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Sensemaker: Shots fired

Friday 25 June 2021

What just happened


Long stories short

  • The trial of six opposition figures in Belarus, including the husband of exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, over accusations of disorder and inciting hatred against officials began behind closed doors.
  • UK health secretary Matt Hancock declined to comment on reports of his affair with his aide Gina Coladangelo, whom he appointed to a non-executive directorship of the Department of Health.
  • A Greek priest was arrested for throwing acid in the faces of seven bishops who ordered his defrocking for possessing cocaine.

Shots fired

On the last day of August in 1919, the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Vittoria was sailing in the Gulf of Finland when a Bolshevik submarine called Pantera torpedoed its hull and sank it. It was the last time Russia fired on a British warship – or perhaps Wednesday morning was:

  • The Kremlin said that at around 10am HMS Defender sailed three kilometres into its “territorial waters” off Crimea, a Ukrainian region that Russia occupied and annexed in 2014. Most countries, including Britain, recognise the annexation as illegal and so view the waters off Crimea as Ukrainian.
  • Russia’s defence ministry said it “halted the violation” when one of its coast guard patrol vessels fired warning shots into Defender’s path and, 11 minutes later, one of its Su-24 fighter jets dropped four bombs near the destroyer, which continued to sail east.

Russia played up the events – describing them on its state television as part of an American plot to undermine the Kremlin – while Britain played them down. The Ministry of Defence said Defender was just doing a “routine transit” from Odessa to Georgia through Ukrainian waters, adding that there were no shots fired or bombs dropped near the ship. The Russian shots were, Britain said, part of a “gunnery exercise” of which they had “prior-warning”. No big deal.

Except it was extraordinary. As far as is publicly known, no Nato member has sailed so close to Crimea, which Russia has equipped with advanced missile, anti-aircraft, and jamming systems. And Defender normally escorts the aircraft-carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, which that morning was in the Mediterranean.

What, then, was Britain doing? The Defender no doubt knew it had BBC reporter Jonathan Beale on board. Beale said the destroyer deliberately sailed through Crimean waters, he presumed, to show that it still considers the region Ukrainian.

When Boris Johnson was asked whether he personally authorised the Defender’s route, he said: “I think it was wholly appropriate to use international waters, and by the way the important point is that we don’t recognise the Russian annexation of Crimea.”

Things may soon get even livelier. Between 28 June and 10 July, “Sea Breeze”, an annual Nato-led exercise of 32 navies, will be hosted by Ukraine and the US in the Black Sea to “strengthen maritime security” there. Russia’s embassy in the US said this year’s “Sea Breeze” will “increase risks of unintended incidents”.


Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Indigenous dead
A group of indigenous Canadians, the Cowessess First Nation, said it discovered “hundreds” of unmarked graves at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan province. The institution was used in an assimilation programme, which ran from the 19th century until the 1970s, that required more than 150,000 indigenous children to attend state-funded Christian schools. A month ago, the remains of 215 indigenous children were found at a former residential school in British Columbia. The Cowessess First Nation is working with experts and Marieval survivors to identify the unmarked graves. Indigenous leaders and archaeologists told the Globe and Mail that there will be more such finds, as public and private grants are supporting First Nations’ use of ground-penetrating radar technology to search for gravesites.


New things technology, science, engineering

Big tech bills
Despite intensive lobbying, the US House of Representatives approved legislation to limit the market dominance of big tech firms like Apple, Facebook, and Google. Key among the six bills that make up the American Choice and Innovation Online Act that Representatives approved was a measure to stop big tech firms from favouring their own products or services on their platforms. The package of bills, the result of an investigation by the House antitrust subcommittee that found big tech firms used their dominance to stifle competition, still needs to pass the full House. Chair of the antitrust subcommittee, Representative David N. Cicilline, told the Wall Street Journal that the unchecked power of big tech firms threatens American democracy and fairness. “At its core,” Cicilline said, “this issue is fundamentally about whether or not we have an economy where businesses fighting for economic survival can actually succeed.”


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

Long Covid
Around two million people in England may have had long Covid. The statistic comes from a government-supported survey at Imperial College London, React, which examines the prevalence of antibodies in the population. It’s based on the self-reported data of just over half a million adults who were surveyed between September and February. A third of the respondents said they had Covid symptoms that persisted for at least 12 weeks. Researchers have warned that managing the long-term effects of Covid, which can be debilitating, on the population will be a major challenge. “Long Covid is still poorly understood but we hope through our research that we can contribute to better identification and management of this condition,” Professor Paul Elliott, director of the React programme at Imperial College London, told the BBC.


Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Toy waste
The Lego Group, which makes coloured interlocking plastic bricks, said it has cracked the formula for producing bricks made out of recycled plastic bottles. The new bricks are still a prototype and the Danish toymaker is testing their durability for mass-production. If they succeed, the company thinks it could make ten of its 2-by-4 bricks out of every one-litre plastic bottle. Success would also allow Lego to move away from its current means of production: bricks from virgin plastic derived from crude oil.


Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Free Britney
Britney Spears asked a judge in Los Angeles to end the conservatorship – a legal arrangement that gave her father control over her finances, visitors, and medical decisions – that was established in 2008. Spears, now 39 years old, told the judge that she had objected to the conservatorship and said it restricted whom she dated, her contraceptive choices, and even the colour of her kitchen cabinets. The “Free Britney” movement to end Spears’s conservatorship is often mocked as fan hysteria (yesterday Spears apologised to her fans for “pretending I’ve been ok”). But its implications are potentially significant. According to the Economist (£), some 1.3 million old or mentally impaired Americans, with a combined $50 billion in assets, are subject to a conservatorship or guardianship.

Thanks for reading, and please share this around.

Paul Caruana Galizia
@pcaruanagalizia

Photographs by Russian Federal Security Service\TASS via Getty Images, Canadian Press/Shutterstock, Lego


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