TIME China

Knife-Wielding Men Massacre At Least 27 Chinese Commuters

Police investigate after a group of armed men attacked people at Kunming railway station, Yunnan province
Police investigate after a group of armed men attacked people at Kunming railway station, Yunnan province, March 1, 2014. REUTERS

A group of knife-wielding men wearing uniforms stormed a train station in southwestern China, leaving at least 27 people dead and over 100 people injured while several of the attackers were shot by police

A group of knife-wielding men stormed a train station in southwestern China on Saturday, leaving at least 27 people dead and over 100 people injured.

Several of the attackers were shot by the police in the attack at Kunming Railway Station in Yunnan province, the Associated Press reports, and victims were rushed to local hospitals. The men were wearing uniforms when they stormed the railway station, state media reported.

China has seen a series of incidents of mass stabbings by disturbed individual aggressors, but the motive for this apparently organized attack was immediately unclear.

[AP]

TIME Ukraine

Many Ukrainians Want Russia To Invade

A woman waves a Russian flag as armed servicemen wait near Russian army vehicles outside a Ukrainian border guard post in the Crimean town of Balaclava
A woman waves a Russian flag as armed servicemen wait near Russian army vehicles outside a Ukrainian border guard post in the Crimean town of Balaclava March 1, 2014. Baz Ratner—REUTERS

Across Ukraine's eastern and southern provinces, hundreds of thousands of people gathered to welcome the Kremlin's talk of protecting pro-Russian Ukrainians against the revolution that brought a new government to power

To many in Ukraine, a full-scale Russian military invasion would feel like a liberation. On Saturday, across the country’s eastern and southern provinces, hundreds of thousands of people gathered to welcome the Kremlin’s talk of protecting pro-Russian Ukrainians against the revolution that brought a new government to power last week. So far, that protection has come in the form of Russian military control of the southern region of Crimea, but on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin got parliamentary approval for a broad military intervention in Ukraine. As that news spread, locals in at least four major cities in the east of Ukraine climbed onto the roofs of government buildings and replaced the Ukrainian flag with the Russian tricolor.

(PHOTOS: Crisis in Crimea: Unrest in Russian Stronghold)

For the most part, what drove so many people to renounce their allegiance to Ukraine was a mix of pride and fear, the latter fueled in part by misinformation from Moscow. The most apparent deception came on Saturday morning, when the Russian Foreign Ministry put out a statement accusing the new government in Kiev of staging a “treacherous provocation” on the Crimean peninsula. It claimed that “unidentified armed men” had been sent from Kiev to seize the headquarters of the Interior Ministry police in Crimea. But thanks to the “decisive actions of self-defense battalions,” the statement said, the attack had been averted with just a few casualties. This statement turned out to be without any basis in fact.

Igor Avrutsky, who was the acting Interior Minister of Crimea during the alleged assault, told TIME the following afternoon that it never happened. “Everything was calm,” he says. Throughout the night, pro-Russian militiamen armed with sticks and shields had been defending the Crimean Interior Ministry against the revolutionaries, and one of the militia leaders, Oleg Krivoruchenko, also says there was no assault on the building. “People were coming and going as normal,” he says.

But the claims coming from Moscow were still enough to spread panic in eastern and southern Ukraine. On Saturday, pro-Russian activists in the Crimean capital of Simferopol staged a massive demonstration in the city, calling on residents to rally against the “Nazi authorities” who had come to power in Kiev. “What’s happening in Ukraine is terrifying,” says one of the organizers of the march, Evgenia Dobrynya. “We’re in a situation now where the country is ruled by terrorists and radicals.”

That is the picture of Ukraine’s new government propagated in the Russian media, the main source of information for millions of people in eastern and southern Ukraine. For months, Russian officials and television networks have painted the revolutionaries as a fascist cabal intent on stripping ethnic Russians of their rights. Much of the coverage has amounted to blatant scaremongering. The key posts in the new government, including the interim President and Prime Minister, have gone to pro-Western liberals and moderates, and they have pledged to guarantee the rights of all ethnic minorities. But some of their actions have given Russia plenty of excuses to accuse them of doing the opposite.

Within two days of taking power, the revolutionary leaders passed a bill revoking the rights of Ukraine’s regions to make Russian an official language alongside Ukrainian. That outraged the Russian-speaking half of the country, and the ban was quickly lifted. But the damage was done. With that one ill-considered piece of legislation, the new leaders had convinced millions of ethnic Russians that a wave of repression awaited them. So it was no surprise on Friday when a livid mob in Crimea attacked a liberal lawmaker who came to reason with them. Struggling to make his case over the screaming throng, Petro Poroshenko was chased back to his car amid cries of “fascist!”

Making matters worse has been the role of nationalist parties in the new government, including a small but influential group of right-wing radicals known as Pravy Sektor (Right Sector), which embodies some of the greatest fears of Ukraine’s ethnic Russian minority. Its leader, Dmitro Yarosh, has openly referred to Russia as the “centuries-old enemy of Ukraine,” and has spent years training a small paramilitary force to fight what he calls “Russian imperialist ambitions.”

In the past week, Ukraine’s new leaders have been scrambling to figure out what to do with Yarosh. His role in the revolution was too significant for them to write him off. Having suffered dozens of casualties in fighting off police during deadly clashes in Kiev last month, his militia members are idolized as heroes by many supporters of the revolution across the country. “It’s a real problem,” says the pro-Western lawmaker Hrihory Nemiriya, whose fellow members of the Fatherland party now hold the interim presidency and premiership. “Right Sector people are very popular, but they are not in the government.”

Yarosh has, however, been offered top positions in Ukraine’s security structures. Zoryan Shkiryak, a revolutionary lawmaker involved in the negotiations over Yarosh’s role in the government, says the right-wing militant was in the running to become deputy prime minister overseeing the security services. “That was on the table,” Shkiryak tells TIME. After much debate, Yarosh was offered the role of deputy head of the National Security Council, but rejected it as beneath him. In his only interview with the Western press, Yarosh told TIME last month that he planned to turn Right Sector into a political party and run for office. “He could run for president,” adds Nemiriya.

Even that possibility has been enough to horrify the Russians in the east and the south, and Moscow has played on those fears to claim that Nazis are coming to power. On Saturday, when Putin asked his upper house of parliament to allow an invasion of Ukraine, the lawmakers had no trouble coming up with a justification. “What’s happening in Ukraine is a true mutiny, a plague of brown-shirts,” said one of the senators, Nikolai Ryzhkov.

In the Crimean capital of Simferopol, that logic took hold. Thousands of people marched through the streets of the city on Saturday carrying enormous Russian flags and chanting “Fascism will not pass!” Dobrynya, the organizer, said her greatest concern was the role of Right Sector in the new government. “We’re supposed to accept these radicals deciding who is going to rule Ukraine? That can’t happen. So thank God we have these wonderful guardians now,” she said, gesturing toward the battalion of Russian marines who were guarding the Crimean parliament building. In four other cities of eastern Ukraine, major demonstrations called for Russia to send similar contingents to protect them from the “fascists.” Now, with the approval of his obedient legislature, Putin seems to ready to oblige, surely comforted by the fact that cheering crowds would come out to greet the Russian tanks if they do roll over the border into eastern Ukraine.

TIME China

Deadly Terrorist Attack in Southwestern China Blamed on Separatist Muslim Uighurs

Chinese police investigators inspect the scene of an attack at the railway station in Kunming, southwest China's Yunnan province, on March 2, 2014.
Chinese police investigators inspect the scene of an attack at the railway station in Kunming, southwest China's Yunnan province, on March 2, 2014 AFP/Getty Images

The Kunming bloodshed could mark a chilling escalation in the Uighur struggle for autonomy and even separation from the Chinese state

A mass-terrorism spree in a southwestern Chinese city that killed at least 29 people was carried out by assailants from the northwestern region of Xinjiang, which is home to the Uighur ethnic minority, according to China’s official news service, Xinhua. Knife-wielding attackers, dressed in black clothes, stormed the railway station of provincial capital Kunming shortly after 9 p.m. on March 1, slaughtering those who could not flee fast enough. More than 130 were also wounded, said Xinhua. Photos circulating on social media showed images of smears of blood and scattered luggage from terrified railway passengers. Xinhua described the assault as an “organized, premeditated, violent terrorist attack.” The state news service said that five of the at least 10 attackers had been shot dead by security forces.

The horrific event is now being dubbed 3-01, as in March 1, in an echo of what other terrorist attacks in the U.S. and Britain were called. Chinese have flocked to social-media platforms to express shock at the carnage, in which children and elderly were targeted by the assailants. In an article headlined, “Nothing justified civilian slaughter in China’s ‘9-11,’” the Global Times, a Beijing daily, wrote. “A nationwide outrage has been stirred. Justice needs to be done and terrorists should be punished with iron fists.”

If Uighurs did carry out the attack, the Kunming bloodshed marks a chilling escalation in a struggle for autonomy and even separation from the Chinese state. Members of a Turkic ethnic minority who look very different from China’s Han majority, Uighurs are concentrated in the arid region of Xinjiang, which borders Central Asia. While the Tibetan campaign for autonomy gets more international attention, Muslim Uighurs have also agitated against what they say are decades of institutionalized repression, such as limits on worship and career opportunities.

(MORE: Beijing Claims 12 Dead in Clashes in Xinjiang)

That resistance movement may be radicalizing. Over the past year, violent clashes between Uighurs and Chinese security forces have proliferated, with at least 100 people killed. But it is hard to determine the catalyst for some of these deadly incidents. Chinese state media say Muslim terrorists orchestrated attacks on police stations and other symbols of the state. Meanwhile, Uighur exile groups claim security forces have indiscriminately opened fire, using a purported war on separatist jihadis to execute innocent civilians.

Divergent accounts also attach themselves to the 2009 riots, which convulsed Xinjiang’s provincial capital Urumqi. Members of various ethnic groups died in China’s worst ethnic violence in decades. State media say around 200 died, mostly Han, who were targeted by vengeful Uighur mobs. International human-rights groups say the ensuing security crackdown resulted in the extrajudicial killings of Uighurs and that Han gangs terrorized the city as well.

What’s clear is that violence appears to be metastasizing beyond Xinjiang’s borders. Last October, a car plowed through crowds in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, China’s symbolic heart, killing two tourists. Chinese police said the occupants of the vehicle, who also died in what was described as a suicide attack, were a Uighur man, his wife and his mother. China’s security czar said that the crash was the work of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement and state media reported that separatist banners were found inside the SUV. (Some exiled Uighurs wondered how radical paraphernalia could be discovered in a burned-out vehicle.)

(MORE: China Government: A Deadly Fireball in Tiananmen Is No Big Deal)

The Uighur narrative tells of an ancient land called East Turkestan, part of which they say was briefly independent last century before Chinese troops marched in. Kashgar, the fabled Silk Road oasis in western Xinjiang, is closer to Istanbul than to Beijing. Parts of Xinjiang are still home to camel caravans and bazaars selling apricots and fragrant spices. Yet Xinjiang must officially hew to a Beijing time zone, one of many impositions by the state that rankle Uighurs. A flood of migrants from China’s Han ethnic majority, many working for state-owned natural-resource companies or military-linked firms, has remade the ethnic makeup of Xinjiang. Official statistics show that Uighurs are now a minority in their own homeland, making up some 45% of the population.

The Chinese government counters that they have helped to raise living standards in Xinjiang, which is blessed with significant energy reserves. Kashgar, for instance, is being refashioned from a warren of mud-brick buildings into a Chinese city with high-rises and gleaming shopping malls. Uighurs, like other ethnic minorities, are exempt from China’s one-child policy, earning them the envy of some Han. Terrorist attacks will certainly not add sympathy to any separatist cause.

China’s President Xi Jinping has responded to the Saturday violence in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, with resolve. “Severely punish in accordance with the law the violent terrorists and resolutely crack down on those who have been swollen with arrogance,” he said, according to Xinhua. “Understand the serious and complex nation of combating terrorism. Go all out to maintain social stability.” Although the terrorist attack was generating intense interest on Chinese social media, state censors were rapidly deleting posts on the subject. On Wednesday, an annual meeting of China’s legislature is set to begin in Beijing, the biggest political event of the year. Security, one imagines, will be extraordinarily tight.

MORE: Beijing’s Tiananmen Square: Centuries of Chinese History and Protest

TIME Ukraine

Obama Condemns Russian Incursion Into Ukraine

President Obama Speaks On Ukraine To The Press In The Briefing Room
President Barack Obama speaks in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House on February 28, 2014 in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

The White House condemned Russia's aggressive assault on Ukrainian territory and warned of "greater political and economic isolation," and added that the U.S. would suspend its participation in preparatory meetings for the G-8 summit

The Obama administration condemned in stark terms Russia’s aggressive assault on Ukrainian territory Saturday, after President Vladimir Putin led the Russian parliament to unanimously approve the deployment of military troops to the Ukraine.

As Russian forces began preparing to roll into Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, President Barack Obama spoke for 90 minutes with the Russian president to voice his “deep concern over Russia’s clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is a breach of international law.” He called on Russia to withdraw its forces from Crimea immediately and resolve its differences with Ukraine’s interim government peacefully through mediated talks. “The United States condemns Russia’s military intervention into Ukrainian territory,” The White House said in a statement.

(PHOTOS: Crisis in Crimea: Unrest in Russian Stronghold)

The White House added that the U.S. would suspend its participation in preparatory meetings for the G-8 summit to be held in Russia in June, and warned of “greater political and economic isolation” if it continued to pursue military action in Ukraine.

The Kremlin said Putin had drawn attention during the telephone call to the “provocative and criminal actions on the part of ultranationalists who are in fact being supported by the current authorities in Kiev” and stressed the “real threat to the lives and health of Russian citizens and the many compatriots who are currently on Ukrainian territory.” It said it reserved the right to protect its interests in the face of the “further spread of violence to eastern Ukraine and Crimea.”

Senior members in the Obama administration held an emergency meeting at the White House Saturday afternoon. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper were seen leaving the White House on Saturday. President Barack Obama was not present at the meeting, but Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry joined by secure video conference.

United Nations Security General Ban Ki-Moon called on Saturday for direct dialogue between all parties, and saying in the face of Russian aggression that the sovereignty of Ukraine must be preserved. “The Secretary-General reiterates his call for the full respect for and preservation of the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” his spokesperson said as Russia approved a unilateral troop deployment in Crimea.

The United Nations Security Council also convened for the second time in two days to discuss the crisis. U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power condemned Russia’s move and called for international monitors to de-escalate the crisis. “Russia’s actions in Ukraine violate the sovereignty of Ukraine,” she said. “It is time for the Russian intervention in Ukraine to end,” she added, applauding the “remarkable restraint” of the new Ukrainian government.

Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, called on Kiev to “sideline the radicals,” referring to the nationalist elements of the opposition that have taken control of government. The U.N. Security Council was unable to consider any formal resolutions on the crisis, as permanent member Russia would be able to veto any such action.

Ukraine opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko was set to meet with Putin even as Russian troops barreled into Crimea seizing control of military bases and key government buildings. Tymoshenko was released from prison after the deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych’s flight from Kiev.

John McCain (R-AZ), known as a hawkish voice in Congress, called for immediate action. “Every moment that the United States and our allies fail to respond sends the signal to President Putin that he can be even more ambitious and aggressive in his military intervention in Ukraine.”

TIME brazil

Brazil Kicks Off Carnival In A Blaze of Color

Revelers from Sao Paolo to Rio de Janeiro got the week-long Carnival of Brazil started this weekend with sparkly costumes, outrageous floats and wild parades

TIME Ukraine

Putin Set To Send Russian Military Into Ukraine

APTOPIX Ukraine
Troops in unmarked uniforms stand guard in Balaklava on the outskirts of Sevastopol, Ukraine, March 1, 2014. Andrew Lubimov—AP

The Russian parliament's upper house has unanimously approved President Putin's request to send forces into Ukraine. The move towards military intervention escalates the political crisis there and defies U.S. warnings to respect the nation's sovereignty

Update 12:26pm

The Russian parliament’s upper house unanimously approved Saturday a request by President Vladimir Putin to send military troops into Ukraine, shortly after the Crimean peninsula’s pro-Kremlin prime minister appealed to the Kremlin for military muscle.

Putin said ethnic Russians in Crimea and the personnel of a Russian military base needed to be protected for the “normalization of the political situation” in Ukraine. But the Russian president’s official request for troops seemed to be merely a formality as Moscow appeared to solidify its iron grip on Crimea.

Armed troops believed to be Russian had already seized control of much of the strategic peninsula Friday and Saturday, taking over key airports and communications centers across the region. By Saturday they had seized an airfield used for military transports, and Ukraine moved to close its airspace Saturday after reports suggested at least eight Russian troop transport planes had touched ground in the Crimea.

(PHOTOS: Crisis in Crimea: Unrest in Russian Stronghold)

Meanwhile, Crimean prime minister Sergei Aksyonov called on Putin to help secure the “autonomous Republic of Crimea” and declared that armed forces, police and border guards on the peninsula were under his control, and not Ukraine’s, reports the New York Times, a moot point after pro-Russia factions have effectively seized control of much of the peninsula.

In a statement released to Russian news services, the Kremlin said it “will not ignore” requests for assistance from Aksyonov, who was voted into office in Crimea Thursday after pro-Russia gunmen seized the building.

Ukraine’s Prime Minister in Kiev, Arseny Yatsenyuk, demanded Russia withdraw any forces and respect Ukrainian sovereignty. “We call on the government and authorities of Russia to recall their forces, and to return them to their stations,” he said, according to the Interfax news agency. “Russian partners, stop provoking civil and military resistance in Ukraine.”

The U.N. Security Council planned an emergency meeting for Saturday afternoon to discuss the worsening crisis in Ukraine. Any formal action would be subject to a veto by Russia, a permanent member of the council.

The Obama administration criticized the mooted Russian intervention in strong terms on Friday afternoon. “The United States will stand with the international community in affirming there will be will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine,” President Barack Obama said.

Crimea became part of Ukraine in 1954 after the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev passed the Russian-populated peninsula to Ukrainian control. The regions still has deep ties to Moscow, as well as Russian military assets.

[NYT]

This story was updated to include news of the U.N. Security Council emergency meeting on Saturday

TIME Ukraine

Russia Ups the Ante in Crimea by Sending in the ‘Night Wolves’

Alexander Zaldostanov attends a rally of pro-Russian activists waving the Russian flag, in front of the local parliament building on February 28, 2014 in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine.
Alexander Zaldostanov attends a rally of pro-Russian activists waving the Russian flag, in front of the local parliament building on February 28, 2014 in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine. Genya Savilov / AFP / Getty Images

The leader of Russia's favored nationalist biker gang lands in Crimea amid rumors of a Russian takeover of this autonomous Ukrainian republic

On Friday afternoon, the regular flight from Moscow touched down in the Crimean capital of Simferopol, in the south of Ukraine, carrying the leader of a Russian motorcycle gang known as the Night Wolves. Alexander Zaldostanov, an old friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was wearing his usual get-up – a flaming wolf’s head stenciled onto his black leather vest – but for once he was not the most intimidating figure on the scene. Since the morning, dozens of masked troops had been sauntering around Crimea’s main airport, armed to the teeth but refusing to identify themselves. In some ways, they seemed to have the same goal as Zaldostanov, who goes by the nickname The Surgeon. They were sending a signal to the revolutionary government in Ukraine that it was no longer in charge on this peninsula.

Who exactly was in charge remained a mystery throughout the day, and a source of international alarm, as the United Nations Security Council prepared to convene an emergency meeting to discuss the tensions in Crimea. That morning, the new Crimean Parliament convened, still occupied by the masked and heavily armed men who had seized the building before dawn the previous day. Those men, also brandishing assault rifles, had at least identified themselves: They said they were the self-defense forces of the ethnic Russian majority in the Crimea. Under their watch on Friday, the parliament voted in a new Crimean government, one that was stacked to the hilt with pro-Russian hardliners intent on breaking their region away from Ukraine. But they, too, were not in charge.

(MORE: In Crimea and Kiev, men with guns dominate.)

The troops in green uniforms were in charge, whoever they were. By Friday evening, they had set up patrols around the Crimean capital. They put up checkpoints on the roads leading to the Russian military base, the home of the Black Sea Fleet, on the southern tip of the peninsula. Sometimes the troops seemed almost benign, sitting down at a cafe inside the airport and calmly looking around, their grenade launchers and automatic weapons by their side. At other times, as when they set up a cordon around the Crimean TV tower, they looked like an occupying force.

That, at least, is what they looked like to Ukraine’s new leadership, which was vaulted to power only a week ago after overthrowing President Viktor Yanukovych. In a statement posted on his Facebook page, Ukraine’s acting Interior Minister, Arsen Avakov, called the presence of these troops a “military invasion and occupation,” claiming the troops were part of a Russian military force. But Moscow refused to confirm or deny that. In a statement Friday evening, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that it had informed the Ukrainian authorities that Russian military vehicles and troops would be moving around the Crimea “to ensure the security of the presence of the Black Sea Fleet on the territory of Ukraine.” The statement added that Russia saw no need to consult further with Ukrainian authorities about the movement of its military assets in the Crimea, which usually houses at least 13,000 troops and dozens of ships at the base in Sevastopol. Beyond that base, however, they normally need the permission of Ukrainian authorities to move around.

Because their uniforms and vehicles had no identifying markers of any kind, the troops patrolling the streets, highways and airports of the Crimea could at least plausibly have been part of irregular militia forces, which locals have been forming to defend against the revolution. Moscow was therefore able to deny any knowledge as to which troops were part of the regular movements of the Black Sea Fleet and which ones weren’t. This meant that on Friday, the only identifiably Russian force descending on the Crimea were the Night Wolves.

Since 2009, they have been one of the defining elements of Russian soft power in Eastern Europe. Their biker rallies and mass rides through countries like Ukraine, Estonia, Serbia, Romania and Bosnia serve to promote Slavic pride and Russian patriotism in Moscow’s former Soviet dominions. President Putin has often joined them on these rides, although he usually plays it safe by choosing a three-wheeler.

In 2012, when he came to Ukraine on an official visit, he spent several hours riding around the Crimea with Zaldostanov and the Night Wolves while President Yanukovych was kept waiting for him in Kiev. (Since his ouster, Yanukovych has clearly not won any more respect from the Russian President. At a press conference on Friday in the Russian city of Rostov, where he has fled to escape charges of mass murder in Ukraine, Yanukovych said that Putin has so far refused to meet with him. He expressed surprise that the Russian President was “remaining silent” on the crisis in Ukraine.)

(MORE: Inside Crimea, pro-Russian stronghold in Ukraine.)

Putin’s ride with the Night Wolves in 2012 took him to the city of Sevastopol, which many Russians consider holy ground. Along with the Russian city of Volgograd (known as Stalingrad in Soviet times), Sevastopol saw some of the most intense battles between the Red Army and the forces of Nazi Germany during World War II. “Every cobblestone in this city is covered in the blood of our fathers and grandfathers,” Galina Reznik, the wife of a Russian marine in Sevastopol, told TIME last week during a pro-Russian rally in the central square. Among Russian veterans and, more broadly, for the Russian state, that history has bestowed a special status on the city, one that goes a long way toward explaining the ferocity of Russia’s defense of Sevastopol throughout the years, and most recently during this year’s revolution in Ukraine. It is not only the home of a strategic military base, but a memorial to an earlier generation’s sacrifice and a site of potent Russian nationalism.

“So whatever happens, we cannot give up this city,” says Anatoly Ponomaryov, a retired vice admiral of the Soviet air force and a Sevastopol native who fought in World War II. “These new leaders who have come to power, some of them have threatened to put us on our knees and seal us off with razor wire.” Such concerns seemed badly overblown. Though the revolutionary government in Kiev does include nationalist forces who are against the Russian military presence in Ukraine, the new Prime Minister has pledged to guarantee the rights of all Crimean residents. “I want to appeal to the people of Crimea,” Arseniy Yatsenyuk said in his first speech to parliament as Prime Minister on Thursday. “We will ensure stability, and no one will ever divide Ukraine.”

But that was not enough to calm the region’s ethnic Russians, nor certainly to calm the Night Wolves. “We have one goal here,” Zaldostanov tells TIME on Friday night, a few hours after arriving in Sevastopol. “We are here to defend our country, or at least the parts of it that remains ours. We will defend it from the fascists who have come to power. So let it be known to all of them. Wherever we are, wherever the Night Wolves are, that should be considered Russia.”

In his view, “Russia” would include a swathe of Ukraine reaching far beyond the Crimea. On Saturday morning, the Night Wolves are organizing a massive motorcycle column that will ride from the northeast of Ukraine all the way along its eastern edge, covering nearly all of the Russian-speaking regions of the country. By evening, they will end up in Crimea, where they plan to deliver various supplies, including “means of self-defense,” to the ethnic Russian militias on the peninsula. Although Zaldostanov declined to elaborate on what these items would be, he said “they will be enough to make the Russian people here believe that the motherland has not forgotten them.”

And what about the troops now patrolling Crimea? Are they not enough to calm the local Russians? Zaldostanov, like the Kremlin, pleads ignorance over the troops’ identity, insisting that the real threat comes from the nationalists who have come to power in Kiev. “I don’t know who those troops are,” he says. “If they are fascist troops, then we have to think about how we are going to defend ourselves against them. If they are not, then I don’t see anything bad about them being here for the sake of stability.” His understanding of stability is clearly not shared by Ukraine’s new leaders. For them, the Night Wolves’ version of stability would mean a nation torn in half.

TIME Chad

How to Save Elephants

In a bid last week to show his country’s commitment to curbing the multibillion-dollar-a-year illegal ivory trade, Chadian President Idriss Déby set aflame a large pile of confiscated tusks during a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of Zakouma National Park. The park was home to 4,000 elephants about a decade ago, but that figure has dwindled to just 450 today. The World Wildlife Fund reports more than 20,000 elephants are killed around the world every year for their ivory tusks, with the majority in Central Africa. Recent steps have been taken to reverse the trend; the U.N. Security Council linked wildlife trafficking in the Democratic Republic of Congo to the country’s deadly conflicts and the U.S. issued a ban on the commercial trade of elephant ivory. But park rangers on the ground say more must be done to fend off the well-armed poachers, some of whom cross the region’s porous borders. AFP photojournalist Marco Longari, who TIME named the Best Photographer on the Wires in 2012, documented the ceremony as well as the park’s efforts to track and defend the animals.

TIME Israel

Scarlett Johansson Says She’s No Role Model

Scarlett Johansson
Scarlett Johansson In Venice in September 2013. Gabriel Bouys—AFP/Getty Images

First Scarlett Johansson endorsed the anti-poverty activist group Oxfam by serving as its ambassador. Then she left that behind in the uproar that followed becoming “Global Brand Ambassador” for SodaStream, an Israeli company that builds its home-carbonation machines on land Israel has occupied since the 1967 war.

Now she says no one should pay any special attention to what she says.

“I don’t profess to know more or less than anybody else,” the actress says in Dazed & Confused magazine, a print-only British monthly that landed her first interview since the SodaStream ruckus erupted in advance of the company’s Super Bowl ad starring Johansson. “If that’s a by-product of whatever image is projected on to me I don’t feel responsible as an artist to give anyone that message. It’s not my jam.”

Johansson’s declaration that “I don’t see myself as being a role model” may be both a bit late and a bit wishful. For movie stars, close public attention pretty much comes with the territory, and she seemed aware enough of the power of her celebrity both when she signed on with Oxfam eight years ago, and in January, when she was hired to promote a gadget that many have embraced as much for reducing the number of cans and bottles in the world as for the tastiness of the fizzy drinks it produces. As Johansson put it, with two exclamation points, in a company press release announcing her hire:

“I’ve been using the SodaStream products myself and giving them as gifts for many, many years. The company’s commitment to a healthier body and a healthier planet is a perfect fit for me. I love that the product can be tailored to any lifestyle and palate. The partnership between me and SodaStream is a no brainer. I am beyond thrilled to share my enthusiasm for SodaStream with the world!!”

Just as much enthusiasm appears to be felt by activists waging a campaign to boycott companies that do business in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the territories Israel conquered in the Six Day War of 1967 and have been occupying militarily — and building on — since. Palestinians want the land for an independent state, along with the Gaza Strip. The Johansson-SodaStream flap brought the campaign celebrity-grade publicity, raising awareness of the issue with exactly the kind of socially-aware, liberally inclined folk who’d consider buying a countertop carbonation system.

TIME Denmark

Giraffe-Killing Danes Anger Jews and Muslims With New Animal Cruelty Law

People look at the carcass of the giraffe Marius after it was killed in Copenhagen Zoo
People look at the carcass of the giraffe Marius after it was killed in Copenhagen Zoo, Feb. 9, 2014. Kasper Palsno—Scanpix/Reuters

A new Danish law ordering that all animals must be stunned before slaughter effectively bans production of kosher and halal meat

They may kill giraffes in Denmark, but they anesthetize them first. And as of February 24, the same goes for any animal killed for meat in the kingdom. Thanks to a new law that went into effect this week and that seeks to reduce the pain that livestock suffer on their way to becoming dinner, all animals slaughtered in Denmark must be stunned before being killed. The government says the legislation is founded on a concern for animal welfare. But Muslim and Jewish groups, who note that it effectively bans the production of kosher and halal meat on Danish soil, wonder if there are darker motives behind it.

The European Union, like the United States, requires that cows, sheep, and pigs be stunned before slaughter, but makes an exception for ritual slaughter. That was Denmark’s policy as well until last summer, when the agriculture minister at the time, Karen Haekerrup, proposed that the exception be lifted. The measure was approved by parliament on February 18, and went into effect six days later. A few days earlier, the current agriculture minister, Dan Jørgensen, explained the decision to Danish television. “There has to be a balance between religious issues and animal rights,” Jørgensen said. “We are not forbidding ritual slaughter, but it should be conducted by (first) stunning the animal.”

Yet most—though not all—Jews and Muslims believe that their traditions prohibit pre-stunning. Under dhabiha and shechita, (as ritual slaughter under the dietary laws of halal and kashrut, respectively, is known), Islam and Judaism require animals intended for human consumption to be killed with a single slash through the carotid artery in the neck. The practice is intended in part to assure that animals die with as little pain as possible (that is why, for example, both religions specify that the blade used must be sharp and perfectly smooth).

In fact, no animals have actually been ritually slaughtered in Denmark in a decade, and Jews and Muslims in Denmark are accustomed to getting their kosher and halal meat from abroad. That fact, say some, makes the legislation all the more questionable. “From the Jewish point of view, there are no practical effects to this law,” says Finn Schwarz, president of the Jewish Community of Denmark. “So you have to wonder why regulate something that is not happening?”

Benyones Essabar, chairman of the organization Danish Halal, has questions too. He notes that the proposal emerged in the wake of a controversy last summer provoked by the discovery that a Copenhagen hospital was, out of deference to Muslims, serving halal meat to all its patients regardless of their religion. And he points out that Danish Muslims have been actively trying in the past few years to find both farmers and a slaughterhouse that could supply the community locally. “While we are working on it,” he says, “The government has closed the only door.” Like Schwarz, he points out that in other critical areas of animal welfare such as hunting, pig production (Denmark is one of the biggest producers of pork in Europe) and mink farming (ditto), the government has taken no action.

The Danish government is at pains to point out that the new legislation does not, in fact, ban halal and kashrut, since those products are still available for purchase within the kingdom. But given the questions about timing of targets, it’s little wonder that Jews and Muslims outside of Denmark have found an explanation for the ruling that has nothing to do with animal welfare: prejudice. Eli Ben Dahan, Israel’s deputy minister of Religious Affairs responded to the measure by saying “European anti-Semitism reveals its true face,” and called on the Danish ambassador to Israel to prevent the law’s implementation. Noting that Denmark was also home to the Mohammed cartoon scandal, the Saudi English-language newspaper Arab News reports that many in the Middle East are calling for a boycott of Danish products.

It doesn’t help that Sweden and Norway, the two nations that also require pre-stunning, passed their legislation in the 1930s—just like Germany and Italy did. (The Allies eventually reversed the measure in the latter two countries.)

Yet neither Schwarz nor Essabar, whose organization collected nearly 20,000 signatures protesting the new law, believe that anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic sentiments are the true motive for the reform. Rather, they point to a rejection of religion in general. “Denmark is a very secular country,” says Schwarz, “and arguing anything from a religious point of view is counterproductive. So the government knows this is an easy way to show they’re protecting animal welfare. It’s like [they’re giving out] free beer.”

Free beer or not, an ever-increasing number of incidents in Denmark and throughout Europe—from hate crimes to proposed legislation limiting the number of Muslim immigrants to uproars over whether kindergartens should be required to serve pork — have contributed to the sense that neither religious group is “really” Danish. “We are Danes born in Denmark,” says Essabar. “But every time something like this happens, we are marginalized more.”

The marginalization probably isn’t over either. For all the controversy provoked by the pre-stunning law, a bigger storm is gathering over another religious practice shared by Muslims and Jews: circumcision. In December, the Danish Medical Association called on the government to ensure that boys were allowed to decide for themselves whether to have the operation and the Jyllands-Posten newspaper called for an outright ban on the practice of circumcising at birth. Another major newspaper, BT, conducted a survey that found that 87% of Danes supported such a ban.

Even Essabar, who believes that Danes are genuinely tolerant, is beginning to wonder about the impression his country is creating. “We slaughtered a giraffe in a zoo. Our military shoots pigs for practice. So do we really care so much about animal welfare? Something is not as it should be.”

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