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Blinken arrives in Kyiv, Putin heads to China, and GameStop goes to the moon (again).͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
sunny Tunis
snowstorm Tbilisi
cloudy Moscow
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May 14, 2024


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The World Today

  1. Blinken arrives in Kyiv…
  2. …and Putin heads to China
  3. Georgia’s democratic peril
  4. Tunisia’s democratic peril
  5. How Israeli news sees Gaza
  6. Doubt on UK murder case
  7. IMF agrees Argentina loans
  8. Aus desalination plants
  9. Solar storms hit GPS
  10. Return of the meme stock

Texting a psychologist about the mental health impacts of internet use, and South Korean ‘tissue bread’ makes waves.


Blinken arrives in Kyiv

Brendan Smialowski/Reuters

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken sought to show support for Ukraine on a surprise trip to Kyiv as Russia stepped up its assault in the country’s northeast. His arrival coincides with that of the first weapons from a new US aid package agreed three weeks ago — including air defenses, artillery, and long-range missiles — and is intended to signal “strong reassurance” that the West will continue to back Kyiv. Ukraine is suffering a series of battlefield setbacks: Russian forces have made progress near Ukraine’s second city of Kharkiv, and Russian missiles are hitting critical infrastructure with increasing ease, The New York Times reported, both because of Ukraine’s creaking air defenses and Moscow’s changing tactics.


Putin headed to Beijing

Russian President Vladimir Putin will make a state visit to China this week, further demonstrating the two countries’ strengthening alliance in the face of Western opposition. Washington and its partners have ramped up sanctions on both Moscow and Beijing: Russia has been targeted with broad financial and energy penalties over its invasion of Ukraine; China faces curbs on access to cutting-edge semiconductors as well as rising trade restrictions, with the US announcing plans today to hike tariffs on Chinese-made electric vehicles. Yet hopes of derailing their partnership are “wishful thinking,” a Russia expert at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center wrote in the Financial Times. “The Russian and Chinese governments have demonstrated a remarkable ability to adapt to US restrictions.”

For more on Washington’s tariffs on China, subscribe to Semafor’s daily US politics newsletter. →


Georgia set to pass ‘foreign agents’ bill

Irakli Gedenidze/Reuters

Georgian parliamentarians are today expected to pass a “foreign agents” law that has sparked the country’s biggest protests in decades and threatened to derail its European Union ambitions. The government insists the bill has widespread support, arguing it is necessary to improve transparency of NGO funding and combat foreign interference that could inadvertently draw it into conflict with Russia. Critics argue the proposal mimics Moscow’s own crackdown on domestic opponents, with huge demonstrations rocking the capital and major Western capitals voicing concern: The EU has said it may hamper Georgia’s accession ambitions. “Democracy in the Republic of Georgia is in imminent peril,” the political scientist Francis Fukuyama wrote, “and the United States and Europe must act quickly to save it.”


Tunisia crackdown widens

Jihed Abidellaoui/Reuters

Tunisian lawyers launched a nationwide strike over the raid of the country’s bar association and the arrest of a lawyer critical of the government. Hundreds of people also protested over the weekend in Tunis against the crackdown on dissent, and demanded the setting of a date for elections. President Kais Saied, whose term ends this year, has ruled by decree since 2021 after shutting down the elected Parliament — a huge setback for a country seen as the birthplace of the Arab Spring. He has recently also assumed authority over the judiciary, a move the opposition called a coup. Even if elections were to go ahead this year, critics say the country lacks the conditions for a free vote.

For more on the most interesting and important votes this year, check out Semafor’s Global Election Hub. →


Israel media embodies divisions

Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Israeli media divisions increasingly reflect — and drive — cleavages in the country over the war in Gaza. Domestic TV news ably covers the conflict, The Wall Street Journal reported, but rarely features Gazans themselves, focusing instead on negotiations with Hamas or Israeli battlefield casualties. A notable exception, according to The New Yorker editor David Remnick, is Haaretz, which has sought “to present multiple truths to readers who might prefer to avoid them.” The war is changing the media landscape in the US, too, with student protesters embodying a broader shift in which more people are seeking out a wider range of news sources, with many opting in particular for Al Jazeera, which was recently banned from operating in Israel.


British murder case questioned

Cheshire Constabulary

A major New Yorker piece cast doubt on the conviction of a British nurse jailed last year for the murder of seven newborn babies. Lucy Letby was vilified in the British press, with her case sparking calls for the return of the death penalty. She had been present for each of the babies’ deaths, but The New Yorker’s Rachel Aviv argued that the deaths could be explained by natural causes and systemic healthcare failures. She also noted that one statistician who raised concerns about the case was warned by police that he could be imprisoned for doing so. Because Letby faces a retrial on one count of attempted murder, however, the article is blocked in the UK.


IMF praises Milei’s policies

The International Monetary Fund agreed to release a tranche of bailout loans to Argentina, endorsing the government’s unpopular austerity measures. Since becoming president in December, Javier Milei has rolled out a reform program that has slashed spending while reimposing income taxes that were cut by the previous government before the election. Although many in Argentina have protested against Milei’s “shock therapy” approach, several economists believe the worst has passed. Many even expect monthly inflation figures due out today to come in at single digits — from as high as 25% last year — further buoying Milei’s economic plan. “You want to know how the economy is going to grow?” Milei said in a recent speech. “It’s going to go up like a scuba diver’s fart.


Desalination raises wildlife concerns

New water desalination plants are under construction in Australia. Several Australian cities built such facilities during a years-long drought around the millennium. The drought broke in 2010 and few are now used, but as climate change intensifies, new ones are planned. The brine — highly salty water — expelled can devastate wildlife if pumped into bays with little turnover of water, such as those in South Australia where two major plants are planned, Jochen Kaempf, an oceanographer, wrote in The Conversation. The bays are home to giant cuttlefish, leafy seadragons, and mussel farms: Kaempf said the facilities should either be moved or converted so that the salt can be extracted and sold.


Solar storm hit GPS, radio

Carl Recine/Reuters

The solar storm over the weekend caused worldwide GPS disruptions, power grid outages, and radio blackouts, among other problems. Five “coronal mass ejections” hurled solar material toward Earth in the biggest storm since 2003. The largest solar storm recorded, the 1859 Carrington Event, led to telegraph equipment bursting into flames — the weekend’s storm was smaller, but still blacked out high-frequency radio on three continents, according to Gizmodo. John Deere warned its tractors’ GPS could be “extremely compromised,” farmers reported their tractors going in circles, and Elon Musk said Starlink satellites were “under a lot of pressure, but holding up.” In 2022, 38 of the company’s satellites were lost during a solar storm as the atmosphere expanded and slowed them down.


GameStop surges as meme stocks return

Shares in GameStop, the original meme stock, are surging again after the reappearance of one of the figures who drove its pandemic-era buying frenzy. The struggling video game retailer saw thousands of small investors buy its stock in 2021, driving prices up and pressuring hedge funds that had bet on its fall. Its shares eventually collapsed, but on Sunday, trader Keith Gill, aka “Roaring Kitty,” tweeted for the first time in three years, driving speculation that he would return, doubling GameStop prices. Investing because a guy tweeted a drawing may seem silly, but it may be no sillier than the ordinary methods: Wall Street Journal journalists beat fund managers by tossing darts at stock-market listings.

  • Foreign ministers meet in Bahrain ahead of an Arab League summit beginning Thursday.
  • Austria’s foreign minister meets his counterpart in Turkey.
  • The 77th Cannes Film Festival begins.
One Good Text

Andrew Przybylski is professor of human behavior and technology at the Oxford Internet Institute. He co-authored a recent global, 16-year study involving 2.4 million people that found that internet use — often castigated for having negative effects on well-being — might actually improve it.


A South Korean bakery’s “tissue bread” has captivated the internet. The ultra-thin layers of bread, stacked to form a single loaf, have drawn near daily queues outside the recently opened Truffle Bakery in Seoul, which earlier this year limited sales to two pieces per person to avoid turning customers away. The delicate slices have drawn particular fascination in India where social media users have compared the bread to rumali rotis. “Korean culture has been making substantial inroads into the hearts of Indians through music, TV and delicious food,” noted Times Now. “There are more commonalities between the two than first meet the eye.

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