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In The News

Russia Strikes More Civilian Targets, Estonia Prime Minister Resigns, Nintendo Pictures

Photo of two mean carrying rubble on the streets of Rubizhne in Luhansk Oblast, in eastern Ukraine, as the region keeps being hit by heavy Russian shelling.

In the streets of Rubizhne, Luhansk Oblast, eastern Ukraine.

Bertrand Hauger

👋 Merhaba!*

Welcome to Thursday, where Russia keeps shelling non-military targets across Ukraine, Estonia’s prime minister resigns to form a new government and Nintendo eyes the big screen. Meanwhile, Serhiy Haidai (President Zelensky's chief adviser on the Donbas) tells Ukrainian daily Livy Bereg why the Ukrainian military was forced to retreat from key positions.



What Boris Johnson's fall says about the troubled state of Western democracy

Boris Johnson's resignation is another example of the political crises in the democratic world. But that does not necessarily mean that dictators and despots will win. In French daily Les Echos, political analyst Dominique Moïsi writes:

Even Vladimir Putin could not save Boris Johnson. The invasion of Ukraine bought the Conservative Party leader a few weeks or even months. But enough was enough. The man who presented himself as the heir in line to Winston Churchill was only an actor, full of panache to be sure, but above all he was an inveterate liar. The illustration, next only to Donald Trump, of the political crisis in the democratic world.

Boris Johnson’s resignation as the leader of the Conservative party is even more spectacular because he had at his disposal, since the 2019 elections, a very comfortable majority of 80 MPs in British Parliament. And the international context should have logically worked in his favor. But his lack of integrity posed a major problem.

It is clear that, from Moscow to Beijing, people have been rejoicing in the fall of a man who has been a staunch supporter of both Ukrainians and liberal forces in Hong Kong. Russian troops may be weaker than Putin thought, but British political life is chaotic to say the least. One man’s joy is another man’s sorrow.

In fact, the West's Asian allies are increasingly wondering whether, in order to confront China, they are not taking too great a political risk by relying on the support of Washington, London and Paris — not to mention Brussels.

To them, the democratic West has become as much a source of trouble as a solution. America is tearing itself apart and facing an attempt at a cultural counter-revolution led by a fundamentalist right that now has a majority in the Supreme Court.

Boris Johnson’s serial lies have driven his fall. And Emmanuel Macron has only had a relative majority in the French parliament since the last legislative elections. From Tokyo to Seoul, from Jakarta to New Delhi, people legitimately worry. Do Western powers fake their interest in the rest of the world? Ever since the crisis in London, the BBC, focused on domestic news, has only covered the war in Ukraine sporadically. Vladimir Putin, who is accelerating in the Donbas, seems to have understood this.

And even if the West’s interest in the rest of the world is real, is it really giving itself the means to achieve its ambitions? In Africa or in Latin America, the West is perceived as too interested in Ukraine and not enough in other global tragedies.

In an Asia that is increasingly living in the shadow of the Chinese threat, what is being denounced is not the West’s selective emotions, but its incapacity to seriously focus on global challenges. Zapping is not a Western privilege, of course. But the Asian capital cities who share with us a set of common values, the foundation of which is democracy, would almost blame us for the dysfunction of our political systems.

Their message could read: “Show more continuity and more efficiency, even if that means “a little less democracy.”

The political challenges faced by Great Britain and France are certainly an obstacle to these two countries’ international role. But let’s be honest, in the rest of the non-Western democratic world, people worry much more about the future of the United States than the future of the great European nations. Can a deeply divided America continue to be the leader of the democratic world and the main protector of an Asian continent in the face of rising Chinese ambitions?

For some analysts, the very fact that American public opinion shows little interest in international issues is a fairly good sign. A mix of indifference and ignorance should allow Washington to pursue its foreign policy objectives. The American empire is certainly on the decline, but the pace of this process is too slow for it to stand as a true obstacle to America’s ambitions. In other words, America could “rot” from the inside and remain strong on the outside.

The analysis may be objectively correct, but it does not take into account the emotional aspect of the problem. By decreeing that women, as opposed to men, cannot freely have control over their bodies, the U.S. Supreme Court has alienated itself from a little more than half of humanity. And this is at the exact moment when humanitarian organizations are denouncing the systemic use of rape as a weapon of war by Russian soldiers. These rapes are perpetrated right in front of families to cause the maximum amount of long-term psychological damages. At the same time, in Afghanistan, the Taliban have closed access to education to female students.

The indisputable crisis of the Western democratic model does not necessarily mean the unavoidable triumph of Eastern despotism, which is carried by a Putin who dreams of Peter the Great and a Xi Jinping who sees himself as a blend between an emperor of the Ming dynasty and Mao Zedong. Like all authoritarian regimes, Putin’s Russia hangs on the fate of battles. And it is far from having won on the battleground.

As for China, the country is beginning to demographically age and shrink. And since the dramatic hardening of the regime, it has become more difficult to maintain that the torch of history is irresistibly moving towards a China-dominated Asia. One may even wonder whether the great beneficiary in the long run will be India, which is more moderate despite its current leader’s religious nationalism.

In short, it's too soon to say that the current Western democratic crises are part of an inevitable shift of power to the East.

— Dominique Moïsi / Les Echos


• Russia strikes civilian targets across Ukraine: The Russian army continues to use artillery weapons to strike Ukrainian cities, regularly hitting non-military targets. Mykolaiv, in the south of the country, was attacked en masse as a missile strike destroyed a hotel and damaged a shopping mall. At least eight people died amid shelling in the city center of Vinnytsia, in west-central Ukraine, while a school was destroyed in Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region.

• Estonian prime minister resigns: Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas has announced her resignation in order to form a new government coalition, ending a month-long political impasse as the Baltic country struggles with inflation, energy woes and security issues posed by the war in neighboring Ukraine.

• Sri Lanka update: Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has left the Maldives for Singapore, after being forced to flee his country amid mass protests. Rajapaksa had pledged to resign by Wednesday but has so far failed to submit a formal resignation. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe asked the country’s military to do "whatever is necessary to restore order" a day after protesters stormed his office on Wednesday.

• New COVID surge in Asia: A new wave of COVID-19, thought to be the BA.4/5 Omicron variant, is spreading rapidly through Asia, prompting fears of health care systems being overwhelmed in New Zealand, Japan and South Korea, with Australia worrying that the strain may soon reach its shores.

• Italy government on the brink: Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi's broad coalition government faces potential collapse, as Italy’s Five-Star Movement says it refuses to back the government in a confidence vote expected today, prompting calls for early elections.

• Dozens missing in Virginia floods: Search and rescue efforts are underway as at least 44 people are unaccounted for after severe floods hit rural southwest Virginia in the U.S.

• Presenting “Nintendo Pictures”: Japanese video game company Nintendo has announced its acquisition of CG production company Dynamo Pictures (to be renamed “Nintendo Pictures”) in order to “focus on development of visual content”. The move comes ahead of the release next year of an animated movie based on Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. franchise.


Tel Aviv-based daily Israel Hayom says that “Iran is on the table” as U.S. President Biden lands in Israel for his first Middle East tour as president. Greeted by Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Biden said, “You don’t need to be a Jew to be a Zionist” and praised the U.S. relationship with Israel as “bone-deep,” while Lapid called Biden “one of the best friends Israel has ever known”. The visit is expected to lead to the signing of a joint pledge to deny Iran nuclear weapons.



Veteran activist Alexandra Wong, affectionately nicknamed Grandma Wong (王婆婆, pronounced Wáng pópo), has been found guilty of two counts of illegal assembly by a Hong Kong court and sentenced to eight months in jail. Wong, a fixture of democracy protests in the special administrative region of China, had already served two short terms on similar grounds in 2021 and earlier this year.


Serhiy Haidai: Ukraine's man in Donbas is forced to explain Russian gains

Ukrainian newspaper Livy Bereg asked Serhiy Haidai (head of the Luhansk Military Administration and Volodymyr Zelensky's chief adviser on the Donbas) why he did not hold Ukraine's position in the Luhansk region.

🎖 Serhiy Haidai is a 46-year-old businessman with a salt-and-pepper beard and stern disposition. He is despised by Russians, but he is also increasingly criticized at home. Ukraine's military has been losing ground in the Luhansk oblast since the beginning of the war, suffering heavy losses among its personnel and civilians, and has been forced to abandon two major cities, Severodonetsk and Lysychansk.

👎 Among Ukrainians, Haidai is still considered almost a traitor, because he could not hold his position in the region — although it was Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky who personally gave the command to save the personnel of the battalions in the oblast and to get the people out.

💬 Haidai tells Livy Bereg: “The fact is that we still do not have enough weapons to at least stop this Russian invasion. We need many more long-range Western weapons, because as we have already learned from our own experience, on the battlefield Russian soldiers are nothing special. But they do have a lot of artillery and, as our soldiers say, almost unlimited amounts of ammunition.”

⏩ Discussing forced mobilization in the newly occupied territories, Haidai adds that the Russian military is always coming up with “some new tricks to lure men.” For example, he says, through the announcement that the municipal utilities are hiring men offering huge salaries: “If people come to get a job, the next day the military comes for them, issues summons and sends them to the front lines.”

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


I will move down and eventually off the list of the world’s richest people.

— U.S. billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates tweeted: “As I look to the future, I plan to give virtually all of my wealth to the foundation,” as announced he would make a $20-billion donation to his philanthropic fund. The Microsoft co-founder, whose current fortune is estimated at $118 billion, made a similar pledge back in 2010, but his net worth has more than doubled since.


Scenes of destruction in the streets of Rubizhne in Luhansk Oblast, in eastern Ukraine, as the region keeps being hit by heavy Russian shelling. — Photo: Stanislav Krasilnikov/TASS

✍️ Newsletter by Bertrand Hauger

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How WeChat Is Helping Bhutan's Disappearing Languages Find A New Voice

Phd candidate Tashi Dema, from the University of New England, discusses how social media apps, particularly WeChat, are helping to preserve local Bhutanese languages without a written alphabet. Dema argues that preservation of these languages has far-reaching benefits for the small Himalayan country's rich culture and tradition.

A monk in red performing while a sillouhet of a monk is being illuminated by their phone.

Monk performing while a sillouheted monk is on their phone

Source: Caterina Sanders/Unsplash
Tashi Dema

THIMPHU — Dechen, 40, grew up in Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan. Her native language was Mangdip, also known as Nyenkha, as her parents are originally from central Bhutan. She went to schools in the city, where the curriculum was predominantly taught in Dzongkha, the national language, and English.

In Dechen’s house, everyone spoke Dzongkha. She only spoke her mother tongue when she had guests from her village, who could not understand Dzongkha and during her occasional visits to her village nestled in the mountains. Her mother tongue knowledge was limited.

✉️ You can receive our Bon Vivant selection of fresh reads on international culture, food & travel directly in your inbox. Subscribe here.

However, things have now changed.

With 90% of Bhutanese people using social media and social media penetrating all remotes areas in Bhutan, Dechen’s relatives in remote villages are connected on WeChat.

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