By Jeffrey Kluger
September 11, 2014

POLL

DO YOU LIVE IN A GAY-FRIENDLY COMMUNITY?

Gallup posed the question to over 100,000 people in 123 countries. Here’s a sampling of those who said yes:

[The following text appears within a chart. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual chart.]

83% Netherlands

70% U.S.

24% Greece

2% Uganda

1% Senegal

Putin Drives Ukraine Into a Corner as the West Holds Back

The fighting in eastern Ukraine did not stop with the announcement of a cease-fire on Sept. 5, but it eased just enough for the first peace talks of the conflict to begin, at the insistence of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He timed them to coincide with a sudden reversal in the war, one that put Ukraine and its Western allies exactly where Putin needs them–in retreat as he pursues his endgame.

Throughout most of the summer, as the conflict’s death toll climbed into the thousands, Ukraine’s military held the momentum against the separatist rebels who have served as Russia’s proxies in this struggle. But in the last days of August, Russia intervened.

The U.S. and its NATO allies said more than 1,000 Russian troops had crossed the border with tanks and heavy armor, forcing the Ukrainians into a panicked retreat. Rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko rejoiced at the time that 1,200 “volunteers” had come in as reinforcements, but later admitted that some were Russian soldiers “on leave.” (Putin denies Russia’s involvement.)

The intervention paved the way for Putin to advance his agenda in Ukraine. He wants Kiev to grant sweeping autonomy–or as he calls it, “federalization”–to the country’s eastern regions. Then, from its militarized buffer zone in east Ukraine, Moscow would be able to prevent Kiev from joining the European Union or NATO. Putin would in effect hold veto power over Ukraine’s political future.

With parliamentary elections scheduled for next month, it will be hard for President Petro Poroshenko to sell such a deal to the wider Ukrainian public. He rejected the idea of federalization even as rebel leaders hardened their demands to include full independence.

But with Russian forces lurking at the border, Ukraine has little leverage in these talks. Putin seems prepared to sacrifice his troops to defend the separatists, and the West has shown that it is not willing to come to Ukraine’s defense. During a NATO summit in Wales on Sept. 4 and 5, the allies did not pledge to help arm Ukraine, nor did they even hint at letting it join the alliance.

At the summit, NATO had enough trouble getting its members to meet their pledge to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense. So far only four of its 28 members–including the U.S. and the U.K.–have lived up to that commitment, and few are prepared to risk a further confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia over Ukraine.

Even the resolve behind Western sanctions has flagged. The apparent flood of Russian troops into Ukraine did not result in any new U.S. sanctions, while the E.U. responded by limiting the access of a few Russian companies to European loans.

This leaves Poroshenko in a bind. He can either accept Putin’s demands or face another assault from Russian forces. In either case, no help appears likely from the West. Meanwhile, the Russian-controlled zone grows.

AFGHANISTAN

‘We are the winners of the election based on the real vote of the people.’

ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, Afghan presidential contender, vowing on Sept. 8 to reject the results of a U.N. audit of the votes cast in a disputed June runoff election. The audited results are expected to confirm the victory of Ashraf Ghani, his rival in the race to replace President Hamid Karzai, as most foreign forces prepare to leave the country at the end of this year.

THREE ESSENTIAL FACTS ABOUT

The nationalist surge in Scotland

Just days before residents of Scotland vote in a Sept. 18 referendum on whether to break away from the United Kingdom, polling showed the pro-independence movement with a lead for the first time, rattling financial markets and serving as a wake-up call for Britain.

SLOW START

Until this month, most observers in Britain had largely dismissed the chance of a split. With the no campaign, led by former U.K. Finance Minister Alistair Darling, emphasizing the risks for Scotland if it secedes, the yes vote was trailing by 22 percentage points in early August.

TURNING POINT

Those numbers rapidly shifted after Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, who is spearheading the pro-independence movement, outperformed Darling in a televised debate on Aug. 25. On Sept. 6, the yes vote led, 51% to 49%, in one major poll.

BRITAIN’S RESPONSE

U.K. politicians are now scrambling to preserve the 307-year-old union. Prime Minister David Cameron rushed to visit Scotland on Sept. 10 to make his case, and British leaders have pledged to give Scotland greater autonomy even if residents vote against independence–a move that Salmond likened to a bribe.

ROUNDUP

Duck! The Meteors Are Coming

Local officials suspect a 40-ft. (12 m) crater discovered in Nicaragua on Sept. 7 was caused by a meteorite. Though some experts have raised doubts, these rocks are routine business in Earth’s part of the cosmos.

The Rain in Spain

Around the same time as the suspected impact in Nicaragua, a meteor buzzed northern Spain. An online video of the fireball has been viewed more than 130,000 times.

Southwest Slam

Just a day after Spain lit up, a “significant fireball” appeared in the skies over New Mexico, briefly outshining the full moon before vanishing again.

Russian Roulette

On Feb. 15, 2013, a 65-ft. (20 m) meteor exploded over the Russian industrial city of Chelyabinsk, injuring 1,200 people and damaging 3,600 buildings.

Near Miss

The same day as the Chelyabinsk blast, astronomers were tracking a larger asteroid known as 2012 DA14 that actually passed below some high-flying satellites.

JAPAN

7.1% Annualized rate at which Japan’s economy shrank from April to June following a recent sales-tax hike, adding pressure on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to delay a similar rise planned for next year

Trending In

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POLITICS

Iraq’s parliament approved a new government headed by Haider al-Abadi, a Shi’ite leader who included Kurds and Sunnis in his Cabinet

SCIENCE

Scientists discovered the remains of the Dreadnoughtus, a dinosaur that weighed some 65 tons–as much as 12 elephants

ENVIRONMENT

Illegal loggers were blamed for the murder of a prominent anti-logging activist in Peru

DISASTER

Flooding caused by Kashmir’s heaviest rainfall in 50 years killed more than 400 people

Write to Jeffrey Kluger at jeffrey.kluger@time.com.

This appears in the September 22, 2014 issue of TIME.

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