The Turkish Roadblock to an Expanded NATO
Happy Thursday! Oreo has introduced a limited edition Oreo-flavored Oreo it’s calling The Most Oreo Oreo—with “real Oreo” bits in the filling—and we’re taking this opportunity to go for the record of most uses of the word “Oreo” in a single sentence: seven.
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
- President Joe Biden formally announced Wednesday the United States will send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine in an agreement reached with Germany to secure the release of its simpler Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. The U.S. will purchase the Abrams from manufacturers rather than releasing them from its stockpile, so the tanks will take months to reach the battlefield. Germany intends to deliver 14 Leopards from its stocks by the end of March and approve Leopard deliveries by other European countries.
- GenBioPro—the pharmaceutical manufacturer of abortion drug mifepristone—filed suit Wednesday in a West Virginia federal court, arguing the Food and Drug Administration’s rules governing abortion pills should take precedence over the state’s tighter restrictions. The FDA allows telehealth prescriptions, retail pharmacy sales, and mail delivery of abortion pills containing mifepristone, but West Virginia’s abortion limitations restrict access to the drug. An obstetrician-gynecologist on Wednesday sued North Carolina officials on similar grounds, challenging the state’s requirements that abortion pills be prescribed in person, among other restrictions. The Alliance Defending Freedom last year filed suit in Texas arguing the FDA shouldn’t have approved mifepristone at all. All three cases could affect abortion restrictions in other states.
- Pope Francis told the Associated Press Tuesday he believes laws criminalizing homosexuality are unjust and the Catholic Church should work to end them, his first such statement despite a history of urging the Church to boost inclusion of LGBTQ people. Nearly 70 countries have jurisdictions that at least nominally criminalize same-sex sexual activity, according to the Human Dignity Trust. Francis didn’t explicitly contradict the Church’s teaching on homosexual activity being sinful, but said it “isn’t a crime” and encouraged bishops supporting laws making it one to change their stances.
- China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention claimed Wednesday severe COVID-19 cases have fallen 72 percent from their January 5 peak and fever clinic visits have dropped nearly 98 percent from their December 23 peak. The country has reported just shy of 73,000 COVID-related deaths since December 8, likely a large undercount since COVID-19 deaths have been narrowly defined and only counted in hospitals. Anecdotal evidence suggests many deaths in rural areas, where a lack of hospitals means COVID-19 deaths are less likely to be recorded.
- Taliban spokesman Shafiullah Rahimi told CNN Tuesday that at least 157 Afghans have died amid low temperatures this winter, many during an early January cold snap. The United Nations said Sunday it’s delivering blankets, shelter, and other aid to more than 565,000 people, but several aid groups have halted operations in the country after the Taliban banned female aid workers. The cold has also killed about 70,000 livestock, according to Rahimi.
- Meta Global Affairs President Nick Clegg announced Wednesday the company will reinstate former President Donald Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts, ending a suspension imposed after he praised people participating in the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot. Given previous violations, Clegg wrote, Trump will be subject to higher penalties for further infractions such as posting content that “delegitimizes an upcoming election or is related to QAnon.” Penalties may include limiting the reach of his posts and/or additional suspensions.
- Yelp reported this week that new business openings in the U.S. hit a record high of 637,590 last year—up 12 percent from 2019’s pre-pandemic tally despite economic challenges. Eighty-six percent of states saw more business openings than in 2019, though New York and California lagged pre-pandemic levels, as did openings of businesses like restaurants and clubs, which were hardest hit by the pandemic.
Erdogan Throws a Wrench in Nordic NATO Bids
It’s bad form not to dance with the one who brought you, but what if the one who brought you is being barred from the dance floor by the bouncer? So it is for Sweden and Finland, both of which applied last year for NATO membership, and only one of which seems likely to be accepted anytime soon. Now the question is: Do you leave your friend at the door, or wait in the cold together?
As we reported last year, Finland and Sweden abandoned their long-held neutrality after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, formally kickstarting the NATO accession process in May 2022. (That old edition of TMD is particularly worth re-reading, if only for the definitely true anecdote about a Finnish soldier, some meth, and a high-speed ski chase.)
The moves were met with cheers throughout the West, not just because they represented a Putin own-goal, but because the two Nordic countries’ presence in the alliance would be a genuine boon for NATO. “Finland and Sweden are stable democracies with good track records there, but also, they are militarily fairly capable,” Rasmus Hindrén, a former Finnish defense ministry official, told The Dispatch. “They won’t be consumers of security.” Plus, Finland’s massive land border with Russia would present an opportunity, if the need arises, to bring NATO military assets closer to Putin’s doorstep. So what’s the hold-up?