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Iran Hardliner Wins, Austrian Lessons, Old Brew

SPOTLIGHT: AUSTRIAN LESSONS

European leaders are wiping sweat from their collective brow. Once the final votes were counted late yesterday, Austria's ecologically-minded independent Alexander Van der Bellen had edged far-right Freedom party candidate Norbert Hofer in the country's presidential election. Had he won, Hofer would have been the first far-right European head of state since the end of Nazism. "Relief at seeing the Austrians reject populism and extremism. Each of us needs to learn lessons from that in Europe," tweeted French Prime Minister Manuel Valls. Austrian dailyKronen Zeitung quoted the president-elect as striking a conciliatory note, saying that "together we will work to reveal Austria's beauty."


Though in Austria the president's role is largely ceremonial, the closeness of the vote is just one more symptom of a worrying rise in Western public opinion of nationalistic, anti-immigrant populism. "Established parties everywhere face electorates impatient for solutions to problems, like the refugee crisis and unemployment, whose scale is unprecedented in modern times," wrote British daily The Guardian in an editorial following the results in Vienna. From France's Front National to Denmark's People's Party to Greece's Golden Dawn, and right up to the words coming out of Trump Tower, the message is the same: reinforce the borders, save the homeland...and don't be shy anymore about saying it loud and clear. For Europe, in particular, the next election day to gauge the effects of this sentiment is slated for June 23: the UK referendum on whether to remain in the European Union. Polls show that this race, like the one in Austria, may come down to the final vote.



WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY

  • American comic legend Bill Cosby arrives in court to face sexual assault allegations.
  • Euro zone's finance ministers expected to OK 10 million euros in new loans to Greece.


MIGRANTS CLEARED IN GREECE

Greek authorities this morning began forcing thousands of immigrants, many of them war refugees, from a makeshift camp on the country's northern border with Macedonia. Read more from BBC.


BRAZIL MINISTER CAUGHT ON TAPE

A close ally of acting Brazilian President Michael Temer was forced to resign after an audio recording appeared to reveal his attempts to block a corruption investigation, Folha de Sao Paulo reports.


— WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

After being convicted by a U.S. court, Kazakhstan-born computer engineer Alexandra Elbakyan is now an international copyright outlaw. Her Sci-Hub website offers free access to millions of academic publications, a direct challenge to the entire publishing and academic establishment. "I want to collect the entire range of scientific and educational literature and make it accessible to the whole world. Just like Google Books, but maybe in a more ambitious way," she has said. It is a deceptively unrealistic goal, for Elbakyan's adventure is part of a widespread global movement within the scientific community: "Open Access" promotes free access to the entire range of scientific literature and is starting to take off in some disciplines… Read the full Le Monde article: This Kazakh Hacker Wants To Destroy The Academic Publishing Establishment


HARDLINER WINS KEY POST IN IRAN

Known for his rigid views, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, an 89-year-old cleric, was chosen today as the speaker of Iran's Assembly of Experts, a key body responsible for electing the country's supreme leader, among other tasks.


OBAMA'S VIETNAM TOUR

President Barack Obama won cheers from his hosts in Vietnam with a (China) reference to bigger nations that "bully" smaller ones. Still, Vietnamese authorities reportedly barred local activists from a planned meeting with Obama. Meanwhile the commander-in-chief grabbed a $6 noodle meal in Hanoi with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain.


— ON THIS DAY

Queen Victoria, the Brooklyn Bridge and more in your daily 57-second shot of history for May 24.


FACEBOOK CHANGES POLICY AFTER BIAS CLAIM

The social media giant continues to deny claims that it filtered out conservative articles from its feed, but has nonetheless announced that it will change its mechanisms to "minimize the risk of bias from individual human judgment," in response to a Senate inquiry into alleged censorship.


— MORE STORIES, EXCLUSIVELY IN ENGLISH BY WORLDCRUNCH


OLD BREW

Archeologists in central China say they've unearthed the oldest known brewery on record, dating back some 5,000 years, with evidence of ancient jugs and a local strain of barley. No sign thus far of any sofa or remote control.


— Crunched by Cynthia Martens

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

The Real Purpose Of The Moscow Drone Strike? A Decoy For Ukraine's Counterattack

Putin is hesitant to mobilize troops for political reasons. And the Ukrainian military command is well aware that the key to a successful offensive lies in creating new front lines, where Russia will have to relocate troops from Ukraine and thus weaken the existing front.

The Real Purpose Of The Moscow Drone Strike? A Decoy For Ukraine's Counterattack

Police officers stand in front of an apartment block hit by a drone in Moscow.

Anna Akage

-Analysis-

On the night of May 30, military drones attacked the Russian capital. There were no casualties – just broken windows and minor damage to homes. Ukraine claims it had nothing to do with the attack, and it is instead the frenzied artificial intelligence of military machines that do not understand why they are sent to Kyiv.

While the Ukrainian president’s office jokes that someone in Russia has again been smoking somewhere they shouldn’t, analysts are placing bets on the real reasons for the Moscow strikes. Many believe that Kyiv's real military target can by no means be the capital of Russia itself: it is too far from the front and too well defended – and strikes on Russia, at least with Western weapons, run counter to Ukraine’s agreements with allies, who have said that their weapons cannot be used to attack inside Russia.

If the goal is not directly military, maybe it is psychological: to scare the residents of the capital, who live in a parallel reality and have no idea how life feels for Ukrainian civilians. Forcing people to live with this reality could push the Kremlin to retreat, or at least make concessions and negotiate with Kyiv. If neither sanctions nor the elite could sober Vladimir Putin up, could angry Muscovites?

But neither Russia's military command nor its political leadership depends on the opinion of citizens. And there are enough special forces in Moscow to crush any mass protest.

Laying bare Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inability to guarantee his country's security, in front of Russia’s remaining international partners or among the country’s elites, is also an unlikely goal. The Russian army has already seen such embarrassing failures that a few drone strikes on the Kremlin can’t possibly change how Putin is seen as a leader, or Russia as a state. So why would Kyiv launch attacks on Moscow?

Let's go back to the date of the shelling: May 29 is Kyiv Day, a holiday in the Ukrainian capital. It was also the 16th attack on Kyiv in May alone, unprecedented in its scale, even compared to the winter months when Russia had still hoped to cut off Ukrainian electricity and leave Kyiv residents, or even the whole country, freezing in the dark.

The backdrop: the Ukrainian counter-offensive to liberate the occupied territories, which is in the works, if not already launched.

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