Tuesday, December 7 2021

Dive In


I've essentially turned myself into a social enterprise, a not-for-profit actor..

That’s how Welsh actor Michael Sheen (of ‘Good Omens’ fame) described his decision to no longer profit from his craft. He will give all the money he makes from his roles to fund projects that help the poor and marginalised. BBC News has more on his unusual decision.


Coming up soon: The guest of our next Ask Me Anything session is wildlife conservationist and photographer Aditya Dicky Singh. He is the best person to talk to about a host of really interesting issues—be it conscious tourism, the state and future of our sanctuaries, human animal conflict and, of course, tigers! Check out an interview with him here. Time/Date: 6:30 pm on Saturday, December 11, via Zoom. Sign up here for one of the limited slots.

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Big Story

The invasion of Ukraine: Will Putin go to war?

The TLDR: President Vladimir Putin is in New Delhi for a big summit that affirms Russia’s friendship with India. And the two sides have talked of many issues except one: Ukraine—more specifically, Moscow’s intention to invade it. We look at the great elephant in the room—which is raising fears of war in the US and Europe.


Russia vs Ukraine: A quick recap

Here’s a brief timeline:

  • Ukraine used to be part of the Soviet Union—but broke free in 1991, in the same month that the Soviet Union collapsed.
  • The country finally came out of the economic woes caused by decades of communism, and began to thrive between 2004-2007.
  • But then came Vladimir Putin—who was determined to keep a tight grip on the second–most populous and powerful of the fifteen Soviet republics.
  • The flashpoint between the two nations was—and remains—Ukraine’s desire to bind itself closer to the European Union, and free itself from Moscow’s bear hug.
  • In 2014—as people protested in the streets in favour of partnering with the EU—Putin sent in troops to annex Crimea. It marked the first time since World War II that a European state annexed the territory of another. 
  • And Russian troops joined with local militias to take on Ukrainian troops in an engineered civil war.
  • A low grade conflict has been simmering ever since. More than 14,000 have died due to it, the bloodiest in Europe since the 1990s Balkan Wars.


Map to note: You can see where Crimea is located, and the current flashpoint on the border—the so-called Line of Contact in the region marked Donbas.


Ok, so what happened now?

Last week, the US intelligence put forward evidence of a massive Russian build up on the Ukrainian border. The Pentagon claims that Moscow is planning a multi-front offensive as soon as early next year: “The plans involve extensive movement of 100 battalion tactical groups with an estimated 175,000 personnel, along with armor, artillery and equipment.” Currently, the US estimates there are 70,000 soldiers already at the borders.


The Washington Post published this intelligence document of the alleged build up:


Moscow says ‘nyet’: Putin denied any intent or plan to invade Ukraine in his usual manner:


“It is not we who are threatening anyone and accusing us of this, given the reality on the ground, or as we say to shift the blame from the person who’s sick in the head to the healthy one, is at minimum irresponsible.”


Quote to note: If Russia does go to war, experts say the offensive will be far bigger than the 2014 operation to annex Crimea.


“Russia is not signaling a repeat of its 2014 operations on the Donbas, in fact they are signaling this current situation could be larger and more overt... I am concerned about the impact of Russian air and missile strikes conducting rapid punitive strikes on Ukrainian military facilities or other important locations—in many cases from Russian territory or Russian proxy-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine.”


Why would Putin do this?


Headlines that matter

US “boycotts” Beijing Olympics

The United States will not be sending any official representatives to the Winter Games in 2022—but athletes are still free to compete. The move mostly creates an “optics problem”—but is unlikely to have a significant impact, as Beijing was quick to point out: “In fact, no one would care about whether these people come or not, and it has no impact whatsoever on the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics to be successfully held.” (Reuters)


Syria is the new narcostate

A New York Times investigation has revealed that the country has emerged from a ten-year war as the home of a multibillion-dollar illegal drug industry—run by associates and relatives of President Bashar al-Assad. Its most lucrative export: an addictive amphetamine called Captagon—which is popular in the Arab world. Most of its production and distribution is supervised by the Fourth Armored Division of the Syrian Army—an elite unit commanded by the president’s younger brother. 


Data point to note: More than 250 million captagon pills have been seized across the world so far this year—which is likely a fraction of what is consumed. Quote to note: A former US envoy says: “It is literally the Syrian government that is exporting the drugs. It is not like they are looking the other way while drug cartels do their thing. They are the drug cartel.”

The real cause for Taj Mahal’s woes

Pollution has long been blamed for our national treasure’s yellowing facade. But new research indicates that the real culprit is the hydrogen sulphide gas released by the nearby Yamuna. Why this matters: It means we have to redirect our efforts to preserve the Taj—which will require cleaning a seriously polluted river:


“The whole city’s sewage and industrial waste, including solid waste, flow into the Yamuna mostly untreated. There are 90 nullahs in Agra, of which the water of only 25 get treated by 4 plants but these plants do not function at night. The sewage of 65 other drains flows into Yamuna untreated. The materials include leather and synthetic leather waste from about 3,000 shoe factories and these leather wastes help form many gases.”


The Dialogue has more details.


Government’s big plan for WFH

The government is getting ready to put together a comprehensive legal framework to offer better protection for employees who work from home—either all or some of the time: “Some of the options being considered include fixing work hours for employees and payment of additional expenses incurred by them towards electricity and internet usage.” (Economic Times)


In today’s edition

Sanity Break

  • A stunning rendering of the inside of Qila-e-Mubarak by Ghulam Ali Khan 


A list of intriguing things

  • A gigantic phantom jelly whose arms grow up to 33 feet long
  • The Japanese solution for people with social anxiety: A green-eyed robot
  • A $25 “naan blanket"
  • The Journal of Universal Rejection

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