• Matthew Inui

Weekly News Blast | May 8-15

A summary of key world events from the past week.


1. Russia celebrates Victory Day.

Russia celebrated Victory Day with a parade in Red Square. (TASS)


Since 1945, Russia has commemorated its victory over the Nazis in World War II annually on May 9. Historically a day of parades in memory of World War II veterans, Victory Day has recently been used by Russian President Vladimir Putin to build support for his presidency. 2022 was no exception. Featuring thousands of soldiers and aircraft flying in Z formations, the symbol of the Russian military in Ukraine, the celebration undoubtedly was meant to galvanize support for the war effort. Most controversial was Putin’s decision to march marines from Ukraine alongside the families of World War II veterans in the “Immortal Regiment.” According to Russian journalist Maxim Trudolyubov, “They transformed this unifying myth that Russia had into a justification for an actual war.”


In addition to the military displays, President Putin gave a speech in Moscow’s Red Square centered around the war. He emphasized that attacking Ukraine was “inevitable” and “the only correct decision,” adding that Ukrainians were “on [the Russians’] land.” Addressing the Russian forces fighting in Ukraine, he said, “you are fighting for the Motherland, for its future, so that no one forgets the lessons of World War II.” People in Ukraine responded by pointing out the hypocrisy of this statement. As President Zelensky said in his Victory Day address, “decades after World War II, darkness has returned to Ukraine. And it became black and white again. Evil has returned . . . in a different uniform, under different slogans, but for the same purpose.”


2. Democrats fail to pass abortion protection bill.


Following the leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn the abortion rights case Roe v. Wade, Senate Democrats introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would protect access to abortion nationwide. In a 49–51 vote last Wednesday, Senate Republicans voted the bill down. Deeply disappointed, Democrats seized the opportunity to rally for the election of pro-choice Congressmen. After presiding over the vote, Vice President Kamala Harris said, “A priority for all that care about this issue — the priority — should be to elect pro-choice leaders.” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer later added, “elect more pro-choice Democrats if you want to protect a woman’s freedom and right to choose. Elect more MAGA Republicans if you want to see a nationwide ban on abortion, if you want to see doctors and women arrested, if you want to see no exceptions for rape or incest.”


Republicans, wary of backlash from pro-choice voters, attempted to portray Democrats as the extremists. “Today, Democrats have decided to line up behind an extreme and radical abortion policy,” said Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the only Democrat to vote against the bill, added that it went far beyond codifying Roe and would rather “expand abortion.”


Two Republican Senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, proposed a more moderate bill that would outlaw any limits that place an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to obtain an abortion, but the bill hasn’t garnered much Democratic support. After being asked why he isn’t considering the compromise bill, Senator Schumer said Democrats “are not looking to compromise on something as vital as this.” A Democratic Senator’s aide added that not specifying what an “undue burden” constitutes would lead to “the same chaos in the courts that we see now.” Still, Democratic Senator Tim Kaine and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbing are speaking with Murkowski and Collins about other possible bipartisan solutions.


3. North Korea reports its first cases of COVID-19.


On Thursday, North Korea reported its first case of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. Admitting that the outbreak began in late April, North Korea reported a total of 524,400 people with COVID-like symptoms, with less than half having recovered fully. After meeting with the Politburo of the ruling Workers’ Party, North Korean President Kim Jong-Un declared a state of “maximum emergency” and directed all cities of over 25 million to lock down immediately. South Korean intelligence officials later reported that people were being ordered to stay at home and that North Korea had once again closed its Chinese border to trade.


Since the initial report, 27 deaths have been reported. Although none have been confirmed as being caused by COVID-19 infections, the fact that North Korea has reported anything after insisting that they were free of COVID for the past year indicates the country is likely in a dire situation ― and not only in terms of public health. As professor of international relations at Ewha Women’s University Leif-Eric Easley said, “Kim has credited strict social controls and self-imposed international isolation with keeping North Korea safe from COVID. If those signature measures fail, it could be a blow to regime legitimacy.”


The outbreak has also raised questions as to the willingness of North Korea to begin accepting vaccines. After a year of rejecting the vaccine, most of the North Korean population remains unvaccinated, likely exacerbating the current outbreak. The World Health Organization has reportedly been in contact with North Korean health officials and is supportive of a vaccination campaign, but it has not yet received a word back. South Korea is also looking to start sending humanitarian aid to the north in hopes that it will reinstate negotiations, although the United States has made clear that it is unwilling to send any aid to North Korea as of yet.


 

Sources & Further Reading