Catch up quickly on the global stories that matter
Updated less than 1 hour ago (17:37 GMT+1 / 12:37 New York)
Sweden’s governing Social Democrats announced that they would back the country’s application to join the NATO military alliance, while expressing reservation about deploying nuclear weapons and foreign bases on Swedish soil. Nonetheless, the decision, though expected, is momentous, ending two centuries of Swedish military neutrality. Earlier on Sunday, Finland’s president, Sauli Niinisto, had said that his country would formally apply for membership. The Finnish parliament is expected to confirm the decision in the next few days. NATO’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, said it would be “historic” if Sweden and Norway were both to join.
Ukrainian officials said that a counteroffensive towards the city of Izyum was intended to cut off Russian supplies in occupied areas of Donbas, in the east. Ukraine also said its army had pushed back Russia’s forces north of nearby Kharkiv, the second-largest city. A large convoy of vehicles from the devastated city of Mariupol arrived in Zaporizhzhia, a Ukraine-controlled city. Meanwhile, four Republican American senators, headed by Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, met Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv. Ukraine’s president called the visit a “strong signal of bipartisan support”.
At the end of a three-day meeting in Germany G7 foreign ministers declared that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had caused “one of the most severe food and energy crises in recent history”. The war has thwarted Ukraine’s food exports. Germany’s Annalena Baerbock, called for alternative routes to release 25m tonnes of grain from Ukrainian ports. Droughts around the world have further pushed up global wheat prices.
In common with other oil majors, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned Aramco reported record profits for the first quarter of this year. The company’s net income increased by 82% compared with the same period last year, to $39.5bn, helped by sharp increases in the price of crude partly due to the war in Ukraine. It was Aramco’s highest profit since the company went public in 2019.
Ten people were shot dead at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. Police said the gunman, who is white, was in custody; the FBI said it was investigating the shooting as racially motivated. It was unclear how many had been injured. A little over a year ago ten people were killed in a mass shooting at a grocery shop in Boulder, Colorado.
Emirates Telecommunications Group (which styles itself e&) bought 9.8% of Vodafone for $4.4bn. The state-owned Emirati company is now the British company’s biggest shareholder, according to Bloomberg. It is seeking to expand internationally. As well as operations in Europe, Vodafone has a joint venture in India and is prominent in several African markets.
Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest, a europop campfest watched by hundreds of millions around the world. Although the British entry was the judges’ pick, Kalush Orchestra, a folk-rap group dressed in traditional Ukrainian garb and fuschia bucket hats, stormed the public vote. Mr Zelensky hailed the win, and said he hoped to host next year’s competition in Mariupol.
Word of the week: stablecoin, a type of cryptocurrency that is pegged to another currency, sometimes a conventional one like the dollar. Read the full article.
A rock and a hard place in North Rhine-Westphalia
On Sunday residents in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, go to the polls. The outcome will be closely watched across the country. The votes cast by NRW’s 18m inhabitants will be a bellwether for the popularity of Olaf Scholz, the relatively new chancellor, and Friedrich Merz, the opposition leader.
A win for Mr Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD) will be a much-needed boost for his “traffic-light coalition” and for Mr Scholz himself, as he helped the local candidate, Thomas Kutschaty, with his campaign. If Mr Merz’s Christian Democrats win, it will be another blow for the SPD, which suffered a crushing defeat in elections in Schleswig-Holstein last weekend.
Although the stakes are high for the parties, they are less so for the voters. Mr Kutschaty and his opponent, Hendrik Wüst, are centrists. In a televised debate on Thursday they were both unable to identify whether passages from their respective election manifestos were theirs or their opponent’s.
The risk of another nuclear disaster
Serhii Plokhy is a distinguished—and prolific—historian of Ukraine. In 20 years he has published almost as many books, on subjects ranging from the Yalta conference of 1945 to the tragedy at Chernobyl, which won the Baillie Gifford prize, Britain’s most prestigious award for non-fiction titles, in 2018.
His new book, “Atoms and Ashes”, returns to the subject and is sadly well-timed. He chronicles six nuclear calamities—at Chernobyl, Bikini Atoll, Fukushima, Kyshtym, Three Mile Island and Windscale—and observes that “old risk factors”, including reactor design and spent fuel, remain.
Vladimir Putin’s war is putting the Ukrainian site in peril once again. Russian troops occupied the Chernobyl exclusion zone on February 24th. Staff remained to avert another catastrophe. All the same, “the movement of the Russian tanks disturbed radioactive dust and caused an increase in the levels of radiation,” Mr Plokhy writes, “raising alarms all over the world.”
“Conversations with Friends”
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That is the BBC’s and Hulu’s approach when it comes to adapting the work of Sally Rooney, a blockbuster Irish author. In 2020 “Normal People”, a series chronicling the on-again-off-again relationship between Marianne and Connell, was streamed 62m times in Britain. The show made stars of its leads, Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal.
Little surprise, then, that the same team has returned to bring Ms Rooney’s debut novel, “Conversations with Friends”, to the small screen. Element Pictures has produced the programme, Alice Birch has co-written the scripts and Lenny Abrahamson will direct several episodes. Arriving on American and British televisions on Sunday, the series will tell the story of Frances and her friend (and ex-lover) Bobbi as they become entwined with a married couple, Nick and Melissa. The combination of vulnerable protagonists, affairs of the heart and charming Irish accents will no doubt delight audiences again.
Sweden’s NATO decision
Sweden has been non-aligned since the Napoleonic wars. But on Sunday the governing Social Democrats will meet to decide whether to back joining NATO. The issue goes to the heart of the party’s identity. For Olof Palme, a revered Social Democratic prime minister in the 1970s, non-alignment was part of the country’s moral mission.
Russia’s war on Ukraine has changed that. A threat assessment presented on Friday in parliament called Russia's invasion the largest-scale aggression in Europe since the second world war, and argued that only joining NATO would provide a guarantee of help if Sweden were attacked. Most Swedish politicians agree, though the Left and Green parties oppose membership. Sweden co-ordinates its defence policy with Finland, which is moving faster towards joining NATO. A planned state visit on May 17th by Sauli Niinisto, Finland’s president, to Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf may help to seal the deal.
Weekend profile: Tymofiy Muzychuk, Ukrainian Eurovision contestant
Tymofiy Muzychuk grew up in a small village in the west of Ukraine amid the vast flatlands of the steppe. At school his friends listened to rock and rap, but his mother was a folk-music teacher who taught him how to play traditional instruments: the bayan, a kind of accordion; the volynka, bagpipes named after his native region of Volyn; the trembita, a three-metre-long wooden horn played by the Hutsuls of the Carpathian mountains; and the sopilka, a fife popular throughout Ukraine. It was only after he started studying traditional folk music at university in Kyiv that he learned that his grandmother had led the village folk group in her youth. “I am continuing a family tradition,” he says.
In Kyiv he met members of a rap group. Together they formed the Kalush Orchestra, this year’s Ukrainian entry to the Eurovision Song Contest, whose finals were held in Turin in northern Italy on May 14th. Their song, “Stefania”, is an homage to mothers and a mash-up of folk and hip-hop. Mr Muzychuk plays the talink, a kind of flute without any airholes, its plaintive notes floating above the rap. “It gives a very nice timbre,” he says. “It feels very sincere to me; it is close to my heart.”
When the war broke out on February 24th, the Kalush Orchestra was finishing a tour of Ukraine. Mr Muzychuk got home to his apartment in the capital late the night before and had yet to even unpack. Before dawn his flatmate shook him awake at the sound of explosions; they loaded the car and drove west to his family’s village. He left his instruments behind. All thoughts of Eurovision were put on hold as the musicians dispersed. Mr Muzychuk spent the next weeks volunteering, matching people who had cars with those in need of transport, as well as ferrying food and flak jackets. He spoke most days with his brother, who is in the army.
A month into the war, the group managed to reunite to rehearse and choreograph the show. Since Ukrainian men aged 18-60 are generally not permitted to leave the country, they received exemptions to travel to Turin. Historically a strong contender at Eurovision, Ukraine was a favourite this year. And it won.
The winners of this week’s quiz
Thank you to everyone who took part in this week’s quiz against our baristas. The winners, chosen at random from each continent, were:
Asia: Cheng Eng Aun, Singapore
North America: Martin MacLachlan, Toronto, Canada
Central and South America: Alistair Cadden, Santiago, Chile
Europe: Christian Vaughan, Salford, Britain
Africa: Hasit Raja, Nairobi, Kenya
Oceania: David Addis, Melbourne, Australia
We tip our hats to them all. They all gave the correct answers of honey bee, sentinel, heralds, tribunes and Emily Post. The theme is American newspapers: the Sacramento Bee, the Orlando Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Post.
The best revenge is massive success.Frank Sinatra