The so-called teal independents … offer a sharp rebuke to Australia’s rigid party system. Recruited by energetic community groups that have formed only in the past few years, they are the public face of a fresh approach to politics that hopes to pull Australia back to the middle with a focus on climate change solutions, integrity and values like kindness … Australia’s major parties are gatekeepers with old operating systems. There are no primaries, and dark money pays a lot of the bills. The parties decide who runs, and those who win rarely break ranks, because a single breach can end a political career. In many districts, there has long been a sense that political ambition and party loyalty matter more than local interests. And while some of that discontent has flowed to minor parties like the Greens on the left and One Nation on the far right, what’s happening now with independents is more focused on how to improve representation rather than channeling frustration into one partisan wing or another.”

El Salvador’s President Went All In on Bitcoin. Then It Tanked. (The Wall Street Journal): “… the market value of El Salvador’s $100 million in bitcoin holdings has dropped by about a third, squeezing the country’s finances further and raising the odds that it will default on its more than $24 billion in sovereign debt … To avoid a default, El Salvador needs hard currency to pay for imports like oil and make an $800 million bond payment in January. Economic turmoil risks sparking a fresh wave of migrants to the U.S. One in four Salvadorans live abroad, mostly in the U.S., and about three of every 10 dollars in the country’s economy come from remittances. Since the impoverished nation adopted the dollar as its national currency two decades ago, El Salvador can’t print its own money to pay bills or boost spending, meaning it has to cut its own spending or borrow more to make ends meet. Instead, the president has kept spending at high levels and invested the country’s money into bitcoin … In less than three years, the Bukele administration has taken on more than $5 billion in debt in a tiny economy of about $28 billion, pushing public debt up to nearly 86% of gross domestic product. The budget deficit was equal to 5.6% of GDP last year, and is expected to be as big this year.”

America Has Never Really Understood India (The Atlantic): “… India came to rely heavily on the Soviet Union for its military equipment. The Pentagon, suspicious of the Indo-Soviet relationship, refused to sell India sophisticated weapons or computers and continued to strengthen Pakistan’s military. Nor would the U.S. permit India, which was keen to be an independent actor, to manufacture arms domestically through joint ventures or cooperation agreements. The Soviets were more accommodating to India’s goals and soon became the country’s primary arms supplier. India has long worried about its military dependence on Moscow, but though it has made recent moves to diversify its suppliers, Russian military equipment still accounts for the majority of India’s total defense stock.”

The Root of Haiti’s Misery: Reparations to Enslavers (The New York Times): “Haiti … became the world’s first and only country where the descendants to the descendants of enslaved people paid reparations to the descendants of their masters … it’s often called the ‘independence debt.’ But that is a misnomer. It was a ransom. The amount was far beyond Haiti’s meager means. Even the first installment was about six times the government’s income that year … But that was the point, and part of the plan. The French king … [ensured that] the former colony took out a loan from young French banks to make the payments. This became known as Haiti’s ‘double debt’ … a stunning load that boosted the fledgling Parisian international banking system and helped cement Haiti’s path into poverty and underdevelopment … the double debt helped push Haiti into a cycle of debts that hobbled the country for more than 100 years, draining away much of its revenue and chopping away its ability to build the essential institutions and infrastructure of an independent nation.”

A Children’s Hospital in Wartime (Foreign Policy): “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine halted or reduced care at some specialized medical centers in the cities most affected by the war, or it forced their conversion into first-aid centers. As a result, the pediatric hospital in Lviv became an obligatory destination for hundreds of children from all over Ukraine. The hospital has had to adapt to the emergency situation and change its method of operation from a long-stay facility to a transit site for patients awaiting transfers. Patients are treated and put on a stable footing before being transported by bus to Poland or other European locations where they can continue their treatment. … even large international pediatric centers would not be able to cope with such a situation for more than a few days without significantly lowering their standards of health care. A month into the war, with the hospital at an occupancy rate of about 180 beds, more than 500 children and their families had passed through the pediatric hospital since the war started. Many had nowhere else to go.”

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