This newsletter is about money, corruption, tech, business, power, Ukraine, Russia, and trends. 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. I am a columnist with The National Post in Canada, Kyiv Post, UkraineAlert at the Atlantic Council Eurasia Center in Washington D.C., and other periodicals. At heart I’m a business writer and entrepreneur which is why I rely on facts and figures, not just puffery or propaganda from politicians.

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Putin's Ethnic Cleansing

March 18, 2023

The March 20 Moscow meeting between China’s President Xi Jinping and President Vladimir Putin was upstaged and ruined on March 17 when the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant to arrest Putin for war crimes involving tens of thousands of Ukrainians. This is a stunning development that demolishes his reputation for all time by accusing him personally of committing despicable acts involving kids, intentionally torn from their families and culture. Large-scale child abuse, based on ethnicity, constitutes genocide, and will most certainly impede any hope of a closer alliance with China. “This is significant and also embarrassing for China”, commented former U.S. Ambassador to NATO and Ukraine expert Kurt Volker, “when it is deliberately trying to position itself as neutral and an honest broker in peace talks. The preamble to China’s proposed peace plan begins with a statement about upholding respect for territorial integrity.”

Ukrainian children orphaned, kidnapped, and kept in a Russian camp

Of course, the Kremlin immediately rejected the allegations and pointed out that the warrant is unenforceable because Russia dropped its involvement with the ICC in 2014 after its judges condemned the illegal annexation of Crimea. Even so, it has reach. The accused “war criminal” may not be nabbed at one of his palaces or dachas, but he won’t be going to any of the 123 countries that are signatories to the ICC because he will be arrested, incarcerated, and extradited to The Hague to stand trial. These include 18 Eastern European countries, 25 Western European, 33 African, 19 Asia-Pacific, and 28 in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Worse, the day before ICC’s bombshell, a UN-based inquiry provided evidence of Russian war crimes. These involved the mass kidnappings, but also the atrocities against civilians in occupied regions who have been murdered, tortured, and inhumanly incarcerated. The ICC, however, uniquely singled out Putin, and his minister of “child welfare”, and stated: “There are reasonable grounds to believe that each suspect bears responsibility for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population and that of unlawful transfer of population from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, in prejudice of Ukrainian children.” The pre-trial statement by judges added that Putin failed to “exercise control properly over civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts, or allowed for their commission, and who were under his effective authority and control.”

Putin and Russia have clearly committed genocide under the United Nations’ definition contained in Article II of the Convention: “Genocide is a crime committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, or racial or religious group, in whole or in part.”

Shot down shopping for potatoes in Irpin in February 2022

Reports are the judges considered issuing secret warrants, but decided that making them public could “contribute to the prevention of the further commission of crimes”. The evidence is overwhelming. Since the first foray and massacres by Russia into Bucha and Irpin outside Kyiv, Ukraine began conducting its own investigations, with the help of 33 other nations. To date, they have documented 74,000 war crimes. In addition, another probe, by the Associated Press (AP) over many months, uncovered the reason why Putin has been indicted by the ICC.

AP reported in October that “Russian law prohibits the adoption of foreign children without consent of the home country, which Ukraine has not given. But in May, Putin signed a decree making it easier for Russia to adopt and give citizenship to Ukrainian children without parental care — and harder for Ukraine and surviving relatives to win them back. Russia also prepared a register of suitable Russian families for Ukrainian children, and paid them for each child who gets citizenship — up to $1,000 for those with disabilities. It holds summer camps for Ukrainian orphans, offers `patriotic education’ classes and even runs a hotline to pair Russian families with children from Donbas.”

AP conducted interviews with family members in Ukraine and Russia and scoured documents and media reports. “Russia’s open effort to adopt Ukrainian children and bring them up as Russian is already well underway, in one of the most explosive issues of the war,” the newswire service concluded. “Thousands of children have been found in the basements of war-torn cities like Mariupol and at orphanages in the Russian-backed separatist territories of Donbas. They include those whose parents were killed by Russian shelling as well as others in institutions or with foster families, known as `children of the state’.”

Orphaned Ukrainian boy captive in Russia. AP

AP also explained Russia’s cover-up: “Russia claims that these children don’t have parents or guardians to look after them, or that they can’t be reached. But the AP found that officials have deported Ukrainian children to Russia or Russian-held territories without consent, lied to them that they weren’t wanted by their parents, used them for propaganda, and given them Russian families and citizenship,” it wrote.

The anguish is unfathomable for the families and the nation itself. Mariupol had a population of 425,681 people in January 2022, but was obliterated by the Russians. “It is absolutely a terrible story,” said a local official Petro Andryushchenko, who claims hundreds of children were taken from that city alone. “We don’t know if our children have an official parent or (stepparents) or something else because they are forcibly disappeared by Russian troops.”

Russia has purposely targeted Ukrainian civilians, and their children, killing or dislocating 14 million

No self-respecting leader or country can support Putin or Russia. For China’s Xi, the timing of these revelations couldn’t come at a worse time and are likely to derail any plans, even covert, to ship weaponry to Russia. The unprovoked invasion of Ukraine makes a mockery of Xi’s avowed belief in territorial integrity. Further, Putin will go down in history, with Hitler and Pol Pot, as a monster who regarded his victim’s children as spoils of war. He, and his rotten regime, are barbaric on an unimaginable scale because, for the first time, their predations have been televised and photographed for all the world to see.

Negotiations with Putin are inconceivable. A cease-fire would be unconscionable because it would allow him to keep what he has stolen from Ukrainians. Peace is not possible. Only defeat or a firing squad will end Putin’s ethnic cleansing. Russia is truly the Evil Empire.


Law, Order, and Tech

February 27, 2023

Anyone who grew up reading Sherlock Holmes or watching Perry Mason, Miami Vice, True Detective, or CSI believes that justice is the result of dogged police work, interrogation aptitude, hunches, shoe-leather policing to knock on doors to find witnesses and uncover evidence, and crime scene clues. But two of America’s most sensational multiple murder cases currently in the courts – a prominent South Carolina lawyer accused of murdering his wife and son and a PhD student accused of murdering four undergraduates in Idaho -- provide an eye-popping glimpse into the technological transformation of policing and prosecutions. What’s changed is that every day all of us leave digital fingerprints everywhere. Our devices, from cellphones to Apple watches, vehicles, surveillance cameras, and doorbells stalk us wherever we go, as a victim or perpetrator. Today, more evidence in minute detail is available than ever before and is accessible to authorities because it is stored, for all eternity, in the “cloud”.

Four students murdered in Idaho on November 13, 2022
Mother and son murdered on June 7, 2021 in South Carolina

The “Internet of Things” [IoT] has arrived. This is SiliconValley “speak” to describe the electronic architecture that links physical objects with sensors, cameras, recorders, processing ability, software, and bio- and nano- technologies. This linkage allows data to be unearthed and exchanged from cell phones, electronic devices, or systems via the Internet or social media networks. The “IoT” harvests individual information and stores it in gigantic data bases. This Brave New World of connectivity enables thieves or terrorists to pry, spy, steal funds or identities, hack programs to cause chaos, or penetrate financial, infrastructure, defense, or corporate systems. But it also enables law enforcement to more easily find and bring culprits to justice.

Everything is “smart” these days — phones, houses, trucks, watches — except the criminals who get caught if they leave behind traces of their identity such as fingerprints or DNA or are unaware their actions are recorded all the time. Once identified as potential suspects by police, their entire life – from movements to opinions to associations and threats – can be dug up by investigators who access data socked away in some server farm in a remote location under lock and key. The result — as these two murder cases illustrate — is people are being incriminated by smart phones, computers, or “smart” cars which are increasingly computers on wheels.

A cell phone, today, is essentially a mobile “crime scene” because of the trove of information and leads that it provides investigators who are hunting for wrongdoing. Whether belonging to the victim or a perpetrator or a witness, the phone is now central to police work because virtually everyone has one. Every smart phone retains a record of its owner’s or user’s movements, locations based on cellphone towers, conversations (deleted or saved), texts, emails, images, videos, social media, Siri interactions, contacts, detailed records of contacts made, and incoming and outgoing calls, along with a statement of frequency. All this information can be “mined” from phones even if they have been smashed, shot, submerged, or microwaved.

Likewise, cars are a treasure trove of personal information. There is now a new policing specialty known as digital vehicle forensics because cars contain an astonishing amount of information in their onboard computers. A recent case involved a dead man who was found in his car and investigators uncovered a voice recording of the murder suspect telling the victim’s car to play a certain song after a pre-determined time of death. Vehicles are also “telltales” like phones, but are easier for police to access because there are fewer privacy protections for cars.

What follows are details from the two most sensational multiple murder cases in America where technology has been a major player. (Note: Charges have been laid but neither of the accused men have been convicted and I have excluded their names because it’s irrelevant. What’s important in the following narratives is the role played by digital and bio forensics.)

On November 13, 2022, four college students were stabbed to death in the early hours in their rental home in Moscow, Idaho. Police found a fingerprint on the sheath of the murder weapon left behind that allowed their forensic experts to work up a DNA “profile”. A neighbor’s doorbell camera also recorded a white car that was driving in the vicinity before and after the crime. Police decided this unusual activity was suspicious and issued a bulletin to the public asking for the whereabouts of the car. A security guard at a nearby college reported that it was parked at a student residence. The owner was identified but not notified — he was a criminology student — and police scoured video camera footage through the region to track where the car had travelled in the days before and after the crime.

Police surreptitiously, but legally, obtained a search warrant that required the suspect’s cell phone provider to give police access to all his phone data. The search showed he had left his house just before the murders, had turned off his phone for two hours (within which time the murders occurred), then returned home and came back to the site the next morning. In December, the suspect and his father drove the car to their home in Pennsylvania and, after they arrived, the FBI rifled through the family garbage to get DNA samples. They hit a match: DNA analytical results showed that a man living there was 99.9 percent certain to be the father of the person who left his fingerprint and DNA on the knife sheath at the murder scene. His son was arrested the next day.

Specimens that contain DNA

The other case — the Murdaugh family murders in South Carolina – has also extensively used technology in evidence-gathering. In July 2022, the accused — husband and father of the victims and a prominent lawyer — was charged a year after the murders. Both victims were shot on the family hunting estate at night in front of dog kennels. There were no witnesses and the accused told police that he was not at the kennels in the hours leading up to their deaths. He told police he had napped in the family residence, a football field away, then visited his ailing parents miles away. Gone for a couple of hours, he said he returned home to find his wife and son lying in pools of blood and immediately called 9-11. He told police, after they arrived, that he had just returned home to find them 20 minutes before.

But cellphone data debunked his alibi and placed him at the crime scene minutes before their deaths. The evidence was contained in his son’s cell phone because he had sent a video of his father at the site, time-stamped, on Snapchat to his friends. Once disclosed, the accused abruptly changed his alibi, admitted he had lied, but continued to claim he did not kill them. While damning, this won’t convict him alone because the evidence is circumstantial and the two murder weapons have not been found. But prosecutors have been building a base to the jury that his denial of the murders is unreliable. On the stand, he admitted to stealing millions of dollars from clients and law partners, massive opioid addiction, lying to authorities over the years, and lying that he was napping and not at the kennels the night they died.

In both cases, the importance of technology sleuthing is front and center. Of course, these new tech tools also raise questions about privacy and unreasonable search that will be adjudicated by the courts or by edict. But facial recognition, police body cams, mining data bases, tens of millions of surveillance cameras, and smart devices containing clues are a reality. They have revolutionized the world of law and order profoundly and permanently. And they may even make society slightly safer.


China's Putin Play

February 23, 2023

The last few days has been “Superpower Week” — a lengthy, televised version of geopolitical theater beginning with full-throated support for Ukraine’s struggle by European leaders at the Munich Security Conference between February 17 and 19. The next day President Joe Biden pulled off a dramatic, unannounced appearance in Kyiv pledging “unwavering support”, then, on February 21, he addressed a mass gathering in Warsaw in front of its Royal Palace. That same night, Vladimir Putin took the stage in Moscow to deliver a keynote claiming that Ukraine started the war, even though it didn’t, and that it would last for years. Interestingly, President Xi Jinping of China was missing, nowhere to be seen. Instead, he sent his top diplomat to Munich to communicate China’s desire for peace, then slipped him into Moscow after Putin’s rant to privately meet with him. No fixed date was announced for Xi to meet Putin, as promised, because China’s strategy is to sideline itself from the Kremlin.

Benar News

The NATO alliance is enormous and powerful — equivalent to 70 percent of the world’s GDP and military strength — while Russia’s only ally is an absent Xi and fellow pariah nation Iran. China distances because it realizes that Putin is not a Superpower, will run out of ammo, will be defeated, and will always remain a geopolitical outcast. But China also equivocates: It does not reject, condemn, or support Russia’s invasion; and strikes a “passive aggressive” posture which consists of abstaining from voting against Russia at the United Nations and of saying nothing.

Such mealy-mouthed behavior is uncharacteristic of hegemons like China, but it is strategic. Russia may fall apart, providing China with an opportunity to snap up Russian regions located in Asia. It is also personal. Putin did not tip off Xi about the invasion ahead of time when they met last year at the Beijing Olympic Games. As Russian troops amassed along Ukraine’s border, the two posed for selfies and declared themselves friends “without limits”. Then a few days later Putin upended modern history and the global economy by invading, raping, and pillaging his innocent neighbor. It was not only embarrassing but costly. China has billions invested in Ukraine and Europe.

Now one year later, the United States and Europe impose sanctions and punish nations providing Russia with direct military assistance. This threat has been heeded by China, as has the fact that America has forged a similar alliance in Asia, called the Quad, which would make an invasion or blockade of Taiwan impossibly difficult or dangerous. Furthermore, China’s customers in Europe demand that China stop twiddling its thumbs and help stop Putin from further murder and mayhem in Ukraine.

In response, China announced it will roll out its “peace plan” on February 24, the invasion’s anniversary when Russia is expected to saturation bomb Ukraine. According to reports, the “plan” is all but pointless because it ignores President Volodymyr Zelensky’s demands that Russian forces withdraw from Ukraine’s borders, Moscow pay reparations, and Russia submits to war-crime tribunals. Bloomberg said China’s plan is a series of aspirations, not concrete measures, such as respect for territorial integrity, security for nuclear facilities, bans on the use of biological and chemical weapons, a ceasefire, and a halt to arms deliveries to Ukraine (not Russia). It’s a complete non-starter.

But that didn’t stop Beijing’s mouthpiece, Global Times, from patting Xi on the back for his peace initiative ahead of time. It wrote: “Experts said [Xi’s top diplomat] Wang's meetings with the top leader and senior officials of Russia show that Moscow values highly its strategic ties with China and is also treating China's idea on the Ukraine issue seriously, and this is proof of China's unique influence for mediation purposes.”

Strategically speaking, China is not a neutral. It is an accomplice. Its energy imports from Russia, along with India’s, have kept the Russian regime afloat. Now Putin badgers them for armaments and this week the Americans accused China of planning to send lethal military aid to Russia. This was denied and won’t happen. If it does, the consequences will greatly damage China.

“Superpower Week” Putin meets what’s-his-name, a diplomat and not Xi Jinping

China’s support for Putin also makes no sense economically, apart from cheap energy, which is why Xi recently made a state visit to Saudi Arabia to secure supplies should Russia fall apart. Beijing “doesn’t need Putin or Russia” and isn’t one of its ten biggest trading partners, said Yale University business professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld. He has chronicled corporate departures from Russia and pointed out that three of the biggest corporate exits from Russia following the attack against Ukraine were Chinese: Sinochem, a state-owned chemical, fertilizer and oil conglomerate; Sinopec, a Chinese oil and gas enterprise; and one of its biggest financial groups, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Limited. 

Xi pays lip service to peace but subsidizes Russia with oil purchases. Europeans are angry, after they have stopped buying Putin’s energy at great cost to their economies. They expect Xi to put pressure on Putin to stop this war and if he doesn’t, China’s prospects will suffer. The world’s silent Superpower must finally wade in and end its equivocation. So-called neutrality and trading with the enemy are mutually exclusive. As Apartheid fighter Desmond Tutu wisely stated to fence-sitters years ago: “To be neutral is to back the aggressor”.


NATO: Fight "Fire with Fire"

February 6, 2023

Vladimir Putin’s horrific invasion a year ago took the world by surprise and another attack is expected around its first anniversary. Plans are to throw 200,000 more Russian soldiers into the battle underway in Ukraine’s east in an attempt to overwhelm Ukraine, create a stalemate, whittle down its manpower, and wear down the resolve of its allies. But this Stalinist “human wave” strategy won’t work if the West abandons its “mission creep” strategy, or incremental escalation, and matches Russia’s firepower. This means hundreds more main battle tanks to break through Russian front lines, dozens of fighter jets, and thousands of long-range rockets to wreak havoc behind enemy lines. There is no more time for half measures or delays because Russia theoretically has millions more hapless young men to throw into this “meat grinder” warfare. Brutality must be matched with brutality. As Shakespeare wrote in 1623: “Govern the motion of a kingly eye; Be stirring as the time; be fire with fire; Threaten the threatener and outface the brow of bragging horror.”

Ukraine claws back but lost its momentum due to supply delays

This conflict won’t end with negotiations. Someone must win and someone must lose and only defeat will erase Putin from Ukraine. “We don’t see any signs” that Vladimir Putin is “preparing for peace,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in South Korea in early February. “We see the opposite.” Now is the time when the wealthy and powerful Western alliance behind Ukraine must stop asking Ukrainians to fight with one hand tied behind their backs. Russia uses its latest technologies: Ukraine must use the West’s latest and superior technologies. If supplies in Western arsenals run low, then America and Europe must ship their mothballed jets, guns and drones to stop Putin’s genocide, war crimes, and devastation. If not now, when?

Russia’s assets are only a fraction of what is contained in the central bank vaults and military arsenals of Ukraine’s alliance. Putin’s bluffs about red lines, and nuclear threats, should continue to be ignored. He has been weakened in the past year. His horrors have not captured much land and have alienated his allies China and India. European nations are starting to pull their weight, Washington remains resolute, and this week mighty Israel joined the alliance by attacking Iranian drone and rocket factories that supply Russia. It also contemplates sending its Iron Dome technology to close Ukraine’s skies.

Another positive development is that Russia is expected to run out of missiles in three months, due to production problems. Unfortunately, it won’t run out of soldiers anytime soon even though casualties pile up. Estimates now are that 200,000 Russian soldiers, 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers and 30,000 Ukrainian civilians have died. This is why, paradoxically, the only way to save lives is to dramatically escalate in order to obliterate as many Russian armed forces and facilities as quickly as possible.

Foot-dragging costs lives. Last month, America and NATO responded with 300 main battle tank allocations after months of pleas by Kyiv. Washington recently agreed to send a Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb that will cause catastrophic damage at targets twice the distance now reachable by Ukraine’s current arsenal of rockets, or 94 miles. This places all of Russia’s supply lines within reach, as well as much of Crimea’s. But the West must do more. It must go all in.

Pressure to give Ukraine jets immediately must be applied to France, a laggard in terms of providing military support, and Netherlands who’s outdone most. Both are considering doing so even after the U.S. and Germany declined. Former U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper publicly came out in support of providing U.S. jets, as did The Wall Street Journal in an editorial: “President Biden is saying the U.S. won’t supply F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, but anyone following the war in the past year knows what that means: Ask again later. The Biden Team hems and haws on every new weapon request for Ukraine before it later comes around, and let’s hope the President changes again and offers more military support that helps Ukraine immediately on the battlefield and after the war ends. The Army tactical missile system, known as ATACMS, has a 185-mile range to help push the Russians out of their dug-in positions. These missiles could make a fast difference on the battlefield and give the Ukrainians a fighting chance of putting Crimea in play.”

Mariupol, with a pre-war population of 500,000 completely flattened

Underscoring the need for full-on mobilization, and to end mission creep, was a report by the Institute for the Study of War. “Western reluctance to begin supplying Ukraine with higher-end Western weapons systems, particularly tanks, long-range strike systems, and air defense systems, has limited Ukraine’s ability to initiate and continue large-scale counter-offensive operations,” it wrote.

“The way this new military assistance is announced also matters,” wrote former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. “Rather than providing ATACMs in March, Reapers in June, and jets in September, NATO should go for a Big Bang. Plans to provide all these systems should be announced on February 24, 2023, the first anniversary of Putin’s invasion. An announcement of this size will produce an important psychological effect inside the Kremlin and Russian society, signalling that the West is committed to Ukraine’s ambition to liberate all occupied territories.”

The Institute for the Study of War also noted that more of Russia’s suppressed people may be voting against the war with their feet. “The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that it issued over 5.4 million passports in 2022, 40 percent more than in the previous year. The increase in passport applications indicates that social conditioning efforts to bring the `special military operation’ home to Russia and reinvigorate patriotic fervor are not having the desired effect. The Kremlin need not look further than passport statistics to poll domestic attitudes on the Russian population’s desire to fight Putin’s war.”

Ukraine is concerned that the invasion will turn into a lengthy stalemate. One diplomat told a newspaper “if Moscow can create the illusion that we can’t win on the battlefield, then some of our ‘friends’ in the West will start losing their enthusiasm and start pushing us to cut a deal, a bad deal, with the occupiers.” Victory is the only option, as President Volodymyr Zelensky emphasized on British television this week, when he said Putin “doesn’t want negotiations because he doesn't want peace”.

Bakhmut’s WWI warfare

Unable to gobble up Ukraine this year, Putin plays a passive-aggressive game to perpetuate a grinding “stalemate” by throwing untrained bodies at Ukrainian guns. He remains indifferent to the damage inflicted on his country’s economy or reputation or prospects or people. This is why pressure must be increased to prevent a stalemate. Ukraine has brought a knife to a gunfight but cannot continue to do so, now or ever. Its military must become the most lethal in Europe to expel Putin and to protect itself and Europe from another future incursion. Now a year into this catastrophe, it’s obvious that Putin’s end game is not triumph but simply to not lose and to destroy as much of Ukraine as he possibly can. This means the West’s end game must be to demolish his army and regime as quickly and as efficiently as possible.


ChatGPT: Siri on Steroids

January 30, 2023

This newsletter is longer than usual because it explains what ChatGPT is all about and also includes my Q&A interview with the app itself as to what it can do, what it cannot do, and what are some red flags concerning its usage. My interview also demonstrates its remarkable ability to instantaneously summarize information in readable form, including the ability to write poetry about a topic — all within seconds of being asked to do so. But it also raises ethical and other questions surrounding this advanced form of artificial intelligence.

The media hubbub around ChatGPT, and artificial intelligence in general, requires contextualization. As a former investor in software development in Ukraine, I can attest to the fact that this is an astonishing breakthrough, but also that it won’t replace the world’s knowledge workers anytime soon. This is Siri on steroids, a “chatbot” that can comprehend human language questions but can respond with summaries containing sentences — or even in poetry. This has been accomplished by building a platform that has access to a massive data base of words and phrases, then has the operational ability to immediately stitch together a related answer or summation in sentences or paragraphs. ChatGPT is governed by a computerized process, or sets of rules called algorithms. This is also how Google can provide instant translations.

ChatGPT represents another step toward the reality that artificial intelligence will eventually become smarter than humans sometime this century. It will also displace many knowledge workers in decades to come, but for now it is a tool and enhancement for anyone curious about virtually anything as well as for journalists, researchers, teachers, students, and managers. But dangers loom, as with any new technology, and these are made apparent in the series of questions I put to ChatGPT. What follows are my screen-saved queries and its responses, which were immediate:

Then I tested it:

I asked it to give me an opinion about the Ukrainian-Russian conflict, keeping in mind that ChatGPT’s data base is only up to December 2021, before the invasion.

Finally, I asked it to write a poem and within a split second produced this:

It was gob-smacking, but the machine is only as smart, or up to date, as is the data base it relies on as well as the linguistic roadmap its human developers have uploaded. It cannot act or think on its own.

However, based on my years involved with software, Singularity University, and Silicon Valley denizens, it’s clear that ChatGPT is a major step toward reaching “Technological Singularity” — a hypothetical and unknown future point in time when artificial intelligence (or AI) becomes smarter than humans and when machines will cogitate or think. Some predict this will occur by 2029, in some primitive form, but that’s highly debatable. At the moment, however, ChatGPT, and its parent OpenAI (now bought by Microsoft for $19 billion) are leading a race against Google (with its version called LaMDA), Meta (with its Galactica) and dozens more software teams to build machines that comprehend, respond, and think.

Even at this stage, as I noted in my interview, there are red flags. Only a few weeks ago, Meta pulled Galactica after its launch because it was basing answers on racist and dangerous data. This is why on December 10, when ChatGPT was launched, its CEO Sam Altman issued this caveat: “ChatGPT is incredibly limited but good enough at some things to create a misleading impression of greatness. It’s a mistake to be relying  on it for anything important right now. It’s a preview of progress; we have lots of work to do on robustness and truthfulness.”

Technology is only as virtuous as are the humans who devise it and use it. It can be weaponized, or used to spread disinformation or hate or terrorism. It is not intrinsically accurate, legal, or moral which is why these new “generative” platforms must be held accountable. Google, for instance, accesses and stores the world’s largest information data base but depends on sources that are traceable — it doesn’t generate, summarize, extrapolate, or concoct its own information.

I think ChatGPT is an important breakthrough and will be invaluable because it can provide instant summaries or drafts or research notes for users. But its output must always be double-checked for accuracy. Even ChatGPT said so.


Germany's World War III

January 23, 2023

Germany, the country that ruined the 20th Century, is damaging the 21st. Berlin’s political decisions facilitated Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and now its politicians slow-walk the military assistance and sanctions needed to defeat Russia. The most recent example is Germany’s refusal to permit the acquisition by Ukraine of 300 German-made Leopard II battle tanks — unless and until America also sends M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. Washington has declined to send the Abrams because the tank is inferior to the Leopard, costly and cumbersome. Even so, Germany insists. But this is not about tanks. It’s about guilt and optics. German politicians worry that it won’t go unnoticed that the last time German tanks moved eastward was in 1941 when Hitler’s “Barbarossa” armada invaded and swept toward Russia using 3,400 tanks that were, like the Leopard II, made by arms giant, Krauss-Maffei Wegmann who was also Nazi Germany’s prime supplier. While eyebrow-raising, these inconvenient historical facts do not justify preventing Ukraine from deploying Leopard tanks to break through Russia’s “Maginot Line” of trenches, landmines, artillery, and cement barriers in its East. In this case, as in others, Germany’s mentality and hesitation have been unhelpful and disquieting.

June 22, 1941. Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has also refused to lift re-export restrictions on the 15 countries that currently own 2,000 Leopards, many of whom are willing to ship tanks to Ukraine. He worries about Russian retaliation if Germany proceeds on its own, but even after the UK pledged 14 of its big battle tanks to break the deadlock last week Scholz still refused to green light the Leopards. Pressure builds and Poland and other Leopard owners intend to defy restrictions. U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted he was “tired of the s@#$%show surrounding who is going to send tanks and when are they going to send them. To the Germans: Send tanks to Ukraine because they need them. It is in your own national interest that Putin loses in Ukraine. To the Biden Administration: Send American tanks so that others will follow our lead.”

Kyiv remains confident the Leopards will eventually arrive and has already started training operators. And on January 20, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin downplayed Germany’s tank “punt” and announced an impressive platform of smaller tanks, infantry fighting vehicles [IFVs], artillery and weaponry for Ukraine to mount its needed spring counter-offensive. “This is a very, very capable package. The U.S. package represents enough armor to liberate Ukraine or until Putin ends his war of choice.”

On January 22, a German official hinted that Poland could send its Leopards if it requests permission, but damage has been done. Once more Germany is a drag on the alliance at a crucial time. Putin cannot win on the battlefield and has decided to prolong the conflict to discourage allies: He now digs in, murders civilians, threatens nuclear attack, and throws tens of thousands of Russian conscripts into action as cannon fodder in order to freeze the war at a point in Eastern Ukraine that is not far from where he began his second occupation on February 24, 2022. Not coincidentally, on January 17, Putin pal Henry Kissinger issued a statement that recommended talks begin but fighting continue until the “pre-war line” is reached. At that point, a cease-fire can be negotiated, he suggested, along with the future ownership of the Donbas and Crimea. In return, he said he agreed that Ukraine should be allowed to join NATO. This was contemptible claptrap and read like a Kremlin wish list.

Ukraine is assembling an armored division of tanks and IFVs that will be capable of liberating all its territory including Crimea by this summer, said Ben Hodges on January 21, former Commanding General of US Army Europe. “Ukraine will continue building up an armored force – a division or more –  that is trained and prepared to serve as the breakthrough formation for the next major offensive phase of the campaign. I’d anticipate that it’ll be at least three months before they’re able to do that. It will be built around Ukrainian armor that they already have or have captured, but Western tanks, IFVs, and artillery will be key to making it lethal. I can’t be confident of the delivery of tanks to complement the IFVs that are now being delivered, but it does seem that the dam is about to finally break on Western tanks.”

Ukraine also needs long-range missiles to isolate Crimea and neutralize Russia’s ability to kill civilians. “Ukraine will never be safe or secure or able to rebuild its economy so long as Russia retains Crimea. Therefore Kyiv cannot accept any negotiated settlement which gives up Crimea, nor should the West... If we are serious about the international rules-based order then we cannot allow the Kremlin to be rewarded for its illegal actions,” added Hodges. 

The tank fiasco highlights a major impediment within the alliance as well as within the European Union which is Berlin’s proclivity to put parochial politics ahead of Europe’s or NATO’s best interests — a stance that disqualifies its standing as a leader. Germany has vetoed Ukrainian membership in NATO, hesitated to provide timely financial and military support as well as sanctions, and, worst of all, supported Russia’s Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines. That infrastructure, destroyed by Russian saboteurs recently to frighten Europe about its infrastructure vulnerability, was the center piece of Putin’s European conquest strategy. He intended to use his pipelines to control Europe’s energy, undermine its security, and bypass Ukraine’s gas delivery system to pave the way for an invasion. In essence, his first “attack” against Europe was to co-opt Germany, which he accomplished after decades of living in East Germany as a KGB agent then courting German politicians from inside the Kremlin.

Nord Stream 1 and 2 — both blown up recently by Russia to frighten Europe

It’s also concerning that Chancellor Scholz is a Social Democratic Party colleague of Gerhard Schroder, a close friend of Putin’s, who served as Chancellor until 2005 then launched the Nord Stream 2 project for Russia in 2011. Schroder is a bon vivant who has become wealthy after serving for years as a director on Putin’s biggest energy corporations. Discredited over the link, Schroder was stripped of some of his Parliamentary privileges after the invasion. But he is close to Scholz’s new German Defense Minister, Boris Pistorius, who reportedly also has a relationship with one of Schroder’s ex-wives.

It’s all very cozy at the top of German politics. Between Schroder’s stint as Chancellor, and Scholz’s, was Angela Merkel who also defended and pushed through Putin’s Nord Stream 2. While doing so, she and her government ignored fierce opposition from Brussels and Washington over the pipeline’s threat to European security, but she displayed the same high-handed behavior that is now underway concerning the tanks. The exasperated European Parliament last week demanded that Germany release the Leopards “without further delay” and its President Charles Michel said “the time is now. Ukraine needs more military equipment. I firmly support the delivery of tanks.”

Putin and his useful German Chancellors, Merkel and Schroder

America has also been guilty of heeding, and acceding to, German wishes. In spring 2021, President Joe Biden backed down from Nord Stream 2 sanctions imposed by Congress to stop the pipeline, at Merkel’s request, months before the invasion. In a powerful Foreign Affairs piece on January 20, chess champion and Putin foe Garry Kasparov, urged Biden to “deliver the knockout punch” and ignore fears propagated by Germans and others that a destabilized, defeated Russia must be avoided at all costs. “The end of Putin’s tyrannical rule will indeed radically change Russia (and the rest of the world) — but not in the way the White House thinks. Rather than destabilizing Russia and its neighbors, a Ukrainian victory would eliminate a powerful revanchist force and boost the cause of democracy worldwide.”

Russia deserves no mercy, and Ukrainians cannot, and won’t, surrender to an evil government that’s abused them for centuries and now executes a genocidal, “scorched earth” armed catastrophe. Nor should the West. Putin must be forced to completely withdraw behind Ukraine’s 1991 borders and Russia forced to pay reparations. Kasparov also urged haste: “This is a make-or-break moment for Ukraine. Biden can turn the tide in Kyiv’s favor by backing up his declarations of support with the delivery of tanks and long-range weaponry. He can also hasten the demise of Putin’s regime, opening up the possibility of a democratic future for Russia and demonstrating to the world the folly of military aggression.”

Once again in history, Germany is on thin ice. Instead of marching in lockstep with the alliance of civilized nations committed to defeating Putin, Berlin falters. It has already fallen for Putin’s dangerous pitches in the past but now retracts into timidity and self-absorption. It is a great nation with incredible talent, but must become a team player. Fooled once, shame on Moscow. Fooled twice, shame on Berlin.

Putin’s Dark Prince

January 9, 2023

The war bodes badly for Putin but he cannot remain Tsar if he loses or surrenders. His health deteriorates. Potential successors within his inner circle vie for the chance to rule a post-Putin Russia and the front-runner in this Game of Thrones is clearly Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ex-convict who made a fortune in the food business and also leads a force of 50,000 mercenaries called the Wagner Group. Unlike other contenders, he has military muscle as well as political influence and is the only oligarch getting richer, not poorer, as a result of the war. As other rich or powerful Russians flee or fall out of windows, Prigozhin remains close to Putin, visits his troops at the front, and criticizes Putin’s military establishment with impunity.

Prigozhin, Putin’s official caterer, serves him at a fancy dinner in 2010

Prigozhin is nicknamed “the chef” because of his lucrative food distribution and catering empire. But in one decade, he has built Wagner which is heavily involved in Ukraine and 27 other countries. He also set up troll farms to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election on behalf of Trump and was sanctioned by Washington. And this year, he came out of the shadows as Wagner’s boss and garnered enormous publicity by getting permission to recruit soldiers from 18 Russian penal colonies to serve for six months in Ukraine’s frontlines in return for amnesty if they survived.

The Wagner Group is brutal and recent footage, unverified, was released online in Russia showing a Wagner execution by sledgehammer of a recruited prisoner who deserted entitled “The hammer of revenge”. Of this, the New York Post wrote: “Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin – the Putin-aligned money man behind the paramilitary Wagner Group and election interference efforts in the US – opined that the title should be changed to `A dog receives a dog’s death’.”

Below is a tweeted video of Prigozhin in camouflage garb about to present a sledgehammer and axe to Wagner soldiers for their bravery in action.

Wagner facilitated the 2014 invasion of Ukraine and also operated clandestinely in Libya, Syria, and throughout Africa to advance Putin’s aims and to provide Putin with plausible deniability. For instance, Wagner’s involvement with Syria’s Bashar Al Assad helped destroy the country and force 7.4 million Syrians to flee to Europe or refugee camps in Turkey or Jordan. Rumors are that Wagner’s payment in Syria included a 25 percent share of its natural gas and oil production and that its African deals also include resource extraction rights. More recently, White House officials claim that Prigozhin’s keen interest in conquering the Ukrainian City of Bakhmut, nicknamed the “meat grinder”, is because he will obtain rights to its sizeable resource wealth.

Prigozhin is now an outspoken proponent of the war. He recently labeled as “traitors” any Russian who opposes the war at home or abroad as well as those who criticize Wagner’s deployment of hardened criminals. “Some traitors are holed up in offices, not thinking about their own people. Some of them use their own business jets to fly to those countries that seem neutral to us so far. They fly away so as not to participate in today’s problems. They are traitors too. Those who do not want PMCs [private military companies] or prisoners to fight, who talk about this topic, who do not want to do anything and who, as matter of principle, do not like this topic, send your children to the front. Either PMCs and prisoners, or your children – decide for yourself."

Prigozhin and another paramilitary power broker Razman Kadyrov

Another contender inside Russia is Dmitry Medvedev, former President, Prime Minister, and the current deputy chair of the Security Council of Russia. But he’s a playboy who likes the good life and doesn’t have his own army. Then there’s Razman Kadyrov, who heads the Chechen Republic and runs a paramilitary force operating in Ukraine. Chechnya is a tiny Muslim region with 1.5 million whose independence movement was crushed by Putin in the 1990s as brutally as is now the case with Ukraine. Kadyrov commands tens of thousands of troops who fight alongside Wagner and the Russian armed forces and squabbles with both.

Like Prigozhin, Kadyrov publicly attacks Russia’s current military leadership as well as the West. “America is not really a strong enough state for us to regard it as an enemy of Russia. We have a strong government and are a nuclear state. Even if our government was completely destroyed, our nuclear missiles would be automatically deployed. We will put the whole world on its knees,” said Kadyrov recently.

But he’s not Presidential material because he’s not Russian ethnically. Besides, a weaker Moscow will resurrect independence movements throughout the Federation including in Chechnya. Interestingly, Ukraine’s parliament in October declared that Chechnya was also a “temporarily Russian-occupied” land and the victim of “genocide of the Chechen people” by Russia. An unknown number of Chechens already fight with Ukrainians and it’s safe to assume that a weakened Moscow will result in another independence movement there which will preoccupy Kadyrov if he intends to retain power there.

Putin’s devastation of Chechnya in the 1990s

There are reports that another paramilitary force has been organized by one of Putin’s Generals, leading to speculation that Putin’s strategy is to encourage warring factions among rivals to remain President. Whatever the underlying cause, these developments insure a messy post-Putin Russia. “The power of Prigozhin and the strength of Kadyrov is that they have 30,000 [or more] armed soldiers who obey only them,” wrote Andrey Piontkovsky, a Russian analyst. “You can see that on the front, there are a lot of situations and clashes between these structures and the Russian armed forces.”

As Russia loses, Prigozhin is the guy to watch. The Institute for the Study of War in Washington concluded that he “holds a uniquely advantageous position within the Russian state structure and information space that allows him to expand his constituency in Russia more readily than the disgraced Russian higher military command … Prigozhin can freely promote himself and his forces while criticizing Kremlin officials or the Russian Armed Force without fear of pushback.”

Once Putin is gone, all bets are off. His successor may battle on but that’s unlikely as the country disintegrates economically. He may sue for peace but won’t last long for having done so. It may become 1917 all over again with armed factions battling for control, but most likely Russia will sink into political infighting as happened in 1990 and begin to break apart as did the Soviet Union. Whoever controls Russia’s military and nuclear arsenal will become the next Tsar but will rule over a smaller and weakened Russian Federation.

Offense not Defense

December 22, 2022

President Volodymyr Zelensky clearly won the pre-Christmas “shuttle diplomacy” photo-ops that took place this week. The Ukrainian was invited to the White House, met with President Joe Biden, addressed a joint session of Congress, and firmed up more commitments to counteract Putin’s aerial blitzkrieg and genocide. Putin, by contrast, met with his puppet dictator in Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko, who runs a poor nation north of Ukraine. And Putin did not meet in Beijing with his powerful “no limits friend” President Xi Jinping. He sent his sidekick instead, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who snagged a photo-op with Xi but received a rebuke about the war. “China has always decided its position and policy according to the merits of the matter itself, upholding an objective and impartial position and actively pursuing peace and promoting talks,” said Xi. “We hope that all parties concerned will maintain rationality and restraint, engage in comprehensive dialogue and resolve their common concerns in the security field through political means.” Medvedev responded dishonestly by claiming that Russia wanted peace talks as Putin continued bombing civilians.

Zelensky delivers a stirring speech December 22 to Congress

This week’s frenetic diplomacy has redrawn battle lines. Zelensky has outplayed Putin by obtaining an extraordinary audience with Biden and delivering a speech that drew many standing ovations in Congress. His mission was Churchillian: To cement the alliance, thank Americans for their support, and obtain more weapons in order to shift Ukraine’s military efforts from defense to offense. Biden announced yesterday Ukraine will receive Patriot missiles, which will be able to protect the skies over Kyiv and other cities, but Ukraine also needs tanks, aircraft, and a flood of lethal drones to push the Russians beyond its 2014 borders. “This visit with Biden will make things much worse for Putin. Zelensky will argue that the fastest way to end this war is offense,” concluded former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.

Putin’s “summit” in Belarus raises the odds another invasion will take place from the north using Belarusian forces. Former U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey scoffed at this and said Belarus’s involvement would be inconsequential because it has a “third-rate army and is an impoverished country”. But he said Patriot missiles in Ukraine will make the country “safer because they can stop ballistic missiles … but that alone is not enough”. The “game changer”, he added, will be to give Ukraine weapons capable of “unravelling” the Russian military such as attack drones, tanks, and jet fighter airplanes.

Putin has been outplayed geopolitically, but has more tricks up his sleeve such as thousands more Iranian drones, nuclear threats, hypersonic missiles, and another massive mobilization of “cannon fodder” to throw into battle. On December 21, Russian General Sergey Shoigu announced a further expansion of Russia’s armed forces from 1 million to 1.5 million in three years. The use of such “sacrificial manpower” may not win wars, but it slows down battles and causes more casualties on the other side. For instance, the brutal fight over Bakhmut, in Eastern Ukraine, is now a stalemate: Ukraine kills an estimated 900 Russians daily but these are immediately replaced by another 900 untrained soldiers, according to a Ukrainian government source.

Dead Russian soldiers abandoned

Russia also claims that hypersonic missiles with nuclear warheads are about to be deployed. Hypersonic weapons travel at five to eight times’ the speed of sound, cannot be detected, nor interceded, which creates a clear-cut advantage in any nuclear or missile exchange situation. Putin has tested them, without warheads, but some allies remain skeptical about their functionality in the battlefield. This development is worrisome because the Americans don’t have hypersonic weapons quite yet. Attaining equivalent capability is now a Pentagon priority and recent tests have been promising.

Nuclear attacks don’t concern Zelensky. “There are two issues: The occupation of a nuclear power plant that is already a great threat; and another is the threat of a nuclear attack by Putin. I don’t think this will happen,” said the Ukrainian leader in a recently televised interview. “I have met him [Putin] and he has a desire to live. He loves his life… he even chooses to sit at that ridiculously long table with leaders or with his generals not to catch Covid. He understands that if he presses that button the next step will be a response aimed at him, personally at him. Will he do this? No.”

There are positive developments too. Sanctions are working and polls inside Russia reveal that most people support a peace deal. This week, Canada became the first Western ally to confiscate frozen Russian assets from an oligarch which will be transferred to Ukraine. About $26 million was seized from a Canadian corporation owned by Russian oligarch, and former Chelsea Football Club owner, Roman Abramovich, but the Americans and Europeans are in the process of seizing hundreds of billions more which will help pay for the war. But most beneficial of all is that Ukrainians remain united and optimistic and take care of one another.

Military mascot in Bakhmut

In a recent poll, 98 percent of Ukrainians believe they will win the war. Many have returned from Europe. They share accommodation and create shelters for orphaned people and pets. Schools remain open. They decorate bomb shelters and subway stations with Christmas ornaments and Ukraine's Ministry of Defense reassured kids that Santa and his reindeer won’t be shot down by Russian missiles. But winter will be difficult with power, water, and interconnectivity shortages due to Russian bombing.

Christmas decorations and festivities take place in Kharkiv’s underground subway

Zelensky’s visit to Washington DC was historically significant, but underscored the gravity of the situation. His address was reminiscent of the one delivered to Congress by Winston Churchill on December 26, 1941 as Hitler tore through Europe. As then, Zelensky contextualized the struggle as a global one, now including Iran, that threatens America, Europe, democracy, and justice. Like Churchill, he was optimistic and resolute but warned that the war is far from over. Both men spoke from the same podium as their people continue to suffer from months of bombing and face a grim Christmas and winter. Churchill described Hitler’s Axis as “enormous; they are bitter; they are ruthless” and pledged that they “know they will be called to terrible account.”

Zelensky emphasized that Ukrainians don’t want peace, they want victory and are willing to do the dying and killing to get their land back by defeating the Kremlin. But, as both emphasized, the peace cannot be won without more help from Congress. “Your money is not charity, it’s an investment,” he said, and will speed up victory. It was a message, like the one in 1941, that will hopefully be heeded. Because the reality is that, once again, another vile European despot is unleashed and must be vanquished by civilized nations.


December 12, 2022

Ukraine struck military targets inside Russian territory in recent days, and in early Kyiv December 2 attacked the enemy within by announcing it will ban and sanction Ukrainian-based Orthodox churches and clergy with links to Moscow’s Orthodox Patriarch Kirill. Police raids have discovered suspicious persons, unregistered weapons, and Russian propaganda at churches and monasteries. So far, 33 priests have been arrested. This collaboration is no surprise. Kirill is a confidante of Putin’s and has publicly weaponized his Russian Orthodox Church, and placed his moral authority, behind the Kremlin’s vicious genocide. In April, he issued a directive to Russian soldiers that “your task is to wipe the Ukrainian nation off the face of the Earth”. His support for mass murder has rattled the Orthodox world of 260 million across Europe. The World Council of Churches, representing more than 580 million Christians, condemned Russia’s war as well as Kirill’s "misuse of religious language and authority to justify" it. And Pope Francis, leader of the world’s 1.35 billion Roman Catholics, compared Russia’s slaughter to Germany’s Holocaust and told Patriarch Kirill to stop being “Putin's altar boy".

Putin and his “altar boy” Kirill

Patriarch Kirill is also an exceedingly wealthy oligarch and has been sanctioned by several countries for blessing war crimes. He has been Moscow’s Patriarch since 2009 and controlled Ukrainian as well as Russian Orthodox Churches until 2019 when thousands of Ukrainian churches broke away, a move allowed by the over-arching Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew in Constantinople (Istanbul). For 300 years, Ukrainians have paid obeisance to a Moscow Patriarch, but in recent years have realized that many of their churches were “Trojan horses” aimed at enhancing Kremlin influence in their country. The schism enraged Kirill and Putin.

Patriarch Kirill, a former KGB operative like most of Putin’s cronies, has been rewarded handsomely for his services. Forbes Magazine estimated a few years ago that his net worth was $4 billion, but this remains unverified. However, he wears $30,000 watches and owns a private jet, a palatial estate, a yacht, and valuable real estate in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Suspicions are that his fortune was accumulated by skimming profits made by the church in the mid-1990s after it was granted a monopoly to import cigarettes duty-free. He’s also a celebrity with great influence, appears on television regularly, is an oil trader, and a “playboy” who plays the stock markets, races cars, downhill skis, and has a villa in Switzerland. Britain, Canada and others have sanctioned him for his war-mongering and the European Union attempted to do the same but Putin-friendly Hungary vetoed its attempt. The U.S. has not imposed sanctions on him as yet.

Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul openly condemned the invasion as “unholy and diabolical” and Ukraine’s new Orthodox leader, titled Metropolitan Epiphanius, compared Putin to the Antichrist and Adolf Hitler. “The spirit of the Antichrist operates in the leader of Russia, the signs of which the Scriptures reveal to us: pride, devotion to evil, ruthlessness, false religiosity. This was Hitler during World War II. This is what Putin has become today.”

Religion pays: The Patriarch’s limos, skiing, yacht, palaces

Currently, about 8,000 Orthodox parishes in Western Ukraine now adhere to a Kyiv-based Patriarch, but another 12,000, in the Eastern part of the country where fighting is widespread, remain officially attached to Kirill’s Patriarchate. However, many parishioners have taken the law into their own hands by evicting suspicious or pro-Putin priests. This has placed the Ukrainian government in an awkward position as churches or priests that haven’t distanced themselves from Moscow now demand police protection from angry Ukrainians. They also ask Kyiv to protect their constitutional right to continue their allegiance to the church of their choice. In several regions, the religious divisions are so perilous that some churches have been closed temporarily. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Dec. 2 edict extends the bans and sanctions to any religious organization with links to Moscow. “We will never allow anyone to build an empire inside the Ukrainian soul,” he said.

Putin’s politicization of religion has also spread to America where, according to a recent NPR report in Appalachia of all places, there’s been an uptick in membership at Russian Orthodox Churches by far-right Americans. “They're drawn to what they believe to be conservative views on things like LGBTQ rights, gender equality. Abortion is a really big issue for these folks, the culture wars issues, really," said an analyst. "And so they leave other faith traditions that they don't believe to be as stringent about those issues anymore. For many of them, Putin becomes this sort of king-like figure in their narratives. They see themselves as oppressed by democracy because democracy is really diversity. And they look to Putin because democracy isn't really, as we see right now, an option [in Russia].”

But Kirill is reviled by many Orthodox believers even across the Moscow-affiliated church. Hundreds of priests accuse him of preaching “heresy” and have asked global church leaders to bring him before a tribunal to decide whether he should be deposed. Said one: “Kirill committed moral crimes by blessing the war against Ukraine and fully supporting the aggressive actions of Russian troops on the Ukrainian territory. It is impossible for us to remain in any form of canonical submission to the Patriarch of Moscow.”

Kirill’s palatial estate

Clearly, Kirill’s rhetoric has stoked Putin’s “Holy war” tirades. He has called Ukraine an “inalienable part” of Russia’s “spiritual space.” He denies the legitimacy of the Patriarch in Istanbul as well as the one in Kyiv. Not surprisingly, he wants to conquer the entire faith and make Moscow the spiritual center of global Orthodoxy.

This month, Pope Francis escalated his condemnation of Russia’s war by aptly comparing his war to the Holodomor tragedy, when Stalin starved to death millions of Ukrainians in its eastern regions in 1932 and 1933 in order to, as is now the case, suppress their aspirations for independence. And Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke to the World Council of Churches recently and stated that the Russian Church is encouraging war crimes and no longer represents Christianity’s best values. “No Christian who still possesses his faith, his mind and feelings will be able to see the will of God in this,” he said.


Beware Geeks Bearing Gifts

November 21, 2022

Tumult in tech dominates headlines these days – from Silicon Valley layoffs to Elon Musk’s mayhem at Twitter -- but none matches the collapse of one of the world’s biggest cryptocurrency exchanges, FTX. Until November 17, it was a private offshore outfit run by a 30-year-old math genius, then it suddenly filed for bankruptcy after racking up liabilities of $50 billion or more. As many as one million investors are ruined but, more importantly, its failure has shattered the trillion-dollar digital currency world. It looks like skullduggery or recklessness, but the underlying problem is that crypto is an unregulated financial sector run amok – a situation yet to be addressed by most governments, with the exception of China. Cryptocurrencies, notably Bitcoin, proliferate to facilitate money laundering of criminal proceeds and, most recently, sanctions-busting by Russia. Famous economist Nouriel Roubini recently declared that the crypto market is an “ecosystem that is totally corrupt” and that its biggest players are “con men”.

FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried at work

FTX’s founder and owner was Sam Bankman-Fried, the son of American academics, who graduated from MIT in physics and math. He boasted that he was “worth” $28 billion just before the crash. He was celebrated as a superstar and even mused a few months ago about taking over Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs. Now following an expose written by a crypto publication, FTX has cratered and he and his team are under investigation for fiscal recklessness, incompetence, and possibly criminal offenses such as fraud and/or misappropriating customer funds to prop up the crypto empire.

Bankman-Fried has been replaced by a new “boss”, court-appointed CEO John J. Ray III, who also cleaned up the Enron mess in 2001. In his court filings, Ray declared that this one is more serious and that there was a “complete failure of corporate controls” culminating in this “unprecedented debacle.” He added that this was worse than anything he’s seen in 40 years of restructuring firms.

Unlike Enron, the FTX empire wasn’t a public company nor was it headquartered in the United States. It was based in The Bahamas and incorporated in Antigua, and was one of more than 100 companies in Bankman-Fried’s network of holdings. Its management team was controlled a small group of inexperienced and “potentially compromised” individuals, said Ray. And a substantial portion of the $50 billion in assets held in the FTX exchange may be “missing or stolen”.

Investigators will look into whether customer funds were misused, customer privacy was breached, and information was purposely concealed. One commentator said it resembles a latter-day version of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme -- where customer positions and transactions were fabricated. But the investigation has just begun and will be difficult. Transactions and operations were offshore, sophisticated software programs were deployed to execute and transfer funds, and its principals are not residents of the United States.

Unfortunately, FTX isn’t the only restructuring that’s required in the crypto world and its demise will hopefully speed up crypto regulations that have been stalled or shelved in most jurisdictions. Thousands of cryptocurrencies proliferate and, along with money laundering, tax evasion, and sanctions-busting, governments are concerned about their threat to the international financial system. In 2021, China led the world by recognizing this threat to its financial, taxation, and political systems, and acted. Beijing banned all cryptocurrencies, prohibited financial institutions from engaging in any transactions, stopped crypto mining which uses exorbitant amounts of electricity, and outlawed cryptocurrency possession.

China took this action to prevent financial crime but also to protect consumers and their assets from the fraud and risks involving in participating in unregulated markets. These currencies, or “coins” like Bitcoin, have no intrinsic value and are basically computer files with e-codes that can be stored in a “digital wallet” app on a smartphone or computer. They are only accessible via a torturously long passwords. Estimates are that 20 percent of Bitcoin that has been purchased and locked away is inaccessible to owners because they forgot their keys. These lapses total tens of billions of dollars.

FTX is just one of many questionable exchanges or “funds” promoting this stuff, many of which are not legit. Crypto is used by criminals to receive secret payments which are then swapped for bona fide currencies and invested in assets, also hidden in secrecy havens or used to buy illicit goods and services. Bitcoin and the others are only worth what the last guy paid for them. They don’t create jobs or products or innovation or economic wealth nor do they protect people from currency debasement. They are mostly greed with a bar code.

Crypto is becoming a global scourge. Bitcoin began in 2009 and thousands more versions have been spawned. For instance, Bitcoin is now the legal currency of narco-state El Salvador and kleptocratic Central African Republic, which has been overrun by Russian-backed mercenaries. In April, the International Monetary Fund warned that the jump in cryptocurrency trading in emerging markets – since the pandemic and during the Russian war -- imperils the global financial system. It noted that trading volumes of crypto assets against some emerging market currencies have spiked and they are used to purchase sanctioned goods, commodities, and services from Russia.

Since FTX went bust, roughly $200 billion has been wiped from the global crypto market. Bitcoin‘s market value is down calamitously and J.P. Morgan believes this is the start of a cascade of catastrophic price drops. This has led the head of FTX competitor, Binance, to warn investors to “stay away” for a while, and Bitcoin fan, Elon Musk, says that Bitcoin “will make it” but only after a “long winter”. He added that crypto Dogecoin, which he’s promoted, will be fine. (In June, Musk was sued for $258 billion by a Dogecoin investor who accused him of running a pyramid scheme to support the cryptocurrency.)

One crypto fan wrote off this quagmire by describing it simply as a clash of competing geeks. But the IMF says otherwise and governments scramble to regulate because this is the tip of a very dangerous iceberg heading toward the global economy.


October 31, 2022

Russia tried to destroy Ukraine’s internet access at the outset of the war until Kyiv’s IT experts did a workaround by linking to Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite system, the largest in the world. Today, thousands of his satellite dishes, or “transceivers”, are scattered across Ukraine and provide telecommunications for citizens, hospitals, governments, and its military. Starlink is owned and operated by Musk’s private rocket ship company SpaceX, which offers satellite coverage in 40 countries. But on October 27, Russia threatened to target these and other “quasi-commercial” satellites because they are helping Ukraine’s war efforts. The United States responded that any satellite attacks would result in counterattacks. This month, Putin’s war has spread into outer space.

One of thousands of Starlink satellite dishes in Ukraine and around the world. Telegram

Most people don’t realize how commercialized and weaponized space has become or that it is about to become a battlefield. Both Russia and the United States have significant offensive capability in the sky, as does China, and dozens more nations (see chart below). Each satellite – whether used for commercial, military, or scientific purposes -- is essentially an unmanned space station, loaded with technology that orbits the earth to perform specific tasks. As of spring 2022, there were almost 5,500 active satellites in orbit, and estimates are that another 58,000 will be launched by 2030. The vast majority operate 350 miles above the Earth and are used for science, earth science, or telecommunications purposes. But there are also dozens of military satellites that operate at higher altitudes, providing surveillance, navigation, reconnaissance, and communications support to armed forces and navies around the world. 

But this month Russia became the first nation in history to threaten “Star Wars” — a message delivered by Putin’s sidekick, former President/Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. He tweeted  – ironically the day after Elon Musk became owner of Twitter – his congratulations to Musk for completing his $44-billion Twitter takeover, but also said Musk must stop helping Ukraine.

But a full-throated military threat against Starlink was issued before the United Nations by Konstantin Vorontsov, deputy director of the Russian foreign ministry’s department for non-proliferation and arms control. He stated that the United States and its allies were trying to use space to enforce Western dominance and that satellites to aid Ukraine were “an extremely dangerous trend” and “provocative”. He didn’t name SpaceX or Starlink, but raised the issue of international principles and treaties. “At the very least, this provocative use of civilian satellites is questionable under the Outer Space Treaty which provides for the exclusively peaceful use of outer space, and must be strongly condemned by the international community.”

Naturally, Washington immediately responded to the Russian threat. For years, the U.S. and its allies have relied on imaging technology provided by U.S. companies such as Planet Technologies and Maxar Technologies. They gather real-time, high-resolution images of war zones, weaponry or troop movements, and terrain.

“I am certain that my counterpart in Russia, whoever that is, is not very happy with Starlink, as it’s assisting Ukraine,” said Lt. Gen. John Shaw, deputy commander of the U.S. Space Force. (The Force is a separate and distinct branch of the armed services, organized under the Department of the Air Force.) He added: “With commercial imagery, such as Maxar’s products, that are plastering all over the world news about the things that are going on, I don’t think they’re very happy about that either. And we know that they’re probably going to take steps to try to stop those commercial services because they run counter to Russia’s national interest.”

Satellite evidence of crimes against humanity by Russia in Ukraine involving a cultural center, sheltering hundreds of civilians, that was destroyed.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre took a tougher and more pointed stance. “Any attack on U.S. infrastructure will be met with a response, as you’ve heard from my [Pentagon] colleague, in a time and manner of our choosing. And that still stands. We will pursue all means to explore, deter, and hold Russia accountable for any such attacks. Clearly, I’m not going to lay them down here … in public. But we have made ourselves very clear.”

Besides commercial satellites, there are sophisticated military space stations operating at higher altitudes. The United States has 123, Russia has 74, China 68, India, Britain, and Germany each have seven and France and Israel one apiece. All Western allies rely mostly on American military satellite intelligence and imaging. Moscow has already mounted attacks in space by disrupting satellites and repeatedly trying to jam the Starlink system during the war, without success. To date no nation has destroyed another’s satellite.

But in November 2021, just before the invasion, Putin’s armed forces demonstrated such capability by destroying one of their own satellites with an anti-satellite missile. The target had been in orbit since 1982 and had disintegrated into 1,500 pieces in low orbit that posed a hazard to other space operations. (In 2007, China and the U.S. both destroyed small satellites to clean up their orbital debris.) But Russia’s attack, staged before its invasion of Ukraine, was clearly a warning signal to the United States and others. Its demolition was aggressive, and resulted in wreckage hitting the International Space Station in a nearby orbit, threatening its crew of two Russians, a German, and four Americans.

American officials criticized the incident. A U.S. State Department official said at the time that “Russia’s dangerous and irresponsible behavior jeopardizes the long-term sustainability of outer space and clearly demonstrates that Russia’s claims of opposing the weaponization of space are disingenuous and hypocritical.” Then General James Dickinson, U.S. Space Command Chief, commented that “Russia is developing and deploying capabilities to actively deny access to and use of space by the United States and its allies and partners.”

The 25 largest satellite owners as of January 2022. DEWESoft chart of top 25.

Weaponization in space steadily accelerates. Recent claims are that China is doing research on developing anti-satellite nuclear weapons as is Russia. But the U.S. Space Force has more vigorously expanded its reach and arsenal with its Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites (linked to allied military forces) that insure communication with allies in the event of a nuclear attack and to orchestrate a military response from space. These stations are resistant to electronic jamming and are capable of destroying enemy satellites. Depressingly, this is nicknamed the “doomsday connection”.

For these and other reasons, it’s unlikely that Star Wars will break out any time soon. Deterrents work, as does diplomacy. But it was disturbing, and not coincidental, that before Russia publicly threatened to destroy Starlink satellites the erratic Musk, a one-man loose cannon at the center of space development, tweeted out Russian talking points that Ukraine should surrender Crimea and become a neutral nation to stop the fighting. He was severely drubbed by the West and media, walked back the remarks, and pledged to continue to donate Starlink technology to Ukraine. This is undoubtedly because his satellites are protected by the Pentagon.

Fortunately, the Americans appear to also have enormous superiority in space.

Generation Z Arrives

October 10, 2022

Members of Generation Z (the demographic group under 25 years of age) are already making a serious global impact: They are leaving Russia by the hundreds of thousands to avoid military conscription. Female Generation Zs are behind the current uprising against Iran’s oppressive theocracy. In China, they are attacked by officials because they lack the work ethic of previous generations and have been nicknamed “lying flat” kids. And in Western nations, Generation Zs are disproportionately “quiet quitting” (or slacking off at work) as well as demanding remote work and shorter work weeks. In the United States, the first “Generation Z” individual is running for Congress and is ahead in polls. Frankly, once they take over the world won’t be the same, in partnership with “Millennials” (those under 42 years of age). Both are more progressive politically, more socially tolerant, and intend to be “child free” unlike their antecedents. Already, one in two Millennials have a dog or cat, and seven out of 10 Generation Zs told pollsters they will adopt a pet rather than have children.

A day in the park with Millennial and Generation Z’s four-legged “kids”

Maxwell Alejandro Frost, 25, won the Democratic nomination in Orlando Florida and is a classic Generation Z: He is mixed race (Afro-Cuban), hasn’t finished college, drives an Uber to support himself, and is a community activist who refers to his generation as the “Mass Shootings Generation”. His slogan is “your success is my success and my success is yours”. His platform is to end gun violence, provide Medicare for all, transform the “racist criminal justice system”, and avert “the climate crisis”. In the United States, one in four Generation Zs are Hispanic and 22 per cent have at least one immigrant parent. By 2026, Generation Z will be the biggest cohort in American history and, for the first time, be mostly non-white, according to Census Bureau projections. By 2024 , the next U.S. Presidential cycle, they will represent one in ten eligible voters.

Generation Zs are tech savvy. Most got their first iPhones at age 12 and haven’t stopped looking at them ever since. The Generation Z and Millennial obsession about pets is why there are more clicks daily on photos and videos of dogs and cats than a decades’ worth of Super Bowl views. In America, Millennials spend more on their dog or cat than any other demographic spends on their pets and Generation Zs will undoubtedly overtake them eventually. Investors and entrepreneurs take note: The world’s first restaurant for dogs opened in San Francisco this month, called Dogue, and offers a $75 tasting menu and French-inspired pastries just for dogs. In South Korea, there’s now a chain of coffee shops that feature loose, tame exotic animals for petting.

Born between 1994 and 2012, Generation Zs grew up during the explosion of free trade, migration, and globalization and are the most tolerant cohort in America, sexually, politically, and racially. They believe governments are more trustworthy than the private sector, having lived through the Great Recession, the pandemic recession, and various other economic disappointments. In school and the media, they have been bombarded about the dangers of climate change and most say they don’t want to bring children into a world because they believe it may end during their lifetimes due to environmental degradation. Paradoxically, Generation Zs are not idealistic but pragmatic, as is Maxwell Frost, who grew up watching his immigrant parents struggle socially and financially.

Maxwell Alejandro Frost on the stump in Florida

One-third live of Generation Zs live at home, even if they have completed school and are working, to save money. Some struggle because the pandemic wiped out many of the starter jobs in hospitality that younger workers traditionally occupy. This economic context makes them security-minded but, even so, they are fussy. A Deloitte survey noted: “While salary is the most important factor in deciding on a job, Generation Z values salary less than every other generation. If given the choice of accepting a better-paying, but boring job, versus work that was more interesting but didn’t pay as well, Generation Z was fairly evenly split over the choice.”

Most are community-minded. “To win the hearts of Generation Z, companies and employers will need to highlight their efforts to be good global citizens. And actions speak louder than words: Companies must demonstrate their commitment to a broader set of societal challenges such as sustainability, climate change, and hunger,” wrote Deloitte.

Generation Z females lead the protest against Iran’s theocracy

Millennials, born between 1981 and 1994, have disproportionately postponed marriage (in countries around the world) and if they marry are having far fewer children than their predecessors. A growing proportion intend to remain “child-free”, as they put it. This reality is driving the Chinese government crazy because the country’s demographic ratio of old-to-young is out of whack and could prove fiscally ruinous in a couple of decades. They, and other governments like Hungary, are handing out bonuses to couples having more than two children.

Labeling and comparing inter-generational characteristics makes it easier to understand our children and grandchildren but also to forecast future business and political outcomes. Millennials and Generation Zs guarantee the demise of traditional media. They prefer streaming, YouTube, TikTok, and texting. They demand remote work, wherever possible, and are extremely fussy about where they settle. A recent study called “Better Than Your Childhood Bedroom” ranked America’s 45 largest cities based on Generation Z attractiveness criteria which included: Affordability, Generation Z population share, unemployment rate, internet speed, recreational and dining establishments, green commuting options, number of parks (for dogs), and high school enrolment.

Politically, most would likely agree with Maxwell Alejandro Frost’s platform, and demand more government involvement in solving problems, climate change remedies, same sex marriage, single parenthood, pro-choice, and a four-day week. For this and other traits, some have been dubbed them “Generation Nowhere” — but that’s a label that also was used to describe Millennials and Generation X. The fact is that Generation Z is not nowhere, but everywhere and they are already changing history and will be in positions of power soon.

Russia's Refusenik Revolution

October 6, 2022

More Russian men have left Russia in the past two weeks to avoid military conscription than now fight in Ukraine, more than 200,000. Thousands more each day, with their families, continue to cross into Kazakhstan, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan, now that Europe has halted entry. This mass exodus, in addition to 400,000 who left between February and August, represents the biggest anti-Kremlin “protest” by civil society in the country’s modern history. Putin criminalized dissent, so Russians can only “protest”with their feet and, since he took power 22 years ago, about 11 million Russians have relocated. But this current pace of civil disobedience is regime-threatening and began in mid-September after legendary rock celebrity Alla Pugacheva came out publicly September 18 on Instagram against the war then Putin announced a partial mobilization of 300,000 men. On October 1 a popular Russian rapper committed suicide, writing he didn’t want to kill people in the war and that Putin was “a maniac”. The same day, oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a Putin pal, was charged in the U.S. with trying to smuggle his pregnant girl friend into Los Angeles back in June so their unborn child would be an American citizen. It’s clear that the “Russian Street” rises up and threatens to upend Putin and his war.

Iltalehti in Finland

The rock star’s message resonated through Russian society: She told tens of millions of followers that Russian soldiers were dying for “illusory goals” and that Russia had become a global “pariah”. Another cultural bombshell exploded when the curator of the iconic Heritage Museum in St. Petersburg, Dmitry Ozerkov, announced he was also leaving. “Dialogue and respect ceased to mean anything in Russia, the news was replaced by propaganda that says nothing about Russian armed forces accused of numerous crimes against the civilian population. As a Russian citizen, I saw this shame as my own fault too and I shared this opinion. Then my choice was to stop doing anything in and for today’s Russia,” he wrote.

Critics are coming forward more often and there’s also infighting among members of Putin’s inner circle — and his potential successors — as well as among its media commentators. Chechnya’s leader and Putin ally, Ramzan Kadyrov criticized military leader General Alexander Lapin for retreating in eastern Ukraine. Kadyrov said “had it been up to me, I would have demoted Lapin to a trooper, taken away his decorations, and sent him to the front line with an assault rifle in his hands to wash away his shame with his blood.”

Georgian border lineup

Anti-war military veterans publicly blame corruption as well as incompetence for Russia’s military humiliations. One Siberian leader said local authorities had “lost” 1.5 million winter uniforms. “Everything was there and then just evaporated. Nobody can explain it anywhere or anyhow.”

Russia roils at home but this spills over onto the battlefield. War correspondent Alexander Kots compared the current situation to the state of the Tsar’s army in 1917 when it imploded and the Communists took over. “Do we need it 100 years later?” he asked in a Telegram post. Another commentator described the situation as a burgeoning revolution: “The disappointment in top brass, direct accusations of treason, verbal attacks on commanders — this is stage one. What’s next is disappointment in the commander-in-chief, who can’t improve anything. The third stage is revolution with the already-lost war in the background.”

Political observers believe that criticisms will soon be directed at Putin himself, but first there will be purges of the generals. “There are no anti-Putin statements yet, but they are not far away,” said a lawmaker expelled from the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, for his criticism of Putin’s policies. “The first stones are thrown, but not at Putin, only at his coterie. This happened before and we all know how it ended.”

Russians, like others around the world, are upset about their country’s nuclear threats — a factor reflected in the fact that the lead article in the October 3 government mouthpiece, RT, played down nuclear threats: “Emotions should play no role when discussing the use of nuclear weapons, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has said, adding that Moscow has a clear policy in this regard. His comments came shortly after Ramzan Kadyrov, the bloodthirsty leader of the Chechen Republic, suggested that Russia should use `low-yield nuclear weapons’ against Ukraine. Speaking to reporters, Peskov said that governors and heads of regions in Russia have the right to express their personal opinion and to `give assessments’ on issues. That, however, does not mean officials can give free rein to their emotions, `even in difficult times,’ Peskov said.”

Russians vote with their feet and await entry at a Kazakhstan border. point

Esteemed Russian military veterans are openly opposing the war. Retired air force lieutenant-colonel Vitaly Votanovsky told independent Moscow Times that “Putin destroyed the country’s military mobilization resources with his own hands and now this idiot has gotten himself into the war with the entire world. He created circumstances in which we cannot win.”

In May, a 64-year-old Captain was fined for posting anti-war pictures on the VKontakte social media platform. Others have been arrested for speaking out across the country. “My experience in opposition politics tells me everything in our country rests on lies,” said one veteran. Many point out that the endemic corruption and incompetence (due to nepotism) means success in the war will be unlikely. “Neither Putin nor [Defense Minister Sergei] Shoigu served a single day in the army, so they have only a feeble idea about the state and capabilities of our armed forces and of the armed forces of Ukraine,” said a former officer.

Anti-war superstar Alla Pugacheva with Putin four years ago

It may be too early to write off Putin, but the country is armed to the teeth with millions of Russian men and their families who oppose the war and conscription. There are also millions of Russia residents with Ukrainian background living there who are appalled at the invasion. Given these sentiments, and as conditions worsen, Russia heads toward regime change or revolution. Even in Putin’s dictatorship, the will of the people must be considered and the departure of so many speaks volumes to leaders. But only a new leader can heap blame solely on Putin and negotiate with Ukraine in good faith. Otherwise, and if a battle for succession erupts, the Russian Federation will dissolve just as happened to the Soviet Union in 1989 following its failure in Afghanistan, another poorly executed and unpopular war.

Russia on the Ropes

September 22, 2022

Vladimir Putin is isolated more than ever. In recent days, world opinion and his allies, have turned against his war. He’s losing, he knows it, and doubles down. Despite criticism by “allies” China, India, and Turkey days before, he announced he’ll recruit 300,000 more soldiers, threatened nuclear war, and continued plans to stage sham referendums this weekend (September 23 to 27) in four Ukrainian regions to “legitimize” their annexation. Obviously, his “special military operation” to de-nazify Ukraine is failing so he escalates and re-crafts a narrative that the issue now is that Russia faces a monumental existential threat by NATO that may lead to nuclear war. This is an attempt to switch from offence to defence -- a strategic sleight-of-hand that is insulting to the world, to Ukrainians, and to thinking Russians. Ukraine continues to succeed in the battlefield and hopes that China or Turkey will mediate a ceasefire and act as “security guarantors” for a truce. “A crime has been committed against Ukraine, and we demand just punishment,” he told the UN “for the death and destruction that Russia provoked with its illegal war”.

Here is Putin’s problem: Ukraine’s successful counter-offensive

This week, the world has become at once more dangerous and less so. Putin’s need for more troops amounts to an admission of failure and therefore a strong signal that a deal is possible. But his thinly veiled nuclear threat has also raised the stakes and, unless there are backchannels in place to negotiate, indicates that his war will continue throughout Winter in the hopes that the West relents. Putin’s move for more troops placates hardliners in his country but also signals to his public, as well as the world, that Russia’s “special military operation” is a flop and morphing in to full-blown war. He’s on the ropes. Geopolitically, Putin is left with only two allies, North Korea and Iran, which are also pariah nations. His economy is being strangled by sanctions and voluntary boycotts by countries, companies, and individuals who are repulsed by his regime’s atrocities. And his latest hint about nuclear war is toothless, and not a full-throated direct, and may backfire. Further, his deployment of 300,000 more troops will be inconsequential. It will take months to happen, they will be even less effective than the battle-hardened mercenaries now on the battlefield, and thousands flee conscription already.

The only certainty is that next week Putin will announce the results of his sham elections and declare that voters overwhelmingly chose to have their Ukrainian regions annexed to Russia. This fraud is designed to advance his we-are-defending-ourselves-against-NATO fiction, but has already been pre-emptively de-legitimized by the United Nations. There are no independent, international observers at these polls, nor were there in Crimea, and the residents of these regions have either fled or will be forced to vote at gunpoint. Besides, Ukraine’s “Yellow Ribbon” resistance has obstructed voting officials for weeks by assassinating them or firebombing polling facilities. Unfortunately, sabotage by insurgents won’t affect the outcome because Putin has already decided to annex.

Don’t vote Yellow Ribbon resistance plants reminders and bombs

The world is certainly roiled by recent and dramatic developments – from the distancing by China and India away from Putin’s war to his latest nuclear bombshell. All raise questions as to the duration of the war, its effects on the global economy and geopolitics, and Putin’s tenure. Garry Kasparov, chess champion and Putin political opponent, warned two weeks ago in an interview with The Kyiv Post, that losses won't force Putin to give up on the war. “Basically, the war is lost,” declared Kasparov. “All of the objectives that Putin declared ... all of them failed. Continuing the war is the only way for Putin to stay in power and to create extra chaos in the free world, and hoping that maybe winter could offer him new opportunities. It's a desperate attempt to protract the agony. Putin's desperate attempts to stay afloat will put thousands and thousands of people — both in the frontline and innocent civilians — into graves in the months to come before Ukraine is ... liberated.”

President Joe Biden has stayed the course with his World War II-style lend lease largess to Ukraine. In recent days, in anticipation of Putin playing the nuclear card, he began giving interviews and statements that cautioned against any major (i.e. nuclear) escalation. In his speech on September 21 before the United Nations’ General Assembly, he stated bluntly the unwavering position of the Western alliance: “This is a war chosen by one man, a permanent member of the UN’s Security Council who invaded its neighbor and attempted to erase its sovereignty from the map. There is a prohibition against taking a country by force. Today, he made overt nuclear threats against Europe in a reckless disregard of the [nuclear] non-proliferation regime. Putin claims he had to act because Russia was threatened, but no one threatened Russia. No one saw conflict except Russia. We warned it was coming and tried to avert it. Putin’s true purpose is unmistakable which was that Ukraine was created by Russia and never had real statehood,” he said. “This is a war chosen by one man that violates the tenets of the United Nations’ Charter.”

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky told the UN General Assembly that Russia must be removed from the Security Council for its crimes, and be forced to pay Ukraine for its misdeed. He has, and increasing numbers of allies, been calling for Russia to be suspended completely from the UN for its clear-cut abrogation of the Charter and international law. Others believe that Russia must be declared a Terrorist State. But on these and other remedies, the big question mark remains China. Would it veto or agree or stay on the sidelines as it has done publicly since the February 24 invasion.

“When asked to comment on Putin’s remarks [activation of 300,000 more troops], Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin reiterated that Beijing has been `consistently clear on its position and again called for a ceasefire through negotiation and solutions that answer all parties’ security concerns’,” reported The South China Morning Post. “`We always maintain that the sovereign and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected, the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations should be observed, the legitimate security concerns of all countries should be taken seriously, and all efforts to resolve the crisis peacefully should be supported’.”

Last week, these concerns were given to Putin behind closed doors by China’s President Xi Jinping, but he dismisses them. Also rebuffed were remarks made this week by President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan who said publicly that the invasion was illegal, lands should be returned including Crimea, and that Putin wanted to end, and would end, the war soon. On September 20, he spoke about finding a “dignified way out for both sides” and added that "if peace is going to be established in Ukraine, of course, returning the land that was invaded will become important," he said. Like China, his country has not recognized the seizure of Crimea in 2014. Finally, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi openly called upon Putin to end his war immediately and has been brushed away by these latest chess moves in Moscow.

India’s Modi blasts Putin directly about his unacceptable war

The latest turn of events puts new pressure on the world. These three “allies” must stop buying energy from Russia because it finances his war machine. They must also pull their weight diplomatically and help find an “exit ramp” for Putin and Ukraine that does not currently exist and which includes the return of Crimea and Donbas to Ukraine as well as iron-clad security guarantees against Russia or others. The illegal annexations by Russia also raise “significant” issues going forward. The Kremlin, through former President and hawk Dmitry Medvedev, has stated that it’s irrelevant whether other countries recognize these votes (claimed to represent the will of the people to join Russia). Once annexation is approved by the Duma, any further military action by Ukraine in those regions will be seen as an attack on Russia itself, possibly justifying any military response including a nuclear one. “Encroaching on the territory of Russia is a crime, the commission of which allows you to use all the forces of self-defence,” said Medvedev.

So what does this mean if Ukraine continues its struggle in these regions? Why would Ukraine ever agree to allowing Russia to permanently annex these conquered territories in any deal? And how likely is a nuclear attack? Nuclear expert Matt Kroenig, Acting Director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, said an attack will only occur if Putin is “facing the real, imminent prospect of losing the war” in order to “turn the tide of the battle”. He added that the U.S. should “take Putin’s nuclear threats seriously” but remain calm and stay the course by “doubling down to win the war”. To justify this brinkmanship, he asks: “Why hasn’t Putin used nuclear weapons already? He’s been deterred by fear of a US and a NATO response. They should build on those fears and reinforce their deterrent threats.”

Biden’s warning of “severe consequences” and his statement “don’t, don’t, don’t” are designed to highlight America’s commitment to deterrence. But what if the worst happens? Kroenig says the United States should carry out a “limited conventional [non-nuclear] military strike on the Russian forces that launched the attack” and keep helping Ukraine. And what happens if Russia deploys a tactical nuke? The answer is obvious to everyone which is that Putin will destroy his relationship with his traditional “allies” such as China, India, non-aligned nations, and the West permanently. He will become another “hermit kingdom” like North Korea with 11 time zones until its center no longer holds and it atomizes into secessionist movements.

A friend and colleague, John Herbst who is Senior Director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center and a former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, defines Putin’s nuclear reference differently than most. “Putin only implies, but does not explicitly state, that nuclear weapons will be used if Ukraine continues to attack Russian forces on Ukrainian land” after the Kremlin claims it as being part of Russia. He adds that the Ukrainian military has already attacked Russian-annexed Crimea in this war and “yet we have seen no mushroom cloud”.



September 5, 2022

The slow-motion nuclear disaster underway now is part of Vladimir Putin’s War against Europe. The Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine is dangerously close to a meltdown — despite two inspectors there — that would unleash a plume of radioactive contamination reaching across Eastern Europe and into the Baltic nations. It’s in the middle of a war zone. Shelling risks are limited because the reactors are shielded by ten meters of concrete. A direct hit on its nuclear waste storage site would cause dangerous leaks, but the greatest danger emerged on August 25 when Russians disconnected the plant, presumably to link it to their Russian grid, and shut down a “cooling power” line from a nearby coal plant. That’s when the United Nations intervened immediately because, without power to cool reactors, a full-blown nuclear meltdown is inevitable. The line was reconnected, but can easily be severed again. This situation is the biggest terrorist threat in history.

Radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl meltdown and explosions in 1986. Zaporizhzhia is 322 miles southeast.

"We are worried. We do not want another Chernobyl," said Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Global concerns were raised because interruption to a nuclear reactor’s “cooling line” is disastrous. Panic after August 25 led to action by the United Nations which convinced Russia to link the line to the local power source and to allow an on-site inspection of the energy complex by experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency. Two will remain behind permanently, but this gives experts small comfort. As one said “we’re hanging by a thread of local [power] supply and if that fails, cooling stops, rods heat up, and we go into a complete catastrophe.”

Putin plays with fire and knows it. He dishes out blame toward Ukraine for damaging the plant, and to camouflage the fact he intends to steal the reactors then link them to Russia’s grid, in the name of “safety”. Such a monumental theft also deprives Ukraine of 20 per cent of its power supply before winter, and beyond. But most importantly to him is that the plant is the weapon — along with cutting gas to Germany this week —to try and bring Europe to its knees. Russia publicly warned that if a meltdown or explosion occurs at the plant “damaged by Ukraine” radioactive waste will hit Germany, Poland, and Slovakia. This is a threatened nuclear attack against Europe without a traditional bomb.

This is a “dirty bomb” in his arsenal, but commentators forget that there is a second one. The first target after his February 24 invasion was to take over the no-go zone north of Kyiv where the notorious Chernobyl nuclear meltdown occurred in April 1986. This was the site of the worst nuclear accident in history — caused solely by Russian engineering and managerial incompetence. The disaster began when one of its four reactors went out of control during a test at low power. This led to an explosion and fire that demolished the reactor building and ruptured the reactor core, spewing contaminants for days across Europe and parts of the USSR. The core partially melted down and created a fireball that blew off the 1,200-tonne concrete and steel lid.

Ukrainians were evacuated in 1986 as a result of Chernobyl’s failure by Moscow.

During a few days more than 400 times’ the amount of radioactive material went into the atmosphere than was released by the Hiroshima bomb. Some 4,000 people died, an unknown number suffered from radiation disease, and 117,000 were permanently evacuated from two small towns. An area the size of Rhode Island (1,000 square miles) was deemed an “exclusion zone” that scientists say is not habitable for up to 20,000 years. It was captured by Russians last February and whatever was left was ransacked by its troops.

Chernobyl traumatized the world. Many Ukrainians in Kyiv still remember being told one day that they had to pack clothes for their children to go to the country for a few days, without explanation. They never saw them, nor could they reach them, for two years because Moscow officials did not want to spread panic. Now Russia lies once more. Damages to the nuclear plant have been caused by Russian shelling — not Ukrainian shelling — as it took control. Occupied since early March, the plant has been operated safely, thanks to several dozen Ukrainian technicians who work at gunpoint. There have been killings and disappearances as well as damage to their lab and chemistry facilities. And the complex has become a Russian military base, safe from attacks and able to launch artillery fire at will against Ukrainians.

Word of the disconnect on August 25 led to dismay at the United Nations and in capitals around the world for good reason. The UN inspectors on August 29 gave it a clean bill of health and its inspectors will continue to monitor operations. But quickly after, Putin intensified his energy terrorism by shutting down natural gas flows to Germany indefinitely and tightening supplies through other pipelines to the rest of the continent. Europe’s current predicament is the geopolitical version of hostage-taking by a mass murderers — a situation that Putin intends to use as a bargaining chip in future negotiations.

Fukushima nuclear meltdown in 2011 in Japan

So how bad can this get? There are 440 nuclear reactors around the world supplying 10 per cent of the world’s electricity but there have been only three nuclear accidents in history: Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011. The first, and least damaging but most publicized, was Three Mile Island, even leading to an anti-nuclear film called “China Syndrome”. The actual mishap occurred due to equipment failure and operator error which led to the partial meltdown of one reactor. Nearby residents were exposed to radiation levels equivalent to a chest x-ray, but the fuss was enormous. The Three Mile Island complex was decommissioned in 2019 after 45 years’ operation.

The most recent nuclear disaster was due to an earthquake and tsunami in Japan that took place in 2011. A 15-metre tsunami swamped the region and the three Fukushima Daiichi reactors located onshore. The flooding disabled the power and cooling system, and all three reactors melted in just three days. Damage from the weather and meltdown destroyed nearby towns, and led to evacuations because high concentrations of radioactive and other dangerous substances were discovered as far as 28 kilometers from the plant. A total of 2,200 people were evacuated in a 20-kilometer or 18-mile radius around the plant, and only one person died of cancer caused by radiation exposure. But like Chernobyl, this is also no-go region, roughly the size of San Francisco, and uninhabitable for 100 years.

Naturally, Japan has been notably upset about the Ukrainian situation, but China also condemned Russia’s seizure of Zaporizhzhia in March — breaking with Moscow — and said it was “gravely concerned” about the safety of all of Ukraine's nuclear plants after Russia attacked and seized the plant in March. Its foreign minister urged “calm and restraint” on the part of Russian forces. The United States and 41 other countries have asked Moscow to cede the facility back to Ukraine, but all have been ignored.

Putin’s terrorism toward Europeans won’t end and neither should the resolve by allies to demolish his army and economy.

Putin's New Peril

August 22, 2022

The most audacious attack in this war against Vladimir Putin personally took place on August 20 in Moscow when the daughter of his ultra-nationalist “guru” Alexander Dugin was blown up. The attack was clearly intended for Dugin, who had decided to travel separately in another car at the last minute, and has shaken Russia. Nicknamed “Putin’s Rasputin”, Dugin is a rabid right-wing imperialist and warmonger, and his daughter’s publicized death strikes at the heart of Putin’s image as an infallible strongman. High-profile assassinations are so rare in Russia that this one may signal the start of a civil war within Russia’s powerful SBU or Secret Service who are at odds over the war’s inept prosecution. Her death was immediately blamed by Russian media on Ukraine, but denied, and the crime looks like an inside job. The Kremlin remained silent and a Russian dissident claimed it was the work of an underground anti-Putin Russian organization.

Alexander Dugin’s 25-year-old roadmap of World Conquest

A spokesman for Ukraine’s President denied any involvement and went further by saying “we are not a criminal state like the Russian Federation, much less a terrorist one”. Even so, Ukraine braces for more missile attacks this week in retaliation, something that was already anticipated because the anniversary of its independence is on August 24. More worrisome, however, is the longer term significance to the war of this murder. Her violent death bookmarks a week of terrible and uniquely public setbacks for Moscow that are unsettling to the Russian public itself. It began with major attacks against Russia’s naval base in Crimea last week that sent shock waves through Russian society for the first time in this war. This is because the region is a mecca for tourists and the bombings drove hundreds of thousands of panicked Russian tourists back home. Now, just days later, one of the country’s highest profile, and most strident, commentators is blown to pieces in a Moscow suburb and her death is covered on Russian Television for hours.

Since the war, Dugin and his late daughter have been fixtures on Russian television and media, spewing their hatred toward Ukraine and the West. So the assassination, intended for both of them, will certainly upend national attitudes. It may weaken support for Putin or the war and it may strengthen it, allowing Putin to be more vengeful and Dugin even more extreme. The day before his daughter died, Dugin posted online that Russia should put its entire society on a war footing to beat Ukraine, and added that the attacks on Crimea by Ukraine with Western weaponry meant that a compromise was impossible.

Dugin anti-American meme
Darya Dugin, journalist and political scientist

The Dugin factor in Putin’s calculus cannot be under-estimated. He’s been the architect of Putin’s foreign and military policies for 22 years and is a powerful figure among Russian elites. Last October 21, I wrote a newsletter titled “Putin’s Rasputin” which profiled Dugin and his philosophy. It also forewarned what was about to happen to Ukraine and Europe four months later based on what Dugin wrote in his 1997 book The Foundations of Geopolitics. The book outlined a strategy to conquer the world and it’s tragic that Western leaders never studied it. The highlights are repeated here and Putin’s adherence is chilling.

In 1997, Dugin separated war into two categories: “hybrid wars” or “hot wars”. He tailored his tactics regionally. For instance, he recommended that the United States and the United Kingdom be isolated from their European allies, and the divisions and racism in their societies be exploited to demoralize and create chaos. And this sabotage was adopted with varying rates of success — Russia played an outsized role in electing an isolationist and disruptive President Donald Trump, influencing prominent American Senators and Congressmen, and also in bringing about Brexit, effectively weakening the European Union. Further, Dugin’s book suggested that Russia wade into the Middle East through an alliance with Iran, court India intensely, and meddle in the affairs of Libya, Syria, Turkey, Georgia, Moldova, and Azerbaijan.

Dugin called this stragegy of conquest and influence “Eurasianism” and believed in the superiority of Russians, based on concocted Slavic mythology that is creepily reminiscent of Hitler’s mystical belief in a superior white Aryan race and lebensraum or an expansive territory to reach its potential. Dugin’s influence is not confined to Russia. He is on a first-name basis with alt-right American guru Steve Bannon and various Brexit and European extremists.

Dugin’s Eurasianism: Daily Kos

Dugin also recommended that:

— Russia’s oil and gas must be weaponized to bully or co-opt countries.

— Germany must have political dominance over the Protestant and Catholic states in Central and Eastern Europe and France should be encouraged to form a bloc with Germany. (Notably, these two were hand-picked by Moscow to manage peace talks with Ukraine after the first invasion in 2014. Not surprisingly, both failed to make any progress in helping Ukraine against its aggressor.) Dugin argued the two would be helpful to the creation of Russia’s Eurasian Empire because they both harbor a "firm anti-Atlanticist [anti-American and anti-Anglo] tradition".

— Dugin supported Brexit based on his belief that the United Kingdom was an “extraterritorial floating base of the US” that had to be cut off from Europe. It was.

— Dugin suggested in 1997 that Ukraine be annexed outright. That’s being attempted now.

— Dugin wanted recapture of all the “stans” of Central Asia, but China — which he said represented a danger to Russia — must be dismantled with Tibet going to Russia as a buffer. In return, Moscow would help China conquer or control southeast Asia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand. But Japan, he said, should be given the Kuril Islands as long as Tokyo turns against the Americans. Mongolia would become Russian.

— The United States should be destabilized by stirring up racism, secessionism, and isolationism. Similar strategies should be undertaken in South and Central America, notably Venezuela because of its oil.

Dugin’s daughter Darya was just four years old when the book was written but grew up to fiercely propagate its ideas and to support Putin. She became a household word and routinely characterized the world as a “clash of civilizations”, fiercely supported the Ukrainian invasion and pushed for more military aggression around the world. Both father and daughter were sanctioned: The U.S. and UK imposed sanctions on Darya because of her outspoken support for violence in Ukraine and her father was sanctioned in 2015 by the U.S. for his involvement in the annexation of Crimea.

Now Darya is dead, but her father and his twisted philosophy will survive as long as Putin remains in power. The perpetrators of this brazen attack may never be found and police have only said evidence points to a “murder for hire”. Who or why this happened will remain anyone’s guess or propaganda point, but it underscores the need to destroy Russia’s army and its economy. There can be no compromises or peace with zealots bent on world domination. Until Putin is replaced by a credible, reasonable leader or Russia is dismantled, civilized countries will remain hostage to this deep-seated Russian megalomania.

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.


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.


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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Veteran journalist writes about money, corruption, tech, power, Ukraine, Russia, and trends


Diane Francis 
Veteran columnist writes about power, money, tech, and corruption in America and the world at