- 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.”
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)
Egypt Seizes Ship That Blocked Suez Canal Until Owners Pay Nearly $1 Billion
- Egyptian authorities seized the Ever Given, a mega-ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month, after a judge ruled Wednesday that the owners must pay $900 million in damages.
- The ship was seized just as it was deemed fit to return to sea after undergoing repairs in the Great Bitter Lake, which sits in the middle of the Suez Canal.
- The vessel’s owners said little about the verdict, but insurance companies covering the ship pushed back against the $900 million price tag, saying it’s far too much for any damage the ship actually caused.
Ever Given Still in Egypt
An Egyptian court blocked the mega-ship known as the Ever Given from leaving the country Wednesday morning unless its owner pays nearly $1 billion in compensation for damages it caused after blocking the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month.
The Ever Given’s ordeal started when it slammed into the side of the canal and became lodged, which caused billions of dollars worth of goods to be held up on both sides of the canal while crews worked round the clock to free the vessel. An Egyptian judge found that the Ever Given becoming stuck caused not only physical damage to the canal that needed to be paid for but also “reputational” damage to Egypt and the Suez Canal Authority.
The ship’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, will need to pay $900 million to free the ship and the cargo it held, both of which were seized by authorities after the ship was transported to the Great Bitter Lake in the middle of the canal to undergo now-finished repairs. Shoei Kisen Kaisha doesn’t seem to want to fight the judgment in court just yet. It released a short statement after the ruling, saying that lawyers and insurance companies were working on the claims but refused to comment further.
Pushing Back Against The Claim
While Shoei Kisen Kaisha put in a claim with insurers, those insurance companies aren’t keen on just paying the bill. One of the ship’s insurers, UKP&I, challenged the basis of the $900 million claim, writing in a press release, “The [Suez Canal Authority] has not provided a detailed justification for this extraordinarily large claim, which includes a $300 million claim for a ‘salvage bonus’ and a $300 million claim for ‘loss of reputation.’”
“The grounding resulted in no pollution and no reported injuries. The vessel was re-floated after six days and the Suez Canal promptly resumed their commercial operations.”
It went on to add that the $900 million verdict doesn’t even include payments to the crews that worked to free the ship, meaning that the total price tag of the event could likely be far more for Shoei Kisen Kaisha and the multiple insurance companies it works with.
See what others are saying: (Financial Times) (CNN) (The Telegraph)
Treated Radioactive Water From Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Will Be Released Into Ocean
- The Japanese government confirmed Tuesday that it will officially move forward with plans to dump millions of gallons of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
- The government spent a decade decontaminating the water, only leaving a naturally occurring isotope in it that scientists recognize as safe for people and the environment.
- Despite the safety claims, protesters took to the streets in Tokyo to show disapproval of the decision. Local business owners, in particular, have expressed fears that more municipalities worldwide could ban Fukushima products, including fish, because of distrust in the water.
- Meanwhile, officials have insisted that the dump is necessary as the water takes up a massive amount of space, which is needed to store highly radioactive fuel rods from the remaining cores at the now-defunct nuclear facility.
Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.
Radioactive or Bad Publicity?
After years of discussions and debate, the Japanese government announced Tuesday that it will dump radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
Government officials consider the move necessary, but it’s facing backlash from local businesses, particularly fisheries, over potential consequences it could have. Many are especially concerned that the decision will create bad press for the region as headlines about it emerge. For instance, a headline from the Guardian on the issue reads, “Japan announces it will dump contaminated water into sea.”
While the water is contaminated and radioactive, it’s not nearly what the headlines make it out to be. The government has spent the last decade decontaminating it, and now it only contains a trace amount of the isotope tritium. That isotope is common in nature and is already found in trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world. Its radiation is so weak that it can’t pierce human skin, meaning one could only possibly get sick by ingesting more than that has ever been recorded.
According to the government, the decontaminated water at Fukushima will be diluted to 1/7 of the WHO’s acceptable radiation levels for drinking water before being released into the ocean over two years.
Something Had To Eventually Be Done
Over the last decade, Japan has proposed this plan and other similar ones, such as evaporating the water, which the International Atomic Energy Agency said last year met global standards.
The water has been sitting in containers for years, so why is there a push to remove it now? Space and leakage seem to be the primary reasons.
The water containers are slowly being filled by groundwater, and the government expects to run out of space relatively soon. Space is sorely needed, as Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has pointed out in the past that the government wants to use the space to store damaged radioactive fuel rods that still need to be extracted from the plant. Unlike the water, those rods are dangerously radioactive and need proper storage.
Regardless, Suga reportedly recognizes that removing the water is going to end up as a lose-lose situation.
“It is inevitable that there would be reputational damage regardless of how the water will be disposed of, whether into the sea or into the air,” he said at a press conference last week. As expected, the government’s decision did trigger backlash, prompting many demonstrators to take to the streets of Tokyo Tuesday in protest.
To this day, eleven countries and regions still ban many products from the Fukushima prefecture despite massive clean-up efforts that have seen people returning to the area to live.
Greta Thunberg To Skip U.N. Climate Change Conference, Citing Vaccine Inequality
- Young environmental activist Greta Thunberg will not attend the U.N.’s climate change conference set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland this November.
- “Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem,” the 18-year-old tweeted Friday, adding, “Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions.”
- Since rollouts began late last year, 40% of vaccines have been administered in wealthy and Western countries, according to The Washington Post.
- Scientists have warned that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.
Thunberg Points To Vaccine Inequality
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has said she is skipping the UN’s climate change conference.
The COP26 summit is set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland in November, but 18-year-old Thunberg told BBC she won’t attend because she’s concerned about the impact COVID-19 will have on attendance.
In a Twitter thread Friday, she responded to a headline about her plans to miss the summit.
“Of course I would love to attend…But not unless everyone can take part on the same terms. Right now many countries are vaccinating healthy young people, often at the expense of risk groups and front line workers (mainly from global south, as usual…),” she wrote.
“Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem.”
“Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions,” the teen continued.
Thunberg went on to say that if the summit is delayed, it doesn’t mean urgent action should too.
“We don’t have to wait for conferences nor anyone or anything else to dramatically start reducing our emissions. Solidarity and action can start today,” she added before noting that digital alternatives for the conference would also be insufficient.
“High speed internet connection and access to computers is extremely unequal in the world. In that case we would lack representation from those whose voices need to be heard the most when it comes to the climate crisis,” she wrote.
Data on Global Vaccine Distribution Efforts
According to The Washington Post, nearly 20% of people in the United States are now vaccinated, but many other countries are unlikely to hit that same metric by the end of the year, even with international assistance through the Covax program.
Current projections predict it could be years before developing countries distribute enough doses to come close to herd immunity, which scientists say requires inoculating around 70-80% of a population.
Since rollouts began late last year, enough shots have been distributed to fully vaccinate about 5% of the world’s population, but The Post reported that the vast majority have been administered in wealthy and Western countries.
Around 40% of vaccines have been given in 27 wealthy nations that include only 11% of the world’s population, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.
That’s pretty concerning because scientists also warn that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.
Thunberg’s comments are a blow for U.K. organizers, who have already postponed the conference once from last November because of the pandemic. Even now, there has been speculation that it could be delayed again this year.
Thunberg would not play a formal role at the conference but her decision not to attend is a significant symbolic moment.
At COP25, the young climate change activist gave a headline speech and she typically attends major climate events of this nature. On top of that, reports say this summit was slated to be one of the most consequential climate conferences since the 2015 Paris accord.
On the agenda for this year’s conference discussions were country-level plans for cutting carbon emissions, along with progress on the Paris agreement and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.