Did you know that there are 195 countries in the world? Or at least that's what the Internet says. There might be more depending on how you define a country or which country your government recognizes. And, of course, there are dozens of statelets vying to be countries.
But 193 countries are United Nations member states, and then the Holy See and the State of Palestine are non-member observer states. So that makes 195.
Do you know how many of those countries you have visited? Are there countries you have never heard of? Do you know those obnoxious travel blogs or dating profiles where people brag about how many countries they've visited? We've all seen them. And sometimes I wonder who the hell has time to count all of the countries they've seen?
But according to my Couch Surfing.com profile, I've crashed on sofas in 43 countries. I have no idea if that's exactly how many countries I've visited. But 43 is only around 22% of the world if we consider there are 195 countries. And that feels a little sad. Clearly, I need to travel more. What have I been doing with my life?! How is it possible I've never visited Morocco or Finland?
I'm mostly joking. I realize it's a privilege to get to travel, and not everyone has the opportunity to see dozens of countries throughout a lifetime. Nevertheless, looking at the numbers provides some perspective. There's still a lot more to see and learn.
When I was in university, I decided to learn about the political history of every country in the world. I decided I would tackle this task one region at a time. I'd start with Eastern Europe and then move to Central America or West Africa and move slowly, country by country, reading books and academic articles.
I started with Eastern Europe and got kind of stuck there. My fascination with that part of the world was endless, and there was always more to learn. But somewhere inside of me is still that nagging desire to understand what shapes every corner of the globe. I guess that's why I'm writing this newsletter.
So from now on, I'm going to do something a little different each week. I'm going to bring you art and articles and interesting information and interviews from a different country every week until we have accomplished my younger self's goal of knowing at least something about every country in the world. These profiles will not attempt to be exhaustive, but I hope we will learn something together.
I'm probably going to do this in alphabetical order so no one can accuse me of playing favorites. If you have recommendations for what I should showcase from a country you care about, my email address is email@example.com. Please feel free to pitch me.
Next week we'll start with Afghanistan.
What I'm writing:
• The current fighting in Eastern Ukraine is likely Russia’s last offensive before exhausting its available manpower. The Russian military announced a spring recruitment effort last month that will last into June. But even if Russia succeeds in recruiting 130,000 more soldiers as it said it would, it won’t be able to increase its ability to fight on the ground in Ukraine anytime soon. It would take months to train recruits and integrate them into existing units. This article is locked, but here's a Twitter thread with some takeaways.
• Russia's war in Ukraine is sparking a global humanitarian disaster that is testing the U.S.'s ability to fund and deploy international assistance rapidly. I looked at the money going to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and how quickly the agency can deploy assistance as the war drives up the cost of food and fertilizer globally and threatens the health and safety of Ukrainians.
What I'm reading:
• Russian activists have formed an "underground railroad" to help Ukrainians forcibly deported to Russia escape the country, inews reports.
• The Russian military's failure to seize Kyiv was inevitable because, in the preceding years, they had never directly faced a powerful enemy, a former mercenary with the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group said. Reuters has the report.
• David Beasley, head of the United Nations World Food Programme, is pleading with Russian President Vladimir Putin to reopen Ukraine's Black Sea ports before global calamity strikes, CNN reports. Ukraine provides most of the developing world's wheat.
• The European Union proposed setting up trade corridors to allow Ukraine to sidestep Russia’s blockade of its Black Sea ports and resume exporting millions of tons of grain that are essential to the world’s food supply.
• Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met for a virtual conference to discuss Ukraine's bid to join the European Union. The European Commission aims to deliver its opinion on Ukrainian candidacy in June, von der Leyen tweeted following the meeting.
• The head of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine said there is “credible” information regarding the mistreatment of Russian prisoners by Ukrainian troops during the war, the Hill reports.
• Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban continues to hold up a European Union agreement on a phased-in embargo on Russian oil, demanding more money and time to help his country switch to other energy suppliers, the Wall Street Journal reports.
• The United Nations General Assembly elected the Czech Republic to the UN Human Rights Council, filling the seat left vacant in April following Russia’s suspension over its invasion of Ukraine, the New York Times reports.
• Lithuania’s parliament adopted a resolution calling Russia “a state supporting and carrying out terrorism” and recognized Russia’s actions in Ukraine as a genocide, the Hill reports.
• The United Nations Secretary-General told Moldovan President Maia Sandu that the UN would bolster its support for her country to help it deal with the refugee crisis, according to the UN News Agency. More than 450,000 refugees from Ukraine have fled into Moldova, one of Europe’s poorest countries.
• Finland’s Prime Minister and President announced their support for their country to apply to join NATO, the New York Times reports.
• Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would not support Sweden and Finland's NATO membership because the Nordic countries are "home to many terrorist organizations," Reuters reports.
• Norway is vowing to help Europe turn away from Russian gas, but that’s set off a political battle with the left-wing opposition that rejects expanded gas exploration, Politico Europe reports.
• The Spanish government dismissed the head of its National Intelligence Center for failing to protect government officials from being spied on with Pegasus software, the EFE reported.
• Northern Ireland's Stormont Assembly failed to elect a new speaker after the Democratic Unionist Party refused to support the process, Sky News reports. The move comes after last week's elections saw the republican Sinn Fein emerge as the largest political party in Northern Ireland for the first time. DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he is sending a "clear message" to the European Union and UK government about resolving problems with the post-Brexit trading agreement, the Northern Ireland protocol.
• One of the biggest donors to Britain’s Conservative Party is suspected of secretly funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to the party from a Russian account. The donation of $630,225 was made in 2018 in the name of Ehud Sheleg, a wealthy London art dealer who was the Conservative Party’s treasurer, the New York Times reports.
• Politico Europe put together an in-depth, visual look at the EU’s refugee policy, which they said is characterized by division and delay.
• A Turkish court upheld a prison sentence for Canan Kaftancioglu, the leader of the Istanbul branch of the Republican People’s Party, the country’s largest opposition party. She was sentenced to four years and 11 months in prison on charges of insulting the Turkish Republic and defamation of a public official in connection with her social media posts, the Wall Street Journal reports. Kaftancioglu was expected to play a leading role against President Erdogan in the next election, but she's now been banned from participating in politics for nearly five years.
• An Israeli sniper fatally shot Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank city of Jenin as she was reporting on clashes between the Israeli military and Palestinians, the New York Times reports.
• Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he would refer Shireen Abu Aqla's killing to the International Criminal Court, the BBC reports.
• The Palestinian Authority said it declined a request to give Israeli officials the bullet that killed the Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. The Palestinian official who oversees the PA's relationship with the Israeli government said it would investigate the journalist's death independently, the New York Times reports.
• A failed Aryan colony, runaway Nazis, and loose coronavirus regulations have led to a flood of European anti-vaxxers arriving in Paraguay, VICE reports.
• Costa Rican President Rodrigo Chaves declared a state of emergency following months of crippling ransomware attacks, the Associated Press reports.
• Haitian citizen Joseph Joel John was extradited from Jamacia to the U.S. to face criminal charges related to his alleged involvement in the assassination of the former President of Haiti, Jovenel Moise, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
• Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of the country’s late former dictator, claimed a historic victory in the Philippines’ presidential election, winning more than twice as many votes as his closest competitor, the Wall Street Journal reports.
• Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, resigned, bowing to months of protests in a significant blow to the fortunes of the family dynasty that dominated the island’s politics for nearly two decades, the New York Times reports.
• Sri Lanka’s president Gorabaya Rajapaksa, the former Prime Minister's brother, appointed opposition politician Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister to appease protesters, the Wall Street Journal reports.
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