What just happened
Long stories short
– President Biden said he stands “squarely” behind the US decision to leave Afghanistan as military flights evacuating diplomats and civilians from Kabul resume.
– Bob Dylan is being sued by a woman who says he sexually abused her in 1965, when she was 12. Dylan’s spokesperson said “the claim is untrue and will be vigorously defended”.
– The British government revealed its strategy to use low-carbon hydrogen instead of natural gas to power industry, transport and three million homes by 2030.
Images of desperate Afghans attempting to flee Kabul have reminded European leaders that they still haven’t agreed on an effective migration policy, much less a humane one. As the European Commission vice president, Margaritis Schinas, put it on Sunday: “The clock has run out.” Why? Because Taliban rule will drive many to seek refuge in Europe, European nations will argue over who is responsible for them, and there’s a dictator willing to turn that conflict to his own ends. This summer Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, has used migrants to concoct a crisis in the Baltics.
Here’s the story:
To the EU via Belarus. Irregular migration to Lithuania is virtually unheard of, but this year over 4,000 people entered the country – and therefore the EU – from Belarus. That’s a small number compared with Lithuania’s population of three million, but it is 23 times higher than normal. Most weren’t Belarusians fleeing Lukashenko’s assault on pro-democracy protesters: the majority came from Iraq; others from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria and elsewhere. Leaders in Vilnius accused Lukashenko of sending the migrants as an act of “hybrid aggression”.
Why do they think Lukashenko is behind it? Over the past year, Lithuania has been among the most vocal critics of the Belarusian president’s regime. After Minsk diverted Ryanair Flight 4978 to Vilnius to arrest journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega, Lukashenko warned he would flood the bloc with “migrants and drugs” if the EU imposed economic sanctions on his country. Which it did.
What does Lukashenko say? He hasn’t explicitly admitted responsibility, but, at a marathon press conference last week, he said: “We are not blackmailing anyone with illegal immigration… We’re not threatening anyone. But you have put us in such circumstances that we are forced to react. And we’re reacting.”
What’s his motivation? Whenever irregular migration into the EU increases, its member states argue about who is responsible. Judy Dempsey, a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe, told Tortoise Lukashenko sees migration as the EU’s Achilles heel – and decided to target it. That could undermine the EU’s power to challenge his regime. Last week, the UK, USA and Canada announced further sanctions on Belarus, but the EU did not.
How has Lithuania responded? Vilnius declared a state of emergency, will erect a razor wire fence along its border with Belarus and has beefed up its powers to push migrants away from that border – a practice which is illegal if a group is collectively pushed back without individual migrants’ asylum claims being properly assessed. Neighbouring Latvia, which saw more than 200 irregular migrants arrive after Lithuania cracked down, followed suit.
What next? Interior ministers from EU member states will decide how to help Lithuania at an extraordinary meeting tomorrow. But the focus of the meeting is on security – which means trying to keep irregular migrants out. That will neither provide sanctuary for people fleeing the hands of brutal regimes like the Taliban, nor stop Lukashenko from using them as pawns in his future games.
Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries
Victory at last
Hakainde Hichilema cruised to victory in Zambia’s presidential election. Hichilema lost the 2006, 2008, 2011, 2015, and 2016 elections. This time round the 59-year-old businessman, a University of Birmingham MBA grad who says he used to walk to school barefoot, decisively beat the incumbent Edgar Lungu. His win eased fears that Zambia could lose its reputation as a beacon of democracy in Africa: Lungu blocked Hichilema’s party from campaigning in certain areas, deployed the military to the streets, and was accused of manipulating the voter register. But young people, angry at high unemployment rates and the ballooning cost of living, turned out in force for Hichilema. Victory against Lungu will taste all the sweeter for Hichilema, who was charged with treason in 2017 after obstructing the incumbent’s motorcade.
The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY
The number of Covid patients in hospitals in England rose to its highest level since March on Monday following warnings that Britain could face a “large wave of infection” when schools reopen and people return to offices in September. Professor Neil Ferguson from Imperial College London suggested hospital admissions could exceed 1,000 a day – up from 880 at present. As of yesterday fully vaccinated people and under-18s no longer need to isolate if they are pinged as Covid contacts – instead they are encouraged (but not required) to get a PCR test. Sajid Javid, the health secretary, called the move a step towards normality made possible by the “phenomenal success” of the vaccine rollout. Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, predicts the relaxation will fuel infections, as it comes at the time when “daily case numbers remain high” and when there is increasing evidence that fully vaccinated people “can still get infected with the Delta variant and spread infection to others”.
Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics
Scientists think they know where the asteroid which killed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago came from. The likely origin is the outer part of the solar system’s asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, frequented by “dark” asteroids: rocks that reflect barely any light. Researchers simulated more than 100,000 asteroid trajectories, finding that an asteroid more than six miles wide hurtled from the outer reaches of the belt towards Earth once every 250 million years. This is five times more common than previously thought. Half of those asteroids were the carbon-heavy type thought to have wiped out the dinosaurs. Elsewhere, Nasa increased the odds of asteroid Bennu hitting Earth before the year 2300 from 1 in 2,700 to 1 in 1,750. The riskiest single date is 24 September 2182, so make sure to pop that in your diaries.
New things technology, science, engineering
The US car safety regulator is investigating Tesla’s Autopilot system following 11 crashes with parked emergency vehicles that injured 17 people and killed one. Autopilot is Tesla’s “assisted driving” mode: the cars steer, accelerate and brake by themselves, although a human driver is meant to be alert and able to intervene at any time if things go wrong. The investigation will study how the Autopilot system monitors driver attention. It appears there are some flaws: the NYT says the Tesla owner’s manual tells drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel in Autopilot mode, but in practice an occasional tap on the wheel is sufficient to keep the car driving by itself. Tesla and Elon Musk haven’t commented on the investigation so far, but Musk has asserted in the past that Autopilot is safer than a human driver.
Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity
Finding safe havens
Investors are more interested rather than less in Chinese semiconductor, software and biotech firms following China’s regulatory crackdown on the tech sector, according to the FT. The value of venture capital investment in Chinese chip companies nearly quintupled in the second quarter, supported by a multibillion-dollar Beijing plan designed to counter US efforts to clip Chinese tech’s wings. Investors have also been buying into Chinese electric vehicle makers and renewable energy companies. But China’s own assault on internet platforms has hit its online food delivery, e-commerce, fintech, gaming and education companies. Investment in gaming and e-commerce firms fell by 96 and 54 per cent respectively in the second quarter. The lesson: international investors are highly attuned to Chinese policy and regard it as a reliable guide to safe bets in equities. If Xi Jinping hoped to steer overseas investors rather than pander to them, it’s working.
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Additional reporting by Sophia Sun and Ella Hill.
Photographs by Getty Images, NASA, Mindaugas Kulbis/AP/Shutterstock
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