Ukraine Escalation, Stabbing Rampage In China, Oscar-Winning Selfie

Ukraine, the "biggest crisis in Europe in the 21st century"
Ukraine, the "biggest crisis in Europe in the 21st century"

The Ukrainian crisis worsened over the weekend after the Russian Parliament approved President Vladimir Putin’s request to send in troops, putting the Ukrainian army on full alert, the BBC reports. According to U.S. officials, Russia now has some 6,000 airborne and ground troops in Crimea, leading them to admit that Moscow was in “complete operational control” of the much-coveted peninsula, The Guardian reports.

  • Speaking to the UN Council on Human Rights in Geneva, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the decision was not an aggression but a matter of defending human rights and Russian citizens, who constitute a majority of Crimea‘s population, RT reports. Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told NBC during Meet The Press, “You just don’t invade another country on phony pretext in order to assert your interests,” a criticism Salon characterizes as “ironic” and one that is likely to be badly perceived by Moscow given the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Kerry is expected to fly to Kiev tomorrow. The BBC’s North America editor Mark Mardell said the crisis would also be a test of President Obama’s leadership, “one that will demonstrate how much clout the U.S. has in the world.”

  • Meanwhile, at a press conference with Ukraine’s new Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned Russia of “consequences and costs” over the intervention, which Yatseniuk described as “declaration of war to my country,” Sky News reports.

  • Speaking earlier to the BBC, Hague characterized the developments in Ukraine as the “biggest crisis in Europe in the 21st century” and talked of “significant diplomatic and economic costs” for Russia. This echoed news of the suspended participation of the other seven countries to the next G8 summit, due to take place in Sochi later this year, and of more trouble for Russia’s currency, the rouble. The Russian central bank was forced to announce an emergency interest rate hike, raising its key lending rate to 7% after the rouble hit all-time lows against the euro and the dollar, Reuters reports. Follow the stock markets’ latest updates on The Guardian’s finance blog. For more about the economic context of the crisis, CNN has listed 5 reasons why the situation in Ukraine matters to the economy.

At least 74 people were killed in Nigeria over the weekend in several attacks attributed to Islamist group Boko Haram,AFP reports. The death toll, which witnesses said could still rise significantly, takes the number of victims since the beginning of this year over 300.

For more on the terrorist group, we offer this CFR/Worldcrunch piece: Boko Haram And Nigeria's Pervasive Violence.

Unidentified gunmen killed at least 11 people and injured another 25 in a court of Pakistani capital Islamabad this morning, The New York Times reports. According to the newspaper’s correspondent, the motive behind the attack is unclear, but it comes just after ceasefire agreements between the government and the Taliban, which denied responsibility.

The toll and accounts of the attack are gruesome: 29 dead, 143 injured, after 10 masked assailants stabbed anyone in sight at train station in Kunming, in southwest China on Saturday night. Authorities in Beijing blame terrorists from the Muslim ethnic Uighur minority.


And the award for most retweeted photo of all time goes to…
See the story behind the photo that will go down in Oscar history, and see a list of winner

Turkey’s Hurriyet daily reports on what it calls the nation’s War of Wiretapping: “Can it be anything but the country’s bad governance that turns citizens into mere spectators in a dirty political war?
A well-governed country would have been able to overcome its systemic problems in the decade-plus that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been in power. The existence of such wiretapping wars are proof that the problems of 1999 still continue in 2014, that no steps were taken to solve them.
Isn’t there anybody in Turkey ready to question the very existence of such a wiretapping war between political opponents? Why don’t we see such a form of corruption in Germany, France, the United States? Or even in Italy and Greece?
It is a kind of political law of physics: A country’s level of wiretapping wars is inversely proportional to its democratic accountability”.Read the full article here.

Iconic French film director Alain Resnais has died in Paris at age 91.

About 200 peaceful demonstrators, most of them college students, were arrested in Washington D.C. yesterday after a protest against the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline extension,The Washington Postreports. The protesters, who have repeatedly called on President Obama to reject the project, were arrested after they strapped themselves to the White House fence using plastic zip ties.

North Korea test fired two short-range missiles into the sea, Yonhap news agency quotes South Korean officials as saying. The move, which was described by a Defense Ministry spokesman as a “provocation,” comes after similar launches last week and as South Korea is currently holding military drills with the United States.

The trial of Oscar Pistorius, who is accused of having murdered his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp a year ago, began this morning in Pretoria. The South African athlete pleaded not guilty to all charges. Watch what some have described as the “trial of the century” live here.


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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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