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This newsletter is about America and the World. If you are fed up with pundits who have only inhabited one postal code or rip-and-read broadcasters as shallow as a Kardashian, then my style is for you. I’ve been around the block, covered news around the world, connect the dots, and will offer unique perspectives on the news and newsmakers. I have residences in New York, Toronto, and Paris.

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Russia's Suicide

August 4, 2022

Diane Francis

History will show that Vladimir Putin’s fatal miscalculation was his belief that Europe would buckle if he invaded Ukraine because of its excessive dependence on Russian energy. It didn’t. He also failed to understand that excessive dependence works both ways: The Euros needed his oil and gas but he, in turn, completely relied on their market. Put another way, Putin should have parked his Imperial ambitions in the West until he had diversified his customer base and built pipelines and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facilities in the East to export to China, the world’s biggest energy buyer. Instead, he invaded Ukraine then blackmailed and abused the rest of Europe which sent it scrambling to sign up new suppliers and alternative energy sources. Europe is finding new sources more easily and Russia cannot replace Europe with new customers. He has lost economically.

Russian pipelines: All west, nothing north or east.

Putin also fails on the battlefield. Ukrainians valiantly fight back with Western firepower. Consider his current situation: He’s alienated Europe permanently. Even if he gets his quarry, Ukraine, it will be decimated and ungovernable. Russia’s army is damaged. His economy has no future without European oil and gas purchases in the absence of a China market. The European Union and Britain impose sanctions and vow to end their reliance on Russian oil, gas and coal. Energy and food are the lifeblood of economies and Putin’s weaponization of both won’t be forgotten.

He cannot replace Europe’s market with China and other Asian markets for years and, besides, pipelines across vast territories are becoming obsolete when it comes to natural gas. LNG is the future of energy, relatively clean and powerful. Its popularity and portability by ship to anywhere in the world cheaply is growing exponentially, but Russia, with more gas than any nation on earth, has missed the boat and remains far behind in developing this technology. He cannot catch up now because the Western expertise and capital and companies that Putin has relied on to build the Russian oil and gas industry have fled in protest over the war. And Russians won’t be able to raise the hundreds of billions needed to build pipeline or LNG projects to link Arctic and Siberian gas and oil fields to Asia.

The United States, Australia, and Qatar dominate the production and distribution of LNG. Their plants and terminals and fleets cost billions but deliver huge volumes gas safely with a minimum of emissions. The process consists of cooling gas to minus 162 degrees Celsius, which shrinks the gas’s volume by 600 times into a non-toxic liquid that is easy to store and transport. One LNG ship, more than three football fields long and carrying five cryogenic tanks, delivers the equivalent of three day’s gas flow from Russia’s biggest gas European pipeline. They criss-cross the oceans constantly.

There are 641 active LNG vessels in the world in 2022 and hundreds under construction

Germany is building several LNG terminals and the rest of Europe dozens more. Russian oil and coal is banned by law and gas boycotts are in the works. Germany is burning its own coal again, and nuclear facilities in France and Germany are being brought out of mothballs or enlarged. Europeans have signed giant natural gas contracts with Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, and negotiations are underway with Central Asia’s Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan as well as with the United States, Australia, Qatar and Norway. On the demand side, European countries are imposing strict conservation measures on industry and individuals to get through this winter because Putin threatens to stop gas altogether. In the longer term, Europe will transition to a post-Russia energy situation.

Worse for Putin, his much-vaunted energy deal with China isn’t worth the paper it was written on due to permanent geopolitical and geographic challenges. Dreams of vast amounts of gas transiting through pipelines across Siberia have been all but scuttled by costs, distances, terrain and construction challenges. The cost of shipping LNG from the United States, Australia, or the Middle East to China and Asia is substantially lower and has made such projects unviable.

The most ambitious pipeline to pivot to China is the Power of Siberia 2 pipeline. The strategy is to link the fields in West Siberia, which now supply Europe, with China via Mongolia. An even crazier notion behind this was that the line would allow Moscow to arbitrage between European and Asian markets – a sort of Putin-like version of controlling the world. He wanted to weaponize gas markets but that’s not how they work.

Power of Siberia 2019

Worse, even the most optimistic scenarios — if such a link could be completed — is that Russian pipeline volumes to China would never match volumes to Europe. Besides that, they would fetch much lower prices because China would drive a hard bargain, in the knowledge that Russia was overly dependent on its business. Now the reality is that every nation in the world now realizes that Russia is not a trustworthy partner, neighbor, supplier or customer until there’s a regime change.

China’s LNG suppliers: Australia, Qatar and others dominate

Russia is a commodity-based economy run by a dictator as a war machine. Since he took power, 11 million Russians have left. Attempts at manufacturing or technology have been abysmal failures. With Western help, Russia by 2021 was the world’s leading exporter of natural gas followed by the United States — a pre-eminence that will never return. Now as Putin attempts to peddle his petroleum and LNG outside Europe, his companies find this is a tough sell. As one expert wrote: "Its isolation from the West has devastated Russia's strategic hand in negotiating with China and India, notoriously price-conscious buyers who retain close ties to other major commodity exporters.” Notably, the price of Russian crude oil recently fell from a premium of $1.50 a barrel over benchmark price to a discount of $25.80 a barrel, said Bloomberg.

Putin destroys Russia. His plan for conquest and control was flawed from the beginning. He belongs in a dock at The Hague, not in a palace or in charge of a country with a nuclear arsenal. He resurrected the Cold War and got America’s attention. He weaponized trade with a scheme to place all his export eggs in one basket – Europe -- then hold it hostage and force it to accept whatever peace deal he wanted to offer on Ukraine. Instead, he united and strengthened NATO whose members back Ukraine. The only option for Europe and the world is to defeat Putin.

30

Kazakhstan Defies Vlad

July 21, 2022

This newsletter is about an obscure country to most people, but represents a significant geopolitical development in the War against Russia that the mainstream media has missed. In January, Kazakhstan’s new President asked Putin and other former Soviet republics to send a few thousand peacekeeping troops to quell a violent uprising mounted by a former dictator. But in June, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on Russian Television with Putin sitting beside him that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was unjustified. One outraged Russian politician later warned that such defiance could result in Ukrainian-style consequences. Undaunted, the Kazakh leader publicly offered on July 4 to increase its oil shipments to Europe, and Moscow immediately shut down the Kazakh pipeline through Russian territory that delivers oil to Europe. The Kazakh leader then announced new export options will be explored by his government.

Kazakhstan, bigger than Western Europe with 18 million people and vast resources

Kazakhstan is now the third, and biggest, former Soviet republic to openly defy Putin. Ukraine’s attempt to do so in 2014 resulted in an invasion and now all-out war. Belarus’s 2020 pro-democracy street protests resulted in its recapture. Now Kazakhstan, the biggest and most resource-rich of the former Republics, is doing so. During the Cold War, all three possessed nuclear arsenals but in 1992 all were pressured to sign the non-proliferation treaty and give their weapons to Russia. Defanged, they continued to be under Russian influence but what distinguishes Kazakhstan is that it is in Central Asia, not Eastern Europe, and its government has built closer ties with China and Turkey than with Russia.

The country is the world’s ninth biggest exporter of oil, and has huge stores of natural gas that it ships to Central Asian neighbors and then onto China. It is also a mining giant, with more than 300 world-class mines, and produces more than 40 percent of the world’s uranium. But it lacks a huge military and is the world’s biggest landlocked nation -- a fact that still gives Russia some leverage over its distribution system. But this is changing and a new all-Kazakh pipeline to the Caspian Sea will give direct access to European markets via Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey.

Kazakh oil now goes through Russia but an alternative, in red, won’t.

The Kazakh President is uniquely “global” after spending decades as a diplomat, including stints as a United Nations Under Secretary of State and Kazakh Foreign Minister. He speaks English, French and Mandarin as well as Russian and Kazakh and has built strong relationships in Europe, in China, and, most importantly, Turkey, the “mother country” of the Turkic peoples who comprise the majority of populations across Central Asia in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and the Kyrgyz Republic.

In 2020, Turkey and Kazakhstan signed a military cooperation agreement, as did Ukraine that year, which includes the defense industry, military intelligence sharing, joint exercises, information systems and cyber defense. More symbolically, in 2021 the Kazakh government announced it would scrap the Russian Cyrillic alphabet and transition the country’s written language Kazakh to a Latin-based alphabet like Turkey’s. And this May, Toyakev scrapped the traditional Soviet May 9 Victory Day celebrations, in protest against the invasion of Ukraine, and flew to Ankara to meet with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Central Asia and Turkey have more people than Russia or 150 million

Kazakhstan confidently distances itself from Putin for several reasons: First of all, its populace voted for democratization; secondly, Russia is preoccupied and its stature has declined as a result of its genocidal invasion; thirdly, Putin’s Imperial phantasy is a direct threat to Kazakhs and other former Soviet republics; and lastly, Kazakh’s exports to Russia represent only 10 percent of its total export income, China is 19 percent and many other European and Asian countries comprise the other 71 percent. Its biggest customer for oil and gas is China and most of its revenues are derived from its successful mining sector.

Kazakh and Turkish Presidents in May 2022

But Putin’s Ukraine playbook is hazardous for Kazakhstan, which is to stir up its Russian-speaking minority who live along its border with Russia by using mercenaries to create separatist movements. Roughly 20 per cent of Kazakhs are ethnically Russian and Tokayev was reminded of this threat after he “challenged” Putin in June on television. “There are many towns with a predominantly Russian population that have little to do with what was called Kazakhstan,” Konstantin Zatulin told Radio Moskva. Another Putinite sneered “actually, Kazakhstan’s territory is a big gift from Russia and the Soviet Union.”

But just before his remarks to Putin, 77 percent of Kazakhs voted in favor of constitutional and democratic reforms in a national referendum. And Tokayev, albeit a member of the corrupt dictatorship that ruled the country for 30 years, promises to bring about reforms and has arrested several notables from the prior regime. Only time will tell if he’s a revolutionary, but he’s certainly a geopolitical one and is now frontman for Central Asia’s pivot. On July 18, Azerbaijan signed a monster deal with the European Commission to double gas exports by 2027 and quadruple them in 15 years via the Southern Gas Corridor through Turkey and gas-rich Turkmenistan hopes to do the same. Both deals could completely replace Russian gas in Europe.

Also, China has spent billions in Kazakhstan, building roads and railways there in order to link China with Europe, bypassing Russia altogether. On June 29,  Beijing’s propaganda arm, Global Times, wrote that the 8,445-kilometer “China-Europe” freight train, had turned Kazakhstan into the major conduit between Europe and China. “Now, 49 percent of freight train trips between China and Europe go across Kazakhstan. While it takes about 40 days to transport goods from China to Germany by sea, it takes 16 to 18 days by railway through Kazakhstan. It has succeeded in joining Europe and Asia and now there are at least six railways, six roads, and 72 air corridors through its territory.”

The “Middle Corridor” — rail and road routes via Kazakhstan to bypass Russia

Meanwhile, Kazakh’s leader remains unflappable and above the fray. After his confrontative exchange with Putin in June, a tactful Tokayev told a Bloomberg conference, in perfect English, that Putin was a "staunch ally" with whom he had recently enjoyed a nice evening.

It’s doubtful that Vlad felt the same.

The American Mass Murder

July 11, 2022

People have been shooting one another for centuries over money, love, revenge, or power. Every country has gangland slayings and assassinations, as just happened in Japan, but the “American Mass Murder of the 20th Century” is unique and becoming commonplace in the States. It involves the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent strangers in a public place with high-powered weapons of war. The first such “public massacre” occurred in 1966 when an ex-Marine killed 14 and injured 31 people from the top of a Texas Tower until he was shot by police. That crime marked the beginning of a deadly American pathology -- the mass shooting — which is a theatrical suicide involving victims as props, and is usually perpetrated by a young white male who is a “grievance collector”. In most of these cases, shooters kill themselves or die by police fire. But all these acts of hate or vengeance are eventually televised, or streamed. They promise fame by gunfire.

America’s failure to limit guns is rooted in an antiquated “right to bear arms” Second Amendment of its constitution, that’s an excuse. The nation’s dysfunctional culture is why there are few gun controls. Mass shootings, defined as the killing of four or more people, are commonplace. In 2022, there have been 309 so far; in 2021, there were 692; in 2020 there were 610 and in 2019, 417 in 2019, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

Such carnage outpaces all other countries, save those involved in an active war, including nations where guns are also prevalent, restrictions are lax and where domestic violence, child neglect, and untreated mental illness exists, each of which has been linked as contributing factors to mass murder. The origin of this national disturbance, explained late Canadian anthropologist Elliott Leyton in his groundbreaking 1986 book “Hunting Humans”, is a culture that glorifies gunplay and violence and “punishes” males who don’t look or act like Rambo.

Leyton studied six famous mass and serial murderers and drew an important distinction between the two: Mass murderers spray schools, malls or streets with machine gunfire and are not necessarily insane while serial murderers kill victims one at a time over the course of years and are deeply deranged. Mass murderers are unstable, but not insane, he wrote, and are young men who believe they are “losers” because they have failed to achieve economic and social goals set by society. “They know what they are doing, which is to appease a grudge. It became obvious to me that they were motivated by trivial things. They were socially ambitious but not talented. When their ambitions were foiled, they began to nurture a sustained vengeance campaign,” he said.

This is a male disease and if females are involved, they are accomplices

As Leyton points out, America’s irrational gun laws are a reflection of a unique social sickness, not the cause. For example, gun ownership in Canada is also relatively high, at 34.5 firearms per 100 residents (ranking fifth globally) but the country does not struggle with a similar level of gun violence. America has 120 guns for every 100 persons and ten times’ the population. But the latest figures show the extreme disproportionality of the two countries: last year there were 40,175 gun-related deaths (suicides and homicides) in the U.S. and a mere 767 in Canada.

Leyton filled in the blanks to explain the disparity: “There are basically two factors: first, a social order in [America] in which winners and losers are created and in which losers increasingly pay a terrible price; and second, and much more important, cultural messages of violence. Violence is, every day and in every cultural message, validated and legitimized as an appropriate response to frustration.”

It worsened “in the late 1960s, with the films of Sam Peckinpah, the sexual violence depicted on movies and television [and] heroes like Clint Eastwood. Also the Vietnam war that people saw every night on TV ‘desensitized’ and ‘routinized’ their notion of violence. So those who were incubating a major grudge in their lives began to put flesh on their fantasies.”

Today, gratuitous violence and war footage dominate both big and small screens, on American television and movies and Internet, and are all available to children of any age. More recently, the celebration of, and fascination with, guns by males is perpetuated by the plethora of addictive video games dedicated strictly to shooting as many avatars or animals as possible in as short a time period in order to “win”. This is harmful to all children, but especially vulnerable ones who are exposed to real-life violence at home, or suffer from insecurity, anxiety, bullying and neglect.

Cultural differences are why mass shootings are not as common in Canada as in the United States – despite the same influence of Hollywood. “First, because we [Canadians] don’t penalize our `losers’ nearly so severely here [in Canada] —we don’t rank them as irredeemable garbage. Secondly, despite the barrage of violent media from the United States, we still seem to manufacture a peaceable culture on our own. This could change, however,” said Leyton.

Another example is Australia that had lots of guns until recently and a burgeoning sub-culture of toxic masculinity. But in 1996, it imposed draconian gun restrictions after a 28-year-old Australian man went on a spree with a semiautomatic rifle and killed 35 and wounded 23 more, the worst in the country’s history. The government confiscated 650,000 of these guns through a mandatory buyback program, established a registry of all guns, and required permits. There had been 13 gun massacres in the 18 years prior, and none since. Besides that, firearm homicides have fallen by 42 percent and firearm suicides by 57 percent.

Like Australia, Canada reacted swiftly to domestic mass murder events with severe gun reforms. In 1989, the murder of 14 students at a Montreal engineering school led to restrictions such as restrictions on military-style firearms and ammunition, waiting periods for purchases, mandatory safety training courses and more detailed background checks. In 2020, after a Nova Scotia denturist murdered 22 people he knew with guns mostly smuggled in from the United States, new legislation banned all “assault-style” guns and imposed a buyback or storage system on owners of these firearms. This May, three days after the Uvalde Texas school massacre, Canada immediately stopped the sale of handguns, banned large capacity magazines, removed guns from anyone involved in domestic violence or stalking, plus empowered courts to order anyone deemed dangerous to surrender their guns.

Killers are males mostly under 40 years, unstable and aggrieved
Nowhere is safe anymore in the United States and here are the most common locations for mass murders

America’s media and entertainment industries are guilty of amplifying these crimes and causing more of the same. An example of this was the two Colorado teenagers who went on a killing spree in 1999 and were immortalized in the movie “Columbine” after they killed 15 fellow students, then themselves. This inspired the 2007 murder by auto-pistol of 32 students and injury of 17 more at Virginia Tech by a South Korean immigrant who cited Columbine as his inspiration. He was also seeking revenge and killed himself on site.

Until gun laws are reversed, there will be millions more assault rifles and weapons sold in America, caused by the anxiety that the country’s public spaces are potential war zones. This also feeds the continuing reverence for guns because, according to the Second Amendment written in 1789, “a well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

To the rest of the world, this is lunacy. A loner with a war weapon who sprays a school or church or workplace using a weapon that the Founders could never have envisioned has nothing to do with a “well-regulated Militia.” A shooter does not preserve the security of a free state. He demolishes it. More guns make America more dangerous. States, or nations, with strict gun laws have less gun violence and provide more freedom for citizens. As one expert said “it shouldn't be easier for a potential killer to get a gun than get an outpatient appointment. We need to improve both sides of this equation. More treatment, fewer guns.”

But neither addresses what afflicts America: a culture that idolizes hyper-masculinity and that offers unstable males, who like guns and have been left behind, no other option except to weaponize themselves and murder others.

Putin-flation

July 7, 2022

The Great Russian Recession looms as Putin intends to cripple Germany, Europe’s engine of economic growth and Russia’s biggest energy addict, by stopping the flow of natural gas soon. This is his best weapon of mass destruction, along with food blockades, because both trigger inflation, the “slayer” of economies. Prices are so high that the ripple effect of inflation, economically and politically, is more devastating than are the West’s sanctions against Russia. The closure of hundreds of McDonald’s restaurants or the cratering of banks and the Ruble damage economically but not politically. Putin’s 141 million people have been thoroughly brainwashed and politically enslaved for decades. They won’t revolt. But others might.

As the map above shows, the annual inflation rate in the first quarter of 2022 is twice as high as it was in 2020 for 37 of the 38 members of the wealthy Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as well as for seven other economically significant countries. Europe is hit hard, but America, blessed with enormous resources and the lowest dependency on trade of developed nations, is afflicted less. However, stock markets everywhere have fallen, as have most currencies especially the Euro “because Europe has no energy”, according to one expert. Turkey, for instance, has the highest inflation rate in the world at 54.8 percent — due to high energy and food prices but also to punishing monetary policies. To some, a recession is already underway.

The biggest victim will be wealthy Germany, the country that caused the Ukraine war in the first place by relying heavily for energy on the predatory Putin, thus undermining its economy and all of Europe’s at the same time. Post-war Berlin prided itself on building what it believed to be the world’s most successful economic model, military pacifism, and a pristine environment. But the flaw was that its popular former Chancellor, Angela Merkel, forged an inexplicable bond with Vladimir Putin and handed him an energy franchise that everyone warned would undermine Europe’s security. We all know how that turned out.

On February 24, Putin brutally invaded Ukraine and held Europe hostage. Now Germany has had to reverse course by burning coal again, doubling military expenditures, and joining America and NATO in the effort to ship lethal weapons to Kyiv in the hopes it can defeat Putin’s army.

But if the war continues, this winter Germans and Europeans will freeze in the dark or must ration and find fresh supplies from the Middle East, U.S. or other sources. Unfortunately, there’s not enough oil and liquified natural gas to go around. It takes years to build pipelines and facilities so bring more to market so Europeans now compete feverishly for natural gas, thus driving prices up further, by 700 percent, and inflation rates with it.

This crisis has forced the world’s economists to sharpen their pencils. The World Bank just halved projected global growth rates for the next 12 months from last year’s level. “For many countries, recession will be hard to avoid,” said its President. The OECD slashed its outlook for global growth and doubled inflation projections, warning that the fallout from war could worsen with long-term damage to supply chains.

Economist Nouriel Roubini writes this week that a “synchronized global recession” is probable, the bear market will go down further and that “bubbles are deflating everywhere – including in public and private equity, real estate, housing, meme stocks, crypto, SPACs (special-purpose acquisition companies), bonds, and credit instruments. Real and financial wealth is falling, and debts and debt-servicing ratios are rising.”

Overall, the United States is least affected because it is the world’s energy and agricultural powerhouse. In fact, inflated prices benefit these important sectors and both inflation rates, and unemployment rates, are lower in the U.S. than in other large economies, despite slowing output. This odd economic outcome has been described as more of a “job-full” downturn rather than a traditional recession. Even so, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers believes an American recession will start this year, not in 2023 as he predicted before the invasion of Ukraine.

Politically, Biden has tried to deflect the inflationary role played by government overspending and claimed inflation is due to “Russia, Russia, Russia” with some validity. Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz is shuttling to countries in the Middle East to obtain energy and even trekking to Ottawa in hopes of convincing Greta Thunberg’s favourite photo-op partner, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to drop his climate zealotry. Germany will be offering tens of billions to transport gas thousands of miles from Canada’s west to German-financed liquefied natural gas projects to be built on Canada’s east coast. Don’t bet on Canada’s lightweight regime embarking on a sensible industrial strategy even if the Germans bankroll it.

Hope still remains that Ukrainians may be able to turn the tide in coming months if the flood of NATO weaponry makes a difference and if sanctions prevent Russia from replenishing its armaments. Some Putin critics believe the war will lead to a depression in Russia and contraction of its GDP by 25 percent next year. Whatever happens, legendary investor and philanthropist George Soros believes that Putin must be removed or “civilization won’t survive”. “I think Ukraine today is rendering a tremendous service to Europe and to the western world and to open society and our survival because they are fighting our fight. They have a really good chance of winning...[W]e must give them all the support that they ask for."

But Putin bombs Ukraine and has detonated an inflation bomb everywhere else. Every nation is now suffering which changes the political calculus globally. As former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer recently put it: "The bigger issue is going to be whether there's the political will in Europe and the U.S. to continue the fight. So far, I think it's there. Whether it can be sustained six months or 12 months down the road, I don't know."

Civilization 1 million, Russia 0

June 30, 2022

This week’s back-to-back G7 and NATO summits mark a watershed in history as the world unites against Vladimir Putin. For decades, he has fomented violence around the world and built pipelines, and illicit relationships, in Europe in order to hold the continent hostage economically. Germany and the European Union ignored warnings that reliance on Russia posed a security threat. They also did nothing to stop Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and have relied on the country – Europe’s biggest but poorest nation-state – to defend Europe’s eastern boundary by itself for eight years, at a cost of 7 percent of its GDP per year and loss of 15,000 lives and the displacement of 1.2 million refugees. Despite this, NATO has refused Ukraine membership which allowed Putin to fully invade in February. But finally, the Great Procrastination over Putin has ended and the civilized world unites to bring about the end of the beginning of Putin’s World War III.

NATO’s total reach beyond its current membership of 32 which now includes Sweden and Finland and Ukraine as its proxy

The G7 met first. Its seven members own half the world’s wealth, nearly half its GDP and 10 percent of its population and its role is to protect global economic stability. NATO’s 30 members and affiliated countries are tasked with military protection. This week, both pledged ongoing support for Ukraine and announced major initiatives to stop Putin. Russia reacted with contempt but there’s no question that this unprecedented military and monetary alliance will eventually bring him to his knees, hopefully without bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war. Announcements made this week are also historic: Europe is assuming more responsibility for its own defence (long overdue), NATO expanded and its members have pivoted to Asia in order to impede Russia’s sidekick China.

Commitments were enormous. The G7 pledged hundreds of billions to help Ukraine for “as long as it takes” [to defeat Putin]. It enlisted other key nations to oppose Russia in a statement that read: “We, the leaders of the Group of Seven...were joined by the leaders of Argentina, India, Indonesia, Senegal, and South Africa, as well as Ukraine. We reemphasize our condemnation of Russia's illegal and unjustifiable war of aggression against Ukraine." Next NATO announced a 10-year plan to enlarge and expand its collective military capability, and support Ukraine, in the following ways: More weapons to Ukraine; expansion by allowing Finland and Sweden to join (in defiance of Russia’s threat this would result in escalation); and a dramatic increase in military mobilization in the Eastern flank of Europe. The number of its troops placed permanently on “high alert” will grow from 40,000 to 300,000 in the East.

Response from Russia took place pre-emptively and just as the G7 convened Moscow launched a series of missile attacks against Ukraine targeting civilians in several cities. One prominent Russian State television host warned that Russia was using only 18 percent of its army in Ukraine and was ready for "a direct confrontation" with NATO if necessary. More officially, Russia spokesmen said the NATO expansion was “destabilizing”, “posed another threat to Russia” and that Russia will likely place hypersonic missiles along its borders with EU countries.

Military capability between NATO and its allies versus Russia and China

Russian atrocities have resulted in revulsion and this call to arms. Ukraine’s armed forces now total one million men and women and armaments continue to flood into the country. Germany has agreed to double the size of its military (to meet its 2 percent NATO commitment for the first time) and other countries promise to do the same. Collectively, NATO’s military budgets are already 20 times’ Russia’s and its manpower advantage overwhelming, not to mention the wealth of the economies and military industries that underpin these armed forces. There are also three nuclear powers in NATO – the United States, Britain and France.

NATO’s shift to China is due to its bellicosity in Asia but also its aggressive incursion into Europe, through building and ownership of critical infrastructure such as ports, bridges, and roads and airfields. Members now realize that control over such assets by unfriendly nations represent security risks, just as Putin’s energy pipelines did. A new emphasis on Beijing is why this week’s NATO summit was also attended by India, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea for the first time.

Unfortunately, there should be no delusions that the G7’s generosity and reach plus NATO’s new show of strength will deter Russia or end the conflict, any more than has its nuclear prowess. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed both summits, asking for weaponry and financial assistance to push Russia out of his country, but also asked: “Europe is embarking on a 10-year plan to protect itself. In four months of war, we have been subjected to Cruise missiles, torture, the murder of children, the rape of women… Ukraine doesn’t have ten more years. Are you sure you have them?”

The reality is that NATO has been timid and Europeans have buried their heads in the sand for decades. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was founded in 1949 by North American, European, and Nordic states who pledged mutual military assistance in the event of an attack from the Soviet Union. Fortunately, the Soviet Union never attacked Europe because the country fell apart and its Baltic, Central and Eastern European colonies declared independence after 1989. But, along the way NATO has made serious missteps such as the murderous saturation bombing of Serbia and other major lapses.

For years, NATO summits have consisted of a star-studded list of leaders from democracies in North America and Europe and a room full of military brass dripping with epaulets, medals, and excuses. Despite good intentions and more military firepower collectively than the world has ever known, the reality is that NATO has let Putin get away with literally tens of thousands of audacious “acts of war” against its members and the continent for years. He “invaded” four European countries – Ukraine and Georgia and Moldova and Eurasia’s Azerbaijan – and unleashed “hybrid war” against the rest. These included cyberattacks, information warfare, assassinations, bombings, bioweapon attacks, terrorist acts, social media sabotage, disinformation campaigns, influence peddling, espionage, election meddling, and bribery. All represented grave security threats and, in the case of Ukraine, Putin’s “frozen conflict” in the Donbas turned into a full-scale war as will the others unless he’s removed.

Frozen conflicts as of 2021 caused by Russia that can turn into wars
The frozen conflict that turned into the 2022 war against all of Ukraine

NATO also dropped the ball in 2019 when people in Belarus began protesting for democracy at the same time as Putin was pressuring its dictator, Aleksandr Lukashenko, to merge with Russia and place military bases along its border with European Union nations. Lukashenko reached out to NATO and the EU but Putin moved quickly and cut off the country’s fuel supplies and sent in Russian operatives to subjugate the populace. Now the country is run by Putin and is a de facto province of Russia and staging ground for attacks against Ukraine and nuclear ones against Europe.

Another major mistake was to deny Ukraine and Georgia major Non-NATO Ally Status, as was done with 17 countries including Australia, Israel, and South Korea. In recent years, the NATO member pushing hardest for this was Turkey, upset about Russia’s takeover of Crimea in 2014 and the fact its naval forces amassed on the Black Sea to harass and eventually invade Ukraine. Turkey signed a mutual defence treaty with Kyiv and, in retaliation, Putin banned all Russian tourism and much of its trade with Turkey. Arguably, if NATO had heeded Turkey and let Ukraine in as an associate, Ukraine would never have been invaded. Now the poor country is Europe’s bulwark against a monstrous regime in Moscow.

What’s notable this week is that the G7 and NATO are crossing Putin’s “red lines” without direct retaliation by helping Ukraine. President Joe Biden also announced more significant weapons allocations this week of 18 warships, battlefield firepower that will outdistance Russia’s guns as well as a system to protect its skies from missile attacks. Such assistance by the civilized world represents the strongest rebuke — and bad omen — for the little dictator in the Kremlin.

One million in Ukraine’s army defend civilization against Moscow

The world’s support has also been inspired by the heroic and resolute Ukrainian people. Despite the egregious attacks on a shopping center and residences that were meant to send a message to the West this week to back off, a new poll, taken as bodies were being removed from Russia’s murderous bombings, showed that 89 percent of Ukrainians reject ceding land to reach peace with Russia. They will never, ever give up, and neither should the rest of us.

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Trillion Dollar Twit

May 26, 2022

Elon Musk is a great businessman and was named Time Magazine’s “2021 Person of the Year” but he’s also a strangely adolescent 50-year-old man who is becoming a one-man train wreck. On April 25, he announced he will buy social media “megaphone” Twitter for $44 billion, or $54.20 a share but then proceeded to unleash a tirade of tweets that’s driven the stock into the ditch, now around $35.80 a share — and Tesla’s stock price along with it. Shareholders are nervous because Musk is borrowing billions against Tesla shares (he owns 15 percent of the company) to buy Twitter and because he persists in damaging share prices and brand value with his reckless and intemperate torrent of tweets.  

Elon stoned during a podcast interview

Musk invites trouble because of his twitchy fingers. He wants to buy Twitter — a case of he-loved-the-tweet-so-much-he-decided-to-buy-the-company. But it’s the handgun of communication and dangerous in the hands of impulsive and erratic people, especially CEOs. The Wall Street Journal wrote that Musk posted 4,925 Tweets in 2018 and the pace hasn’t slowed despite the fact that he is preoccupied also with running Tesla Inc., SpaceX, The Boring Company, Neuralink Company, and OpenAI. These five public and private enterprises are worth well north of $1 trillion collectively and now he wants to run Twitter.

His tweeting has already gotten him into hot water. He is currently enmeshed in ongoing skirmishes concerning past tweets with securities regulators. He goes out of his way to generate political controversy. But he also faces a potentially ruinous online run-in that involves allegations of sexual harassment by a former SpaceX flight attendant. On May 19, the sex scandal’s details were published in Business Insider, and on May 20 Tesla fell by 10 percent.

Even industry Bible TechCrunch has taken him to task over all his shenanigans and wrote: “He has peddled vaccine skepticism to his 92.8 million Twitter followers and said that panic around COVID-19 was “dumb,” his companies have been routinely cited for union-busting, for covering up working injuries, for poor working conditions, and for racist treatment. He allegedly paid an employee $250,000 to sign an NDA to keep her quiet after he sexually harassed her. Overall, he’s pretty insufferable.”

Musk, like many Silicon Valley geniuses, lives in an eccentric tech bubble of his own creation. He’s the Thomas Edison of the 22nd Century but his suitability as CEO of public companies is questionable due to his tweeting mania. But it has resulted in 94 million followers so far. 

Futurist Elon: meme

Musk’s followers enjoy the fact that he scorns authorities and disrupts markets, but his investors and others do not. In August 2018, he lost the Chairmanship of Tesla by tweeting that he might take the company private, thus breaking disclosure requirements. In 2021, his tweets about GameStop singlehandedly created a rush into “meme” stocks, triggering a securities investigation. He then created a surge in the price of bitcoin by announcing Tesla would accept it as payment for cars. After being immediately called out as a hypocrite, because of the negative environmental impact of bitcoin mining, he stopped Tesla from accepting bitcoin. But he still owns a chunk of the cryptocurrency. And last year, he disclosed that Tesla had enough money to go private and was charged with securities fraud, then was acquitted this April. Capping it all off, Tesla's stock plummeted a day after he announced his Twitter deal and lost $126 billion in market value.

It’s laughable that a person this erratic, and sketchy, would profess to want to buy Twitter in order to turn it Twitter into the “town square” of the Internet, without censorship. Given his own track record of licentiousness on the platform, this surely poses a risk beyond financial. Then there is the #MeToo allegation leveled against him. He tweeted that the claims "are utterly untrue" and the article in Business Insider was a “politically motivated hit piece”.

That allegation aside, judge for yourself whether the following tweets should disqualify him as the future arbiter of the “town square” of the Internet. They’re outrageous and are self-described “jokes” but they were hardly a laughing matter to the investors and corporations and markets that were bruised.

Public CEOs are responsible for protecting shareholder value. This didn’t and the stock tanked immediately after it was posted.

Or this one:

Not funny and irresponsible.

And another:

An irresponsible tweet by an anti-vaxxer especially given millions of deaths

Other netizens object to Musk’s goal to buy Twitter to save the “public square”. For instance, critics in India, Twitter’s fourth-largest market, said less content moderation will open the door for more hate speech. Others have noted that Musk may use the social media template to reward allies and punish rivals or to pander to regimes like China where he does big business and where social media is strictly censored.

Members of the newly formed Integrity Institute, a non-profit organization, suggested in a letter that Musk carefully thinks about how to provide a forum for “free expression”. “We all agree that social media is pretty broken, and we share your concern in protecting people’s ability to express themselves freely and has out disagreements without fear of censorship or harassment. But a forum for ‘free expression’ requires more than giving everyone the mic. It also requires clear processes, a culture of transparency, and a product that guides people toward best practices and behavior.”

Frankly speaking, Musk’s first step in saving or shoring up the “public square” should be to personally exit from the site and remove anyone who flouts securities regulations and makes jokes that financially damage others as well as those who are unfactual, spew hate, or generate violence. It would also be important, in the interests of disclosure to investors and the public, that he spell out exactly how he intends to make Twitter more responsible? What is his business model? Or is this takeover all about ego or attention or political ambition?

“I don’t see a viable business model where anyone makes back $44 billion,” said an esteemed analyst. “But in terms of politics, culture, and the economy, Twitter is an incredibly influential space — and the value of that may be priceless.”

Without a doubt, Elon Musk is an incredible achiever who has built world-class companies against all odds. He also had the courage in February to courageously provide Ukrainians with StarLink “modems” right after Russia’s invasion which has made all the difference by replacing the country’s Internet service that had been destroyed by Russian bombing. Then he tweeted: “I hereby challenge Vladimir Putin to single combat. Do you agree to fight?”

That was vintage Musk: Bold. Innovative. Helpful. But stuck in an adolescent world.

30

Nuke or no nuke?

May 2, 2022

President Joe Biden asked Congress for $33-billion to help Ukraine and stock markets tanked because the allocation indicates that Russia’s war will last at least another year. The notion of a protracted war has also led to the resurgence of fear about nuclear conflict, stoked by Putin who claimed in February to have put his nuclear deterrence forces on “high alert”. In March, he tested two hypersonic missiles, capable of carrying nuclear warheads at speeds fast enough to elude conventional anti-missile defenses. And Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that “all of the countries of the world” should be prepared for the possibility that Putin could use “tactical nuclear weapons” in Ukraine. So the question is will Putin use nukes or won’t he?

Decades of negotiations to create arms control agreements have slowly reduced the number of intercontinental nukes, or “strategic nuclear weapons”, capable of destroying cities and countries. But the world has become awash in so-called “tactical nuclear weapons” because they are exempt from nuclear arms control agreements due to their size and the claim they are “non-strategic”. “Tactical nuclear weapons are designed to be on a battlefield in a military situation, mostly with friendly forces in proximity and perhaps even on contested friendly territory,” reads one definition.

This is rubbish, a loophole has made the world more dangerous than ever. It means that using a nuke inside a nation you are at “war” with is okay but not an intercontinental one. Besides that, these weapons, collectively and individually, have become more lethal. Not only are they portable — and can be fired from moving targets such as artillery, ships, aircraft, or conventional missiles — but are as powerful as the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945. “Tactical nuclear weapons” range in size from 1 kiloton to 100 kilotons: the atom bomb in Hiroshima was 15-kilotons and killed 146,000 people, created a fireball radius of about 100 meters and destroyed everything inside a 1.6-kilometer radius. Estimates are that Russia has 1,500 of these while the U.S. has several hundred.

The print on the table above is tiny but here are the salient facts: The Federation of American Scientists estimates that the total nuclear warhead inventories of 13,000 in 2022 “include stockpiled warheads for use by military forces as well retired warheads in the queue for dismantlement. Of the 9,440 warheads in the military stockpiles, about 3,730 are deployed on ballistic missiles and bomber bases [“tactical” nukes]. Approximately, 2,000 warheads on ballistic missiles are on alert and can be launched on short notice.” Put another way, some 3,730 warheads represent the world’s unregulated stash of “tactical nuclear weapons”.

Below is a “conflict” map of Europe which shows the extent of nuclear capability on the continent. Locations include NATO countries —nuclearized and not — that host U.S. nuclear facilities in undisclosed, and likely changing, locations. NATO’s two other nuclear powers, France and Britain, also have formidable nuclear forces. Then there’s Russia’s nuclear arsenal. Hundreds of these nukes are located on submarines, ships, missile bases, and bomber aircraft. Their locations are top secret but monitored by one another’s intelligence operations. For instance, after Putin scared everyone that he had put his nuclear forces on “high alert”, U.S. and NATO intelligence spokesmen later said there was no indication that had happened.

European conflict map showing nuclear facilities in the European theater: NATO and Russian

Obviously, taking on NATO would be suicidal, but NATO has stood on the sidelines as Ukraine was invaded and is being destroyed and may do so even if a bomb is dropped. Unfortunately, the same pattern emerges concerning a Russian nuclear threat — NATO and America scold but don’t pointedly threaten him with specific, commensurate, and horrific attacks or violence. This is why tactics must shift: NATO’s three nuclear powers – the U.S., France, and Britain – must heighten their rhetoric and shift away from shaming Russia as “irresponsible for talking about nuclear escalation” or from Biden’s opaque, nuanced and polite veiled threat that “we are prepared for whatever they do”. Their message should be, in private, “Mr. Putin if you drop a nuke on Ukraine or NATO soil, we will respond in kind” or better yet a blunt Russian-style threat — “if you drop a nuke on Ukraine we will vaporize your Black Sea and Arctic fleets in 15 minutes”.

Perhaps that has happened, but anxiety remains, and the failure to do so publicly represents another “deterrence and assurance gap” that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley has referred to. Scolding and shaming did not frighten Putin away from invading Ukraine in February when Biden spoke of “swift and severe” consequences. And NATO squabbling doesn’t help either. As one military expert told me “the three NATO powers [U.S., Britain, France] are the only adults in the NATO room and they have to make the call. Perhaps any nuclear attack in Ukraine should be matched by a nuclear attack on a Russian city or by attacks on Putin’s tactical nuclear capability everywhere”.

Retired U.S. General Barry McCaffrey said recently that he doesn’t believe that Putin will drop a nuke on Ukraine. “I cannot imagine a lieutenant colonel in the Russian Air Force telling Mr. Putin this is a good idea. We have tactical nuclear weapons sitting on submarines of the U.S. Navy that, within 15 minutes, could respond to a tactical attack. No one in their right mind thinks you can win a nuclear conflict,” he said.

But what if Putin is not in his right mind or if a frustrated Putin decides to use a single tactical nuke in Ukraine as the war grinds down his forces and patience to bring the country to its knees – as happened in 1945 when Japan surrendered after the nuclear attacks. Of this, McCaffrey points out that Ukraine is “not Japan in 1945. Ukrainians would fight even harder if he used a tactical nuclear weapon.”

All evidence points to the fact that Putin is rational which is why he hasn’t dropped a bomb or two already to end the conflict. A red line, with ruinous consequences for Russia, must be delineated publicly if Putin uses chemical or nuclear weapons or bombs a nuclear facility in Ukraine. NATO’s big three must pre-emptively provide blanket nuclear protection to prevent Putin from speeding up his genocidal war with weapons of mass destruction. Shaming, scolding, and gentlemanly threats are pointless. Only a stern ultimatum will fortify Ukraine’s heroic struggle to survive and protect Europe’s future.

The Great De-Globalization

April 14, 2022

Russia’s war has mobilized the West. Military equipment floods Ukraine, draconian sanctions crater Putin’s economy, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen yesterday warned China against remaining neutral. Hers was a shot heard ‘round the world: Not only has Russia’s invasion redrawn the world’s political map but the economic war of sanctions has accelerated the economic de-globalization that began with the pandemic. The war interrupts the flow of goods and services, changing the world’s multilateral trade system. These realities will be dealt with at an upcoming summit next week in Washington of world finance ministers plus institutions, such as the IMF or World Bank. Some speculate that a bipolar system (the US versus China) may evolve or new trade alliances may form based on political affinity, security requirements, and currencies. One expert suggested that “a great unwinding” is underway while another stated that the world moves “back to the Dark Ages”.

Bipolar World: Singapore National University

De-globalization began after COVID-19 disrupted economies and supply chains. New suppliers were sought to avoid shortages of food and energy or to protect national security. The pandemic has also caused inflation as governments printed gobs more money to support businesses and workers damaged as a result of lockdowns. And now the war affects inflation and commodity prices such as food and energy because Russia and Ukraine are large suppliers.

The economic consensus is that if the war drags on for months, global trade will plummet, interest rates will rise and economic growth will slow. The best solution to this fracturing and disruption, suggested one Wall Street Journal reader in jest, would be “to split the global economy into two closed systems that do not cross, interact or trade with one another, like an East-West iron curtain. One based on the US system, one on the Chinese system and let each decide its own path. This would eliminate squabbling.”

While whimsical, research firm Capital Economics took a look at this notion and published its results in the South China Morning News, read by Beijing. Its study found that of the world’s 218 economies, 114 would fall into the U.S.  bloc, and 90 into the China bloc. The U.S. bloc would represent 68 percent of global GDP and over half of trade, and the China bloc would include the majority of the world’s population. Of course, the problem with such a “solution” is that the efficiencies of global trade would evaporate and in such a divided world, corporations of all sizes and consumers would pay higher prices for fewer choices.

And the article’s “kicker” aimed at China was: “If the decoupling between the world’s two largest economies were to continue gradually – with supply chains rearranged rather than completely severed – the consequences would be much more disruptive to the China bloc than to the United States bloc,” wrote Capital Economics.

As clouds form over China, Russia’s future is darkness. Putin’s atrocities have fortified global opinion, and America’s sanctions weaponry represents major financial warfare. The Western nations have essentially confiscated Russia's central bank reserves and intend to implode its economy, despite the fact that it is an essential commodity producer of global proportions. For the time being the West has given China a pass, but that may change too. At present, China does not appear wobbly in terms of its support for Russia even though it should do so in order to please its anti-Russia customers and retain its living standards.

Uncle Sam’s financial warfare: Global Times

The Europeans have joined the Americans in China-bashing. On March 17, French President Emmanuel Macron outlined a new industrial policy for his country aimed at reducing its reliance on China. On March 19, German Finance Minister Christian Lindner stated that China represented an opposed ideology that had become an “enormous risk” to Europe and the rest of the developed world. He went on to be more specific. “Our trade relationship with China is almost a concentration risk for our economy. It may be a trading partner, but it’s also a systemic rival,” he said.

This you-must-pick-a-side mentality will be inflationary because the world depends on cheap Chinese “everything”. China has been the biggest beneficiary of global trade, and its coziness with Vlad has resulted in a massive flight of capital. This was already underway before its controversial collaboration but has sped up recently. And wartime conditions — and alliances — will be front and center at the summit of world financial gurus which will include anti-war sanctions architect Janet Yellen. They will decide how to fix the world’s over-stressed financial and trade architecture.

“I hope we don’t end up with a bipolar system,” said Yellen at an Atlantic Council event on April 13. “We need to work very hard with China to avert such an outcome. The big picture is that China has benefitted enormously from being part of a global system, rules-based, and this has promoted Chinese economic growth. We ought to try to preserve the best features of that system which has also benefitted the US and allies.”

But her warning to China was that it must help to stop Russia’s aggression and that Beijing must not sit on the fence or else it will risk having severe sanctions imposed on its economy by the Western alliance. Besides Russia, China’s problem has been that its state-owned enterprises, and intrusive government edicts, have resulted in practices that have damaged the national security interests of its customers. She said such problems can be overcome within a global economy by “friend shoring”, as opposed to off-shoring. “Friend shoring is about trading with partners we feel comfortable with, can count on, rather than take a domestic [bring jobs back home] approach. This would extend the benefits of continued efficiencies.”

The U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wields her sanctions gun

Problems exist beyond the war: U.S. inflation (which began with massive COVID-19 relief allocations by Washington last year), the drop in European consumption due to excessive energy prices, and new lockdowns in China. When interest rates eventually rise, further drops in consumer spending and investments may lead to a recession everywhere. But there will also be winners. Energy inflation caused by the war will hugely benefit energy-producing nations in the Middle East or energy-producing regions in North America to the detriment of energy-impoverished nations. Ironically, U.S. producers will benefit the most, as the world’s biggest oil and gas industry, but American consumers will be disadvantaged.

China, and developing nations, reel from high energy and food prices. China’s growth has fallen to its lowest level in 30 years. “It’s the end of one era and the beginning of another, which is a less complete form of globalization than we had ambitions for in the immediate post-Cold War era,” said Michael Smart, managing director of Rock Creek Global Advisors. “We have to think differently about what we mean by the global trading system. There are certain requirements that, if you don’t meet them, you’re not part of it. You can’t be in the club.”

A ”China Club” isn’t necessarily in the cards either, nor is an invasion of Taiwan, given the world’s reaction to the Ukrainian invasion. China is also running out of resources, its productivity is declining, its economy has been slowing for years, and its population is rapidly aging. Then there’s China’s hideous real estate bubble, which has put the government severely in debt to shore up its banks and hundreds of millions of homeowners. And the pandemic lab secrecy in Wuhan has alienated many nations as has its pact with Russia.

Internally, China has problems as Beijing cracks down severely on its entrepreneurs and most innovative corporations. Its state-owned enterprises have also cheated in terms of accounting practices. The result is that the U.S. intends to more dramatically reduce access to U.S. capital markets for Chinese corporations and they are being gradually booted off its stock exchanges.

Next week it’s likely that the world’s sharp minds, and pencils, who meet to reshape the global economy and trade will end up merely tweaking, not dismantling. However, the caveat clearly is that if China provides Russia with military assistance, all bets are off. Its economy will be in major trouble as customers, investors, and former partners head for the exits.

This is genocide not war

February 24, 2022

The significance of Russia’s missile attacks overnight and invasion of Ukraine cannot be overstated: The world order has been completely upended and another genocide unfolds. February 24, 2022, will go down in history as a dark day, as was February 24, 1920, when the German Nazi Party was founded. And the context matters: Putin's invasion is where his hero, Josef Stalin, starved to death at least 3.5 million Ukrainians in 1932 and 1933 for the crime of refusing to give up their farms to move into his communist collectives. Soldiers murdered farmers, village leaders, and priests then confiscated all harvests and livestock. This is known as “The Holodomor”, or mass extermination by starvation, and was declared by dozens of nations, the Vatican, and the European Union as “genocide”, or the destruction of a group or a nation. Putin’s unprovoked attack against a peaceful country, and denial of its right to exist, is not war. This is another Russian despot bent on destroying the Ukrainian people and eventually others.

The Holodomor map: percentage who starved to death starved during Stalin’s murderous famine in Ukraine in 1932 and 1933

Ukraine left the Soviet Union in 1991 but in 2014 Putin recaptured Crimea and some portions of Luhansk and Donetsk in the eastern part of the country. He said as attacks began that he doesn’t want to occupy the entire place, only to “demilitarize” and “de-Nazify” it — statements based on two delusions: that the country is predatory and is “fascist, antisemitic, and intolerant toward its Russian-speaking citizens”. But one need only look at 2019 when Ukrainians voted overwhelmingly for their current President, Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish, was born in Eastern Ukraine and was raised by Russian-speaking parents. On the night of his election, Zelensky, an entertainer known throughout the Russian-speaking world, said: “To all the peoples of the former Soviet Union. See what we’ve done here tonight. Anything is possible.”

To Putin, this was a declaration of war, especially coming from a celebrity. So was Ukraine’s refusal to accept the capture of Crimea and Donbas. Everything began to shift and another famous observer, Garry Kasparov, chess master and former Presidential candidate in Russia, recently noted. “Don’t believe anything the government says but take Putin’s words seriously … he’s sick. This is the end of the post-war WW2 order. We need to reconsider the idea of international security infrastructure against Putin, not involving him.”

Ukrainians evacuate Kyiv this morning following missile attacks overnight
Praying outside a bomb shelter in Kharkiv

This is an outrage against another one of history’s most victimized groups. Putin questions Ukraine’s legitimacy but Ukrainians have been there for centuries even after The Holodomor killed millions. In 1939, they were once again decimated after Stalin joined forces with Adolph Hitler – in the so-called Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact – to partition Poland. Shortly after they started their murderous spree, Hitler double-crossed Stalin and invaded Ukraine to conquer Moscow. The result was that millions more Ukrainians died – 1.4 million soldiers; 7 million civilians; and 500,000 Ukrainian Jews. Putin likes to tell the world that Russia lost the most people in World War II, but the brunt was borne by its colonies. Belarus lost 25 percent of its population; Ukraine roughly 17 percent of its population, and Latvia and Lithuania lost 14 or 15 percent respectively.

Now Belarus has been recaptured by Russia and an assault is underway in Ukraine, and possibly beyond. Bombing raids last night began the onslaught, designed to knock out military infrastructure across the country and demoralize the populace in order to bring about a speedy surrender. There is panic already and estimates are that full engagement with Ukraine’s force of 250,000 combat troops could result in horrendous casualties. Putin has a “hit list” of leaders, journalists, and activists who will be assassinated or sent to gulags after occupation. The country’s economy — and Russia’s — are cratering. Sanctions and diplomacy are now pointless.

The world will now watch, in real-time, the destruction of an innocent, democratic nation, abandoned by the West as a result of 30 years of appeasement and collaboration with Russia by Europeans. And once Ukraine’s government caves, Putin will hold Europe hostage by stopping natural gas supplies, that now flow through Ukraine’s pipeline system. He will demand that his NordStream 2 pipeline be put into operation; that NATO withdraws from Eastern Europe and that the West drop all sanctions against Russia and its elite.

Putin’s playbook. British Defense Ministry

Slow-motion carnage will unfold on television if there is no quick surrender. Bombs will rain down on beautiful cities, apartment blocks, schools, hospitals, churches, and squares. Footage will once more show European families fleeing, children orphaned, defenseless elderly people, and a culture torn asunder. Casualties could be catastrophic and it’s more likely that 10 million, not 5 million, Ukrainians will flee to Europe, creating a humanitarian disaster lasting years.

There is no justification for the invasion, and no excuse for the United States and the United Kingdom to have reneged on defending Ukraine from the Kremlin as promised. I happened to be in Kyiv in 1993 when Ukrainians, under pressure from the Clinton Administration, were debating whether to give up their nukes or not. At the time, its military leaders argued that this would make the country a sitting duck again. So a deal was struck: The Russians promised to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and the Americans and British promised funds and protection. None kept their word.

The world has permanently changed. Markets crash. The United Nations, with Russia as a member with a veto, is no longer functional if it ever was. The European Union without an army and cohesion cannot last, nor can NATO. An America without strong alliances is unsustainable and a nuclear Russia run by Putin — hellbent to destroy ethnic groups and nations and the international order — represents the greatest threat in the history of the world.

Siberia

February 7, 2022

As the world holds its breath about Ukraine, China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin met during the Beijing Winter Olympics and issued a 6,000-word joint statement denouncing NATO’s expansion. Xi did not hand out a blank check endorsement to Putin but participated mostly to keep his malevolent neighbor, and customer, onside. The two announced a $117.5-billion future energy deal, which Putin desperately needs, and there certainly was no mention of the elephant in the room: Siberia, a region bigger and richer than any place on earth with resources that underpin Putin’s economy. It is Asian, not European, and one day will mostly fall into China’s hands.

A Chinese takeover of Siberia may seem preposterous. But Putin’s warfare against the West weakens Russia and accelerates the probability that the Russian Federation itself will dissolve. Sanctions since Putin’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine still hobble Russia’s economy, creating hardship at home and making Putin more dependent than ever on China, once a hated rival. Besides, using Putin’s and China’s logic: If Ukraine belongs to Russia, and Taiwan belongs to China, then most or all of Siberia belongs to China.

This is the unspoken subtext behind the Russia-China relationship. But for the present, the two joined to sign a joint agreement that is significant in large measure due to its omissions: it did not attack the US, China’s largest trading partner, or Ukraine (another significant trade partner) or mention Taiwan. It assailed “US hegemony” and, notably, the coverage was tame in China’s own media mouthpiece The Global Times. Its headline read: “Unprecedented China-Russia ties to start a new era of international relations not defined by the US” and was followed by a sub-head that the “joint statement highlights close coordination, rejects US hegemony”.

The platitudinous statement went on to say “China and Russia opposed the further expansion of NATO and called on the organization to respect the sovereignty, security, and interests of other countries…and to exercise a fair and objective attitude towards the peaceful development of other states.” That was rich, given the stated intention by each to forcefully occupy Ukraine and Taiwan, countries that want to peacefully develop.

But the loss of Siberia — the entire northern Asia continent — would upend the global world order, not a tame joint statement. And Putin’s trajectory imperils his country. Even if he pulls back his invasion forces, Russia will be increasingly isolated. If he doesn’t climb down, Russia will be crippled. Either way, Russia will implode from within, due to restive provinces with secession movements and people upset with Putin, who will bolt if Moscow’s militarized center does not hold.

Kazimierz Wujcicki, a lecturer in Eastern European Studies at the University of Warsaw, recently posited six scenarios for Russia before the recent brinkmanship at Ukraine’s borders: “the fall of Russia under the influence of China”, “balkanization”, “territorial disintegration”, a “gradual but peaceful disintegration”, an “imperial” boom resulting from high oil and gas prices for years, or “modernization” in cooperation with the West.

Cooperation is not in Putin’s DNA. Instead, he heads toward Gotterdammerung, or the type of complete collapse that happened in 1991-92 after the Soviet Union dissolved due to decades of similarly militaristic and dictatorial leadership. Navalny and critics were stilled last year in a crackdown but remain. On February 4, a courageous letter signed by hundreds of Russian scientists, academics, politicians, and human rights activists, appealed to Putin to end his predations: “Our position is simple: Russia does not a war with Ukraine and the West. Such a war is devoid of legitimacy and has no moral basis. Russian citizens are becoming de facto hostages of reckless adventurism that has come to typify Russia’s foreign policy. Not only must Russians live with the uncertainty of whether a large-scale war will begin, but they are also experiencing a sharp rise in prices and a devaluation of their currency. Is this the sort of policy Russians need? Do they want war—and are they ready to bear the brunt of it? Have they authorized the authorities to play with their lives in this way?”

Then there are many nascent secessionist movements:

The Russian secessionist movements: many in the Urals including oil-rich Tatarstan; along the northwest and southwest borders, and in Siberia — the Sakha Republic in purple, the Evenkia in pink, and in its south, the Khakassia, Tuva, Buryatia, and the Altai Republic causes.

These independence movements are fault lines and in jurisdictions that were cohesive political or cultural entities for centuries. Siberia, on the other hand, was nomadic until the 19th century when Russia moved in militarily. In ancient times, it was populated by nomadic Turkic and Mongol tribes then governed by the Mongols in the 13th Century until fur traders came in the 16th century. A hundred years later, Russia extended its reach by building forts to defend migrants and as a buffer from China.

In 1860, the Czar solidified his grip and grabbed Chinese territory in the Far East, annexing 350,000 square miles of Manchurian China (the size of Nigeria) with its verdant climate and strategic Pacific coastline, including Vladivostok on the Sea of Japan. It did so by capitalizing on a series of unjust treaties that became known as the Amur Annexation, which was foisted on the Qing Dynasty by the West to settle the hideous Opium Wars. (These treaties also handed over Hong Kong to the British.) These are resented today by China.

The Amur Annexation: Yellow and red territories were handed over to Russia by the Qing Dynasty in two unfair treaties

Following this, Russia tightened its hold by building the Trans-Siberian Railway. This led to colonization and by 1917, half a million Russians lived in Siberia and a number of industrial towns – and a chain of penal camps, or gulags – followed, built by Josef Stalin.

Today, 33.7 million out of 145.8 million Russians live there, but Russia’s economy is dependent on Siberian resources. About 80 percent of its oil resources, 85 percent of its natural gas, 80 percent of its coal and similar amounts of precious metals and diamonds, and about 40 percent of the nation's timber resources are scattered across Siberia. Despite this endowment, Russia’s economy remains peanut-sized compared to America’s and China’s. Its GDP (and living standards) have fallen since 2014 sanctions were imposed and today its GDP is smaller than New York City’s or China’s industrialized Province of Guangdong. This is because Putin’s reign has looted the wealth of the Russian people through a combination of costly military misadventures and control of the country’s corporations and assets by his oligarchy.

China need not send in armies of conquest to acquire some or all of Siberia. Its mercantilist strategies are doing the trick, as is the case with its $1-trillion Belt and Road Initiative. By building and financing infrastructure and buying gobs of energy, as in this case, Beijing “buys” trade relationships and creates bi-national financial and economic “dependencies”. By contrast, Russia’s elite remains corrupt and incompetent, capital leaves, a brain drain continues and investment dries up.

In reality, Russia’s real “existential threat” is Vladimir Putin – not America or NATO or China – because his rapacity orphans Russia from Europe, where 75 percent of its exports go. President Joe Biden has orchestrated oil and LNG (Liquified natural gas) “workarounds” designed to replace Russian energy in Europe. Even LNG contract holders like South Korea, Japan, and China, and their suppliers, have signaled their willingness to redirect cargoes to Europe if a further cutback in Russian exports creates a supply crisis. And Russia’s OPEC “partners” such as Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, and others have agreed to re-route oil to Europe to replace Russian shipments and are doing so already.

Putin’s latest stunts shoot Russia in the foot, but China’s culture of hard work, technology, and business smarts has already launched an organic, slow-motion takeover of Siberia. There are only 500,000 Chinese living there, but Chinese cities with millions of people sprout along the Russo-Siberian borders, building economies and businesses that provide goods and services that Russians are uninterested or incapable of producing. For those who doubt China can ever subsume part or all of Siberia, consider the tale of two cities: Russia’s Blagoveshchensk and China’s Heihe, its “sister city” across the Amur River.

Twin cities: Russia’s Blagoveshchensk and China’s Heihe

In 1891, a famous Imperial Arch was built to greet Crown Prince Nicholas to Blagoveshchensk, a sleepy Siberian town that now has a population of 211,000. In 2015, the Arch was restored with the declaration: “The earth along the Amur [River] was, is and always will be Russian”. Missing was the fact that the region only became Russian 150 years ago as part of the hated Amur Annexation.

Across the river, Heihe booms. The city has a population of 1.673 million and is in the province of  Heilongjiang, China’s northernmost province, with a total population larger than Siberia’s. Many other cities are spread across the province which is also geographically bigger than Japan, Germany, Belarus, or South Korea and is a significant producer of agricultural crops and raw materials such as timber, oil, and coal. Chinese-owned factories exist there and also inside Siberia, churning out manufactured goods and sprouting high rises as though Siberia was already part of the Middle Kingdom.

To the victors belong the spoils, which is why this and other examples illustrate why China combined with Russia’s rotten political elite will eventually destroy the Russian Federation. Xi knows this, so should the West and its Asian allies. The Kremlin’s demise will upend the world order in the coming years, hopefully for the better if it removes Putin.

Mr. Putin: Every "Window" Will Shoot

January 24, 2022

In winter 2014, Ukrainians protested for weeks against corruption and Russian influence. Surrounded by police with shields, they stood their ground, singing, speechifying, and defying. When snipers from Russia were finally brought in and killed 100, millions flooded the streets, Putin’s puppet President fled, and Russian tanks and troops rolled into eastern Ukraine. But volunteers held off a full-scale invasion and now Ukraine has a huge army and a civil society that is more united against Russia than ever. They are digging in and preparing for a guerilla war by distributing weapons to citizens. Said one official: “Our people are ready to fight. Every window will shoot if [Russians] go [in]."

Armed babushka on a train in Ukraine

This is not bravado. Ukrainians know how to handle Russia. They have survived wars, communist terror, starvation, poverty, political treachery, Russia’s disdain for their culture, and its desire to reconquer them. Notably, the country’s anthem, written 30 years ago, describes the national DNA, rooted in sacrifice: “Body and soul we will lay down for our freedom. And we will show that we are people of Cossack heritage.”

Russia has been flirting with, but not fully committed, to invasion. Putin squeezes energy prices to cause pain across Europe. He moves his troops and tanks here and there, then distributes this intel to heighten anxiety and to yield hoped-for concessions. As the Beijing Olympics approaches, fears heighten because he invaded Georgia and Ukraine during two Olympic Games. Europeans realize what Ukrainians have always known about the Kremlin and reports are that President Joe Biden may send another 50,000 U.S. troops to Eastern Europe and the Baltics. It’s about time.

This is a “European crisis”, but America fronts the negotiations with Putin and has worked to corral NATO and European nations into some form of consensus. It has taken the lead because of its military superiority and because Europe’s two largest countries, Germany and France, have been co-opted by Russia. France’s trade with Russia has boomed in recent years and Germany’s nearly-completed pipeline with Russia has been opposed by the European Union and Washington for years due to fear that the security crisis happening now would happen.

Putin’s pipeline weapon holds Europe hostage

Here’s the state of play:

The United States – Biden upped the stakes this week by hinting at troop deployments. Congress has passed tough sanctions against Putin’s pipeline to Germany and in December, the White House quietly sent another $200 million worth of military equipment to Ukraine on top of the $2.9 billion worth of military aid provided since 2014.

NATO – The 30-member organization has sent military trainers, missiles, and over 200,000 pounds of lethal aid to Ukraine so far. During the recent summit with Russian officials, all 30 members voiced their commitment to its “open door” policy that would admit Ukraine and Georgia if they met entry requirements, in defiance of Russia’s request to stop enlarging. Individually, NATO members have stepped up: the Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia have sent to Ukraine Stinger air defense systems and Javelins (with American permission). The Netherlands and Spain have deployed warplanes and warships to the Eastern European region. The Czechs and Dutch have sent armaments and Turkey is furnishing drones and weapons to Ukraine, has kept the Black Sea open to allied navies, and has signed a high-level Defense Agreement with Ukraine.

NATO and when countries joined

The United Kingdom – In search of identity since Brexit, Britain has aggressively asserted itself into the melee in its new role as a strong, principled Middle Power. Britain was the first Western nation to send warships into the Black Sea off Ukraine’s coast where a Russian fleet resides, the first to send troops to Poland and Ukraine plus weaponry, and has publicly debunked historical lies told by Moscow about Ukraine. Over the weekend, Britain’s intelligence officialdom detailed Russian plans to overthrow Ukraine’s government, cause chaos, and use this as a pretext to invade. It has vociferously condemned Putin on behalf of the West.

Poland and all former Soviet Satellites – These nations have warned and fought against Putin’s pipeline to Germany because of the security threat to Europe. They have provided weapons and diplomatic pressure, including, most recently, Rumania, Bulgaria, and Greece.

Sweden and Finland – These countries are now considering joining NATO to protect themselves against a belligerent Russia for the first time.

Germany -- Germany has distinguished itself as a self-absorbed nation that is not in sync with the all-for-one-and-one-for-all mentality that both the European Union and NATO require. Germany pushed its pipeline with Russia over the objections of the rest of the EU, is a laggard in NATO contributions, and has used its veto to keep Ukraine out of NATO as well as to try and block weapons shipments to Ukraine by other EU members, most recently Estonia. Under fire from allies, its new government recently warned Putin that if he invades Ukraine, his new pipeline will never be commissioned.

France -- France has supported NATO and sent armaments to Ukraine, but President Emmanuel Macron has also broken ranks with the notion of U.S.-led discussions. He now faces a re-election challenge by Putin-backed fascist Marine Le Pen.

Italy --  In late December, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi played down the risk of Russia invading Ukraine, saying Moscow’s behavior indicates its desire to explore diplomacy. Italy is currently negotiating a comprehensive trade deal with Ukraine.

Europe’s overwhelming concern about the Russian threat, and Biden’s hint at 50,000 American boots on the ground, are important backdrops to the “diplomacy” underway. In my opinion, Russia has no intention of invading, and its “invasion gambit” has been about destabilizing the West and forcing Ukraine to let Russia’s separatist-controlled region in Donbas rejoin Ukraine and send representatives to its parliament. But this is a non-starter, a “Trojan-Horse” strategy that would be used to sabotage the country’s democracy and reforms. Instead, allies should insist Russia pay $32 billion reparations for damages, deaths, and the dislocation of two million Ukrainians caused by its occupation since 2014. It should also expel the 300,000 armed Russian operatives who have colonized the place.

Stolen Property

Thus far, President Joe Biden has been biding his time through “diplomacy” which means endless meetings that result in more meetings. But as Putin digs in and his “invasion season” nears — the Olympics — the White House has realized that an American show of force is needed. This raises the stakes dramatically and will likely extend talks until the spring when the weather will warm, relieving the European energy crisis and thawing the ground which would make an invasion impossible.

That is why now the tables must be turned. Putin should be given seven days to pull his troops back 100 miles from Ukraine’s borders or be hit with severe sanctions damaging to his economy, corporations, and cronies. He should be told that such sanctions will remain until Russia withdraws its troops from all Ukrainian territory invaded in 2014, Donbas and Crimea. Next Russia should be declared a terrorist nation by the United Nations, G7, and G20 and a scorched-earth policy of diplomatic and economic isolation must be undertaken. No imports from, and no exports of technology or capital to, Russia.

Is war inevitable because Putin has gone too far to pull back and save face? Clearly, he has but that’s irrelevant. He has already “lost” because Ukrainians remain resolute and Europeans realize they must diversify away from investing or trading with Russia, leaving it poorer and more dependent on China, its potentially dangerous “ally”.

So far, the lesson to be learned is best expressed by Ukrainian physician Marta Yuzkiv, who is training to kill Russians in order to defend her country. "I would like to say that we are in danger now, and not just danger for Ukraine, but the danger for the whole democratic world. So I hope altogether we can stop Putin."

Dr. Marta Yuzkiv: Peter Keinhart for NPR

The mRNA Revolution

December 20, 2021

Concern about the Omicron variant has seized headlines, threatening to spoil the holiday season for millions globally. People are fatigued and wonder if travel bans and inconveniences will ever end. But the good news going forward is that the vaccines work and, even better, the scientists who formulated the first COVID vaccine are about to rock the world of medicine again by applying their biotech platform to attack cancer in all its many forms. They are at the forefront of the mRNA Revolution which will prove to be as significant to humanity as was the invention of antibiotics decades ago.

Drs. Ozlem Tureci and Ugur Sahin in the lab

In April, I wrote “The Miracle in Mainz” about Ozlem Tureci and Ugur Sahin, and their company BioNTech. This newsletter is partly a reprise, for those who don’t know their incredible story, and, for those who do, an update as to what they are up to now.

They invented the first and most effective vaccine against COVID, in partnership with Pfizer, just six weeks after the Chinese published COVID’s genetic code in January 2020. But they have never strayed from their life’s passion which is to apply their technology and talent toward the prevention and treatment of the world’s biggest epidemic: cancer. “We are cancer doctors,” Sahin said in a recent newspaper interview. “We are really passionate about that. What we want to accomplish is to provide really better treatments.”

Dr. Sahin was born in 1965 in Iskenderun on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast and came to Germany four years later when his father was recruited to work at a Ford factory near Cologne, part of a policy to rebuild postwar Germany with foreign labor. Dr. Türeci’s father, a surgeon, came to Germany around the same time to work at a Catholic hospital in the small town of Lastrup. Both became physicians and met at a hospital.

To find a “cure” for cancer was a pledge they made when they fell in love as interns. “We realized that with standard therapy we would quickly come to a point where we didn’t have anything to offer to patients,” Dr. Türeci said. “It was a formative experience.”

The two migrated from medical practice to medical research and worked at the University of Mainz in Germany. In 2001, they co-founded Ganymed Pharmaceuticals to research antibodies, then in 2008, they co-founded BioNTech to expand their research into mRNA. Ganymed eventually developed an effective antibody used against esophageal and gastrointestinal cancer and was sold in 2016 for $1.6 billion. And BioNTech, with its COVID vaccine home-run, has a current market value of $69.3 billion — which makes it more valuable than German pharma giant Bayer AG and one of the 250 most valuable public companies in the world.

“The success of Ugur and Özlem is a fantastic combination of two people who complement each other,” said Rolf Zinkernagel in an interview, a Swiss Nobel Prize laureate who once employed Dr. Sahin in his Zurich lab. “He is an innovative scientist, and she is an amazing clinician with a great sense for running a business.”

mRNA stands for messenger ribonucleic acid and is depicted in this cartoon as a workhorse on a unicycle

Dr. Sahin and others believe mRNA technology will be used for everything from vaccines for HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis to applications in heart and central nervous system diseases. Moderna is another pioneer in this “space” but BioNTech is reinvesting billions made from its COVID vaccine into bringing mRNA-based and other cancer treatments to market. Currently, they have 11 potential medicines involved in clinical trials around the world.

Their story is a spectacular business achievement as well as a scientific one. The couple’s earliest and most important backers were Andreas and Thomas Strüngmann, twin brothers and billionaire investors who have provided unfailing support. For example, on the morning of January 25, 2020, Dr. Sahin read a medical journal and realized that COVID would engulf the world and that their platform could address this crisis. He immediately worked on his laptop designing possible coronavirus vaccines and by afternoon, he called his backers and said BioNTech must pivot. They gave the nod.

BioNTech is, unlike Moderna, strictly a research company. With the COVID vaccine, as with its other drugs, it formed a 50-50 joint venture partnership with an integrated pharmaceutical company, in this case, Pfizer, to manufacture, distribute, and market. Now it’s formed partnerships with several other pharma companies to apply its mRNA technology to fighting cancer. But, unlike COVID, these drugs will require years of testing and clinical trials.

Already, however, in November BioNTech received fast-track designation from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for BNT111, a cancer immunotherapy product. “With the Fast Track status and support by the FDA, we aim to expedite the further development of the BNT111 program to provide a new therapeutic option for patients with life-threatening, hard-to-treat melanoma,” Dr. Türeci said in a statement.

Cancer is the world’s biggest health challenge in large measure due to longer lifespans. It is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020. One out of every two people will get some form of cancer and while diagnoses, treatment, and “cures” have steadily improved, the mRNA solution promises to prevent, mitigate and possibly eradicate most cancers one day.

BioNTech’s concept — known as “individualized immunotherapy” — is to take immune cells, called T-cells, from each patient, then genetically alter them to target that patient’s cancer and reinfuse them back into the patient. This targeted approach of inserting a tailor-made mRNA molecule into a vaccine alerts the patient’s immune system to attack the cancer cells, then scours the body on a search-and-destroy mission looking for similar cells. Without getting too technical, this molecule has been studied for decades but finally -- through the use of new digital technologies -- is able to trick our bodies into accepting snippets of genetic material that trigger an immune response and will “usher in a whole new category of medicines,” said Dr. Sahin.

In preliminary animal testing, results have been promising. For instance, BioNTech’s mRNA “cocktail” administered into colon and melanoma tumors in 20 mice stopped tumor growth and resulted in total regression in 17 of the 20. The company has formulated candidate drugs for prostate cancer, colorectal, ovarian, and other cancers.

The billionaire scientists, with laboratories in Mainz and Cambridge Massachusetts, work as hard as ever. They live in a modest apartment in Mainz and ride bicycles to work. When Dr. Sahin was recently asked if he thought it was absurd or appropriate that BioNTech is worth more than Bayer, he said: “A company’s share price primarily reflects its long-term potential. We believe we are only at the beginning with what we have achieved so far.”

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