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Sensemaker: Belarusian crisis

Sensemaker: Belarusian crisis

What just happened

Long stories short

  • President Bah Ndaw was detained in an army camp outside Bamako in what seemed to be Mali’s second coup in less than a year.
  • Priti Patel said facial recognition cameras could end queues for passport control at UK borders.
  • Bavaria’s cows were told they will have to wait up to a fortnight before going to their summer pastures, on account of lingering snow.

Belarusian crisis

The EU’s 27 states agreed to new sanctions against Belarus in response to the seizure of Roman Protasevich, an opposition activist-journalist, and Sofia Sapega, his girlfriend. Joe Biden called the capture “an affront to international norms”. Flights over or into Belarus are to be banned. 

Unbowed, Aleksandr Lukashenko’s regime has now paraded Protasevich before cameras, denying rumours that he had been hospitalised with a heart condition and confessing to crimes: his father believes he has been beaten and that his nose has been broken. The statement is certainly scripted and wooden.

“I continue to cooperate with the investigation and am giving confessional testimony on charges of organizing mass unrest in the city of Minsk,” Protasevich said.

As Paul wrote in yesterday’s Sensemaker, the nature of the capture of Protasevich and Sapega was astonishing. The Belarusians diverted a flight from Athens to Vilnius mid-air and forced it to land in Minsk with a confected terror threat. We now know the invented bomb was supposedly from Hamas, the Palestinian organisation. 

It is a sign of Russia’s approval of the process – and the regime – that they have made a point of supporting the capture. “We consider this issue to be a domestic affair of Belarus,” Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman, said. “The actions of the Belarusian aviation authorities were in line with international standards.”

Russia’s support for the regime will sustain it. The aviation ban may, however, be significant in creating further resistance to the regime: the NYT ($) reports that the ease of travel from Belarus to other states has been important for softening the experience of the regime. 

“If they close down the air loophole, there’s no question that the pressure inside the country will increase,” Yevgeny Lipkovich, a Minsk-based commentator said. “And it’s disgusting to live in a pariah state.” 

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

George Floyd
It is a year to the day since George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin, a police officer, in Minneapolis, sparking the surge of Black Lives Matter protests through last year. Chauvin has been convicted, but this is a day when there will be a lot of taking stock about the last year. Joe Biden will meet the Floyd family. There have been narrow, direct effects: bans on chokeholds by police have been enacted in 17 US states. There are fewer statues up of execrable people. But the world is much as it was. 

New things technology, science, engineering

Ron DeSantis, Florida’s governor, has signed into law a new provision that would open social media companies to fines if they do not allow candidates for Floridian office onto their platforms. The fines range from $250,000 per day for statewide office candidates and $25,000 per day for non-statewide offices. The law is unconstitutional as a limit on free speech and it clashes with federal law on the topic, but it is another sign that the Republican Party is not letting go of Trumpism any time soon. Donald Trump is still banned from most networks – and anti-tech populism is a thickening thread in the Trumpists’ world view

The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Hapless Britain
The English government imposed a series of coronavirus travel restrictions on a number of towns and cities in England over the weekend, but forgot to tell anyone, including the local authorities responsible for those areas. According to the guidance, journeys to and from these areas – those affected by the Indian variant of the virus – throughout the UK should be avoided “unless essential”. But this information was put up on a government website at 5:26pm last week, and no one noticed until yesterday

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Tax changes
The FT reports ($) that the G7 group of nations is close to agreeing to a plan for a unified front on corporate taxation, following Joe Biden’s drive to get states to work together to clamp down on avoidance. His plan envisages a minimum tax rate (now 15 per cent) combined with measures allowing states to take a share of taxes based on revenues generated in their territories. The aim is to tax businesses before they get the money into havens. An informal G7 deal could foreshadow a formal one in negotiations taking place at the OECD in Paris, as well as agreement between the wider G20 group of countries.

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Giant otters
If there is one thing that my day on Sensemaker stands for, it is reporting details of new animal discoveries. And that includes discoveries of animals feared to have died out – like this giant otter in Argentina, not seen there for decades. Sebastián Di Martino captured the otter on his phone while kayaking. “It reared up, so its white chest was visible, which I recognised as the giant river otter [Pteronura brasiliensis]. At this point, your legs go weak and your heart starts beating faster.” The two explanations are that it’s an immigrant otter who has traveled 1,000km from the nearest known colony – or there’s an unknown local population.

Stay safe, wash your hands, open windows when you can. 

Chris Cook

Photographs by Getty Images

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