August 05, 2016
Premium stories from Worldcrunch's own network of multi-lingual journalists in over 30 countries.
Welcome to Tuesday, which marks three months since the war in Ukraine started. Meanwhile, BoJo is in trouble again, and millionaires at Davos ask to be taxed more. Persian-language, London-based media Kayhan explores what the future of Lebanon could look like after the election defeat of Iran-backed Hezbollah.
A Ukrainian court has convicted the first Russian soldier of war crimes. But even in the heat of the war, how you treat prisoners of war says a lot about the morality of your cause, says Ukrainian writer Anna Akage:
He doesn’t look like a typical war criminal. With his slight build barely filling out a blue-gray sweatshirt, a baby face and close-shaved head, Vadim Shishimarin seems even younger than his 21 years. But on Monday, the Russian Army contract soldier was sentenced to life in prison in Kyiv for the cold-blooded killing of an unarmed 62-year-old Ukrainian man.
The conviction on war crimes charges is the first of its kind since the war began three months ago. But Shishimarin’s conviction isn’t really the news: he had already confessed to the killing, and his “I was just following orders” defense has been dismissed in other ugly episodes of history before.
No, the news is the trial itself, which granted this young prisoner of war a fair trial in a public courtroom, with due process, a lawyer and the right to appeal within 30 days.
The trial was broadcast online and was widely covered by Ukrainian and foreign media, standing as the latest “Exhibit A” of the country as a late-arriving exemplary of democracy and due process. It’s all central to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s leadership and global strategy.
Zelensky personally addressed the Ukrainian military last week about the issue, saying that the country is obliged to observe the guidelines of international law, and never turn to mob violence or lynching, despite the hatred generated by the brutal and unprovoked invasion.
Ukraine is well aware of how important the reputation it has built these past months in the eyes of the international community, as the defender of democratic values — with humane treatment of prisoners of war central to that standing.
Thus the purpose of the Shishimarin trial (and others like it to come) was not vengeance, but to seek justice while demonstrating to the whole world, including Vladimir Putin, how the Ukrainian authorities will treat prisoners of war while seeking justice for the victims. And how, accordingly, they hope that the Russian authorities will behave toward captured Ukrainian soldiers.
And right now, the fate of Ukrainian POWs is more pressing than ever, a week after the special unit that was holding out to defend Mariupol, several hundred fighters of the Azov battalion, were finally forced to surrender, and are now in a camp in the occupied Donbas.
What are the chances that the Ukrainians troops from Mariupol will be treated properly, and afforded a fair trial? Slim chances indeed. The Russian penitentiary system has been built up over the decades around a model based on labor camps, torture, and inhumane treatment of prisoners. Reports on the deteriorating situation in Russian prisons are published annually by Amnesty International.
The situation with the courts in Russia is no better. The trials of political opposition leader Alexei Navalny over the last few years are a case in point. Proceedings are often held in the remote prison colonies, closed off to the public and journalists, witnesses for the prosecution are often bogus front men, evidence (and witnesses) for the defense miraculously disappear.
Meanwhile, treatment inside prisons and high-security colonies includes physical and psychological abuse, denial of access to medical care and no chance of appeal.
And this is how the Russian justice and penal system behaves toward its own citizens. How will they treat the Ukrainian prisoners of war, who for weeks held back the advance of the Russian army?
We have no news on the Mariupol soldiers who surrendered. Interfax reported that Denis Pushilin, head of the unrecognized pro-Russian republic of the DNR in Donbas, said the prisoners who surrendered at Azovstal steel plant will face a trial in the occupied part of Ukraine. "An international tribunal is also planned to be organized on the territory of the republic," Pushilin said. "The charter for the tribunal is currently being worked out."
What “international tribunal” can we talk about in an unrecognized republic of occupied territory? Who will be part of such a tribunal? How can it guarantee the protection of the rights of prisoners and a fair trial for them?
After Monday’s verdict in Kyiv, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin is "concerned" about Shishimarin. "We do not have many opportunities to protect his interests on the ground, as foreign institutions actually have no activity [in Kyiv]," said Peskov, who had previously said Russia considers the charges "unacceptable," "outrageous" and "staged."
Vadim Shishimarin is an unhappy child of his unhappy country, which threw him into the pit of a senseless war. He is just one of many, and sadly the war crimes committed by the Russian military on the territory of Ukraine will continue. And so too will fair and public trials.
— Anna Akage / Worldcrunch
• Kremlin pessimism prevails: Three months since the start of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, pessimism prevails in Russia, as government sources report that even more limited ambitions to take the Donbas territory have stalled.
• Russia deploys missiles in Belarus: Russian troops have deployed Iskander-M tactical missile systems in Belarus, 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Ukraine's border, and are strengthening their positions near the Russian-Ukrainian border.
— Read all the latest at War in Ukraine, Day 90 —
• Biden ends Asia tour with Quad summit: On the final day of his Asia tour, Joe Biden met with the leaders of the Quad, the alliance between the U.S., Japan, India and Australia, which Beijing criticized as being “an Indo-Pacific NATO”. The summit comes after the U.S. president warned China that he would intervene if it invaded Taiwan.
• Millionaires at Davos ask to pay higher taxes: As political and business leaders gather in Davos for the first World Economic Forum since the beginning of the pandemic, a handful of millionaires have asked world leaders to address the rampant wealth inequalities by imposing higher taxes on the richest.
• Armenia and Azerbaijan in peace talks: Armenia and Azerbaijan leaders have announced that they have set up a border commission to deal with the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. This mountainous territory, located inside Azerbaijan, has been controlled by ethnic Armenians since the 1990s, sparking 30-year long tensions that erupted into a six-week war in 2020.
• Russian court rejects Navalny’s appeal: Moscow City Court has rejected Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s appeal against a nine-year prison sentence he faces for embezzlement and court contempt. The prominent opposition figure has denied the allegations, which he says are politically motivated.
• Airbnb to leave China amid lockdown: Vacation rentals company Airbnb is set to close all its homestay locations in China by summer due to the country’s zero-COVID policy. The harsh lockdown conditions imposed by Beijing have made it difficult for the platform to expand in the country.
The Daily Telegraph’s frontpage features one of the newly leaked pictures of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson shown raising a toast during a lockdown party held at 10, Downing Street, as part of the “Partygate” scandal.
A new report by human rights group Amnesty International reveals that the number of executions increased by 20% globally last year, with at least 579 people killed by states that retain capital punishment. The report shows spikes in Iran and Saudi Arabia, while noting that the use of the death penalty in China, Vietnam and North Korea is difficult to assess. However, 2021 marks an all-time low for the number of countries applying the capital punishment: 18 in total.
Lebanon's recent elections have shrunk the legislative block led by national power-brokers Hezbollah. But as Ahmad Ra'fat asks in London-based, Persian-language daily Kayhan: Will a precarious new majority be able to rid the government of the long shadow of Tehran?
🇱🇧 The results of parliamentary elections in Lebanon, have put an end to the majority block led by Hezbollah, the paramilitary group concocted by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Hezbollah and its Christian allies, the Free Patriotic Movement, led by President Michel Aoun, lost their 71 seats and will now have 62 (of a total 128 seats). One of the big winners were the Lebanese Forces, the anti-Hezbollah Christian party, led by the former warlord Samir Geagea. Certain important Christian or Druze personalities backed by Hezbollah even lost seats.
🇮🇷 Hezbollah's downfall is a major defeat for Iran, which may also fail to put one of its friends as president in elections scheduled in October. It seems unlikely Aoun's successor will be another Christian friendly to the Islamic Republic, and he (or she) may well be a Christian from the opposition. That will constitute a second step after these elections in curbing the Islamic Republic's influence in Lebanon.
🗳️ But the next parliament faces uncertainty, firstly in its bid to forge a working majority. There are 12 independent deputies (when only five or six were expected to win seats) known for their past criticisms of the entire political system. As former protest leaders, they invited the Lebanese to vote their way out of their many problems. These deputies will have a crucial role in forging the 65-seat majority for one or another of the big groups.
☝️ The first sign of their intentions will be in the election of the parliamentary speaker, which according to set rules, must be a Shia Muslim. Since 1992, the head of the Amal party beholden to Tehran, Nabih Berri, has held the post. Will the independents side with the Christian Party's Geagea to prevent his reelection? Will they also vote with it to form the first government in years without a member of Hezbollah?
Read the full article on Worldcrunch.com
“Never have I been so ashamed of my country.”
— Russian UN diplomat Boris Bondarev handed in his resignation to protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, criticizing in a public statement Russia’s policy. The 20-year-veteran added “Today the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is all about warmongering, lies and hatred.”
A man walks on a tank left behind by Russian troops, on display in Kyiv’s Mykhailivska Square. — Photo: Aleksandr Gusev/SOPA Images/ZUMA
✍️ Newsletter by Lila Paulou, Lisa Berdet and Bertrand Hauger
Let us know what’s happening in your corner of the world!
Vladimir Putin had planned to roll through Ukraine and splinter the West. While it has not gone according to plan, the destruction and uncertainty left in the path of the invasion has shaken the world.
A Ukrainian court has convicted the first Russia soldier of war crimes. Meanwhile, Moscow offers no news on the Ukrainian soldiers surrendered in Mariupol. The very meaning of this war may be contained in the different treatment of POWs.
Lebanon's recent elections have shrunk the legislative block led by national power-brokers Hezbollah. But will a precarious new majority be able to rid the government of the long shadow of Tehran?
Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.
Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.
Then there is Mariupol, under siege and symbol of Putin’s cruelty. In the largest city on the Azov Sea, with a population of half a million people, Ukrainians make up slightly less than half of the city's population, and Mariupol's second-largest national ethnicity is Russians. As of 2001, when the last census was conducted, 89.5% of the city's population identified Russian as their mother tongue.
Between 2018 and 2019, I spent several months in Mariupol. It is a rugged but beautiful city dotted with Soviet-era architecture, featuring wide avenues and hillside parks, and an extensive industrial zone stretching along the shoreline. There was a vibrant youth culture and art scene, with students developing projects to turn their city into a regional cultural center with an international photography festival.
There were also many offices of international NGOs and human rights organizations, a consequence of the fact that Mariupol was the last major city before entering the occupied zone of Donbas. Many natives of the contested regions of Luhansk and Donetsk had moved there, taking jobs in restaurants and hospitals. I had fond memories of the welcoming from locals who were quicker to smile than in some other parts of Ukraine. All of this is gone.
Putin is bombing the very people he has claimed to want to rescue.
According to the latest data from the local authorities, 80% of the port city has been destroyed by Russian bombs, artillery fire and missile attacks, with particularly egregious targeting of civilians, including a maternity hospital, a theater where more than 1,000 people had taken shelter and a school where some 400 others were hiding.
The official civilian death toll of Mariupol is estimated at more than 3,000. There are no language or ethnic-based statistics of the victims, but it’s likely the majority were Russian speakers.
So let’s be clear, Putin is bombing the very people he has claimed to want to rescue.
Putin’s Public Enemy No. 1, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, is a mother-tongue Russian speaker who’d made a successful acting and comedy career in Russian-language broadcasting, having extensively toured Russian cities for years.
Rescuers carry a person injured during a shelling by Russian troops of Kharkiv, northeastern Ukraine.
Yes, the official language of Ukraine is Ukrainian, and a 2019 law aimed to ensure that it is used in public discourse, but no one has ever sought to abolish the Russian language in everyday life. In none of the cities that are now being bombed by the Russian army to supposedly liberate them has the Russian language been suppressed or have the Russian-speaking population been discriminated against.
Sociologist Mikhail Mishchenko explains that studies have found that the vast majority of Ukrainians don’t consider language a political issue. For reasons of history, culture and the similarities of the two languages, Ukraine is effectively a bilingual nation.
"The overwhelming majority of the population speaks both languages, Russian and Ukrainian,” Mishchenko explains. “Those who say they understand Russian poorly and have difficulty communicating in it are just over 4% percent. Approximately the same number of people say the same about Ukrainian.”
In general, there is no problem of communication and understanding. Often there will be conversations where one person speaks Ukrainian, and the other responds in Russian. Geographically, the Russian language is more dominant in the eastern and central parts of Ukraine, and Ukrainian in the west.
Like most central Ukrainians I am perfectly bilingual: for me, Ukrainian and Russian are both native languages that I have used since childhood in Kyiv. My generation grew up on Russian rock, post-Soviet cinema, and translations of foreign literature into Russian. I communicate in Russian with my sister, and with my mother and daughter in Ukrainian. I write professionally in three languages: Ukrainian, Russian and English, and can also speak Polish, French, and a bit Japanese. My mother taught me that the more languages I know the more human I am.
At the same time, I am not Russian — nor British or Polish. I am Ukrainian. Ours is a nation with a long history and culture of its own, which has always included a multi-ethnic population: Russians, Belarusians, Moldovans, Crimean Tatars, Bulgarians, Romanians, Hungarians, Poles, Jews, Greeks. We all, they all, have found our place on Ukrainian soil. We speak different languages, pray in different churches, we have different traditions, clothes, and cuisine.
My mother taught me that the more languages I know the more human I am.
Like in other countries, these differences have been the source of conflict in our past. But it is who we are and will always be, and real progress has been made over the past three decades to embrace our multitudes. Our Jewish, Russian-speaking president is the most visible proof of that — and is in fact part of what our soldiers are fighting for.
Many in Moscow were convinced that Russian troops would be welcomed in Ukraine as liberating heroes by Russian speakers. Instead, young soldiers are forced to shoot at people who scream in their native language.
Starving people ina street of Kharkiv in 1933, during the famine
Putin has tried to rally the troops by warning that in Ukraine a “genocide” of ethnic Russians is being carried out by a government that must be “de-nazified.”
These are, of course, words with specific definitions that carry the full weight of history. The Ukrainian people know what genocide is not from books. In my hometown of Kyiv, German soldiers massacred Jews en masse. My grandfather survived the Buchenwald concentration camp, liberated by the U.S. army. My great-grandmother, who died at the age of 95, survived the 1932-33 famine when the Red Army carried out the genocide of the Ukrainian middle class, and her sister disappeared in the camps of Siberia, convicted for defying rationing to try to feed her children during the famine.
On Tuesday, came a notable report of one of the latest civilian deaths in the besieged Russian-speaking city of Kharkiv: a 96-year-old had been killed when shelling hit his apartment building. The victim’s name was Boris Romanchenko; he had survived Buchenwald and two other Nazi concentration camps during World War II. As President Zelensky noted: Hitler didn’t manage to kill him, but Putin did.
Genocide has returned to Ukraine, from Kharkiv to Kherson to Mariupol, as Vladimir Putin had warned. But it is his own genocide against the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine.