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Comedian Who Plays Ukrainian President on TV Elected as Actual President

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  • Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian with no political experience, won the Ukrainian presidential election by a landslide Sunday, beating President Petro Poroshenko.
  • Zelensky is best known for playing a teacher who unexpectedly becomes president of Ukraine in a popular TV show
  • Zelensky has promised to crack down on corruption and end the war with Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine but has not outlined any specific ways to do so
  • Many are worried he will be susceptible to Russian pressure.

Volodymyr Zelensky Wins Election

Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky won the Ukrainian presidential election by a landslide on Sunday, defeating incumbent president Petro Poroshenko with over 73 percent of the vote.

Zelensky has no political experience and is most famous for starring in a television show that translates to Servant of the People, where he plays a teacher who unintentionally becomes the president of Ukraine. He declared victory last night after the results came in.

“To all Ukrainians, no matter where you are, I promise that I will never let you down,” Zelensky said in his victory speech. “Though I’m still not president, I can say as a Ukrainian citizen to all the countries of the former Soviet Union: Look at us. Everything is possible.”

Poroshenko for his part readily conceded his post as president. “Next month, I will leave the post of the head of state,” said Poroshenko in his formal concession. “That’s how the majority of Ukrainians decided, and I accept this decision.”

Poroshenko also applauded the election process itself in a tweet where he wrote: “Ukraine has put a new high standard for the democratic electoral campaign.”

What Next?

Poroshenko’s concession seems to signal there will be a smooth transition of power when Zelensky assumes office next month.

With this historic election, many are wondering what this means for Ukraine. In many ways, Sunday’s election was a sort of referendum for how Ukrainian’s see the political establishment. Specifically, how they perceive the establishment five years after the 2014 Ukranian Revolution overthrew the government and Russia annexed Crimea, which was part of Ukraine.

Given the results of the election, it is clear that many Ukranian’s are unhappy with the current state of affairs and how the government is handling them. Zelensky is extremely popular because he is viewed as a fresh new leader who does not have ties to Ukraine’s political elite.

He campaigned on promises to crack down on corruption and uproot the political elites that have a ton of political influence. He also promised to end the war in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian government forces and Russian separatists, which has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014.

However, Zelensky has not said exactly how he will achieve these goals at all.

The Russia Question

In addition to not having outlined policies and plans, many people are also worried that Zelensky is unqualified to deal with Russia. One of Poroshenko’s main criticisms during the campaign was that Zelensky would be unprepared for a confrontation with Russia.

Zelensky has said he will have open dialogues with Russia and has promised not to give away any Ukranian-owned territory in negotiations with Vladimir Putin. However, both experts and politicians are worried he will make Ukraine more susceptible to Russian influence.

Russia has reportedly been careful not to show outright support for Zelensky because if they did, they would likely tank his popularity. However, experts have said that it is fairly evident that Putin wanted Poroshenko out.

Poroshenko addressed the Russia question in a tweet Sunday night writing that the Kremlin “believe that with a new inexperienced Ukrainian President Ukraine could be quickly returned to Russia’s orbit of influence.”

Questionable Ties to Ihor Kolomoisky

Despite his promise to crack down on corruption and elites, Zelensky has been criticized for his close ties to a wealthy oligarch named Ihor Kolomoisky.

Some have even said that Zelensky is just the surrogate for Kolomoisky, who is a well-known rival of Poroshenko. Kolomoisky moved to Israel after he was involved in a multi-billion dollar banking scandal.

Kolomoisky and Zelensky have been business partners through their work on television. The television show Zelensky stars in is broadcasted on Kolomoisky’s TV channel, and Zelensky even announced his candidacy on the channel.

Both men have denied that Kolomoisky has any connections to Zelensky’s campaign. Zelensky has promised that he will not be influenced by Kolomoisky while in office.

Regardless of what happens next, Zelensky’s win represents part of the broader global trend of political outsiders using television and social media to win elections against more traditional establishment candidates.

Ukraine’s election will also likely effect Russia and other former-Soviet Union countries, many of which do not have democratic electoral systems. However, unlike other underdog leaders that have been elected recently, Zelensky has come out against populist ideas that have become more and more prominent, like hostility toward immigrants and minorities.

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (The Washington Post) (The Guardian)

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Leaked Documents and Photos Give Unprecedented Glimpse Inside Xinjiang’s Detention Camps

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The so-called vocational schools, which China claims Uyghurs enter willingly as students, oversee their detainees with watchtowers armed with machine guns and sniper rifles, as well as guards instructed to shoot to kill anyone trying to escape.


Detained for Growing a Beard

The BBC and a consortium of investigative journalists have authenticated and published a massive trove of leaked documents and photographs exposing the Chinese government’s persecution of Uyghur Muslims in unprecedented detail.

According to the outlet, an anonymous source hacked several police computer servers in the northwestern Xinjiang province, then sent what has been dubbed the Xinjiang police files to the scholar Dr. Adrian Zenz, who gave them to reporters.

Among the files are more than 5,000 police photographs of Uyghurs taken between January and July 2018, with accompanying data indicating at least 2,884 of them were detained.

Some of the photos show guards standing nearby with batons.

The youngest Uyghur photographed was 15 at the time of their detention, and the oldest was 73.

One document is a list titled “Relatives of the Detained,” which contains thousands of people placed under suspicion for guilt by association with certain family members. It includes a woman whose son authorities claimed had “strong religious leanings” because he didn’t smoke or drink alcohol. He was jailed for ten years on terrorism charges.

The files also include 452 spreadsheets with information on more than a quarter of a million Uyghurs, some of whom were detained retroactively for offenses committed years or even decades ago.

One man was jailed for ten years in 2017 because he “studied Islamic scripture with his grandmother” for a few days in 2010.

Authorities targeted hundreds more for their mobile phone use, like listening to “illegal lectures” or downloading encrypted apps. Others were punished for not using their phones enough, with “phone has run out of credit” listed as evidence they were trying to evade digital surveillance.

One man’s offense was “growing a beard under the influence of religious extremism.”

The Most Militarized Schools in the World

The files include documents outlining conditions inside Xinjiang’s detention camps, or so-called “Vocational Skills Education and Training Centers.”

Armed guards occupy every part of the facilities, with machine guns and sniper rifles stationed on watchtowers. Police protocols instruct guards to shoot to kill any so-called “students” trying to escape if they fail to stop after a warning shot.

Any apprehended escapees are to be taken away for interrogation while camp management focuses on “stabilizing other students’ thoughts and emotions.”

The BBC used the documents to reconstruct one of the camps, which data shows holds over 3,700 detainees guarded by 366 police officers who oversee them during lessons.

If a “student” must be transferred to another facility, the protocols say, police should blindfold them, handcuff them and shackle their feet.

Dr. Zenz published a peer-reviewed paper on the Xinjiang police files, in which he found that more than 12% of Uyghur adults were detained over 2017 and 2018.

“Scholars have argued that political paranoia is a common feature of atrocity crimes,” he wrote. “Here, it is suggested that the pre-emptive internment of large numbers of ordinary citizens can be explained as a devolution into political paranoia that promotes exaggerated threat perceptions.”

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Newsweek) (The Guardian)

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Biden Vows to Defend Taiwan if Attacked by China

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Some praised the remarks for clarifying U.S. foreign policy, while others feared they could escalate tensions with China.


Biden’s Remarks Create Confusion

During a Monday press conference in Tokyo, U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would intervene to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

The remark caught many off guard because it contradicted decades of traditional U.S. foreign policy toward China.

A reporter said, “You didn’t want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons. Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?”

“Yes,” Biden answered. “That’s a commitment we made. We are not — look, here’s the situation. We agree with a One China policy. We signed onto it and all the attendant agreements made from there.”

“But the idea that it can be taken by force — just taken by force — is just not appropriate,” he continued. “It will dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine.”

Beijing considers the Taiwanese island to be a breakaway province, but Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, has claimed to represent the real historical lineage of China.

Since 1972, the U.S. has officially recognized only one China, with its capital in Beijing. However, Washington maintains extensive informal diplomatic ties with Taipei and provides military assistance through weapons and training.

Successive U.S. presidents have also committed to a policy of “strategic ambiguity,” refusing to promise or rule out a direct military intervention in case China attacks Taiwan.

The strategy is meant to deter China while avoiding a hard commitment to any action.

Biden Sparks Controversy

The White House quickly sent a statement to reporters appearing to walk back Biden’s remark.

“As the president said, our policy has not changed,” the statement said. “He reiterated our One China Policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.”

Monday was not the first time Biden made similar remarks regarding China and Taiwan.

Last August, he promised that “we would respond” if there was an attack against a fellow member of NATO and then added, “same with Japan, same with South Korea, same with Taiwan.”

In October, he again told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the U.S. would defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack, prompting the White House to hurriedly walk back his statement.

Monday’s remark was received with support as well as criticism.

“Strategic ambiguity is over. Strategic clarity is here,” Tweeted Matthew Kroenig, professor of government at Georgetown University. “This is the third time Biden has said this. Good. China should welcome this. Washington is helping Beijing to not miscalculate.”

“It is truly dangerous for the president to keep misstating U.S. policy toward Taiwan,” historian Stephen Wertheim wrote in a tweet. “How many more times will this happen?”

“The West’s robust response to Russian aggression in Ukraine could serve to deter China from invading Taiwan, but Biden’s statement risks undoing the potential benefit and instead helping to bring about a Taiwan conflict,” he added. “Self-injurious and entirely unforced.”

Biden also unveiled the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), a trade agreement signed by the U.S. and 12 Asian nations.

The agreement appeared to many like another move to cut off China from regional trade pacts and supply chains in Washington’s strategic competition with Beijing.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (The South China Morning Post)

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Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders

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Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.


Azovstal Waves the White Flag

Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.

A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.

The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.

It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.

Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.

Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.

Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.

Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands

After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.

The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.

Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.

The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.

The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.

It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)

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