Fragile, Delicate, Free: Glimpses of Circus Life, at Sea

Eirini Tarkaziki and Faidra Liapi perform among the sails.
Eirini Tarkaziki and Faidra Liapi perform among the sails.


A photographer embedded with the Sea Clown Sailing Circus on the troupe’s journeys through the Mediterranean. Here’s what he saw.

They arrive from the port with their colorful clothes and their well-worn musical instruments, parading through the village and performing at the various squares. Islanders view them with a mix of awe and wonder.

At times they look like superheroes, moving together to the rhythm of the music, conjuring tricks like magicians.

The crew of the Sea Clowns.
The crew of the Sea Clowns.

I first heard of the Sea Clown Sailing Circus when I was following the stories of refugees crossing Greece. Members of the circus were performing at a camp in Athens, trying to win smiles from children who had experienced too much pain.

Later, I joined the performers in the summer of 2020 on the storied island of Ithaca, in the Ionian Sea. Hoping to sail with the nomad crew, I happened to arrive the very day their engine broke down. Apparently it was a regular occurrence. A technician from the island mocked them: The engines were rusting from lack of use, he said.

It was true that Fred Normal and Alvaro Ramirez, the captains, never wanted to use the engines, aiming instead to sail with the wind as much as possible — even while docking at and departing from the port.

Alvaro Ramirez plays a trumpet aboard Valkiria, one of the Sea Clowns’ boats.
Alvaro Ramirez plays a trumpet aboard Valkiria, one of the Sea Clowns’ boats.

Twenty years earlier, in the United States, Fred, an Alaska-born circus performer, decided it was pointless to try to change the world while traveling with gas-guzzling trucks and caravans. Instead, he resolved to offer his form of utopia to people across the United States and Europe by bicycle. He rode around with his crew from one town to the next, staging pop-up shows and sleeping beside campfires.

Eventually, on the Southern coast of Italy, he met Nikoleta Giakumeli, a Greek acrobat, and Alvaro, a Uruguayan clown who had been traveling around Europe. Together, the trio dreamed up the idea of a seaborne circus, even though none of them had ever formally sailed.

Colorful scenery — at sea, and during various performances around Greece.

So they learned. For 13 years, Fred and Nikoleta lived on their boat, Surloulou, through summers and winters. After the birth of their daughter, Sirena, who at the age of 4 is already climbing ropes and trying her first tricks as an acrobat, their lives changed dramatically. They now spend less time with the circus, which, despite their absence, continues reinventing itself with new performers and new ideas.

Dozens of artists from all over the world are connected with the Sea Clown Sailing Circus. Some join the crew for only a few days; others join for the whole summer. But a core group of around seven or eight people are trying to bring the circus to a greater acclaim — not only by roaming freely from one Greek island to another, but also by producing more meaningful, and more philosophically engaging, shows.

Fred Normal performs on a tightrope.
Fred Normal performs on a tightrope.

In the summer of 2021, when I joined the Sea Clowns again for a month, they were producing a new show based on Plato’s allegory of the cave. I saw firsthand how dedicated the performers are to their craft. Though their performances often feel impromptu, the Sea Clowns are in fact immensely disciplined in their preparations. Every act — from acrobatic shows and fire juggling to aerial rope tricks and slacklining — requires a tremendous degree of skill and training. And they simply love to learn.

Fred juggles with fire during a show on the island of Paros.
Fred juggles with fire during a show on the island of Paros.

Being a part of the crew requires being good at sailing, music or circus acts, and ideally all three. But what’s most important is the ability to express enough humor, kindness and respect to live in proximity with a crew of curious artists every day without creating tensions.

It’s also a challenge, of course, to adapt to life on a shoestring budget. “We live or we die by the hat,” Fred would say at the end of every show, inviting the public to offer a donation for the Sea Clowns’ survival.

The life of a street (or water) artist is fragile, delicate — like a tightrope act, or juggling with knives, or sailing through a storm. Yet for most of the crew, nothing seems to offer them a greater sense of freedom. The Sea Clowns ride with their sails open to the wind, confronting both their dreams and an unpredictable future.

“Our work aims to show that nothing is impossible,” Alvaro said, “unless your mind convinces you to believe the opposite.”

Crowds gather to watch a Sea Clowns performance on the Greek island of Lefkada.
Crowds gather to watch a Sea Clowns performance on the Greek island of Lefkada.

New York Times – October 31, 2022

Bogus Deals Involving Russian PropertyDid a Berlin Dentist Swindle Moscow Out of Millions?

Foto: [M] Ole Schleef / DER SPIEGEL: Paul Glaser / picture alliance / ZB; Kay Nietfeld / picture alliance / dpa; DER SPIEGEL (3)

A dentist and his Ukrainian mistress allegedly used forged Kremlin powers of attorney to sell Russian government-owned properties worth millions. Investigators, intelligence services and diplomats are now puzzling over the bizarre case.

At first, it had all seemed like a lucrative deal. Real estate investor Sascha Klupp and his business partners bought four plots of land from the Russian government in Berlin’s emerging Karlshorst district – a 17,000 square-meter (4.2-acre) section of the old airfield, as well as three dilapidated residential buildings where Soviet officers once lived.

The investors paid a total of 13.5 million euros, a seemingly reasonable price in the overheated Berlin real estate market, especially given that the airfield, part of which had been declared an historic monument, still offered plenty of space for new, high-quality buildings.

But the dream was shattered on March 18. When Klupp tried to step onto his newly acquired property, two Russian Embassy secretaries confronted him and refused to vacate the field. They claimed that Moscow had never sold the plots of land. Berlin police had to be dispatched to calm tempers. Klupp filed a criminal complaint, as did the Russian Embassy, both for fraud.

But who deceived whom?

Since then, a criminal case has been unfolding in the German capital city that has reached the highest levels of politics. In addition to calling in the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Russian Embassy also asked the German Foreign Ministry for assistance. It soon emerged that even more properties owned by the Russian government were on the sales list without Moscow’s knowledge, even including parts of the embassy complex on Berlin’s grand Unter den Linden boulevard

A Dentist Allegedly Representing the Kremlin

Diplomats as well as investigators and intelligence officials are puzzling over what exactly happened. Did corrupt Russian officials sell off old Soviet real estate to enrich themselves? Was the Russian Federation possibly the victim of a Hollywood-esque secret agent conspiracy? Or is it just a particularly brazen case of fraud?

A team of DER SPIEGEL reporters spoke with numerous people involved in the case in recent weeks, including investigators and security experts. Together with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, DER SPIEGEL journalists sifted through hundreds of pages of sales agreements and purported powers of attorney from the Russian Presidential Administration along with internal chat logs and company documents.

One name makes several appearances in the documents: Jefim B., a 60-year-old dentist from Berlin’s Grunewald district. The dentist, born in Czernowitz in present-day Ukraine, posed as an authorized representative of the Russian government at land registry offices and to real estate agents. He presented professional-looking powers of attorney from Vladimir Putin’s Presidential Administration, including a stamp and coat of arms with a double-headed eagle, to the notary who notarized the sales agreements. He tried to sell some of the real estate to companies owned by his sons.

Intimate Relations with an Alleged Russian Spy

Whether the man really intended to steal the valuable properties in Germany from Putin or was tricked himself will ultimately have to be clarified by a court. Investigations by the criminal police suggest that the dentist had an intimate relationship with a mysterious woman who allegedly posed as a high-ranking officer with a Russian intelligence agency. She is said to have obtained the supposed Kremlin powers of attorney for B., before directing him to transfer part of the purchase price to a man with an address in Moscow. But where the money actually ended up, a total of around 1.8 million euros, is unclear

According to the investigation, the alleged spy isn’t even from Russia. Rather, like the dentist Jefim B., she is from Ukraine. And that raises the question of whether political motives may also have played a role in the allegedly fraudulent real estate transactions. Some of the property deals, after all, were first initiated after Putin’s troops invaded Ukraine.

Until now, details of the delicate matter had not been made public. And many of those involved were likely quite pleased about that fact. Jefim B., the dentist to whom the alleged powers of attorney were issued, could face criminal prosecution, while others – including the lawyers, notaries, judges and bankers who waved through the sale of the Russian properties – will face unpleasant questions at the very least.

Jefim B. is a well-known figure in posh parts of western Berlin, where he likes to walk his dogs among the mansions. He leads an affluent lifestyle, as do many in this part of Berlin. His family lives in a big house with high columns and drives expensive cars.

A Past in the Gaming Hall Business

Jefim B. had been active as an entrepreneur before, albeit in a different field. In the early 1990s, he managed Sesam Spielhallen GmbH before becoming managing director of Vienna Gaststätten- und Video-Betriebs-GmbH in 2004. The purpose of the establishment: “The operation of restaurants, amusement arcades and video equipment with regular film screenings” and “retail sale of sex articles.” In 2007, the enterprising businessman left the industry.

In the ensuing years, B. invested a lot of money in real estate, and his family bought at least four properties in upscale locations. It seemed the dentist had arranged everything for a carefree retirement.

But then he apparently wanted to try to go big. It was a plan that would require plenty of chutzpah, if not a fair amount of criminal energy as well. If the Berlin prosecutors’ suspicions are correct, the dentist and his accomplices wanted to sell Russian real estate in Germany on a grand scale, secretly bypassing the Russian Embassy.

Russia still owns a number of properties in Germany to this day, including old military plots, trade missions and consulates, often in prime locations. Most of that Russian-owned property is in former East Germany, where the Soviet Union maintained numerous military bases and housing complexes after the end of World War II. A small number of those complexes are still owned by the Russian Federation today.

It is unclear how and when the special operation to acquire the Russian properties began. Olena G., the dentist’s mistress, apparently played a key role. The 57-year-old also lives in the Grunewald area of Berlin. She recently wrote in a social media profile: “Love is a state of mind in which people with the strictest rules allow themselves to go crazy!” It was followed by three fire emojis.

In chats, the two addressed each other with terms of endearment and assured one another of their feelings. In between the tender messages, though, business was a primary focus.

At noon on Feb. 22, 2020, the dentist contacted Olena. “Greetings, my love,” he wrote in Russian. In response, she sent him a photo of a power of attorney issued in his name. Above the text were the words: “Moscow, Kremlin.” The document had allegedly been signed by the head of the Presidential Administration. In the short text, the dentist is authorized to sell Russian properties in Berlin.

“You’ll be gobsmacked in a minute,” she wrote. “Look at the data.”

“You’re a gem,” he replied, likely sensing the deal of a lifetime.

According to land registry records, the dentist first approached the relevant district court in Berlin’s Lichtenberg district about the Russian real estate in November 2020. Through a notary, he asked for information about one of the plots of land in Karlshorst, a borough of Lichtenberg. A purported power of attorney from the Russian Presidential Administration was attached. It stated that he was authorized to “request and receive” all documents relating to the properties.

The district court promptly dug up the information he had requested.

There is some evidence to suggest that the dentist really believed he was part of something big. His lover Olena sent him documents that identified her as a colonel in the reserves of the FSB, the Russian domestic intelligence agency. And she also forwarded messages to him that supposedly came from the Kremlin. In the autumn of 2020, he even received an alleged thank you note from the Kremlin “for the tremendous work done,” signed by a purported FSB lieutenant general, who allegedly added that he was looking forward to “further fruitful cooperation.”

“Money Loves Silence”

The order to discreetly conduct the real estate transactions likewise came from an account called “Moscow, Kremlin,” with a Russian number. “The most important thing is that no information is leaked,” read a chat message that Olena G. forwarded to B. “Money loves silence.”

He answered: “We will try to do everything in silence, but that doesn’t always work.”

In any event, the dentist was fully committed. At the beginning of 2021, he sought contact in the Berlin real estate scene and soon established ties with well-known Berlin property developer Sascha Klupp.

Klupp’s initial reaction was apparently one of skepticism. A major Berlin law firm and a renowned notary were hired to check the powers of attorney. Nobody, though, apparently suspected that the papers from Putin’s Presidential Administration could be forged.

Russian real estate in Berlin's Karlshorst district (left), Red Army troops withdrawing from Berlin in 1994.

Russian real estate in Berlin’s Karlshorst district (left), Red Army troops withdrawing from Berlin in 1994.

[M] Ole Schleef / DER SPIEGEL: Meißner / ullstein bild; DER SPIEGEL

The sales story also seemed plausible. The properties in Karlshorst have been derelict and falling apart for around 30 years, and many windows of the apartment buildings are boarded up. An issue of the former official Soviet government newspaper Izvestia from 1990 could recently be seen lying on the floor of one of the buildings. The ruins are a constant nuisance for the authorities in Berlin. The fact that the Russians now wanted to get rid of the structurally unsound property at a reasonable price would have made sense.

The deal was finally formalized on Sept. 2, 2021. Real estate developer Klupp and dentist B. appeared before a Berlin notary to sign the purchase agreements for the four properties. On the purchase agreement, behind B.’s name, it was noted that he was acting on the basis of powers of attorney on behalf of the Administrative Office of the President of the Russian Federation. The powers of attorney were attached to the purchase contract, with letterhead and seal.

It did, though, seem unusual that the account into which the purchase price, a total of 13.5 million euros, was to be paid was held at the Deutsche Apotheker- und Ärztebank, a bank whose customers are primarily from the medical professions. And that the account didn’t belong to the Russian state, but rather to a company belonging to the dentist’s family.

The notary seemed a bit uneasy about the whole thing. As a precaution, her law firm apparently filed a money laundering SAR. The notary public nevertheless notarized the purchase contract – with the fees allegedly having amounted to around 130,000 euros. When reached for comment on the multi-million-euro property deal, she demurred, citing a “notarial duty of confidentiality.”

Jefim B., the dentist, also wanted his piece of the pie. He was provided with a 10-percent interest in four special-purpose entities to which the properties were transferred. In other words: The authorized representative of the Russian state sold the real estate to himself, at least partially.

When the purchase agreements were received by the Lichtenberg District Court, a legal officer became skeptical. In addition to having doubts about the powers of attorney, she also raised the question in an internal memo as to whether it might be a prohibited transaction: She noted that B. had acted both as the seller’s representative and as the buyer. Such deals are generally prohibited due to the threat of conflicts of interest.

But the district court judge brushed those concerns aside. A request was made to the notary to submit further documents, but the judge ruled that he did not believe the purchase was a prohibited transaction, since Jefim B. was only the managing director of a non-voting, special purpose entity belonging to the purchaser. But this is demonstratively false. According to the commercial register, he is also indirectly a shareholder, with a 10-percent stake. So why did the judge make the assessment that he made? A court spokesman declined to provide an explanation for the ruling, citing “judicial independence.”

The notary presented further purported Kremlin powers of attorney to the district court and there were no more hurdles standing in the way of the properties’ transfer. On Oct. 15, the judge made a handwritten note that he had “no more concerns.” Klupp and the dentist were registered as owners through the entities they held.

After that deal went so well, the dentist seemed to want even more. DER SPIEGEL found that he sold the next two properties on Feb. 28 with the help of his purported powers of attorney: a lakeside property in Brandenburg for 300,000 euros, where Soviet Embassy staff used to vacation during East German times. Local residents say it is still used by the Russians today. And the former Consulate General of the U.S.S.R. in West Berlin for 1.6 million euros.

This time, however, the buyers were not Klupp and his associates, but rather the dentist’s sons. They acted as shareholders of the firms buying the property, which were represented externally by a suspected straw man. The latter declined to comment when contacted. The defense attorney of Jefim B. also declined to comment. The dentist’s sons also left inquiries from DER SPIEGEL unanswered.

Then, this spring, the family’s real estate fever seemed to grow even more acute. Documents from the Commercial Register and the Land Registry Office suggest that they were now targeting the Russian Embassy complex on Berlin’s Unter den Linden boulevard.

Moscow owns an entire city block not far from the Brandenburg Gate, containing the embassy building, diplomatic apartments and even a tennis court. An administrative building on the eastern edge once housed the state airline Aeroflot, but it has been vacant for some time now.

The prime piece of property, with the address Unter dern Linden 51, was apparently to be transformed into money, as one power of attorney seems to indicate. The sons of the dentist were likely involved in this would-be deal, as well. As with the Brandenburg lakefront property and the West Berlin Consulate General, one of them became a partner in a company that was presumably to act as the buyer. In this case, it carried the name Unter den Linden Living GmbH.

But Moscow caught wind of the whole scam before the sale could be completed. At the beginning of March, the new property management company placed a notice placed at the old airfield in Karlshorst stating that the Russian Federation no longer owned the property.

A copy of the newspaper Izvestia from 1990 in an abandoned apartment building in Berlin's Karlshorst district

A copy of the newspaper Izvestia from 1990 in an abandoned apartment building in Berlin’s Karlshorst district Foto: DER SPIEGEL

The Russians were alarmed. A diplomat rushed to the Lichtenberg district court and found that the Russian Federation was no longer listed as the owner in the land register. The Embassy immediately took action, filing an official objection and justifying it on the grounds that the powers of attorney used by the seller had been “forged.” The criminal complaint filed by Klupp, who had grown suspicious, is also likely to have averted further damage.

The Russians also called in the German Foreign Ministry. In the finest diplomatic parlance, the embassy assured the Foreign Ministry of its “excellent regard” and was honored to announce that Russia had “not sold” the properties and had “not issued any powers of attorney in this regard.” Russian representatives asked that all measures be taken to “restore” the “integrity” of the properties.

An Unprecedented Disgrace

The Foreign Ministry replied just as politely that the diplomatic note had been immediately forwarded to the Berlin authorities. Moreover, they had asked the administration to guarantee the protection of the properties, regardless of the “possibly incorrect land register entry.”

Panic must have broken out in the Russian representation during those weeks in March. Diplomats were already under pressure because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Now, there was also the threat of losing property. An unprecedented disgrace. The lines to Moscow were so busy that the real estate scandal even drew the attention of Western intelligence agencies.

The embassy engaged the services of a Leipzig lawyer who sought to reverse the sale of the Karlshorst properties. On March 21, the lawyer turned to the district court in question. The subject line of his letter: “EXTREMELY URGENT!!! FRAUD!!!”

In the letter, the lawyer explained why the deal was invalid. He repeated the accusation that the powers of attorney had been forged and he also lodged serious accusations against the Lichtenberg District Court. The lawyer noted that the court should have realized that an incorrect address had been entered for the responsible Presidential Administration in Moscow. Moreover, it stated that the court had “not applied Russian law correctly.”

Seized Mobile Phones and Storage Devices

But the district court rejected the embassy’s objection at the end of March. It stated that the alleged violations had “not been sufficiently substantiated.” The district judge involved doubted in a memo that the land register was “incorrect at all.” When reached for comment, a court spokesman continues to insist that the necessary documents had been requested from the notary and that, “based on the findings at the time,” there had been no irregularities. In particular, the usual international certifications for documents had also been provided.

At the behest of the Berlin Public Prosecutor’s Office, the properties were nevertheless seized as a precautionary measure – and officials froze most of the purchase price.

Prosecutors quickly recognized the explosive nature of the case and initiated investigations into several suspects. Among them, dentist Jefim B. and his alleged mistress Olena G., the purported colonel in the Russian intelligence service reserves. Prosecutors have accused them of having jointly committed fraud and jointly committed forgery of documents, among other infractions. Like the dentist’s lawyer, Olena G.’s defense attorney also declined to comment.

In the final week of March, Berlin prosecutors had several apartments and offices searched and confiscated numerous documents, mobile phones and storage devices. Concurrently, they also secured land registry files, purchase agreements and bank statements to trace the money from the real estate transactions.

Money Transfers To Moscow

Some the 13.5 million euros paid for the four plots of land in Karlshorst apparently ended up in the hands of a man with a Russian name who allegedly lives in Moscow. In chats, the dentist asked his paramour if he had recorded the man’s data correctly. She corrected the street name. Investigators found that Jefim B.’s real estate company transferred 1.8 million euros to the man.

Investigators do not currently consider it likely that the alleged fraud was politically motivated. At the moment, they say, there are no reliable indications of the involvement of intelligence agencies, and “general criminal motivation” is suspected.

Over the past few weeks, real estate mogul Klupp has been doing everything in his power to try to get his money back. It is said that the dentist has apparently signed a contract promising Klupp a refund of the purchase price and the reimbursement of most incidental expenses. When contacted, Klupp declined to comment on the deal and its consequences, citing the ongoing investigations. The Russian Embassy said it was supporting the prosecution “within the scope of its competencies.” The issue of “restoring the Russian Federation’s ownership rights to the real estate is currently being resolved,” it added.

What is clear is that this story has many losers: a disgraced embassy that allowed real estate worth 13.5 million euros slip through its hands, allegedly defrauded investors and an alleged representative of the Kremlin who was likely just a normal dentist and now has to pay for the damage.

The only thing that hasn’t changed is the state of the Russian properties in Karlshorst. They are still empty. And crumbling.

Der Spiegel May 18, 2022

From inventors to adventurers and a warrior nun: Kate Mosse on 10 forgotten women who helped shape the world

Ani Pachen, who led 600 fighters against the Chinese invasion in 1958, marching in Washington DC in 2000 to support a free Tibet.
Survivor of conflict … Ani Pachen, who led 600 fighters against the Chinese invasion of her country in 1958, marching in Washington DC in 2000 to support a free Tibet. Photograph: Manny Ceneta/AFP/Getty Images

Women’s achievements and contributions have been routinely neglected, overlooked or misattributed. In my new book, I tell the story of 1,000 of these extraordinary characters missing from history. Here are just a few

What is history? Who decides which people deserve to be remembered, lauded – or vilified – and those who will be forgotten? Why is it that some documents and reputations are preserved, cherished, and others are lost or allowed to fade into silence?

Women and men have built the world together, so why is it that women’s achievements and contributions have been so routinely neglected, or overlooked, or misattributed? In science, it’s known as the “Matilda effect”, after a tract by US suffragist and abolitionist Matilda Joslyn Gage about the deliberate suppression of the contributions of female scientists within research, as well as the frequent crediting of their work to male counterparts. US science historian Margaret W Rossiter, who coined the phrase in 1993, believes that because few male historians were willing to write about female scientists, or their achievements, it meant that even if a woman was visible within her lifetime, her work quickly became invisible after her death.

Physics professor Chien-Shiung Wu in a laboratory at Columbia University.
Physics professor Chien-Shiung Wu in a laboratory at Columbia University. Photograph: Bettmann Archive

There is also the pervasive idea of the occasional unique or extraordinary woman – so yes, the story goes, although it’s true Joan of Arc existed, she was a lone wolf. Or, although everyone has heard of the brilliant Polish-French scientist Marie Curie – and she was brilliant: the first female physics professor at the Sorbonne, the first woman to win any Nobel prize, the first person and only woman to win a Nobel twice, and the only person to win in two different sciences, physics and chemistry – the impression given is that Curie was a rare female scientist in a man’s world.

The biochemist Gerty Cori.
The biochemist Gerty Cori. Photograph: Science History Images/Alamy

But what about Gerty Cori, who helped revolutionise treatment for diabetes, or the Italian neurobiologist Rita Levi-Montalcini, or the great 18th-century German comet-hunter Caroline Herschel, or the so-called “Chinese Marie Curie”, Chien-Shiung Wu, or the English electrical engineer Caroline Haslett, one the founding members and first secretary of the Women’s Engineering Society?

Suffragist Annie Kennie in jail.
Suffragist Annie Kennie in jail. Photograph: Pictorial Press/Alamy

Sustained change, genuine equality between women and men, lies in telling the story of all those who made a contribution, not just a few chosen as figureheads. So, for example, in the suffrage movement, we should remember Southend’s Rosina Sky, Glasgow’s Helen Crawfurd Anderson and Oldham’s Annie Kenney alongside Emmeline Pankhurst, Millicent Garrett Fawcett and Ethel Smyth.

Warrior Queens & Quiet Revolutionaries: How Women (Also) Built the World is an attempt to put back some of the women missing from history. There are more than 1,000 women in the book, though it is no more than a beginning.

Here are 10 trailblazers to get you going.

Enheduanna (2285-2250BC)

Did you know that the first named author in history is a woman? The high priestess to Inanna – one of the most powerful Mesopotamian goddesses, associated with love, war, sex and political power – Enheduanna lived in the 23rd century BC in the Sumerian city state of Ur (in modern-day Iraq). Excavations in 1922 and 1934 turned up an alabaster carved disc, as well as clay tiles with poetry attributed to her. Her catalogue includes a collection of 42 temple hymns, three long poems to Inanna and three poems to the moon god. If women cannot write, are denied the opportunity to tell their own stories in their own voices, then half of our human story is lost.

Egeria (4th century AD)

Egeria (sometimes Etheria) was an early Christian writer and traveller, originally from Galicia or Gaul (Spain or France). Her detailed account of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land c AD381–386, The Travels of Egeria, was written in Latin and is the earliest extant account of a Christian pilgrimage. Only one incomplete manuscript has survived, transcribed into the 11th-century Codex Aretinus, and it begins in the middle of a sentence. Eleven short quotations were also found in a ninth-century manuscript from Toledo. But these fragments give a flavour of her voice. Egeria is a wonderful narrator, detailed and curious. She stayed in Jerusalem for three years, visiting Jericho, travelling to the tomb of Job in modern-day Oman, to Mount Nebo, to the Sea of Galilee. Just imagine her courage – a woman travelling alone to Constantinople, Jerusalem and Mesopotamia, and home again. A great travel correspondent.

Rabia Balkhi (10th century AD)

A renowned Afghan poet-princess of the royal court, she was born in Balkh, an ancient city in northern Afghanistan known as the “mother of cities”, and is one of very few female writers of medieval Persia to be recorded by name (she also wrote in Arabic). Her legend is that she fell in love with her brother’s Turkish slave. Disapproving of her choice, her brother incarcerated Balkhi in the hammam and ordered her wrists to be slit. Her last poems to her lover are said to have been written on the walls of her tomb in her own blood.

Balkhi’s tomb was a much-visited site in Balkh and many hospitals and universities are named in her honour. The portrait of her wearing a blue khimar with a book, inkwell and quill was everywhere in Afghanistan. A long-term symbol of independence for Afghan women, as of August 2021 her legacy is under threat. A female student, who had fled as the Taliban swept into Kabul, wrote in a US newspaper of how, when her university was summarily closed to female students and tutors, she witnessed a painting of Balkhi being erased from the wall. This is not “silence in the archives”, but rather a deliberate eradication of a great poet from Afghanistan’s history.

Queen Melisende of Jerusalem.
Crusader-era monarch … Queen Melisende of Jerusalem. Photograph: Alamy

Melisende, Queen of Jerusalem (1105-1161)

You must guard against eulogising any aspect of Crusader history – they were bloody religious wars of conquest and devastation – but Melisende is a woman I admire. Though she was contemporaneous with Eleanor of Aquitaine, Melisende is inexplicably almost completely absent from the history books despite her extraordinary life and achievements. The eldest of the four daughters of Baldwin II, she was raised to succeed her father and, though married to a wealthy crusader, Baldwin held a coronation ceremony investing the kingship of Jerusalem three ways – between Melisende, her husband and his grandson, in the hope that his daughter would be granted the same power and seniority as her husband.

Baldwin II died in 1131 and, as he had clearly feared, her husband, Fulk, refused to accept Melisende as his monarchic equal. Rather than tolerate this, she went to war against him to secure her rights and – again, extraordinarily for these times – the clergy and nobility of Outremer (the Crusader states) supported her. They were reconciled by 1136 and she appears genuinely to have mourned him when he was killed in a hunting accident in 1143. Melisende ruled as queen from 1131 to 1153, and again as regent for her son when he was on campaign from 1154 until 1161. She endowed many convents and religious institutions, commissioned works of art and literature, yet despite this, there is no major mausoleum or tomb dedicated to her. It’s a salutary reminder of how easily even the most famous women can disappear from history if their legacy is not protected.

Khutulun (c1260-c1306)

Khutulun was the great-great-granddaughter of Genghis Khan, whose Mongol empire was starting to splinter. By 1260, her father, Kaidu Khan, was in dispute with his uncle, Kublai Khan. As she came of age, his most trusted military adviser and general was not one of his 14 sons, but his beloved daughter. She was also a famous wrestler, and this is where the lines between legend and fact become blurred. Legend has it that she said she would only marry someone who could beat her in a wrestling competition. If she won, they had to present her with 100 horses – some versions of the story say 1,000 – and it is said that is how she built up her own herd of 10,000 horses. Kaidu failed to secure his daughter’s succession as grand khan and little is known of her after his death.

For centuries she was forgotten, until the early 18th-century French orientalist and traveller François Pétis de la Croix wrote a story inspired by her life story – Turandot, or the Daughter of Turan – though rather than wrestling her suitors, his princess sets them riddles. That story inspired others, not least Puccini’s 1924 opera.

Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)

Phillis Wheatley at her desk.
African-American poet … Phillis Wheatley at her desk. Photograph: North Wind Picture Archives/Alamy

An enslaved woman originally from west Africa – possibly the Gambia or Senegal – she was taken to North America on a slave ship as a child and bought by the Wheatley family in Boston. Recognising her talent – though, of course, any success she achieved would benefit them – they set about helping her to find an audience for her writing. Bigotry and racism in America sent them to Britain, where the Methodist evangelist and abolitionist Selina Hastings helped secure a London publisher. Phillis Wheatley was forced to appear before 18 men to prove that she had written her poems – shades of Joan of Arc at her trial in 1431 – but by 1771, her work was circulating in London. Her best-known poem – On Being Brought from Africa to America – is a searing protest against racism. She was the first African-American woman to publish a book of poems and among the first published African-American poets.

Caroline Norton (1808-1877)

Caroline Norton.
Social reformer … Caroline Norton. Photograph: Hulton Deutsch/Corbis/Getty Images

Every woman going through a divorce in the UK owes a debt to the English poet, pamphleteer and justice campaigner Caroline Norton. Norton’s husband accused her of adultery and, though he lost the case, he not only refused to grant her a divorce, but denied her access to her three young sons and even continued to claim her earnings from her own writings. Norton used her personal experiences to work to change the law, which she saw as state-supported domestic violence, coercive control and injustice against women. Her dogged and meticulous campaigning led to the Custody of Infants Act 1839, the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857 and the Married Women’s Property Act 1870, three pieces of legislation of enormous significance to women’s lives. She also found the time to publish several novels, plays, poetry collections and political pamphlets.

Isabella Bird.
Isabella Bird. Photograph: Royal Geographical Society/Getty Images

Isabella Bird (1831-1904)

“I still vote civilisation a nuisance, society a humbug and all conventionality a crime,” wrote one of the greatest Victorian adventurers, Isabella Bird. A naturalist, explorer and writer – she was the first woman elected a fellow of the British Royal Geographical Society – Bird climbed mountains in Hawaii, rode more than 800 miles of the Rocky Mountains in the US on horseback, and travelled through China, Japan and Malaysia taking extraordinary photographs. Her letters to her sister during her US expedition formed the basis of perhaps her most famous book, A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains. Then, as if she had not achieved enough, she studied medicine so that she could work as a missionary. Bird arrived in India in February 1889, in her late 50s, full of enthusiasm and curiosity. She visited missions and founded a hospital, travelled to the border with Tibet, then on through Persia, Kurdistan, Armenia and Turkey. In 1897, now in her 60s, she sailed the Yangtze in China and the Han River in Korea, then saw in the new century during a last trip to Morocco, where she became ill. Bird returned home and died in Edinburgh in October 1904, having lived life on her own terms. Magnificent.

Josephine Cochrane (1839-1913)

Dishwasher inventor Josephine Garis Cochrane.
Dishwasher inventor Josephine Garis Cochrane. Photograph: Science History Images/Alamy
A diagram of Cochrane’s dishwasher.
Cochrane’s dishwasher. Photograph: Science History Images/Alamy

In Chicago in the late 1880s, presumably after a particularly large family gathering, the US inventor and businesswoman Josephine Cochrane went to a shed in her back garden and designed the first … automatic dishwashing machine. Developing her invention with the help of mechanic George Butters, who became one of her first employees in the Garis-Cochrane Manufacturing Company (Garis was her birth name), Cochrane’s patent was issued on 28 December 1886 and she never looked back. Cochrane is just one of many enterprising female inventors including fellow American Mary Anderson, who patented the first windscreen wiper in 1903, and German pioneer Melitta Bentz, who, having spilt coffee on her son’s blotting paper while he was doing his homework, patented the first paper coffee filter system in 1908.

Ani Pachen (1933-2002)

In 1958, the Buddhist nun Ani Pachen led a force of about 600 fighters against the Chinese invasion of Buddhist Tibet, resisting the resulting genocide during which many hundreds of monasteries are believed to have been destroyed. Though Pachen was captured and kept in some of the harshest prisons in China for the next 20 years – for nine months, she was shackled and in solitary confinement – she never lost her Buddhist faith. She was released in 1981, during a slight thawing of relations between China and Tibet, but continued to protest against the genocide and Chinese occupation. In danger of being rearrested, the courageous Pachen fled on foot through the Himalayas to Nepal in 1988. She died in exile in India two years later, a warrior nun to the last.

In my house is a Tuvaluan basket, a tiny piece of an island the world cannot fail

Kate Lyons

Each day this week, essay series Before it is lost will feature Pacific writers detailing the climate fight that threatens the survival of their islands

‘My woven basket from Tuvalu acts as a reminder of the culture and craft of a country I am lucky to have seen, that we might lose.’
‘My woven basket from Tuvalu acts as a reminder of the culture and craft of a country I am lucky to have seen, that we might lose.’ Illustration: Kate Nolan/The Guardian

I own a basket I can never throw away.

It is deeply impractical, with a wide base that means it takes up the entire surface area of any coffee table it sits on and a tall, rigid handle that makes storing it on any sort of shelf impossible.

Several times, I have rescued it from the pile of items to be donated to a charity shop. Last Christmas when my husband and I were packing to move house and taking savage inventory of the things we owned, I rescued it once again and spelt out my feelings for the basket and the long future it would have with us.

“I will never throw this away,” I said. “Ever.”


The woven basket comes from Tuvalu, an atoll nation in the South Pacific 4,000km north-east of Sydney. People from the Pacific often roll their eyes at the constant use of the epithet “tiny” to describe any Pacific island mentioned in international media, but in Tuvalu’s case, it actually does apply.

An aerial view of Fongafale island, home to the Tuvaluan capital of Funafuti

The fourth-smallest country in the world by land size, and, at 11,000, the third smallest by population, Tuvalu also has the cruel distinction of being one of the countries most under threat due to rising sea levels. Tuvalu and Kiribati are often mentioned in the same breath as countries that could be first to become completely uninhabitable and then disappear under the sea in the terrifyingly near future.

Salinity in the water table, heatwaves, king tides, flooding, destruction of coral reefs, coastal erosion – have all already begun. The skinny spit of land that makes up the main island narrows at one point to just 20 metres across – the ocean raging on one side, the lagoon on the other.

Three years ago when I visited Tuvalu, buying the basket from a small market full of sarongs and flower headpieces, taking it home to Australia, felt like an act of salvage. The privilege of having a tangible piece of an island that is so terribly threatened. A reminder of the culture and craft of a country I am lucky to have seen, that we might lose.

An aerial illustration of Tuvalu in the Pacific Ocean
Tuvalu is a tiny atoll nation located in the south-west Pacific 4,000km north-east of Sydney, Australia. Illustration: Kate Nolan/The Guardian.

This week, as the world prepares for the next UN climate summit, COP27, we’ll bring you a series – Before it is lost – of essays from Pacific writers about the things on their islands that are threatened by the climate crisis, the things they are fighting to save.

We all have a lot at stake in the climate crisis, but none more than the Pacific. The climate story in the Pacific is a story of deep loss and injustice. As a region it has contributed negligible amounts in greenhouse emissions but disproportionately suffers its effects.

Surface temperatures and ocean heat in parts of the south-west Pacific are increasing at more than three times the global average rate, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Five of the 15 countries most at risk from weather-related events are in the Pacific. In the last 30 years, the mean sea level has risen approximately 10cm–15cm in much of the western tropical Pacific, according to the Pacific Islands Climate Change Monitor report 2021, compared to the global mean of 9.7cm.

The losses that have already been endured: of entire islands, of safety, of lives, of species, are enormous. The losses that could come are unthinkable.

I visited Tuvalu in 2019 to cover the Pacific Islands Forum. At the forum, then prime minister Enele Sopoaga, used Tuvalu’s culture and natural beauty as shameless weapons to try to win over the visiting politicians, policy wonks, NGO bosses and the media to his country’s fight.

I only spent a week in Tuvalu, but if it is lost in my lifetime, my heart will break for it

Most nights, there would be a fatele, a feast with dancing and traditional music. Different islands took it in turns to host – saving their fish and lobster catch, bringing their coconuts and taro – to put on a huge meal for the hundreds of visitors. Afterwards they performed songs and dance; the mood was competitive between the islands, with groups calling challenges and friendly taunts to one another.

One morning, before sunrise, Sopoaga invited visitors to come to the beach and learn a traditional Tuvaluan fishing method that involves swimming into the lagoon in a line, banging the water with palm branches, herding the fish, before forming a circle around them in the shallows and catching them with nets.

I have not experienced many things more beautiful than swimming at sunrise in that perfect warm water, along that white-sand beach, surrounded by people singing and calling out from the shore as they built fires on the sand to cook our catch.

Locals during a traditional fishing practice to round up fish to be cooked on an umu (traditional earth oven) by the lagoon in Funafuti, Tuvalu, 15 August 2019.
Locals during a traditional fishing practice to round up fish to be cooked on an umu (traditional earth oven) by the lagoon in Funafuti, Tuvalu, 15 August 2019. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/EPA-EFE

It was diplomacy by cultural sledgehammer. The prime minister was trying to get us to see what might be lost to the climate crisis, to see the specificity of Tuvalu, so that it would not, in our minds, be just one in a list of small Pacific countries, interchangeable and unremarkable.

Fiji has offered land to Tuvalu for relocation, but that offer, while generous and perhaps, God forbid, necessary, is not a solution that the international community should be content with. Tuvalu is not Fiji, just as the islands of Tuvalu themselves are not interchangeable and in fact are fiercely competitive on the dance floor.

I only spent a week in Tuvalu, but if it is lost in my lifetime, my heart will break for it. This is why I bought that basket, it’s why it has occupied far more space than I can spare in a tiny apartment; it is a physical piece of the island that the world must not be allowed to fail. Something that can be touched and held from a country facing a future of digital statehood; a dispersed or relocated nation.

The writers you will hear from this week, from across the Pacific, have those islands, those beautiful threatened lands, in their bones, in their blood.

They are – to a person – extraordinary: an acclaimed poet and national climate envoy, an veteran climate journalist, a renowned academic, a Pulitzer-nominated essayist who is also a human rights lawyer co-leading the campaign seeking an advisory opinion on climate change from the International Court of Justice.

I mention this, not just because I am proud to be publishing their work, but to reinforce the fact that while Pacific peoples are undoubtedly victims of the climate crisis, they are also, without question, heroes of the climate fight. It is a fight they have been leading – fiercely, creatively, intelligently – for decades. It is a fight they need the world to join, before it is lost.

Money for RebelsTracking Down Blood Gold in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Foto: Arsène Mpiana / DER SPIEGEL

A group of rebels controls the mines in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo and uses the money to finance killings. The gold often ends up in Europe illegally. DER SPIEGEL is one of the first media outlets to document what is happening on site in the country.

For our Global Societies project, reporters around the world will be writing about societal problems, sustainability and development in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe. The series will include features, analyses, photo essays, videos and podcasts looking behind the curtain of globalization. The project is generously funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.All Articles

A string of lights hangs from the ceiling, glowing in myriad bright colors, as if a child’s birthday party were underway. Raymond is sitting on a plastic chair under the lights, wearing a bright red cowboy hat and a yellow T-shirt with a large bottle of beer set on the table in front of him. Raymond laughs a lot and then pulls out his phone and scrolls through the photos.

The first pictures show a number of children, but they aren’t playing or carrying their book bags – they’re holding guns. And instead of wearing school uniforms, they’re in camouflage. Raymond is also in the photos with the rebels, looking far more aggressive. He’s not wearing a cowboy hat and is instead holding a gun and posing next to the children. He scrolls further. At some point, the photos stop, and dozens of porn videos follow. Embarrassed, he turns off his mobile.

We are visiting the Mai-Mai Yakutumba in South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The notorious rebel group dominates this region, massacring entire villages, raping women and extorting the populace – all to expand their power. And they control the gold business.

Raymond refers to himself as the secretary general of the Mai-Mai rebels, but it is hard to tell if the title really exists or if it is just something he has made up. He’s an emissary of sorts, because the rebel chief himself, William Yakutumba, is scheduled to arrive that night. For now, though, the DER SPIEGEL team must content itself with hanging out under the string of lights and listening as the secretary general shares his war stories.

At some point, the beer runs out and we are assigned rooms in the rebel’s flophouse. They can only be locked from the outside. The next morning, Yakutumba still hasn’t arrived, but there are serious-looking older men who again query us about what we want to ask the boss. Raymond with the cowboy hat is rebuked by them in Kiswahili. They tell him he doesn’t look tough enough and that the foreign journalists aren’t going to get the correct impression. Ultimately, though, the boss doesn’t show up at all – and no real reason is given for his absence. Raymond seems a bit disappointed.

Several goldmines are located around the town of Misisi. The entire area makes its living from gold mining.

Several goldmines are located around the town of Misisi. The entire area makes its living from gold mining. Foto: Arsène Mpiana / DER SPIEGEL

Ultimately, though, the group does provide DER SPIEGEL, and the German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle, with access to the notorious gold mines around Misisi. It is the first time international journalists have been allowed inside. And there’s a reason for that: Gold is the main source of income for the Mai-Mai Yakutumba rebels and they use it to finance their armed conflict. The precious metal eventually ends up in rings and necklaces in Europe and the United States, but beneath that luster is the blood of the rebels’ victims.

Victims like Esther Nanduhura’s husband. It was early one morning in October 2021, the sun hadn’t even fully risen, when the fighters arrived in Bibokoboko, the village where they lived. They charged in from three sides with machine guns, machetes and torches. “I was sure at that moment that I was going to die,” Nanduhura says.

Mai-Mai rebels killed Esther Nanduhura's husband during a raid on her village.

Mai-Mai rebels killed Esther Nanduhura’s husband during a raid on her village. Foto: 

Arsène Mpiana / DER SPIEGEL

She’s a member of the Banyamulenge ethnic group, a minority that migrated from Rwanda and other regions generations ago. The Mai-Mai Yakutumba view them as their main enemy, as alien Tutsies who must be exterminated. They have already driven the Banyamulenge out of large parts of South Kivu and Bibokoboko is one of their last strongholds, guarded by United Nations peacekeepers and the Congolese military.

Nanduhura managed to find a hiding place, but her 80-year-old father-in-law wasn’t fast enough. The rebels shot him to death without hesitating. In the end, the Mai-Mai also found the 35-year-old and her family, making them go on a forced march that lasted for several days. After two days, they dragged her husband away and he never came back. Nanduhura later learned he had been hacked to death with a machete. “They threatened to kill us too, we didn’t get anything to eat and the children kept fainting,” she recalls. The prisoners weren’t released until a week later, and only a few returned to their village.

Nanduhura is safe now and lives in a large city far away from the horrors. “People in Europe buy gold from the rebels, thus financing the weapons they use to kill us. This has to end,” she demands.

In other words, the men under the string of lights, drinking beer in their red cowboy hats and showing off their photos and porn, are essentially murderers and rapists.

The Mines of the Rebels

Two porters carry mineral sand on their bicycle down into the valley. The path down is very dangerous.

Two porters carry mineral sand on their bicycle down into the valley. The path down is very dangerous. Foto: 

Arsène Mpiana / DER SPIEGEL

The road to the Mitondo gold mine is challenging, to say the least. The road gets narrower and narrower behind the town of Misisi. At some point, the old Land Cruiser gets stuck in a deep water hole, and from that point on, it is only possible to continue by motorcycle. Another motorcycle approaches with two sticks attached in an upright position behind the driver. Something is tied tightly between the sticks – it looks like a big sack or a mummy wrapped in cloth bandages. The motorcycle is carrying a body, which has been positioned upright. A miner has died, as so often happens. His body is now driven for hours over bumpy roads, back to his family, who will bury him.

After a few kilometers in the direction of Mitondo, it is no longer possible to go further by motorcycle and the journey continues by foot on a steep path. The climb is relentless, with the hot sun beating down, even though it is already late afternoon.

The mineral sand is carried down into the valley from the mines in sacks. From there, it is transported further using muscle power and bicycles.

The mineral sand is carried down into the valley from the mines in sacks. From there, it is transported further using muscle power and bicycles. Foto: 

Arsène Mpiana / DER SPIEGEL

Suddenly a rattling can be heard, it gets louder, and someone gasps. “Look out” someone yells from above. Then a rickety contraption emerges, a bicycle the men cobbled together themselves, but without working brakes. A young man holds the handlebars, his feet in rubber boots dragging on the ground, panic can be seen in his eyes, even though he somehow manages this grueling descent every day. He has loaded large sacks with the ore and now has to find a way to transport them down into the valley, using his rubber boots as brakes.

Eventually the path flattens out a bit, winds around a rock to the left, and a dystopia suddenly comes into sight. Dozens of makeshift huts covered with blue tarpaulins line the road. People can be seen lying, squatting or sitting in them. Many still have their headlamps on their heads, their naked torsos shimmer brightly, they are completely covered in mud. Some look up briefly as they notice the visitors, but most continue to doze lethargically, their eyes half open. They don’t even seem to have the strength to nod in greeting anymore.

The miners live in these makeshift dwellings for weeks and months at a time and work in the mines every day. They eat in makeshift restaurants in a secluded parallel world. This young man is trying to earn some extra money by selling grooming products and alcohol.

The miners live in these makeshift dwellings for weeks and months at a time and work in the mines every day. They eat in makeshift restaurants in a secluded parallel world. This young man is trying to earn some extra money by selling grooming products and alcohol. Foto: 

Arsène Mpiana / DER SPIEGEL

Behind the tents, two steep slopes rise to the left and right with a small stream flowing between them. Workers with shovels can be seen everywhere digging artificial pools or heaving brownish mud into wooden troughs and sieves. Then, suddenly, there’s a loud burst of thunder, a few men quickly jump to the side, and seconds later it becomes clear why: Huge chunks of stone are rolling down the slope toward where the workers had been standing only a moment before. A life-threatening job even outside the actual tunnels.

Only at second glance does it become clear that the steep slopes are littered with tunnels, barely more than a meter high, supported by thin wooden beams. The wet rock with the gold ore is pounded out in these tunnels using a hammer and chisel. Many don’t survive the search for the precious metal.

The United Nations issues an annual report on the Democratic Republic of Congo with a special focus on armed groups and their access to raw materials. The mines around Misisi make a regular appearance in that report. The experts write: “The Mai-Mai Yakutumba control the Makungu and Mitondo mines.” In Mitondo, the report states, the rebels forcibly drove out the Congolese army in December 2021 and established their own administration.

But armed men are nowhere to be seen. A group leads us through the mine, with some introducing themselves as representatives of the local gold cooperative, one man as a security officer, others cannot be identified. No one wears a uniform. Later, the miners say that several rebels dressed in civilian clothing had been part of the entourage. The boundaries are often blurred, with the rebels working hand in hand with government security forces and sharing the profits from gold mining.

Most of the miners are still young, but this mine worker, despite being 51 years old, still goes into the tunnels every day.

Most of the miners are still young, but this mine worker, despite being 51 years old, still goes into the tunnels every day. Foto: Arsène Mpiana / DER SPIEGEL

Children also work in gold mining, but usually at improvised prospecting sites along the rivers rather than in the mines.

Children also work in gold mining, but usually at improvised prospecting sites along the rivers rather than in the mines. Foto: Arsène Mpiana / DER SPIEGEL

James Mulemi*, 22, takes a break from washing the slurry in a yellow plastic container to talk about working in the mine. A man standing near him introduces himself as an intelligence officer, whatever that might mean. But James still speaks openly about the rebels, as if it were the most normal thing in the world.

“They’re up there in the mountains,” the wiry teenager tells us, pointing to the slope next to him. He’s referring to the Mai-Mai with the guns who control everything here. He says that although they may be out of sight, they can still see everything that takes place down below – an invisible power that determines the lives of miners. In confidential conversations, other workers confirm James’ descriptions.

James then discusses how the rebels exert control. For every gram of gold he extracts from the mountain, he has to pay a fee: first to the Mai-Mai, then to the army and, next, to the cooperative, to the Mining Ministry and the local village chiefs. He says they’re all aware of what the other is doing and that they leave each other alone – the main thing is that the money keeps flowing. James recounts how the rebels kept meticulous records. “Since they arrived, we have had to pay the money upfront. Those who don’t are beaten brutally. There’s very little left for us to live on.”

The miners extract the gold from the steep slopes in Mitondo. The mine is extremely profitable.

The miners extract the gold from the steep slopes in Mitondo. The mine is extremely profitable. Foto: Arsène Mpiana / DER SPIEGEL

It's only possible to maneuver through the narrow tunnels hunched over or crawling on all fours.

It’s only possible to maneuver through the narrow tunnels hunched over or crawling on all fours. Foto: Arsène Mpiana / DER SPIEGEL

After the beatings, usually with a heavy drill rod, the victims are then placed in the “hole,” as they call it. James describes it as being about 3 meters deep and 1 meter wide, adding that they are thrown in if the don’t pay their “taxes,” with as many as 10 people in the hole at a time. Several people claim they were forced to stay there for days without food. The Mai-Mai rebels didn’t respond to questions about the accusations submitted to them by DER SPIEGEL via WhatsApp.

Brutal Working Conditions

A porter waits for sacks to be removed at the Mitondo gold mine.

A porter waits for sacks to be removed at the Mitondo gold mine. Foto: Arsène Mpiana / DER SPIEGEL

Another gold mine, Makungu, is located just a few hundred meters away from Mitondo, though they look almost identical. In one of the narrow tunnels, a light suddenly flickers on, the glow growing brighter and brighter until, finally, a mud-caked figure emerges from the gloom. Michael* rolls a bag of gold ore out of the tunnel, his eyes only slowly getting used to the daylight.

Michael is on guard, he owes the Mai-Mai money. He had recently ran into financial troubles and didn’t have the necessary protection money. “I was in the hole for a week and lost 10 kilos,” he says. You can still see the traces of the torment – he looks haggard despite his muscular body, with sunken cheeks. His tormentors could come back at any moment, and he still doesn’t have the money to pay them.

Here, at the foot of the Makungu mine, experts and diggers test soil and rock samples for their gold content.

Here, at the foot of the Makungu mine, experts and diggers test soil and rock samples for their gold content. Foto: 

Arsène Mpiana / DER SPIEGEL

“I was making twice as much before the rebels came,” Michael says, adding that some of his co-workers have even been killed. Other miners confirm the torture and the violence, but say they haven’t been witness to murders.

Yet working conditions here are bad enough without the Mai-Mai. The tunnels are bored several hundred meters deep into the mountainside, and it is pitch dark inside, with only the light of headlamps piercing the darkness. The miners have to hunch as they walk through the tunnels, even crawling on all fours in some places. And the further they advance into the mountain, the hotter it gets, sometimes over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). The air is so thin that workers use a special breathing technique, shallow and steady, to avoid fainting.

The Dangerous Work of Gold Mining

The tunnels frequently collapse when the timbered beams yet again fail to hold them up. In a single incident six years ago, 20 young men were buried alive in the mine. They didn’t stand a chance. Michael’s brother died in the accident, and his body still hasn’t been recovered to this day. It’s only worth digging for gold, not for the dead. “Everyone here knows they could die at any time. But there’s no other way to make money in the area, so we keep going,” the 21-year-old says.

The Path of Gold

Below the gold mines, not far from the village, a deafening grating noise fills the air as a cement mixer-like device crushes the rocks that have been carted out of the mine. The stone powder is then mixed with water to form slurry and sieved several times. After a time, mercury is added, the chemical that separates the gold from the unwanted residue, ultimately yielding porous yellow nuggets that are some of the best in the world.

M’mbongecha Nyange stands next to the noisy machines built by his cooperative. This is where the traders come to buy the valuable nuggets before reselling them. Asked about the rebels and the role they play in the mines, Nyange answers: “In the past, the armed groups used to be here, but not any longer. None of it is true.” Every gram is supposedly strictly accounted for. Yet, according to official statistics, only about 5 kilograms (11 pounds) of gold were produced at Misisi between November and April 2022, an impossible figure given the daily output at the mines.

There is no receipt or even a certificate – the price is negotiated after reviewing the current rate for gold. "My boss is in Bukavu, that's where the gold goes. He pays me to get him supplies and doesn't ask questions," says one shopkeeper.

There is no receipt or even a certificate – the price is negotiated after reviewing the current rate for gold. “My boss is in Bukavu, that’s where the gold goes. He pays me to get him supplies and doesn’t ask questions,” says one shopkeeper. Foto: 

Arsène Mpiana / DER SPIEGEL

Everything in the gold-mining town of Misisi revolves around the precious metal. The gold is resold in many shady stores. The owners report that the Mai-Mai collect protection money from them, as well.

Everything in the gold-mining town of Misisi revolves around the precious metal. The gold is resold in many shady stores. The owners report that the Mai-Mai collect protection money from them, as well. Foto: Arsène Mpiana / DER SPIEGEL

U.S. officials estimate that more than 90 percent of Congo’s gold is traded illegally, and it is impossible for consumers to know whether the product they are buying is clean or not. For the Congolese state, this means that millions in tax revenues are lost every year, while a corrupt elite shamelessly enriches itself

The traders bring the gold from the mines to Misisi.

The precious metal is taken from city to city along the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo to Bukavu.

From Bukavu, it usually continues further across the border into Rwanda, either smuggled in or officially exported.

From there, the traders ship the gold, sometimes through intermediary sites, often to Dubai.

The city in the United Araba Emirates is considered the global trade center for gold.

Bukavu is a notorious trading hub on the Rwandan border. Gold from all over the south of the country passes through the city, and from here, it is either smuggled to Rwanda or other East African countries, or it is officially exported with fake certificates. Then, the journey of the coveted precious metal continues to places like the United Arab Emirates, one of the world’s largest trading centers for gold, before finally ending up as jewelry in places like Paris, Berlin or Madrid.

The city of Bukavu on the Rwandan border is a major hub for the further transport of gold to other parts of the world. Foto: Arsène Mpiana / DER SPIEGEL

The Godfather of the Gold Business

One name has been in the headlines repeatedly in recent years: Alain Goetz. The Belgian is a godfather of sorts in the gold business in Africa. He set up large gold refining plants in Uganda and Rwanda and has allegedly negotiated with an armed group in the 1990s. He has also been convicted of money laundering and fraud. At times this year, he hasn’t even able to use his credit cards, laments Goetz in an interview with DER SPIEGEL.

In March, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Goetz because he was allegedly sourcing gold from regions controlled by armed groups, including the Mai-Mai Yakutumba. Goetz’s network of companies generated hundreds of millions of dollars a year in revenues from trade in Congolese gold. “These illicit acts provide income for armed groups that threaten the peace, security and stability of the Democratic Republic of Congo,” a Treasury Department press release stated in justification of the sanctions.

The United States has slapped Alain Goetz, a Belgian citizen, with sanctions for allegedly buying gold that supports the rebels.

The United States has slapped Alain Goetz, a Belgian citizen, with sanctions for allegedly buying gold that supports the rebels. Foto: BAZ RATNER / REUTERS

For his part, Goetz accuses politicians in Washington of meddling in African affairs. But he also tries to portray himself as naïve. “Conflict gold? That term is very easy to use. Then also bananas, water, everything would be ‘conflict’ in that region. The only things I see as products of conflict are weapons, ammunition and bad people,” he says. Besides, he adds, it’s impossible to know exactly where the gold really comes from. Experts, though, believe that tracking its origin should be the duty of traders, since they earn a fortune with the controversial commodity.

Yasin Somji says he wants to build a flagship gold refining plant in Bukavu.

Yasin Somji says he wants to build a flagship gold refining plant in Bukavu. Foto: Arsène Mpiana / DER SPIEGEL

Goetz’s competitors, meanwhile, are already working on their next steps. On a busy main road in Bukavu, a tall, corrugated iron fence keeps out prying eyes. Behind it, construction workers are laboring away as heavily armed police officers secure the site. Yasin Somji greets his visitors wearing a hardhat and a tight-fitting shirt, walking past huge vaults whose doors are being installed, while brand new machines from Italy are ready for installation. Somji plans to open Congo’s first gold refining plant soon.

When he talks about his plans, he sounds like the opposite of Goetz: young, smart and ethically responsible. He speaks about transparency and the ability to trace the origins of gold. But when asked about the concrete steps, he just repeats, “We will work closely with the government” – not exactly reassuring in a country like Congo.

In any case, he says the mines in Misisi have “great potential.” After all, the gold from the Congo is among the best in the world. The rebels feel the same.

The team of reporters from DER SPIEGEL and German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (front left, middle and right) with the Mai-Mai rebels. In the back on the left in the yellow T-shirt is Raymond, the secretary general.

The team of reporters from DER SPIEGEL and German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (front left, middle and right) with the Mai-Mai rebels. In the back on the left in the yellow T-shirt is Raymond, the secretary general. Foto: Arsène Mpiana / DER SPIEGEL

*We have changed the names of the main protagonists in this story to protect their identities.

King Tut Died Long Ago, but the Debate About His Tomb Rages On

Maybe the walls are disguising the undiscovered burial chamber of Nefertiti. Or “maybe it’s Al Capone’s safe.”

Visitors to the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt, view the sarcophagus and decorated walls of King Tutankhamun’s tomb.
Tourists looking at the tomb of King Tut, as displayed in a glass case at the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt, in November 2015.Credit…Amr Nabil/Associated Press

More than three millenniums after Tutankhamun was buried in southern Egypt, and a century after his tomb was discovered, Egyptologists are still squabbling over whom the chamber was built for and what, if anything, lies beyond its walls. The debate has become a global pastime.

At the center of the rumpus is the confrontational enthusiast Nicholas Reeves, 66, who shares a home near Oxford, England, with a nameless house cat. In July 2015, Dr. Reeves, a former curator at the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, posited the tantalizing theory that there were rooms hidden behind the northern and western walls in the treasure-packed burial vault of Tutankhamun, otherwise known as King Tut.

It was long presumed that the small burial chamber, constructed 3,300 years ago and known to specialists as KV62, was originally intended as a private tomb for Tutankhamun’s successor, Ay, until Tutankhamun died prematurely at 19. Dr. Reeves proposed that the tomb was, in fact, merely an antechamber to a grander sepulcher for Tutankhamun’s stepmother and predecessor, Nefertiti. What’s more, Dr. Reeves argued, behind the north wall was a corridor that might well lead to Nefertiti’s unexplored funerary apartments, and perhaps to Nefertiti herself.

The Egyptian government authorized radar surveys using ground-penetrating radar that could detect and scan cavities underground. At a news conference in Cairo in March 2016, Mamdouh Eldamaty, then Egypt’s antiquities minister, showed the preliminary results of radar scans that revealed anomalies beyond the decorated north and west walls of the tomb, suggesting the presence of two empty spaces and organic or metal objects.

To much fanfare, he announced that there was an “approximately 90 percent” chance that something — “another chamber, another tomb” — was waiting beyond KV62. (Dr. Reeves said: “There was constant pressure from the press for odds. My own response was 50-50 — radar will either reveal there’s more to Tutankhamun’s tomb than we currently see, or it won’t.”)

Three men in sunglasses and button-down shirts, including Nicholas Reeves, a British Egyptologist, walk in the sun at the Valley of the Kings.
Mamdouh El-Damaty, left, Egypt’s antiquities minister, and Nicholas Reeves, a British Egyptologist, center, visit the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt, in September 2015.Credit…Nariman El-Mofty/Associated Press

Yet, two years and two separate radar surveys later, a new antiquities minister declared that there were neither blocked doorways nor hidden rooms inside the tomb. Detailed results of the final scan were not released for independent scrutiny. Nonetheless, the announcement prompted National Geographic magazine to withdraw funding for Dr. Reeves’s project and a prominent Egyptologist to say, “We should not pursue hallucinations.”

Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s onetime chief antiquities official and author of “King Tutankhamun: The Treasures of the Tomb,” said: “I completely disagree with this theory. There is no way in ancient Egypt that any king would block the tomb of someone else. This would be completely against all their beliefs. It is impossible!” (Dr. Reeves countered by pointing out that every successor king was responsible for closing the tomb of his predecessor, as the mythical Horus buried his father, Osiris. “This is even demonstrated in what we currently see on the burial chamber’s north wall — as labeled, Ay burying Tutankhamun,” Dr. Reeves said.)

Kara Cooney, a professor of Egyptian art and architecture at the University of California, Los Angeles, noted the fraught scholarly terrain. “Nick’s work is evidence-based and carefully researched,” she said. “But few Egyptologists will say it on record because they are all afraid of losing their access to tombs and excavation concessions. Or they are just plain jerks.”

Despite the setback, Dr. Reeves soldiered on. In “The Complete Tutankhamun: 100 Years of Discovery,” a freshly revised edition of his 1990 book to be published in January, he draws on data provided by thermal imaging, laser-scanning, mold-growth mapping and inscriptional analysis to support his fiercely debated scholarship. The provocative new evidence has bolstered his belief that Tutankhamun was given a hasty burial in the front hallway of the tomb of Nefertiti.

The golden funerary mask of King Tutankhamun, who died in 1,323 B.C. at age 19, on display behind glass at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo in 2015.
The newly restored funerary mask of King Tutankhamun, who died in 1,323 B.C. at age 19, on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo in December 2015.Credit…Mostafa Elshemy/Andalou Agency, via Getty Images

“Much of what Tutankhamun took to the grave had nothing to do with him,” said Dr. Reeves, who spoke by video from his home office. He maintained that King Tut had inherited a suite of lavish burial equipment that had then been repurposed to accompany him into the afterlife, including his famous gold death mask.

The father of Tutankhamun was Akhenaten, the so-called heretic king whose reign was characterized by social, political and religious upheaval. The 18th-dynasty pharaoh rejected Amun, Osiris and Egypt’s traditional gods in favor of a single disembodied creator-essence, Aten, or the sun disk. In the space of a generation, Akhenaten had created a city from scratch at el-Amarna for his new god, and prepared royal tombs for himself, his children along and his wives, including Nefertiti.

A painted bust of the ancient Egyptian ruler Nefertiti, fine-boned and slender-necked, on display in Berlin in 2012.
A bust of Nefertiti on display at the Neues Museum in Berlin in December 2012, during an exhibition marking the 100-year anniversary of the item’s discovery.Credit…Michael Sohn/Agence France-Presse, via Pool/Afp Via Getty Images

After Akhenaten came an obscure pharaoh named Smenkhkare, whom Tutankhamun succeeded directly. Dr. Reeves has long held that Smenkhkare and Nefertiti were the same person, and that Akhenaten’s queen simply changed her name, first to Neferneferuaten, during a period of co-rule with her husband, and then to Smenkhkare following his death, navigating a period of sole, independent rule. To the boy-king would fall the burial of this rare woman pharaoh.

During King Tut’s decade-long reign, he appeared to have been largely occupied with rectifying the chaos bequeathed to him by his old man. But it would not be enough: Shortly after his death in 1,323 B.C., a new dynasty chiseled his tarnished name into dust.

Dr. Reeves has conducted research directly in the tomb on several occasions over the years. He came to his theory about Tutankhamun in 2014 after examining high-resolution color photographs of the tomb, which were published online by Factum Arte, a company based in Madrid and Bologna, Italy, that specializes in art recording and replication. The images showed lines beneath the plastered surfaces of painted walls, suggesting uncharted doorways. He speculated that one doorway — in the west — opened into a Tutankhamun-era storeroom, and that another, which aligns with both sides of the entrance chamber, opened to a hallway continuing along the same axis in form and orientation reminiscent of a more extensive queen’s corridor tomb.

“I saw early on, from the face of the north wall subject, that the larger tomb could only belong to Nefertiti,” Dr. Reeves said. “I also suggested, based on evidence from elsewhere, that the perceived storage chamber to the west of the burial chamber might have been adapted into a funerary suite for other missing members of the Amarna royal family.”

Several men examine documents atop the glass-covered sarcophagus in King Tut’s tomb, a wall of painted figures behind them.
Dr. Reeves, third from right, evaluates documents inside the tomb of King Tutankhamen in Luxor, Egypt.Credit…Yumiko Ueno

To support his radical reassessment, Dr. Reeves pointed to a pair of cartouches — ovals or oblongs enclosing a group of hieroglyphs — and a curious misspelling painted on the tomb’s north wall. The figure beneath the first cartouche is named as Tutankhamun’s Pharaonic successor, Ay, and is shown officiating at the young king’s burial carrying out the “opening the mouth” ceremony, a funerary ritual to restore the deceased’s senses — the ability to speak, touch, see, smell and hear. The key, Dr. Reeves said, is that both of the Ay cartouches show clear evidence of having been changed from their originals — the birth and throne names of Tutankhamun.

Dr. Reeves suggested that the cartouches had originally showed Tut burying his predecessor, and that the cartouches — and hence the tomb — were put to new use. “If you inspect the birth-name cartouche closely, you see clear, underlying traces of a reed leaf,” he said in an email. “Not by chance, this hieroglyph is the first character of the divine component of Tutankhamun’s name, ‘-amun,’ in all standard writings.”

Beneath Ay’s throne name may be discerned a rare, variant writing of Tutankhamun’s throne name, “Nebkheperure,” employing three scarab beetles. This is a variant whose lazy adaptation provides the only feasible explanation for the strangely misspelled three-scarab version of the Ay throne name “Kheperkheperure” that now stands there, Dr. Reeves said.

He deduced that the scene had originally depicted not Ay presiding over the interment of Tutankhamun, but Tutankhamun presiding over the burial of Nefertiti. There are two visual clinchers, he said. The first is the “rounded, childlike, double underchin” of the Ay figure, a feature not present in any image currently recognizable as him, implying that the original painting of the king must have been of the chubby, young Tutankhamun. The second is the facial contours of the mummified recipient — until now presumed to be Tutankhamun — whose lips, narrow neck and distinctive nasal bridge are a “perfect match” for the profile of the painted limestone bust of Nefertiti on display in the Neues Museum in Berlin.

A hieroglyphic on the decorated north wall of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber.
A hieroglyphic on the decorated north wall of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber. It is central to Dr. Reeves’s theory that the tomb held another occupant before Tutankhamun was placed there.Credit…Peter Gremse

“There would have been no reason to include a depiction of this predecessor’s burial in Tutankhamun’s own tomb,” Dr. Reeves said. “In fact, the presence of this scene identifies Tutankhamun’s tomb as the burial place of that predecessor, and that it was within her outer chambers that the young king had, in extremis, been buried.”

Rita Lucarelli, an Egyptology curator at the University of California, Berkeley, said she had been following Dr. Reeves’s old and new claims with interest. “If he is right, it would be an amazing discovery because the tomb of Nefertiti would be intact, too,” she said. “But maybe even if there is a tomb there, it’s not that of Nefertiti, rather of another individual related to Tut. We simply cannot know it unless we dig through the bedrock.”

The problem, Dr. Lucarelli said, is finding a way to drill through the decorated north wall without destroying it. “This is also why other archaeologists do not sympathize with this theory,” she said.

Dr. Reeves’s unsympathetic colleagues are legion.

“Nick is flogging a dead horse in his theories,” Aidan Dodson, an Egyptologist at the University of Bristol, said. “He has provided no clear proof that the cartouches have been altered, and his iconographic arguments as to the faces on the wall have been rejected by pretty well every other Egyptologist I know of who is qualified to take a view.”

Dr. Cooney, whose book “When Women Ruled The World” argues that Nefertiti may have been Tut’s grandmother, is one of Dr. Reeves’s few champions. “I am not one of the many scholars laughing behind their hands,” she said. “Nick’s theory is brilliant but easily discounted in a very political and nationalistic Egypt that has refused to give permits to Western scholars who disagree with the party line. Maybe there’s nothing beyond the north wall of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Maybe it’s Al Capone’s safe. But if there is something there, this could potentially be the discovery of the millennium.”

At least part of the backlash against Dr. Reeves’s ideas can be traced to the politics of heritage. The narrative that Tutankhamun’s tomb was unearthed by the heroic English archaeologist Howard Carter has long been openly challenged by Egyptians, who took the discovery as a rallying cry to end 1920s British rule and establish a modern Egyptian identity. Among Egyptologists today, the hot topics include the decolonization of the field and more inclusive and equitable accounts of Egyptian team members involved in archaeological excavations.

“Sure, some in Egypt take a different view from me, which is easy enough to understand,” Dr. Reeves said. A weary expression spread over his face. “Archaeologists in the U.K. would, I am sure, look askance at some foreigner sounding off on who might be buried in Westminster Abbey. But my sole interest as an academic Egyptologist, my intellectual responsibility, is to seek out the evidence and report honestly and as objectively as possible on what I find.”

Nefertiti’s burial is what the raft of new facts points toward when considered altogether, he said, and inevitably Nefertiti plus Tutankhamun is a big ask. “I can understand the skepticism with which my proposals have been greeted in some quarters,” he said. “And I initially shared it; I would spend a year testing and retesting my conclusions before feeling comfortable enough to publish.”

That was back in 2015, and Dr. Reeves believes the evidence now is stronger than ever. “Indeed, with the discovery that both cartouches of Ay overlie original cartouches of Tutankhamun, we have the veritable smoking gun,” he said. “To simply deny the evidence is not going to make it go away.”

New York Times – October 30, 2022

With no buyers, Colombian farmers are sitting on kilos of coca paste

Without explanation, sales in the municipality of Tibú have ground to a halt, dealing a blow to the local economy

Venezuelan migrants working in a coca leaf camp in Tibú, Norte de Santander, Colombia.
Venezuelan migrants working in a coca leaf camp in Tibú, Norte de Santander, Colombia.SANTIAGO MESA


On this farm in El Zulia, on the Colombian border with Venezuela, there is only one man picking coca leaves. He arrived just 20 days ago, from the municipality of Tibú, about three hours away by car.

Six months ago, there would have been about 10 or 12 workers picking coca leaves on this farm. There also would have been no need to travel to another part of the department of Santander to look for work as a picker. But in Tibú, the Colombian municipality with the most coca cultivation – about 50 thousand acres worth – drug traffickers are no longer buying coca paste from the peasants.

“We live as coca growers and we’ve had many difficulties,” says Diomedes Quiroga, who supervises this 20-acre coca farm, which belongs to his sister. “We’ve stopped growing coca for a bit due to the situation… those who have a little spare land [have also started] planting crops like cassava.”

It’s not clear why the traffickers have stopped buying coca paste, the crude extract of the coca leaf that is essential for cocaine processing. Some think that it could be due to the 2021 capture of Dario Antonio Úsuga – alias Otononiel – the leader of Colombia’s largest drug cartel, the Clan del Golfo.

“Around here, the talk is that Otoniel gave up everything [to the Americans] when he was captured,” explains Quiroga. Others believe that a series of operations carried out by the Venezuelan regime along the border have destroyed many of the drug traffickers’ transport routes. And there’s another rumor: that the ELN guerrillas have ceased the production and sale of cocaine in preparation for a peace deal. Of course, nobody can confirm any of these theories.

Workers take a break from picking coca.
Workers take a break from picking coca.SANTIAGO MESA

While many in this part of Colombia think that the sudden lack of buyers is unprecedented, for Daniel Rico – an expert in drug policy and the director of the risk management consulting firm C-Análisis – the slowdown could simply be related to difficulties moving inventory into the United States from Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador.

“In the drug trafficking business, from the time the cocaine is produced until it is sold, it can take two years.”

The troubles affecting the coca economy have unleashed a kind of recession in Tibú. The growers keep kilos of coca paste hidden in plastic bags at home, waiting for buyers.

“Here, coca represents a huge part of the economy,” says Nelson Leal López, the mayor of Tibú since August of this year. “That’s where a lot of the money comes from to buy food, medicine.”

Peasant farmers usually buy a kilo of coca paste for 2,750,000 Colombian pesos ($600). Today, they still have leftover stock. One grower has been keeping three kilos of coca paste in his house since July – about $1,800 worth. With no traffickers to buy his paste, he hasn’t been able to pay his workers.

A woman carries several bags filled with coca paste in Tibú, Colombia.
A woman carries several bags filled with coca paste in Tibú, Colombia.SANTIAGO MESA

Many pickers are still waiting for their money. Some have even had to accept being paid with pieces of paste – the same paste that was made from the leaves they ruined their hands picking. Many have sought work in coal mines or oil palm plantations, even though they earn far less than what they used to make.

César Ruiz, president of the board of the Campo Raya village – about an hour-and-a-half from Tibú by car – expresses his concerns: “Here, every week, they deliver food… but who can afford it? Nobody buys. The new government needs to do something.”

Pickers, farmers and local politicians in Tibú are generally in agreement that the previous right-wing administration of Iván Duque (2018-2022) never implemented anything to help the area’s economy transition away from illicit crops. Even though, affirms Teoniro Vargas, president of the Peasant Movement of Coca, Poppy and Marijuana Growers (Coccam) of El Zulia, “we have always had the will to do so.”

Laborers grind coca leaves into paste.
Laborers grind coca leaves into paste.SANTIAGO MESA

“We want to change the crops and benefit from the substitution program… the price [of coca] in the region is very low and we are also working at a loss,” he explains.

Perhaps for the first time, coca is less profitable than other crops in Tibú.

“It’s the ideal time for us to reach out to farmers to change their mentality,” says Mayor Leal. “The fact that there is less income from coca leaves makes people more likely to seek other sources of income. However, it’s an opportunity with limits, because the drop in prices and demand is transitory.”

It’s unclear how big this window of opportunity is for the recently-elected government of President Gustavo Petro. The left-wing leader’s rhetoric has dealt a lot with drug policy. He has mused about putting an end to the aerial fumigation against crops for illicit use and of strengthening the Comprehensive National Program for the Substitution of Illicit Crops (PNIS).

An aerial view of coca leaf cultivation in Tibú, Colombia.
An aerial view of coca leaf cultivation in Tibú, Colombia.SANTIAGO MESA

But in Tibú, there’s still an air of uncertainty, especially after comments that Petro made following a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in which he promised to continue the eradication of coca leaves in areas that “are industrial (narco-owned)… and do no belong to the peasantry.” The president even named Tibú as a place where coca eradication would continue.

“From that meeting, we feel that there is no clarity, only confusion,” says Ruiz. “The issue is that forced eradication will supposedly continue to attack large areas and drug traffickers. But how will that work? We’re concerned that, when it comes to eradicating, [the government] will not distinguish whether it’s a large or small crop yield.” Still, he isn’t alarmed just yet: during the Third Cocalero Meeting – to be held in Tibú on October 28 and 29 – a government delegation will attend to hear the residents’ concerns.

Just as he finishes expressing his hope, from the door of Ruiz’s house, a military helicopter can be seen passing by.

“What’s going on?” someone shouts.

“They were going to Caño Indio – about 40 minutes from here. The communities told us that they were trying to carry out forced eradication, but the peasants stopped them,” someone replies.

It is clear that Tibú – and all of the North of Santander, where almost 100 thousand acres of coca are cultivated – will be the testing ground for Colombia’s new drug policy.

Ukrainians use phone app to spot deadly Russian drone attacks

Citizen-spotters can report missiles at the push of a button with ePPO on their mobiles

In Kyvi people look at the remainder of what Ukrainian authorities believe is an Iranian-made Shahed-136 drone, after an attack on the city on 17 October.
People look at what’s left of what Ukrainian authorities believe is an Iranian-made Shahed-136 drone, after an attack on Kyiv on 17 October. Photograph: Reuters

A simple mobile phone app has been developed by Ukrainian volunteers to allow civilians to report sightings of incoming Russian drones and missiles – and, it is hoped, increase the proportion shot down before they hit the ground.

The app, ePPO, relies on a phone’s GPS and compass, and a user only has to point their device in the direction of the incoming object and press a single button for it to send a location report to the country’s military.

Gennady Suldin, one of those behind the project, said the aim was to enlist “the entire population” in helping to spot incoming attacks in what he described as an example of “web-centric war”

Ukraine has been subject to months of deadly long-range missile strikes, but the attacks have stepped up in the past month as Russia has fired hundreds of cheap, Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones into cities and at Ukraine’s infrastructure.

Limitations in Ukraine’s air defences have meant that a minority of the distinctive delta-winged drones get through. Five civilians were killed when the centre of Kyiv was bombed a fortnight ago; on that day 28 drones were launched at the capital, five exploding near the main train station.

Shahed-136 drones are a challenge for traditional radar to detect because their initial flight path is often low, perhaps 30m above ground, and their small size means they have a modest detection signature. As they close in on their targets, their altitude increases before they dive into the ground with terrifying effect.

The drones have been particularly effective in bombing Ukraine’s power stations and energy grid, causing blackouts in Kyiv and elsewhere, and prompting a scramble by politicians and the military to find ways to halt them.

Typically, the drones are set on course to fly over remote areas, rivers or other bodies of water, and are often launched at night. The attacks on Kyiv were launched from neighbouring Belarus, with drones flying low over the Dnipro river reservoir that runs from the border to the north of the capital.

A drone approaches for an attack in Kyiv on 17 October.
A drone approaches for an attack in Kyiv on 17 October. Photograph: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images

However, the team behind the app believes the drones’ relatively slow cruising speed, around 110mph, and their distinctive motorbike or lawnmower engine noise means they are easy to detect from the ground. “It is their Achilles heel,” Suldin said. “Once detected, these low-flying objects are easy to intercept.”

Samuel Bendett, a drones expert and adviser to the US CNA military thinktank, agreed that the Shahed drones were “relatively loud and have a distinct sound in flight”, and that the app could be useful as part of Ukraine’s layers of defence. “Every bit of data can help to pinpoint the origin and trajectory of the attack,” he said.

For all the technological novelty, however, the app echoes previous systems of public air defence. During the Battle of Britain, the Royal Observer Corps, a network of volunteer spotters, worked closely with the Royal Air Force to identify German aircraft flying over the UK.

The British coastal radar system faced outwards, meaning that the 30,000-strong network of spotters was crucial in pinpointing the enemy inland.

Towards the end of the war, the focus shifted to the identification of incoming V1 and V2 German rockets.

So far the app has had limited publicity in Ukraine but has nonetheless been downloaded 180,000 times via word of mouth. Its developers acknowledge that it took five months of testing and work with the military and government officials to develop it.

Suldin said the app had already helped to spot previously undetected Shahed drones and Kalibr cruise missiles on a few occasions, but he said he could not provide an exact figure for security reasons. Senior air defence officers “did not expect it to be so efficient”, the app’s promotor said.

For security reasons, the ePPO app only works in conjunction with the established Diia government app, which allows adult Ukrainians to store their identity card, driving licence and other official documents on their phone. That means it cannot, in theory, be used by non-citizens.

The app has been available for around three weeks, although only on Google Android phones, while approval from Apple is expected within days. Setting it up takes only a couple of minutes, requiring a download and confirmation from Diia, with a finger or thumbprint.

Andrii Kosiak, an electronics supplier also involved in the development programme, said he hoped people who work in remote locations – “fishermen, railway workers” – would download the app, although it is not clear that rural populations use Diia, which has been taken up by around a third of the adult population.

Ukraine does not have the equipment to monitor its low-level airspace continuously, said Justin Bronk, an aviation analyst with the Rusi thinktank. “Updates from spotters,” he said, would “help the air defence network plot the course of missile and loitering munition raids, to alert air defence units along their course and tailor air raid warnings.”

With Western Weapons, Ukraine Is Turning the Tables in an Artillery War

In the southern Kherson region, Ukraine now has the advantage in range and precision guidance of artillery, rockets and drones, erasing what had been a critical Russian asset.

A team of Ukrainian soldiers armed a drone with bombs on Friday during a mission that destroyed a Russian armored personnel carrier on the front lines in the country’s southern Kherson region.
A team of Ukrainian soldiers armed a drone with bombs on Friday during a mission that destroyed a Russian armored personnel carrier on the front lines in the country’s southern Kherson region.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

KHERSON REGION, Ukraine — On the screen of a thermal imaging camera, the Russian armored personnel carrier disappeared in a silent puff of smoke.

“What a beautiful explosion,” said First Lt. Serhiy, a Ukrainian drone pilot who watched as his weapon buzzed into a Russian-controlled village and picked off the armored vehicle, a blast that was audible seconds later at his position about four miles away.

“We used to cheer, we used to shout, ‘Hurray!’ but we’re used to it now,” he said.

The war in Ukraine has been fought primarily through the air, with artillery, rockets, missiles and drones. And for months, Russia had the upper hand, able to lob munitions at Ukrainian cities, towns and military targets from positions well beyond the reach of Ukrainian weapons.

But in recent months, the tide has turned along the front lines in southern Ukraine. With powerful Western weapons and deadly homemade drones, Ukraine now has artillery superiority in the area, commanders and military analysts say.

Ukrainian soldiers inspecting a multirocket Grad launch system on Friday near the front lines in the country’s Kherson region.
Ukrainian soldiers inspecting a multirocket Grad launch system on Friday near the front lines in the country’s Kherson region.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Ukraine now has an edge in both range and in precision-guided rockets and artillery shells, a class of weapons largely lacking in Russia’s arsenal. Ukrainian soldiers are taking out armored vehicles worth millions of dollars with cheap homemade drones, as well as with more advanced drones and other weapons provided by the United States and allies.

The Russian military remains a formidable force, with cruise missiles, a sizable army and millions of rounds of artillery shells, albeit imprecise ones. It has just completed a mobilization effort that will add 300,000 troops to the battlefield, Russian commanders say, though many of those will be ill trained and ill equipped. And President Vladimir V. Putin has made clear his determination to win the war at almost any cost.

Still, there is no mistaking the shifting fortunes on the southern front.

0:52A video provided to The Times by the Ukrainian military shows a drone system releasing a single explosive with enough precision to hit a weak spot in the armor of a Russian tank.CreditCredit…Ukrainian Military

Ukraine’s growing advantage in artillery, a stark contrast to fighting throughout the country over the summer when Russia pummeled Ukrainian positions with mortar and artillery fire, has allowed slow if costly progress in the south toward the strategic port city of Kherson, the only provincial capital that Russia managed to occupy after invading in February.

The new capabilities were on display in the predawn hours Saturday when Ukrainian drones hit a Russian vessel docked in the Black Sea Fleet’s home port of Sevastopol, deep in the occupied territory of Crimea, once thought an impregnable bastion.

The contrast with the battlefield over the summer could not be starker. In the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, Russia fired roughly 10 artillery rounds for each answering shell from Ukrainian batteries. In Kherson now, Ukrainian commanders say the sides are firing about equal numbers of shells, but Ukraine’s strikes are not only longer range but more precise because of the satellite-guided rockets and artillery rounds provided by the West.

“We can reach them and they cannot reach us,” said Maj. Oleksandr, the commander of an artillery battery on the Kherson front, who like others interviewed for this article gave only his first name for security reasons. “They don’t have these weapons.”

A Ukrainian soldier preparing a meal on Friday in a trench system along the front lines in the Kherson region, where Ukrainian forces have seized the momentum recently.
A Ukrainian soldier preparing a meal on Friday in a trench system along the front lines in the Kherson region, where Ukrainian forces have seized the momentum recently.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Falling rates of Russian fire also speak to ammunition shortages, he said. “There is an idea the Russian army is infinite, but it is a myth,” he said. “The intensity of fire has fallen by three times. It’s realistic to fight them.”

A main highway approaching Kherson city from the west has become a thoroughfare for Ukrainian artillery, with towed howitzers, truck-mounted howitzers and trucks laden with grad rockets rumbling by continually through the day.

American-provided M777 howitzers firing precision-guided shells and striking up to 20 miles behind Russian lines have forced the Russians to stage heavy equipment farther from the front. Ukrainian drones spot infantry but fewer tanks or armored vehicles near the front line, said First Lt. Oleh, the commander of a unit flying reconnaissance drones. “We hear a lot of rumors they are abandoning the first lines of defense.”

This firepower has tipped the balance in the south, raising expectations that a long-anticipated assault on Kherson is drawing near — though a swirl of apparent misdirection from military leaders on both sides has clouded the picture.

The terrain around the city — table-flat steppe with thin tree lines and little cover, and crisscrossed by irrigation canals that can be used as trenches — favors its Russian defenders. And Ukrainian commanders and officials have been dropping hints of an impending attack since the spring, only to have the fighting drag on.

But the city lies on the west bank of the Dnipro River, making its defenders reliant on bridges to Russian territory on the eastern bank that now lie within easy range of Ukrainian rocket artillery and, for the most part, are now unusable. That has made the Russian grip precarious. But President Putin has reportedly overruled his generals’ recommendations of a retreat to safer and more easily defended ground on the east bank.

The question remains just how long the Russian forces can, or will, hold out in Kherson.

Workers on Saturday cleaning up the site of a bakery that was damaged by Russian bombardment the day before in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv.
Workers on Saturday cleaning up the site of a bakery that was damaged by Russian bombardment the day before in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

“Russia is unable to maintain logistics supplies” to the west bank of the Dnipro, said Konrad Muzyka, a military analyst and the director of Rochan Consulting, based in Gdansk, Poland. He added that the Ukrainian military’s claim to have achieved the upper hand in artillery and frontline drone strikes in the south was “highly plausible.”

After a recent Ukrainian assault using American M777 howitzers and High Mobility Artillery Rockets, Slovak Zuzana self-propelled artillery and Polish Krab self-propelled artillery, Mr. Muzyka said, citing Ukrainian military sources, heavily battered Russian artillery positions on one section of the Kherson front went silent for more than 48 hours.

A recent drone attack led by Lieutenant Serhiy provided another example of the Russian forces’ vulnerabilities.

Equipped with night-vison goggles — an essential item of modern warfare that the Russian forces generally lack — the soldiers drove to the front line in an SUV with the headlights off, passing the jagged ruins of houses in a destroyed village silhouetted by a thin sliver of the moon.

Rattling under the driver’s seat were eight small bombs, each packed with a pound and a half of high explosives, enough to obliterate an armored vehicle. In the rear storage area sat a high-end, commercially available drone.

A Ukrainian air defense team driving along the front lines on Friday in the Kherson region.
A Ukrainian air defense team driving along the front lines on Friday in the Kherson region.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

From a rooftop position, two former computer programmers turned tank hunters directed drone strikes that took out two Russian armored vehicles in the space of about three hours, destroying more than a million dollars of Russian weaponry with a weapon that cost about $20,000.

After each flight, the drone buzzed back a few minutes later, unscathed.

This drone system, called Perun, one of dozens used by the Ukrainian military, swoops in at an altitude of about 500 feet, hovers directly over a target and releases its bombs.

The drones are audible from the ground but still effective, Lieutenant Serhiy said, as the Russian forces “don’t have much time” to shoot them down. It cannot be flown in all weather, and sometimes misses. “The technology is not perfect,” he said, “but it works when it works.”

1:13In another video provided to The Times by the Ukrainian military, one of its drone systems, called Perun, drops bombs on a Russian armored vehicle.CreditCredit…Ukrainian Military

Farther from the front line, out of drone range, American-provided, satellite-guided artillery shells have forced the Russian military to carefully camouflage or pull back heavy equipment, said Lieutenant Oleh, the commander of a drone surveillance unit.

“Russia’s advantage was only one thing: quantity,” Lieutenant Oleh said in an interview at his base, a house along a muddy lane in a village. The inside was crammed with screens, laptops, cables and batteries. A strip of flypaper dangled from the ceiling.

A Ukrainian soldier in a trench system on Friday along the front lines in the Kherson region. Ukraine is slowly building toward an assault on Kherson city, the only regional capital seized by Russia during the war.
A Ukrainian soldier in a trench system on Friday along the front lines in the Kherson region. Ukraine is slowly building toward an assault on Kherson city, the only regional capital seized by Russia during the war.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Sitting in front of his screens, he pinpoints tanks, barracks or other military objects and relays coordinates to artillery teams firing satellite guided shells, which hit within a yard or two of their intended targets.

“From a typical howitzer, you create a sniper rifle,” he said of the combination of drone surveillance and satellite guided artillery shells, something Russia lacks. “One shot, one kill.”

The partial destruction of bridges over the broad Dnipro River through the summer slowed Russia’s movement of heavy equipment to the river’s western bank, even as Western weaponry helped Ukraine whittle away at what was already there. The combination cost Russia its artillery advantage on the river’s western bank.

“Think of the orcs in their trenches,” Lieutenant Oleh said, using a derisive term for Russian soldiers. “They have no heavy weaponry, no supplies, it’s cold and raining. It’s a really difficult state for morale.”

If they try to hold out in Kherson city, he said, referring to a protracted battle with the Nazis in World War II, “it will be Stalingrad in winter for them.”

Residents lining up to receive a hot meal on Saturday from World Central Kitchen, which donates thousands of meals daily to people in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv.
Residents lining up to receive a hot meal on Saturday from World Central Kitchen, which donates thousands of meals daily to people in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

While the messaging and movement of forces around Kherson on both sides have been hard to decipher, by design, there is no mistaking which side has the momentum.

Major Oleksandr, the commander of the Ukrainian self-propelled howitzer battery, said he had the sense of the Russian lines that “if we shake them, they will disintegrate.” But he was also aware of the possibility of deception, with the Russians trying to lure Ukraine into a premature advance by falsely signaling a willingness to withdraw.

Ukraine’s buildup of forces could also be a trick, he said.

“The plans of our leadership are always unpredictable,” Major Oleksandr said, “and I like it that way.”

Maria Varenikova contributed reporting from Mykolaiv, Ukraine.

A Ukrainian helicopter flying low along the front lines on Friday in southern Ukraine.
A Ukrainian helicopter flying low along the front lines on Friday in southern Ukraine.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

New York Times October 29, 2022

Russia suspends Ukraine grain deal after attack on Sevastopol naval base

Move comes after assault by airborne and underwater drones in which flagship may be been damaged

Russian military vessels in Black Sea
Russian military vessels moored in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol in 2021. Photograph: Alexey Pavlishak/Reuters

Russia has said it will pull out of a UN-brokered grain export deal after a dramatic attack by Ukrainian airborne and underwater drones on its Black Sea naval base of Sevastopol in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Social media showed footage of explosions both near and in the Crimean harbour, and Russia’s defence ministry said there had been an attack by “nine unmanned aerial vehicles and seven autonomous sea drones” that began at 4.20am.

A spokesperson for the ministry initially said the Ivan Golubets minesweeper had suffered minor damage in the incident, but there was immediate speculation by Russian and Ukrainian sources that the flagship Admiral Makarov may also have been hit.

The ministry later said in a statement via the news agency Tass that it had suspended “participation in the implementation of agreements on the export of agricultural products from Ukrainian ports”.

The UN-brokered deal had allowed Ukraine to resume grain exports from its Black Sea ports without fear of merchant ships being targeted, while Russia was allowed to export food and fertiliser.

Ukraine’s infrastructure ministry said on Saturday that the grain initiative had an “exclusively humanitarian character” and warned of a risk to food security if the deal was not restarted.

It said that it had exported 9m tonnes since 1 August, when vessels began sailing, including 190,000 tonnes of wheat “to countries on the brink of hunger” in Africa and the Middle East.

Sevastopol’s Russian governor, Mikhail Razvozhaev, said the raid on the port was the biggest mounted by Ukraine on the naval base in the war so far, and that all civilian CCTV should be turned off so as not to reveal the position of the city’s air defences.

Mykhalio Podolyak, a senior adviser to Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, appeared to obliquely claim credit for the attack and to suggest that it had taken a heavy toll on the Russian fleet at harbour. He tweeted:

Some Russian military bloggers said the Admiral Makarov, Russia’s main Black Sea frigate, had been hit in the raid, but there was no independent confirmation of this or full claim of responsibility from Ukrainian officials.

Andriy Tsaplienko, a Ukrainian journalist, posted a video later in the afternoon from a Ukranian drone targeting a Russian frigate at sea and other footage from the raid. They showed, he said, that the Admiral Makarov had been damaged along with at least two other ships that carry Kalibr cruise missiles.

“There is a good chance that several ships are not just damaged but sunk,” he wrote, but the claim could not verified.

A successful attack on any of Russia’s fleet would be a major success for Ukraine, which has no navy of its own. Russia’s flagship, the Moskva, was sunk by Ukrainian missiles in April, making the Admiral Makarov its most important warship in the Black Sea.

Russian-occupied Crimea has been the target of several daring drone and special forces attacks in the past three months, but Ukraine has been cautious about taking public responsibility for attacks that it knows will particularly irritate the Kremlin.

Moscow’s military said ships targeted at their Crimean base were involved in the UN-brokered grain deal, which Russia has recently criticised because its own grain exports have suffered as a result of western sanctions.

Russia also said Britain had helped Ukraine carry out the attack, accusing a Royal Navy specialist unit based in Ochakiv, in the south of the country, of giving guidance. No evidence was offered to support the claim.

The defence ministry also accused the same unit of sabotaging two gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea in September, although Russia is suspected of being the perpetrator.

“Representatives of this unit of the British Navy took part in the planning, provision and implementation of a terrorist attack in the Baltic Sea on 26 September this year, blowing up the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 gas pipelines,” it said.

The attack has not been formally attributed to Russia, but the fact that Russian vessels were seen in the vicinity of the pipelines where they were damaged, points to Moscow’s involvement.

Britain dismissed Moscow’s statement. “To detract from their disastrous handling of the illegal invasion of Ukraine, the Russian ministry of defence is resorting to peddling false claims on an epic scale,” the Ministry of Defence said.

“This invented story says more about arguments going on inside the Russian government than it does about the west.”

Star Economist Nouriel Roubini on the Global Crises“World War III Has Already Effectively Begun”

Nouriel Roubini in New York: "We have to face the world as it is."
Nouriel Roubini in New York: “We have to face the world as it is.” Foto: Emmy Park / The Mega Agency

Star Economist Nouriel Roubini on the Global Crises“World War III Has Already Effectively Begun”

Global warming, war and inflation: The world seems to be in a perpetual state of crisis at the moment. In an interview, crash prophet Nouriel Roubini identifies 10 “megathreats” we are facing and how he is dealing with them.

Nouriel Roubini, born in 1958, is one of the world’s most well-known economists and a notorious pessimist: The professor emeritus at New York University’s Stern School of Business predicted the financial crisis of 2008 as well as the crash  of the global economy right at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis. He grew up in Turkey, Iran, Israel and Italy, and is now a U.S. citizen.

DER SPIEGEL: Professor Roubini, you don’t like your nickname “Dr. Doom.” Instead you would like to be called “Dr. Realist.” But in your new book, you describe “ten megathreats” that endanger our future. It doesn’t get much gloomier than that.

Roubini: The threats I write about are real – no one would deny that. I grew up in Italy in the 1960s and 1970s. Back then, I never worried about a war between great powers or a nuclear winter, as we had détente between the Soviet Union and the West. I never heard the words climate change or global pandemic. And no one worried about robots taking over most jobs. We had freer trade and globalization, we lived in stable democracies, even if they were not perfect. Debt was very low, the population wasn’t over-aged, there were no unfunded liabilities from the pension and health care systems. That’s the world I grew up in. And now I have to worry about all these things – and so does everyone else.

DER SPIEGEL: But do they? Or do you feel like a voice crying in the wilderness?

Roubini: I was in Washington at the IMF meeting. The economic historian Niall Ferguson said in a speech there that we would be lucky if we got an economic crisis like in the 1970s – and not a war like in the 1940s. National security advisers were worried about NATO getting involved in the war between Russia and Ukraine and Iran and Israel being on a collision course. And just this morning, I read that the Biden administration expects China to attack Taiwan sooner rather than later. Honestly, World War III has already effectively begun, certainly in Ukraine and cyberspace.

DER SPIEGEL: Politicians seem overwhelmed by the simultaneity of many major crises. What priorities should they set?

Roubini: Of course, they must take care of Russia and Ukraine before they take care of Iran and Israel or China. But policymakers should also think about inflation and recessions, i.e. stagflation. The eurozone is already in a recession, and I think it will be long and ugly. The United Kingdom is even worse. The pandemic seems contained, but new COVID variants could emerge soon. And climate change is a slow-motion disaster that is accelerating. For each of the 10 threats I describe in my book, I can give you 10 examples that are happening as we speak today, not in the distant future. Do you want one on climate change?

DER SPIEGEL: If you must.

Roubini: This summer, there have been droughts all over the world, including in the United States. Near Las Vegas, the drought is so bad that bodies of mobsters from the 1950s have surfaced in the dried-up lakes. In California, farmers are now selling their water rights because it’s more profitable than growing anything. And in Florida, you can’t get insurance for houses on the coast anymore. Half of Americans will have to eventually move to the Midwest or Canada. That’s science, not speculation.

DER SPIEGEL: Another threat you describe is that the U.S. could pressure Europe to limit its business relations with China in order to not endanger the U.S. military presence on the continent. How far are we from that scenario?

Roubini: It is already happening. The U.S. has just passed new regulations banning the export of semiconductors to Chinese companies for AI or quantum computing or military use. Europeans would like to continue doing business with the U.S. and China, but it won’t be possible because of national security issues. Trade, finance, technology, internet: Everything will split in two.

DER SPIEGEL: In Germany, there is a dispute right now about whether parts of the Port of Hamburg should be sold to the Chinese state-owned company Cosco. What would your advice be?

Roubini: You have to think about what the purpose of such a deal is. Germany has already made a big mistake by relying on energy from Russia. China, of course, is not going to take over German ports militarily, as it could in Asia and Africa. But the only economic argument for this kind of agreement would be that we could strike back once European factories are seized in China. Otherwise, it’s not a very smart idea.

DER SPIEGEL: You warn that Russia and China are trying to build an alternative to the dollar and the SWIFT system. But the two countries have failed so far.

Roubini: It’s not just about payment systems. China is going around the world selling subsidized 5G technologies that can be used for spying. I asked the president of an African country why he gets 5G technology from China and not from the West. He told me, we are a small country, so someone will spy on us anyway. Then, I might as well take the Chinese technology, it’s cheaper. China is growing its economic, financial and trading power in many parts of the world.

DER SPIEGEL: But will the Chinese renminbi really replace the dollar in the long run?

Roubini: It will take time, but the Chinese are good at thinking long term. They have suggested to the Saudis that they price and charge for the oil they sell them in renminbi. And they have more sophisticated payment systems than anyone else in the world. Alipay and WeChat pay are used by a billion Chinese every day for billions of transactions. In Paris, you can already shop at Louis Vuitton with WeChat pay.

DER SPIEGEL: In the 1970s, we also had an energy crisis, high inflation and stagnant growth, so-called stagflation. Are we experiencing something similar now?

Roubini: It is worse today. Back then, we didn’t have as much public and private debt as we do today. If central banks raise interest rates now to fight inflation, it will lead to the bankruptcy of many »zombie« companies, shadow banks and government institutions. Besides, the oil crisis was caused by a few geopolitical shocks then, there are more today. And just imagine the impact of a Chinese attack on Taiwan, which produces 50 percent of all semiconductors in the world, and 80 percent of the high-end ones. That would be a global shock. We depend more on semiconductors today than on oil.

DER SPIEGEL: You are very critical of central bankers and their lax monetary policy. Is there any central bank that gets it right these days?

Roubini: They are damned either way. Either they fight inflation with high policy rates and cause a hard landing for the real economy and the financial markets. Or they wimp out and blink, don’t raise rates and inflation keeps rising. I think the Fed and the ECB will blink – as the Bank of England has already done.

DER SPIEGEL: On the other hand, high inflation rates can also be helpful because they simply inflate the debt away.

Roubini: Yes, but they also make new debt more expensive. Because when inflation rises, lenders charge higher interest rates. One example: If inflation goes from 2 to 6 percent, then U.S. government bond rates will have to go from 4 to 8 percent to keep bringing the same yield; and private borrowing costs for mortgages and business loans will be even higher. This makes it much more expensive for many companies, because they have to offer much higher interest rates than government bonds, which are considered safe. We have so much debt right now that something like this could lead to a total economic, financial and monetary collapse. And we’re not even talking about hyperinflation like in the Weimar Republic, just single digit inflation.

DER SPIEGEL: The overriding risk you describe in your book is climate change. Isn’t rising debt secondary in light of the possible consequences of a climate catastrophe?

Roubini: We have to worry about everything at the same time, as all these megathreats are interconnected. One example: Right now, there is no way to significantly reduce CO2 emissions without shrinking the economy. And even though 2020 was the worst recession in 60 years, green house gas emissions only fell by 9 percent. But without strong economic growth, we will not be able to solve the debt problem. So, we have to find ways to grow without emissions.

DER SPIEGEL: Given all these parallel crises: How do you assess the chances of democracy surviving against authoritarian systems like in China or Russia?

Roubini: I am worried. Democracies are fragile when there are big shocks. There is always some macho man then who says »I will save the country« and who blames everything on the foreigners. That’s exactly what Putin did with Ukraine. Erdogan could do the same thing with Greece next year and try to create a crisis because otherwise he might lose the election. If Donald Trump runs again and loses the election, he could openly call on white supremacists to storm the Capitol this time. We could see violence and a real civil war in the U.S. In Germany, things look comparatively good for now. But what happens if things go wrong economically and people vote more for the right-wing opposition?

Hurricane damage at a dock in Fort Myers, Florida

Hurricane damage at a dock in Fort Myers, Florida Foto: ROD NICKEL / REUTERS

Medics transport a coronavirus patient in Shanghai.

Medics transport a coronavirus patient in Shanghai. Foto: ALEX PLAVEVSKI / EPA

DER SPIEGEL. You have become known not only as the crash prophet, but also as a party animal. Do you still feel like partying these days?

Roubini: I always hosted art, culture, and book salons, not just social events. And during the pandemic I rediscovered my Jewish roots. Today, I prefer to invite 20 people to a Shabbat dinner with a nice ceremony and live music. Or we do an evening event where I ask a serious question and everyone has to answer. Deep conversations about life and the world at large, not chitchat. We should enjoy life, but also do our bit to save the world.

DER SPIEGEL: What do you mean?

Roubini: All of our carbon footprints are much too big. A significant part of all greenhouse gas emissions alone come from livestock farming. That’s why I became a pescatarian and gave up on meat, including chicken.

DER SPIEGEL: You used to be famous for being on the road for three-quarters of the year.

Roubini: I still do travel nonstop. But I will tell you one thing: I love New York. During the pandemic, I didn’t flee to the Hamptons or Miami like many others. I stayed here, I saw the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, I volunteered to help the homeless. I saw daily the desperation of many artist friends who lost jobs and incomes and couldn’t afford their rent. And even if there is another hurricane like Sandy in New York that could lead to violence and chaos, I will stay. We have to face the world as it is. Even if there is a nuclear confrontation. Because then the first bomb would fall on New York and the next one on Moscow.

They May Have Love on Their Lizard Brains

An accumulation of scientific research suggests that there’s a lot more to the social lives of reptiles.

Ned, a medium-brown shingleback lizard, sits behind his partner sunny, a dark grey shingle back lizard with his head resting on hers. They are sitting in a bed of green leaves and branches.
Sunny, front, and Ned. It’s almost like a lizard love story.Credit…Jesse Taylor Smith/Museums Victoria

Ned and Sunny stretch out together on the warm sand. He rests his head on her back, and every so often he might give her an affectionate nudge with his nose. The pair is quiet and, like many long-term couples, they seem perfectly content just to be in each other’s presence.

The couple are monogamous, which is quite rare in the animal kingdom. But Sunny and Ned are a bit scalier than your typical lifelong mates — they are shingleback lizards that live at Melbourne Museum in Australia.

In the wild, shinglebacks regularly form long-term bonds, returning to the same partner during mating season year after year. One lizard couple in a long-term study had been pairing up for 27 years and were still going strong when the study ended. In this way, the reptiles are more like some of the animal kingdom’s most famous long-term couplers, such as albatrossesprairie voles and owl monkeys, and they confound expectations many people have about the personalities of lizards.

“There’s more socially going on with reptiles than we give them credit for,” said Sean Doody, a conservation biologist at the University of South Florida.

Social behavior in reptiles has been largely overlooked for decades, but a handful of dedicated scientists have begun unraveling reptiles’ cryptic social structures. With the help of camera traps and genetic testing, scientists have discovered reptiles living in family groups, caring for their young and communicating with each other in covert ways. And they aren’t only doing this because they love lizards. Currently, one in five reptile species are threatened with extinction; researchers say learning more about reptile sociality could be crucial for conservation.

Humans have a long history of animosity toward reptiles, and influential twentieth century scientists added to the idea of reptiles as cold, unintelligent beasts. In the mid-1900s, Paul MacLean, a neuroscientist at Yale and then the National Institute of Mental Health, began developing the triune brain hypothesis. He theorized that the human brain contained three parts: the reptilian R-complex, which governed survival and basic instinctual behaviors; the paleomammalian complex, which controlled emotional behavior; and the neomammalian cortex, which was responsible for higher functions like problem-solving and language.

Dr. MacLean’s ideas were popularized in Carl Sagan’s “The Dragons of Eden in 1977, and they are deeply rooted — the idea of the “lizard brain” as a center for basic survival instincts is still widely believed, even though it is not based on actual facts.

“It’s pretty much totally bogus,” said Stephanie Campos, a neuroethologist at Villanova University.

A closeup of a bumpy brown shingleback lizard with stubby arms as it sits atop a piece of wood.
Credit…David Paul/Museums Victoria
A shingleback lizard with yellow and black scales sits atop stony ground, its head pointed to the sky with its mouth open and tongue sticking out.
Shingleback lizards in Australia can form bonds lasting for decades of mating seasons.Credit…Museums Victoria

Gordon Burghardt, an ethologist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, who has studied animal behavior for more than 50 years, said that many scientists, even herpetologists, were blinded by their biases, believing that social behaviors “can’t occur in these animals, therefore you’re not seeing what you’re seeing.”

Even without our cultural biases, reptiles can be difficult to study.

“A lot of them are pretty shy,” said Allison Alberts, a conservation scientist and co-founder of the Iguana Specialist Group at the International Union for Conservation of Nature. She added that “They’re so sensitive to when a person’s there. They just freeze — they will not do some of their normal social interactions when a person’s around.”

Many forms of interaction between reptiles are also invisible.

“Chemical communication plays a huge role,” said Julia Riley, a behavioral ecologist at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada. “And that’s something you can’t even see and it’s very hard to sample from the environment as well.”

Yet despite these prejudices and difficulties, researchers are starting to unveil the complex social worlds of these creatures.

One of the most fascinating discoveries of reptile social behavior — long-term monogamy in shingleback lizards like Ned and Sunny — happened entirely by accident.

Michael Bull, the Australian biologist who made the discovery, was initially less focused on lizards and more interested in studying the different species of ticks that lived on them. Beginning in 1982, he would capture shinglebacks, mark them, take various measurements, then release them. After several years (and thousands of lizards), he noticed that each spring, after months apart, the same males and females would somehow manage to find each other.

Shingleback courtship is perhaps not the most romantic by human standards.

“The male will trail the female around for a number of weeks, often a few months, and defend that female from any other male that tries to encroach,” said Jane Melville, senior curator of terrestrial vertebrates at Museums Victoria Research Institute in Australia. Males have also been seen allowing their mates to eat first, she said.

Actually, this last behavior is a good move for males of a number of species. Another lizard species, the Central American whiptail, has been observed offering a potential partner a lovely dead frog to eat before mating.

But shingleback love stories don’t always have happy endings. “It’s very tragic,” said Martin Whiting, a behavioral ecologist at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. “Occasionally, they get squashed on the road and the other one will be nudging it. And then it’s very difficult for them to pair up again.”

Dr. Whiting said the lizards can remain with their dead partners for quite some time, continuing to nudge their lifeless bodies. Could this be similar to the quasi-mourning behaviors observed in primates and cetaceans?

While we can’t definitively say that these lizards grieve, Dr. Whiting said, “I would certainly say we can’t discount that certain species that have that strong pair bond might.”

Despite the bond between mating pairs, shinglebacks are not the most attentive parents. Shinglebacks give live birth to two or three enormous babies (which can weigh nearly half a pound each, while adults top out at around 2 pounds), and shortly afterward, mother and offspring go their separate ways.

Other species are more caring parents. In many species of crocodilians for example, females will guard their nests, keeping their eggs safe from predation. Some baby crocodilians begin to vocalize even before hatching, and scientists think this may cause the mother to dig up the nest and carry the babies to the water.

The gray head of a baby crocodile with its mouth open pokes out from a white eggshell.
The sounds made by baby crocodiles in their eggs may prompt their mothers to dig them up and carry them to water.Credit…Dhana Kencana/Anadolu Agency, via Getty Images

Initially, according to Vladimir Dinets, a zoologist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, human observers misunderstood this behavior. “It was originally thought that crocodiles and alligators were incredibly dumb,” he said. When the females dug up the babies and took them “into their jaws, they assumed that they were just cannibalizing them.”

Crocodilians continue to vocalize after hatching, emitting “contact calls,” which may help facilitate group cohesion. Hatchlings also produce distress calls, which attract mothers, presumably for protection.

Another much-maligned creature, the rattlesnake, may also display surprising social habits and family ties: Genetic analysis has revealed that pregnant females prefer to associate with kin, hinting at the potential importance of family groupings. Parental care, at least initially, seems to be important as well.

“Rattlesnakes give birth to live young,” said Melissa Amarello, executive director of Advocates for Snake Preservation. “The females and the babies stay together at least until the babies start shedding their skin for the first time, which seems to happen one to two weeks after they’re born.”

While the mother’s presence alone is likely a deterrent for predators, Ms. Amarello said she had also observed instances of mother snakes exhibiting defensive behavior when potential threats approached her offspring. Research has also shown that pygmy rattlesnakes are more responsive to threats when they are with their offspring when compared with females without babies.

A group of rattlesnakes with large brown spots on their bodies sit coiled together atop grass. As many as five snakes’ heads can be seen in coils.
Pregnant rattlesnakes gather in groups, and younger females seem to get the job of minding other snakes’ offspring.Credit…All Canada Photos/Alamy

Ms. Amarello said that when female snakes spend their pregnancy together, the one who is still pregnant may stay close to the offspring of the snake who has already given birth. “After seeing this now over so many years with the Arizona black rattlesnakes, it’s usually the younger females that are stuck being pregnant and ‘babysitting,’” she said.

Family living also occurs in a handful of lizards in the Scincidae family, or skinks (which includes shingleback lizards like Ned and Sunny). A three-year-long imaging study only recently revealed the devotion of Cunningham skink mothers. In one case, a female skink was basking with her family when a snake appeared near their crevice.

The female, according to Dr. Riley, “runs forward, grabs the Eastern brown snake, shakes it, and then makes sure it goes away from the crevice.”

She added, “Now that is clearly an act of parental care,” one that is a great personal risk on the mother’s part, as Eastern brown snakes have one of the most toxic venoms of any snake on the planet.

Social abilities have other benefits. Many species have demonstrated their ability to learn from one another, a phenomenon called social learning. Even the red-footed tortoise, a species which is thought to be largely solitary, can learn how to obtain a food reward by watching a fellow tortoise perform the task. Some reptiles, such as the Italian wall lizard, also can learn from other species.

Does this seem like it might be too much for a tiny lizard brain? Scientists like Dr. MacLean gave lizard intellect a bad rap, but reptile brains and mammal brains really aren’t all that different.

When comparing reptile and mammal brains, “a lot of the regions are very similar to what we have,” said Dr. Campos, who studies chemical communication in lizards. Many of the brain regions that are important for social behavior in mammals, she says, are also involved in reptile interactions.

A green lizard in profile atop a branch, its red throat pouch expanded.
Research in anoles suggests hormones play a role in courtship and communication similar to what has been observed in mammals.Credit…ZUMA Press Inc/Alamy Stock Photo

In mammals, vasopressin and oxytocin play important roles in social behaviors, and reptiles have structurally similar hormones called vasotocin and mesotocin. Although the reptilian versions have received relatively little attention, there are intriguing early studies about how they regulate reptile sociality.

Dr. Campos’s research indicates that vasotocin may alter chemical communication between green anole lizards, and other researchers found that mesotocin may be related to courtship behaviors in brown anoles. When researchers blocked the activity of vasotocin in pygmy rattlesnake mothers, they strayed farther from their babies, suggesting this hormone may influence maternal behavior.

Learning more about reptiles’ social structures could be essential for saving species from the brink of extinction.

For example, headstarting programs are attempting to bolster wild populations of critically endangered Caribbean rock iguanas by raising baby iguanas in captivity and releasing them when they’ve grown large enough to avoid being eaten by invasive predators like cats and mongooses.

While some factors involved in the success of such programs have been well-studied, Dr. Alberts said, social factors have been relatively overlooked. That leads to questions like, “How many should we release at the same time? Should they all be released at the same site?” she said. “This is where I feel like some of these social considerations and understanding them better could go into improving the success of the program.”

A pale greyish-green lizard looks out from a crack in a large brown and green rock.
Researchers are studying how social behaviors affect restoring Caribbean iguanas to the wild. Credit…Panther Media GmbH/Alamy

Social information also may be important for rattlesnake reintroductions. Early research suggests chemical cues from other snakes may be very important for guiding behavior. Timber rattlesnakes, for example, can follow the scent trails of fellow rattlesnakes out of a maze, and they have been shown to select prey ambush sites based on the smell of a snake that had recently fed.

Jeff Smith, director of research at Advocates for Snake Preservation, said the social information these smells provide may aid survival. “The way that the scents can be written on the landscape provides juveniles with kind of a cheat sheet for navigating the world,” he said, adding that smells potentially helping young snakes find places to hunt, to hide from predators or to spend the winter.

Understanding reptiles’ capacity for sociality also could be helpful in other ways. “Reptiles in general face great persecution — snakes in particular, but also crocodilians and a lot of lizards as well,” Dr. Riley said.

People may develop more empathy for these animals if they come to understand that they are social creatures, too.

“If we can open this secret social world of reptiles to people, maybe people will think twice about killing a snake or a lizard and maybe will find some value in these animals that people oftentimes just discount as creepy, or worse,” Dr. Riley said.

In simple terms, she added, “we don’t conserve what we don’t care about.”

New York Times October 28, 2022

Carl Bildt, ex-PM of Sweden: ‘I don’t think we should underestimate the desperation of Putin. A nuclear attack is not something we can exclude’

The veteran politician offered his views on the end of the war, on America and Europe’s role in supporting Ukraine, and on the rise of the far right in his country

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister of Sweden, this Wednesday in Rascafría (Spain).
Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister of Sweden, this Wednesday in Rascafría (Spain).SANTI BURGOS

Carl Bildt, who was prime minister of Sweden between 1991 and 1994, witnessed the annexation of Crimea by Russia during the last stage of his tenure as foreign minister of his country, a position he held between 2006 and 2014. Since then, Bildt, 73, has spent much of his time traveling around the world, now with a particular focus on the consequences of the conflict in Ukraine. From his extensive diplomatic experience and his many contacts, he draws resounding conclusions about the war in the former Soviet republic. Bildt received EL PAÍS on Wednesday at a country estate in Rascafría, around 60 miles northwest of the Spanish capital Madrid, where he participated in a meeting of the board of the international consulting firm Kreab Worldwide, of which he is vice-president.

The former Swedish leader predicts that the Russian offensive will end when the Vladimir Putin regime falls. Until that happens, however, he warns that “I don’t think we should underestimate the desperation of Putin,” whom he sees as capable of ordering a nuclear attack imminently. The former leader of the Moderate Party of Sweden – which has just returned to power after reaching an agreement with other conservative groups and the far right – defends the toughening of immigration laws in his country and says that Turkey “has not been altogether wrong” when it noted that Stockholm has “not been sufficiently vigilant in fighting terrorism.”

Question. Putin is raising the risk of Ukraine allegedly using a dirty bomb, in what looks like another false flag operation. Do you think there could be any real escalation? It was also feared when four Ukrainian provinces were illegally annexed. Do you think this time it could really happen?

Answer. I think he will. I mean, clearly, the war has not gone particularly well for him. The Russian army has essentially failed and now he is forced to mobilize [civilians]. That probably won’t help too much either. But he will escalate until he collapses, in my opinion. And the worrying thing with what he’s doing now is that he could be in a sort of pretext for him using nuclear weapons. I can’t be certain of that. But there are very worrying signals coming out of him. I think the political atmosphere in Moscow is changing. More and more people are skeptical towards the war. I wouldn’t say that he’s in danger in Moscow at the time, but things are moving in the wrong direction on every front for him at the moment, on the global diplomatic front, on political support inside Russia, in Ukraine, and certainly with the cohesion of the West.

Q. You recently said that the evacuation of Kherson could be either a withdrawal or a sign of an impending nuclear attack. What do you believe now?

A. I don’t know. I wish I knew. But it could be. A lot of people interpreted it could be that the Russians are retreating from Kherson completely. It could also be that it clears the way for them using a nuclear weapon against Ukrainian troops advancing through the area. So we don’t know. I mean, the logic behind what he is doing in Kherson could be interpreted in different ways. But I don’t think we should underestimate the desperation of Putin.

Q. So, do you think a nuclear attack could be imminent?

A. I sincerely hope not. But with the desperation of Putin and with everything moving against him, it’s not something we can exclude.

Q. How will the war end, in your opinion?

A. I think the war will end when Putin disappears from the Kremlin. I think he sees this and he said that as well in several speeches. He says it’s a life and death issue for Russia. That’s not the case, but it is a life and death issue for him and for his regime. And since then, he has committed himself so heavily to this particular war that I don’t think the conflict will end until his regime collapses.

Q. Do you see that happening?

A. Russia is a country that collapsed twice in the last century. It collapsed in 1917 and in 1991. And for basically the same reasons: it had not modernized. It was much too authoritarian. It couldn’t cope with new situations. Its economy was under heavy stress. A lot of people had stopped believing in the powers of the state. And those are normally the recipes for collapse. And I would say that they are heading in the same direction. But giving a prediction for ‘when’ is impossible.

The former Swedish Prime Minister this Wednesday in Rascafría (Madrid).
The former Swedish Prime Minister this Wednesday in Rascafría (Madrid).SANTI BURGOS

Q. Some Democrats and Republicans in the US are questioning military aid to Ukraine. How is the European Union positioning itself?

A. I looked at the opinion polls in the US, and there is very strong support among Democrats and Republicans for helping Ukraine. But politics is politics, so some of them are starting to maneuver. I am worried that we will have in a year’s time a situation where the Americans are saying, we supplied all of these things, but what have you Europeans done? Because at the moment it’s Americans that are both doing more in terms of military and in terms of financial. I can understand the military side because they are the military superpower. But I think the Europeans should be doing more on the financial side than we’ve done so far.

Q. What else should Europe do?

A. They have a budget deficit in the Ukrainian budget. It takes between €3 billion and €5 billion a month. If we force them to pay that by printing money, there’s going to be hyperinflation and lots of problems. It’s quite a lot of money. But if you take it in relation to the European economy, it is a very, very small sum for our countries. So I think we should be prepared to roughly double the support that we have offered so far. Because I saw from the European Council now they talked about €1.5 billion a month. I think we should at least double that amount.

P. Is there any indication, since the new government took office in Sweden, that Turkey is ready to approve the country’s accession to NATO?

A. I understand there was a telephone conversation between our new prime minister [Ulf Kristersson of the Moderate Party] and [Turkish] President Erdogan today. And I think they will meet within the next few weeks. So we’ll see what will come out of that. They’ve had complaints against us that they don’t think that we have been sufficiently vigilant in fighting terrorism. They’ve had some points. They’ve not been altogether wrong. So we have now reinforced legislation, stronger laws, strong reactions. So I hope that will pave the way for the situation to be resolved.

P. What do you think about the government agreement with the far-right Sweden Democrats?

A. There is no disagreement on seven different points. Broadly speaking, there are quite a number of open points. It moves Swedish immigration policy more in a Danish direction, although not quite as far as Denmark, which is harsher. I think, frankly speaking, that it was a necessary adjustment because we’ve had one of the more open and liberal immigration policies. There’ve been a lot of advantages for Sweden in that, but also disadvantages. And I think there is now the need to do a pause and a course correction. And that’s what’s going to happen.

Q. In Sweden, the far right had been isolated since 2010. What has changed for this agreement to take place now?

R. Well, what happened is they got 20% in the election. That’s roughly it. You can’t ignore that. And then there were hard negotiations that made it possible to conclude an agreement that was judged to be okay from the different sides. And it was particularly on the migration issues, that’s where they had their demands. It has to be said that all of the parties wanted to move migration issues in that direction. But finding the balance is not an easy one. This is an arrangement very much like what we’ve seen in other Nordic countries. We haven’t seen it in Sweden before, it’s a novelty for us. We’ve seen it in Denmark since 2000 in different versions. We’ve seen it in Norway, but let’s see how it works out in Sweden.

What our future world might look like

Illustration by Anuj Shrestha.
Not long ago, climate projections for this century looked quite apocalyptic. Most scientists warned that continuing “business as usual” would bring the world four or even five degrees Celsius of warming — giving rise to existential fears about our future.
But in just the past few years, the future has begun to look somewhat different, David Wallace-Wells writes in our Climate Issue. When scientists talk about the path we’re on today, they are often referring to warming between two and three degrees Celsius. To stabilize the world’s temperatures at the cooler end of that range, two degrees, will require a near-total transformation of all the human systems that gave rise to warming: energy, transportation, agriculture, housing and industry and infrastructure. But, while ambitious and difficult, it now seems possible — a very different sort of future, neither a best-case nor a worst-case scenario.
As much as our planet has already been transformed by climate change, it will be transformed far more in the decades to come. This special issue examines the new climate reality coming into view — and what our future world might look like.

The Robber Barons Had Nothing on Elon Musk

Oct. 27, 2022

Credit…Andrew Kelly/Reuters

By David Nasaw

Mr. Nasaw is the author of “Andrew Carnegie” and “The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy.”

Elon Musk is now the proud owner of Twitter. The danger here is not that we have a rogue billionaire in our midst — that has happened before, and it will happen again — but that this one will be in control of what he has rightly referred to as our “digital town square.”

Mr. Musk is the face of 21st-century tech-based, extreme capitalism, just as the robber barons, who built our railroads, and Andrew Carnegie, who supplied those railroads and the builders of modern American cities with steel, embodied the exuberant and expansive industrial capitalism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Mr. Musk has exploited the opportunities emerging in a rapidly disintegrating regulatory state apparatus and acquired a small army of investors and a fleet of lobbyists, lawyers and fanboys (known as Musketeers). He has sought to position himself as a tech genius who can break the rules, exploit and excise those who work for him, ridicule those who stand in his way and do as he wishes with his wealth because it benefits humanity. He’ll rescue the planet with his electric cars and save Ukraine with his satellite systems — but he must be freed of government interference to do these good deeds.

For more than two centuries, American moguls like Mr. Musk have transformed our economy and our daily lives (and enriched themselves) by playing a winning game with governments. They sought and received from those governments enormous subsidies and protection, while demanding that they be left alone to conduct their business as they pleased. The railroad robber barons built their fortunes on government-supplied land on which they laid their tracks and then collected government subsidies for every mile of it.

Carnegie and the steel barons elected Republican lawmakers and presidents committed to protecting their companies’ profits by levying high tariffs on foreign competitors. Mr. Musk’s companies, and his fortune, were built with billions of dollars worth of subsidies for his electric-car company, Tesla, and billions more in NASA contracts to ferry American astronauts into space, launch satellites and provide high-speed internet services tethered to his fleet of some 3,000 satellites.

What makes Mr. Musk particularly powerful and potentially more dangerous than the industrial-era moguls is his ability to promote his businesses and political notions with a tweet. The effect of such instant communications is enhanced by his firm understanding of media and market dynamics in this era of meme stocks, day trading, instant communications, misinformation and disinformation.

Carnegie kept his companies private because he did not want to be beholden to outside investors, influence and market conditions. Mr. Musk has done the opposite. His wealth is based not on factories he has built, products he sells or real estate he has acquired, but on the billions of dollars of shares he owns in Tesla, SpaceX, cryptocurrency companies and Twitter.

In August 2018, he tweeted that he was considering taking Tesla private at $420 a share. The Securities and Exchange Commission said Mr. Musk’s “misleading tweets” caused Tesla’s stock price to jump by over 6 percent and slapped him with a securities fraud charge. He then agreed to step down as Tesla’s chairman and to pay a $20 million penalty. Tesla paid another $20 million.

The Kennedy family patriarch, Joseph P. Kennedy, was always adept at manipulating stock prices, but as the first chairman of the S.E.C., he feared that capitalism would never recover from the Great Depression if manipulators and fraudsters were free to do as they pleased. Under Kennedy, the commission outlawed many of the practices that he had exploited to make his fortune, including short selling on insider information.

Mr. Musk has no such fears and no such scruples. As The Economist noted in April, Mr. Musk “promotes the idea that the normal rules of investment do not apply. He paints stewards of fair play — regulators and boards — as pettifogging enemies of progress.” He refers to S.E.C. officials as “those bastards.”

The likely consequences of Mr. Musk’s Twitter ownership will be political as well as economic disruption. By declaring that he intends to allow Donald Trump back on the site, he has signaled his opposition to policing it for political disinformation and misinformation. He has identified himself as a “free speech absolutist” and has repeated several times that he opposes and will limit censorship and will likely loosen content moderation rules.

It is not unreasonable to expect that a Musk-owned and controlled Twitter will, in the name of free speech, allow disinformation and misinformation to be tweeted ad infinitum so long as it discredits his political opponents and celebrates and enriches himself and his allies.

Mr. Musk is correct that “free speech” must be honored and protected. But is it not time that we, as a people and a nation, engage in a wide-ranging, inclusive public debate on when and how free speech creates “a clear and present danger” — as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. wrote a century ago — and whether we need government to find a way, through law or regulation or persuasion, to prevent this from happening?

Elon Musk is a product of his — and our — times. Rather than debate or deride his influence, we must recognize that he is not the self-made genius businessman he plays in the media. Instead, his success was prompted and paid for by taxpayer money and abetted by government officials who have allowed him and other billionaire businessmen to exercise more and more control over our economy and our politics.

New York Times October 28, 2022

What Ever Happened to ‘You’?

Oct. 28, 2022, 6:01 a.m. ET

Credit…Pablo Delcan

A Columbia University linguist explores how race and language shape our politics and culture.

Fish don’t know they’re wet, and we English speakers don’t know we’re weird. Have you ever thought about how odd it is that English uses the same word for “you” in the singular and the plural?

Possibly not, because to speak English lifelong is to sense this as normal. But try to think of another language where there is only one word for “you.” Imagine if in Spanish one used “usted” to mean both one person and several, or if in French there were no “tu” and “vous” was the only word ever used to mean “you.” As often as not, languages do even more than just distinguish the singular and plural in the second person, marking distinctions of politeness as well. In Hindi there is the informal singular “tū,” the more formal “tum,” and then “āp” for addressing elders and others to whom one is meant to show respect.

And in cases where English serves as the foundation for brand-new languages, one of the first things people do is fill in the “you” hole. When the British first arrived in Australia, one of the ways they initially communicated with Indigenous people was through a pidgin English with a limited vocabulary. That pidgin was later used throughout the South Seas area, and ultimately flowered into actual languages. One of them is now the lingua franca of Papua New Guinea. In that language, Tok Pisin, no one puts up with this business of using “you” for all numbers of people. Rather, they get even more fine-grained than most others: They address two people as “yutupela” — you two fellows — and three as “yutripela.”

In creoles such as Jamaican patois and Gullah, which stem from a creole English created by slaves from Africa on plantations in the United States, right away a plural “you” pronoun was borrowed from the Nigerian language Igbo: “unu.” In Gullah this comes out as “hunnuh.” For example, in the 1990s, Lawry’s Seasoned Salt ran an ad in Essence magazine, presumably in response to the film “Daughters of the Dust,” which featured Gullah dialect, with the Gullah translation for “We think great-great-great-grandma would’ve loved Lawry’s” as “Oona gal tink we’s nana beena lub de Lawry’s Seasnin’.” Why Igbo was used for creating a plural “you” is impossible to know. But the mystery itself seems almost to suggest a kind of urgency, as if the creators wanted to fix a problem so eagerly that they went with the first thing someone happened to seize on.

And of course, way back when, English itself had “thou” for the singular and “you” for the plural — or actually “ye,” as in “Hear ye” — the form “you” was used as an object, as “thee” was in the singular. This was all like a normal language. But after a while standard English booted “thou” entirely, despite how noble and quaint it sounds in the Bible. Today it holds on in many rural dialects in Britain, often as “tha” — recall the gamekeeper in “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” saying to the protagonist, “Tha mun come ter th’ cottage one time.” But seemingly everywhere else in Europe today, even in standard language, one toggles between “tu” and “voi” (or “lei”) (Italian) or “ty” and “vy” (Russian) or “du” and “ihr” (or “Sie”) (German). What happened with English?

It’s something we may never have a complete answer to. Certainly, in the Middle Ages across Europe, a fashion arose in various languages of addressing individuals with the plural pronoun as a mark of respect. The idea was that using a singular form was too direct; the plural form suggested a kind of polite distance, rather like Queen Victoria’s reputed fondness for saying about herself that “we are not amused,” the premise being that to refer to herself in the singular would suggest that she was on the same level as ordinary people.

At first, this usage of “you” was between people of higher status, with the expectation then developing that people lower on the social scale would address their betters as “you” while addressing one another as “thou.” But the “you” fashion spread down the scale, with even middle-class couples alternating between calling each other “thou” and “you” depending on factors of formality, affection and subject matter. In Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” Benedick, likely wanting to connote intimacy to Beatrice, tells her, “Come, bid me do anything for thee.” But a bit later, when he is addressing a more formal and even menacing matter, he switches to “you”: “Think you in your soul the Count Claudio hath wronged Hero?”

This stage was paralleled in many European countries, but the odd thing about English is that “you” then edged out “thou” completely in the 17th century. Why English took it this far is difficult to know. At a time when “thou” was still a recent memory, Quakers found the “you” takeover elitist, with its overtone of saluting and bowing creating conflict with their egalitarian ideology. I attended a Quaker school for a while in the late 1970s and at least one teacher was still using “thou” in this way — I will never forget him reminding me before an exam, “Be sure to put thy name on thy paper.” However, in the 17th century, Quakers’ insistence on using “thou” even with people of high status felt to many like an insult, and some were even physically assaulted for their refusal to get on the “you” bandwagon.

The Quakers’ beef was with matters of hierarchy, but they were also onto something in the linguistic sense. Normal languages have separate singular and plural second-person pronouns, period. And when a language breaks, its speakers have a way of fixing it. Old English’s pronoun for “she” was “heo,” which sounded so much like “he” that by the time Middle English was widespread in the 1200s, some dialects were using “he” to address both men and women. Yes, even long before the births of Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare, English was on its way to developing a new gender-neutral pronoun. But apparently that did not feel quite right to many speakers. Thus, speakers recruited one of several words that meant “the” at the time, “seo,” which became today’s “she.”

And English speakers have long since been trying to make the same kind of fix in the second person. A classic example is “youse,” best known in the Northeast United States, which is simply a yeomanly attempt to create a plural form of “you” by adding an “-s.” Stephen Crane made considerable use of a variation of it in his depiction of lower-class speech in New York City in 1893 in “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets.” “Come out, all of yehs, come out,” a woman hollers in anger. Interestingly, if Crane’s dialogue is to be trusted, people then were already using “youse” with single people as well, perhaps as an attempt to connote the same discreet distance that burgherly folk in Europe had been using several centuries before: “Ah, youse can’t fight, Blue Billie! I kin lick yeh wid’ one han’.”

Pittsburghers and people from the surrounding region will think of the similar “yinz,” from “you ones.” And then, of course, there is the eternal and lovely “you all,” or “y’all.” But note that all of these forms are considered a tad, well, vulgar. Even if we have a certain affection for them, our feelings about “youse,” “yinz” and “y’all” sit somewhere between those for the Christmas sweater and the drunken uncle. One smiles at their mention. Users chuckle warmly when acknowledging them as part of their speech repertoire.

But why the laughter and dismissal? In Mandarin, “you” in the singular is “ni” and “you” for more than one person is “ni men.” The “men” is a marker of the plural, such that “ni men” literally means “you-s.” And it occasions not the slightest tittle of amusement in Beijing.

Yet “youse,” “yinz” and “y’all” are somehow “not the real thing.” The reason is that language is about more than saying things; we also use it to signal social distinctions. “Y’all,” then, may “mean” the same thing as Mandarin’s “ni men.” But it is also associated with Southern English and perhaps especially Black people, and is thus predictably, if regrettably, barred from admission into the standard English club despite how utterly sensible it is.

This is a common tendency: Language change happens most quickly in casual speech because it isn’t being policed as strictly as standard language. We often don’t even notice changes in casual speech, but in cold print, where language is held still and made to stand up straight, change looks disruptive. Print suggests — and celebrates, in a fashion — permanence.

Thus language change is often associated with being uncouth, unfettered. Believe it or not, the progressive passive, as in “A house is being built across the street,” was considered a vulgar neologism up until the 19th century, as opposed to the earlier “A house is building across the street.” Around the same time, the British statesman William Cobbett was primly recommending that the past of “swim” was “swimmed” and the past of “blow” was “blowed.” To him, “swam” and “blew” were likely seen as marks of low class. Jonathan Swift didn’t like it when ordinary people started shortening the syllable of the “-ed” past suffix the way we now consider standard. He wanted to preserve what we now only know in precious forms like “blessed,” pronounced “bless-id.” If he had had his way we would today be saying “walk-id” and “hugg-id.”

Even on the spread of singular “you,” the Quaker leader George Fox thought of it not only as undemocratic but grammatically unsuitable. In 1660 he wrote a whole, often heated book on the matter, whose prissily didactic title says it all: “A Battle-Door for Teachers & Professors to Learn Singular and Plural; You to Many, and Thou to One; Singular One, Thou; Plural Many, You.”

But eventually all of these new things became normal, whereas this will never happen with “youse,” “yinz” and “y’all.” Their class associations are especially strong, and are felt by pretty much all of the population rather than by just a few pedants. Also, pronouns are especially vivid to a language’s speakers because they stand in for human beings, including ones as immediate as ourselves and the ones we are speaking with. The singular “you” had a certain wind beneath its wings in connoting a certain respect, but blackboard grammar condemned the singular “they” — “Tell each student to hand in their paper” — from the mid-18th century up to our times. Changing gender norms have made many loosen the screws somewhat on that usage, but the newer one, referring to specific individuals — “My boyfriend is coming soon and they want to have sausage pizza” — has occasioned new controversy.

Thus, “y’all,” “youse” and “yinz” will remain casual rather than standard, despite the fact that English seems always to be trying to find some kind of way to indicate plural you-ness. It pops up in interesting corners: I recall how the cartoonist Lynda Barry once had an angry boy complaining to a group, “I hate your gutses anyway,” which I am pretty sure actual people have said. Note the creative pluralization of “guts,” which allows the speaker to directly indicate that he is addressing all of them, in a language that doesn’t provide him with a pronoun to do the job.

“Y’all,” Lynda Barry’s angry boy and, way back, George Fox’s long-titled tome were engaged in repair. English without “thou” has a ding in it. You can likely recall times when you have had to say something amid a group, like “You need to make sure — I mean you all, not just you, Jocelyn — that we make contact with them before Monday.” No one had to pause for little fixes like that when speaking Old or Middle English. It’s a design flaw in the modern language.

And yet notice that no one seems terribly concerned. In contrast to endless attempts to create a brand-new gender-neutral pronoun, such as “ze” or my favorite one, dating all the way back to 1879, “hesh,” there seems to be no push to create a plural “you” pronoun that doesn’t have the class associations of “y’all” and the like. We just accept that in this regard English is pitilessly, eternally and peculiarly unclear.

There is, actually, a lesson in that. If it’s OK that standard English can’t readily distinguish between the singular and plural “you,” then what determines which aspects of our language we single out for criticism and attempt to fix? If we don’t need “thou,” then why all of the agita about using “literally” in a figurative way, when in that case, unlike with “you,” context almost always makes clear what the meaning is without any need for repair? Why sweat about the insouciant redundancy of “irregardless”? Why insist on retaining something as confounding and ongoingly misused as that “lay” is both how you make something “lie” and also the past tense of “lie”? This is the result of an unintended train crash between two words that sounded much less alike 1,000 years ago — but last time I checked we were supposed to keep the distinction going irre— sorry, regardless.

To wit, in the grand scheme of things, what happened in English is an object lesson in how imperfect all languages are, and that this imperfection is both inevitable and harmless. We like our English “you” just the way it is and dismiss all attempts to change it, despite that it only got that way because of a creeping notion that everybody should be, as it were, holier than thou. Few things better demonstrate how we can learn to stop worrying and love our language.

New York Times – October 28, 2022


Commonly Used “You” in Japan

In Japan, more often than not people address each other through context and omitting pronouns. It might be weird when translated to another language like English, but it is how Japanese naturally works.

In the instances where people do address each other, they do so by using the name, title or position of the other person. It is used by many Japanese in formal and informal conversations, depending on the context. Honorifics are added behind their names as a form of politeness and respect. 

‘We Heard It, We Saw It, Then We Opened Fire’

With an intense, hastily assembled effort, the Ukrainian military is pioneering successful techniques in the difficult art of anti-drone warfare,

Police officers in Kyiv, Ukraine, trying to shoot down a drone during an attack on Oct. 17. The drone was believed to be an Iranian-made Shahed-136, purchased by Russia in August.
Police officers in Kyiv, Ukraine, trying to shoot down a drone during an attack on Oct. 17. The drone was believed to be an Iranian-made Shahed-136, purchased by Russia in August.Credit…Vadim Sarakhan/Reuters

KYIV, Ukraine — Directed by ground controllers tracking a drone on radar, a Ukrainian fighter jet pilot, code-named Juice, streaked through the sky in pursuit, hoping to sneak up behind the slow-moving Iranian-made craft and take it down with a missile.

But on this day, as on many others, Juice found nothing.

Shooting down noisy, propeller-driven Iranian-made drones is a frustrating business and harder than it might seem. It takes multiple actors on the ground and in the air working closely together for 24 hours a day.

“The last few weeks were very busy, very exhausting for us,” Juice said of the air war against the drones, dozens of which Russia has deployed daily. “It’s still very, very difficult to shoot them down.”

The war in Ukraine is now fought in two mostly separate arenas: on the ground in the south and east, where the Ukrainian Army has the upper hand, and in the air, where Russia is firing long-range missiles and deploying the exploding Iranian-made drones to cripple the electrical and heating infrastructure in Ukrainian cities in the hopes of demoralizing the population.

Since Russia began terrorizing Ukrainian cities in September with the drones, Ukraine has turned its focus to an intense counter-drone strategy, made up on the fly but often surprisingly successful.

Currently, it consists of three layers of protection: fighter jets that patrol around the clock; ground-fired antiaircraft missiles; and teams of soldiers with machine guns who try to shoot the drones down as they fly past.

The hardest part is simply finding the drones, Juice said. On radar, the small, plodding drones can be confused with migrating birds or trucks on a highway. Ground controllers identify potential targets and direct jets to intercept them, but often the pilots come up empty.

An unmanned aerial vehicle in the distinctive triangle shape of an Iranian-made Shahed-136 in the sky over Kyiv during a drone attack on Oct. 17.
An unmanned aerial vehicle in the distinctive triangle shape of an Iranian-made Shahed-136 in the sky over Kyiv during a drone attack on Oct. 17.Credit…Roman Petushkov/Reuters

Despite the hurdles, the Ukrainian military is now routinely shooting down more than 70 percent of the Shahed-136 drones Russia purchased from Iran in August, Yuriy Sak, an adviser to the Ukrainian minister of defense, said in an interview.

Ukraine shot down the first such drone in the country’s east on Sept. 13 and has since downed at least 237, the Ukrainian military said in a statement last week. “We are trying to quickly adapt to the new reality,” Mr. Sak said.

Exploding drones are a rapidly emerging class of weapons that are proliferating around the world and likely to become a staple of modern armed conflicts, military analysts say. That is a point that Ukrainian officials have been making in seeking air defense assistance from their allies. If Ukraine can learn to shoot the drones down with its three-pronged effort, allied countries’ militaries could reap the benefits of this hard-won experience, Mr. Sak said.

There have been notable successes.

One Ukrainian MiG pilot won folk hero status in Ukraine this month for shooting down five Iranian Shahed-136 drones over the central Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia, only to be forced to eject after crashing into the debris of the last one. The pilot, Karaya — who identified himself by only his nickname, according to military policy — told the local news media afterward, “Within a short period of time, we are adapting to this kind of weapon and are starting to destroy it successfully.”

After colliding with the airborne debris, he said, Karaya steered his MiG away from Vinnytsia and ejected. The jet crashed into houses in an outlying area, but injured nobody on the ground. Karaya later visited the site to apologize.

“I visited the scene, said I was sorry for the discomfort I caused the residents and thanked them for their steel nerves,” he wrote on Instagram, saying he showed up in his tattered uniform, missing epaulets. He joked that it was a violation of military protocol. “Lost them while leaving the office,” he wrote.

While fighter jets have been effective against Iranian drones, said Yurii Ignat, a Ukrainian Air Force spokesman, the approach is costly because of its use of air-to-air missiles. “It’s frustrating that we must hit these drones with expensive missiles,” he said. “What else can we do? This is the reality now.”

Before Russia’s arsenal included the Iranian-made drones, beginning in August, Ukraine had an edge in drone warfare.

Ukrainian soldiers along the front line flew off-the-shelf commercial drones to spot targets and drop grenades on Russian trenches. The United States has supplied Ukraine with its Switchblade drones, a type of exploding drone. Ukraine has also deployed Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drones — larger, longer-range craft that surveil the battlefield and fire guided missiles.

Rescue workers at a residential building hit last week by a drone strike in Kyiv.
Rescue workers at a residential building hit last week by a drone strike in Kyiv.Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

In August, the United States promised that within the next nine months it would deliver to Ukraine a small, compact counter-drone missile system that could be mounted on the back of an ordinary pickup truck. The so-called Vampire system is a newly developed anti-drone technology that can reach out farther than a machine gun, but is portable enough to be driven quickly into the path of incoming drones.

After a drone swarm attack on Kyiv on Monday, Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, appealed to Israel for air defense weapons. The plea was rebuffed by Israel’s minister of defense, Benny Gantz, largely because Israel depends on Russian cooperation for the Israeli Air Force to conduct raids in Syria. Israel, he said, would provide early warning systems, but not air defense weapons.

Mr. Sak, the adviser to the Ukrainian defense minister, said Israel could be missing an opportunity to hone its tactics in facing down threats in its own territory by assisting in the counter-drone efforts now underway in Ukraine.

“These Iranian drones that are hitting Ukrainian cities were not developed, not meant for Ukraine,” Mr. Sak said. “They were developed as a mass capability to strike Israel. They are using Ukraine as a testing ground, to see weaknesses, to perfect them, and sooner or later they will use them against Israel.”

A Ukrainian official, speaking off the record, has said Israel has provided intelligence useful for targeting the Iranian drones.

The drones, when in flight, also have a distinctive buzz from their small engines, which has proved a vulnerability.

In Kyiv, three policemen shot down one drone with their Kalashnikov rifles after hearing the buzz, described by witnesses as sounding like a chain-saw engine, and then seeing the triangular weapon fly toward them over rooftops.

“There was very little time to make a decision,” said Sgt. Oleksandr Kravchuk, who is a shooting instructor with the police department.

He said he fired all 30 rounds in his magazine, trying to aim in front of the craft to account for its speed in flight. The drone veered off course and crashed, blowing up about 75 yards from where he was standing, Sergeant Kravchuk said in an interview.

“We heard it, we saw it, then we opened fire,” he said.

Members of a Ukrainian drone unit preparing last week to change the batteries on a drone while hunting for Russian positions to target with artillery.
Members of a Ukrainian drone unit preparing last week to change the batteries on a drone while hunting for Russian positions to target with artillery.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

New York Times October 23, 2022

Why Russia Stole Potemkin’s Bones From Ukraine

The 18th-century military commander and lover of Catherine the Great helped conquer Ukraine and looms large in the version of history the Kremlin uses to justify the war.

A portrait of Prince Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin.
A portrait of Prince Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin.Credit…Fine Art Images/Heritage Images, via Getty Images

KYIV, Ukraine — With Ukrainian forces bearing down on the occupied port city of Kherson this week, the Kremlin’s puppet rulers dispatched a team to an 18th-century stone cathedral on a special mission — to steal the bones of Prince Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin.

The memory of the 18th-century conqueror is vivid for those in the Kremlin bent on restoring the Russian imperium. It was Potemkin who persuaded his lover, Catherine the Great, to annex Crimea in 1783. The founder of Kherson and Odesa, he sought the creation of a “New Russia,” a dominion that stretched across what is now southern Ukraine along the Black Sea.

When President Vladimir V. Putin invaded Ukraine in February with the goal of restoring part of a long-lost empire, he invoked Potemkin’s vision.

Now, with Mr. Putin’s army having failed in its march toward Odesa and threatened with ouster from Kherson, his grand plans are in jeopardy. But among Kremlin loyalists, the belief in what they view as Russia’s rightful empire still runs deep.

So it was that a team descended into a crypt below a solitary white marble gravestone inside St. Catherine’s Cathedral.

To reach Potemkin’s remains, they would have opened a trapdoor in the floor and climbed down a narrow passageway, according to people who have visited the crypt. There they would have found a simple wooden coffin on a raised dais, marked with a single cross.

Under the lid of the coffin, a small black bag held Potemkin’s skull and bones, carefully numbered.

Kremlin proxies have made no effort to hide the theft — quite the contrary. The Russian-appointed head of the Kherson region, Vladimir Saldo, said that Potemkin’s remains were taken from the city, on the west bank of the Dnipro River, to an undisclosed location east of the Dnipro, as Ukrainian troops edge closer.

“We transported to the left bank the remains of the holy prince that were in St. Catherine’s Cathedral,” Mr. Saldo said in an interview broadcast on Russian television. “We transported Potemkin himself.”

Local Ukrainian activists confirmed that the church had been looted and that, along with the bones, statues of venerated Russian heroes had been removed. By the count of the historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of the book “Catherine the Great and Potemkin,” it was the ninth time Potemkin’s restful peace had been interrupted.

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Mr. Montefiore said in an interview that shortly after his book’s publication in 2000, the Kremlin contacted him to say how much Mr. Putin admired his work. But Mr. Montefiore said on Thursday that Mr. Putin’s reading of history was deeply flawed, and that his war has reduced to ruins Ukrainian cities such as Mariupol and Mykolaiv that Potemkin and early Russian imperialists helped to build.

Vladimir Saldo, the Kremlin-appointed chief of the Kherson region, speaking in Moscow’s Red Square in September, in a photo provided by Russian state media. Mr. Saldo says Potemkin’s remains have been taken from the city of Kherson.
Vladimir Saldo, the Kremlin-appointed chief of the Kherson region, speaking in Moscow’s Red Square in September, in a photo provided by Russian state media. Mr. Saldo says Potemkin’s remains have been taken from the city of Kherson.Credit…Pool photo by Maksim Blinov

(The term “Potemkin village” was coined to describe an impressive facade constructed to hide an undesirable state of affairs, although Mr. Montefiore says the term was incorrectly ascribed to the prince, whose achievements in present-day Ukraine were real.)

“Potemkin would have despised Putin and everything he stands for,” he said. Potemkin and Empress Catherine, he said, regarded that area as a cosmopolitan window onto the Mediterranean, populated by a vibrant mix of people of different ethnicities and national backgrounds.

The destruction of the cities that Potemkin helped build, he said, has cast Putin in the role of destroying those earlier triumphs.

The plundering of Potemkin’s grave is of a piece with Russia’s efforts to obliterate Ukrainian identity. Russian forces have destroyed and systematically looted Ukrainian treasures, including Ukrainian Orthodox churches, national monuments and cultural heritage sites. They sent specialists to abscond with gold antiquities from the Scythian culture dating back 2,300 years.

As of Oct. 24, UNESCO, the United Nations agency, had documented damage and destruction in more than 200 cultural locations.

But the bones of Potemkin, a famed military commander and statesman, have added resonance for the Kremlin. Mr. Montefiore, who chronicled the “outrageously libertine lifestyle and exuberant political triumphs” of Potemkin and Catherine, noted the special place in history the pair hold for Mr. Putin and the ultranationalists, as they try to meld “the gilded majesty of the Romanov empire with the grim glory of a Stalinist superpower into a peculiar modern hybrid.”

Russian rulers have not always viewed the legacy of Potemkin and Catherine admiringly — a fact underscored by the story of what has happened to Potemkin’s remains over the centuries.

When Potemkin died in 1791, the grieving empress ordered a grand funeral and had his body brought to Kherson, where it was displayed uncovered in a specially constructed tomb in a crypt, Mr. Montefiore wrote.

By the time Catherine died in 1796, it had become something of a pilgrimage site, infuriating her son and successor, Paul I, who ruled Russia until his assassination in 1801. He ordered that Potemkin be buried in an unmarked grave, with some reports suggesting that he directed a local official to smash and scatter Potemkin’s bones in the nearby Devil’s Gorge.

For years, it was unclear if the orders were carried out.

It was not until 1818 that a search of the crypt established that the remains were still there. In 1859 and again in 1873 the grave was opened again to determine that the remains were indeed those of the great prince. A telltale triangular hole in the skull, left there as part of the embalming process, established that they were.

As the Bolshevik Revolution raged, the crypt at St. Catherine’s was opened yet again and, as Mr. Montefiore noted in his book, there were yellowed photographs of revolutionaries holding up the remains.

In 1930, a young writer visited St. Catherine’s, which the Communists had renamed Kherson’s Anti-Religious Museum.

He found two strange exhibits holding “the skull of Catherine II’s lover Potemkin” and “the bones of Catherine II’s lover Potemkin.” Soon after the discovery, the remains were buried yet again in the crypt.

The grave was opened again in the 1980s by officials seeking to confirm the identity of the remains.

In researching his book, Mr. Montefiore went to St. Catherine’s himself to see the remains, which he wrote were still kept in a simple black bag inside the wooden coffin.

It is not clear where they are now or what the Kremlin plans to do with them. Mr. Montefiore fully expects Potemkin’s remains to make their way to Russia, where they could feature in “a chillingly crass and television spectacular of ultranationalism.”

New York Times October 27, 2022

Russian journalist and Putin’s rumoured goddaughter flees to Lithuania

Ksenia Sobchak, media personality and daughter of Vladimir Putin’s one-time boss, was subject of arrest order

The Russian journalist and TV personality Ksenia Sobchak – the daughter of Vladimir Putin’s one-time boss – has fled to Lithuania, intelligence services in Vilnius said, after police in Moscow raided one of her homes.

A well-known media figure in Russia, Sobchak first became famous as a reality show presenter before embarking on a career in journalism. She also ran for the Russian presidency in 2018, a move her critics said was a publicity stunt intended to help the Kremlin create the impression of competitive elections.

She is the daughter of the former mayor of St Petersburg Anatoly Sobchak, whom Putin has previously described as his mentor. She is rumoured to be Putin’s goddaughter, and though that is unconfirmed her longstanding family connection to the Russian president has been a source of mistrust among sections of the opposition.

Russian media said Sobchak had fled Russia on Tuesday night, crossing the Belarus-Lithuania border after tricking the Russian authorities by buying plane tickets from Moscow to Dubai via Istanbul.

In CCTV footage circulating online, Sobchak can be seen covering her face and wearing a cap as she crosses what appears to be the Lithuanian border on foot.

“Without any doubt, she is [in Lithuania] … I confirm the fact,” the head of the country’s counterintelligence service, Darius Jauniškis, , told a local radio station on Thursday morning.

He said Sobchak had crossed the border on her Israeli passport. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia introduced an entry ban for Russian citizens holding tourist visas last month.

“As an Israeli citizen, with a valid passport, she doesn’t need a visa and can enter Lithuania and stay here for up to 90 days,” Jauniskis said.

According to the Russian state news agency Tass, the country’s security services had an order to arrest Sobchak as a suspect in the same criminal case as her media director Kirill Sukhanov.

A court in Moscow jailed Sukhanov on Wednesday on charges of trying to extort 11m roubles (£154,000) from Sergey Chemezov, the head of the Russian state defence corporation Rostec and a former KGB general close to Putin.

Sobchak and the prosecutor’s office have not formally commented on her status in the investigation.

Nor has she commented on her movements, but she said on Telegram on Wednesday that the case against Sukhanov was politically motivated and linked to her Ostorozhno Media project. She called his arrest “another instance of pressure against the media”.

Sukhanov is the commercial director of Ostorozhno Media, one of the only remaining news projects operating inside Russia that has criticised the Kremlin since the start of the war in Ukraine.

Sobchak suggested on Telegram that his arrest was linked to a documentary series on the use of torture in Russian prisons.

If officially charged, the move against Sobchak would represent another escalation in the Kremlin’s crackdown on dissent, as the authorities seek to further narrow any room for criticism in the country.

“Sobchak always tried to sit on both chairs,” Alexander Rodniansky, a prominent Ukrainian-born movie director and longtime friend, wrote on his Instagram channel on Thursday, referring to her journalism while maintaining personal connections to the ruling elite.

“That might have been possible before, but times have changed … And now she is fleeing from a fabricated case against her.”

Physics Nobel Prize winner Serge Haroche on quantum computing: ‘There are still many difficulties to overcome’

The French physicist defends research as an end in itself, and warns that the advances announced by private companies should be taken with a grain of salt

The French physicist Serge Haroche, during an interview in a hotel in Buenos Aires, on Friday, October 21.
The French physicist Serge Haroche, during an interview in a hotel in Buenos Aires, on Friday, October 21.SILVINA FRYDLEWSKY

One may say that his motivation was to kill the father. Serge Haroche (Casablanca, 1944) was one of the winners of the 2012 Nobel Prize in physics because he managed to trap and manipulate individual particles while preserving their quantum nature. His achievement was inconceivable. Erwin Schrödinger himself, one of the fathers of quantum physics, had stated almost a century before that working on a single particle was impossible. Schrödinger’s solution was the principle of quantum superposition: as he could not isolate and observe a physical system like the electron, he would assume that it existed in all its theoretically possible states. Thus, his famous cat came into existence: locked in a box, it was alive and dead until it could be observed. Then, Haroche came along and changed Schrödinger’s “and” for an “or.”

From the first computer to the fiber optic connection, the great technological advances of our time have become a reality thanks to quantum mechanics, and the most recent prize from the Swedish Academy, awarded on October 6, once again rewarded an advance in this field. Three physicists managed to control the communication between particles that were hundreds of miles away. Until that moment, what was known as quantum entanglement (the communication between particles at a distance without any physical link) had been a mystery to science.

“The progress has been fantastic,” says Haroche, who visited Buenos Aires recently, invited by the Organization of Ibero-American States for the celebration of the International Week of Science. Retired from research, the French physicist and professor, former director of the physics department at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris and former director of the Collège de France was in the city for a very specific purpose: to defend research as an end in itself in the face of the urgency of the market and the constant demand for results.

Question. Measuring individual quantum systems was a breakthrough, something unimaginable for the pioneers of quantum mechanics. What does that teach us?

Answer. It teaches us that the way we look at science depends on the technology that you have access to. The reason that Schrödinger or Einstein said that this was impossible to see was because they couldn’t conceive the technology we have available now.

Q. What doors were opened by those investigations?

A. Our work on quantum technology was based on the idea that we could use quantum technology to achieve tasks which are not possible according to classical physics. One example is atomic clocks, more precise than the ones currently used on GPS systems. Another field is quantum communication using entanglement to share cryptographic keys that could not be spied on for secret communications. These fields are very active. And, of course, there’s the field of the quantum computer, which is the hardest one to achieve because there’s a lot of challenges to meet before it can be possible.

Q. The Nobel Prize was awarded to recent developments on quantum communication. What do those achievements mean?

A. I am very happy about that because the investigators have been friends of mine for many years. Basic features of entanglement have been explored for 40 years, trying to demonstrate what happens when photons remain connected by that immaterial link called entanglement even when they’re kilometers away. At that time there was no application for that experiment. It took 20 years until experiments like ours showed that it’s possible to manipulate isolated quantum systems. Now, quantum communication has become very fashionable and has been improved. Now people will believe that it could be useful for something.

Q. You have very strong views about what we consider “useful” science.

A. I think it’s important to realize that things that we think are done only for curiosity end being useful in unexpected ways. Think about one of the great breakthroughs of this area: the laser. Its seminal idea was given by Einstein 40 years before the first one was built. And before the first laser appeared nobody believed we would be able to connect the world using optical fiber, across the ocean with laser beams. Ten years after the first laser was invented we were able to communicate across thousands of kilometers using quantum repeaters. But the inventor of the laser had no idea this would happen. The laser is a result from basic science, something made possible by it and then applied on specific research later.

Haroche, during the interview in a hotel in Buenos Aires.
Haroche, during the interview in a hotel in Buenos Aires.SILVINA FRYDLEWSKY (SILVINA FRYDLEWSKY)

Q. We’ve been hearing about huge steps in the area of quantum computing in the last couple of years. What do you think about companies like Google or IBM that say that we’ve reached what they call quantum supremacy?

A. There are many difficulties to overcome. The first one is quantum superposition, it’s very fragile. For the time being we have been able to control few particles at a time and there are millions of particles that need to be controlled for this to be achieved. In my opinion there is a lot of hype, a lot of overselling because of this competition between companies. The work they’re doing is very interesting, but in the meantime there are a lot of things to be done. It’s a very interesting research, but it shouldn’t be oversold. The history of science tells us that what happens in the development of new technologies and new devices is often surprising and not what people were originally trying to get. The time lag between basic science and application is often long and comes with a lot of unexpected twists. We should be careful.

Q. Are companies not careful?

A. No. I don’t think so. I feel they’re betting on being able to show a marketable product. I’m looking at this not from the point of view of someone that needs to make a profit, I see it from a purely scientific perspective. We need to be cautious because it can backfire; you cannot talk about something that will happen in two or three years because these developments take much longer and many things can happen along the way.

Q. It’s not something we’ll have in our phones anytime soon…

A. No. But this also explains the big challenges a quantum computer should be able to beat. The phone you have in your hands right now is more powerful than the computers that were monitoring the first man walking on the Moon. The progress has been fantastic. The next step, taking it to big numbers, is always much more difficult.

Haroche, after the interview.

Q. What has changed in the way science is done in our century?

A. Scientists like Einstein or Schrödinger were supported, they had a good salary. It is true that research cost less back then, but things have become more difficult, more costly. And the competition between scientists has also become stronger; now we have tens of thousands of people competing for very limited funding. The whole system has become more difficult to work in. It’s a problem: we need young people to invest their creativity into science, but opportunities for them are very limited.

Q. What is the role of politics on investigation?

A. Governments should understand that science is a long-term adventure. What is lacking is a long-term commitment to science that should not depend on political changes. We tend to think that this happens in countries with unstable political systems, but we are seeing it elsewhere, like the United States. Science was in a very bad shape during the Trump administration, and this is very worrying, because we need science to face the challenges we are facing today, like climate change. We need a constant policy to be strong for decades, and that can’t happen without a political commitment.

Q. Do you consider science has lost its authority in today’s world?

A. Yes. Science is threatened. Scientists question the truths that govern our time. But that is a rational doubt, it is doubt based on defying theory when it doesn’t explain a fact. That’s why conspiracy theories are perverse: they are doubt based on the idea that we can defy everything with opinions, and that opinions are as valid as theory.

Q. Why is that?

A. I think the explanation should be given by anthropology or sociology, but one explanation can be that we’re going into a dangerous phase of globalization, that has left people aside, feeling helpless and isolated from the developments promised to our world. So they started criticizing everything. Then you can make small communities, bubbles that share beliefs. Scientific tools are very difficult to include in this because science is universal, it’s for everyone because it’s objective and rational.

Sue Black, the forensic anthropologist who hunts pedophiles by the shape of their hands

The Scottish scientist and Life Peer is leading a European project to create an artificial intelligence recognition system for use by the continental police forces

Forensic anthropologist Sue Black.
Forensic anthropologist Sue Black.PAUL WILKINSON

In 2006, a girl in the UK said that her father was abusing her. Her mother didn’t believe her. The girl decided to place a camera in her room. In the middle of the night, her father entered the room and abused her again. In the video footage captured by the girl, only the forearms and hands of her abuser could be seen. The police called in Sue Black, a world-renowned forensic anthropologist who had spent decades identifying nameless corpses, first in her native UK and then in some of the the worst war zones on the planet. “Can you identify the man in the video?” the police asked.

The rest of the story would provide enough for a documentary series and underlines how the field of forensic science is changing – because crimes are also changing. Fewer and fewer crimes are committed in the real world and more and more are taking place in the virtual world, particularly scams and sexual abuse, says Black during an interview with EL PAÍS. “If you’re robbing a bank, you don’t film yourself robbing the bank. But if you’re going to abuse a child, often you will film it because you want to relive the experience, you want to share it with like-minded people, or, in fact, as a commodity that you can sell,” says the president of Saint John’s College at Oxford University, who recently published an award-winning book detailing real life cases titled Written in Bone: hidden stories in what we leave behind.

In the 2006 case, the camera that the girl left recording in her room at night emitted infrared light. “When infrared light touches the skin, it interacts with the deoxygenated blood that sits inside your veins. And your veins stand out like black tramlines. So we could see in this nighttime image the pattern of veins on the back of the hand, in the forearm of the perpetrator, and nobody knew what to do with this.” Black explains. “So the police came to me saying: ‘You’re an anatomist. What can you tell us about veins?’ And I said, Well, the one thing we know for certain about veins is that the veins on the back of your right hand will be different to the pattern of veins on the back of your left hand, and if an identical twin, they will be different. As far as we’re aware, there are no two patterns of veins as yet that are the same.”

Black’s analysis confirmed that the girl’s father was the aggressor and she herself explained it to the jury. It was the first time such evidence had been admitted in a UK criminal court. The verdict, though, was returned not guilty. Stunned, Black asked the prosecutor what they had done wrong. “You didn’t do anything wrong,” the prosecutor replied. “Your evidence was absolutely fine. The jury didn’t believe the girl because she didn’t cry.”

Since that case, the forensic anthropologist has focused on identifying criminals through veins, knuckles, freckles, scars and other unmistakable features of their hands. Her reports have been admitted as evidence in numerous trials and have contributed to life sentences for 30 offenders in the United Kingdom. Black says that in about 82% of the cases in which she and her team identified the defendant, they changed their plea and confessed to the crime. “And that was an incredible step forward for us because it meant young girls now weren’t having to go into court to give evidence against their father like the young girl we had,” she says.

One of the most high-profile cases to cross Black’s desk was that of Richard Huckle, who was handed 22 life sentences after confessing to at least 71 assaults on minors, most of them committed in Thailand. In 2019, Huckle was stabbed to death by another inmate with a dagger made from a toothbrush.

In 2018, Black acknowledged having been abused as a child. She did not report her assailant because he was a family friend. In any case, she said it “had no influence on my professional choices. When I started identifying the hands of pedophiles in 2006, my career was already consolidated, so there is no correlation.”

Black’s team recently received a prestigious European Union grant of €2.5 million to develop an artificial intelligence-based hand identification system. “Your vein pattern doesn’t change: it’s set down when you’re a fetus. What we want to be able to do is to train the computer to be able to find a hand within a video or an image, to then be able, if you can see that hand, to extract the vein pattern or extract the skin crease pattern, to be able to do all the things that we would normally have to do as an expert witness,” she explains.

A visualization of arm vein patterns using different techniques.
A visualization of arm vein patterns using different techniques.ADAMS KONG

Black’s team are training the algorithm with thousands of photos of hands provided by anonymous volunteers: only the gender and approximate age are known. There are two or three images of each volunteer and the objective is for the machine to be able to identify one person among thousands, with a miniscule margin of error.

This biometric data could be added to other more traditional evidence tests such as DNA and fingerprinting. “If you can load all this information into a unified database, fingerprints, wrinkles, veins… the chances of being mistaken for another individual could be as high as one in many millions,” Black points out.

The researcher believes that the first prototype may be ready in two years. Then it would be delivered to Interpol or Europol so that they are able to identify criminals with a hand scanner. This type of recognition is on the rise, says Black. There are similar studies in Germany, India and Japan. The first paper on this technique was published by South Korean scientists in 2000, according to a study carried out by the scientific office advising the US president.

In her new book, Black takes a tour of the human skeleton, recalling bone by bone many of the cases she’s been involved in since she was a forensic anatomy student in the early 1980s.

Her father was a hunter and from the age of five it was she who gutted the rabbits and plucked the pheasants. At the age of 12, she started working in a butcher shop. She spent her teenage years “up to my elbows in blood and muscle and bone and guts.” When she went to university, she took up biology without having a clear idea of what career path to pursue. In her second year, she was asked if he wanted to help out on a case. An unidentified body had been found off the coast of Scotland. It had been in the water for more than two weeks. It wasn’t possible to obtain fingerprints and the face was mangled, possibly by a ship’s propeller. Black accepted and analyzed the corpse. It was a young man. With Black’s assistance it was possible to identify his height and his ethnic background. A birthmark was also found under the left nipple. They identified a missing person with the same characteristics and asked his mother, who said her son had no birthmarks. But when they asked the missing man’s girlfriend, she confirmed he did have one, under the left nipple. The mother refused to accept the evidence and the case was closed without an official identification announcement.

Black is perhaps the only person in the world ever to have traveled with two decomposing human heads in her carry-on without being stopped. The Italian Carabinieri had asked her to help identify two victims of Gianfranco Stevanin, a serial killer known as the “Monster of Terrazzo,” who killed six women in northern Italy in the early 990s. Today, that odyssey would not have been necessary and a simple scan could have been sent by email to make the identification, Black notes.

The case that affected Black the most occurred during the war in Kosovo. A farmer and his family had left their village and taken to the nearby hills to avoid the bombing, returning only when they needed supplies. One day, the farmer was driving his tractor with the whole family traveling behind in a trailer when a rocket-propelled grenade struck. His wife, sister, grandmother and eight children were all killed. He was shot by a sniper, but survived.

A year later, Black was called in by the United Nations to find the remains of the family and determine whether a war crime had been committed. “And what [the father] wanted more than anything was a body bag back for each of his family members, because his biggest concern was that because they were all buried together, his fear was that his God would not be able to find them, and if he could give them each a grave then God would be able to find each of those family members,” she recalls. There were hardly any remains to work with, but the forensic anthropologist, an expert in child anatomy, managed to identify all but two: 14-year-old twin boys. The remains could not be separated and the DNA was identical. One of the corpses was wearing a Mickey Mouse T-shirt. The father was asked if any of his children liked the cartoon character and without hesitation he said the name of one of his sons, who was obsessed with Mickey Mouse. “I think my whole reason for being in Kosovo was that case, that I was in the right place at the right time to help that man with what he needed to find his own closure.”

A portrait of Sue Black by Ken Currie titled 'Unknown Man' at the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh.
A portrait of Sue Black by Ken Currie titled ‘Unknown Man’ at the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh.KEN CURRIE

Black was recently created The Baroness Black of Strome, when she was appointed as a crossbencher Life Peer in the House of Lords. She is nonpartisan and says her remit is to provide expert opinion on science, education and immigration law, for example, finding better ways to determine the age of an unaccompanied minor with medical tests. She also makes television appearances and even has a portrait in the National Galleries of Scotland, titled Unidentified Man, in which she poses in front of a body covered by a green sheet in a dissection room.

Black says he has donated her body to the anatomy department at the University of Dundee for students to practice dissection on. “I want every single bit of me to be dissected. I don’t want anything left unexplored, and I want it to form the basis of this young people’s education that they can remember, like I do, the cadaver that I learned from. I’d quite like my bones to be strung up into a hanging skeleton. And that way I can be in the dissecting room and I can carry on teaching. My daughters are very pragmatic. They grew up in the kind of environment where my husband and I would happily talk about such things. And it was my youngest daughter, who is the trainee lawyer, who said, actually mum it’s quite cool because normally when parents die, all you can do is visit a grave site or whatever. We could actually come and visit you.”

‘A vice so many have’: Pope admits nuns and priests not immune to porn

Francis urges use of social media to promote Christian message but says vice of pornography, even among clergy, allows devil to enter

Pope Francis
‘It is a vice that so many people have,’ says Pope Francis of digital pornography. Photograph: Evandro Inetti/ZUMA Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock

Pope Francis has warned seminarians against the “devil” of digital pornography, while admitting that watching online porn is also a vice of priests and nuns.

The pontiff made the remarks during a convention with seminarians in Rome on Monday, in response to a question about how a new generation of clergy immersed in social media can use digital tools to “share the joy about being Christian, without forgetting our identity or being too exposed and arrogant”.

In the full text of the event, published by the Vatican on Wednesday, Francis urged the seminarians to use social media “to advance, to communicate” while warning them about the dangers, namely digital pornography.


“I will not say, ‘raise your hand if you have had at least one experience of this’,” the pope said. “But if each of you think you have had the experience or temptation … It is a vice that so many people have. So many laymen, so many laywomen, and also priests and nuns. The devil enters from there. And I’m not just talking about digital pornography like that of child abuse, this is already degeneracy. Dear brothers, pay attention to this.”

Despite having 64.3 million followers on Twitter, the pope, 85, said he did not use social media tools “because I arrived too late”.

A team of people manage the pope’s various social media accounts.

In late 2020, the Vatican was left in an embarrassing predicament when it was forced to “seek explanations from Instagram” after Pope Francis’s official Instagram account liked a photo of a Brazilian model, Natalia Garibotto.

The “like” from the pope’s account was visible on the photo on Garibotto’s page for several days before being unliked.

Nevertheless, Garibotto’s management company, COY Co, made the most of the publicity and reposted the image on its own Instagram account with a message saying that the company had “received the Pope’s official blessing”. Garibotto, who has over 3.3 million followers, joked: “At least I’m going to heaven.”

The Vatican said at the time that “we can exclude that the ‘like’ came from the Holy See”.

Photo added.

The Omnipotence of China’s Xi Jinping: “Chairman of Everything”

Xi Jinping is the most powerful man in the world.
Xi Jinping is the most powerful man in the world. Illustration: Nigel Buchanan / DER SPIEGEL

“Chairman of Everything”The Omnipotence of China’s Xi Jinping

He has transformed his country into a surveillance state, isolated it from the rest of the world during the pandemic and expanded his foreign policy. Now, China’s Xi Jinping is set to become ruler for life. Why is he so beloved by his people?

Beijing state television sent a team all the way to the southern Chinese coastal province of Fujian to film a profile of an aspiring young politician. A chubby-cheeked party member, he was considered at the time, 1993, to be an up-and-coming political talent and he had just recently been named president of the local party school. His name: Xi Jinping.

The television crew set up their cameras and filmed him frying up some shrimp in a wok. They then shot an interview with him as his young daughter sat in his lap wearing a pink stocking cap. In the clip, the crew suddenly starts giggling: “Did she go pee-pee?” a woman asks as she brings over a towel. “Yes, she went pee-pee,” says Xi smiling. The father’s pants were wet – and it was all caught on camera.

Almost 30 years have passed since then. The chubby cheeks have remained, but approachability is no longer a characteristic associated with Xi Jinping. Nothing is left to chance anymore in China. Today, television images of the head of state and party show him before cheering masses who spring to their feet in unison when he approaches and cheer enthusiastically for minutes at a time.

It is a cult of personality just like the one in neighboring North Korea. Xi is omnipresent

He is head of state, leader of the party and commander-in-chief of the military - and the ruler of 1.4 billion people.

He is head of state, leader of the party and commander-in-chief of the military – and the ruler of 1.4 billion people. Foto: Xie Huanchi / Xinhua News Agency / picture all

When he opens up the newspaper in the morning, it’s usually his own name that he finds himself reading. During the 2022 Winter Olympics, the propagandists at the People’s Daily managed to begin each of the 12 headlines on the frontpage with the same three characters: “Xi,” “Jin” and “Ping.”

Xi Jinping is the most powerful man in the world and the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. As head of state, general secretary of the Communist Party and commander-in-chief of the country’s military, Xi occupies all three of the most important offices in the country. He rules over 1.4 billion people and an economy that will likely soon exceed that of the United States. Xi exerts control over the most soldiers and the largest navy in the world. At the wave of a finger, huge metropolises with millions of residents are placed under lockdown, and to implement his zero-COVID policy, the citizens of China are under near total surveillance. There is no organized political opposition in the country against which he must prove or measure himself.

And his influence extends all the way to Germany. For companies like Volkswagen or Mercedes, China is the key sales market. In early November, Olaf Scholz will be traveling to Beijing for the first time as German chancellor, and despite the ongoing debate about the German economy’s unsustainable dependence on China, he will likely bring along a significant delegation of German executives.

Xi’s Communist Party is the cornerstone of the country, a vast institution with 97 million members, far more than the entire population of Germany. The party leads “the government, the military, civilians the academic; east, west, south, north and center,” as it self-confidently proclaims. And Xi Jinping is the avowed “core” of this party. His ideology, “Xi Jinping Thought,” has been enshrined in the constitution. It is a level of power that even Russian President Vladimir Putin can only dream of. Xi has remained one of the Kremlin ruler’s last friends in the wake of the Ukraine invasion.

On Sunday in Beijing, the 20th Communist Party congress got underway, and if everything goes according to plan, Xi will emerge from the gathering with more power than any Chinese leader has held for decades. Party leaders are to grant Xi a third term in office, which represents a break with tradition: Following Mao’s death, obstacles had been put in place to prevent a single person from ever again amassing so much power in China.

But when Xi is named head of the party for the third time, it seems unlikely that anyone in China will be able to dethrone him for as long as he lives. The office of party head in China is more important than the title of president. And Xi is 69 years old. He could continue to rule China for decades to come – just like the emperors of old.

The State Council holding a reception to celebrate the 73rd anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

The State Council holding a reception to celebrate the 73rd anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Foto: Huang Jingwen / Xinhua News Agency / eyevine / laif

For a long time, though, there was nothing to indicate that he would be the one to amass such power, which makes his career all the more remarkable. Xi was seen as a rather unremarkable party cadre with no clear political profile. Perhaps that explains why politicians, political scientists, journalists and business executives around the world were hopeful when he took office that he would introduce liberal reforms. They were yearning for a kind of Chinese Gorbachev. He turned out to be quite the opposite: a man who has isolated China from the world and pursues revisionist ambitions.

Who, then, is Xi Jinping? What factors have combined to make him the man he is? How did he get power, how does he wield it – and what does he now want to do with it?

Summers in the poor inland province of Shaanxi are often so hot that people can only find protection from the heat underground. In Liangjiahe, a remote village surrounded by sorghum fields, farmers have excavated cave dwellings in the yellow loess cliffs. Beneath the vaulted arch of one of these caves, it is comfortably cool and it smells earthy. The ground is trodden down to a smooth floor. A raised bed made of brick, can be heated by a stove in the winter. Above the second of the four berths hangs a black-and-white photo showing a man with peach fuzz on his upper lip, his eyes looking into the middle distance. It’s Xi Jinping.

This is where China’s current president spent his youth, without electricity or running water. That period – from 1969 to 1975 – left its mark on him. When he arrived in Liangjiahe as a 15-year-old, “I was perplexed and lost,” he wrote in his autobiographical essay “Son of the Yellow Earth.” “When I left at 22, I had firmly established my life’s purpose and I was full of confidence.” His time there, Xi wrote, “planted a firm belief in me: to do practical things for the people.”

Such pronouncements, of course, serve a clear propagandistic purpose. But they have also become a key element of the image that China has developed of Xi. In that narrative, he appears as someone who has “eaten bitterness,” as the Chinese say, meaning he is familiar with the lives of the poor. It is on the strength of this legend that much of his political success has been built

It is also true that his father, Xi Zhongxun, was an early revolutionary and counts among the Communist Party’s Eight Immortals. That makes Xi a so-called princeling, a scion of China’s red nobility. He was born into the insulated quarters of the party elite in Beijing, where he grew up with his siblings. Their parents raised the children in an authoritarian manner.

It was a privileged childhood, but one that came to a sudden end when his father fell into disfavor in 1962 after he authorized the publication of a book that Mao found to be inappropriate. Xi Zhongxun was relieved of all of his posts and forced to go to work in a tractor factory. And it got even worse for him during the Cultural Revolution, launched in 1966. Members of the Red Guards abducted and humiliated Xi Zhongxun. He was locked in prison, and later spent years in confinement in Beijing.

The Xi family, with father Xi Zhongxun in a wheelchair.

The Xi family, with father Xi Zhongxun in a wheelchair. Foto: Xinhua / eyevine / Xinhua News Agency / eyevine / d

His family was also persecuted. A half-sister to Xi Jinping lost her life, likely through suicide. Like millions of other youth, Xi Jinping was banished to the countryside to learn from the farmers – which is how he ended up in Liangjiahe, the village with the cave dwellings.

It has since been developed into a kind of open-air museum, with former village residents having been relocated to newly constructed residential buildings down in the valley. To shelter from the August sun, a group of schoolchildren has sat down in the shade of the village sports field as the teacher says: “Did you already know how much Xi Jinping loves to read? He arrived here with a box full of books.” In the small blacksmith’s shop that Xi allegedly helped set up, a man is making soup ladles as souvenirs for the tourists. A mural shows Xi giving instructions to the farmers. In the village, gardeners are growing eggplants and chilis and the zinnias are blooming.

In one of the caves where Xi lived back then, a party delegation from Tibet is marveling at the collection of books that he allegedly read: Marx and Engels, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Sun Tzu. On the wall hangs a framed copy of the certificate documenting his admission to the party, dated January 10, 1974. He had to apply for membership 10 times before he was finally accepted, with party officials hesitating to take on the son of an outcast. That same year, Xi became party secretary of Liangjiahe, the first rung of the career ladder for the future politician.

Why, though, did Xi decide to devote his life to the party that had ripped apart his family and plunged it into suffering? He had all the reason in the world to hate the party.

“The way Xi Jinping himself tells the story, he believes in the party so much precisely because his faith in communism was shaken,” says Joseph Torigian, who teaches at the American University in Washington and has written a biography of Xi’s father. A lost and then rediscovered faith is stronger than anything else, Xi is reported to have once said. He became “redder than the red” in order to survive, a former friend of his told an American diplomat, according to a dispatch published in 2009 by the whistleblowing platform WikiLeaks.

“The lesson he seems to have learned from the Cultural Revolution is not that you have to limit the Party,” says Torigian, “but that you have to prevent a situation from getting out of control.” This approach is fundamentally different than the one taken by Mao, with whom Xi is often compared because of the amount of power he has amassed. Whereas Mao at times ruled through chaos, Xi wants stability and order at all costs.

State founder Mao greeting soldiers from the People's Liberation Army

State founder Mao greeting soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army Foto: Heritage Images / Heritage Images / ullstein bild

Xi’s maxims could be summed up as follows: Whereas party cadres owe the people honest work, the Chinese people, in exchange, owe allegiance to the party. Under Xi, freedoms have been drastically curtailed, with society becoming much more uniform. He is intent on driving out a disposition among Chinese that tends toward anarchism and is frequently described with the phrase “cha bu duo,” which can be translated as: “Close enough.”

Cha bu duo describes a culturally rooted laxness that makes China so livable: The last bit of effort isn’t absolutely necessary, it’s too onerous. We don’t have to be perfectly precise, there’s no real need. You bought the wrong ticket? The conductor will turn a blind eye. One green sock and one red sock? No big deal. Cha bu duo means that a detour is always available if the path ahead is blocked.

Xi, it would seem, can’t stand it. Under his leadership, draconian laws and decrees have been issued that have drawn the societal corset tighter and tighter. The new national intelligence law, for example, which can essentially force every Chinese citizen to become a spy. Or the particularly ambiguously worded security law, which defines almost any activity at all as a potential threat to national security. According to the law, China is now being defended in cyberspace, outer space, at the bottom of the ocean and in the polar regions. A country that is ever watchful. No more cha bu duo.

This fixation on security is perhaps most brutally apparent in Xinjiang, homeland of the Uighurs. Until 2014, when Xi traveled to the region, officials had primarily focused on economic development to pacify the ethnic conflicts that erupted repeatedly. But Xi prescribed an “ideological cure” for the Muslims of Xinjiang and demanded that the Communist Party show “no mercy.” The hardliner Chen Quanguo, who was sent to Xinjiang to lead the party there, quickly established a police state that has no equal in the world today. Hundreds of thousands of people were locked away in reeducation camps.

Xi’s goal was the harmonious coexistence of China’s ethnicities like “the seeds of a pomegranate” – enveloped within the red shell of the party. He wants to transform the Muslims of Xinjiang into obedient, docile children of the party, working for the nation’s purpose without a thought for any other ideology than his own – and certainly not for Islam.

The Hong Kong democracy movement has encountered a similar mercilessness, if not the same level of brutality, in the last three years. The city, with its rejection of the party’s authority and desire to retain control of its own political fate, was likely seen by Xi as a provocation. He broke Hong Kong’s resistance by forcing a new national security law upon it in 2020. Since then, freedoms have been massively curtailed and opposition activists are either in prison, have left the country or no longer dare to speak out.

The degree to which Xi has changed China shouldn’t come as a complete surprise, since he laid out his vision for the country early on. Just a few months after he took office, Chinese journalist Gao Yu leaked Document Number Nine, for which she was sentenced to five years in prison. In the memo, sent to all important Communist Party officials, party leaders warned against ideas with which “anti-Chinese forces from the West” were seeking to infiltrate the country. China, the document states, must resist ideas such as “universal values,” “civil society” and “the Western conception of journalism” with all its might, since they weaken the party’s primacy in the political landscape. Document Number Nine was essentially Xi’s roadmap.

Those who fall into line – and this is the flipside of the Chinese dystopia – can expect a comfortable life and are provided with better government services than any preceding generation. In that sense, Xi is a convinced socialist; he focuses his policies on those who have less. One of his priorities was combatting rural poverty, and in 2021, he proudly declared that he had won that battle.

His new economic campaign, announced in 2021, is focused on the growing middle class and is called “Common Prosperity.” It envisions greater redistribution combined with stronger worker rights and affordable rents. For large internet companies and their super-wealthy founders, by contrast, a more challenging age has dawned. To help fund Xi’s campaign, they donated billions – allegedly voluntarily.

Xi Jinping’s career got going after the end of the Cultural Revolution – with the help of his father, who had been rehabilitated by that point. Early on, Xi gained a reputation as a politician clean of corruption.

In 1985, the party sent him to Fujian, one of the provinces in which China’s economic miracle got its start. During the reform era, with its dizzyingly high growth rates, those with ideas, chutzpah and connections – and with a nose for bribing the right people – could become fantastically wealthy. In 1999, a vast network of corruption was unearthed in the province in which a single businessman had bribed more than 300 officials.

One of the few who managed to emerge from this morass unsullied was Xi Jinping. The leadership in Beijing summoned him – he had risen to become governor of Fujian by then – to deliver a report on the mess but they left him in office. “We will remove corrupt elements without mercy,” he promised at the time. In the WikiLeaks cable from 2009, his former friend reports that Xi was “repulsed by the all-encompassing commercialization of Chinese society, with its attendant nouveau riche, official corruption, loss of values, dignity, and self-respect.”

Beyond that, though, Xi remained a political enigma. “He got along with the leftists in the Party as well as the rightists,” says Joseph Torigian, his father’s biographer. In China’s authoritarian system, it seems advisable for many people to hide their views, but Xi Jinping was particularly good at it, he says. “Those who met him left feeling that Xi was positive about them – but also that he never let on what he really thought.”

Snow covered the mountains of Switzerland when Xi Jinping began his speech at the annual general assembly of capitalism in 2017. It was the first time a Chinese head of state had ever traveled to the World Economic Forum in Davos, and his visit came at a critical juncture: It was January 17, three days before the America First protectionist Donald Trump was to be sworn in as U.S. president. The future of globalization suddenly looked murky indeed. The most powerful communist in the world spoke in the Davos Congress Centre before 1,200 guests.

“Pursuing protectionism is like locking oneself in a dark room,” Xi intoned. “No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war.” He expressed his commitment to “economic globalization” and condemned the stubborn pursuit of one’s own interests. “China will keep its door wide open,” he pledged.

It seemed that Xi was saying everything that the global elite wanted to hear. More than that, he delivered the speech that they had really been hoping to hear from a U.S. president. With Trump holding a knife to the throat of the old world order, Xi suddenly looked like its guarantor.

What a colossal misunderstanding.

The speech is an example of how the West, in its interpretation of China, has allowed itself to be misled by its own hopes and aspirations because it has an insufficient understanding of the Chinese discourse. “What Xi had in the back of his head in Davos wasn’t a further opening of China, but preventing the West from closing itself off to China,” says sinologist Marina Rudyak, who teaches at the University of Heidelberg. Xi, she says, wasn’t trying to do a favor to American capitalists. Rather, he was trying to remove hurdles standing in the way of his historic mission.

Perhaps Xi Jinping’s greatest talent is that of telling stories, says Kerry Brown, a former British diplomat and the author of a Xi biography. “His style of politics, and the messages underlying it, appeals to the emotions and aspirations of many Chinese.” Xi propagates a rejuvenated country that is finally leaving its disastrous recent history behind. Xi is constantly speaking of “fuxing,” the “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

From the middle of the 19th century to the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, colonial powers divided up China into spheres of influence, fleecing the country of its riches and plunging it into a series of wars. Even today, the Chinese refer to it as the “century of humiliation,” and every child learns about it in school. No country would find it easy to move beyond such an ignominy, but it has proven especially difficult for China, a land with thousands of years of cultural tradition that has customarily seen itself as the center of the world. Getting the country back on its feet and returning it to greatness has been the goal of pretty much all political movements in China in modern times.

It had already been Mao’s quest to make China great again. Xi, though, is leading the People’s Republic at a moment in time when this vision is no longer a theoretical ambition on the distant horizon, but seems imminently achievable. Which goes a long way toward explaining Xi’s course. Disciplining the party and society, the commitment to ideology, solidifying his own power – all of that serves this greater goal.

“This is a new historic juncture in China’s development,” Xi said at the 19th party congress five years ago, just a few months after his appearance in Davos. “The Chinese nation … has stood up, grown rich, and become strong – and it now embraces the brilliant prospects of rejuvenation.” China, he said, was entering a “new era.” The path, Xi warned, won’t be easy. “It will take more than drum beating and gong clanging to get there.”

Under Xi, China has begun pushing its foreign policy interests far more ruthlessly than it used to. “The East is rising, and the West is declining, there’s not a doubt in their thinking,” says Christopher Johnson, former chief China analyst for the CIA.

But in order to take over the lead in the global pecking order, China has to move ahead of the U.S. “They have judged that the U.S. is their implacable enemy,” Johnson says. From Beijing’s perspective, the U.S. is standing in the way of history because it allegedly begrudges China its rise.

That helps explain why Beijing reacts so excessively when Washington ratchets up its support for Taiwan. How can the nation’s rejuvenation be completed without bringing Taiwan back into the fold, which, from China’s point of view, was torn from the motherland in 1895 by imperialistic Japan and has been ruled by counterrevolutionaries since 1945? Xi has made clear that the reunification of Taiwan with the mainland cannot simply be pushed off from generation to generation. Besides, it would secure him his place in the history books.

U.S. President Joe Biden holding a video meeting with Xi in 2021.

U.S. President Joe Biden holding a video meeting with Xi in 2021. Foto: Sarah Silbiger / CNP / Polaris / laif

In the dispute with the U.S., Xi’s China is prepared to use almost any means necessary. His propaganda oozes with anti-Americanism while “wolf warrior” diplomats spread disinformation, such as the myth that the September 11 terrorist attacks were an inside job. Beijing blasts disagreeable allies of the United States, such as Australia, with sanctions, which of course cannot be called sanctions so that China can continue to express anger at the punitive measures Washington has taken against Russia – a partner whose violations of international law China ignores because Russian President Vladimir Putin has identified the same primary enemy.

That also explains why Xi has remained at Putin’s side despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: Although Xi has, to be sure, indicated that he has his doubts about Putin’s campaign, in China itself, it is the West that is exclusively blamed for the war. Xi is fighting for global supremacy and Putin is merely a junior partner in that effort – who happens to have numerous nuclear weapons and can supply energy. Putin may still be useful, which is why Xi hasn’t discarded him.

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Xi in Samarkand, Uzbekistan in September.

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Xi in Samarkand, Uzbekistan in September. Foto: Sergei Bobylev / TASS / picture alliance / dpa

China doesn’t even shy away from the mafia playbook. In order to force Canada to back down in a dispute centered on the detention of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, Beijing held two Canadian citizens hostage for almost 1,000 days.

But Xi’s quiver also includes less belligerent methods for projecting power. Earlier this month, China was able to prevent a debate in the UN Human Rights Council over the suffering of the Uighurs in Xinjiang. Seventeen members of the council voted in favor of holding the debate, but China was able to organize 19 dissenting votes. They came from fellow socialist countries like Cuba and from business partners like Qatar – but also from places like Pakistan and Indonesia, over which China has gained influence through its Belt and Road Initiative.

Taken together, Xi’s activities have had a disastrous effect on China’s reputation in Europe and the U.S., with fewer and fewer people having a positive view of the country. In a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 76 percent of respondents from 19 mostly Western countries said they have no or not too much confidence that Xi would “do the right thing regarding world affairs.”

Many German companies are taking a critical look at their dependence on China, especially since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Undoing the economic knots that tie the German economy to China would likely be far more expensive and complicated than doing without Russian oil and natural gas. German Chancellor Scholz warned recently against a “de-coupling” from China.

Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel with Xi in China in 2019.

Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel with Xi in China in 2019. Foto: Michael Kappeler / picture alliance / dpa

But even as China’s image has plunged in the West, things look quite a bit different back home. According to a survey published by the communications firm Edelman in January 2022, 91 percent of the Chinese have trust in their leadership, “the highest seen in a decade.” The reason: For the last four decades, many Chinese have seen their material well-being improve from year to year. The world is again taking China seriously – and is even frightened by it. That is something that resonates with many Chinese.

And it tends to only be those who fall afoul of the system who realize just how rigid it has become. “When they read my name in foreign media, the police will immediately knock on my door,” says Li Datong. The 70-year-old continues to speak out nonetheless. He has been seen as a trouble-maker ever since 2006, when he was the editor-in-chief of a party publication and chose to print an untoward article, whereupon he lost his job. His deep insights into China’s power structures, though, don’t just come from his former job. Like Xi, Li is a Communist Party princeling: His father was once the head of propaganda.

Today, Li is one of the few people left in China who dares to express divergent viewpoints, to a degree protected by his family background, but politically marginalized. In his dark apartment on the outskirts of Beijing, Li complains about the authoritarian path the country is on and about the yes-men he says surround certain members of the leadership. Li is not particularly diplomatic and has a clear affinity for cursing. But, Li says, “I know where the red line is. I cannot be calling his name.”

This is how far Xi has come since he advanced to the party leadership position in the autumn of 2012. Initially, he was seen as a compromise candidate. “Neither the Shanghai gang nor the Communist Youth League, the most powerful factions at the time, were able to get their candidates through,” says Richard McGregor, the author of an authoritative book about the Chinese Communist Party. “There was no sign that he would develop into what he is today.”

“Xi is very good at transforming a crisis into his advantage.”

Richard McGregor, author

Xi took over control of a floundering organization. It was unsure about its sense of purpose, rife with corruption and losing authority. It seemed to no longer have firm control of the country. There was corruption wherever you looked. Near the ministries in Beijing, shops had popped up selling Swiss watches, exclusive aged whiskey and expensive perfumes – as gifts for government officials. Part of the business models of these shops was to accept the gifts back later in exchange.

“Xi Jinping adroitly took advantage of the sense of crisis that was gripping all of the top leaders at that time,” says Christopher Johnson, the former CIA analyst. “Xi is very good at transforming a crisis into his advantage,” says Richard McGregor.

His greatest rival at the time was Bo Xilai, head of the party in Chongqing. All of China was talking about him. He was widely seen as a man with solid morals and communist values, a neo-Maoist who would lead the party back to its roots. And he was incomparably more charismatic than the designated party head Xi. It was seen as essentially a foregone conclusion that Bo would become a member of the Politburo Standing Committee at the 2012 party congress, a position that would have enabled him to stymie Xi.

But then came November 13, 2011, when Bo’s wife Gu Kailai poisoned the British national Neil Heywood in a three-star hotel in Chongqing. The murder was covered up – until the city’s police chief, Bo’s right-hand man, fled to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu in February 2012. There, he told the American diplomats everything: Heywood had helped the Bo clan move money abroad – despite all of their blatantly flaunted devotion to communism – and sought to blackmail the family with what he knew.

Xi demanded a harsh response and got his way. Bo and his wife ended up in prison. Xi’s greatest rival had been neutralized. Xi then copied the red campaign that Bo had prescribed Chongqing and later rolled it out across the entire country, a campaign focused on more nationalism and more ideology.

Bo Xilai, formerly Xi's most dangerous rival, at his 2013 trial in Jinan. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Bo Xilai, formerly Xi’s most dangerous rival, at his 2013 trial in Jinan. He was sentenced to life in prison. Foto: Xie Huanchi / Xinhua News Agency / eyevine / laif

Xi had hardly entered office when he issued comprehensive measures aimed at fighting corruption. From December 2012 to June 2021, the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection didn’t just investigate 631,000 lower-ranking members of the party – referred to derisively by Xi as “flies” – but 393 powerful party leaders, called “tigers,” also lost their jobs. Many of them ended up in prison.

There was also fabulous wealth to be found in the immediate surroundings of the president himself. In 2012, the Bloomberg news agency published a report according to which Xi’s extended family had amassed several hundred million dollars through company investments and real estate deals. The largest share of the riches was attributed to his brother-in-law. In 2015, the New York Times took the story further, reporting that relatives of Xi’s had invested early on in a company belonging to the country’s wealthiest man and later sold their shares for a multimillion-dollar profit. However, Xi himself has never been implicated in such deals, nor have his wife or daughter.

For Xi, the anti-corruption campaign had two significant advantages: It increased his popularity in the country, with people no longer having to bring along a bottle of perfume or whiskey every time they interacted with public officials. And it enabled Xi to get rid of his political adversaries. Powerful functionaries fell victim to the purge, such as Zhou Yongkang, former head of the security services, in 2013. In 2017, it was the turn of Sun Zhengcai, a member of the Politburo who many had seen as a potential successor to Xi. Both were sentenced to life in prison.

Since then, all power in China has been concentrated in Xi’s hands. Whether it is economic or financial questions, it is all taken care of by Xi’s people, the “Xiites.” He even gets involved in the details. In 2014, for example, he personally issued 17 decrees relating to environmental protection. And if any of his directives isn’t followed to the letter, the offender faces an abrupt end to their career.

Under his pre-predecessor Jiang Zemin, the Standing Committee made its decisions by majority vote. Then came Hu Jintao, who even gave a veto to every member of the committee, referred to at the time as “the nine dragons controlling the water.” Xi’s nickname, by contrast, is “chairman of everything.”

At one time, Article 79 of the Chinese constitution held that the president was not allowed to hold onto power for longer than two consecutive terms. In 2018, Xi had the provision removed, to the delight of party newspapers.

But not all Chinese were equally convinced. Was this not an example of a modern-day ruler claiming the ancient “mandate of heaven” so he could stay in office for life? On the day of the announcement of the elimination of term limits, internet censors in China blocked the hashtag #Emperor within minutes. Developments on the stock exchange, though, were extraordinary: Shares for the company Shenzhen Emperor Technology rose by almost 10 percent. It was a way for stock investors to draw public attention to the term despite internet censorship – a creative form of protest that is understood in China.

When Xi entered office in 2012, the Chinese internet was a wild, chaotic place where the armies of censors frequently found themselves trailing hopelessly behind clever users. Today, artificial intelligence takes care of most of the thought-control police work. The “Great Firewall,” which separates China’s internet from the rest of the world, has become almost impermeable. The government has criminalized the use of VPN software, which can help users avoid such cyber-impediments.

But what began with the internet has now grown to encompass the entire country: Complete control, everywhere.

On a day in August 2022, men in white, full-body suits push a container on wheels through the airport in the southern Chinese city of Haikou. Through the windows of the negative pressure box, a man can be seen, his gaze lowered – an airplane passenger who wasn’t allowed to board because the COVID app on his phone had turned red. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he is infected; he may just have walked through a city district where a couple of infected people live. But he is being taken into quarantine anyway. Just part of life in zero-COVID China.

The battle against the pandemic is becoming increasingly frantic in China. Officials have flown drones through locked-down cities to remind residents to “control your soul’s urge for freedom.” They have separated infected parents from their babies and prevented mothers about to give birth from entering hospital without a COVID test. Almost three years after the start of the pandemic, China remains isolated from the rest of the world.

Scott Kennedy from the Center for Strategic and International Studies has been traveling to China for 30 years, and finally was able to make his most recent trip in September – likely as the first senior American political analyst since the start of the pandemic. “I think the people are hungry for exchange,” Kennedy says in summarizing his conversations with academics, businesspeople and officials in Beijing. He says his interlocuters treated him courteously, but he still sensed an estrangement that he found unnerving. “We’ve always been 12 time zones apart,” he says, “but now it feels like we’re on different planets.”

Day after day, state media outlets continue to crow that under Xi’s leadership, China has managed to keep the virus at bay, and that this achievement proves the superiority of China’s system over those of other countries that haven’t fared as well – basically all of them, but especially the U.S. Whereas America is beset by decadence and chaos and has seen a million victims, China is an oasis of order and safety. The People’s Republic as best in the world, with Xi fulfilling his promises – such is the narrative. Why would he ever even consider changing course?

In reality though, as the rest of the world is learning to live with the virus, it continues to impair life in China. The series of lockdowns shows no sign of ending – in Xi’an, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Guangzhou and on the holiday island of Hainan – and the fight against the highly infectious Omicron variant is looking increasingly futile.

On top of that, it is a risky strategy. The greater the number of those who suffer from lockdown trauma, who have had to give up their businesses or are having trouble finding jobs, the greater the frustration. In the second quarter, Shanghai’s economic output collapsed by 14 percent, with the 5.5 percent growth targeted by Premier Li Keqiang for 2022 almost certainly unreachable. And if the country’s leadership continues to require most of the population to take a PCR test every few days, that alone will consume more than 7 percent of public revenues.

“Chinese elite politics were pretty opaque before,” says Kennedy. “By now, they have sealed any light.” The China of today is a different country than it was with Xi came into power. He has subjugated the system to himself, and the principle of collective leadership is history.

“People in the West think that is a retrogression,” says Victor Gao, vice president of the Beijing think tank Center for China and Globalization. He was once the interpreter for the reformist leader Deng Xiaoping, today he is essentially responsible for explaining the party to the outside world. Gao says he thinks that China needs a strong leader at the top in this moment of history. “Xi will consolidate his grip on the party and the military and enhance his control over the country,” he says.

But Xi Jinping’s greatest dilemma – his “principal contradiction,” to borrow from Marx – remains: Zero COVID and acceptable economic growth rates cannot be had simultaneously. And that is true despite the government mouthpieces People’s Daily and Xinhua publishing three articles in two days claiming that zero-COVID is the only acceptable approach.

Rule of law globally under assault

For the fifth year in a row, the rule of law has declined globally. That is the finding of the 2022 Rule of Law Index. It measures factors such as the protection of fundamental rights or constraints on government powers.

Ugandan journalist Remmy Bahati sounds badly shaken when she tells her family’s story over the phone from the United States, where she currently lives.3

It was in the evening of October 1, everyone was watching TV when suddenly armed men entered the family’s home in Fort Portal in western Uganda. They were soldiers and plainclothes policemen and began to search the house. When they left in a minibus without license plates, they took her brother and cousin with them.  

Remmy learned about the abduction from her father. “We waited for 48 hours because the law says when someone is a suspect, they should be arraigned in court within 48 hours. But this was never done.”

Bahati believes that the Ugandan government wanted to take revenge on her. “I reported on a number of stories that the government didn’t like”, such as a controversial pipeline project, she says. “And as a result, my brother and cousin were abducted from our family home.”

What the journalist describes is an example of abuse of power, the violation of fundamental rights, and the lack of proper criminal justice. In short: It illustrates the absence of the rule of law in Uganda.

According to the latest Rule of Law Index published by the US non-governmental World Justice Project, Uganda ranks 128th of 140 countries surveyed. The lack of protection of fundamental rights and widespread corruption have dragged the country down in the index.

Since 2009, the World Justice Project has been measuring the development of the rule of law around the globe. The researchers base their findings on eight factors such as the protection of fundamental rights and constraints on government powers.

Image illustrating the eight categories measured for the Rule of Law Index
The Rule of Law Index measures eight categories

More than 154,000 households and 3,600 legal experts were surveyed for this year’s index. How the rule of law can be defined is constantly debated among experts. The consensus is that citizens in a country with a strong rule of law — unlike Remmy Bahati’s family in Uganda — can rely on laws being respected and enforced. 

Germany in sixth place

Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and The Netherlands can be considered exemplary in this respect. They rank in the top five in the 2022 Rule of Law Index. Germany is in sixth place. It did not receive top marks in the “Open Government” category, which refers to how accessible, fair, and efficient processes are by which the law is adopted, administered, adjudicated, and enforced.

Within the European Union, Hungary gets the lowest score on the Rule of Law Index. Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Cambodia, and Venezuela are ranked at the bottom of the worldwide list. That means that fundamental rights such as freedom of expression are not adequately protected and the government’s actions are not sufficiently monitored.

Map showing ranking of Rule of Law Index 2022
Rule of law worldwide is in a slow but steady decline

China ranks number 131 in the category showing constraints of government power and even lower when it comes to protecting citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms. But overall, it ends up in the lower midfield, because it does comparatively well in fighting corruption and maintaining order and security.

‘Authoritarian trends continue’

According to the World Justice Project, the rule of law has weakened in six out of ten countries in the past year. This is the fifth year in a row that the Rule of Law Index’s global average score has fallen.

“Authoritarian trends that predate the pandemic continue to erode the rule of law,” explains Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of the World Justice Project in a press release. “Checks on executive power are weakening and respect for human rights is falling.”

Yet, the 2022 Index finds that rule of law has not deteriorated as much as the year before. Back then, there were far-reaching government restrictions on public life aimed at curbing the COVID pandemic which curtailed civic freedoms such as the freedom of movement.

“We are emerging from the health crisis, but not the governance crisis,” Andersen said. “Today, 4.4 billion people live in countries where the rule of law is weaker than it was last year.” Rule of law was about fairness, she said. “That is, accountability, equal rights, and justice for all — and a less fair world is bound to be a more volatile one.”

Fear remains

For journalist Remmy Bahati, the lack of rule of law in Uganda has had very personal consequences. Her brother and cousin have been released, she says, but the fear remains. 

“They released my brother without any charge after nine days of illegal detention”, she says. “They let him go and the message he had for me was to stop tweeting about human rights and the East African crude oil pipeline.”

She used to be very confident, Bahati says. But now she is afraid to express her opinion freely.

Russian Roulette

The former Russian base in Balakliia, Ukraine, seen from the air. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Abandoned Russian base holds secrets of retreat in Ukraine


When Russian troops fled the Ukrainian town of Balakliia last month, they left behind thousands of documents that detail the inner workings of the Russian war machine.

BALAKLIIA, Ukraine – The Russian soldiers had fled weeks before. But they left their traces everywhere.

Concrete steps led into the basement of their hastily abandoned headquarters in this small riverside town in eastern Ukraine. A bunker smelling of damp lay behind a steel door marked “Command Group.” Papers, some charred, were stuffed into a furnace. Others were scattered across the floor.

In a floral notebook, an unnamed staff officer left a sketch of a cartoon soldier and mused about going home. The book’s 91 handwritten pages contained other information, too: coordinates of Russian intelligence units, records of calls from commanders, details of battles, men killed and equipment destroyed. And accounts of a breakdown in morale and discipline.

In all, the bunker yielded thousands of pages of documents. Reuters reviewed more than a thousand of them. They detail the inner workings of the Russian military and shed new light on events leading up to one of President Vladimir Putin’s most stinging battlefield defeats: Russia’s chaotic retreat from Ukraine’s northeast in September.

Russian posters on the walls of the abandoned base in Balakliia. One says: “We bring peace.” REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Russian soldiers slept on metal bunkbeds in the Balakliia base. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

In the weeks before that defeat, Russian forces were struggling with surveillance and electronic warfare. They were using off-the-shelf drones flown by barely trained soldiers. Their equipment for jamming Ukrainian communications was often out of action.  By the end of August, the documents show, the force was depleted, hit by death, desertions and combat stress. Two units – accounting for about a sixth of the total force – were operating at 20% of their full strength.

The documents also reveal the increasing effectiveness of Ukraine’s forces and offer clues to how the eight-month-old war might unfold, with Russia now under intense pressure on the southern front around the Black Sea coast. In the weeks before their retreat, Russian forces around Balakliia, a town 90 kilometres south of Kharkiv, came under heavy bombardment from HIMARS rocket launchers, recently supplied by the United States. The precision missiles repeatedly hit command posts.

A Russian officer who served in the Balakliia force for three months, described to Reuters a sense of menace hanging over the occupiers. One of his friends bled to death in early September after a Ukrainian strike on a command post in a nearby village.

“It’s a game of roulette,” said the officer, who asked to be identified by his military call sign Plakat Junior 888. “You either get lucky, or you are unlucky. The strikes can land anywhere.”

The Kremlin press service referred questions for this article to the Defence Ministry, which didn’t comment. Russia has said previously its military has everything it needs to fight the war.

This screenshot shows Colonel Ivan Popov, commander of the Balakliia force, during an interview on Russian TV in 2018.

The documents in the bunker name Colonel Ivan Popov as the commander of the Russian military force operating from Balakliia. Popov and many of his senior officers belong to the 11th Army Corps, part of the Russian navy’s Baltic Fleet. In 2017, the official newspaper of Russia’s armed forces published a profile of Popov. It said he served in Russia’s war against separatists in Chechnya and the 2008 invasion of ex-Soviet Georgia. He jogged with his men and remembered his officers’ birthdays, it said, adding that Popov “is motivated to achieve success.” Popov did not respond to a message seeking comment. His wife told Reuters he commanded a force in east Ukraine.

The Balakliia force included a commandant responsible for keeping the local civilian population in check. He is identified in the papers by an apparent pseudonym, Commandant V. “Granit” (Granite). He oversaw at least one interrogation centre where civilians were beaten and questioned using electric shocks, according to six former detainees and Ukrainian officials.

Reuters verified the authenticity of the documents by visiting five abandoned military outposts in northeast Ukraine whose coordinates were recorded in the cache. In each instance, local residents confirmed that Russian forces were stationed there. Reuters reporters also interviewed five soldiers who served in the Balakliia force, and cross-checked details in the documents with a contemporaneous account kept by one of the Russian servicemen

Life under occupation

Russian troops occupied Balakliia, a quiet town of squat apartment buildings surrounded by bucolic villages, in early March. To the south was the Russian controlled Donbas region; to the north the city of Kharkiv, a Ukrainian stronghold.

The soldiers occupied a rundown vehicle repair complex on the outskirts of town. It became the command centre for Balakliia and dozens of surrounding villages and farms. It was here, in the basement, that Reuters found the document cache.

A destroyed vehicle repair hangar in Russian troops’ former base in Balakliia, Ukraine. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Inside the burned out hangar in Balakliia. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
The door of a Russian army truck at the base is sprayed with the letter Z, symbol of Russia’s war. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Russian helicopters and drones constantly circled over the base, said Volodymyr Lyovochkin, a local man who managed the premises before the Russians arrived. Dozens of GRAD rocket launchers and other military vehicles were parked in the grounds, he said.

Inside the command room, a Reuters reporter saw desks arranged in a rectangle. Each bore a red nameplate of a military section: combat coordination, electronic warfare, intelligence, unmanned aerial equipment. The section commanders, including the commandant responsible for the civilian population, met here daily, according to rosters that were left amongst the papers. Reuters has identified at least 11 officers who attended these meetings. Five of the officers, including Colonel Popov, didn’t respond to requests for comment. The others couldn’t be reached.

Lists of personnel showed that conscripts from the Russian-controlled Ukrainian region of Luhansk fought alongside men from Russia’s 11th Army Corps. The soldiers scribbled on the walls of the base and put up fliers warning of Ukraine’s descent into Nazi rule if they withdrew. The invaders had brought with them old Soviet maps of Ukraine. A poster admonished the soldiers: Do not smoke, do not drop litter.

The notebook, kept by the unknown staff officer, contained coordinates for Russian military intelligence and other units scattered around the area. One unit had taken over a Balakliia kindergarten.

Lyovochkin, the site’s former manager, said Ukrainian investigators had visited the base repeatedly since the Russians retreated. De-miners were still removing the ordinance. “Everything is mined,” he said. “They were really protecting themselves.”

The base also served as a detention centre for captured Ukrainian veterans. One military veteran told Reuters he was hooded, beaten and thrown into a cellar, where he was held for six days with several others.

A sign at the entrance of the Russian base tells soldiers: “Do not smoke, do not drop litter.” REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Inside the Balakliia command bunker, desks are arranged for the daily briefings that were attended by senior officers. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Others were detained in Balakliia’s police station. Two men – one a firefighter, the other an inspector in the emergency services – said their jailers beat them with wooden batons and administered electric shocks.  Russian soldiers questioned the inspector repeatedly about his calls with his supervisor in Kharkiv. They accused him of compiling a list of Ukrainians who had collaborated with the Russians, which he denies. The firefighter said he was accused of hiding weapons and organising a local partisan group, which he too denies. Albina Strilets, a 33-year-old logistics coordinator for the emergency services, recounted that she and other women were held simply for being “pro-Ukrainian.”

“I heard men being beaten so badly that at one point I heard a Russian soldier say, ‘bring a body bag,’” Strilets said. “Another time I heard a woman being raped upstairs and crying for hours.” Strilets said she broke the cell’s toilet so “it sounded like a waterfall” and would block out the woman’s screaming.

Albina Strilets, who works for Ukraine’s emergency services, said she was detained by Russian soldiers in August. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

The Kremlin and Russia’s Defence Ministry didn’t respond to questions about events in Balakliia. Russia has said previously its forces do not target civilians.

Kharkiv regional police said Ukrainian investigators had discovered 22 torture chambers across newly liberated towns and villages in the region.  “We cannot count the number of people who were detained. We are talking about hundreds of people. But every crime has a name and we will surely find those responsible,” regional police chief General Volodymyr Tymoshko said.

In an office opposite the police station, relatives of prisoners sometimes petitioned the Russian known as Commandant V. “Granit” to free their loved ones. Tetiana Tovstokora, 57, a school principal, said her husband was turned away when he sought information about her detention, which lasted several days. None of the detainees and families interviewed by Reuters had any success in swaying “Granit.”

Tetiana Tovstokora, a school principal, said Russian troops held her for several days in a cell at this police station in Balakliia. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Tetiana Tovstokora shows reporters how the Russian soldiers covered her head each time she was led in or out of her cell. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Under occupation, much of the policing of the population fell to the force from separatist Luhansk. It was a rag-tag group with even fewer resources than their Russian counterparts, the documents show. One Luhansk corporal was 64 years old. Another fighter was treated for finger wounds after the chamber of his Mosin rifle exploded, a medic wrote. The rifle was developed in the late 19th century and went out of production decades ago, as Reuters reported in April.

A spreadsheet at the Balakliia bunker showed a typical Russian sergeant was paid 202,084 roubles ($3,200) a month in salary plus bonuses, while a sergeant in the separatist force received just 91,200 roubles ($1,400). The head of a Luhansk flame-thrower company recorded in one document that eight of his subordinates had previous convictions – including one man for rape and sexual assault.

Locals sell vegetables in front of a damaged market in the Ukrainian town of Balakliia. REUTERS/Umit Bek

A narrow victory

On July 19, four months after seizing the area, the Russian occupiers encountered their first serious challenge from Ukraine’s armed forces, the documents reviewed by Reuters show.

At the regular morning meeting in the bunker, reports submitted to the commander, Colonel Popov, were normal: The previous night had been relatively quiet and enemy positions were unchanged. On the agenda for the day: some scheduled artillery fire on Ukrainian positions.

But by early afternoon, a column of Ukrainian soldiers, supported by tanks and under cover of an artillery barrage, attacked the Russian front line at Hrakove – a village on the north-western edge of the territory held by the Balakliia force.

Troops belonging to Russia’s 9th motorised rifle regiment were holed up in a concrete grain elevator in Hrakove. They’d positioned guns along the top of the structure. A Reuters reporter who visited the facility in October saw signs the men slept on the grain conveyor belts.

By 15:00, an unnamed Russian on the front line at Hrakove radioed his commanders in Balakliia: His position was being overrun, he said, and he had to retreat. He requested artillery strikes to destroy the post he was abandoning. Then communication was lost.

In the Balakliia bunker, the anonymous staff officer wrote in his notebook: “The munitions are running out.”

The commander of the Western Military District, one of Russia’s most senior officers, demanded a briefing on the situation and “ordered that Hrakove must not be surrendered,” further notebook entries said. According to official records, the commander at the time was Colonel-General Alexander Zhuravlyov, since fired by Putin. Independent Russian military analysts CIT have said, however, that Zhuravlyov was replaced by July by Lieutenant-General Andrei Sychevoi. Reuters was unable to reach Zhuravylov. Sychevoi didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Alexander Zhuravlyov, then Commander of the Western Military District, are pictured with President Vladimir Putin in 2020. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS

In the hours that followed, Russian commanders sent in reinforcements and mobilised attack helicopters. By 18:00, the Ukrainians were retreating and Russian forces were retaking lost ground. But the cost was high. The Russians lost a tank, two armoured personnel carriers and other equipment. Thirty-nine men were wounded, seven were dead, and 17 were reported missing, according to a report that was presented to Popov on July 21.

Among the Russian dead was Corporal Aleksandr Yevsevleev, a tank commander. A list of casualties inside the command bunker said his abdomen had been torn open, exposing his intestines, and he had shrapnel injuries to his right upper thigh. His parents, contacted by Reuters, said their son was fatally wounded when his position came under fire near Hrakove from a Ukrainian helicopter.

After the battle, five soldiers needed treatment for “acute reaction to  stress.” Next to each of their names in the medical record was written: “Does not require evacuation.”

A soldier in his twenties was listed as having suffered blast injuries. Contacted by Reuters, the man said he remembered little, only that “the fighting was fierce.” He spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Following the battle, Colonel Popov applied to his superiors for 34 of his subordinates to be given medals for their bravery. The documents did not detail how his superiors responded. Two of the soldiers told Reuters they have yet to receive their awards.

Pyotr Kalinin, a 25-year-old commander of a reconnaissance platoon, was also on Popov’s list. Kalinin is from Crimea and briefly served as a cadet in Ukraine’s armed forces before Russia annexed the peninsula in 2014, according to his social media. A photograph shows him in a Ukrainian uniform. Kalinin didn’t respond to messages from Reuters seeking comment.

Pyotr Kalinin, commander of a Russian platoon, previously served as a cadet in Ukraine’s army. This picture is from his social media account.

Near breaking point

Documents in the bunker show that Russian commanders understood the shortcomings of their force.

On July 19, hours before the battle of Hrakove, an unnamed officer scribbled on the daily briefing note a plea for drones to track the enemy:  “Quadcopters!!! Urgent!” Quadcopter drones are generally not military grade and can be bought in store and on the internet. As Reuters reported in June, Russian troops have relied on crowdfunding to buy drones.

The Balakliia force finally took receipt of three off-the-shelf Mavic-3 quadcopter drones on July 20, the daily report recorded. They weren’t ready to fly, however, because their software wasn’t yet installed. The same daily report stated 15 soldiers were being trained how to operate them.

Ukrainian forces, meanwhile, were busy flying drones over Russian positions, their task made all the easier because two of the Russian force’s three jamming devices were out of action in need of repair, according to a note on a report by the electronic warfare unit.

The daily report on July 21 contained even more alarming news for Colonel Popov, the commander of the Balakliia force: Russian intelligence agency, the FSB had learned that Ukrainian forces were bringing to the area three highly accurate HIMARS missile launchers, supplied by the United States. And Ukraine had pinpointed the locations of one Russian command post and four warehouses that were being used by the Balakliia force.

Ukraine’s Defence Ministry and military did not respond to questions about weaponry and tactics.

Three days later, on July 24, the author of the handwritten notebook recorded that a HIMARS strike had killed 12 Russian soldiers belonging to the 336th marines brigade of the Baltic Fleet.

The fight further eroded morale and discipline among the soldiers.

Artyom Shtanko commanded a platoon that was in the thick of the Hrakove battle and suffered losses, according to his father Alexei and Plakat Junior 888, the officer who served in the Balakliia force.

Alexei said Shtanko refused an order from his company commander to “send his men into artillery fire.” Plakat Junior 888 identified the commander as Viktor Alyokhin, who was operating from a command post near Hrakove. Contacted by Reuters, Alyokhin confirmed he was in charge of a company during the battle but declined to comment further.

At the base in Balakliia, the notebook’s anonymous author wrote on July 24 – five days after the Hrakove battle – that Shtanko was a “bastard” facing disciplinary action because he “pulled back his platoon and took it into the rear.”

Shtanko’s commanders moved him to a different unit, his father told Reuters. He said Shtanko is still fighting in Ukraine.

The notebook also recorded the desertion of Roman Elistratov, a corporal in the 9th motorised rifle regiment, which felt the full force of the Ukrainian onslaught. Elistratov didn’t respond to messages from Reuters. Later, the author wrote of a soldier who deliberately shot himself in the hand to avoid further action. Command should be notified of the incident, he added.

None of these details made it into the official reports seen by Reuters.

“However many machine gunners you change, the machine gun still won’t work if it has no bullets inside.”

Extract from notebook of the anonymous staff officer

“No supplies”

By the end of July, Russian officers were convinced Ukrainian forces were preparing a counter-offensive to “take control of Balakliia,” the documents in the bunker show. Intercepted communications indicated an attack was imminent.  Some of the communications were from cell phones registered to countries including Estonia, Britain, the Netherlands and the United States. Russian officers in the command bunker concluded the phones were in the possession of mercenaries or foreign instructors helping the Ukrainian military. Approached for this article, Estonia said its defence forces were not operating inside Ukraine. Britain, the United States and the Netherlands didn’t respond.

Around the same time, Russian military-electronics experts arrived in Balakliia. They wanted to see if Russia’s “Pole-21” system for jamming satellite navigation systems could be adapted to counter HIMARS missiles, according to the daily report of Aug 4.

Whatever the outcome of that experiment, Ukrainian strikes continued. Interviews with Russian servicemen, relatives of dead soldiers, and local residents indicate that at least three Russian command posts in northeast Ukraine were hit by HIMARS missiles in the weeks that followed.

Faced with increased Ukrainian attacks, the Balakliia command set about drafting in more troops, according to daily reports and records in the staff officer’s handwritten notebook. Yet a spreadsheet dated Aug. 30 showed that the force was at only 71% of full strength. Some units were far worse off, according to the same spreadsheet. The 2nd assault battalion had 49 personnel. It should have had 240. The 9th BARS brigade, an irregular unit, was at 23% of its intended manpower.

This furnace in the Balakliia command bunker contained partially burned documents. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Another spreadsheet tracked equipment. Where there had been five drones on July 25, by the end of August there were only two. Eight armoured personnel carriers were reduced to three. The force had four “Fagot” anti-tank weapons systems left, down from 24 at the end of July. The one “Zoopark” system they had for suppressing enemy electronics systems was gone by the end of August.

Plakat Junior 888, the Russian officer interviewed by Reuters, described trying to fight off successive Ukrainian attacks during August without adequate supplies. The small calendar he kept in the trenches during his three months rotation paints a dire picture. Days were marked with scribbled notes saying “Attack” and “Escaped from encirclement” or bearing the names of comrades killed in action. Aug. 27 was marked simply as “the worst day.” That, he said, was when their position came under heavy artillery attack, and one of his friends died in his arms.

“There were no supplies of munitions or drones,” he said of the situation in late August. Ukrainian forces mounted attacks, but “our artillery was not working in response.”

“I went home on Aug 10, 2023, I’m already home with my family…I’m having a nice time in Khabarovsk with my family, with my wife and my daughters.”

Extract from notebook of the anonymous staff officer

Chaos and retreat

Ukraine’s counter-offensive began in earnest on Sept 6.

A Russian soldier who was  in Hrakove that day told Reuters that Ukraine first attacked Russian positions with artillery. By the evening Ukrainian forces had outflanked them. At that point, the order was given to retreat from the village, he said.

The battle continued. Between Sept 6 and 8, precision strikes hit the command centre in Balakliia. Lyovochkin, the local who formerly managed the site, said the entire facility erupted in flames. Dozens of bodies of Russian soldiers were pulled from the rubble, he said.

“My house was dancing” from the blast, he said.

A video posted on social media on Sept 10 showed Ukrainian soldiers viewing the destroyed hangar where Russian forces had kept their vehicles. “This is what the result of HIMARS’ work looks like,” said a voice in Ukrainian in the video.

Nataliia and Viktor, an elderly couple who live less than 300 metres from the bunker, said they heard constant Ukrainian strikes in the final days of the occupation. When the attacks ceased on the 8th, the couple saw 30 soldiers, many of them wounded, limping along the road in retreat. Two other residents said they saw Russian soldiers throw away their guns and abandon their vehicles as they ran away.

“It was just chaos,” said one of the two locals, Serhii, who lived across the street from the command headquarters. “There was a traffic jam” of fleeing Russians, he said.

Other Ukrainians described how fighters from Luhansk fled, often trailing behind the retreating Russian military.

Weeks after the Russian retreat, all that remained of the headquarters was a crater and a pile of documents. A plume of smoke rose from a heap of burnt out Russian equipment.

Popov, the force commander, was injured at some point and spent a month in hospital, his wife told Reuters. She said he has since been promoted to the rank of general and is about to head off on a new assignment. She didn’t disclose where.

The last, undated notebook entries by the anonymous staff officer are reflective.

“If you sit and look at the river for long enough, you will eventually see your enemies floating by,” he wrote.

One page later, he appears to be imagining his life in the future, in a city on the Russian border with China, 7,000 km from Balakliia.

“I went home on Aug 10, 2023, I’m already home with my family,” he wrote. “I’m having a nice time in Khabarovsk with my family, with my wife and my girls.”

A monument to Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko in the town of Balakliia. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Reuters October 27, 2022

China using illegal police bases in Netherlands to target dissidents, say reports

Dutch government investigating ‘undeclared’ stations in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, claimed to be part of global network

The Chinese embassy in the Netherlands
The Chinese embassy in the Netherlands said it was unaware of the stations’ existence. Photograph: Bart Maat/EPA

The Dutch government has said it is investigating reports that Chinese police forces have illegally opened at least two stations in the Netherlands since 2018, using them in part to keep tabs and put pressure on overseas dissidents.

An investigation by RTL Nieuws and Follow the Money said the “overseas service stations” in Amsterdam and Rotterdam ostensibly served an administrative purpose, allowing Chinese nationals to renew driving licences and change their civil status.

But the two outlets also spoke to Chinese critics of the Beijing regime living in the Netherlands who said the centres, of whose presence the Dutch authorities had not been notified, were also being used to track, contact and threaten dissidents.

The Dutch foreign ministry said in a statement that the two stations reportedly operating in the Netherlands were illegal. “We are investigating exactly what they are doing here and will then take appropriate action,” it said.

The stations were first identified by a Spanish civil rights group, Safeguard Defenders, in a September report, which alleged that the Fuzhou and Qingtian police agencies had between them opened 54 “overseas service centres” in 25 cities across 21 countries.

Most were located in Europe, the report said, including nine in Spain, four in Italy, three in France, two in the Netherlands and two in the UK, in London and Glasgow. It said part of their purpose was to “persuade” dissidents to return to China.

“These operations eschew official bilateral police and judicial cooperation, violate the international rule of law, and may violate the territorial integrity of third countries by setting up a parallel policing mechanism using illegal methods,” the report said.

The Netherlands and China are signatories to the Vienna convention, which governs diplomatic missions. Prior permission must be granted for any intelligence-gathering activity and administrative matters should be handled by consulates.

Earlier in October, a pro-democracy Hong Kong protester needed overnight hospital treatment after being beaten by men who appeared to emerge from the Chinese consulate in Manchester, prompting calls for a tough UK government response.

The Dutch news outlets said the Amsterdam station was staffed by two former police officers from the Lishui, Qingtian force, while the Rotterdam centre, based in an apartment, was run by a former member of the Chinese military for the Fuzhou provincial force.

Both regions are in eastern China, from where many Chinese nationals in the Netherlands come. According to RTL, several Chinese websites describe part of the stations’ purpose as “cracking down on … criminal activities linked to overseas Chinese”.

One young dissident, Wang Jingyu, who had been critical of the Beijing regime on social media in China and has now been granted asylum in the Netherlands, said he was contacted by the Chinese station in Rotterdam as soon as he arrived.

“They asked me to go back to China to sort out my problems,” he said. “They also told me to think of my parents.” He said he later received threatening text messages and phone calls, including the message “I’m going to kill you” with a photo of a gun.

The Chinese embassy in the Netherlands said in an emailed response it was unaware of the stations’ existence.

Willemijn Aerdts, an intelligence expert at Leiden University, said the reports matched a pattern of more muscular Chinese activity.

“It fits in with what we have seen from China in recent years,” she told the Dutch outlets. “It is up to the government to see how they can protect the Dutch against this and take countermeasures.”

The Nova Kakhovka dam looms large in the possible battle for Kherson.

Russian troops at the Kakhovka hydroelectric station on the Dnipro River in May.
Russian troops at the Kakhovka hydroelectric station on the Dnipro River in May.Credit…Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine — As Ukrainian forces battle to advance on the southern port city of Kherson, a hydroelectric dam that holds back a body of water the size of Utah’s Great Salt Lake has emerged as a linchpin in the fight for the region.

The Nova Kakhovka dam, less than 50 miles northeast of Kherson, is the last major crossing over the Dnipro River available to thousands of Russian soldiers fighting around the strategic southern city, which Moscow seized early in the war. If Ukraine were to retake the dam, that could give thousands of Russian soldiers nowhere to retreat. Ukrainian strikes on small bridges over the dam’s spillway have already partly closed the route to vehicle traffic.

If Kyiv takes the dam, Russia’s forces “will have to make a decision very quickly — either very, very quickly leave the city and get out, or risk ending up in the same situation that our units in Mariupol found themselves in earlier,” Gen. Kyrylo O. Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence service, said this week. He was referring to the bloody siege in which encircled Ukrainian fighters held out for weeks before being forced to surrender.

Aside from being a military asset, the dam is also a critical piece of infrastructure that even before the war was a flash point. Its reservoir is crucial to the operations of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, about 100 miles upriver, because it provides water necessary for cooling functions.

As Russian positions grew more precarious, Moscow accused Ukraine of planning to destroy the dam — a claim that Ukraine and its Western allies dismissed as absurd. Kyiv has said that it had no incentive to flood its own land and that the Russian accusations, made without evidence, were a sign Moscow was preparing a “false flag” operation to blow up the dam itself, potentially flooding 80 towns, villages and cities, including Kherson.

If Russia were to use the dam to cause flooding downstream, it could slow the Ukrainian advance. However, it also risks causing problems for their own forces on the eastern banks of the Dnipro.

“Russia is consciously laying the groundwork for a large-scale disaster in Ukraine’s south,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine warned during an address to the European Council last week.

The Nova Kakhovka dam, northeast of Kherson, is the last major crossing over the Dnipro River available to thousands of Russian soldiers in the area.
The Nova Kakhovka dam, northeast of Kherson, is the last major crossing over the Dnipro River available to thousands of Russian soldiers in the area.Credit…Maxar Technologies, via Reuters

Analysts note the similarities to Moscow’s unfounded accusations that Ukraine was planning to use a dirty bomb. Ukraine’s Western allies have warned that Russia was making such accusations as a possible pretext to launch its own attack.

Ukrainian soldiers are drawing closer, after liberating 90 villages in the Kherson region since the start of their counteroffensive at the end of August.

On Monday, the Ukrainian military high command reported that two villages less than 50 miles west of Nova Kakhovka — Chkalove and Charivne — had been abandoned by the Russians. And Russian forces have shown signs they may be considering a retreat from the city of Kherson.

Still, Ukrainian officials said it would take time to drive the Russians out.

“We are using the tactics of taking back our villages, meters and kilometers step by step, and we will continue to do that,” Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, said on Wednesday in an interview with Fox News.

New York Times – October 2641, 2022

U.S. Officials Had a Secret Oil Deal With the Saudis. Or So They Thought.

After Saudi leaders pushed to slash oil production despite a visit by President Biden, American officials have been left fuming that they were duped.

President Biden arriving in Saudi Arabia in July. The administration thought it had secured a promise from the Saudis to keep oil flowing in a bid to stabilize prices.
President Biden arriving in Saudi Arabia in July. The administration thought it had secured a promise from the Saudis to keep oil flowing in a bid to stabilize prices.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — As President Biden was planning a politically risky trip to Saudi Arabia this summer, his top aides thought they had struck a secret deal to boost oil production through the end of the year — an arrangement that could have helped justify breaking a campaign pledge to shun the kingdom and its crown prince.

It didn’t work out that way.

Mr. Biden went through with the trip. But earlier this month, Saudi Arabia and Russia steered a group of oil-producing countries in voting to slash oil production by two million barrels per day, the opposite of the outcome the administration thought it had secured as the Democratic Party struggles to deal with inflation and high gas prices heading into the November elections.

The move led angry Biden administration officials to reassess America’s relationship with the kingdom and produced a flurry of accusatory statements between the two governments — including a charge by the White House that Saudi Arabia was helping Russia in its war in Ukraine.

Lawmakers who had been told about the trip’s benefits in classified briefings and other conversations that included details of the oil deal — which has not been previously disclosed and was supposed to lead to a surge in production between September and December — have been left fuming that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman duped the administration.

This account is based on interviews with American officials and officials from Gulf Arab nations, as well as Middle East experts with knowledge of discussions between the two nations.

What happened over the last half-year is a story of handshake agreements, wishful thinking, missed signals and finger-pointing over broken promises. Far from rebuilding a relationship with a leader Mr. Biden had once pledged to treat as a “pariah” after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the outcome has been another low point in America’s tumultuous ties with Saudi Arabia.

The episode is also a revealing example of how Saudi Arabia, under the leadership of its ambitious and often ruthless crown prince, appears eager to shed some of its longtime reliance on the United States, with Prince Mohammed trying to position Saudi Arabia as a powerhouse of its own.

American officials said that, even days before the OPEC Plus decision, they had received assurances from the crown prince there would be no production cuts — and when they learned of the Saudi reversal they made a futile last-ditch push to change minds in the royal court.

The Saudi Energy Ministry said in a statement that “the kingdom rejects these allegations and stresses that such mischaracterizations made by anonymous sources are entirely false.”

The ministry added, “The decisions of OPEC Plus are reached by the consensus of all members and determined solely by market fundamentals, not politics.”

White House officials admit they were angered and surprised by what they said was a Saudi about-face, but insist their overall strategy to lower energy costs is working.

“We have a disagreement with Saudi Arabia over the most recent production cut, but our energy policy has always focused on prices, not number of barrels — and that policy is succeeding with crude oil prices down over 30 percent this year alone,” Adrienne Watson, a National Security Council spokeswoman, said in a statement on Tuesday night.

At the same time, U.S. officials are bracing for another potential price surge in December, if a European embargo on Russian oil goes into effect and the Saudis refuse to increase oil production to make up for the anticipated reduction in supply. The officials say that would be a sure sign that the Saudis were helping the Russians by undermining the American and European-led plan.

“While we clearly disagreed with the OPEC Plus decision in early October, we recognize the importance of continuing to work and communicate with Saudi Arabia and other producers to ensure a stable and fair global energy market,” said Amos Hochstein, Mr. Biden’s energy envoy.

Some analysts say that senior American and Saudi officials have misread each other on both the dynamics of the oil market and the geopolitics around Russia, and that the Biden administration will have a hard time figuring out how things went awry.

“Deconstructing Saudi decision-making right now is like Kremlinology on steroids,” said Hussein Ibish, a scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. “It’s become a matter of a relative handful of people around the king and the crown prince.”

“Even the most well-informed people in the United States often don’t know,” he added.

The White House has indicated it might seek retribution for the Saudi decision, and some Democrats in Congress are making a push to scale back some military and economic ties to the kingdom. Even some of the president’s staunchest supporters have called the episode an example of the administration sacrificing principles for political expediency — and having little to show for it.

“There’s now a level of embarrassment as the Saudis merrily go on their way,” said Representative Gerald E. Connolly, Democrat of Virginia and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Mr. Biden met in Saudi Arabia with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Mr. Biden met in Saudi Arabia with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Biden administration officials began planning in the spring for the president to make a summit stop in Saudi Arabia while also visiting Israel over the summer. They knew such a trip would bring criticism: Mr. Biden had denounced Prince Mohammed during the presidential campaign, had ordered the declassification of an intelligence assessment that the prince likely ordered the killing of Mr. Khashoggi and had thus far in his presidency refused to have a one-on-one meeting with the crown prince.

But some of the president’s aides saw both short- and long-term benefits for the trip and had quietly tried to repair the relationship. They said it was important to work with the kingdom on the Yemen war and Iran, and to expand Israel’s acceptance in the region. More immediately, they believed, the trip could shore up a Saudi commitment to convince OPEC to increase oil production as Russia’s war in Ukraine had led to surging global fuel prices.

Leading proponents of the visit, including Mr. Hochstein and Brett McGurk, the top National Security Council official for Middle East policy, met during the spring with Prince Mohammed and his advisers. American officials said that in May, they reached a private oil deal with the Saudis that had two parts.

First, the Saudis would accelerate an OPEC Plus production increase of 400,000 barrels per day already planned for September, moving it to July and August. Then the Saudis would get the cartel to announce a further production increase of 200,000 barrels per day for each month from September to December of this year.

On June 2, OPEC Plus announced they would move up the production increase scheduled for September — fulfilling the first part of the secret deal.

That same day, the White House announced Mr. Biden would soon make a trip to Saudi Arabia.

Democratic lawmakers remained skeptical of the efforts at rapprochement. Representative Adam Schiff, Democrat of California and chairman of the House intelligence committee, said publicly that Mr. Biden should not travel to the kingdom. He and five other senior Democratic House members sent a letter on June 7 to Mr. Biden urging him to take a more guarded approach to Saudi Arabia — the most immediate issue, they said, was that “Saudi Arabia’s refusal to ​​stabilize global energy markets is helping bankroll Vladimir Putin’s war crimes in Ukraine.”

The White House agreed to give the lawmakers classified briefings about their diplomatic efforts on a range of issues, including the Yemen war, Iran and Saudi Arabia’s relations with Israel. In briefings and talks with members of the congressional intelligence and foreign affairs committees, Mr. McGurk and Mr. Hochstein laid out the elements of a variety of agreements they had brokered with the Saudis, including the oil production boost intended to bring down prices.

Mr. McGurk said in a statement on Tuesday that diplomacy with the Saudis was mainly aimed at building stability and prosperity in the Middle East, “from establishing a truce in Yemen to countering Iran to fostering regional interconnectedness, including with Israel.”

For Democratic lawmakers who attended the briefings, the apparent oil pledge from the Saudis promised relief both for American consumers being pummeled by inflation, and for Mr. Biden and his embattled party as they headed into the November elections.

The price of oil was slowly dropping by the time Mr. Biden arrived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on July 15 for his meeting with Prince Mohammed and other Arab leaders. The image of the American president bumping fists with the Saudi crown prince he once vilified endures from the trip, but behind the scenes, White House officials believed they had at least shored up Saudi commitments on a number of fronts.

Saudis officials seemed eager to demonstrate to the Americans that they had delivered on their commitments — during the summit, they gave members of Mr. Biden’s delegation a chart showing oil prices had fallen to $101 per barrel, down from more than $120 per barrel after the war in Ukraine began. The kingdom would soon pump more than 11 million barrels per day, a level it had reached for only a few months in total over the past several years.

Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman. American officials believe he was instrumental in convincing the crown prince to cut production to keep oil prices from falling so low that they would impair the kingdom’s economic development plans.
Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman. American officials believe he was instrumental in convincing the crown prince to cut production to keep oil prices from falling so low that they would impair the kingdom’s economic development plans.Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

The Americans came away from the summit with the belief that the agreement was on track and that Prince Mohammed was satisfied. But in Riyadh, top Saudi officials were privately telling others that they had no plans for further meaningful oil production increases.

Indeed, the first public warning of this came on Aug. 3, when OPEC Plus announced a paltry bump in production for September of 100,000 barrels a day — half of what U.S. officials believed the Saudis had promised them.

American officials said they did not understand why that decision was made. Then OPEC Plus announced on Sept. 5 it would cut production by 100,000 barrels per day — retracting the increase it had announced a month earlier. After that, U.S. officials were increasingly confused and concerned about the kingdom’s direction.

In late September, American officials began hearing that Saudi Arabia could get OPEC Plus to announce a deep cut to oil production at a meeting scheduled for Oct. 5. U.S. officials scrambled to get Prince Mohammed to back away from any such move.

On Sept. 24, American officials met in person in the kingdom with Prince Mohammed and his brother Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the Saudi energy minister. During the meeting, Prince Mohammed assured the Americans that there would be no production cuts, according to U.S. officials with direct knowledge of what transpired.

But four days after that, the White House learned the crown prince had done the opposite: Saudi officials notified the Americans that Saudi Arabia would back production cuts at the OPEC Plus meeting, which took place in Vienna.

The White House dispatched Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to speak by phone to Mohammed al-Jadaan, the Saudi finance minister, to argue against the production cut, but that failed to sway the Saudis.

American officials say they believe that Prince Mohammed was particularly influenced by a high-level Sept. 27 meeting in which Prince Abdulaziz, the energy minister, argued that oil production cuts were needed to keep prices from plummeting to as low as $50 per barrel. The U.S. officials said they learned Prince Abdulaziz asserted that, under such a scenario, the Saudi government would lack the resources to fund economic diversification projects at the heart of Prince Mohammed’s domestic agenda.

Some U.S. officials believe that the Russians influenced the Saudi about-face, pointing to Prince Abdulaziz’s strong working ties with top Russian officials close to Mr. Putin, particularly Alexander Novak, the deputy prime minister who oversees energy policy.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia meeting in 2019 with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Some U.S. officials say that Saudi Arabia is effectively backing Moscow over Ukraine by keeping oil prices high, an assertion that the Saudis reject.
President Vladimir Putin of Russia meeting in 2019 with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Some U.S. officials say that Saudi Arabia is effectively backing Moscow over Ukraine by keeping oil prices high, an assertion that the Saudis reject.Credit…Pool photo by Alexey Nikolsky/EPA, via Shutterstock

Saudi officials vehemently denied marching in lock step with Russia and said they have viewed themselves as a neutral mediator in Russia’s war with Ukraine. Some American officials said that an answer to whether Riyadh has truly cast its lot with Moscow will come on Dec. 4, when OPEC Plus is scheduled to meet again.

The White House is working with European allies to implement a partial embargo and price cap on Russian oil sales beginning in December. Their goal is to deprive Moscow of resources and to increase pressure on Mr. Putin to end the war in Ukraine, while keeping global oil supplies stable.

But much hinges on what the Saudis choose to do. If they refuse to announce a production increase at that December meeting — around the time when Russian oil could come off the market — oil prices might surge, undermining Mr. Biden’s efforts against Russia and stoking global inflation.

On Tuesday, speaking on stage at the annual investment forum in Riyadh, Prince Abdulaziz said that the kingdom would do what was in its best interests.

“I keep listening to, ‘Are you with us or against us?’ Is there any room for, ‘We are for Saudi Arabia and the people of Saudi Arabia’?” he said. “We will have to deliver our ambitions.”

New York Times October 26, 2022

Why are the monkeys descending from the trees?

Climate change, deforestation and the extermination of predators are leading arboreal primates to spend more time on the ground

40 years ago muriquis spent just 0.05% of their time on the ground, a percentage that has increased twentyfold in a quarter of a century.
40 years ago muriquis spent just 0.05% of their time on the ground, a percentage that has increased twentyfold in a quarter of a century.MARLON LIMA / PROJETO MURIQUI DE CARATINGA

The northern muriqui monkey is born, lives and dies in the trees. These monkeys, once abundant in the dwindling Atlantic Forest of eastern Brazil, eat, socialize, play and reproduce without ever descending to the ground. They only leave their arboreal safety in emergency situations (when a baby falls to the ground, for example) or if they are being chased by a predator. But in the Feliciano Miguel Abdala Private Natural Heritage Reserve, in the state of Minas Gerais, there have been no dangerous predators for a long time. Perhaps this explains why for at least four decades they have been increasingly seen coming down from the trees. At first it was for feeding and little else, but now they spend almost half of their time on the ground, resting and frolicking. This is not an isolated case; it is taking place across the Americas, Africa and Asia.

Primatologists have been studying the Feliciano Miguel Abdala muriquis since the 1970s. This species of spider monkey is on the verge of extinction; there are fewer than 1,000 specimens remaining in the wild and it is classified as “critically endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. The decline of their natural habitat, the Brazilian Atlantic Forest, has confined them to patches of jungle surrounded by farmland, grazing pastures and forest plots. The upside of so much human pressure is that their natural predators have become extinct; the downside is that their refuge does not surpass 1,000 hectares.

The combination of both factors could explain a phenomenon that began as sporadic but is now a tradition passed down through generations: spending more time on the ground. Scientists first witnessed a muriqui descending from a tree in 1982. They did not see it as hugely significant at the time but they did write it down, as they do with everything they see, either directly or through dozens of cameras installed throughout the forest. With more than 10,000 observations over three years, they estimated 40 years ago that muriquis spent just 0.05% of their time on the ground. In another study conducted between 1998 and 1999, it had increased to 0.7%. In another investigation carried out between 2006 and 2007, with almost 15,000 observations, the percentage had risen to 1%. It doesn’t sound like much, but it represents a twentyfold increase in just a quarter of a century. The data from the most recent campaign is still being analyzed.

The forested margins impose limits to the expansion of the distribution areas, so the only solution was to expand the use of vertical space”Karen Strier, primatóloga de la Universidad Wisconsin-Madison (Estados Unidos)

Karen Strier, a primatologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has been studying the muriquis of the Feliciano Miguel Abdala reserve and other groups still present in the region since 1982. These primates are not only interesting because of their critical situation; being patrilineal and patrilocal, with females coming from outside the group, there is hardly any hierarchy between the sexes and within each gender, which makes it a very egalitarian society, which is rare among primates. For Strier, the increase in visits to the ground is closely related to the rise in demographic pressure in an increasingly reduced space. Time spent on the ground extended, she explains, as the population of muriquis rose to what the scientists suspected could have been a threshold. The forest boundaries of the Feliciano Miguel Abdala reserve impose limits on the expansion of the distribution areas, so the only solution was to make the most out of the vertical space. This is what muriquis, as well as other arboreal primates, are being forced to do.

But the quality of the time spent on the ground is just as relevant as the amount. During the course of their observations, scientists have noticed a series of changes that point to the institutionalization of the new practice. The descents, previously reserved for emergencies, became more frequent: first to feed, but later also to move between the increasingly larger clearings. Today, more than a third of the time the muriquis spend in the shade of the trees is used for socializing, or even simply resting. This would imply, as Strier and her colleagues write, that the current patterns of the muriquis’ land use show more than just a response to an ecological need. On many occasions they were seen descending to the ground to go to another tree, even when there were viable alternatives to move from branch to branch. For the scientists, the fact that these monkeys have extended that facet to non-essential activities implies that their aversion to terrestrial dangers has relaxed. And that aversion is carried in the genes.

Far away from Brazil, in southern Ethiopia, lives the Bale Mountain vervet. Like mandrills or baboons, it belongs to the cercopithecidae family, which is also known as the Old World monkey family. Their ancestors were the first primates to descend from the trees, before the hominids did. The vervet is one of the few species in the family that is 100% arboreal – or at least it used to be. This monkey is doubly unique. In addition to being the only arboreal monkey of its genus, it is the only one of the six species of the group that bases its diet on practically one thing: leaves and tender stems of bamboo. As in the Brazilian jungle, human advance in the Ethiopian plateaus has fragmented the forest, which is now surrounded by land for farming and livestock.

In a study published in 2018, researchers from the universities of Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) and Oslo (Norway) followed four populations of vervets: two that lived in one of the few still-intact bamboo forests and two that survived in highly fragmented and deteriorated plots of forest. They saw that the former still had a diet that was 80% made up of bamboo, while the latter had had to diversify it to include insects and vegetables that they stole from human crops. But they noticed something else. Primatologist Addisu Mekonnen Kassie shared the numbers: the vervet monkeys living in the fragmented forest spent much more time on the ground (36.5%) than those in the continuous forest (2.3%). Again, habitat deterioration appears as the trigger of a new behavior.

Adult male orangutans on the island of Borneo spend up to 5% of their time on the ground. However, those from neighboring Sumatra do not come down from the trees. In Borneo the tigers were extinct, in Sumatra, not. In the image, a male rescued from a palm plantation.
Adult male orangutans on the island of Borneo spend up to 5% of their time on the ground. However, those from neighboring Sumatra do not come down from the trees. In Borneo the tigers were extinct, in Sumatra, not. In the image, a male rescued from a palm plantation.IAR/KLHK (REUTERS)

Adapting to a changing landscape

Even further away from Brazil, in the Tuanan forest on the island of Borneo (Indonesia), several groups of orangutans have been studied for decades. They are not monkeys; like humans, they are great apes. The orangutan is the largest arboreal mammal on the planet, and contrary to what was believed until recently, it also descends to the ground. Monitoring since the turn of the century has confirmed that one of the Tuanan groups spends an average of 2.29% of its time there. The percentage rises to 5% in the case of adult males. This male audacity is a constant in all species of arboreal monkeys that are adopting terrestrial habits. Compared to other populations in areas where deforestation has caused a lot of damage, they found that orangutans here spend twice as much time on the ground.

The other orangutan species lives on the neighboring island of Sumatra, but they do not touch the ground there. The reason could be the tiger: the great predator of Southeast Asia is extinct in Borneo, wiped out by humans centuries ago. However, these felines are still present in Sumatra, and their habitat overlaps with that of the great apes.

The PNAS scientific journal recently published a review of the terrestriality in almost 50 species of primates of the Americas and Madagascar. The investigation, in which more than a hundred primatologists participated, shows that the descent of arboreal primates to the ground is still relatively short-lived; the average time they devote to their ground activities is 2.5%. The study also points out some of the factors that are influencing the arboreal behavior of these animals. Three among them are being subjected to such quick rate of change that they transcend the pace of nature: habitat degradation (especially deforestation), the elimination of natural predators and, finally, climatic conditions.

“With the accelerating effects of climate change and deforestation, we predict that some of these species will descend to the ground more frequently to survive in these changing landscapes.”Tim Eppley, biólogo de la San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

Tim Eppley, a biologist at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, is the lead author of this huge piece of research. He explains that the main goal of the study was to understand what drives an arboreal species to spend more time on the ground. Many recent reports have shown that certain species are spending time on the ground, something rarely seen before, so the scientists wanted to find out if those species shared a specific trait, or if there were certain anthropogenic or ecological pressures that could explain it. Their work concludes that higher temperatures and decreases in canopy cover increase the use of land by these primate species. With the accelerating effects of climate change and deforestation, they predict that some of these species will descend to the ground more often in order to survive in changing landscapes.

Climate change, like the one currently underway, created the conditions and the selective pressure that drove our ancestors to descend from the trees. However, comparing then and now would be, say experts on human evolution, absurd. Salvador Moyà, a researcher at the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont in Barcelona, explains: “About 14 million years ago, forests reached northern Germany, but the climate changed, becoming warmer and drier. The forests shrank and concentrated towards the equator. This caused new selective pressures that favored a new model of life, terrestrial life.” Moyà insists that two basic ingredients are necessary in order for there to be evolution: “On one hand, selective pressures that favor a new type of organism, that the negative versions are negatively selected and those that adapt to the environment survive. On the other hand, there must be candidates with a morphology that helps them be positively selected.”

A selective pressure exists now, but there are two different components. Moyà elaborates: “The current change is happening at supersonic speed, from seven million years ago to the current rate there is an abyss. In addition, there must be good pre-adapted candidates who could take advantage of the new conditions. A group of primates that adapts to the ground could appear: the Papionini [mandrills, baboons] did it 15 million years ago and we did it six million years ago. There are two possibilities, that they adapt to a more terrestrial way of life or that they simply become extinct. Most likely, being such an instantaneous change, it will end in a catastrophic event.”

Tim White is the director of the Human Evolution Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley. He discovered Ardipithecus ramidus, a candidate to be one of the first hominids that descended from the trees, and he rejects any type of similarity between the past and the present situation. He explains that the habitats available to early hominids in Africa were varied and included open and closed settings, and all of them show evolutionary adaptations to bipedalism, as opposed to the behavioral changes documented in this research. There were monkeys and apes that lived at the same time as these early hominids, and none of them became bipedal. For him, there was evolution then, while now there is an adjustment of behavior.

What White, Moyà and Eppley agree on is that the rate of deforestation and climate change are such that there will be no time for adaptation to arise for some individuals who know how to take advantage of the new conditions, as our ancestors did millions of years ago.

Hamburg Mosque Reportedly a Hotbed for Iranian Propaganda

The Hamburg Islamic Center is considered the most important outpost of the Iranian regime in Germany. But since it is also reportedly used to spread the mullahs’ propaganda across Europe, calls are growing for its work to be restricted.

A mosque in a very prime location: the Hamburg Islamic Center on Alster Lake
A mosque in a very prime location: the Hamburg Islamic Center on Alster Lake Foto: Christian Charisius / picture alliance / dpa

On a Tuesday morning, there isn’t much going on at the Hamburg Islamic Center (IZH) located at a prime address on Alster Lake. Two elderly men sit on a wooden bench and converse in Farsi. Another man stands in front of the mosque’s small bookstore and peers at the treatises laid out on the table in several languages and featuring titles like “They Will Be Done – The Most Beautiful Islamic Prayers” and “The Family in Islam.”

In the latter, readers learn that “homosexuality, sodomy and adultery are diseases of modernity.” In addition to information about this “swamp of sexual dysfunction,” it also contains instructions for husbands. For example, in the chapter titled “Obedience or Slavery?,” it says, “According to religious regulations, the wife must ask her husband’s permission if she wishes to leave the house.” It also states that, no matter what kind of operation he runs, it is the boss’s job to monitor the comings and goings of his staff and to monitor whether they are fulfilling their duties.

This kind of misogynistic and homophobic exegesis of the religion alone would be reason enough to be bothered by the Blue Mosque, as the center is also known. But this isn’t the only reason. According to reports, the IZH is also used by Iran’s mullah regime to spread its propaganda and exert influence over Shiite Muslims.

The parliamentary group of the center-right Christian Democrats recently introduced a resolution in Germany’s federal parliament, the Bundestag, to support the Iranian protest movement. Among other things, the resolution calls for closing the IZH and prohibiting the organization from working with German government agencies in any capacity.

A “Significant Center of Propaganda”

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which is charged with keeping tabs on all forms of extremism, has been observing the IZH community for many years and describes it, besides the Iranian Embassy, as “Iran’s most important representation in Germany and a significant center of propaganda” in Europe. Officials there claim that, with the help of the IZH, Iran is seeking to “bind Shiites of different nationalities to it and to spread the basic social, political and religious values of the Iranian state in Europe.” Behind the center is the Islamic Community of the Shiite Communities in Germany (IGS), an umbrella organization that claims to represent 150 mosque communities.

For many exiled Iranians who once fled the brutal Islamists, it is intolerable that the German government hasn’t taken action against the Blue Mosque. Many suspect that the government is afraid to make any such move because it might worsen its diplomatic relations with Iran.

On its website, the Iranian Community in Germany, a secular organization, calls for the European Union – and the German government, in particular – to “monitor and legally prosecute the agents and religious institutions acting here on behalf of the regime.” At solidarity rallies, “there are often regime informers spying on us and photographing those participating in the demonstrations.”

Active Agents in Germany

Iranian agents in Germany are thought to be particularly active. Sources in German security circles in Berlin say that the “handling of opposition figures is a prioritized goal of Iranian intelligence services.” In some cases, it is done in a highly professional manner. The Quds Brigade, the elite foreign unit of the Revolutionary Guards, “don’t only rely on their own countrymen” for its activities in Germany. According to information obtained by DER SPIEGEL, they also try to recruit Shiites from other countries.

The organization is still a member of Schura, the council of Islamic communities in Hamburg. Schura works together with the city and helps to shape religious education in the schools. At the moment, an arbitration committee is “deliberating on the further course of the IZH and whether it can remain a member,” sources at Schura said.

Umbrella Organization Denies All Allegations

Susanne Schröter, director of the Frankfurt Research Center on Global Islam (FFGI) at the University of Frankfurt, also signed the protest letter. “According to the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, there has been evidence for years that the center is not only anti-Semitic, anti-democratic and misogynistic, but also that it has ties to the terrorist Hezbollah militia,” she says. “I have little understanding for the fact that people aren’t setting boundaries here.”

The IGS umbrella organization, on the other hand, feels unfairly treated and is denying all accusations. “Our members are mosques and congregations that exclusively deal with religious matters,” it stated in a press release. “As we have laid down in our statutes, we are committed to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany.” It adds, “For us, as the umbrella organization, Iranian politics are not relevant.” The IZH itself also writes: “Our only connections abroad are with the offices of the great scholars of the Islamic world.”

“Repression and Disregard for Human Rights”

Despite these denials, authorities at Hamburg’s state Interior Ministry have taken action against one of the IZH’s top officials. The deputy head, whom the security authorities accuse of maintaining contacts with the Islamist Hezbollah organization, has been ordered to leave Germany. If he doesn’t do so on his own accord, he will face deportation.

On Thursday afternoon, the city’s deputy mayor, Katharina Fegebank of the Green Party, also expressed her opposition to the center. “As I see it, the IZH’s participation in the city’s contracts with the Islamic religious communities is no longer imaginable,” she told DER SPIEGEL. “The IZH is the antithesis of our free and democratic basic order. In Iran, you can see every day what the mullahs’ regime stands for: repression and disregard for human rights.”

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Hamburg Mayor Peter Tschentscher of the center-left Social Democrats has been more reserved in his public statements, but he has said that he does believe that representatives of the IZH “in the past have repeatedly and blatantly violated the spirit of the state treaties with the Islamic associations” in the city-state. “I expect Schura to take this into account, as it has announced, when deciding whether the IZH can remain part of its association.”

Fegebank views the calls to close the IZH as “an understandable reaction.” The authorities in Hamburg, she continues, are keeping a very close eye on the IZH and have been informing the public transparently for years about the organization’s anti-democratic, misogynist and anti-Israeli sentiments. “The deputy head’s expulsion demonstrates once again how consistently Hamburg takes action against enemies of the constitution,” she adds, although she also notes: “I don’t think an association ban is going to be easy to do because of the high legal hurdles. In our constitutional state, a ban is preceded by, among other things, intensive investigative work.”

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Norway arrests ‘Brazilian researcher’ accused of spying for Russia

Investigators believe man posing as academic at University of Tromsø, in sensitive far north, was using false identity

José Assis Giammaria, the suspected Russian agent.
José Assis Giammaria, the suspected Russian agent.

Norway’s domestic security agency has arrested a man claiming to be a Brazilian academic whom it suspects of being a Russian spy.

“We have requested that a Brazilian researcher at the University of Tromsø be expelled from Norway because we believe he represents a threat to fundamental national interests,” the police security service (PST) deputy chief, Hedvig Moe, told the public broadcaster NRK.

The security agency was concerned he “may have acquired a network and information about Norway’s policy in the north”, Moe said. “Even if this … is not a threat to the security of the kingdom, we are worried it could be misused by Russia.

Norway said last week it had arrested a seventh Russian national suspected of illegally flying drones or taking photographs in restricted areas, mainly in the strategically sensitive far north of Norway.

Investigators believe the supposed researcher, who was detained on Monday in the Arctic city, was in Norway under a false name and identity working for one of Russia’s intelligence services, NRK said. A local court ordered him to be held for four weeks.

Two staff members at the University of Tromsø who closely worked with the suspect said police had identified the man in question as José Assis Giammaria.

“I received a message late last night that police had detained Giammaria and searched his office,” said Gunhild Hoogensen Gjørv, a professor in security studies at the university.

Gjørv said Giammaria had arrived at the university in December 2021 after contacting her with the request to conduct research at her department, which focuses on Arctic security.

“Giammaria emailed me, saying he was interested in learning more about security in the Arctic,” Gjørv told the Guardian in a phone interview.

“He was recommended by a professor that I knew in Canada where he studied. We did the standard background check and called the references he listed,” she said.

According to Gjørv as well as publicly available information, Giammaria graduated from the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary in 2018.

Gjørv said Giammaria was not officially employed at the University of Tromsø but helped organise lectures and seminars while working on his “self-funded” research.

Gjørv believes Giammaria did not have access to classified information at the university.

“But he did get an understanding and insights into the sort of discussions and debates that we are having about security. He was at the place where important research was happening,” she said, adding that “ironically” much of her department’s research was focused on hybrid threats.

“What is interesting, if not ironic, is that we research how the civilian domain is targeted by hybrid threats. I did not expect I would be part of exactly what we research.”

“It says something about what Russia thinks about our research.”

A second colleague who has closely worked with Giammaria described him as “friendly” although they added that he was extremely protective of his privacy.

“He said he was against social media, and didn’t even want to use WhatsApp, he only wanted to talk on Telegram,” said the colleague, who asked for anonymity. “At the same time, he asked a lot of questions, including questions of personal nature as well.”

The colleague said Giammaria had a “funny accent” that reminded him of Russian, but he could not “exactly place it”.

Giammaria’s behaviour had raised suspicion among colleagues at the university, the source said, and he once made a joke to Giammaria, asking him whether he was a spy.

Both Gjørv and the second colleague did not know Giammaria’s exact age but said he looked to be in his “late 30s or early 40s.”

The suspect’s lawyer, Thomas Hansen, told VG newspaper he denied any wrongdoing.

“He does not understand the accusations,” Hansen said of his client. “That is why he also asked to be released in court today.”

According to the court detention order, the Norwegian justice ministry notified the man last week that it believed he was “in Norway on assignment for the Russian authorities and may be a Russian citizen with false Brazilian papers”.

International criminal court

The court order added: “Nothing has subsequently emerged to indicate that the ministry’s assessment is not correct.”

Several Russian citizens have been held in Norway in recent weeks, including three men and a woman allegedly taking photos, who have since been released. Three others – one with four terabytes of photos and videos – were arrested with drones.

Norway, now western Europe’s largest gas supplier, is on high security alert after last month’s suspected sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines off Sweden and Denmark.

In June, Dutch intelligence revealed that a Russian spy had tried and failed to secure an internship at the international criminal court (ICC) in The Hague using the false identity of a Brazilian citizen that he had built up over more than a decade.

Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov, 36, who is accused of being an agent of Russia’s GRU military intelligence, was arrested at Schiphol airport after flying to the Netherlands under the false identity of Viktor Muller Ferreira, 33.

In August, investigators unmasked another GRU spy by the name of Maria Adela Kuhfeldt Rivera, who allegedly spent a decade posing as a Peruvian jewellery designer and partied with Nato staff based in Naples.

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Ukraine war heading for ‘uncontrolled escalation’, says Russia

Moscow appears to be preparing ground for further escalation with discredited claims that Kyiv may use ‘dirty’ bomb

Ukrainian soldiers fire at Russian positions in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region.
Kremlin is likely to be weighing how to respond to yet another anticipated battlefield defeat. Photograph: AP

Russia’s defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, has told western counterparts that the war in Ukraine is heading for an “uncontrolled escalation” amid evidence that the Kremlin is weighing how to respond to yet another anticipated battlefield defeat around the key southern city of Kherson.

With Russian troops setting up new defences for a fresh Ukrainian offensive in Luhansk in the country’s east as well, Moscow appears to be preparing the ground for yet further escalation, with discredited claims that Kyiv may be preparing to use a dirty bomb as a “false-flag operation” to blame Russia.

Taisiia Kovaliova, 15, stands amongst the rubble of a playground in front of her house hit by a Russian missile in Mykolaiv, on 23 October.

Russian officials – including Vladimir Putin – have repeatedly hinted that the Kremlin may be prepared to use a nuclear weapon as part of its so-far failed brinkmanship to discourage Kyiv and its western allies, which have been supplying Ukraine with modern weapons, intelligence and training.

Shoigu discussed the “rapidly deteriorating situation” in phone calls with his British, French and Turkish counterparts and also spoke by phone with the US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, for the second time in three days. The Pentagon said Austin told Shoigu he “rejected any pretext for Russian escalation”.

Without providing evidence, Shoigu said Ukraine could escalate by using a “dirty bomb” – conventional explosives laced with radioactive material.

Analysts have noted that a “dirty bomb” would have little utility for Ukraine on the battlefield, not least when its forces are currently retaking large swathes of territory by conventional means, instead interpreting Russia’s claim as a pretext for its own planned escalation.

In an overnight address, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said the Russian accusation was a sign that Moscow was planning such an attack itself and would blame Ukraine.

“If Russia calls and says that Ukraine is allegedly preparing something, it means one thing: Russia has already prepared all this,” Zelenskiy said. “So when today the Russian minister of defence organises a phone carousel and calls foreign ministers with stories about the so-called ‘dirty’ nuclear bomb, everyone understands everything well. Understands who is the source of everything dirty that can be imagined in this war.”

Shoigu’s comments fit a worrying pattern of escalatory actions by Moscow as the tide of the war has turned against it, most recently with its targeting of civilian infrastructure with missiles and “kamikaze” drones after Kyiv’s attack on the Kerch strait bridge in Crimea earlier this month.

In a joint statement after the talks, Britain, France and the US said they were committed to supporting Ukraine “for as long as it takes” and rejected Russia’s warning about a “dirty bomb”.

“Our countries made clear that we all reject Russia’s transparently false allegations that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory,” they said. “The world would see through any attempt to use this allegation as a pretext for escalation.”

Nigel Gould-Davies, a senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia and the International Institute for Strategic Affairs, commented on Twitter: “It’s Russia that is escalating: attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, apparent attacks on western connectivity infrastructure, and mining of Novaya Kakhovka dam. And playing with nuclear fire in Zaporizhzhiya [nuclear power plant] for months.

“So [it’s] hard to see these calls as anything other than Shoigu either doubling down on Putin’s bluffs, or preparing way for Russian nuclear use. Yes, nuclear (ie fission [rather than a dirty bomb]). A dirty bomb would breach nuclear taboo but not achieve significant effects.”

He added: “I worry there is too much motivated reasoning in dismissing possible Russian nuclear use. We don’t want it to happen, and/or we don’t see the point, therefore it won’t. But Russia faces logic of dwindling choices as it loses. Escalation of all kinds more likely.”

The latest threats from Moscow come as Russian forces appear to be preparing to withdraw from the east bank of the Dnieper River near Kherson, ordering a fresh evacuation of civilians, and laying the ground for the potential loss of the city of Kherson itself.

About 25,000 people have been evacuated from the area since Tuesday, the Interfax news agency said. However, Russia-installed authorities in Kherson reported insufficient vessels to ferry people across the river at one point on Sunday, blaming a “sharp increase in the number of people wishing to leave”.

The Russian education minister, Sergei Kravtsov, said in a video message: “The situation today is difficult. It’s vital to save your lives. It won’t be for long. You will definitely return.”

On Monday, the region’s Russian-installed administration announced the formation of a local militia, saying that all men remaining in the city could join.

Russia accused western countries of having “essentially stolen” its gold and foreign exchange reserves via sanctions.

Asked by reporters about an EU proposal to transfer frozen Russian assets to Ukraine, the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said: “In general, a part large of our assets have been essentially stolen by specific western countries.”

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A senior Ukrainian official said Russia’s occupation administration in Kherson was crumbling.

A destroyed military vehicle in Arkhanhelske, in the Kherson Region.
A destroyed military vehicle in Arkhanhelske, in the Kherson Region.Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times

KYIV, Ukraine — Less than three weeks after President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia announced the illegal annexation of Kherson and three other Ukrainian territories, there were growing signs on Monday that Russia’s civilian administration in the strategic southern territory was crumbling, even as Ukrainian officials said Moscow’s troops were preparing to stay and fight.

Merchants in the regional capital of Kherson are refusing to be paid in Russian currency, government offices have been emptied of essential equipment and civilians have been told by proxy officials loyal to the Kremlin to take “documents, money, valuables and clothes” and flee, according to Ukrainian officials, videos on social media and accounts from Ukrainian activists who have spoken to residents.

The reports were difficult to verify independently because internet and other communication services in Kherson have been almost completely severed, in what Ukrainian activists said was a deliberate effort by Russian officials to thwart Kyiv’s military. But such moves would add to the evidence that Russia’s civilian administration is proceeding with plans to abandon the city ahead of a possible counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces.

There was, however, no evidence that Russian soldiers were preparing for a mass withdrawal, said Gen. Kyrylo O. Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence service.

He added that the Kremlin proxy officials could be readying the city for urban combat. “They are not preparing to exit now,” General Budanov said in an interview with a Ukrainian news outlet, Ukrainska Pravda, published on Monday. “They are preparing to defend.”

The accounts suggested chaotic conditions in Kherson, with the occupation administration in disarray and the humanitarian situation growing dire.

General Budanov said the largest Russian bank operating in the city, Promsvyazbank, was withdrawing and clearing out the cash from its vaults. He also claimed that occupation officials were emptying hospitals of patients as part “a crazy information campaign” designed to show audiences in Russia that Moscow cares about civilians.

“In other words, they are creating the illusion that everything has gone,” he said. “At the same time, on the contrary, they are bringing in new military units there and preparing the streets of the city for defense.”

Located on the west bank of the Dnipro River, Kherson is the gateway to both Russian-held Crimea in the south and Ukraine’s Black Sea ports to the west, including Odesa. Its loss would be a severe military and symbolic blow for Mr. Putin, who has rejected requests from his commanders on the ground that they be allowed to retreat from the city.

While the billboards declaring “Kherson is forever with Russia” are still standing, local leaders loyal to the Kremlin said this weekend that “all departments and ministries of civil administration” must be moved across the Dnipro River to territory seen as safer from advancing Ukrainian forces. Occupation officials also said they would relocate as many as 60,000 civilians.

Moscow claims that as many as 20,000 people have fled, but Ukrainian officials put the figure at closer to 1,000 and say that most are pro-Kremlin collaborators.

Serhii Khlan, the exiled deputy governor of the Kherson region, said Moscow’s forces and local proxies are engaged in “intense pillaging,” stealing “everything with archaeological and historical significance.”

While his claims could not be independently verified, looting by Russian forces in other parts of the country has been widely documented.

People who fled their homes in southern Ukraine were staying at a center for displaced people in Zaporizhzia on Sunday.
People who fled their homes in southern Ukraine were staying at a center for displaced people in Zaporizhzia on Sunday.Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

Kyiv has imposed a blackout on detailed information about its southern offensive, aiming to maintain an element of surprise as they fight to reclaim towns and villages around Kherson, which Russia seized in the first weeks of the war and is the only provincial capital in Ukraine to fall since Moscow’s invasion. The Ukrainian military’s southern command said on Monday that since it launched its counteroffensive at the end of August, its forces have retaken 90 towns and villages where more than 12,000 people were still living.

Russia’s hold on Kherson appears increasingly precarious. Last week, the top Russian commander in Ukraine, Gen. Sergei Surovikin, said the situation in Kherson was “already difficult” and that he was “not ruling out difficult decisions,” although he did not elaborate.

New York Times – October 24, 2022

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Ukrainians prepare for harshest winter in decades

Russian strikes against the country’s energy grid could leave millions without power, water and heating to protect against freezing temperatures

Residents of Lyman, in Donetsk, cooked in the street on October 16 after the destruction of gas pipes.
Residents of Lyman, in Donetsk, cooked in the street on October 16 after the destruction of gas pipes.WOLFGANG SCHWAN (GETTY)

Ukraine is already experiencing freezing nighttime temperatures, and hundreds of thousands of people are being forced to endure then without any source of heating. That is because on October 10, Moscow began massive attacks against the Ukrainian power grid; since then, not a day has gone by without a strike against infrastructure that is key for the survival of the population. This past Saturday was the most devastating day yet, according to a statement issued by Ukrenergo, the state company that manages the national electricity grid: more than 30 Russian missiles left entire populations in 10 provinces without electricity. In Lutsk, a western city near Poland, the hot water supply was interrupted. The Ukrainian president, Volodímir Zelenskiy, and the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, have both described this strategy as a war crime.

The war will bring Ukraine the harshest winter in decades. Yurii Vitrenko, president of the state gas company Naftogaz, said as much in August, and since then the situation has only gotten worse. In October, Russia has been focusing on destroying Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. More than 40% of the country’s electricity network is out of service, in addition to hundreds of kilometers of gas pipes, water pipes and all the refineries. Russia’s goal is to leave millions of people without resources to cope with the cold.

Vitrenko warned in an August interview with The Guardian that they were planning to reduce indoor temperatures by an average of four degrees this winter – heating in Ukraine is centralized and controlled by local authorities. Two months later, on October 14, the president of the gas company confirmed in an interview with The Kyiv Independent that the situation was worse than expected because many of its water heating plants had been rendered useless. Vitrenko also warned that Ukraine had less than half of the gas reserves needed to spend the winter safely: the gas that it imported from the European Union has stopped flowing because its European allies have to face their own energy crisis.

In Kyiv, the heating season should have started two weeks ago, but Naftogaz has confirmed that this year it will start later and end earlier due to the lack of gas and coal. The two main coal mines in Ukraine have suspended their activity due to the attacks. The alternative for millions of people are electric stoves, but this resource is also at risk, as President Zelenskiy made clear this week: a general blackout is possible. The Ministry of Energy figures it has lost 50% of thermal generation – coal and combined cycle plants are the main source of electricity in the country – in addition to 30% of solar plants and 90% of wind farms. And there’s more: the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which provided 20% of Ukraine’s electricity production, is now in the hands of Russian forces.

Less transportation and lighting

Municipalities are already reducing the electricity consumption of their buildings, public transportation and urban lighting, and in some cases, such as the city of Zhytomyr, power cuts are taking place at certain times on certain days of the week. Millions of citizens are voluntarily reducing consumption, as can be seen in Kyiv, where many businesses have turned off part of their lighting. Yet this, according to the Ministry of Energy, will not be enough to prevent power outages from becoming a regular occurrence.

Authorities are reiterating that citizens must stock up on equipment to combat the cold, from sleeping bags and thermal clothing to diesel generators in residential buildings. The Minister of Territorial Policy, Oleksii Chernisov, made an appeal on October 12 at a conference of the US think tank Atlantic Council, asking international allies to send generators, fuel, mobile water purification plants and mobile boilers. “Winter is going to be very hard, we were not prepared, we did not foresee an attack on this scale against the energy network,” former Deputy Foreign Minister Olena Zerkal said at the same conference. “This winter will be very, very dark and cold,” added Oksana Nechiporenko, director of the NGO Global Office.

Local residents carry firewood to heat their houses in Derhachi, Kharkiv region.
Local residents carry firewood to heat their houses in Derhachi, Kharkiv region.VYACHESLAV MADIYEVSKYY (REUTERS)

Dozens of people were lining up in Kyiv on Saturday in front of the headquarters of a non-profit group where volunteers distributed boxes of food to refugees from Mariupol, the city on the coast of the Sea of Azov devastated by the Russian siege last spring. Officials at the non-profit said they are getting requests for help to get through the winter. People are asking above all for clothes and sleeping bags. Ukraine has about seven million internally displaced people, according to a United Nations count – people who have fled with little more than the clothes on their back from areas close to the fighting.

Former Deputy Minister Zerkal anticipates that the situation will cause a new wave of migration to the European Union, but also to other areas of Ukraine with more resources, especially families with children. EL PAÍS has interviewed several people in Kyiv in the last week who confirmed that they are getting ready to leave the capital to settle in second homes or in relatives’ houses in rural areas with autonomous heating and access to drinking water. Yulia Makuha was at a mountain equipment store in Kyiv last Saturday to buy thermal clothing and a sleeping bag for the low temperatures of the Ukrainian winter, which can drop to -10ºC (14ºF). Makuha explained that she was planning to move to the province of Vinnitsa, in the center of the country, where her parents live in a house that has its own heating system that can work with either coal or wood.

“The number of people who are coming to the store has skyrocketed,” said Sergei Dogov, manager of the Kaprikorn mountain equipment store in Kyiv. “Above all they are buying gas stoves, warm clothing and sleeping bags,” Dogov said. These are the same products that the city’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, recommended purchasing two weeks ago for the coming months. The store manager said he has equipped his own apartment with folding solar panels to place on the balcony, along with sleeping bags a a stove and several gas canisters.

In Horodnia, a rural area 200km (124 miles) north of Kyiv, daytime temperatures are already close to freezing. In the center of town, a clothing distribution point has been set up for evacuees from the eastern provinces, those closest to the front. Last Wednesday Galina Volechuk, head of the distribution center, and her team of retired volunteers commented on the situation with resignation. “Russia will not win this battle, we know how to live with the cold,” she noted.

Prominent Kremlin propagandists have been putting out the message on social media that the cold will now be a weapon for Russia, as it was for the Soviet Union when it stopped the German invasion in World War II. But the differences are evident: on this occasion, the invader is Russia, and it is dealing with a country that also knows how to live with the cold.

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The woman who discovered a virus that exists in 95% of humans

A new book delves into the story of Yvonne Barr, an Irish-born scientist who co-discovered the Epstein-Barr Virus, which increases the risk of developing several types of cancer

Researcher Yvonne Barr, in 1962, in an image provided by her daughter.
Researcher Yvonne Barr, in 1962, in an image provided by her daughter.COLECCIÓN FAMILIAR

When Yvonne Balding died six years ago in Australia, the media didn’t pay a lot of attention. Almost nobody was aware that, when the private school teacher was unmarried (and going by her maiden name, Yvonne Barr) she had co-discovered the Epstein-Barr Virus – the culprit behind mono, multiple sclerosis (MS) and several tumors. Practically everyone carries this virus inside of them, as it infects about 95 out of every 100 people.

Barr died in Melbourne in 2016, after spending the second half of her life as a teacher in various private schools. Her daughter, Kirsten Balding, told EL PAÍS that her mother “hardly ever spoke about her earlier career as a virologist… I would love to write a book about that part of her life, but it would be very short because I don’t have much information!”

Barr’s time as a research assistant in the United Kingdom was short, but rewarding. During the 1960s, she worked alongside several Jewish scientists who had fled Nazism. According to historian Gregory Morgan – author of the book Cancer Virus Hunters: A History of Tumor Virology, released by John Hopkins University Press in August of this year – Barr “left the field of research, in part, because of her experience with sexism.”

The story behind the discovery of the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) begins during World War II. Military surgeon Denis Burkitt, a devoted Christian, was posted in the British colony of Uganda in 1943. After the war, he heard the call of God: he decided to stay put and work in a public hospital in Kampala.

In 1957, Burkitt was brought to a child patient with a severely swollen jaw. No clear diagnosis was made. But then, a few weeks later, the surgeon encountered a similar case. Unable to believe that this was a coincidence, he started going through the medical records of various Ugandan hospitals and ended up finding 38 cases of young boys with the same kind of swollen jaw. This painful condition was ultimately discovered to be caused by a malignant tumor. This tumor would end up being called “Burkitt lymphoma” – a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). NHL is a cancer of the lymphatic system.

Surgeon Denis Burkitt studying a map of Africa in 1968.
Surgeon Denis Burkitt studying a map of Africa in 1968.WELLCOME LIBRARY

In 1961, Burkitt travelled to London to present his results at a conference being held at Middlesex Hospital. The British virologist Anthony Epstein was among the attendees. Fascinated by the discovery, he realized that these kinds of tumors didn’t exist in cooler climates. Perhaps, he thought, it had something to do with tropical environments. After the conference, he approached Burkitt to suggest that this cancer may be caused by a virus, transmitted by mosquitoes.

The two men began to collaborate. Burkitt would send medical samples taken from sick children in Uganda to Epstein by plane, so that he could analyze them in his London laboratory. For two years, Epstein injected the biopsied tissue into chicken eggs, mice and other types of human cells but no trace of a virus turned up.

At the end of 1963, Epstein contracted a new research assistant: Yvonne Barr, a 31-year-old Irishwoman, who had studied Zoology in Dublin and conducted research on leprosy and canine distemper. A few months later, Epstein used his microscope to find floating tumor cells in a recently-arrived set of biopsies from Ugandan children. He asked Barr to cultivate the cells, so that different treatments could be tested on them. She succeeded, managing to multiply the cells from a cancer that was afflicting a nine-year-old Ugandan girl.

When there were finally enough lymphoma cells growing in the lab, Epstein was finally able to examine them with a much more powerful electron microscope. It was a snowy February day in 1964. The microscopic image showed particles that the virologist immediately recognized as viruses from the herpes family. In Cancer Virus Hunters, Epstein recalls his feelings in an interview with Morgan: “I went out in the snow without a jacket or anything, just with the white lab coat… I walked around the building to calm down.”

Blood cells infected with the Epstein-Barr Virus.
Blood cells infected with the Epstein-Barr Virus.INSTITUTO NACIONAL DEL CÁNCER DE EE UU

On March 28, 1964, Epstein, Barr and pathologist Bert Achong announced to the world that they had found viruses in Burkitt’s lymphoma cells.

It still had to be proven that the virus was indeed the cause of the cancer. Epstein contacted Gertrude and Werner Henle, married virologists from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The Henles detected the virus in 100% of African children with lymphoma but they found another surprise: 90% of healthy Americans also carried the virus.

While EBV is perfectly immune-controlled (or dormant) in the vast majority of infected individuals, a minority develop EBV-associated diseases.

In 1968, the French oncologist Guy de Thé set up an ambitious experiment to draw blood from more than 40,000 children in Uganda and waited a few years to analyze the peculiarities of those who developed Burkitt’s lymphoma. However, the plan, which was already complex, ran into an unexpected problem: in 1971, Idi Amin seized power in a coup, ushering in an eight-year-long reign of terror that would see about 300,000 Ugandans murdered or disappeared. Yet, despite the turmoil, Amin left the French experiment alone. The results would ultimately show that, of the 14 children from the initial test pool diagnosed with lymphoma, EBV was the culprit. Malaria – a parasitic disease transmitted by mosquitoes – was proven to be facilitating the potency of the virus, which is why Burkitt’s lymphoma is concentrated in Africa, the continent home to the highest transmission rates.

In 1965, Yvonne Barr married an Australian named Stuart Balding. She moved with him to Melbourne that same year. Her daughter, Kirsten, believes she did postdoctoral research there, at Monash University, but doesn’t know in which lab.

“She told me it was a men’s club. I got the impression that she had trouble getting a permanent position, so she switched to teaching.”

Yvonne Barr dedicated the rest of her professional life to teaching physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics in different private schools. “She was a very outgoing person and loved helping people, so I suspect teaching was more suited to her than research. She never regretted leaving science; she considered it a difficult profession,” her daughter explained.

Alberto Ascherio – a 68-year-old epidemiologist from Harvard University – is one of the world’s leading experts on EBV. However, he was never able to speak to Yvonne Barr: “She left science and her name unknown.”

Ascherio’s team began tracking some 10 million US military personnel two decades ago. The results of the study, published this year, have shown that the risk of multiple sclerosis is multiplied by 32 following infection with EBV.

The epidemiologist recalls that the Irishwoman sent a short video to a scientific conference held in Oxford in 2014, to commemorate a half-century since the discovery of the virus.

He was one of the experts gathered to hear her recorded remarks: “Hello! Greetings from Melbourne, Australia. My name is Yvonne Balding and I am the Barr of the Epstein-Barr Virus. Barr was my maiden name!”

In his book, Morgan highlights a surprising figure: 20% of human tumors are caused by viruses. He notes that the scientists who revealed these unexpected links have saved “perhaps millions of lives.” Epstein and Barr were the first.

Epstein continued to conduct research and was knighted in 1991. In 2021, the scientific community came together to celebrate his 100th birthday. Barr, on the other hand, lived a quieter life, teaching, travelling with her family, taking walks in the countryside and birdwatching. “She loved crafts, like knitting,” her daughter recalled.

Despite her penchant for anonymity, her family made sure that her tombstone would commemorate what she did for humanity. It reads: “Dr. Yvonne Margaret Balding, born Barr. Co-discoverer of the Epstein-Barr Virus.”

El Pais October 21, 2022

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A Mobster Dodged Hit After Hit. His Son Finally Got Him.

Anthony Zottola was convicted of murder-for-hire Wednesday. Prosecutors say he wanted the real estate business of his father, Sylvester, a reputed Bonnano crime family associate.

A police car with its lights on parked by yellow crime tape. Investigators look at the ground.
Police investigate the McDonald’s drive-through where Sylvester Zottola died in 2018.Credit…Gregg Vigliotti for The New York Times

By Colin Moynihan

Oct. 19, 2022

Someone kept trying to kill Sylvester Zottola, month after month.

The first attack came in September 2017, when a man approached Mr. Zottola, whom the authorities described as a Mafia associate, outside his Bronx home and knocked him down with a punch in the face.

That November, someone tried to shoot Mr. Zottola as he drove on the Throgs Neck Expressway. Two days after Christmas, men lurking inside his home stabbed him in the neck. In the summer of 2018, a man walked up on the sidewalk, pointed a pistol at him and pulled the trigger only for the weapon to misfire.

Finally, that fall, an attacker succeeded in killing Mr. Zottola, 71, shooting him repeatedly as he sat in his S.U.V. at a McDonald’s drive-through on Webster Avenue.

On Wednesday, a jury in Brooklyn convicted Anthony Zottola, his 44-year-old son, of conspiracy, murder-for-hire, shooting his brother, Salvatore Zottola, and murdering his father.

Prosecutors had told jurors that Anthony Zottola planned to kill his brother and father so he could control a family real estate business worth millions of dollars. He was accused of working with a high-ranking member of the Bloods street gang who hired a “network of hit men.”

Himen Ross, who was accused of firing the fatal shots, was convicted on Wednesday, along with Anthony Zottola. They face life sentences, prosecutors said.

Alfred Lopez, who prosecutors said was Mr. Ross’s getaway driver, was acquitted. Several other men had pleaded guilty to participating in the plot. Among them was a senior Bloods member, Bushawn Shelton.

After Wednesday’s verdict, Anthony Zottola’s wife exited the courtroom weeping. In a hallway, Salvatore Zottola said his father was a good man.

“He didn’t deserve this,” Salvatore Zottola added. “None of us did.”

Evidence presented by prosecutors during an eight-week trial in Federal District Court included surveillance camera footage of shootings, hundreds of text messages among conspirators and testimony from a hired killer who described bumbling assassination attempts.

New York Times October 19, 2022

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Anger and Confidence in the Battle Against Russia“This Is Terrorism, Carried Out by Idiots”

Volunteer Lisa Vedmedera: "It's like a switch has been flipped, and then you realize you don't want to be in Berlin or Paris, you want to be at the Golden Gate in Kyiv."
Volunteer Lisa Vedmedera: “It’s like a switch has been flipped, and then you realize you don’t want to be in Berlin or Paris, you want to be at the Golden Gate in Kyiv.” Foto: Alina Smutko / DER SPIEGEL

Recent battlefield victories have triggered euphoria in Ukraine. Even Vladimir Putin’s missile attacks have failed to break the fighting spirit. But how are Ukrainians coping with the constant emotional strain of war?

If it were possible to measure anger in money, then Ukrainians are furious at the moment. This week, Russian President Vladimir Putin has sought to scare them with massive airstrAnzeigeikes on key cities in the country. His missiles have struck substations and playgrounds, while in Kyiv, people have fled into the safety of subway stations for the first time since March.

But they are not allowing themselves to be intimidated. Serhiy Prytula, 41, with the professional smile of his former TV presenter self, is standing in the attic of a historic building in Kyiv and taking stock of how his compatriots have responded to the attacks. In just 24 hours, they have donated 352 million hryvnia, the equivalent of just under 10 million euros, to buy new kamikaze drones for use against the Russian aggressors.

The response to the appeal for donations, branded the “People’s Revenge,” exceeded all expectations. “The Russians thought we were just going to go hide in our holes in the ground. But the Ukrainians still donated from the bomb shelters. They’ve learned to channel their anger into something constructive,” says Prytula.

Visitors to Ukraine right now find a country in a strange emotional state. It’s a cocktail of anger and confidence, of pain and euphoria. It’s a society under constant emotional duress: Moments of fear are followed by ones of exuberance. Ukrainian society has learned to cope and is showing a remarkable degree of resilience.

Now, with each success on the front lines, pride and optimism are growing. It seems almost self-evident to many that, after the military successes of recent weeks, Ukraine has the ability to recapture Crimea and deal a death blow to Putin’s regime. Society and the political leadership are so confident of victory that it almost makes one uneasy. Ukrainians have discovered their own strength, but are they still able to realistically assess the strength of their opponent?

Former TV presenter Serhiy Prytula is collecting money to purchase kamikaze drones for the military.

Former TV presenter Serhiy Prytula is collecting money to purchase kamikaze drones for the military. Foto: Alina Smutko / DER SPIEGEL

Serhiy Prytula’s foundation is a good place to start in the search for answers. It embodies the very thing of which Ukrainians are most proud: their ability to organize. Prytula, who is the presenter for the national selection process for the Eurovision Song Contest and is thus a familiar face to Ukrainians, originally set up the foundation to provide relief during the coronavirus pandemic, but he has since retooled it for the war. He has used the donations to purchase Turkish Bayraktar combat drones for the army as well as a “People’s Sputnik,” a Finnish surveillance satellite. They celebrated the purchase in August with a photo of Putin’s bridge to Crimea.

Like everyone, Prytula expects his country to win the war. But what counts as a victory for the Ukrainians? “Society is divided,” he says. “For some, returning to the status quo before the invasion in February is enough. Others say: We will not have won until the 1991 borders have been restored. Still others say: Even then, we can only celebrate victory when Russia disappears from the map as a political entity. This monster has to fall apart.” Prytula says that, for his part, he would be content with reconquering all the lost territories, because “Russia will disintegrate anyway, like the Soviet Union before, I’m not worried about that.”

Volunteers clean up a yard the day after a missile attack on Kyiv.

Volunteers clean up a yard the day after a missile attack on Kyiv. Foto: Alina Smutko / DER SPIEGEL

If Prytula has worries about the future, they are focused on other issues. How will families torn apart by the war find their way back to each other? Will women and children who found refuge in European Union countries return to a broken country, or will the men follow them abroad to countries that have been unscathed by the conflict.

Lisa Vedmedera, 24, is sweeping up broken glass in a courtyard. The windows above here have been shattered, as have the windows of the cars in the courtyard, not to mention the glass facade of the high-rise office building just across the street. A Russian missile slammed into an old brick building next door early on Monday morning, wreaking havoc in the immediate area. Miraculously, there were only injuries, no deaths. Presumably, the target was the neighboring district heating plant. Putin had said that Ukraine’s energy sector was an objective.

Lisa Medvedera, 24, is helping locals clean up the mess after the attacks.

Lisa Medvedera, 24, is helping locals clean up the mess after the attacks. Foto: Alina Smutko / DER SPIEGEL

Normally, Vedmedera would be waiting tables, but her café remains closed because of the air raid sirens, and she is instead working with other volunteers to care for the wounded rather than sitting out the alarm at home. “We’re not afraid here anymore,” she says, “otherwise, I could have left the country.” Vedmedera is from Dnipro in the east, Russian is her mother tongue, and she has an inscription tattooed in Russian on her neck: “I am freedom.”

She’s speaking Ukrainian now, quickly and downright enthusiastically, as if there could be no better time than now to be young, a euphoric woman amid the rubble who talks about drum ‘n’ base festivals for the army and how, suddenly, everyone is helping each other. “It’s like a switch has been flipped, and then you realize you don’t want to be in Berlin or Paris, you want to be at the Golden Gate in Kyiv.”

Julia Dazenko in her parent's damaged apartment

Julia Dazenko in her parent’s damaged apartment Foto: Alina Smutko / DER SPIEGEL

Building residents seem less enthusiastic, but they also don’t seem to be intimidated. Julia Dazenko, who is petting the cat in her parent’s destroyed apartment – she initially fled when the blast wave blew all the doors open – is furious at the Russians. Her mother had to go to the hospital with a head injury. Their neighbor Roman Kolyada, a radio journalist who sometimes issues the airstrike warnings himself, is full of cold scorn. “This is terrorism, carried out by idiots,” he says of the Russian airstrikes. “But the next time there’s an air raid alert, I want to be farther away from the district heating plant, that’s for sure.”

Although Ukrainians are worse off, their mood has brightened since the war began, “there’s no doubt about it,” says Yevhen Holovacha, 72. The prominent sociologist has spent years studying the emotional state of his fellow compatriots. Statistically speaking, Ukrainians aren’t a particularly happy lot. In October 2021, one-third of respondents cited “sadness” as their predominant emotion, Holovacha says, with “hope” coming in second. When they answered the question again after a half a year of war, suddenly “hope” had become the predominant sentiment, at 70 percent, and “sadness” had dropped. And this despite the fact that people are suffering from displacement and separation and are having more frequent nightmares.

The damaged kitchen of the Dazenko's apartment in Kyiv: People aren't afraid of the Russian aggressors, they're angry at them.

The damaged kitchen of the Dazenko’s apartment in Kyiv: People aren’t afraid of the Russian aggressors, they’re angry at them. Foto: Alina Smutko / DER SPIEGEL

According to surveys, few things have improved as much as the relationship Ukrainians have with their own government. “For the first time since independence, people realized what a good country they have built – at precisely the moment they were confronted with the horror visited upon them by a barbarian neighbor. They’ve begun valuing their country and no longer want to leave it as they used to.”

The dream of many Ukrainians have of the end of the war is one of justice, of a war crimes tribunal against Russia, Holovacha says, a rapid collapse of their neighboring country. “Of course, that’s naive. But that’s what they are constantly told by opinion leaders and experts on TV.”

Many of the brash tones are coming directly from the country’s leaders. The war must end with a Russian “surrender,” just as World War II did for Germany in 1945, including reparations and a war crimes tribunal, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said recently. In response to the question of whether Ukrainian troops would stop their advance in Crimea or only when they reached Moscow, Ukrainian Security Council head Oleksiy Danilov said, “The Army will stop where our interests end. And those interests end where the end of the would-be Russian empire begins. “

A Ban on Negotiations

It’s not always clear the extent to which such statements are meant seriously and how much is just posturing. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy himself hasn’t specified how much territory he hopes to regain by military means. At the same time, however, he has issued a decree that his government is prohibited from negotiating with Russia at all as long as Putin is still in office. The move came in response to Putin’s announcement that he would annex four Ukrainian territories.

Actions speak even louder than words in expressing the confidence of the Ukrainian leadership. Missile attacks on military targets in Crimea, the expulsion of the Russian army from the Kharkiv region, and the simultaneous advance in the Luhansk region in the east and in the Kherson region in the south show that they are setting big goals. And then there have been the spectacular explosive attacks on Russian targets.

A crater left by a bomb in Kyiv's Shevchenko Park: "Terrorism, carried out by idiots."

A crater left by a bomb in Kyiv’s Shevchenko Park: “Terrorism, carried out by idiots.” Foto: Julia Kochetova / DER SPIEGEL

In August, a car bomb killed journalist Daria Dugina near Moscow. Her father, Alexander Dugin, the philosopher and mastermind behind Russia’s expansion strategy, was presumably the true target of the attack. The New York Times learned from intelligence sources in Washington that the act had been authorized by “parts of the Ukrainian government,” which prompted U.S. government officials to complain to Kyiv.

In October, a truck loaded with explosives detonated on the enormous bridge that Putin built across the Kerch Strait following the annexation of Crimea. The attack sparked enthusiasm in Kyiv – showing that not even Putin’s prestige object is safe any longer. A picture of the burning bridge was even set up in front of City Hall, with passersby taking selfies in front of it. Clothing stores and sushi restaurants offered special discounts in celebration.

Residents of Kyiv near the model of a stamp dedicated to the explosions of the bridge in Crimea. Locals have been taking selfies in front of it.

Residents of Kyiv near the model of a stamp dedicated to the explosions of the bridge in Crimea. Locals have been taking selfies in front of it. Foto: Alina Smutko / DER SPIEGEL

Mykhailo Podolyak describes the attack as an “excess.” He claims that the Ukrainian government had nothing to do with the explosion, nor with the one on Dugin’s car. Podolyak says this during an interview in Zelenskyy’s presidential office, where he serves as adviser in the president’s inner circle. He looks surprisingly fresh and in good spirits despite eight months of war. His office is brightly lit, but the hallways are pitch black, the windows secured with sandbags and the surrounding streets are cordoned off. There could be a Russian missile attack on the government quarter at any time.

On the morning of the attack on the Crimean bridge, Podolyak was enthusiastic: “Crimea, bridge, the beginning. All that is illegal must be destroyed,” he wrote on Twitter. Podolyak’s denial that Ukraine had anything to do with the detonation, some in Kyiv believe, could be a product of signals coming out of Washington that officials should be more careful with their claims of responsibility.

Mykhailo Podolyak is an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy: "War is psychology," he says.

Mykhailo Podolyak is an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy: “War is psychology,” he says. Foto: Julia Kochetova / DER SPIEGEL

Either way, Podolyak is an optimist, and if there’s one thing that Zelenskyy’s polished media team knows how to do, it’s create moods. “War is psychology,” says Podolyak.

There are “good reasons why we Ukrainians are extraordinarily optimistic,” he says, before listing them: the failure of the Russian army, the professionalism of their own, the help from the Europeans, the conflicts within the Russian leadership, Zelenskyy’s unwillingness to budge. “Putin isn’t sane. Negotiations on any kind of compromise aren’t possible,” Podolyak says.

“How quickly the war comes to an end will depend on just a small amount of additional weapons technologies, but it is not a matter of years, but of months,” he says. “We will be able to liberate Donetsk and Luhansk and Kherson in the near future.” Then, Podolyak says, the Russian elite will be in full panic. “This will be the last autumn of the Russian autocrats.”

“All or Nothing”

Podolyak isn’t even frightened by Putin’s deliberately vague warnings of nuclear war, and he’s not alone on that front either. “For us, this is an all-or-nothing war, anyway,” says political scientist Volodymyr Fessenko. “That’s why Ukrainians are thinking strictly in pragmatic terms – like how big an area a tactical nuclear weapon would contaminate? How do you protect yourself?”

But the fear hasn’t dissipated entirely, even if it is masked by the at-times euphoric expressions. This is especially true of those who are seeing the war more close-up than the civilians in Kyiv. Ivan Siyak, a 41-year-old medic with an artillery unit in eastern Ukraine, says: “No one here popped open a bottle of champagne when the Crimea Bridge was burning. At the front, you are very busy with yourself and your immediate surroundings.” The Kyiv native certainly understands the joy civilians are experiencing and their great pride in the Ukrainian army. “But things look different from the inside than they do from the outside.”

Speaking by phone during a break from his deployment, Siyak soberly describes how his own mood has changed over the long months of the war. In February, when everyone thought there would be street fighting in Kyiv, Siyak volunteered for the Territorial Defense Forces. “This is going to sound pathetic,” he says, “but I wanted to die in a Ukrainian uniform. Or be captured in a Ukrainian uniform.”

The Russian withdrawal from the Kyiv region felt like a miracle to him. In May, Siyak says, pessimism returned because it appeared that the Russian army had learned from its mistakes and was doing a better job of commanding its forces. But then, he says, the mood improved again in the summer “and since the Kharkiv counteroffensive in September, it seems that victory is practically inevitable. No amount of missile attacks on major cities can destroy this optimism.”

The fears from February – of Putin and an omnipotent Russian neighbor – have since faded. Siyak now has other fears. That he might have to serve for years to come. That he can’t see his young son. That the military will be too powerful in the country after the war.

The Ukrainians now have eight months of war behind them. It’s an emotional roller coaster, and who knows how long it will last or what is yet to come? But even the skeptics are certain about this: The worst is behind them.

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Loneliness is toxic

Neuroscientist Mariano Sigman during the interview in Madrid.
Neuroscientist Mariano Sigman during the interview in Madrid.MOEH ATITAR

In his book ‘The Power of Words,’ the researcher reviews the science behind the extraordinary capacity of conversation and how to have a fruitful dialogue.

Neuroscientist Mariano Sigman says that there’s a joke that perfectly encapsulates many of today’s social problems: A driver has a flat tire and decides to go to a nearby house to ask for a jack to change it. He imagines that he will bother the neighbor, that the neighbor will be rude and won’t want to help him. And when he gets there and the neighbor politely opens the door, the driver – who has been getting angry by himself – tells him: “Shove it where the sun don’t shine.” “You don’t know the other person, and you project all kinds of prejudices onto them. If your disposition is toxic, you’re going to hate them. Many times, we miss an opportunity to talk to another person because we have fallen into a pit of prejudice; a conversation will never work if you don’t give it a chance,” explains Sigman, who recently published The Power of Words, a great treatise in defense of dialogue based on scientific evidence.

Sigman, who fled Argentina after the military coup with his family at the age of three and grew up in Barcelona, now lives in Madrid, where he has become the subject of his own experiments. The most recent one: the 49-year-old scientist, who says he’s “totally inept” at rhythm and harmony, learned to play music and released an album at the age of 47 in order to prove that the brain can change, even at a later age. In his book, Sigman argues that words, and how we use them, can solve social problems and improve people’s lives. But dialogue only works under the right conditions. Below, he discusses what makes for a healthy conversation and why it’s important.

Question. In your book, you say that people are like amphibians in that we live in both reality and fiction. Is conversation healthy because it takes us out of the subjective fiction that we have created for ourselves?

Answer. It’s the narrative one constructs about things for oneself. Let’s say you and I go to see the same movie and we each have a different story about what we have seen, which can completely change our emotions. For you, it caused a lot of anguish, but for me it was a comedy. And then if we get together to talk about it, seeing your point of view nourishes me and gives me a perspective that I didn’t have before.

Q. The book vindicates dialogue, but the main problem is that we think that conversation doesn’t work. The first step is convincing people to sit down and talk, because it works.

A. I don’t mean to suggest in any way that “if you want something and you desire it, you’re going to get it.” But the opposite is true: if you convince yourself that something is impossible, then there is no way it is going to happen. When you convince yourself that something is possible, you have simply opened a door. Then, you must work and put in a lot of effort to make it happen. But we censor ourselves all the time. We tell ourselves that it’s impossible to talk to Juan, or Pedro, or Ana, because it’s not going to do any good. That’s what happens in political conversation. I want to tell people that there’s a lot of science [on the subject]. Because people imagine that science is all telescopes and microscopes, but there are scientists working on the Israel–Palestine border. Their work is to bring together two people who do not understand each other and to figure out what the best way for them to meet is. And you find out that it’s not as difficult as it seems. The starting point is to create a willingness to sit down and talk, knowing that the other person is not stupid or a fanatic, and that he/she can change. Because if you have all those [negative] beliefs, there’s no way the conversation will work.

Q. That’s where the figure of the mediator that you’ve found in your experiments comes in, a mediator who can get even adversaries to agree.

A. This figure of the mediator, like a good soccer referee, brings the two captains together and tells them: let’s play, let’s have a good time, because this is a game; it’s not a war. This is very clear and widely known in political conversation, but to me it’s even more crucial in other much more common conversations, where we do not realize that the same thing is happening. It’s the conversation between a father and a son, between a mother and a daughter, or even between couples, where there are also many gaps. What is the problem with these conversations? Sometimes there are such different perspectives that it’s difficult to understand, to accommodate the other person’s reality, as is often the case when there’s a generation gap… Think of the mentality of a child who, when he tastes something he doesn’t like, spits it out immediately. As adults, we become more open to different flavors, but with conversation, it’s the other way around. We’re much more closed off to anything that challenges us. We have to change that disposition, and science shows us that if we do change it, we are going to be in a much better place. It’s a very powerful tool, it’s not rocket science; it’s very simple, but it’s very powerful.

Q. But not just any dialogue will do. You must create specific spaces where it does work, and we are always highlighting the spaces where it doesn’t, such as social media.

A. We have known how to have face-to-face conversation for many centuries; it’s a human skill, like walking. But then new tasks appear, such as WhatsApp group chats, which are an example of failed conversation. We respond and say things that nobody would say if we were talking face to face. But that’s understandable because we’ve been using WhatsApp for six or seven years, and we’ve been talking face-to-face for ages. WhatsApp is a place where many people talk at the same time; nobody has taught us how to converse there.

Q. And what are the conditions where conversation does work?

A. Number one, talking to just a few people at once. It’s very simple, but you can’t talk to 500 people at the same time; you can’t solve a problem in your life with 850 people. It’s as simple as that, speak with three or four people at a time.

Q. Assemblies are going the way of the dinosaur…

A. Assemblies are a space for taking the community’s temperature, and they are fine. But if you want to decide something in your company, you don’t say: okay, perfect, we’ll bring together 70,000 people to make the decision. No, that doesn’t work. A conversation is a place in which everyone has the right to speak, and everyone has the right to listen. If there are 700 people, it’s just a space for monologues.

Q. The first condition for a good conversation is to talk to just a few people at once. What’s the second condition?

A. A good disposition is key. Go into a conversation to enjoy what you may learn, go in wanting to be surprised. Enter a dialogue with curiosity and the desire to discover something. The opposite of that is going into a conversation to try to convince someone of something, to reject…anything that is different. A conversation like that isn’t useful, it doesn’t lead anywhere.

Q. What else?

A. We have certain resources that protect us from the traps we fall into. Humor is one of them; it’s very valuable and healthy. It has, and has always had, a function in human communication, which is to be able to get through difficult things: laughing is a way to be able to think about something together without it becoming a major drama. Humor is a tool; it’s a device for having an open conversation about difficult topics. Another tool is using the third person to talk about things. If you are told about a couple who has a problem, it seems like something commonplace, but when it affects you, it seems like the end of the world. Many times, we need to gain perspective just to be able to have a good conversation about very difficult things.

Q. Eric Klinenberg’s book Palaces for the People warns about the disappearance of places where the community gathers to create that social fabric. Are those spaces where conversation happens being lost?

A. Yes, that’s very important. The Greeks discovered that they had to retreat to a place with ideal conditions, good music, good food, good drink, and good people. The magic happens immediately with those things. What’s the opposite of that? Twitter. Those spaces for mingling, like the public school, the cafe and the tavern, are critical and, indeed, we may be losing them. And with the loss of those spaces, we would be losing the value of bringing people who have different perspectives on things together to meet in a congenial place rather than a confrontational one. That’s been a huge driver of social progress and human progress. Everything we do, we do to have good conversations, it’s essential to the human condition.

Q. Humans are not just social animals but conversational animals.

A. Yes, that’s why social media works. You’ve been to a place, but you feel like you haven’t been there if you can’t tell the rest of the world about it. Things make sense and become real, not after you’ve done them, but as soon as you can tell other people about them.

Q. You also talk about the importance of words. For example, one study showed that when Israelis and Palestinians sit down to talk, they don’t mean the same thing when they talk about “peace.”

A. That’s a fundamental problem of human communication; it’s called the granularity of words. An infinite number of things happen to us, but we have very few words with which to talk about them. And many times, people can’t agree because we’re using the words incorrectly. When you go to the doctor and you are sick, you are looking to find the precise word that describes your illness. But many times, the issue is that there is a communication problem that makes them give you a word to describe the ailment that isn’t appropriate for it. Or when you feel angry and all you’ve done is use a dirty word to describe what happened to you, and it makes you unable to express and communicate it well to others, things get noticeably worse from there.

Q. Hannah Arendt wrote that loneliness feeds totalitarianism.

A. Loneliness means not having someone to talk to, not having someone to talk to in a healthy way…It’s a very good exercise to think about whether you have a person with whom you can talk openly about anything. It’s usually not a partner, parent, or child, because with all those connections, you have a lot of expectations, and it’s very difficult to avoid judgment. It’s usually a good friend, a person you can talk to about anything, someone who will listen to you, with whom you can make mistakes, to whom you can say the worst things in the world, all your demons, someone you can talk to in any terms. That’s tremendously important for health. That’s not conjecture, that’s science. There’s a lot of science that shows that when you have that person, all of your mental and physical health is much better than if you don’t have that person. There are a lot of well-known health factors: not smoking, not being sedentary, avoiding stress, getting good sleep…. We’ve understood that one can cultivate a good life, but it is not yet widely accepted that having a space for good conversation is an essential tool for health care, not just a good life.

Hanna Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

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Fact Check: Crimea bridge blast — what’s real, and what’s fake?

A truck, a boat and an ID card — the search for clues after the Crimea bridge explosion is mired with fakes. One particularly clumsy deception comes from the Russian secret service, as our fact check shows.

The still from a surveillance camera shows the fire after the explosion on Kerch Bridge on October 8

An explosion damaged the Kerch Bridge earlier this week. The bridge connects Russia with the city of Kerch in Crimea, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014. Images and videos of the blast have been going viral since then. But some of these are old or manipulated, even fooling media organizations. DW takes a closer look. 

A truck with disappearing wheels?

Some reports purport to show the perpetrators of the Crimea bridge explosion, which Russia has classified as a terrorist attack. Investigators with Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB) claim Ukraine’s military intelligence agency, known as HUR, is responsible for the blast and provided what they allege is proof: a suspicious truck.

Claim: “A video shows the inspection of a truck carrying an explosive device,” Russian news agency, RIA Novosti reported, citing the FSB intelligence agency. An X-ray image of the truck is said to show its explosive cargo.

Verdict: False.

The truck in the X-ray photo isn’t identical with the truck in the video widely accepted as showing the vehicle responsible for the blast. This difference is obvious if you compare a screenshot from the video alongside the X-ray image (shown below). The video which is allegedly surveillance footage, shows the search of a truck at a customs post in Taman, Russia. The image, according to Russian media citing the FSB, is allegedly an X-ray of the truck carrying the explosives hidden among pallets loaded with rolls of film.

The truck in the X-ray image isn’t identical with the truck in the surveillance video: it has a different number of axles, the spare wheel is in a different position and it’s lacking a grille on the side.

The most striking discrepancy between the two vehicles is the different number of wheels, or axles. In the X-ray image, the second wheel on the front right is missing. The truck in the surveillance video has a total of three axels, while the truck in the X-ray image has only two.

The spare wheel towards the end of the trailer is also in a different position in each image. Additionally, the X-ray image doesn’t have a grill on the side between the two sets of tires that are visible on the truck in the surveillance video. As such, it is clear that the video and the X-ray show two different trucks.

The truck being searched in the screenshot is said to have caused the explosion on the Crimean bridge, according to the FSB

Only four days after the explosion on the Crimea bridge, Russian state media such as RIA Novosti, citing the FSB intelligence service, published a false tip-off of who the perpetrators were, which caused Russian investigators to be ridiculed.

An invisible boat?

Some say the cause of the explosion was not on, but rather under, the bridge.

Claim: Footage from a surveillance camera allegedly shows a boat under the Crimea bridge just seconds before the explosion. So writes this Twitter user, among others: “It’s now clear that this explosion didn’t come from the so-called kamikaze truck but from an underwater drone or a small boat filled with explosives.”

Verdict: Unsubstantiated.

The video posted in the tweet is surveillance footage of the Crimea bridge showing the car bridge from the direction of Kerch on the right side of the image. At 00:03 in the video, a wave-like movement is visible on the water. However, it’s not possible to make out what exactly caused the water to move because just a second later, the explosion obscures the view.

Many other users on social media also used the video clip to claim a boat caused the explosion. Here for example, people allege that a boat is recognizable in slow motion. DW’s fact-checking team found no evidence of a boat at the time of the explosion. Nick Waters, a digital image analysis expert at Bellingcat, an investigative organization, can’t see a boat in the image either. In his Twitter thread on the Crimea bridge, Waters writes: “Some have claimed a boat is visible in this still. If there is, I can’t see it. I can see some waves, which might or might not be indicative of something, but I can’t see a boat.”

The surveillance camera footage doesn’t prove that there was a boat under the Crimea bridge at the time of the explosion.

A dashcam filming the explosion?

Claim: “The moment of the strike on #Crimea bridge,” writes one user about a video that quickly went viral on Twitter. 

Verdict: False.

The 12-second footage of a car driving on the Crimea bridge appears to show the car being hit by a blast. At the 00:05 timestamp, a cloud of smoke can be seen rising in the background. Many users doubt the authenticity of this video, as the lighting conditions in the video (a bright day) don’t match those during the explosion at 6 a.m. local time on October 8, 2022, which was in the dark morning hours, as the surveillance camera footage shows. This isn’t the only inconsistency. When DW’s fact checking team performed a reverse image search for individual keyframes of this video, we located older versions of this video that predate the blast. Among others, we found this video in a tweet from May 9, 2022.

When the video was tweeted in May 2022, the recording was presented as an explosion on the Crimean bridge — with success: Leading Russian media, such as the state news agency TASS and the weekly newspaper Argumenty i Fakty reported the explosion, citing eyewitnesses. But on the same day, the video recording was declared a fake by the self-proclaimed government of Russian-annexed Crimea.

Digital forensics experts have also cast doubt on the video’s authenticity. Analyzing the recording on behalf of AP news agency, Hany Farid from the University of California found indications of manipulation: Two individual frames of the video are almost identical, which is very unlikely given the movement in the video. Traces of manipulation of the soundtrack were also detected by Catalin Grigoras of the National Center for Media Forensics at the University of Colorado, according to AP.

What is certain in any case: The video doesn’t show the explosion on the Crimea bridge on October 8.

The perpetrator’s ID card?

An image of a Ukrainian ID card that allegedly belongs to a suicide bomber responsible for the explosion also spread on social networks. Media such as the newspaper Euro Weekly News, the largest English newspaper in Spain, published the claim along with the picture. What’s behind it?

Claim: “Russian officials reportedly have found the perpetrator behind the Kerch Bridge explosion in occupied Crimea,” said one Twitter user.

Verdict: False.

Everything points to a forgery. The number of the ID card in the lower right-hand corner consists entirely of zeros, just as it does on Ukrainian ID card samples. Online copies of these samples are easily found on Wikipedia and elsewhere. Additionally, the signature and the expiry date on the ID card of the alleged perpetrator are identical to the online samples. Furthermore, the upper chest of the person in the photo is naked, which would hardly have been acceptable to any authority. Also, the spelling of the surname in English does not follow the Ukrainian rules for transliterating names into the Latin alphabet.

The fake ID portraying the US comedian Sam Hyde has been repeatedly circulated by trolls

When DW’s fact checking team performed a reverse image search of the ID, it found older posts on social networks that used the ID in other contexts. Sometimes the ID was said to show a fallen Azov leader, in other cases it was linked to the death of Daria Dugina, the daughter of Russian ideologue Alexander Dugin. Many hits lead to meme pages.

The photo on the ID is actually of US comedian Sam Hyde. His name and image have often been used by internet trolls, for example, in rampages, to portray him as the alleged perpetrator. In spring 2022, under the name Samuyil Hyde, the American was also portrayed as the so-called “Ghost of Kyiv,” an alleged Ukrainian pilot who shot down a particularly large number of Russian aircraft.

Map of Kerch Bridge

The bridge over the Kerch Strait connects Russia with the illegally annexed Crimea

Many of the user profiles sharing the information that the ID was fake belong to the North Atlantic Fellas Organization, or NAFO for short. This Internet meme and social media movement fights Russian disinformation online.

Deutsche Welle – October 14, 2022

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Does it make sense to talk about monogamy in nature?

Animals employ a variety of methods when it comes to mating, leading scientists to question the idea of mammals and birds remaining faithful to one partner

A female marmoset carries her young on her back.
A female marmoset carries her young on her back.CHRIS WHITE (GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO)

Many relationships are considered monogamous, especially in Western societies, but not all couples identify with the term. Etymologically, “monogamy” is a Greek word that refers to the act of marrying only once in a lifetime, but in practice, there is a great deal of confusion about what the term means and how to use it properly. This is even the case in scientific fields that study the social behavior of animals.

Let’s imagine that two voles live together their entire lives and are united by an emotional bond, but they have sexual relations with other voles. Or two solitary fish reproduce only once in their lives and only with the same individual. Should we consider these animals monogamous? What exactly defines monogamy?

For much of the 20th century, the scientific community assumed that most birds were monogamous since 90% of species form pairs. Females were assumed to be faithful. Scientists documented only occasional cases of forced copulation in which another male visited the nest of a paired female and forced her to have sex. This behavior fits the widely accepted hypothesis of parental investment. According to the theory’s proponents, females are more selective than males when having sex because they have to invest more energy in reproducing. Thus, scientists believed that female birds were passive and that it fell to males to actively seek sex.

Two Golden Tanagers in the Cloud Forest of San Antonio, Colombia.
Two Golden Tanagers in the Cloud Forest of San Antonio, Colombia.LUIS ROBAYO (AFP)

Such ideas aligned with contemporary concepts of women. For example, in Desmond Morris’s influential 1967 book The Naked Ape, he portrayed the woman in hunter-gatherer societies as a monogamous being who happily waited for her man to return from the hunt to satisfy her sexually. In fact, Morris argued that the female orgasm first emerged to strengthen the bonds between couples.

Soon, dissenting voices questioned the idea of the submissive and monogamous woman, especially feminist scientists such as Sara Hardy and Patricia Gowaty. The latter was studying bluebirds (Sialia sialis), which were considered to be monogamous. In an interview, Gowaty recounts that early in her career, in the 1980s, she noticed that the females were actively unfaithful. “Females will get up in the middle of the night and fly a mile away,” she noted. When she informed her colleagues, they refused to accept what she was telling them; that was not how female birds were supposed to behave. Nevertheless, she eventually managed to get her research findings acknowledged; in 1984, she published the first paper to question the sexual passivity of female birds.

Today, we know that infidelity is a daily occurrence in avian pairs, by both males and females. Indeed, 11% of offspring are “the result of extra-pair paternity,” according to a 2002 study. There are several hypotheses that attempt to explain the evolutionary advantages of a female breeding with a male that is not her usual mate. One theory is that the behavior allows the female to maximize genetic diversity among her offspring. Another hypothesis is that it allows her to take advantage of the opportunity to breed with a male that may be better endowed than her mate. Whatever the reason, sexual exclusivity in animals is so rare that scientists have finally begun to specify that they’re referring to social monogamy, which does not necessarily imply sexual monogamy.

Even so, it is not just a matter of differentiating between social and sexual monogamy. The reason that there is so much confusion in this regard is because monogamy is not just a single characteristic; rather, there are a variety of ways to be monogamous. In some species, the couple is equally involved in caring for the offspring, while in others the mates have unequal roles; some always live together and others only intermittently. Some mate for life, but others do so for only one season; some show jealousy and others do not; most show affection, but others only procreate.

Ring-tailed lemurs in Madagascar.
Ring-tailed lemurs in Madagascar.

Even among primates there are disparate cases. For instance, the Masoala forked-eared lemur (Phaner furcifer) is a nocturnal primate from Madagascar; these animals form pairs and live together in the same area. Males actively defend the territory. The pairs are very stable and usually last for over three years. However, males and females rarely have sex; when they do, they show very little interest in each other or, worse, the encounters are not friendly. Females are the dominant ones and often fight for food, while males avoid conflict. Their relationship is limited to distant vocalizations and sexual encounters. It’s a coupling in which there’s no emotional bond.

That’s vastly different from the monogamy of marmosets, in which the affective bond is so strong that the animals have been suggested as a model for studying the sentimental bonds between humans. They tend to stay together to eat and move around, attack individuals that may endanger their bond, suffer stress when they’re separated, maintain sexual exclusivity, raise their offspring together and even sit with their tails intertwined. Marmosets are one of the very few species that combine many different aspects of monogamy.

As with animals, monogamy varies among humans. Some people build their lives together but have sex with other people. Others have their children with the same individual, but fall in love with more than one person at a time. Some people raise their offspring together but do not have a romantic bond. So, when can we speak of monogamy? To avoid confusion, perhaps it’s more useful to speak of cohabitation, sexual exclusivity, co-parenting and love.

El Pais – October 14, 2022

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Despite Its Barrage of Missiles, Russia Still Loses Ground in Ukraine

“They use their expensive rockets for nothing, just to frighten people,” a member of Ukraine’s Parliament said of Russian attacks on the country’s cities and infrastructure.

Ukrainian troops riding in the back of a truck near the village of Sydorov in eastern Ukraine on Friday.
Ukrainian troops riding in the back of a truck near the village of Sydorov in eastern Ukraine on Friday.Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

KYIV, Ukraine — They exploded with dull thuds on the outskirts of towns and detonated in the center of cities with deafening booms. Strikes in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, left cars burning and splatters of blood on the sidewalks.

Throughout this week, the Russian military fired its most intensive barrage of missiles at Ukraine since the start of the war in February, killing three dozen civilians, knocking out electricity and overwhelming air defenses. One thing the missiles did not do was change the course of the ground war.

Fought mostly in trenches, with the most intense combat now in an area of rolling hills and pine forests in the east and on the open plains in the south, these battles are where control of territory is decided — and where Russia’s military continued to lose ground, despite its missile strikes.

“They use their expensive rockets for nothing, just to frighten people,” Volodymyr Ariev, a member of Ukraine’s Parliament, said of the Russian cruise missiles, rockets and self-destructing drones used in the strikes. “They think they can scare Ukrainians. But the goal they achieved is only making us angrier.”

The war in the country’s south and east continued apace through the strikes, with Russia mostly falling back, though it was attacking along one section of the front in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia moved on Friday to reassure his country that it was making progress getting fresh troops to the front, saying that 16,000 draftees had recently been deployed “in units that get involved in fulfilling combat tasks.” He made the remarks as pro-war bloggers intensified their criticism over the reported deaths of new recruits fighting in Ukraine.

Soldiers firing at Ukrainian troops in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday.
Soldiers firing at Ukrainian troops in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday.Credit…Alexei Alexandrov/Associated Press

Still, during the most intensive days of Russian missile strikes — on Monday and Tuesday — the Ukrainian army continued its offensive in the Kherson region, reclaiming five villages over the two days, according to the military command. The Ukrainian army also liberated a village in the east amid the strikes.

“The Kremlin continues to struggle to message itself out of the reality of mobilization and military failures,” the Institute for the Study of War, a research group, wrote in an analysis published Thursday. “The Kremlin continued its general pattern of temporarily appeasing the nationalist communities by conducting retaliatory missile strikes.”

The war is now separated into two largely unconnected arenas: The battles in the sky, in which Russia seeks to demoralize Ukrainians and cripple their economy with cruise missiles and drones by destroying heating, electricity and water infrastructure as winter sets in, and the battles on the ground, in which Ukraine continues to advance against Russian forces in two areas of the front line.

Russia has even been using the newest addition to its arsenal, Shahed-136 kamikaze drones purchased from Iran, principally for the strategic strikes far from the front line, not in efforts to slow the Ukrainian attacks.

The drones that get past Ukrainian air defenses buzz into cities and explode, blowing up electrical power stations and municipal boilers used to heat neighborhoods.

Damage from a Russian missile attack in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, on Friday.
Damage from a Russian missile attack in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, on Friday.Credit…Reuters

The Ukrainian General Staff said in its morning report on Friday that in the previous 24 hours, the Russian army and air force had attacked sites around the country with missiles, rockets and self-destructing drones, from the region around Kyiv to Mykolaiv in the south, near the Black Sea.

“The enemy is not halting strikes on critical infrastructure and civilian objects,” it said, listing 88 strikes.

The strikes have refocused Ukrainians’ attention on the war in cities where a sense of normalcy had been returning, including Kyiv.

But even successful advances for the Ukrainian army have been bloody and costly, as the Russian military has been skirmishing and firing artillery to cover its retreat and its continuing attacks in the Donbas. Fighting raged along the entire front and in cross-border skirmishes in northern Ukraine overnight Thursday to Friday, the military command said in a morning statement.

The military reported mortar and artillery fire from inside Russia hitting near four towns in the Sumy and Chernihiv regions in northern Ukraine, in a slowly escalating fight along the border that has gone mostly unnoticed amid the missile strikes.

Across the border in Russia, the governor of the Belgorod region wrote on the messaging app Telegram that an ammunition depot had exploded on Friday after being hit by Ukrainian artillery. Residents told Russian news media that the blasts could be heard in the city of Belgorod, and local news media reported that a sugar mill in the area was burning.

Following their policy of ambiguity about cross-border strikes, Ukrainian officials made no claims of responsibility for the ammunition depot explosion.

Officials have hinted at a Ukrainian hand in past attacks inside Russia — for example, posting “no smoking” signs on Twitter in a running joke about the supposed, improbable cause of such explosions. Ukrainian strikes and sabotage have hit military targets and energy and transportation infrastructure in southern Russia.

A woman kneeling on Friday in front of a memorial in Kyiv for members of the Azov Battalion who have died fighting Russia’s invasion.
A woman kneeling on Friday in front of a memorial in Kyiv for members of the Azov Battalion who have died fighting Russia’s invasion.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

In the eastern Donbas region, the Ukrainian military on Friday reported intense artillery and tank battles raging along the eastern rim of the city of Bakhmut, one of the few areas where the Russians are still consistently attacking and the Ukrainians defending.

But seesaw fighting is common even in the east and south, where the broader trend has been Ukrainian advances. On the heights around the city of Sloviansk in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian soldiers were still guarding lines of trenches and machine gun positions Friday, but said it had been weeks since they had needed to take cover from artillery fire. The Russians there have pulled back about 30 miles.

Strikes on Russian supply routes and storage depots had hampered them badly, said a Ukrainian commander, who used only his code name, Artur, according to military protocol.

“They are running out of ammunition,” Artur said. In fighting in the spring, he said, Russian troops had fired 50 artillery rounds for every one the Ukrainians fired. “And now it’s the opposite.”

The bridge connecting Sviatohirsk monastery to the nearby town of the same name was destroyed by retreating Ukrainian forces during the summer.
The bridge connecting Sviatohirsk monastery to the nearby town of the same name was destroyed by retreating Ukrainian forces during the summer.Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

The Ukrainian military in its report on the battlefield on Friday also highlighted what it believed to be Russian manpower shortages, as well as deployments of newly mobilized recruits and mercenaries into the war zone.

It said Russia had moved about 400 foreign mercenaries from unspecified third countries to the Crimean Peninsula, with plans to send them to frontline positions. The assertion could not be independently verified.

Worry has mounted in recent days in Ukraine that Russia will respond to losses in the east and south with missile strikes on cities and infrastructure and a significant incursion into northern Ukraine.

Hints from the authorities in Belarus, Ukraine’s northern neighbor, that the country could enter the war have emerged daily, possibly to force Ukraine to divert soldiers to the north from its offensives in the east or south.

On Thursday, for example, the Belarusian foreign minister, Vladimir Makey, said the country had declared the start of a counterterrorist operation to counter supposed threats from “a neighboring country.” The declaration suggested heightened military readiness, which Ukrainians interpreted as yet another threat.

New York Times – October 14, 2022

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It’s Never Too Late to Pivot From N.F.L. Safety to Neurosurgeon

Dr. Myron Rolle became a neurosurgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital after his football glory days ended.
Dr. Myron Rolle became a neurosurgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital after his football glory days ended. Credit…Ryan Christopher Jones for The New York Times

When Myron Rolle was cut from the Pittsburgh Steelers, he fell into a funk until his mother reminded him of his two childhood dreams: Play football, then become a neurosurgeon. It was time for Plan B.

It had been one month without football for Myron Rolle, an N.F.L. safety, and he was foundering. Mr. Rolle was just 25, and his pro football career looked grim: He was released in 2011 after three unremarkable seasons with the Tennessee Titans and had failed in his attempt to make the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster. Without the structure and rigor of a football career, he struggled to make sense of what would come next.

Mr. Rolle had always had a Plan B. He had been a hot-tempered kid, but at 11, his older brother, Marshawn, gave him a copy of “Gifted Hands,” Dr. Ben Carson’s popular 1990 memoir that detailed how Dr. Carson went from being an inner-city youth with poor grades to the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University Hospital.

After reading it, Mr. Rolle stopped beating up classmates who called him racist slurs or made fun of his Bahamian immigrant parents and started chasing two dreams — being a pro football player and becoming a neurosurgeon like Dr. Carson.

He flourished playing as a defensive back for Florida State, where he was selected to be a Rhodes Scholar in 2009. Though he studied medical anthropology at Oxford as part of the program, Mr. Rolle said his neurosurgeon dream was “dormant” while he pursued football glory. In England, he trained for the N.F.L. draft and was selected by the Titans in 2010.

Myron Rolle in a preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals in 2010 in Nashville. The Titans defeated the Cardinals, 24-10.
Myron Rolle in a preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals in 2010 in Nashville. The Titans defeated the Cardinals, 24-10.Credit…Scott Cunningham/ Getty Images

But Mr. Rolle’s football dream did not go as planned. Though he was competitive in practices, he never played in an N.F.L. regular-season game and the Titans parted ways with him once his contract was up. He tried to make the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster but was cut before the 2012 season. Not yet ready to quit football, he returned home, to New Jersey, where he languished until his mother, Beverly, shook him out of his funk.

Showing him his grade school notebook, where he had written both goals, “she looked me straight in the eyes and pointed at the first one,” he recalled. “She said, ‘This one’s done.’ And she looked at the second one and said, ‘Now, we need to do this.’”

Today, he is Dr. Rolle, and at 35, he is in the sixth year of his neuroscience residency at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. “Those words of encouragement, her belief in me, her thoughtfulness, her disposition during that moment was just what I needed, just what I needed to move forward to the next chapter in my life,” he said.

The following interview has been edited and condensed.

How much did you struggle with giving up your N.F.L. dream?

When I got released from the Pittsburgh Steelers, they flat out told me, “Your talent is there.” I said, “Well, OK, why are you about to release me?” They said: “Well, because there’s a guy that’s not as talented as you, but this is all he has. [A Steelers spokesperson declined to comment.] He needs football. You, I’m not worried about you. You can go be president one day, you can go be a doctor, you’re going to be great.” So it’s almost like if I didn’t have anything else to sort of fall back on, quote unquote, then I would be in a better position.

That was so frustrating. I mean, I can’t explain it enough how difficult it was to sort of reconcile those comments and then also reconcile what you’re seeing and how you’re performing around these players that are getting opportunities that you’re not. It was the most frustrated I’ve been in my life, the most disappointed I’ve been in my life, the most downtrodden I’ve been in my life. The time where I felt like I failed and I let people down.

Dr. Myron Rolle, right, consults with Rosie Thomas, a registered nurse, during his night shift at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Dr. Myron Rolle, right, consults with Rosie Thomas, a registered nurse, during his night shift at Massachusetts General Hospital.Credit…Ryan Christopher Jones for The New York Times

How has creating this path changed you?

There’s the 2 percent philosophy that I picked up from my football coach at F.S.U., Mickey Andrews. Can you be 2 percent better than you were yesterday? You can if you take small steps every single day toward a larger goal. It helps me make more sense of the challenges, the tasks, responsibilities that I have.

Learning how to open up a craniotomy, learning how to put diapers on your newborn kids and be a better attentive husband, all these were tasks that I wanted to accomplish. Any goal, short or long term, doesn’t feel daunting or debilitating. They feel manageable. I appreciate and I pat myself on the back for the small gains, the small wins that I get every single day. It’s a rush of dopamine in my limbic lobe that says: “You’re doing right. This is a reward for doing well.”

What is the biggest challenge you face?

Right now the biggest challenge is finding the time to be attentive and, you know, fully sort of present for all the aspects of my life. You know, when I’m under a microscope and operating on a brain tumor, the patient has been seizing. They expect me to be the best neurosurgeon I possibly could be with the best skills, the best dexterity, with the great decision making.

And then when I’m done with that, I’m supposed to be the best mentor to these 12 or 13 young Black men that I mentor who are all pre-med or medical students interested in neurosurgery. We call it the Honor Rolle. And then what I’m doing now is just be the best father I need to be the most present for my four kids, Zanzi, Zafar, Zora and Zayed. And then the best attentive husband I can be. So it’s just putting all these things into their spaces so that I can just commit my life to them and myself to them because they deserve that. All of them deserve 100 percent.

Dr. Rolle scrolls through a list of patients on a computer. “I believe that God placed me for such a time as this to be a beacon of hope, a light, a mentor and an advocate.”
Dr. Rolle scrolls through a list of patients on a computer. “I believe that God placed me for such a time as this to be a beacon of hope, a light, a mentor and an advocate.”Credit…Ryan Christopher Jones for The New York Times

What do you think propels you forward?

I believe that God placed me for such a time as this to be a beacon of hope, a light, a mentor and an advocate. I was on the front lines when Covid hit and got on TV to speak about Black and brown disparities in health care. I was placed here to be a father to my four children and a husband to my wife, Latoya.

There’s an idea that motivates me, too. There’s so many people that sacrificed for me — names that I know, names that I don’t know — to be where I am right now. That have given up their lives for me to be able to vote, to have an education, to attend certain schools, to have certain jobs, to be able to immigrate to America. It’s our job now to repay that debt with being the best we can be in everything that we do. I take that very, very seriously.

These are intense career and life pursuits. How do you find balance and how do you renew your energy?

It’s family. My children feel my beard and we sing the theme song from the cartoon “CoComelon.” I love to work out. Traveling with my wife. And then I have a core set of friends, and a really close knit group of people who make me laugh. They want to make sure that I’m happy, that I’m doing well. They can talk and pour life into me.

Dr. Rolle makes the rounds in the neuro intensive care unit during a night shift at Massachusetts General Hospital. He is in the sixth year of his neurosurgery residency.
Dr. Rolle makes the rounds in the neuro intensive care unit during a night shift at Massachusetts General Hospital. He is in the sixth year of his neurosurgery residency.Credit…Ryan Christopher Jones for The New York Times

What would you tell people who feel like they’re stuck in their lives and still want to pursue a dream?

One: It’s never too late. Two: You’re needed. You’re still needed in this life. Your lane can be yours and it’s for you. What God has for you is going to be for you. Perfect it. Hone it. Be a master of it. Love it. Do it well. Impact people when you do it and help bring somebody up with you.

What’s next?

I’m in year six of seven of my neurosurgery residency, and I have to do another year of pediatric neurosurgical fellowship. My long-term goal is to practice neurosurgery in America for the majority of the year and then spend a portion of the year back home in the Caribbean developing neurosurgical services in the Bahamas and in all the member states of CARICOM, an organization of Caribbean countries.

What lessons can people learn from your experience?

If you look at the outside, you will see my story as maybe something that is unattainable, right? I played in the N.F.L., Rhodes Scholar, now neurosurgery. But feeling doubts and uncertainty really permeated throughout my life. Feeling like an outcast. Handling issues with violence. Dealing with work-life balance issues or challenges in your workplace. And I just found ways to overcome or mitigate these challenges through the 2 percent process.

I don’t think success looks like any particular person. I do believe that every individual has something brilliant in them and has a responsibility and a purpose that they were placed here on this earth for such a time as this time.

Dr. Rolle having a late-night dinner with his wife, Dr. Latoya Rolle, a pediatric dentist, at the Boston restaurant Ward 8 during a break on his hospital shift.
Dr. Rolle having a late-night dinner with his wife, Dr. Latoya Rolle, a pediatric dentist, at the Boston restaurant Ward 8 during a break on his hospital shift.Credit…Ryan Christopher Jones for The New York Times

New York Times – October 11, 2022

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Russia is not investigating the possibility that the Ukrainian truck was driven by a Taliban martyr trained by the Ukrainian Special Operations Unit.

Russia’s state-owned news agency RIA Novosti is carrying some more details of the plot to damage the Crimea bridge which Russian security forces claim to have revealed today. It reports:

In early August, the cargo was sent from the seaport of Odesa to the Bulgarian Ruse [port] … From Bulgaria it proceeded to the Georgian port of Poti , and then to Armenia. From 29 September to 3 October, at the Transalliance terminal in Yerevan, the cargo was cleared … On a DAF truck registered in Georgia, the cargo crossed the Russian-Georgian border on 4 October at the Upper Lars checkpoint, two days later it was delivered and unloaded at a wholesale base in Armavir.

On 7 October … the documents for the cargo were again changed. TEK-34 LLC from Ulyanovsk was indicated as the sender , and a non-existent company in the Crimea was indicated as the recipient.

The movement of cargo along the entire route was controlled by an employee of the main intelligence directorate of the ministry of defence of Ukraine, who introduced himself to the participants in the scheme as “Ivan Ivanovich”. To coordinate actions, he used a virtual anonymous number, as well as a phone registered to a resident of Kremenchug.

RIA reminds us that the explosion occurred on 8 October, and that the official account is “a truck exploded on the Crimean bridge after which seven tanks with fuel of a passing train caught fire. Two car spans partially collapsed, but the bridge arch supports were not damaged. Four people were killed, including a judge from Moscow.”

Part of :

The title is not from the Guardian.

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Was jetzt?


Die Lage in der Ukraine

© Serhii Mykhalchuk/​Global Images Ukraine/​Getty Images

Russland hat nach ukrainischen Angaben insgesamt 28 weitere Raketen auf das Land abgefeuert. Durch die Angriffe der vergangenen Tage sind 30 Prozent der ukrainischen Energieinfrastruktur beschädigt worden, sagt der zuständige Minister Herman Haluschtschenko.

Die Ukraine hat sich für die Lieferung des modernen Flugabwehrsystems Iris-T bei Deutschland bedankt. Was den russischen Raketenbeschuss stoppen kann, analysiert mein Kollege Hauke Friederichs.

Die ukrainische Armee hat nach eigenen Angaben in zwei zurückeroberten Städten in der Region Donezk Massengräber mit 78 toten Zivilisten entdeckt.

Der Chef der Internationalen Atomenergie-Organisation Rafael Grossi hat bei einem Treffen mit Präsident Putin eine AKW-Schutzzone gefordert.

Russland erhöhte die Terrorwarnstufe nahe der Krim-Brücke.


Bund, Länder und Kommunen wollen sich angesichts steigender Flüchtlingszahlen enger austauschen. Die Idee macht nicht viel her, könnte aber zentral sein für die Lösung einer Krise, kommentiert mein Kollege Christian Vooren. Außerdem stellt der Bund 56 neue Immobilien zur Verfügung und verstärkt die Grenzkontrollen


Bundeswirtschaftsminister Robert Habeck und CDU-Chef Friedrich Merz appellieren an die FDP, bei der geplanten Atomkraftreserve mitzuziehen. Die Liberalen sind derzeit nicht bereit, den sogenannten Reservebetrieb für die beiden süddeutschen Kernkraftwerke Neckarwestheim und Isar 2 zu unterstützen. 

Energie in Deutschland

Aktualisiert am 12. Oktober ⋅ Zum Energiemonitor

  • Füllstand 94,7 %waren die Gasspeicher vorgestern gefülltTageswerte +2,1 %-Pkt. zur Vorwoche1.⌀ 2017–21⌀ 2017–21ZieleZiele75%75%85%85%95%95% 94,7 % 94,7 %
  • Verbrauch 13,92 TWhGas verbrauchte Deutsch­land vorletzte WocheWochenwerte +0,15 TWh zu Vorjahren1.⌀ 2018–21⌀ 2018–21 13,92 TWh 13,92 TWh
  • Gaspreis 24,1 Centkostete eine kWh Gas für Neukunden gesternTageswerte −4,0 Cent zur Vorwoche1. 24,1 Cent 24,1 Cent
  • Energiewende 68 % 78 %der Zubauziele für Wind bzw. Solar sind erreichtSeit Jahresbeginn −8,5 / +1,0 zum Planüber Planunter Plan1.1.9.10. 78 % 78 % 68 % 68 %100% Jahresziel: 2,3 GW/7 GW


“Das Schlimmste steht noch bevor”: Der Internationale Währungsfonds hat seine Prognose für die Weltwirtschaft in diesem und im kommenden Jahr nach unten korrigiert. Für Deutschland sagt der IWF eine Rezession voraus. 


Spezi darf Spezi heißen, auch wenn es von Paulaner kommt. Ein Münchner Gericht hat entschieden, dass eine alte Vereinbarung zweier bayerischer Brauereien weiter gültig ist.


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Laktose, Histamin, Gluten: Viele Menschen glauben, gewisse Inhaltsstoffe nicht zu vertragen. Nicht immer ist das eine Lebensmittel-Intoleranz – und der Verzicht kann sogar schädlich sein.


© Hans Christian Plambeck/​laif

Die FDP hat nicht die Probleme, die sie hat, weil sie mit linken Parteien regiert. Sie sollte vielmehr im 21. Jahrhundert ankommen, kommentiert Bernd Ullrich.


Grundsicherung schädigt die Gesundheit. Das wissen Expertinnen, das weiß die Bundesregierung. Sara Hartwig und ihre vier Kinder spüren es jeden Tag.


Kabaddi ist ein alter indischer Sport, der derzeit viel Aufmerksamkeit bekommt, weil er nun im Fernsehen live übertragen wird, schreibt der Economist.


Waren Sie eh schon immer genervt von Gifs? Bestens, denn anscheinend geraten sie aus der Mode.

Wollen Sie uns hören?

Im Schwester-Podcast dieses Newsletters Was jetzt? sprechen wir heute mit dem Filmemacher Ali Samadi über die aktuellen Proteste im Iran im Vergleich zur erfolgreichen Revolution vor 43 Jahren. 

Wir wünschen einen guten Tag!

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EL PAÍS de la mañana 

El gigante chino se aleja de PutinBERNA GONZÁLEZ HARBOUR¡

Buenos días!Espero que estéis de fiesta y la disfrutéis. Aquí seguimos con la vista puesta en Ucrania.

Atención: China se está desmarcando crecientemente de Rusia. En la cuidada selección de palabras que realiza el gigante asiático, resultan muy notorios los matices. Y el mensaje que ha lanzado ayer el Gobierno (que además afronta este fin de semana el importantísimo congreso comunista que entronizará a Xi Jinping para un tercer mandato y no quiere problemas extra) es digno de tener en cuenta. Es lo siguiente:“Los acontecimientos en curso son preocupantes”, ha dicho el portavoz de Exteriores sobre los ataques del lunes contra Kiev y otras ciudades. También ha ofrecido su ayuda para mediar.

.Un policía inspecciona lo que las autoridades ucranias creen que es un dron suicida iraní.

Un policía inspecciona lo que las autoridades ucranias creen que es un dron suicida iraní.
Putin no estará muy contento.Son tres las cosas que le están saliendo mal últimamente. Muy mal:
El avance ucranio en zonas que ya daba por conquistadas y los golpes en lugares estratégicos como el puente que une Crimea y Rusia.

La estampida de cerca de 200.000 jóvenes para eludir el reclutamiento.

Y los reparos que empiezan a poner sus aliados: desde estas palabras de China (que ya empezó a distanciarse en la cumbre de Samarcanda) a la inquietud de los vecinos exsoviéticos y el hecho de que nadie haya reconocido la anexión de cuatro regiones. Ni siquiera Bielorrusia.

La inteligencia británica, que ha demostrado tener muy buena información, asegura que Rusia se está quedando sin municiones y tropas. Además, hoy nos fijamos en los drones iraníes que está utilizando el Ejército ruso. Unas armas prioritarias ante la falta de componentes para conseguir otras.Sobre el terreno, los bombardeos prosiguieron ayer concentrados en infraestructuras de energía. Y la OTAN anunció que mantendrá sus maniobras nucleares previstas para la semana que viene. El podcast de hoy nos hace la crónica sonora de lo que ocurre: Kiev vuelve al refugio.

Buenas noticias

La pequeña Emma, de 13 meses, en brazos de su madre, Ana, tras el trasplante en el hospital de La Paz, en Madrid.
La pequeña Emma, de 13 meses, en brazos de su madre, Ana, tras el trasplante en el hospital de La Paz, en Madrid. / EFE

Antes de seguir con las malas noticias, que las hay, he intentado encontrar alguna buena y he dado con dos:

Una bebé de 13 meses recibe en Madrid un trasplante de intestino con una técnica inédita.

Y sí. Hemos logrado por primera vez desviar la trayectoria de un asteroide, lo que se supone que pone al planeta a salvo de esa contingencia. La NASA comunicó anoche este logro de la sonda DART.

Y ahora sí, seguimos.

Pinchazo de la economía

La guerra seguirá frenando la economía: España crecerá solo el 1,2% en 2023, ha dicho el FMI, y no el 2,1% que prevén los nuevos presupuestos. Este año aún nos salvamos con un 4,3%. Y Europa en su conjunto entrará en estanflación: mínimo crecimiento económico unido a una inflación sin control. Algunos datos:España ha crecido este año más que Italia, Francia y Alemania.La inflación se irá relajando el año que viene: de una media del 8,3% este año en la zona euro al 5,7% en 2023.En España será del 8,8% en 2022 y de 4,9% en 2023.También en Latinoamérica se prevé un brusco freno. Crecerá un 1,7% en 2023, menos de la mitad que este año

.El crecimiento mundial será solo de un 2,7% en 2023. El más débil desde 2001.Me encantaría daros mejores noticias pero, en palabras del consejero del FMI, “lo peor está por llegar y para muchas personas 2023 se sentirá como una recesión”.

El plan para ahorrar gas

El Gobierno aprobó ayer su plan de contingencia, con este objetivo:Prevé una reducción del consumo de gas natural de entre el 5,1 y el 13,5% entre agosto de 2022 y marzo de 2023. El Gobierno ya se había comprometido ante la UE a bajar un 6,4%, pero la mayor producción de electricidad en centrales de ciclo combinado (que usan gas) ha tirado por tierra las caídas que sí se han producido en industria y en las casas.Un dato novedoso: estamos exportando más a Francia (entre el 4% y el 5% de lo que consume) y a Portugal (el 35%).El Ejecutivo se compromete a reducir la factura para 1,6 millones de hogares con caldera comunitaria que no pueden acogerse a la tarifa regulada. No sabemos cómo pero, los detalles, en unas semanas.Promete ampliar el bono social eléctrico y el térmico a más hogares.Más ayudas fiscales para aumentar la eficiencia energética de viviendas.Revisión del alumbrado exterior. Sin imposiciones para Navidad.Promoción de las placas en tejados. El 90% de los que hay se han instalado en los últimos cuatro años, los que han pasado desde que se derogó el impuesto al sol de Rajoy.Los depósitos están hoy llenos al 92% y en noviembre lo estarán al 94%. Según el Gobierno, estamos mucho mejor preparados que los socios europeos, hasta el punto de exportar hoy energía.

Ámsterdam se hunde por la sequíaParadójico, pero cierto: un millón de casas construidas antes de la II Guerra Mundial están en peligro de hundirse por la sequía en Holanda, ya que los pilares de madera están tocados. Isabel Ferrer nos cuenta desde allí que el Rijksmuseum se salva gracias a una reforma que se hizo hace diez años.

Más salmón y aguacates; menos cereales y panSalmón y aguacates, que antes eran considerados grasos, pasan a ser alimentos sanos.Y los cereales con azúcares añadidos dejan de serlo. El pan blanco, tampoco lo es.Es la propuesta de la Administración de Alimentos y Medicamentos de EEUU (FDA) para definir mejor lo que es saludable o no. Una nueva etiqueta frontal mostrará a primera vista el veredicto nutricional (en España ya lo hacemos, pero se supone que ese sistema mejorará el nuestro). Interesante leer aquí cómo se organizan los nuevos criterios.

Y varias recomendaciones

Exposición de Cézanne en la Tate Modern.

Exposición de Cézanne en la Tate Modern. / EFE

El editorial de hoy sobre el 12 de octubre hace un retrato completo de cómo está España, desde las muestras de cohesión como la que hemos protagonizado ante Ucrania a los lastres que nos amenazan. Pieza indispensable hoy.
Daniel Innerarity escribe sobre “la izquierda y el placer”.

La Reconquista, el nuevo alimento de la guerra cultural de la ultraderecha. El pasado como instrumento político nutre la narrativa de partidos como Vox o el de Zemmour en Francia con relatos descartados por la academia.
Una exhaustiva exposición de Cézanne en la Tate Modern está siendo considerada la mejor de la historia de esta galería de Londres.

Babelia adelanta un capítulo del segundo volumen de los diarios de Chirbes: Las notas que tomó en Nueva York cuando fue invitado para hablar de qué significa ser europeo.

¡Feliz miércoles!
El Pais – October 12, 2022
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Sources in Russian analyst’s Trump dossier fabricated, prosecutors argue or “The law doesn’t let you rewrite the dictionary,” Onorato said.

Igor Danchenko, who played a vital role in creating the Steele dossier, has been indicted on five counts of lying to the FBI

Russian analyst Igor Danchenko walks to the courthouse.
Russian analyst Igor Danchenko walks to the courthouse. Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A Russian analyst who played a major role in the creation of a flawed dossier about former President Donald Trump fabricated one of his own sources and concealed the identity of another when interviewed by the FBI, prosecutors said Tuesday.

The allegations were aired during opening statements in the trial of Igor Danchenko, who is indicted on five counts of making false statements to the FBI.

The FBI interviewed Danchenko on multiple occasions in 2017 as it tried to corroborate allegations in what became known as the “Steele dossier”.

That dossier, by British spy Christopher Steele – commissioned by Democrats during the 2016 presidential campaign – included allegations of contact between the Trump campaign and Russian government officials, as well as allegations that the Russians may have held compromising information over Trump in the form of videos showing him engaged in salacious sexual activity in a Moscow hotel.

Specifically, prosecutors say, Danchenko lied when he said he obtained some information in an anonymous phone call from a man he believed to be Sergei Millian, a former head of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce.

Prosecutor Michael Keilty told jurors in US district court in Alexandria that Danchenko never spoke with Millian and that phone records show he never received an anonymous phone call at the time Danchenko claimed it occurred.

Prosecutors also say Danchenko lied when he said he never “talked” with a man named Charles Dolan about the allegations contained in the dossier. But prosecutors say there is evidence that Danchenko “spoke with Mr Dolan over email” about very specific items that showed up in the dossier.

The FBI needed to know that Dolan was an important source for Danchenko, Keilty said, because Dolan is a Democratic operative who has worked on the presidential campaign of every Democratic candidate since Jimmy Carter, and thus would have had motivation to fabricate or embellish allegations against Trump.

“Those lies mattered,” Keilty said.

But Danchenko’s attorney, Danny Onorato, told jurors that his client was completely truthful with the FBI.

He pointed out that Danchenko never said he was certain that Millian was the source of the anonymous call but that he had good reason to believe it. The government’s case requires jurors to become “mind readers” to assess Danchenko’s subjective belief about the source of the phone call, Onorato said.

And while phone records may not show a call, Onorato said, the government has no idea whether a call could have been placed with a mobile app rather than a traditional telephone provider. Indeed, Onorato said, it makes more sense that such a call would have occurred using an Internet app because so many of them conceal the source of the call, and the caller wanted to be anonymous.

As for the allegations about his discussions with Dolan, Onorato said, Danchenko answered the question truthfully because the two did not “talk” – but rather had a written exchange. If the FBI wanted to know about email exchanges, it should have asked a different question, Onorato said.

“The law doesn’t let you rewrite the dictionary,” Onorato said.

Keilty, in his opening, acknowledged to jurors that evidence would show the FBI made errors in conducting its investigations, but he said that shouldn’t exonerate Danchenko.

“A bank robber doesn’t get a pass just because the security guard was asleep,” Keilty said.

The first prosecution witness was FBI analyst Brian Auten, who testified that information from the Steele dossier was used to support a surveillance warrant against a Trump campaign official, Carter Page.

Under questioning from Durham, Auten testified that the dossier was used to bolster the surveillance application even though the FBI couldn’t corroborate its allegations.

Auten said the FBI checked with other government agencies to see if they had corroboration but nothing came back. Auten and other FBI agents even met with Steele in the United Kingdom in 2016 and offered him as much as $1m if he could supply corroboration for the allegations in the dossier, but none was provided.

Danchenko is the third person to be prosecuted by special counsel John Durham, who was appointed to investigate the origins of “Crossfire Hurricane” – the designation given to the FBI’s 2016 probe into former president Trump’s Russia connections. It is also the first of Durham’s cases that delves deeply into the origins of the dossier, which Trump derided as fake news and a political witch hunt.

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Here’s what Russia’s attacks may indicate about its weapons stockpile.

A Russian rocket serves as a reminder of the relentless bombardment of Kharkiv, Ukraine.
A Russian rocket serves as a reminder of the relentless bombardment of Kharkiv, Ukraine.Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

The Russian missile and drone attacks that killed at least 19 people across Ukraine on Monday were traumatic and wide-ranging, but they were not as deadly as they could have been, in the context of a war that has included widespread civilian killing.

That has renewed questions over the quality of Russia’s weapons and about the capacity of its forces to carry out President Vladimir V. Putin’s military designs.

Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, said it could be a sign that Russia’s guided missiles are not very effective, or that it is running short of precision munitions. Most of the missiles targeted energy and other civilian services, in what Mr. Putin said was retaliation for a blast on Russia’s bridge to occupied Crimea.

“Perhaps it was Putin’s way of sending a warning shot across Ukraine’s bow: If you attack our infrastructure, we will ramp up attacks on your cities,” Mr. Storey said. But he and other experts acknowledged that much about Russia’s weapons arsenal remains unclear.

Here is some of what we know:

Many of Russia’s attacks — increasingly aimed at civilian targets — have been long-range strikes that used outdated, unguided and imprecise missiles, including some from the Soviet era. Ukrainian, Western and Russian analysts have said that the attacks appear to suggest that Russia is running low on its most sophisticated weapons.

Western intelligence officials say that Russia used up many of its most accurate weapons, including cruise missiles and certain ballistic missiles, in the early days of the invasion. Russia’s arms industry has long relied heavily on imported electronic parts. As a result, analysts say, sanctions and export controls appear to have limited the Kremlin’s ability to restock its supplies, leaving it to rely more on unguided munitions.

Ukraine Under Attack: Documenting the Russian Invasion

Experts said that by using dozens of precision missiles against civilian targets, Russia would have fewer to use on the battlefield as it faces Ukrainian counteroffensives in the east and south.

“Given how they are strapped in terms of resources and military materiel, it is unlikely that Russia can maintain the combat tempo it exhibited on Monday,” said Ridzwan Rahmat, the principal defense analyst at Janes, based in Singapore.

Russia has been buying military drones from Iran and, according to intelligence sources, artillery shells and rockets from North Korea. Analysts see both developments as a further sign that sanctions have hampered Russia’s military supply lines.

Iran has confirmed that a drone deal with Russia was part of a military agreement that predated the war, and Iranian-made drones have been spotted in the skies above Ukraine more frequently. Ukraine’s military said that of the 24 drones Russia used in the attacks on Monday, more than half were Iranian.

Ukrainian soldiers have said that the Iranian drones — which carry a payload of about 80 pounds and are self-destructing — are effective battlefield weapons.

There is no hard evidence of Russia having purchased North Korean weapons, Mr. Storey said. But if true, he added, “it’s a sign of desperation.”

Russia has a large supply of tactical nuclear weapons — probably about 2,000, far more than the roughly 100 that NATO has positioned around Europe. In recent weeks, Mr. Putin has raised the prospect of using nuclear weapons to hold onto his tenuous territorial gains in Ukraine.

Whether he actually would use them despite the huge risks — both to Ukraine and to Russia and the wider region — is another story.

Senior U.S. officials say they have not seen any evidence in recent days of Russia’s moving its nuclear assets. And on Monday, Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, dismissed speculation that Russia would use nuclear weapons in response to the Crimea attack as “completely incorrect.”

New York Times – October 11, 2022

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EU ‘did not believe’ US warnings over Russia’s invasion, says Josep Borrell

Days before Moscow launched a full-scale attack on Ukraine, Washington warned Brussels the invasion was “going to happen.” The EU’s foreign policy chief said the bloc’s officials were “quite reluctant to believe it.”

Borrell castigated the EU’s delegations for their hesitation in reporting

The European Union’s foreign policy ​​​​​​chief has admitted to flaws in the bloc’s security policies, highlighting Brussels “did not believe” the United States’ warnings that Russia would attack Ukraine in the days leading up to the war.

In a speech to EU ambassadors on Monday, Josep Borrell said the bloc was not anticipating conflict, even though US Secretary of State Antony Blinken “phoned me and told me ‘it is going to happen.'”

“And two days later, at five o’clock in the morning, they [Russia] started bombing Kyiv.”​

Borrell: We should take more responsibility for security issues

The EU needs to be less dependent on others in terms of security, the bloc’s chief diplomat told envoys during a speech in Brussels.

“We need to shoulder more responsibilities ourselves,” Borrell said, according to a transcript of his speech. “We have to take a bigger part of our responsibility in security.”

In the past, Washington took care of Europe’s security, Borrell posited, but he emphasized that may not always be the case. 

Though he highlighted that relations under the Biden administration are “fantastic,” he said the EU could not rely on ties staying that way. The foreign policy chief even began to wonder how the situation might be “different” in Ukraine if former US President Donald Trump “or someone like him” were in the White House.

In March, just a few weeks after Russia began its offensive, EU defense and foreign ministers adopted a new security strategy, known as “Strategic Compass,” with the idea of creating a force of as many as 5,000 troops, which it is hoped will be operational by 2025.

While there is no EU army and defense remains a matter for the bloc’s 27 member states, Brussels has in recent years taken steps to boost its security cooperation.

Ukraine just the tip of the iceberg

Borrell was keen to talk about issues elsewhere, not just in Ukraine. In his address to the EU Ambassadors Conference, he highlighted “security problems” in Africa’s restive Sahel region.

Escalating protests against the West have been followed by a spike in jihadist activities and political upheavals that forced France to withdraw its troops from Mali in mid-March, putting an end to its Barkhane and Takuba anti-terrorist operations.

But the bloc’s security chief also spoke of problems closer to home as he said “authoritarianism is, unhappily, developing a lot. Not just China, not just Russia. There is an authoritarian trend. Sometimes, they are still wearing the democracy suit, but they are no longer democracies. There are some who are not democracies at all — they do not even take the pity to look like democracies.”

Can Russians who flee partial mobilization come to Germany?

Last month, lawmakers in the European Parliament voted to condemn Hungary’s slide into authoritarianism, brandishing the member state under right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban as an “electoral autocracy.”

Hungary has been a constant opponent of EU sanctions on Russia in recent months. 

Last year, Budapest signed a deal with Moscow agreeing to receive Russian gas via pipelines that would bypass Ukraine, such as TurkStream, a gas pipeline connecting Russia to Turkey via the Black Sea.

EU delegations frustrate Borrell

EU delegations did not escape Borrell’s attention as he seeks to improve the communication lines between global diplomatic missions and Brussels.

“I want to be informed by you [the delegations], not by the press. Sometimes, I knew more of what was happening somewhere by reading the newspapers than reading your reports. Your reports come sometimes too late.”

“You have to be on 24-hours reaction capacity. Immediately [when] something happens, you inform. I do not want to continue reading in the newspapers about things that happened somewhere with our delegation having said nothing.”

Drawing a comparison with faster-paced work in national foreign ministries, Borrell told the envoys gathered he “should be the best-informed guy in the world, having all of you around the world.”

Experts have long pointed out the problem inherited from the EU’s diplomatic service structure.

The European External Action Service (EEAS), created more than a decade ago as the EU’s foreign policy arm and now headed by Borrell, is the first diplomatic corps of its kind not created by a nation-state.

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The long history of Putin’s giant conference table

Ordered by Kremlin officials who wanted to restore the opulence of tsarist Russia, the Italian-made piece of furniture now symbolizes the chasm between Moscow and the West

Twenty feet separate Vladimir Putin from French President Emmanuel Macron at a meeting in the Kremlin on February 7, 2022.
Twenty feet separate Vladimir Putin from French President Emmanuel Macron at a meeting in the Kremlin on February 7, 2022.KREMLIN (EUROPA PRESS)

The largest country in the world can sit around a wooden table, albeit a very large one. Placed in a Kremlin meeting room, the 20-foot (six meters) conference table became famous when a camera captured Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, sitting at opposite ends during a meeting. The photo gave birth to numerous memes, including one in which the two leaders played badminton across the table, and became a symbol of Russia’s growing estrangement from the West even as the French president made a last-ditch effort to forestall the war in Ukraine.

A Kremlin spokesman said that the seating arrangement had been necessary to protect Putin’s health because Macron refused to get tested for Covid in Moscow. Yet less than two weeks later, Putin sat at a small coffee table with Imran Khan, Pakistan’s prime minister at the time and a Putin ally.

The Kremlin’s most famous table has been linked to Putin since he first became president of Russia, but it was actually made in Italy. When the photo of the Putin-Macron meeting was published, a Spanish cabinetmaker quickly claimed to have made the table, but the world soon learned that it was actually manufactured for the Kremlin in 1995 by Oak, an Italian furniture company. Owner Renato Pologna produced sketches of the table and a certificate signed by Boris Yeltsin, the Russian Federation’s first president, along with documents revealing the table’s dimensions and that the top is made of a single piece of white-lacquered beechwood decorated with gold leaf.

Vladimir Putin speaks at a 2021 ceremony to receive the credentials of foreign ambassadors.
Vladimir Putin speaks at a 2021 ceremony to receive the credentials of foreign ambassadors.GRIGORY SYSOEV (AP)

The big, white conference table was not the only piece of Italian-made furniture ordered by the Kremlin. Renato Pologna told the Reuters news agency that shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian Federation officials began to research what the Kremlin’s Grand Palace looked like before the 1917 Revolution so that it could be restored to its pre-Stalin glory. Furniture designs were sent to Oak, which billed the Kremlin $20 million for the commissioned reproductions. Pologna says Russian authorities examined all the furniture with giant scanners to check for hidden microphones.

“It’s magnificent!” said Yeltsin in July 1999 when he first viewed the renovated palace, according to an EL PAÍS report. Determined to restore the grandeur of the tsars, the Russian president had spent a fortune on the Kremlin renovations. The Grand Palace had been built for Nicholas I as the imperial family’s residence in Moscow. Important spaces like the St. Catherine Hall were scrupulously restored, but some deplored the dubious aesthetics of other renovations. “It’s not just bad, it’s monstrously bad,” Russian architectural historian Alexei Komech said to The Guardian. “The marble and malachite columns look like something you would see in a restaurant.”

The pharaoh-sized endeavor was also fraught with other problems. In September 1999, the BBC and other international news media reported that Swiss and Russian prosecutors were investigating alleged kickbacks paid to Kremlin officials by Mabetex, the Swiss company in charge of restoring and furnishing the Grand Palace and other Kremlin buildings. According to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Oak was also implicated when investigators suspected that it had laundered money for Russian officials. The scandal touched president Yeltsin himself when it came out that his daughters had used credit cards paid for by Mabetex.

Vladimir Putin at a February 2022 meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.
Vladimir Putin at a February 2022 meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.ALEKSEY NIKOLSKYI (EFE)

By the time Russian prosecutors closed the case, Yeltsin had exited his palace. On the final New Year’s Eve of the 20th century, the Russian president announced his resignation in a surprise televised address in which he introduced his successor, Vladimir Putin, a virtual unknown until his appointment as prime minister a few months earlier. “The state will stand firm in protecting freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of the press and private property,” Putin promised in his first speech as president of the Russian Federation, against a backdrop of twinkling Christmas tree lights.

Putin’s enormous conference table and others placed around the Grand Palace are there for intimidation. Putin seats unwelcome visitors like Macron in conference-room Siberia, a tactic he has used with other European leaders like German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. But when Putin met with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, they were seated across the middle of the table instead of at opposite ends.

Whether or not the Kremlin uses conference-table seating to send political messages, it’s never accidental in the movies, where villains and heroes are always at opposite ends. In The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), after trying to throw him into a pool of sharks, evil villain Stromberg places James Bond alone at the opposite end of a huge table under which he hides a gun. Other films have portrayed two diners sitting at opposite ends of a table to represent a lack of communication. In Citizen Kane (1941), Orson Welles depicted the tycoon and his wife’s unhappy marriage by showing them arguing over breakfast at a table that grows progressively longer over the years.

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Ukraine accuses Russia of war crimes as attacks target civilians and infrastructure

Moscow says it is ‘open’ to talks with the western powers as a second day of air strikes hits electrical installations and non-military objectives

Cars burn after Russian military strike, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, in central Kyiv, Ukraine October 10, 2022.
Cars burn after Russian military strike, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, in central Kyiv, Ukraine October 10, 2022.GLEB GARANICH (REUTERS)

The Russian military carried out renewed air strikes against several regions of Ukraine on Tuesday, mostly targeting electrical installations, a day after missile attacks hit civilian and essential infrastructure targets in Kyiv and other cities. The governors of the provinces of Vinnytsia in central Ukraine, Dnipro in the east and Lviv in the west stated that Russian missiles had hit electrical supply installations in their territories. Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba accused Russia of committing “war crimes” by deliberately targeting critical infrastructure with the intention of leaving civilians in “unbearable conditions.” At least one person was killed in Zaporizhzhia when 12 Russian missiles struck the city, which is in one of the four regions annexed last week by Moscow with Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson. In total, there have been 19 civilian fatalities over the past two days as a result of the latest Russian air strikes. The chief of the regional police in Zaporizhzhia, Artem Kisko, said that a school and an orphanage had been destroyed on Tuesday. “There is not a single military target in the areas that were attacked,” he said.

Amid the current escalation in the war and the Ukrainian counter-offensive on the ground, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Tuesday urged the G7 nations to provide new missile defense systems to repel Russian air strikes. Speaking at an emergency meeting of the world’s most advance economies, Zelenskiysaid that the supply of such hardware to the Ukrainian war effort is now “priority number one.” The White House confirmed that US President Joe Biden and other G7 leaders had held a virtual conference to discuss what could be done to boost Ukraine’s defensive capacity against Russian cruise missile attacks. Zelenskiy assured the other leaders at the meeting that when Ukraine “obtains sufficient weapons” of this kind, “the threat posed by Russia will diminish.”

Biden has said that the United States will provide missile defense systems to Ukraine, a commitment that Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, believes will serve only to prolong the conflict. “The mood of this summit is already obvious and predictable. The confrontation will continue,” Peskov told reporters. Zelenskiy also took advantage of the meeting to address claims made by Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko that Ukraine was planning “military action” against its neighbor, stating that Ukraine is interested only in its own territorial sovereignty. Zelenskiy proposed the establishment of an international peacekeeping mission on the Ukraine-Belarus border to monitor the situation. “Putin could escalate the war and that is a threat to everyone,” he told the meeting.

The leaders of the G7 issued a joint statement after the conference, describing the latest attacks by Russia on the civilian population of Ukraine as war crimes: “We will hold President Putin and others to account,” the statement said. “We deplore these escalation measures, including the mobilization of reservists and irresponsible nuclear rhetoric, which is placing global peace and security at risk. We reaffirm that any use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons by Russia will be met with severe consequences.”

Putin “desperate,” says British intelligence

On the ground and in the face of a wave of successful counterattacks by Ukrainian forces, Russia is running critically low on armaments, troops and allies, while the Putin administration in Moscow is growing ever more “desperate,” Jeremy Fleming, the head of Britain’s intelligence, cyber and security agency GCHQ said on Tuesday. According to Fleming, despite these deficiencies and the Kremlin’s losses, Russia still possesses “a very capable military machine,” although the intelligence chief noted that it is being worn down considerably by Ukrainian resistance.

Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, said on Tuesday that Moscow remains “open” to dialog with the western powers over the war in Ukraine, but that the Kremlin had yet to receive “any serious proposal” to begin negotiations. In an interview broadcast on Russian state television, Lavrov denied that Moscow had turned down an offer of talks put forward by John Kirby, Coordinator for Strategic Communications at the US National Security Agency.

French soldiers fire mortars near Rena, Norway during NATO's Exercise Brilliant Jump 2022, aimed at training the very high-readiness component of the NATO Response Force.
French soldiers fire mortars near Rena, Norway during NATO’s Exercise Brilliant Jump 2022, aimed at training the very high-readiness component of the NATO Response Force.ANADOLU AGENCY (ANADOLU AGENCY VIA GETTY IMAGES)

NATO to press ahead with nuclear exercises

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told a press conference ahead of a meeting of the ministers of defense of the Atlantic Alliance on Tuesday that Ukraine’s allies would stand with Kyiv “for as long as necessary.” Speaking about the latest developments on the ground in Ukraine, Stoltenberg said: “Ukraine has the momentum at the moment and continues to achieve significant gains while Russia is increasing its indiscriminate and horrific attacks on civilians and critical infrastructure. Putin is failing in Ukraine. His attempts at annexation, partial mobilization and reckless nuclear rhetoric represent the most significant escalation since the beginning of the war, and demonstrate that this war is not going as he had envisioned.”

Stoltenberg also added that NATO would press ahead with its planned annual nuclear exercises, which involve 14 NATO member countries, as canceling them would send the wrong signal to Moscow. “This is routine training, which is conducted every year to keep our deterrent safe, secure and effective,” he said, adding that although NATO will maintain its stance of not playing a direct role in the conflict, the alliance’s assistance to Ukraine has been and will remain decisive. “NATO is not part of the conflict, but our assistance is playing a key role. The allies stand united in supporting Ukrainian sovereignty and self-defense.” Stoltenberg also welcomed the news from the G7 conference that more advanced missile defense systems would be provided to Kyiv.

“Our message is clear: NATO will be at Ukraine’s side for as long as is necessary. President Putin started this war and he must end it by withdrawing his forces from Ukraine. And President Lukashenko must put an end to Belarus’ complicity in this illegal conflict,” Stoltenberg concluded.

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“I’m Pretty Worried About Our Democracy”

In an interview, recently appointed New York Times Executive Editor Joe Kahn talks about how Donald Trump’s disinformation campaign is gaining steam, discusses the media outlets he considers to be his newspaper’s competition – and explains why he advises journalists against battles on Twitter.

New York Times Executive Editor Kahn: "There are some so-called media out there whose reporting borders on propaganda on behalf of a political party."
New York Times Executive Editor Kahn: “There are some so-called media out there whose reporting borders on propaganda on behalf of a political party.” Foto: Celeste Sloman / DER SPIEGEL

The New York Times headquarters is deserted. Most desks in the two-story newsroom in Midtown Manhattan are empty; the newspaper is still operating in pandemic mode. “Presence is voluntary, many of our people are working from home,” says Joe Kahn.

Foto: Celeste Sloman / DER SPIEGEL

Joe Kahn, 57, has worked at the New York Times since 1998. Previously, he reported from China for the Dallas Morning News about, among other events, the Tiananmen Square massacre, and later from the country for the Wall Street Journal. In mid-June, Kahn, who has won two Pulitzer Prizes, succeeded Dean Baquet as executive editor of the New York Times.

DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Kahn, you began your career as a correspondent in China and recently described those years as good preparation for your job as executive editor of the New York Times. Why?

Kahn: China doesn’t have an open Internet, it doesn’t allow open, robust debate. A lot of information that people are consuming is essentially coming through a propaganda network. The challenge for us, as reporters, was to understand that that was part of the information fabric of Chinese society and that people were being informed from sources that are not free and open.

DER SPIEGEL: And what does that have to do with your job today?

Kahn: In the U.S., we once had pretty open and robust media on both sides of the political spectrum. What we’re seeing now, especially on the right, is a more party-line, propagandistic approach to the news.

DER SPIEGEL: Right-wing media claim the same about the New York Times.

Kahn: Yes, they will always say that about us. These media also say they’re “fair and balanced.” But observing them and their reporters, I know that they are not engaged in deep reporting or critical thinking about the big issues of the day.

DER SPIEGEL: You’re talking about Fox News.

“Part of the American public clearly rejects legacy media like the New York Times.”

Kahn: Fox News had a very robust political team. They got rid of that after the 2020 election because they didn’t want to rely on their political experts anymore to actually call results in the races.

DER SPIEGEL: Fox News is the most-watched news channel in the United States. What does it mean for the future when so many Americans listen to the nonsense that is being spread there?

Kahn: Fox News is the leading cable news channel, but it doesn’t reach the majority of Americans. I think it’s worrying that there aren’t more right-of-center quality media that still adhere to journalistic standards.

DER SPIEGEL: Like the Wall Street Journal, your former employer?

Kahn: The opinion page of the Wall Street Journal is right-leaning, but the paper still delivers very good journalism. I consider it a peer and a competitor, Fox News is not.

DER SPIEGEL: For a large part of the Fox News audience, you and your paper are the Antichrist.

Kahn: Part of the American public clearly rejects legacy media like the New York Times. But the number of people who have really closed their minds is pretty small. So, we still have a chance to make ourselves relevant and indispensable there.

"Take America Back": Trump supporters in Florida
“Take America Back”: Trump supporters in Florida Foto: CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP

DER SPIEGEL: Fox News, Donald Trump and many Republicans continue to spread the lie that Trump was cheated out of winning the election in 2020. The Republican Party of Texas, the second-largest U.S. state, has even included that in its official platform, declaring Joe Biden an illegitimate president. What does that mean for the state of democracy in the United States

Kahn: I’m pretty worried about our democracy. The former president and his supporters are running a very robust campaign, using the false notion of the stolen election to mobilize their supporters and raise money. They are generating hatred that gets people engaged in politics. And it seems some of these people are also winning Republican primaries for the midterms in the fall.

DER SPIEGEL: Across the country, candidates who question the legitimacy of Biden’s election victory are making inroads.

Kahn: Yes, and some could be in positions of power in the 2024 presidential election that will allow them to undermine the integrity of the electoral process at the state level.

DER SPIEGEL: What can media outlets like the New York Times do about that?

Kahn: We do our best to report aggressively on these subjects and engage a larger and larger audience with evidence-based reporting. But again, there are some so-called media out there whose reporting borders on propaganda on behalf of a political party, spreading misinformation or disinformation. This could potentially lead to a situation where, in the 2024 presidential election, a candidate who isn’t legitimately elected still claims victory.

DER SPIEGEL: Many media companies are currently struggling to achieve plurality and diversity within their own ranks. Two-thirds of your readers are white. You yourself are also white, which led to criticism when you were appointed in April. How do you deal with that?

Kahn: We are constantly growing our team. Our newsroom is significantly more diverse today than it was five years ago, both the leadership and the rank and file of journalists. We have improved diversity in terms of gender or race. The creators of journalism need to reflect the country and the world we’re covering.

DER SPIEGEL: However, there were journalists who left the Times because they clashed over the Black Lives Matter movement. One editor had to leave because he allegedly used the N-word while talking to a group of students. Another writer quit after complaining about too much political correctness at the New York Times. Is there a culture war brewing in your newsroom?

Kahn: I don’t think there’s a culture war in our newsroom. Our newsroom and many others went through some intense internal discussions over the past few years. We learned a lot from that – for example, in terms of the openness of such debates.

DER SPIEGEL: A constant source of conflict is the Twitter presence of journalists. It wasn’t long ago that media companies encouraged their employees to be active on social media. Was that a mistake?

Kahn: Some reporters may feel compelled to have some presence there to get information, to get ideas, to develop a following for their journalistic expertise. We’re not telling them to stop doing that, just that it might make sense to do a little bit less.

Turbulent times: The New York Times headquarters in Downtown Manhattan
Turbulent times: The New York Times headquarters in Downtown Manhattan Foto: MARIO TAMA/ AFP

DER SPIEGEL: What does “a little bit less” mean?

Kahn: Do less of going down these rabbit holes where the media critics accuse you of being stupid or biased. If you engage in that too much, you might lose your journalistic instincts. The Twitter audience is tiny.

DER SPIEGEL: Tiny, but vocal and powerful.

Kahn: To allow those people too much influence over what we do and how we do it, seems crazy to me. Engaging in this combat, you get into situations like we saw at the Washington Post, where your own reporters attack each other on Twitter. That’s bad for workplace culture. We don’t have a one-strike-and-you’re-out policy, but we’ll give real feedback to those who we think are stepping over the line. We want them to be spending most of their time on journalism. We don’t want them getting into useless fights with critics or trolls on Twitter.

DER SPIEGEL: You yourself have fewer than 9,000 followers on Twitter.

Kahn: I’m not very active, yes.

DER SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, you recently had your own Twitter experience. New York magazine published a photo of you sitting seductively in socks on the floor of your apartment. You were immediately mocked for that.

Kahn: (Laughs) Yes, that’s true.

DER SPIEGEL: How did it come about? Was that your idea?

Kahn (center), with his DER SPIEGEL interviewers Rolland Nelles (left) and Marc Pitzke
Kahn (center), with his DER SPIEGEL interviewers Rolland Nelles (left) and Marc Pitzke Foto: Celeste Sloman / DER SPIEGEL

Kahn: No. I don’t have much experience with being photographed, and certainly not quite that way in my apartment. Photographers are trying to get interesting shots, so they try this and that: What if you hold the newspaper this way, or if you sit down over here? Then they suggested that pose, and I didn’t really think carefully about it. That’s how that came about. Doesn’t exactly fit the image of the New York Times.

DER SPIEGEL: You’re now celebrating great digital success with the Times, with 9.1 million subscribers. Is there any potential for growth?

Kahn: We want people to think of the Times as solving different problems in their lives. For example, we have invested in the sports website The Athletic. The platform provides journalism for fans of teams and leagues, including European football. There’s also Wirecutter, our product recommendation service. All of these are subscription services. Our readers can come to us for the news, but they can also have some downtime with games or let us help you think about what to cook.

DER SPIEGEL: You publish newsletters, podcasts, recipes, games, crossword puzzles. Is the New York Times still a newspaper?

Kahn: Each platform has a large audience and plays a slightly different role in promoting our journalism.

DER SPIEGEL: What role does hard news still play there?

Kahn: The news is still the most important traffic generator for us.

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Airbus, Air France go on trial for 2009 Rio-Paris crash

Flight AF447 plunged into the Atlantic Ocean 13 years ago, killing all 228 people on board. Airbus and Air France are accused of involuntary manslaughter and could face fines of up to $220,000 each.


Fuselage of the flight was recovered two years after the crash.

The chief executives of Air France and Airbus pleaded not guilty to charges of involuntary corporate manslaughter in a French criminal court on Monday.

The historic trial against the airlines began on Monday, more than 13 years after a plane carrying 228 people plunged into the Atlantic Ocean while flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.

Air France Chief Executive Anne Rigail and Airbus Chief Executive Guillaume Faury submitted the plea after the names of all 228 victims were read out in court.

Relatives of people who died during the crash sat in rows and listened in silence while all the names were read out.

Family members of several victims lodged their protests, saying “too little, too late,” when the chief executives expressed condolences in their opening statements.

The trial is set to last for nine weeks.

What happened to the flight?

Flight AF447 drowned in the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009, killing 12 crew members and 216 passengers. 

The plane had headed into an “intertropical convergence zone” that often produces volatile storms with heavy precipitation.

Over the following two years, the fuselage and the black box flight recorders were recovered.

An inquiry found that the crash happened due to errors made when the pilots were disoriented by the Pitot speed-monitoring tubes that had frozen over in a thick cloud.

As a storm engulfed the plane, ice crystals present at high altitudes disabled the pitot tubes, blocking speed and altitude information. The autopilot disconnected.

The crew resumed manual piloting but with the wrong navigation data. As the plane went into an aerodynamic stall, its nose pitched upward and then plunged.

The investigating magistrates had dropped charges against Air France and Airbus, which led to outrage among victims’ families. After prosecutors appealed this decision in 2021, a Paris court ruled that there was sufficient evidence for the trial to go ahead.

What is expected in the trial?

Several aviation experts and pilots are due to give testimony in the hearings that will last over two months. If convicted, each company faces a maximum fine of $220,000 (€226,000).

Testimony will also be heard from some of the victims’ families, who are civil plaintiffs in the case.

“The message is also to make companies that think they’re untouchable understand: ‘You’re like everyone else and if you make mistakes, they will be punished,” Ophelie Toulliou, who lost her brother on the flight, told the AFP news agency.

Air France is accused of not having implemented training in the event of icing of the pitot probes despite the risks.

Airbus is accused of having known that the model of pitot tubes on Flight 447 was faulty, and not doing enough to inform airlines and their crews about it and to ensure training to mitigate the resulting risk.

The crash prompted an overhaul of training protocols across the industry, in particular to prepare pilots to handle the intense stress of unforeseen circumstances. Pilots are also now required to continually practice stall responses on simulators.

Nelson Marinho, who lost his son in the accident, is angry that no company executives will be tried.

“They have changed various directors, both at Airbus and Air France, so who will they arrest? No one. There won’t be justice. That’s sadly the truth,” he told the AP news agency.

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Black Holes May Hide a Mind-Bending Secret About Our Universe

Take gravity, add quantum mechanics, stir. What do you get? Just maybe, a holographic cosmos.

For the last century the biggest bar fight in science has been between Albert Einstein and himself.

On one side is the Einstein who in 1915 conceived general relativity, which describes gravity as the warping of space-time by matter and energy. That theory predicted that space-time could bend, expand, rip, quiver like a bowl of Jell-O and disappear into those bottomless pits of nothingness known as black holes.

On the other side is the Einstein who, starting in 1905, laid the foundation for quantum mechanics, the nonintuitive rules that inject randomness into the world — rules that Einstein never accepted. According to quantum mechanics, a subatomic particle like an electron can be anywhere and everywhere at once, and a cat can be both alive and dead until it is observed. God doesn’t play dice, Einstein often complained.

Gravity rules outer space, shaping galaxies and indeed the whole universe, whereas quantum mechanics rules inner space, the arena of atoms and elementary particles. The two realms long seemed to have nothing to do with each other; this left scientists ill-equipped to understand what happens in an extreme situation like a black hole or the beginning of the universe.

But a blizzard of research in the last decade on the inner lives of black holes has revealed unexpected connections between the two views of the cosmos. The implications are mind-bending, including the possibility that our three-dimensional universe — and we ourselves — may be holograms, like the ghostly anti-counterfeiting images that appear on some credit cards and drivers licenses. In this version of the cosmos, there is no difference between here and there, cause and effect, inside and outside or perhaps even then and now; household cats can be conjured in empty space. We can all be Dr. Strange.

“It may be too strong to say that gravity and quantum mechanics are exactly the same thing,” Leonard Susskind of Stanford University wrote in a paper in 2017. “But those of us who are paying attention may already sense that the two are inseparable, and that neither makes sense without the other.”

That insight, Dr. Susskind and his colleagues hope, could lead to a theory that combines gravity and quantum mechanics — quantum gravity — and perhaps explains how the universe began.

The schism between the two Einsteins entered the spotlight in 1935, when the physicist faced off against himself in a pair of scholarly papers.

In one paper, Einstein and Nathan Rosen showed that general relativity predicted that black holes (which were not yet known by that name) could form in pairs connected by shortcuts through space-time, called Einstein-Rosen bridges — “wormholes.” In the imaginations of science fiction writers, you could jump into one black hole and pop out of the other.

In the other paper, Einstein, Rosen and another physicist, Boris Podolsky, tried to pull the rug out from quantum mechanics by exposing a seeming logical inconsistency. They pointed out that, according to the uncertainty principle of quantum physics, a pair of particles once associated would be eternally connected, even if they were light-years apart. Measuring a property of one particle — its direction of spin, say — would instantaneously affect the measurement of its mate. If these photons were flipped coins and one came up heads, the other invariably would be found out to be tails.

To Einstein this proposition was obviously ludicrous, and he dismissed it as “spooky action at a distance.” But today physicists call it “entanglement,” and lab experiments confirm its reality every day. Last week the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to a trio of physicists whose experiments over the years had demonstrated the reality of this “spooky action.”

The physicist N. David Mermin of Cornell University once called such quantum weirdness “the closest thing we have to magic.”

As Daniel Kabat, a physics professor at Lehman College in New York, explained it, “We’re used to thinking that information about an object — say, that a glass is half-full — is somehow contained within the object. Entanglement means this isn’t correct. Entangled objects don’t have an independent existence with definite properties of their own. Instead they only exist in relation to other objects.”

Einstein probably never dreamed that the two 1935 papers had anything in common, Dr. Susskind said recently. But Dr. Susskind and other physicists now speculate that wormholes and spooky action are two aspects of the same magic and, as such, are the key to resolving an array of cosmic paradoxes.

To astronomers, black holes are dark monsters with gravity so strong that they can consume stars, wreck galaxies and imprison even light. At the edge of a black hole, time seems to stop. At a black hole’s center, matter shrinks to infinite density and the known laws of physics break down. But to physicists bent on explicating those fundamental laws, black holes are a Coney Island of mysteries and imagination.

In 1974 the cosmologist Stephen Hawking astonished the scientific world with a heroic calculation showing that, to his own surprise, black holes were neither truly black nor eternal, when quantum effects were added to the picture. Over eons, a black hole would leak energy and subatomic particles, shrink, grow increasingly hot and finally explode. In the process, all the mass that had fallen into the black hole over the ages would be returned to the outer universe as a random fizz of particles and radiation.

This might sound like good news, a kind of cosmic resurrection. But it was a potential catastrophe for physics. A core tenet of science holds that information is never lost; billiard balls might scatter every which way on a pool table, but in principle it is always possible to rewind the tape to determine where they were in the past or predict their positions in the future, even if they drop into a black hole.

But if Hawking were correct, the particles radiating from a black hole were random, a meaningless thermal noise stripped of the details of whatever has fallen in. If a cat fell in, most of its information — name, color, temperament — would be unrecoverable, effectively lost from history. It would be as if you opened your safe deposit box and found that your birth certificate and your passport had disappeared. As Hawking phrased it in 1976: “God not only plays dice, he sometimes throws them where they can’t be seen.”

His declaration triggered a 40-year war of ideas. “This can’t be right,” Dr. Susskind, who became Hawking’s biggest adversary in the subsequent debate, thought to himself when first hearing about Hawking’s claim. “I didn’t know what to make out of it.”

A white, illustrated cat sits in the middle of the page, staring out, and dark blue lines radiate from behind it like a scintillating star.

A potential solution came to Dr. Susskind one day in 1993 as he was walking through a physics building on campus. There in the hallway he saw a display of a hologram of a young woman.

A hologram is basically a three-dimensional image — a teapot, a cat, Princess Leia — made entirely of light. It is created by illuminating the original (real) object with a laser and recording the patterns of reflected light on a photographic plate. When the plate is later illuminated, a three-dimensional image of the object springs into view at the center.

“‘Hey, here’s a situation where it looks as if information is kind of reproduced in two different ways,’” Dr. Susskind recalled thinking. On the one hand, there is a visible object that “looked real,” he said. “And on the other hand, there’s the same information coded on the film surrounding the hologram. Up close, it just looks like a little bunch of scratches and a highly complex encoding.”

The right combinations of scratches on that film, Dr. Susskind realized, could make anything emerge into three dimensions. Then he thought: What if a black hole was actually a hologram, with the event horizon serving as the “film,” encoding what was inside? It was “a nutty idea, a cool idea,” he recalled.

Across the Atlantic, the same nutty idea had occurred to the Dutch physicist, Gerardus ’t Hooft, a Nobel laureate at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

According to Einstein’s general relativity, the information content of a black hole or any three-dimensional space — your living room, say, or the whole universe — was limited to the number of bits that could be encoded on an imaginary surface surrounding it. That space was measured in pixels 10⁻³³ centimeters on a side — the smallest unit of space, known as the Planck length.

With data pixels so small, this amounted to quadrillions of megabytes per square centimeter — a stupendous amount of information, but not an infinite amount. Trying to cram too much information into any region would cause it to exceed a limit decreed by Jacob Bekenstein, then a Princeton graduate student and Hawking’s rival, and cause it to collapse into a black hole.

This is what we found out about Nature’s bookkeeping system,” Dr. ’t Hooft wrote in 1993. “The data can be written onto a surface, and the pen with which the data are written has a finite size.”

The cosmos-as-holograph idea found its fullest expression a few years later, in 1997. Juan Maldacena, a theorist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., used new ideas from string theory — the speculative “theory of everything” that portrays subatomic particles as vibrating strings — to create a mathematical model of the entire universe as a hologram.

In his formulation, all the information about what happens inside some volume of space is encoded as quantum fields on the surface of the region’s boundary.

Dr. Maldacena’s universe is often portrayed as a can of soup: Galaxies, black holes, gravity, stars and the rest, including us, are the soup inside, and the information describing them resides on the outside, like a label. Think of it as gravity in a can. The inside and outside of the can — the “bulk” and the “boundary” — are complementary descriptions of the same phenomena.

Since the fields on the surface of the soup can obey quantum rules about preserving information, the gravitational fields inside the can must also preserve information. In such a picture, “there is no room for information loss,” Dr. Maldacena said at a conference in 2004.

Hawking conceded: Gravity was not the great eraser after all.

“In other words, the universe makes sense,” Dr. Susskind said in an interview.

“It’s completely crazy,” he added, in reference to the holographic universe. “You could imagine in a laboratory, in a sufficiently advanced laboratory, a large sphere — let’s say, a hollow sphere of a specially tailored material — to be made of silicon and other things, with some kind of appropriate quantum fields inscribed on it.” Then you could conduct experiments, he said: Tap on the sphere, interact with it, then wait for answers from the entities inside.

“On the other hand, you could open up that shell and you would find nothing in it,” he added. As for us entities inside: “We don’t read the hologram, we are the hologram.”

Against a black background sits a rough, ghostly cat that looks as if it has been drawn from white scratch marks and cat hair.
Credit…Leonardo Santamaria

Our actual universe, unlike Dr. Maldacena’s mathematical model, has no boundary, no outer limit. Nonetheless, for physicists, his universe became a proof of principle that gravity and quantum mechanics were compatible and offered a font of clues to how our actual universe works.

But, Dr. Maldacena noted recently, his model did not explain how information manages to escape a black hole intact or how Hawking’s calculation in 1974 went wrong.

Don Page, a former student of Hawking now at the University of Alberta, took a different approach in the 1990s. Suppose, he said, that information is conserved when a black hole evaporates. If so, then a black hole does not spit out particles as randomly as Hawking had thought. The radiation would start out as random, but as time went on, the particles being emitted would become more and more correlated with those that had come out earlier, essentially filling the gaps in the missing information. After billions and billions of years all the hidden information would have emerged.

In quantum terms, this explanation required any particles now escaping the black hole to be entangled with the particles that had leaked out earlier. But this presented a problem. Those newly emitted particles were already entangled with their mates that had already fallen into the black hole, running afoul of quantum rules mandating that particles be entangled only in pairs. Dr. Page’s information-transmission scheme could only work if the particles inside the black hole were somehow the same as the particles that were now outside.

How could that be? The inside and outside of the black hole were connected by wormholes, the shortcuts through space and time proposed by Einstein and Rosen in 1935.

In 2012 Drs. Maldacena and Susskind proposed a formal truce between the two warring Einsteins. They proposed that spooky entanglement and wormholes were two faces of the same phenomenon. As they put it, employing the initials of the authors of those two 1935 papers, Einstein and Rosen in one and Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen in the other: “ER = EPR.”

The implication is that, in some strange sense, the outside of a black hole was the same as the inside, like a Klein bottle that has only one side.

How could information be in two places at once? Like much of quantum physics, the question boggles the mind, like the notion that light can be a wave or a particle depending on how the measurement is made.

What matters is that, if the interior and exterior of a black hole were connected by wormholes, information could flow through them in either direction, in or out, according to John Preskill, a Caltech physicist and quantum computing expert.

“We ought to be able to influence the interior of one of these black holes by ‘tickling’ its radiation, and thereby sending a message to the inside of the black hole,” he said in a 2017 interview with Quanta. He added, “It sounds crazy.”

Ahmed Almheiri, a physicist at N.Y.U. Abu Dhabi, noted recently that by manipulating radiation that had escaped a black hole, he could create a cat inside that black hole. “I can do something with the particles radiating from the black hole, and suddenly a cat is going to appear in the black hole,” he said.

He added, “We all have to get used to this.”

The metaphysical turmoil came to a head in 2019. That year two groups of theorists made detailed calculations showing that information leaking through wormholes would match the pattern predicted by Dr. Page. One paper was by Geoff Penington, now at the University of California, Berkeley. And the other was by Netta Engelhardt of M.I.T.; Don Marolf of the University of California, Santa Barbara; Henry Maxfield, now at Stanford University; and Dr. Almheiri. The two groups published their papers on the same day.

“And so the final moral of the story is, if your theory of gravity includes wormholes, then you get information coming out,” Dr. Penington said. “If it doesn’t include wormholes, then presumably you don’t get information coming out.”

He added, “Hawking didn’t include wormholes, and we are including wormholes.”

Not everybody has signed on to this theory. And testing it is a challenge, since particle accelerators will probably never be powerful enough to produce black holes in the lab for study, although several groups of experimenters hope to simulate black holes and wormholes in quantum computers.

And even if this physics turns out to be accurate, Dr. Mermin’s magic does have an important limit: Neither wormholes nor entanglement can transmit a message, much less a human, faster than the speed of light. So much for time travel. The weirdness only becomes apparent after the fact, when two scientists compare their observations and discover that they match — a process that involves classical physics, which obeys the speed limit set by Einstein.

As Dr. Susskind likes to say, “You can’t make that cat hop out of a black hole faster than the speed of light.”

New York Times, October 10, 2022

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Democratic senators threaten to freeze weapons sales to Saudi Arabia over support of Russia

Strong remarks by chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee indicate possible sea change in US policy

Mohammed bin Salman
Robert Menendez hit out at Mohammed bin Salman’s decision to ‘help underwrite Putin’s war through the OPEC+ cartel’ Photograph: Alexey Nikolsky/SPUTNIK/KREMLIN/EPA

The congressional backlash against Saudi Arabia escalated sharply on Monday as a powerful Democratic senator threatened to freeze weapons sales and security cooperation with the kingdom after its decision to support Russia over the interests of the US.

Washington’s anger with its Saudi allies has intensified since last week’s Opec+ decision to cut oil production by 2m barrels, which was seen as a slight to the Biden administration weeks ahead of critical midterm elections, and an important boost to Russia.

But the remarks by Senator Robert Menendez, who serves as chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, indicated a serious possible sea change in US policy.

Vladimir Putin and Mohammed bin Salman at the G20 leaders’ summit in Buenos Aires in 2018


Hitting out at Mohammed bin Salman’s decision to “help underwrite Putin’s war through the OPEC+ cartel”, Menendez said there was “simply is no room to play both sides of this conflict”.

“I will not green-light any cooperation with Riyadh until the Kingdom reassesses its position with respect to the war in Ukraine. Enough is enough,” he said.

Another Democratic senator and a member of Congress – Richard Blumenthal and Ro Khanna – expressed similar sentiments in an opinion piece for Politico that also accused Saudi Arabia of undermining US efforts and helping to boost Russian president Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The Saudi decision was a pointed blow to the US, but the US also has a way to respond: it can promptly pause the massive transfer of American warfare technology into the eager hands of the Saudis,” they wrote.

“Simply put, America shouldn’t be providing such unlimited control of strategic defense systems to an apparent ally of our greatest enemy – nuclear bomb extortionist Vladimir Putin.”

While similar proposals have failed to pass in the past, Blumenthal and Khanna said “intense bipartisan blowback to Saudi’s collusion with Russia” meant that “this time is different”. Their piece followed Chris Murphy, another Democratic senator, last week calling for a “wholesale re-evaluation of the US alliance with Saudi Arabia” and Tom Malinowski, a New Jersey Democratic congressman, introducing legislation to withdraw US troops from the Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates.


In his statement, Menendez suggested he would be willing to make exceptions and did not support an outright ban on all support, saying he would block all arms sales and security cooperation “beyond what is absolutely necessary to defend US personnel and interests”.

A spokesperson for the senator did not immediately respond to questions about the nature of those possible exceptions. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Menendez and others’ statements suggest that Democrats in Congress are poised to take a tougher stance against Saudi Arabia than the White House has publicly said it is willing to accept.

Joe Biden previously threatened to cut off all US support for Saudi offensive operations in Yemen, but a damning report released earlier this year by the government accountability office, which serves as a congressional watchdog, found that the Biden administration’s move to classify weapons as offensive or defensive was largely meaningless.

Since vowing to turn Prince Mohammed into a “pariah” because of his alleged role in approving the murder of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Biden changed course this summer and met with the Saudi heir as part of a broader attempt to improve Saudi-US relations.

That outreach was broadly criticised as having failed last week after the OPEC+ decision.

William Hartung, senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute, commended Menendez’s statement but said that to have “maximum impact”, the cut-off ought to cover “all weapons transfers, spare parts, and maintenance to the Saudi military”.

“In addition, a suspension should be tied not just to Saudi Arabia’s ties with Russia or stance on the Ukraine war, but also to pressing the Saudis to refrain from airstrikes on Yemen and to fully lift its blockade on that nation as a step towards good faith negotiations to end the conflict,” he said.

Khalid Aljabri, whose father, Saad, is an exiled senior Saudi intelligence official, said the “weaponization” of oil was likely to have a broader impact on the US relationship with Saudi, as ordinary Americans would probably begin feeling the ripple effects of Saudi’s decision at the gas pump.

Aljabri said it was not clear whether congressional anger seemed more potent than the Biden administration’s own stance because Democrats had more to lose ahead of November’s critical midterm elections, or whether the White House and Congress were playing a game of “good cop, bad cop” in attempts to influence the kingdom’s policies.

“Either way, they tried appeasement and fist bumps and it didn’t work. [Mohammed bin Salman] only understands the language of power. It is high time the Biden administration acts like the senior partner in this relationship,” he said.

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The man who filled Spain with pistachios

In the land of olive trees and vineyards, one in every 700 square kilometers is now covered with this species, and one man started it all: agricultural engineer José Francisco Couceiro

José Francisco Couceiro with the first pistachio trees he planted in 1987 on an experimental farm in Spain.
José Francisco Couceiro with the first pistachio trees he planted in 1987 on an experimental farm in Spain.DAVID EXPÓSITO

A new kind of landscape can be observed over and over again around many communities in Spain. Where there had traditionally been vineyards, olive groves or fields of cereal, there are often pistachio orchards. One in every 700 square kilometers of the Spanish territory (the second-largest EU country with 505,990 km2 or 195,360 square miles) is already covered by this Asian species with long branches with leaves that turn red in the fall. The agricultural engineer José Francisco Couceiro, 65, is the individual who is chiefly responsible for the change. “I started this mess”, he thinks when he walks through the countryside. The early 20th-century writer Ramón María del Valle-Inclán used to say that the landscape gives rise to the language of its inhabitants and that language is the collective soul of the people. If this is true, the Spanish soul is changing.

In the shade of a huge pistachio tree on the outskirts of Ciudad Real, in central Spain, Couceiro can still recall the day in 1987 when a car full of agronomists stopped at this very spot. He was 29 years old and had just planted this tree as part of an experimental project at El Chaparrillo Agro-Environmental Research Center. The driver rolled down the window and asked, “What are they planting here?” “Pistachios,” a passenger answered from inside the car. “What bullshit!” the driver laughed before driving off. Couceiro recalls the anecdote with a triumphant smile. In two months he will retire, and according to his calculations he will leave behind some 70,000 hectares of pistachio trees planted under his impulse, in an area that would fit all of Singapore. It is more than a boom: the hectares have multiplied almost by 16 in the last decade.

A vibrating machine shakes a tree to collect pistachios at El Chaparrillo Agro-Environmental Research Center in Ciudad Real.
A vibrating machine shakes a tree to collect pistachios at El Chaparrillo Agro-Environmental Research Center in Ciudad Real.DAVID EXPÓSITO

In 1986 Couceiro, then a young man recently hired to work at El Chaparrillo, was asked to look for alternatives to the traditional crops of the vast plains of Spain’s Castilla-La Mancha region. “The first year I spent sending letters everywhere,” he recalls, producing a folder with the unusual answers he received. There are letters from Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Hafez al-Assad’s Syria. Couceiro, in basic English, asked unknown colleagues from countries with similar climates for information on crops that might grow well in his area. “Sometimes, in addition to kind answers in writing, I received pistachio buds wrapped in wet paper. When the grafts worked, we would have a party,” he recalls.

For a decade Couceiro worked “in solitude and silence” in the empty plains of Ciudad Real. “It was totally quixotic. I was alone for 10 years, absolutely alone, here with the pistachios,” he says. The engineer and his small team, after many failed experiments, came up with a magic formula: use the trunk of a native tree, the cornicabra, and graft on it the most successful pistachio varieties from Iran. Those Spanish trunks with Iranian branches can produce up to a ton of pistachios per hectare of dry land per year, an amount valued at around €6,000 at the price of the last harvest. These are unheard-of profit margins.

José Francisco Couceiro, among the piles of paper that he has accumulated during 36 years dedicated to pistachio research.
José Francisco Couceiro, among the piles of paper that he has accumulated during 36 years dedicated to pistachio research.DAVID EXPÓSITO

When Couceiro started promoting the pistachio, growers were very skeptical. Ladislao López, a winegrower, began working at El Chaparrillo in 1993 and still remembers his astonishment when he saw the engineer’s crops: “I thought he was crazy. I had never seen a pistachio in my life.” In those early years, this public center run by the regional government decided to give away buds of the Iranian varieties of pistachio trees to anyone who wanted them. Many of the courageous souls who took the leap later reaped the benefits in spades. Now, Couceiro laments, the public institution is in the background and a handful of large companies have taken the reins of the sector.

Investment funds have set their sights on agriculture. In the town of Malpica de Tajo, in Toledo province, the Portuguese company Treemond Holding, under the guidance of the investment bank GBS Finance, bought 1,000 hectares of vineyards from the Osborne Group two years ago to uproot the vines and plant pistachio trees. “Many soccer players,” says Couceiro, are investing in this crop. One of them, Gabi Fernández, a former Atlético de Madrid player, has said so publicly. And the regional bank Globalcaja has been proclaiming for years that pistachio is “the new green gold.”

Agricultural engineer José Francisco Couceiro observes the pistachios before harvesting, at El Chaparrillo.
Agricultural engineer José Francisco Couceiro observes the pistachios before harvesting, at El Chaparrillo.DAVID EXPÓSITO

Couceiro predicts a disaster. He continues to recommend using the native cornicabra tree as a trunk on which to graft Iranian pistachio branches. However, the large estates owned by the investment funds are copying the ultra-intensive model of California, where a tree with a cold name is used as a base, the UCB-1, named after the acronym of the American institution that created it through hybridization: the University of California at Berkeley. These are trees that grow very fast but, in the shallow Spanish soils, their roots spread out to the sides and compete with each other. “It’s as if we have a lemon slushy and 10 people are slurping on it. Imagine how much we each get,” illustrates Couceiro. “Ambition is good. Greed is bad.”

The researcher also predicts that pistachio trees will be pulled out “in massive amounts” in the next five to 10 years, possibly a third or as much as half of the current 70,000 hectares. Many trees, he argues, have been poorly chosen or planted in unsuitable regions. Couceiro stresses that pistachio trees need very hot summers, cold winters and a very dry environment, as occurs in Castilla-La Mancha and inland Andalusia. “Humidity is poison for pistachios, but growers are being told that pistachios can be placed anywhere,” warns the engineer, who is currently attached to the Castilla-La Mancha Regional Institute for Research and Development of Agro-Food and Forestry. “There are pistachio plantations even in [the northern, rainy region] Galicia and in El Bierzo!” exclaims Couceiro.

Fallen pistachios and the collection nets at El Chaparrillo Agro-environmental Research Center in Ciudad Real.
Fallen pistachios and the collection nets at El Chaparrillo Agro-environmental Research Center in Ciudad Real.DAVID EXPÓSITO

Pistachio trees are slow to bear fruit, taking about six years to produce their first major harvest, so planting errors are identified when it is already too late. It’s a time bomb. “The UCB-1 and the cornicabra are like a dinosaur and a cow. Who is going to die first? The dinosaur or the cow? The dinosaur, because it needs five or 10 times more than the cow,” argues Couceiro. California, with deeper soils, an optimal climate and heavy use of fertilizers and phytosanitary products, can more easily maintain these plant dinosaurs. Without enough food, however, these very vigorous trees produce closed pistachios. If the grower makes a mistake, he realizes when he has already lost 10 years of work.

There was a scientist in Spain who focused on the pistachio even before Couceiro: the agricultural engineer Francisco Vargas, who today is 77 years old and retired. Vargas planted the first pistachio tree in 1975 on a farm in Tarragona that belonged to the Catalan Institute of Agrifood Research and Technology. In a telephone interview, Vargas recalled how the first experiments were “a disaster” and his bosses soon decided to swich to almonds, with great success. The varieties of almond trees created by Vargas have sold by the millions. “In Castilla-La Mancha, Couceiro and his colleagues focused on pistachios and they are the ones who have expanded it enormously,” applauded Vargas.

Sitting between piles of papers in his laboratory, Couceiro talks wearily, two months ahead of his retirement. “For me, on December 1 the pistachio will be over forever. And when I say forever, I mean forever. I don’t want to know anything more about pistachios. I can see that this is all going to hell.” At the end of the working day, Couceiro drives over to pick up his wife Marina Rodríguez de Francisco, who is also an agricultural engineer. Together they wrote the chapter dedicated to cooking recipes in the monumental 2013 work El cultivo del pistacho (or Pistachio Cultivation). The 700-plus-page volume shows readers how to prepare pistachio salads, pistachio croquettes, spaghetti with pistachios, squid stuffed with pistachios, lamb casserole with pistachios, and pistachio ice cream. “We spent four months eating pistachios.”

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Ukraine to demand step-change in western aid after Russian missile blitz

Kyiv presses military and diplomatic wishlist as French president sees ‘profound change in nature of this war’

Rescuer helps injured woman
A rescuer helps an injured woman in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Photograph: State Emergency Service of Ukraine/AFP/Getty Images

Volodymyr Zelenskiy will address G7 leaders on Tuesday to demand a significant increase in their military and diplomatic support after the biggest Russian missile attack on Ukrainian cities since the start of the war.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, described the attack, in which cruise missiles and armed drones rained down on parks, playgrounds, power stations and other civilian targets, as “a profound change in the nature of this war”.

When he speaks to a virtual G7 summit on Tuesday, Zelenskiy will be seeking an equally profound change in western backing, which Kyiv complains has consistently lagged behind Ukraine’s requirements to defend its territory and people.“We are dealing with terrorists,” the Ukrainian president will say. “They have two targets: energy infrastructure and people.”

Zelenskiy’s wishlist will emphasise anti-aircraft systems, and repeat the longstanding demand for longer-range missiles. Diplomatically, Ukraine wants Russia declared a state sponsor of terrorism, and its isolation underlined in a UN general assembly debate beginning on Monday. The assembly is due to debate Russia’s land-grab in the east and south of Ukraine, which the UK ambassador, Barbara Woodward, described as “the largest forcible annexation attempt since the second world war”.

The UN secretary general, António Guterres, was “deeply shocked” by the attacks, his spokesperson said. “This constitutes another unacceptable escalation of the war and, as always, civilians are paying the highest price,” the spokesperson added.

As debate in the assembly began, the Ukrainian ambassador to the UN, Sergiy Kyslytsya, said: “A trail of blood is left behind the Russian delegation when it enters the general assembly and the hall is filled up with the smell of smouldering human flesh.”

Russia attempted to change the rules so that the vote on a resolution condemning the Russian annexation would be secret ballot, but was heavily defeated in successive votes.

People in partially destroyed house
People work to remove debris from a damaged house after an overnight Russian shelling in Sloviansk, Donetsk. Photograph: Andriy Andriyenko/AP

On Monday, Germany announced that it would accelerate the delivery of an Iris-T infrared-guided air defence system, saying the first of four batteries would arrive within days. The US promised two National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (Nasams) in July and a US defence official told the Washington Post they should arrive within weeks. Estonia meanwhile, prepared legislation that would designate Russia as a terrorist state.

Zelenskiy spoke to Joe Biden and tweeted later: “Air defence is currently the No 1 priority in our defence cooperation. We also need US leadership with the G7’s tough stance and with support for our [UN general assembly] resolution.”

After the conversation, the White House issued a statement saying Biden “pledged to continue providing Ukraine with the support needed to defend itself, including advanced air defense systems”.

Earlier the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, assured Zelenskiy “of the solidarity of Germany and the other G7 states”.

Germany, the current president of the group of wealthy industrialised democracies, will host Tuesday’s virtual summit. A German government spokesperson, Steffen Hebestreit, said on Monday: “Germany will do everything in its power to mobilise additional aid and, in particular, to help repair and restore [Ukraine’s] damaged and destroyed civilian infrastructure, such as the electricity and heating supply.”

Zelenskiy said over 100 projectiles were launched at Ukrainian cities, more than half of which were intercepted by Ukrainian air defence batteries.

Those that got through Ukrainian defences hit civilian targets including a play park and pedestrian bridge that is a tourist attraction in Kyiv. Lviv, Ternópil and Dnipro were among the other cities that were targeted, as well as Zaporizhzhia, where residential areas were bombarded for the third night in a row. At least 11 people are reported to have been killed and scores more injured.

President Zelenskiy
President Zelenskiy will tell G7 leaders to supply Ukraine with anti-aircraft systems and longer-range tanks, and to declare Russia a state sponsor of terrorism Photograph: AP

Vladimir Putin claimed the missile strikes, launched from warships, strategic bombers and Iranian-made drones, were in retaliation for a blast on Saturday that damaged the Kerch bridge joining Russia to the Crimean peninsula, seized from Ukraine in 2014, and warned of even more “severe retaliation” in the event of further Ukrainian attacks.

“Let there be no doubt,” Putin said in televised comments addressed to his security council, “if attempts at terrorist attacks continue, the response from Russia will be severe.”

However, Ukrainian intelligence said the Russian preparations for the attacks on cities and infrastructure began on 2 October, when orders were issued for long-range bomber units to prepare.

The defence ministry’s main intelligence directorate said that seven Tu-160 supersonic strategic bombers had been moved to the “Olenya” airfield south of Murmansk to be loaded with the cruise missiles used against Kyiv and other cities. At the same time, it claimed six warships armed with 40 Kalibr sea-launched cruise missiles were deployed off the Crimean coast.

The intent was to destroy thermal power plants as winter approaches, while seeking to create panic among the civilian population and intimidate Europe.

Western leaders vowed that their support would only be further galvanised by the attacks on civilian targets.

The US ambassador to Kyiv, Bridget Brink, met Zelenskiy and his chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, at the president’s office a few hours after the attack, and the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, spoke by phone to his opposite number, Dmytro Kuleba.

Car burns in Kyiv
Cars burn in central Kyiv after Russian missile strike. Photograph: Gleb Garanich/Reuters

Zelenskiy also spoke to the UK prime minister, Liz Truss, saying that Ukraine was counting on British leadership “in consolidating international political and defence support for Ukraine, in particular regarding the protection of our skies”.

In her remarks to the G7 on Tuesday Truss is expected to say: “Nobody wants peace more than Ukraine. And for our part, we must not waver one iota in our resolve to help them win it.”

The focus of the Ukrainian diplomatic effort will be on securing as great a show of Russian isolation as possible at the Unga, where many countries from the global south have up to now abstained, and in pursuing a terrorist designation for Moscow.

Designating Russia as a terrorist state will have different legal implications according to the country taking that step. The US lists four countries as state sponsors of terrorism: North Korea, Iran, Syria and Cuba. While there has been some pressure in Congress for such a designation to be applied to Russia, it has been resisted by the Biden administration, and some argue that such a designation would be counterproductive.

“The Russian Federation has demonstrated that it is a terrorist state that fights not with the Ukrainian army, but with peaceful citizens,” a Ukrainian source said, adding: “Russia is resorting to the methods of Nazi Germany, which mercilessly bombed European cities during the second world war – London, Coventry, Gdańsk, and many others.”

Ukraine is worried that Russia is seeking to create conditions by the start of the G20 summit in Bali in mid November in which western countries will press Kyiv to start negotiations on terms favourable to Moscow, though there is little sign at the moment of any meaningful cracks in the anti-Putin coalition.

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Mass strikes on Ukraine are a desperate answer to Putin’s critics at home

Investigators examine damage after a missile strike on Dnipro, Ukraine, on Monday.
Investigators examine damage after a missile strike on Dnipro, Ukraine, on Monday. Photograph: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images

The victims were ordinary Ukrainians: those who died at the busy intersection of Volodymyrska and Shevchenko streets in Kyiv, at a downtown playground, or the hundreds of thousands now in homes without light, water and heat in cities across the country due to a barrage of Russian cruise missiles.

But Vladimir Putin’s “mass strikes” on Monday were also a desperate answer to his military’s critics at home, to the fact that Russia’s invasion is failing, and to his own wounded pride after the Crimean Bridge, a pet project, was rocked by an explosion this weekend.

“What he is doing now is trivial revenge,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Personal revenge as well.”

For months, Russian war pundits, armchair generals, military bloggers and others have been clamouring for all-out war against Ukraine. And, as the horrific images began to appear from Ukrainian cities such as Kyiv, Lviv and Dnipro of bodies in the streets and plumes of smoke rising from city centres, they were satisfied for a moment.

“We warned you, Zelenskiy, that Russia still had not begun in earnest,” wrote Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-installed head of Chechnya, who had criticised top army generals in recent weeks. “Now I’m 100% satisfied with how the [war] is being waged.”

When Putin led a session of his security council on Monday, he presented the attack as a case of Russia demanding action following the explosion that rocked the Crimean Bridge, a symbol of Russian prestige and of his control of the peninsula.

“It was impossible to leave this kind of crime without any response,” Putin said in televised remarks, blaming the blast on Ukrainian intelligence.

Ukrainian officials quickly pointed out that Russia had been launching strikes against civilian infrastructure since the beginning of the war. Russia’s strike on Monday was the largest barrage against cities since 24 February, but not a fundamental change to the war.

“No, Putin was not ‘provoked’ to unleash missile terror by ‘Crimea Bridge’,” wrote Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister. “Russia had been constantly hitting Ukraine with missiles before the bridge, too. Putin is desperate because of battlefield defeats and uses missile terror to try to change the pace of war in his favour.”

In his short speech, Putin claimed the strikes were made at the “request of the defence ministry”. If true, that would make it one of the first decisions enacted by Gen Sergei Surovikin, the new unified Russian battlefield commander who has been dubbed “General Armageddon” for his hardline and unorthodox approach to waging war.

“I am not surprised to see what is happening this morning in Kyiv. Surovikin is absolutely ruthless, with little regard for human life,” a former defence ministry official who has worked with him told the Guardian. “I am afraid his hands will be completely covered in Ukrainian blood.”

Cars on fire after a missile attack on Kyiv, Ukraine, 10 October.
Cars on fire after a missile attack on Kyiv, Ukraine, 10 October. Photograph: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

At the same time, Putin said that attacks such as Monday’s mass barrage of missiles would be reserved as responses to strikes on Russian territory. Whether or not that is true, the statement is one that will anger hardliners who believed they were witnessing Russia’s new, all-out approach to this war.

“We must hope that this is not a one-time act of revenge but a new system of waging war,” Alexander Kots, a hawkish military reporter for the pro-Kremlin Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, wrote before Putin spoke. “Across the entire Ukrainian government. Until they lose the ability to function.”

Whatever praise Putin has earned from the military’s critics by using cruise missiles to target civilian infrastructure in Ukraine may be short-lived.

“Russian public opinion wants mass attacks and the total destruction of infrastructure that can be used by the Ukrainian army,” claimed Sergei Markov, a former Kremlin adviser and political commentator. He, like other pro-Kremlin figures, have mostly ignored the fact that the strikes also targeted ordinary civilians.

The complexities of the Kremlin’s internal decision-making on the war remain opaque.

While the infighting among Russian officials has been palpable in recent weeks, Putin has also made clear that the war is deeply personal for him, and often launches into tirades on Ukrainian statehood and history that put him in line with some of the most hardline elements of his government.

“Perhaps it is important for Putin to respond to the discontent of hawks and ultra-conservatives. But I would not exaggerate their influence on the decisions he makes,” said Kolesnikov. “He is himself the most important hawk and ultra-conservative. This war is his personal war with Ukraine and, as it turned out eight months later, with the world order constructed after 1945 and 1991.”

One theory in Moscow is that Putin has sought to reduce anger over the defence ministry’s conduct of the war by appointing a new military commander with a brutal reputation to show that the military now has carte blanche.

Surovikin is in favour with hardliners. He maintains a good working relationship with the Wagner private military company, said Gleb Irisov, a former air force lieutenant who worked with Surovikin up to 2020, and his appointment was welcomed by top critics of the war effort, including Kadyrov and the Wagner head, Yevgeny Prigozhin.

“[Surovikin] is very cruel but also a competent commander,” said Irisov. “But he won’t be able to solve all the problems. Russia is short on weapons and manpower,” he added.

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Post-Occupation Divisions – Mistrust Abounds Among the Liberated Residents of Ukrainian Village

Two men in front of the village store in Vyshneva just a few weeks after the village's liberation. Vyshneva lies around 90 kilometers south of Kharkiv and was under Russian occupation from the end of February to the beginning of September. Life is slowly returning to the village, though there is great mistrust among its residents.
Two men in front of the village store in Vyshneva just a few weeks after the village’s liberation. Vyshneva lies around 90 kilometers south of Kharkiv and was under Russian occupation from the end of February to the beginning of September. Life is slowly returning to the village, though there is great mistrust among its residents. Foto: Emile Ducke / OSTKREUZ / DER SPIEGEL

For six months, the village of Vyshneva, population 503, was occupied by Russian troops. Initially, there was resistance, but it gave way to collaboration and treason. Now liberated, the village is marked by deep distrust.

The craters at the entrance to Vyshneva have long since been filled in. Artillery fired had torn several holes into the road leading into the village, located some 90 kilometers south of Kharkiv. A Ukrainian flag is now flying from the mobile phone mast, and soon, it is said, electricity will return as well.

Three weeks ago, the Ukrainian army retook Vyshneva, a village of 503 inhabitants, as part of the rapid offensive that pushed Russian troops back 70 kilometers to the east within just a few days.

The school and the large agricultural facility in the village were both destroyed shortly before the liberation. One might think that the residents of Vyshneva would now be joining forces to rebuild their hometown. “But,” says Iryna Yantshenko, 51, the shopkeeper at the village store, “I have no idea what’s going to happen next.” She fears “that we will soon have a civil war.”


Vyshneva is made up of four roads, a World War I memorial, a post office, a culture house, the village store, a school, City Hall and two facilities belonging to an agricultural operation. The homes are built of wood and covered with corrugated drywall, many of them painted in pastel hues and decorated with carved molding.
Vyshneva is made up of four roads, a World War I memorial, a post office, a culture house, the village store, a school, City Hall and two facilities belonging to an agricultural operation. The homes are built of wood and covered with corrugated drywall, many of them painted in pastel hues and decorated with carved molding.

Vyshneva is a village like many others in embattled eastern Ukraine. It has experienced two major upheavals within the course of just a few months. First, the Russians came and subjugated the community, with some of the residents finding a way to adapt to the new situation. And then, only six months later, the Ukrainians liberated Vyshneva, and the villagers are now trying to adapt once again. But the joy at seeing the Russians thrown out of village is far from unadulterated – because it is not shared by all.

A fissure now runs through this village. Perhaps it was always there, and it has only become visible since liberation. Residents are wondering: How can we trust each other? Or: Who betrayed me? Who collaborated with the occupiers?

Iryna Yantshenko of the village store now divides people in the village into two categories: patriots and “rascists,” an aspersion made up from the words “Russian” and “fascist.” The reference is to those who sympathized or collaborated with the occupiers.

Iryna Yantshenko, 51, shopkeeper in the village store, now divides people in the village into two categories: patriots and "rascists," an aspersion made up from the words "Russian" and "fascist." The reference is to those who sympathized or collaborated with the occupiers.
Iryna Yantshenko, 51, shopkeeper in the village store, now divides people in the village into two categories: patriots and “rascists,” an aspersion made up from the words “Russian” and “fascist.” The reference is to those who sympathized or collaborated with the occupiers.

“I am afraid that we will soon have a civil war.”

Iryna Yantshenko, 51, shopkeeper in Vyshneva

The questions facing the residents of Vyshneva are a clear illustration of the fact that war doesn’t just bring death and destruction. It can also destroy cohesion in the community long after the invaders have withdrawn.

Vyshneva is made up of four roads, a World War II memorial, a post office, a culture house, the village store, a school, City Hall and two facilities belonging to an agricultural operation. The homes are built of wood and covered with corrugated drywall, many of them painted in pastel hues and decorated with carved molding. The residents have large gardens full of peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots and corn. As autumn progresses toward winter, they are busy harvesting squash, walnuts and apples.

At the entrance to the village is a monument to the Soviet soldiers who fell in World War II. Fourteen of them are buried here. An inscription on one of the steles reads: "No matter where you are going, no matter where you are headed, stop here at this precious grave and bow down with all your heart."

At the entrance to the village is a monument to the Soviet soldiers who fell in World War II. Fourteen of them are buried here. An inscription on one of the steles reads: “No matter where you are going, no matter where you are headed, stop here at this precious grave and bow down with all your heart.” 

Squash is currently being harvested in Vyshneva. A rocket that was used to fire cluster munitions at the village is embedded in a field. It will likely take months, or even years, before all signs of the occupation are removed.

Squash is currently being harvested in Vyshneva. A rocket that was used to fire cluster munitions at the village is embedded in a field. It will likely take months, or even years, before all signs of the occupation are removed. 

Nina Chemeris, 60, was mayor of Vyshneva until the end of March – and is officially still in office. For the time being, she no longer lives in the village, having returned to Lutsk, the western Ukrainian town of her birth. She told DER SPIEGEL her story from there by way of a messaging service.

Chemeris knows the history of Vyshneva by heart: It was founded in 1792 and 90 percent destroyed in World War II. During Soviet times, many people moved to the village from other Soviet republics, but others moved away to work at the steel mills and coal mines in the nearby Donbas. Vyshneva – a derivation of the word for “cherries” – has always survived on farming, she says, with residents growing their own food or working for the local agricultural operation. During communism, it was a collective farm called “Morning Dawn,” with the name changing in 1991 after Ukraine gained its independence to the Balakliya Grain Processing Company, after the nearby district capital.

Nina Chemeris, 60, was mayor of Vyshneva until the end of August. Prior to that, she taught for 30 years in the village school. A Ukrainian patriot, she is still deeply disturbed by the gratitude many villagers showed the Russians.

Nina Chemeris, 60, was mayor of Vyshneva until the end of August. Prior to that, she taught for 30 years in the village school. A Ukrainian patriot, she is still deeply disturbed by the gratitude many villagers showed the Russians. Foto: Emile Ducke / OSTKREUZ / DER SPIEGEL

Nina Chemeris was sent here in 1980 after finishing her teaching degree, and she taught at the school in the village for 30 years, including Ukrainian language and literature. “Even during Soviet times,” she says. She became director of the school and remained in the position for 13 years, until she was elected mayor of Vyshneva in 2010.

The village, she says, was not in good shape when she came into office, with empty coffers, poor water supply and roads in bad shape. But together, the villagers were able to make significant improvements, with everyone chipping in. Despite the destruction left behind by the Russian invasion, those improvements can still be seen.

But the first rifts in Vyshneva began showing up in 2014, says the mayor, when pro-Moscow separatists in the Donbas began to destabilize Ukraine. “Some started saying ‘Glory to Ukraine,’ while others thought that was a Nazi slogan.” Some 60 percent of the population is made up of retirees, she says, whose lives were strongly influenced by the Soviet Union. Many would also watch Russian television, she says, receiving a steady diet of Putin’s propaganda. “For my part, I always said that we could be proud of Ukraine,” says Chemeris.

The school in Vyshneva. Initially, soldiers from the pro-Russian enclave of Luhansk allowed villagers to keep the Ukrainian flag flying, even though they used it as their base. After the Russians left, it was hit by artillery and destroyed by fire.

The school in Vyshneva. Initially, soldiers from the pro-Russian enclave of Luhansk allowed villagers to keep the Ukrainian flag flying, even though they used it as their base. After the Russians left, it was hit by artillery and destroyed by fire. 

A woman in Vyshneva transporting aid goods on her bicycle. Behind her are the remains of a Russian checkpoint, destroyed by artillery fire.

A woman in Vyshneva transporting aid goods on her bicycle. Behind her are the remains of a Russian checkpoint, destroyed by artillery fire. 

On Feb. 28, four days after the beginning of the war, residents saw the first Russian military vehicles in the area, but they didn’t roll into Vyshneva until March 12. Four men in dark-green uniforms with white armbands, armed with automatic weapons, were suddenly standing in front of Chemeris’ home on Victory Street. “They said that the armbands were a sign of peace,” recalls Natalia Shukova, 39, secretary of the village administration. The soldiers – there were 25 of them, she says, all of them drafted into service from the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic – distributed candy to the children and greeted residents in a friendly manner. Their commander was also a teacher, she says. At Chemeris’ request, they left the Ukrainian flag hanging on the school, but used the building as their base.

Initially, the mayor continued her work as before, coordinating aid deliveries from areas under Ukrainian control, as she says. But on March 30, she found agents from the Russian secret service agency FSB standing in front of her door wearing balaclavas. One of them pressed the tip of the barrel of his gun into her back, she says, and said loudly: “So, you’re the woman who is so patriotic.”

The man told her that she had a choice: Either she could collaborate with the Russians, or she and her family would be in great danger. “We’ll take you into the basement, but you don’t want that,” she recalls them telling her. They then demanded lists of veterans and of active members of the Ukrainian army. Chemeris says that by then, she had long since burned the documents. “That’s what I told them. And that at my age, I wouldn’t be changing my views.”

The Russians tore down the Ukrainian flag and the mayor withdrew from her position. Even when a group of citizens asked her for help because food prices had increased sharply, she declined to help. She was afraid for her life, she says.

In April, Vasyl Vassylovich Litvin, 52, began calling the shots in the village, a man with a fleshy, scruffy face and thinning hair. He had lost out to Chemeris in two mayoral elections and had been working as the janitor for the agricultural operation. Other villagers describe him as impolite, criminal and prone to violence with his wife and daughter.

"A traitor lived here" is scrawled on the wall of the house belonging to Vasyl Vassylovich Litvin. After the mayor of the village, Nina Chemeris, fled, he became the main collaborator with the Russian occupiers.

“A traitor lived here” is scrawled on the wall of the house belonging to Vasyl Vassylovich Litvin. After the mayor of the village, Nina Chemeris, fled, he became the main collaborator with the Russian occupiers. 

Next to the cafeteria in the agricultural operation lies a cardboard box in which Russian military rations were packed. As everywhere in Ukraine, the Russians left behind mountains of trash in Vyshneva.

Next to the cafeteria in the agricultural operation lies a cardboard box in which Russian military rations were packed. As everywhere in Ukraine, the Russians left behind mountains of trash in Vyshneva. 

He apparently has a son who lived in Moscow, who he would visit for several months at a time. In Vyshneva, it is said, he buddied up to the soldiers from the Luhansk People’s Republic, procuring gasoline for them and inviting them for grilled shashlik.

Natalia Shukova, the secretary, says she watched from her window as Litvin would receive other villagers in his yard. “People were looking for someone to protect them,” she believes.

Other residents, she says, would bring the occupiers food in order to get on their good side. The new commander of the Luhansk troops, a chunky 50-something with a moustache who went by the nickname “Sepa,” for separatist, tried to get Nina Chemeris on his side. “He said we could manage the village together and that it would again be just as nice as it was in the Soviet Union,” she recalls. “I told him that it wasn’t nice back then at all. I experienced it, after all.”

In the middle of May, the Ukrainian aid deliveries came to a halt. Starting in June, the villagers were able to apply for Russian support by presenting their passports. Many took advantage of the offer. Every two weeks, the occupiers distributed a kilogram of buckwheat, 250 milliliters of sunflower oil and one or two loafs of bread per household, far less than the Ukrainian aid had been. Retirees could also apply for a one-time payment of 10,000 rubles (the equivalent of about 170 euros) at the occupation administration in Balakliya.

The janitor Litwin arranged for 90 retirees to be driven to there.

On June 18, the Luhansk troops in the village were replaced. On that same evening, a side-street was fired on with cluster munitions, with one resident succumbing to stomach wounds sustained in the attack. “The shelling came from an area that was completely under Russian control,” says Nina Chemeris, the former mayor. She believes that the Russians had wanted to strike fear into the villagers and to turn them against the Ukrainians. And with some, it worked. “The next day, I saw a number of people thanking the occupiers. And they started avoiding me.”

On that day, she says, “something fractured” for her. After all the years she spent living there, she felt cheated. On June 21, she and 15 others left the village, ultimately making it to Lutsk via Russia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. When talking about shifting loyalties of the other villagers, Chemeris begins to cry. She says she is planning on returning to Vyshneva soon, “but I certainly won’t be mayor again.”

From July onward, she says, Vasil Litvin, the janitor, began holding meetings out in front of the culture house in which he would provide information about the general situation. Following Chemeris’ departure, he announced that he was now head of the village – the janitor had risen to the position of mayor. Starting in August, says Chemeris, he took charge of business in City Hall and hired the former librarian from the culture house to draw up lists of aid deliveries and property ownership. Some residents say that they were required to register their property in the Russian district of Belgorod. Litvin also organized the wheat harvest, spoke of the founding of a new farming collective and started distributing grain to his followers, one ton each.

At around the same time, newly arrived Russian units set up a repair workshop and storage area for tanks at the agricultural corporation. The Russians, say many villagers, were far less friendly than the troops from Luhansk. “They were constantly swearing, and they left their garbage everywhere,” says one woman.

During one gathering in front of the culture house in late August, an occupation representative from the area warned the villagers against refusing to accept Russian aid deliveries. Those who continue to receive goods from Ukraine, the villagers were told, would end “with a sack over your heads.” Many residents began packing up their things and preparing to leave.

A copy of the identification papers belonging to Vasyl Vassylovich Litvin, who collaborated closely with the Russians. Before the war, he lost twice to Nina Chemeris in mayoral elections in the village.

A copy of the identification papers belonging to Vasyl Vassylovich Litvin, who collaborated closely with the Russians. Before the war, he lost twice to Nina Chemeris in mayoral elections in the village. 

Meanwhile, plans were presented at the culture house for the reopening of the school. The former mathematics and physics teacher from the school, Anatoliy Alexandrovich Busin, 59, said he would be willing to organize lessons according to the Russian curriculum starting in October. A representative from the Russian Education Ministry promised that students would be provided with school supplies free of charge and that they would also be sent on a class trip to Crimea, the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula that had been annexed by Moscow. More teachers, the villagers were told, would be brought in from Russia. Aside from Busin, all of the Ukrainian teachers who hadn’t already left the village refused to continue teaching.

On August 31, the Russian occupiers arrested a 28-year-old Ukrainian veteran named Ruslan Shukov in his grandmother’s yard on Peace Street. Afterward, he says that men with black masks and beards – he believes they were Chechens – tortured him at the cafeteria of the agricultural operation. The next day, he claims, the new mayor, Litvin, denounced him as a killer who had been “trained by NATO to kill children.”

Ruslan Shukov, a 28-year-old veteran of the Ukrainian army, hid in the home of his grandmother Leda in Vyshneva. In late August, he was taken captive there by the occupiers and tortured for several weeks. "Somebody in the village must have betrayed me," he says.

Ruslan Shukov, a 28-year-old veteran of the Ukrainian army, hid in the home of his grandmother Leda in Vyshneva. In late August, he was taken captive there by the occupiers and tortured for several weeks. “Somebody in the village must have betrayed me,” he says. 

DER SPIEGEL reporters met with Shukov at the home of his parents-in-law in the neighbouring village of Bezmyatezhne, where he went to recover from the anguish that would follow.

In the ensuing weeks, the sniper says, he was repeatedly tortured in a Russian dungeon in Balakliya, with his tormenters administering electric shocks and performing mock executions, among other methods. He says the Russians also tried to remove his tattoo of the Ukrainian coat of arms using a Bunsen burner. Prior to his arrest, Shukov says he constantly changed his location and told nobody of his hideout at his grandmothers’. “Somebody in the village must have betrayed me,” he says.

Ultimately, the Ukrainian counteroffensive saved his life, with the occupiers fleeing from Balakliya. On Sept. 5, the Russian positions in Vyshneva, located on the two properties of the agricultural company, were both destroyed by artillery. The next day, the Luhansk soldiers and the Russian troops fled the village. In parting, one of them told the secretary Natalya Shukov that they were merely “redeploying.”

Two days later, Litvin packed up his dark blue Lada, while the mathematics teacher Busin apparently organized the escape of the collaborators to Russia. Once they had all left, the school was fired on and it was hollowed out by fire. On Sept. 9, Ukrainian troops arrived, and residents slowly emerged from their homes.

Only just over half of the villagers were still there, 272 out of 503. It is unclear how many of them accepted Russian aid. Vera Bershnaya, 79, admits to having received the one-time payment of 10,000 rubles and food from the Russians. “Even though two of my sons-in-law are with the Ukrainian army, I don’t think it’s so bad,” she says. Up until the beginning of the war, she says, she was only receiving a pension of what amounts to 40 euros per month from the Ukrainian state, and then nothing after that. “We just wanted to survive. And our mayor left us in the lurch.”

Once the occupation came to an end, many residents waited in the Vyshneva City Hall for a one-time payment from the Red Cross of 30 euros. Many said they were dependent on state assistance.

Once the occupation came to an end, many residents waited in the Vyshneva City Hall for a one-time payment from the Red Cross of 30 euros. Many said they were dependent on state assistance. 

Vera Bershnaya, 79, admits to having received the one-time payment of 10,000 rubles and food from the Russians. "Even though two of my sons-in-law are with the Ukrainian army, I don’t think it’s so bad," she says.

Vera Bershnaya, 79, admits to having received the one-time payment of 10,000 rubles and food from the Russians. “Even though two of my sons-in-law are with the Ukrainian army, I don’t think it’s so bad,” she says. 

Alexander Bogdanov, 69, says he also accepted Russian aid because he had been left with no other choice. "Things had grown so expensive,” he says. Bogdanov and his wife are able to take care of most of their needs with what they earn from their fields.

Alexander Bogdanov, 69, says he also accepted Russian aid because he had been left with no other choice. “Things had grown so expensive,” he says. Bogdanov and his wife are able to take care of most of their needs with what they earn from their fields. 

Fellow pensioner Alexander Bogdanov, 69, says he also accepted the Russian aid because he had had no other choice. “Things had grown so expensive,” he says.

According to Ukrainian law, working in the occupation administration and distributing enemy propaganda is considered collaboration. But there are also a number of things that fall short of those statements of facts, many of which are difficult to prove but are still considered unforgivable by many.

Iryna Yantshenko from the village store remembers that after the shelling on June 18, she told a group of customers in her shop that the artillery fire had likely come from the Russians themselves. “Ten minutes later, a Luhansk soldier arrived and threatened to lock me away in the cellar. Clearly, I was betrayed.”

At that moment, she says, she started dividing villagers into two categories. Those who only have good things to say about the Ukrainians after the liberation said only good things about the Russians during the occupation. “When they come into my shop, I really just want to scratch their eyes out,” she says. “The war revealed their true faces.”

The DER SPIEGEL team in Vyshneva: From left to right, interpreter Artem Pribylnov, reporter Thore Schröder and photographer Emile Ducke. The hardest part was deciding what was fact and what was mere rumor.

The DER SPIEGEL team in Vyshneva: From left to right, interpreter Artem Pribylnov, reporter Thore Schröder and photographer Emile Ducke. The hardest part was deciding what was fact and what was mere rumor. 

She says she doesn’t know either what the future holds for Vyshneva. She herself is originally from Russia, having moved to Ukraine when she was just one year old. She says she last visited her place of birth near St. Petersburg three years ago and was shocked by the poor state of the houses and roads there. Those who like it better in Russia than in Vyshneva, she says, are free to move there.

Posted in 1

An American in Ukraine Finds the War He’s Been Searching For

For an unconventional former Marine colonel, Ukraine represents the morally just war that eluded him his entire career. But how much can he and his military start-up help?

Andrew Milburn, founder of The Mozart Group, with Richie, a rescued mutt who has become the group’s mascot.
Andrew Milburn, founder of The Mozart Group, with Richie, a rescued mutt who has become the group’s mascot.Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times

SOLEDAR, Ukraine — “Please, come with me.”

He was begging. He didn’t have much time. The Russians were blasting this town in eastern Ukraine with rockets, airstrikes and thundering artillery. The ground shook.

Andrew Milburn, a retired Marine colonel, could have been hanging out at home, 6,000 miles away in the Florida suburbs, enjoying retirement. Instead he was standing in Soledar, a town under fierce assault, black smoke filling his nostrils, staring at a Ukrainian woman he had never met, pleading with her to evacuate.

“Please,” he tried again. “You will die here.”

The woman had long gray braids and a face etched by countless sorrows. When she refused to leave, Mr. Milburn nearly exploded with frustration.

“The next people you’re going to see here are going to be Russians,” he said.

“Come on!” he yelled to the other men with him.

The three piled into a car, slammed their doors and sped away in a cloud of dust, off to find others willing to be saved.

One woman in Soledar was distraught about whether she should stay or leave. “Please,” Mr. Milburn begged her. “You will die here.”
One woman in Soledar was distraught about whether she should stay or leave. “Please,” Mr. Milburn begged her. “You will die here.”Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times
The town of Soledar, in eastern Ukraine, is one of the battle zones where Mozart works. In August, during an intense siege, Mr. Milburn came here to rescue civilians.
The town of Soledar, in eastern Ukraine, is one of the battle zones where Mozart works. In August, during an intense siege, Mr. Milburn came here to rescue civilians.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

For Mr. Milburn, the road to Soledar began in Somalia. For more than 30 years, he served in some of America’s biggest foreign policy blunders, sent to fight in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that he didn’t particularly believe in, with partners he didn’t trust, in causes that were ultimately losers and from the position of a reviled occupier. With his short gray hair, stocky build and clean shave, Mr. Milburn, 59, still carries himself like a soldier. And just as the conflict in Ukraine has become part of America’s journey, it’s become part of his personal journey as well.

After showing up in Poland last winter as a freelance journalist, he has built one of the biggest private military companies in Ukraine, The Mozart Group, and as the war has expanded in the past few weeks so has his repertoire of tactical services. The organization’s name was his saucy response to a Russian mercenary outfit that uses the name of another famous composer, the Wagner Group.

Mr. Milburn and his staff, mostly former special operations soldiers, are doing everything from rescuing civilians in the line of fire to conducting frontline training, nighttime training, officer training and workshops on the fineries of drone warfare.

Driven by the same pro-Ukrainian spirit that has put yellow and blue flags flying across the Western world, Mr. Milburn feels strongly that this is a just war. But there are other forces operating on him — boredom, guilt, his own sorrows and a quest for redemption, themes he explores, in quite searing detail, in a recently published memoir.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, “our position was somewhat morally ambivalent; to many people there we were the invader. But here we’re repelling an invader. Here is something absolutely unambiguous. And how many wars in modern times are morally unambiguous?”

In many ways, Ukraine represents the kind of war that Americans of a certain vintage had been geared to fight: It’s a big conventional conflict, it’s against the Russians, and the mission lacks the murkiness of past wars like Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Milburn sprinting for cover as rockets thunder nearby and a fighter jet swoops down over Soledar.
Mr. Milburn sprinting for cover as rockets thunder nearby and a fighter jet swoops down over Soledar.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times
It wasn’t clear if the jet was Ukrainian or Russian. It zoomed past, flying low, while Mr. Milburn and his team were changing a flat tire that had been shredded by shrapnel.
It wasn’t clear if the jet was Ukrainian or Russian. It zoomed past, flying low, while Mr. Milburn and his team were changing a flat tire that had been shredded by shrapnel.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

But what’s different — and extremely frustrating to Mr. Milburn and some other veterans — is what they see as America’s caution. The Biden administration has sent billions in support and equipment, like high-tech rocket launchers that have helped the Ukrainians rout Russian forces in many areas this past month. But fearful of provoking Russia, it is not offering its best weaponry or putting advisers on the ground.

Mr. Milburn wants America to go all in. Short of that, he has decided to deploy himself.

“The alternative for me would be to be in the States just reading about this” and “being frustrated and angry,” he said. “I know we’re not changing the course of the war, but for the individual people we’re helping, like those we evacuate, it has a very direct impact.”

And, he was quick to add, “I feel far better than I did in the last deployments in Iraq.”

Though Mr. Milburn is not involved in the actual fighting, he is constantly risking his life. On a recent day in Soledar, he and his colleagues were nearly hit by Russian rockets. Minutes after that, as they were changing a flat tire that had been shredded by shrapnel, a fighter jet swooped down on them, shooting more rockets and sending them scurrying into the bushes.

He and his men admit there’s an adrenaline component to all this.

“You’re always looking for it, right?” said one of Mr. Milburn’s trainers, an American sharpshooter named Rob. “You’re always wanting to be where it is.”

For Mr. Milburn and Mozart — and many in the West, for that matter — Ukraine is it.

One afternoon earlier this summer at a riverside park outside of Kyiv, Mozart held a series of combat drills. The Ukrainian recruits, many of whom had never touched a gun before, were assigned with running around the park and surrounding one of Mr. Milburn’s trainers in a mock assault. Just a few yards away, ordinary people rode scooters and pushed baby strollers along the park’s shaded paths. It was the two Ukraines — the normal life people were striving to maintain, and the war that had been foisted on them — unfolding in the same place, at the same time, almost without recognition of the other.

The recruits moved fast and with enthusiasm. But they moved in clumps and didn’t seem to have a plan.

“You just got killed about 100 times, by your own guys,” bellowed one of Mr. Milburn’s trainers, an enormous Estonian.

Ukrainian recruits listening to instructions during a drill conducted by The Mozart Group near Kyiv in July. After they botched a mock assault, the instructor told them, “You just got killed about 100 times, by your own guys.”
Ukrainian recruits listening to instructions during a drill conducted by The Mozart Group near Kyiv in July. After they botched a mock assault, the instructor told them, “You just got killed about 100 times, by your own guys.”Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times
The recruits executing combat drills in the park one afternoon earlier this summer.
The recruits executing combat drills in the park one afternoon earlier this summer. Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times

Ukraine has a pipeline of young people waiting to join the military, but in the words of one officer, Alexsi Oleksiuk, “All the Ukrainian instructors are on the front line, injured or dead.” This is where Mr. Milburn comes in. He has designed a course that compresses the basics of shooting, movement, communication and first aid into one week. Basically, he has five days to build an army.

His trainers come from 11 countries but most of his top people are Americans, like Rob, a former Marine reconnaissance soldier who didn’t want to disclose his last name for security reasons. Rob said he joined Mozart because “I don’t like oppression,” and, “If you’ve been in war, any war is interesting.”

At the park, Rob stood under a birch tree and listened as the Estonian trainer detailed the mistakes that the Ukrainian recruits had made during their drill: not using hand signals; not laying down cover fire; leaving one person by himself; advancing in the wrong formation, not an L-shape.

“When I think of these guys going to war,” Rob said softly, “God help them.”

Rob, left, a chief trainer for The Mozart Group, is a former Marine. He said he joined Mozart because “I don’t like oppression,” and, “If you’ve been in war, any war is interesting.”
Rob, left, a chief trainer for The Mozart Group, is a former Marine. He said he joined Mozart because “I don’t like oppression,” and, “If you’ve been in war, any war is interesting.”Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times
Ukrainian soldiers at the end of a military training exercise run by The Mozart Group in an eastern Ukraine area not far from the front lines.
Ukrainian soldiers at the end of a military training exercise run by The Mozart Group in an eastern Ukraine area not far from the front lines.Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times

Mr. Milburn admits that a week is “hopelessly inadequate” to prepare someone for combat, but says it is better than nothing. He has no qualms about not being on the battlefield himself. Hundreds of American vets have joined international brigades or Ukrainian military units but, he said, “For me, that was never a question. Fighting the Russians might give us some satisfaction but it would achieve very, very little. With training, the effects are exponential.”

Rob, on the other hand, admitted he was struggling with his new role as a trainer and handing out humanitarian aid.

“I mean, how do you want to go out?” he asked. “With a gun in your hands? Or a roll of toilet paper?”

Mr. Milburn, born in Hong Kong and half British, got his first taste of combat during the doomed intervention in Somalia in the early 1990s. After some militiamen threatened his squad, he lined up a human being in his sights and, for the first time in his career but hardly the last, squeezed the trigger.

“A primordial corner of our subconscious primes us to act aggressively in the face of danger,” he wrote in his memoir. “The knowledge that another human being threatens your survival will override, in an instant, years of parental guidance, education, religious observance and all the social trappings of civilized society.”

“Shooting someone,” he says, “becomes shockingly easy.”

His book, “When the Tempest Gathers,” is unusually open for a career officer. One of the most moving passages centers on a bus ferrying Iraqi children. Mr. Milburn was stationed near a checkpoint when he relayed to the troops around him to let the bus pass. But there was a communication error and American soldiers opened fire.

He ran to the smoking wreckage and tried to save a young girl. He kept pressing a bandage to a cavernous wound in her stomach, knuckles deep in blood, even after a medic came up to him and said: “She’s done, sir.”

That girl becomes a symbol of the guilt he carries.

“Over the years, others have joined her in my gallery of ghosts,” Mr. Milburn wrote. “But her face remains as clear as the day I last saw it.”

Members of The Mozart Group tried to convince residents of Soledar to evacuate as the town came under intense shelling in August.
Members of The Mozart Group tried to convince residents of Soledar to evacuate as the town came under intense shelling in August.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times
Mr. Milburn, center, checked the addresses of possible evacuees with volunteers before heading into the frontline town of Soledar, in August.
Mr. Milburn, center, checked the addresses of possible evacuees with volunteers before heading into the frontline town of Soledar, in August.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Marine commanders have praised his toughness. Bing West, a former assistant defense secretary and friend of Mr. Milburn, said, “Andy is the real deal.”

But Mr. Milburn admits that the trauma he has experienced and inflicted has made him “harder to deal with.” He has struggled with PTSD and has had drinking problems.

After retiring from the Marines in 2019, he turned to writing, publishing widely, including in The Atlantic. “If I didn’t have an outlet,” he said, “I’d be like everyone else, drinking a six pack of beer and yelling at the TV screen.”

When he arrived in Ukraine in early March, it was as a writer for the military publication Task & Purpose, but he said he soon realized he could contribute more.

He started Mozart in mid-March. He set up an office in central Kyiv and began raising money. Some of his biggest donors are hedge fund managers from New York with Jewish Ukrainian roots. He has also received support from a humanitarian organization specifically to assist in evacuations.

He employs more than 50 people and burns through $175,000 each month on food, fuel, equipment and stipends.

“I don’t share the optimism that the tide is turning,” he said. “Unless there’s a game-changing factor, we’re going to see a war of attrition for more than a year.”

One day in late July, Mr. Milburn announced a mission to assist civilians. He called together his men in their basement office.

“We’ve been told that Russian special forces are planning to kidnap Americans,” his financial officer said. He smiled and added wryly: “Try not to dress too American.”

The next morning, the Mozart team chugged out of Kyiv. Mr. Milburn looked hopelessly American: baggy blue T-shirt, gray cargo pants, big sunglasses. He sat in a loud, gas-guzzling Jeep Cherokee with a hyper black dog panting in the back. The dog, a rescued mutt named Richie, had become Mozart’s mascot.

As they drove east, they passed convoys of Ukrainian soldiers being bused to the front and freshly dug trenches scarring the sunflower fields. They were headed to Marinka, another town under siege.

Marinka is a monument to war. The roads are cratered, the lawns terribly overgrown, the buildings blown apart. When the Mozart team arrived, a dozen beleaguered civilians staggered out from a basement shelter. Every few minutes, mortar shells landed nearby with a terrifying whomp.

In Marinka, a besieged town in eastern Ukraine, some people have been living in basements for months. The Mozart Group came here in July, to deliver food and other humanitarian aid.
n Marinka, a besieged town in eastern Ukraine, some people have been living in basements for months. The Mozart Group came here in July, to deliver food and other humanitarian aid.Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times
Most people in Marinka have left because it’s so dangerous. But a few refuse to evacuate, like this woman who walked home after receiving aid from The Mozart Group.
Most people in Marinka have left because it’s so dangerous. But a few refuse to evacuate, like this woman who walked home after receiving aid from The Mozart Group.Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times

Mr. Milburn stepped out of his truck, bent down with an effort and roped a leash around Richie’s neck. He walked the dog through piles of rubble, greeting civilians and turning his head side to side, scanning the ground for unexploded munitions. They were everywhere. The Mozart men passed out jugs of water and bulging plastic bags of bread.

As Mr. Milburn looked on, he seemed content. He was firmly in his milieu, a combat zone, but this time it was his choice.

He walked Richie under a cherry tree. A mother and daughter from one of the blown-apart apartment buildings watched them. In her arms, the mother clutched two loaves of soft white bread.

“I recognize the guy with gray hair and the dog,” she said. “He’s good.”

A mother and daughter from one of the blown-apart apartment buildings watching Mr. Milburn and his dog, Richie.
A mother and daughter from one of the blown-apart apartment buildings watching Mr. Milburn and his dog, Richie.Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times

New York Times October 9, 2022

Posted in 1

Crimean bridge: Who – or what – caused the explosion?

What do we know about what caused Saturday’s dramatic explosion on the Kerch Bridge?

There are plenty of theories, not all of them very credible.

Russia was quick to suggest this was a truck (lorry) bomb, but didn’t say who orchestrated it.

Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine of attacking the bridge in an “act of terrorism”.

Security camera footage released on social media showed a truck – allegedly from the Russian city of Krasnodar, an hour’s drive from the crossing – moving west across the bridge at the time of the explosion.

Russian officials named a 25-year old Krasnodar man, Samir Yusubov, as the owner of the truck, and said an older relative, Makhir Yusubov, was the driver.

But close examination of the footage seems to show that the truck had nothing to do with the explosion.

Short presentational grey line

The footage shows a huge fireball erupting just behind – and to one side – of the truck as it begins to climb an elevated section of the bridge.

The speed with which the truck bomb theory started to spread in Russian circles was suspicious. It suggested the Kremlin preferred an act of terrorism to a more alarming possibility: that this was an audacious act of sabotage carried out by Ukraine.

“I’ve seen plenty of large vehicle-borne IEDs [improvised explosive devices] in my time,” a former British army explosives expert told me. “This does not look like one.”

A more plausible explanation, he said, is a massive explosion below the bridge – probably delivered using some kind of clandestine maritime drone.

“Bridges are generally designed to resist downwards loads on the deck and a certain amount of side loading from the wind,” he said. “They are not generally engineered to resist upward loads. I think this fact was exploited in the Ukrainian attack.”

Some observers have noted that in one of the other security camera videos, something that looks like the bow wave of a small boat appears next to one of the bridge supports, a split second before the explosion.

What kind of vessel could it be?

A CCTV of the road section of the bridge, seconds before the explosion
Image caption,A CCTV still of the road section of the bridge, milliseconds before the explosion, showing what could be a vessel near the bottom right corner

On 21 September, images circulated on Russian social media channels showing a mysterious unmanned boat that washed ashore near Russia’s naval base in the Crimean city of Sevastopol.

It resembled a large black covered kayak, complete with bow-mounted sensors and a white, periscope-like device on top

According to local reports, the vessel was towed out to sea and blown up.

“A part of an unmanned vehicle was discovered,” the governor of Russian-controlled Sevastopol is quoted as saying.

“After the survey was completed, this apparatus was destroyed at sea by an explosion. No-one was hurt.”

This is not the first time reports have circulated suggesting that Ukraine has access to such clandestine equipment.

“There are well-founded reports which suggest that the Ukrainians have both surveillance and strike maritime remote controlled vehicles in service,” the British explosives expert told me.

“This operational concept has been developed over years, not months.”

If this is how Ukraine managed to attack the Kerch Bridge, hundreds of miles from Ukrainian-controlled territory, then it’s one of Kyiv’s most ambitious operations so far.

But apart from a few whispers in the capital, no-one is confirming the theory.

In fact, in a statement last night, the head of President Zelensky’s office, Mykhailo Podolyak, seemed to endorse Moscow’s truck bomb theory.

“The answers should be sought in Russia,” he said in a statement.

The explosion, he said, was the result of infighting between different parts of Russia’s security establishment.

“This is a concrete manifestation of the conflict between the FSB [Russia’s internal intelligence service] / PMC [private military contractors, like the Wagner Group] on the one hand, and the Ministry of Defence / general staff of the Russian Federation on the other hand,” he said.

Did Mr Podolyak know something everyone else didn’t? Or was he, perhaps, trolling Moscow, playing on extremely raw nerves exposed by Russia’s recent setbacks on the battlefield in Ukraine?

The truth is, we don’t know.

Just like previous episodes – including the sinking of the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, the Moskva, and the mysterious attack in August which devastated a Russian airbase in Crimea – Kyiv is very happy to keep everyone guessing.

It’s all part of a highly successful information campaign which Ukraine has waged, along with its military effort, ever since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February.

For now, it seems to be working.

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Sturgeon ‘confident’ Scotland can hold independence vote next year

The British Supreme Court is set to deliberate on whether Scotland can hold a second independence referendum without London’s consent. The independence referendum in 2014 resulted in a 55% “No” vote to leaving the UK.

The leader of the Scottish government, Nicola Sturgeon, has said that she is “confident” Scotland will become an independent country

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Sunday that she was “confident” Scotland could hold a referendum on leaving the United Kingdom in October 2023.

Scotland’s first independence referendum was held in 2014, when 55% of voters chose to remain within the UK.

Supreme Court to deliberate referendum’s legality

Britain’s Conservative governments have declined to permit a second referendum on Scotland’s independence.

On Tuesday, the British Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether Scotland’s devolved government can hold a referendum without London’s consent.

Scotland’s government argues that the court should allow the referendum, citing a “fundamental and inalienable” right to self-determination. But lawmakers from Britain-wide parties and some legal commentators say that the matter is reserved for the Westminster parliament in London as per the 1998 Scotland Act.

Sturgeon has said that if the court blocks the referendum, her Scottish National Party (SNP) will run in the next British general election solely on a platform of Scottish independence, turning the election into a de facto plebiscite. The UK’s next general election is due to be held in 2024.

“We put our case to people in an election or we give up on Scottish democracy,” she said.

“It should be a last resort,” Sturgeon said, referring to her plan to turn Britain’s general elections into a de facto Scottish independence referendum. “I don’t want to be in that position. I want a lawful referendum.

“I am confident Scotland is going to become independent,” Sturgeon stressed.

Why do Sturgeon and the SNP want a second referendum?

Although the first vote on leaving the UK failed to yield majority support, Sturgeon’s government has argued for a new referendum due to Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.

British voters narrowly supported Brexit in the 2016 referendum, while in Scotland there was a 62% majority in favor of staying in the EU.

Sturgeon has said that there is an “indisputable democratic mandate” for a new vote on secession, as her SNP holds government with the support of the Scottish Greens. In the 2021 election, the two parties took the largest majority ever achieved by the pro-independence bloc in the Scottish parliament.

The leader of the Scottish government, Nicola Sturgeon, has said that she is “confident” Scotland will become an independent country

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Ophiuchus, the constellation that the astrologers chose to ignore

This overlooked group of stars raises the number of zodiac signs to 13, instead of 12

Constellation of 'Ophiuchus', from the 'Celestial Atlas', by Alexander Jamieson (1822).
Constellation of ‘Ophiuchus’, from the ‘Celestial Atlas’, by Alexander Jamieson (1822).

In January 1995, Jacqueline Mitton, from the British Royal Astronomical Society, announced in a BBC show that the 12 signs of the zodiac were not only erroneously advanced due to the effects of precession of the Earth, but that they were, in fact, 13. Mitton explained that the ecliptic (the Sun’s apparent annual journey through the heavens) passes through a thirteenth constellation: Ophiuchus – the Latin version of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine. The ecliptic had actually always passed through that constellation, although the dates change with the centuries.

The astrologers, baffled, faced a problem: how to integrate this constellation as a sign of the zodiac.

To explain this astral blunder, we first have to clarify that a constellation is an “apparent” grouping of stars: they seem to be on the same plane, but they are actually at different distances and are not necessarily related to each other. By agreement, today it is each of the 88 areas in which the sky is divided, as well as the group of stars they contain. However, throughout history – beginning in Mesopotamia – the total number of constellations and the area they occupied varied, depending on the person who cataloged the stars. Then, between 1922 and 1930, the constellations were definitively established by the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

The astronomical zodiac is an imaginary belt that is distributed along the celestial equator and on which are located the 12 ancient constellations, of different sizes, designated with the names of the figures that their shapes inspired: a ram, a bull, Sagittarius the archer and so on. Ophiuchus – which Greek astronomer Ptolemy included among the 48 constellations of his treatise the Almagest – was probably not taken into account because, aside from the aversion to the number 13, dividing the 360-degree zodiacal band among 13 constellations would not have produced an exact number.

Meanwhile, the astrological zodiac is divided into 12 equal, 30-degree portions, each corresponding to a sign: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces.

It was the Greek astronomer Hipparchus of Nicaea who, in the 2nd century BC, deduced that the Celestial Sphere had a retrograde motion, which he called precession. Due to the gravitational influence of the other bodies in the Solar System and the roundness of our planet, the Earth behaves like a spinning top in such a way that the relative positions of the stars with respect to the equator and the poles vary throughout a 26,000-year cycle, in which the Earth makes a complete revolution around the axis of the ecliptic.

However, the vindication of Ophiuchus as a zodiacal constellation between Scorpio and Sagittarius is not due to the precession, which only affects dates, but to the tracing of the classic celestial map and, above all, to the arbitrary division of the sky into constellations done by the IAU. Its name derives from Greek and means “he who holds the serpent.” This constellation is represented by the figure of Asclepius, who holds a snake in his hands, with its head facing west and its tail east.

Ophiuchus continues the legend of Orion and the Scorpion. The Greek myth tells that the hunting goddess Artemis wanted to take revenge on the hunter Orion, who boasted of being able to kill all wild beasts, in addition to continuously harassing the Pleiades, the seven nymphs turned into doves. For this, the goddess sent a scorpion that stung him on the heel, killing him with its poison. Then the gods moved both Orion and the scorpion to the heavens, but far apart, so they could never meet again. In fact, Orion hides as soon as the scorpion shows its pincers. As the scorpion ascends the eastern horizon, Orion dies and sets in the west. But Asclepius, with the healing powers that Apollo and Chiron taught him, cured the hunter and crushed the scorpion with his foot. Thus, Orion rises once more from the east, while the animal is crushed by the west.

Unfortunately, interest in astronomy still has an astrological component, with roots in antiquity. Astronomy and astrology were not conceptually differentiated until the 6th century AD, when Visigoth scholar Isidore of Seville established important distinctions between these two subjects in the third of his 20 Etymologiae books. According to the scholar, astronomy itself is dedicated to the abstract knowledge of the rising, setting and movement of the celestial bodies. As for astrology, he makes a distinction between “natural astrology,” which observes the path of the Sun and the Moon and certain positions of the stars, and a “superstitious astrology” that predicts the future through the stars, allocates part of the soul to one of the 12 signs of the heavens and arranges the birth and customs of humanity according to them.

“Superstitious astrology” – the alleged influences of the heavenly bodies on the lives and destinies of people – is what astrology means today. Isidore tells that the Chaldeans were the first to connect the observation to births, and that it was Abraham who instituted it among the Egyptians. And the confusion lasted for many centuries. Many important astronomical observations were made for astrological purposes. German astronomer Johannes Kepler himself had to dedicate himself to astrology out of necessity. He apologized for this lucrative activity by saying that, just as nature offered each being the means of subsistence, so it had put astrology as an aid to astronomy, as otherwise he would not have been able to get by.

The fact that Spain’s University of Salamanca kept the chair of “astrology” until the 17th century is further proof of how the lack of distinction between astronomers and astrologers persisted. It was in the 17th century, that astronomy and astrology were definitively divorced, adopting different meanings. Still, the etymological origin of the word astrology (“the science of the stars”) does not help to clarify the difference at all.

Real calendar of constellations

As a general rule, every year the Sun enters and leaves the constellations around these dates, although every four years there may be variations of hours that change them by one day.

Aries: April 21 – May 13

Taurus: May 14 – June 24

Gemini: June 25 – July 20

Cancer: July 21 – August 19

Leo: August 20 – September 14

Virgo: September 15 – October 31

Libra: November 1 – November 21

Scorpio: November 22 – November 29

Ophiuchus: November 30 – December 17

Sagittarius: December 18 – January 19

Capricorn: January 20 – February 15

Aquarius: February 16 – March 11

Pisces: March 12 – April 20

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How to train like an Ancient Greek Olympian

The Ancient Greeks may not have matched modern athletic pace, but they trained hard (Credit: Getty Images)

Whether it was reading philosophy, carrying heavy animals or abstaining from sex, the Ancient Greek athlete put in just as much effort as a present-day Olympian. Here’s the 10-step guide to Hellenic fitness training.

Legend has it that the Ancient Greek athlete Milo of Croton was so strong he could break a cord tied around his head with only the force of his brow. In the 6th Century BC, he gained fame as a formidable wrestler, winning six times at the Olympic Games. He supposedly had complete control of his muscles, tensing or relaxing them according to his opponent’s moves.

How did he get so strong? The stories say he deployed an unusual method. With no protein shakes or dumbbells available, he trained by lifting a male calf. As the animal grew, he repeated the lift until it was the size of a bull. He supposedly then carried it on his shoulders around Olympia, before slaughtering and eating it.

Given that a fully-grown adult bull can weigh 500 to 1,000kg (1,100 to 2,200lb), there is surely some exaggeration in this tale. Croton’s feat would have exceeded the heaviest deadlift on record. But what’s interesting about the story is that his technique echoes a modern principle of training called “progressive overload“, where weight is gradually added over time to build muscle.

So, how did other ancient athletes train? The first fighters and runners of the Olympic Games had only rudimentary technology and scant physiological knowledge, but their methods were more sophisticated than many might assume.

The first Panhellic contest, the Olympics, dates to 776BC. It began with foot-races, but later the Ancient Greeks added jumping, boxing, wrestling, and the now-forgotten brutal fighting technique pankration, whose modern equivalent might be Ultimate Fighting. It often ended with mutilation or even death.A pot from the tomb of a great athlete depicts a fighting scene. Could the distended bellies represent the breathing technique used? (Credit: Getty Images)

A pot from the tomb of a great athlete depicts a fighting scene. Could the distended bellies represent the breathing technique used? (Credit: Getty Images)

Historians have had to piece together how competitors prepared for these events from very few sources, says Clayton Lehmann of the University of South Dakota, who has studied the athletic training of the period. “We have to use very scattered literary texts,” he explains, as well as more indirect approaches. “Pot paintings are really useful, because they give rather vivid images of how training and competition took place.”

One of the only specific sources about athletic training is called Gymnasticus, written by the philosopher Philostratus the Athenian around the 2nd Century AD. Philostratus didn’t go into that much detail about everyday methods – mainly writing about sport as a noble endeavour – but occasionally he remarks on how some athletes would do curious things like chase animals, bend bars of iron or swim fully armoured in the ocean.

Based on this and other sources, here’s what else we know about how to train like an Ancient Greek athlete:


Milo the wrestler’s bull-lifting wasn’t the only way to bulk up. Other tricks included holding four horses at the same time, resisting the effort of someone’s push, or gripping their fists closed. Fighters also pulled, punched and chest-bumped filled bags: the weaker athletes used flour and fig seeds, while the stronger ones used sand.

Wrestlers threw the discus, which were much heavier back then, and lifted weighted rocks with handles. On Thera, a black volcanic stone taller than most men and weighing 480kg (1,060lb) was discovered with an inscription naming the strongman wrestler who lifted it off the ground.A smaller stone called a haltere used to propel athletes in jumping and for weight training (Credit: Egisto Sani/Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA 2.0)

A smaller stone called a haltere used to propel athletes in jumping and for weight training (Credit: Egisto Sani/Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA 2.0)


Athletes trained in gymnasia and outdoor palaestra, but unlike the present day, these settings also featured libraries and lecture halls. The Ancient Greeks believed it was the duty of citizens to perfect mind and body together. Athletic activity was seen as another form of wisdom (sophia), comparable to the creative arts, philosophy, mathematics or astronomy, so it made sense that exercising the brain and muscles was performed in the same place.

A number of the dialogues by great philosophers were set in a gymnasium, says Lehmann, and these forums helped to foster the more open form of democracy that would later emerge in places like Athens (albeit only among male elites). “The Romans would do their chatting in the bath,” he says. “The Greek equivalents were the gymnasia and palaestra.”


Trainers were called paidotribes – which stems from the roots “boy” and “to rub”, which suggest that their main focus was sports massage with oil.

Wrestlers also coated themselves in oil in their training and competition. They would then throw sand over their skin, to enhance grip. Afterwards, they’d scrape it all off with a strigil, a semi-circle shaped tool made of wood, bronze or iron. “The scrapings from famous athletes were a prized possession,” says Lehmann. “They would sell it to the public: a bottle of sweat and sand.”

A strigil, which was used for cleaning off sand, sweat and mud (Credit: Getty Images)

A strigil, which was used for cleaning off sand, sweat and mud (Credit: Getty Images)


In an echo of modern concerns about overpaid, lazy athletes, Philostratus lamented what he saw as the decline of athletic tradition in the Greek world, labelling sportsmen of his time “sluggish and soft” compared with centuries prior. He blamed the decoupling of athletics from warfare, a rise in monetary greed and the availability of luxurious foods.

As such, Philostratus prescribed what he saw as the ideal mental temperament for the aspiring athlete, and how to foster it. He advised that choleric, irritable sportsmen needed restraint, says Lehmann, whereas phlegmatic, calm athletes need urging on. As for melancholics? The philosopher deemed them totally unsuitable.


Abstinence was actively encouraged. Philostratus saw sex as a “disgraceful pleasure” and a “corrupting form of luxury inappropriate for and harmful to athletes. He even lumps it with greed as a source of cheating and corruption among athletes,” writes Heather Reid of Morningside University, who has studied the relationship between ancient sport and philosophy.

To avoid distraction, one pankration champion turned his head when he saw dogs copulating on the street

There’s some evidence that athletes deliberately avoided sexual temptation. Apparently, one pankration champion “turned his head when he saw dogs copulating on the street, and left banquets when men started to speak of sex, so as to maintain his inner strength and concentration”, writes Lucas Christopoulous of Hiroshima University in a paper about Greek combat sports.

Women were prohibited from male training or competition arenas, although there is the story of Callipateira, a mother who snuck in to watch her son compete in a boxing match. She was so excited at his victory that she revealed who she was. Fortunately for her, she was pardoned, but only because her father, brother and son were Olympic victors.

That said, there is some evidence of women playing sport. As the historian Betty Spears of the University of Massachusetts once pointed out, a vase painting from the 6th Century BC shows a woman called Atalanta wrestling with men, a statuette from around 500BC shows a young girl running, and some elite women competed in chariot races, such as the Spartans Euryleonis and Cynisca, the first woman to win at the Olympics in 392BC. There are also rare accounts of girls’ physical training in foot-races, discus, javelin and wrestling, which one philosopher explained was important “so that the fruit of their wombs might have vigorous root in vigorous bodies”.


The Ancient Greeks knew what it took to grow stronger, but their ideas about the body’s physiology were a little mystical. They believed in harnessing an ethereal substance called pneuma, a bit like the Chinese chi. This involved suspending and holding the breath, tensing all the muscles of the breast and relaxing the stomach and diaphragm, therefore “pushing the excrements” down, according to Christopoulous.

Using this pneuma technique, one boxer supposedly used his outstretched fingers to hit his opponent’s abdomen so hard that it pierced the flesh, and tore out his entrails. Another was known as “Fingertips” because he would break his opponent’s fingers at the start of a match.

But no breathing technique could save one pankration athlete who died at the Olympics of 564BC. His trainer supposedly shouted “Never defeated at Olympia!” as his opponent tightened a grip around his neck. He won the contest, but then dropped dead from asphyxiation.Fighting techniques were brutal and could leave competitors disfigured (Credit: Getty Images)

Fighting techniques were brutal and could leave competitors disfigured (Credit: Getty Images)


The tetrad was a popular system that shared commonalities with modern techniques that alternate hard workouts with rest. It roughly involved a day of short-intense movements, a day of all-out effort, a day of relaxation and a day of moderate exercise, says Lehmann.

However, it wasn’t universally embraced. Some criticised it for its inflexibility and one athlete died after his trainer forced him to resume following a two-day break.

What’s interesting is that it suggests the Greeks had an idea of the “supercompensation principle“, the modern idea that the body is best prepared for optimum performance within a window a few days after exertion and rest.


Outside the gymnasium, some athletes used their physical surroundings to train. Philostratus wrote about the techniques of climbing trees and ropes, or pulling carts. Some ran on soft or firm sand to prepare their legs. One boxer from Thanos apparently swam around his island birthplace, a distance of 50km (31 miles), while another was famous for carrying a bronze statue from the temple back to his house when he was only nine years old, according to Christopoulous.

However, Milo took it far, and supposedly died pulling a tree trunk apart with his bare hands. He got stuck in a crevice, and was later devoured by either wolves or a lion, depending on which apocryphal tale you encounter.

.Joseph-Benoît Suvée's painting of the death of Milo of Croton, with his hand stuck in a tree trunk (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Joseph-Benoît Suvée’s painting of the death of Milo of Croton, with his hand stuck in a tree trunk (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Athletics was also seen as preparation for the physical tests of the battlefield, and vice versa. As one renowned philosopher put it: “No citizen has any right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training: it is part of his profession as a citizen to keep himself in good condition, ready to serve his state at a moment’s notice. The instinct of self-preservation demands it likewise: for how helpless is the state of the ill-trained youth in war or danger!”


Before he himself was eaten, Milo of Croton supposedly consumed 8kg (17.6lb) of meat a day. But otherwise there was no consistent advice for what athletes should eat across the centuries.

At first, the sportsman’s diet was vegetarian and consisted of figs, fresh cheese, pasta and barley, according to Christopoulous, but by the 5th Century BC, beef and pork was more widely eaten.

The Ancient Greeks focused on balancing the four humours: blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm

Trainers experimented with various fads, including cheese-heavy and meat-heavy diets. “Sometimes it would be heavy on protein and sometimes it would be heavy on carbohydrates,” says Lehmann. Eat fish, or don’t eat fish. White bread or coarse bread. “It’s all over the place. I’m sure they had theories for all these things but the science of diet wasn’t anything like what it is today.” Instead, the Ancient Greeks focused on balancing the four humours: blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm.

But one piece of advice was (and still is) reliable. Lehmann quotes the philosopher who gave the timeless wisdom: “If you want to win at the Olympics, follow the rules and do not eat dessert.” 


Known for their strength or prowess, many Ancient Greek athletes were widely admired stars. But as well their victories, their fame also came from the ideals they espoused, according to Reid.

“The ethos of modern athletics, aided by the easy electronic measurement of heart rate, oxygen uptake, watt production, and other performance metrics promotes the pernicious idea that the goal of sport is just the perpetual improvement of those numbers,” Reid writes. But she argues that the Greeks knew that a star athlete could represent more, becoming an embodiment of virtue. This was called kalokagathia: an attribute that combined beauty and goodness. “Although sport has changed since ancient times, what is good and beautiful about athletes remains the same. It is not the money, or esteem, or even victory that is good – it is the ideal.”

Sport was therefore not just about entertainment or fitness, it was about aspiration and what it meant to be Greek. As one philosopher put it: “What a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body his capable! To develop his beauty and his strength to the utmost is the duty of a citizen.”

So, the next time you go to the gym or do some exercise, always remember to be virtuous, try to read some geometry or astronomy, and lift the closest large animal you have to hand.

* Richard Fisher is a senior journalist for BBC Future. Twitter: @rifish

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Would Plato tweet

Would Plato tweet? The Ancient Greek guide to social media

In the modern "agora" where ideas are shared, which ones should be trusted? (Credit: Getty Images)

Socrates or Plato may not have used Twitter or TikTok, but as Nathan Dufour Oglesby writes, they would have had things to say about how to navigate social media more wisely.

When I’m on my social media, I sometimes feel like I’m in a modern, virtual version of the agora of ancient Greek city-states. This was the centre of town, physically, but also economically and socially – the place where business was conducted, goods were bought and sold, and ideas were exchanged. 

I imagine this for very specific reasons – my vocation, and profession, is making music videos and other forms of content, often ancient philosophy, and endeavouring to disseminate it on the internet. And so, for better or worse, the various platforms on which I’m active are the modern-day “public squares” in which I ply my trade and display my creative wares.

But a trip to this marketplace can be fraught – personally, financially and ideologically. Should I engage with this person? Should I buy this product? Should I buy this idea? (And is anyone going to buy mine?) 

For the agora was not just a marketplace; it was the stage on which the dramas of daily life, and of discourse, unfolded – and more than any other physical place, social media now provides that space.

In many ways, it was on such a stage – public, multifarious and chaotic – that ancient Greek philosophy was first practised. 

When philosophy began, the written word in the Greek-speaking world was still very young – and so ideas were often disseminated as oral-performative acts in public spaces, not unlike the epic poems of the previous age. Long before philosophers were writing books and papers, their thoughts had to be transmitted in a way that could grab their audience’s attention – there was an element of public display.

Early philosophers developed highly elaborate public personas

The influential pre-Socratic philosopher Xenophanes presented his ideas in the context of rhapsodic contests, where poets vied for prizes and renown – philosophical rap competitions, of a sort. Early philosophers also developed highly elaborate public personas. Empedocles, who’s credited with inventing the idea of the four Classical elements, made his public appearances with extravagant flair – a purple robe, a golden belt, sandals of bronze – and referred to himself as an incarnate god. Empedocles made public appearances with extravagant flair, and referred to himself as a god (Credit: Alamy)

Empedocles made public appearances with extravagant flair, and referred to himself as a god (Credit: Alamy)

If these modes of self-presentation had included the ability to take video, you would have had some potentially very viral philosophers. They were, in their manner, akin to content creators and influencers, in that their intellectual authority consisted not only in their ideas, but their performative eloquence, and the cult of personality with which they surrounded themselves. 

Perhaps the most famous ancient Greek philosopher managed to disseminate his ideas without ever writing anything at all. Socrates, as we’re told, conducted in-the-moment philosophical conversations, usually in public places, in which he challenged conventional wisdom on various topics – provoking his fellow citizens, and, fatally for himself, the government. His art was verbal, but his expressions were as transient as a tweet or a post, a virtuous troll in the comments sections of Athenian intellectual life. 

We may be returning to a state in which a thinker’s claim to wisdom relies on their ability to effectively perform it

His exploits are recreated for us in the writings of his students, most famously Plato. In many ways these Socratic dialogues, which are the fountainhead of the whole philosophical tradition that follows, can be read as a fictionalised biography of a career influencer – the Collected Twitter Threads of Socrates, liberally reinvented, yet perhaps faithful in spirit. 

In the age of social media, we may be returning to a state in which a thinker’s claim to wisdom relies on their ability to effectively perform it – with the additional requirement that they’re able to transmute that performance into content.Some Greek philosophers argued that arts and entertainment should be heavily regulated (Credit: Getty)

Some Greek philosophers argued that arts and entertainment should be heavily regulated (Credit: Getty)

Some of the most influential public intellectuals of the present-day have realised this. The psychologist and YouTuber Jordan Peterson, and the researcher and podcaster Brené Brown, for instance, have massive followings across their social media platforms, using them as major venues for disseminating their ideas. While neither of them may describe themselves as philosophers, both deal with fundamentally philosophical ideas about virtue, happiness and how to live, and both are academics whose thought has been propelled into popular discourse by their social media virality.

Brown’s 2010 viral TEDx talk “The Power of Vulnerability” launched her career as a bestselling author and influencer. Peterson’s videos critiquing political correctness and identity politics brought him viral fame in 2016, and he has remained a prominent, if polarising figure ever since. Building on these foundations, Brown and Peterson have effectively become philosophy brands, whose ideas are not chiefly disseminated through their written publications, but the viral recycling of their content in videos, posts and memes.

Faced with what appeared to be a new form of discourse run amok, Plato sought to sift out the good influencers from the bad

But, as may be evidenced by the “information warfare” of the present day, Plato perceived that problems may arise when the competitive performance of wisdom is indistinguishable from the true possession of it. 

So what if you’re good at the information game, hawking your ideological products in the marketplace? So what if you’re good at social media – does that imply that you have anything of value to say? Popularity may be quantified by likes, but wisdom is not. 

And so Plato set himself the task of distinguishing the true philosophers, the sincere and genuine “lovers of wisdom”, from the sophists, whose apparent wisdom may be a mere performance of intellectualism for their own gain. Faced with what appeared to be a new form of discourse run amok, he sought to sift out the good influencers from the bad.

As Plato represented him, Socrates was unimpressed by moral posturing. And so according to the journalist Olivia Goldhill, he would well feel the same about this characteristic of social media, wherein people often hypocritically implore others to be more kind and virtuous. The more you display certainty in your self-righteous posting, Socrates might have argued, the more likely you are in fact ignorant of your own moral shortcomings.Would Plato have approved of Facebook? Probably not (Credit: Alamy)

Would Plato have approved of Facebook? Probably not (Credit: Alamy)

But if you adopt the view that almost everyone is wrong, and most influencers are to be mistrusted, how are we to arrive at what’s right? And if, on the other hand, one’s content is sincerely focused on the pursuit and expression of the objective truth, one must further ask, how do we obtain it? And is there such a truth? 

Questions such as these permeated Plato’s cultural scene. The sophist Protagoras was said to have espoused a theory of “relativism”, which essentially suggested that since our individual perceptions differ, we are each limited to our own subjective construction of reality.

One can see how this thesis is exemplified by aspects of the social media experience, as we scroll through an apparent infinity of information, yet always within the confines of our private information bubbles. 

Plato sought to refute Protagorean relativism, and to find a criterion for objective truth. When he wrote his “Republic”, he envisioned an ideal society, ordered under the guidance of the one kind of person who’s able to glean that pristine truth from the welter of public opinion – the philosopher. 

To combat the problem of distinguishing desirable from undesirable information – good from bad influencers – Plato introduced an infamous degree of censorship into his theoretical city. Jenny Jenkins at Swansea University has speculated as to whether he would have allowed citizens to use Facebook, surmising that this would have been a resounding “no”. “Facebook does not have the intention of promoting morality, and does not particularly seek to educate its users,” she writes, “so I think Plato would have disapproved of it for this reason alone.”

Rather, Plato proposed that education and entertainment, and discourse in general, ought to be strictly regulated, with virtually all independent arts suppressed. If it doesn’t promote the welfare of the community in accordance with rational principles, ban it. On his ideal platform, the only fully authorised content creator is the state, and that content is “the Form of the Good”, as deduced by the insights of philosophy. What would the Ancient Greek philosophers have made of present-day social media controversies? (Credit: Getty Images)

What would the Ancient Greek philosophers have made of present-day social media controversies? (Credit: Getty Images)

We may be justifiably alarmed by this section of the book, and call to mind countries with aggressive policies of internet censorship. But from the vantage point of current controversies, such as vaccine disinformation or political polarisation, we can at least discern, in sharp relief, what Plato felt was at stake in his socio-political thought-experiment. 

For as the spectre of disinformation looms over us, there are many who feel that social media platforms themselves be called upon to sift the good information from the bad. The question then becomes whether those who control them possess the discernment that marks the “true philosopher.” Plato imagined a Philosopher-King, but would that extend to Philosopher-Admins too? As a devotee of mathematics and the metaphysical primacy of formal patterns, perhaps Plato would have looked toward the Philosopher-Algorithm.

Should social media platforms themselves be called upon to sift the good information from the bad?

Underlying all these problems for Plato are deeper, epistemological questions about our capacity to perceive reality and grasp the truth, and a scepticism about the adequacy of discourse to encapsulate and transmit it. 

In the “Phaedrus”, Plato reimagines an Egyptian myth, where the god-king Thamus critiques the god Theuth’s invention of written language. Theuth had offered writing as gift, to aid to humankind, but Thamus prophesies that it will have a corrosive effect on human culture: 

“They will be hearers of much, without learning anything; they will appear to know much, yet for the most part know nothing; and they will be miserable to be around, having become wise-seeming, without actually being wise.” (Phaedrus 275a-b; my translation)

This reads like an unequivocal critique of the information age: search engines, instantaneous data accessibility, and the petulant self-assurance of social media discourse. For what are these technologies but webs of false omniscience, ever more layers of subjective confusion upon the ineffability of truth?We receive the proffered wisdom of the modern philosophers and sophists "alone together" (Credit: Getty Images)

We receive the proffered wisdom of the modern philosophers and sophists “alone together” (Credit: Getty Images)

Our senses, Plato holds, are inadequate to grasp the true nature of reality, and so the things we take for real are in fact mere images. Hence, the images we ourselves create – artistic images, stories, representations of any kind – are images of images. And so, in turn, the things we put on the internet are images of images of images, as they’re edited, commented on, appropriated and re-appropriated in their digital circulation. 

In our self-presentation in these spaces, we ourselves become images, as we retreat from our embodied selves into the represented selves of our handles and feeds. We become “@” ourselves, as the idealised image-layers of what we publish eclipse the immediacy of our physical being, and our already-imperfect faculties of perception are inundated by the individually-curated content we receive. 

For unlike the physical agora, where the whole crowd may be deceived at once by the ideological seductions of an itinerant sophist, the virtual agora is different for each crowd member. We receive the proffered wisdom of the modern philosophers and sophists “alone together“, to use the social scientist Sherry Turkle’s phrase. We are each deceived uniquely, adding ever another layer between us and our collective grasp on what’s actually there. And it is we ourselves, when we post and repost, tweet and retweet, who deceive one another, circulating our own sophistries.

Our senses, Plato holds, are inadequate to grasp the true nature of reality, and so the things we take for real are in fact mere images

Plato was not the only student of Socrates; another succession of thinkers led to Diogenes of Sinope. Diogenes held that since virtue was unattainable by nearly everyone, the proper role of the philosopher was not to guide or control society, but to hold themselves aloof from it, and to ridicule it from the sidelines. 

Diogenes was a kind of philosophical shock-artist – he lived on the street, defecating, urinating and masturbating publicly, and casting criticisms at passers-by, be they fellow citizens or people of distinction. He is the prototype of the “troll” – woe unto the Athenian on whose post he comments. Diogenes had many characteristics of a modern-day "troll" (Credit: Getty Images)

Diogenes had many characteristics of a modern-day “troll” (Credit: Getty Images)

These practices earned him the epithet “the dog-like” or “the cynic”. His philosophy of Cynicism mirrors another dimension of social media discourse: its culture of opposition, vicious satire and critique. What better venues are there for Cynicism in this Classical sense than Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the rest?

But Cynicism is not the only possible response to the frailties and inadequacies of human behaviour and communication. Drawing on ideas that reached back to Plato and in turn to some of the pre-Socratics, the school of Stoicism conceived of the entire cosmos as a living organism, a unitary entity of which we form a part. As rational creatures, we have the capacity to grasp its rational will, and act in accordance with it.

It may be that some Stoics – whose ranks included people of all classes and extractions, slave and free, Greek and Roman – would have had at least an ambivalent, and perhaps a guardedly optimistic view of the possibilities offered by online social networks.

Insofar as they offer a mechanism for connectivity, they can foster real community – particularly when their users are engaging with one another in good faith and to mutual benefit, as may indeed be the case with content creators who provide education, community empowerment or therapeutic support to their audiences. 

A Stoic might ask, are you using this platform as a rational contributor to human well-being and the community of the Universe? Or to aggrandise, entertain or escape from yourself? If the former, go for it; if the latter, delete your accounts. 

A Stoic might ask, are you using this platform to contribute to human well-being, or to aggrandise, entertain or escape from yourself?

So, when I post my own “philosophical content” – is it to get likes, followers and views, or to spread wisdom, irrespective of its reception? Maybe a bit of both? It may be that the desire-structure induced by social media makes these questions hard to separate, and perhaps participation in the information game, both ancient and modern, has always required these impulses to be inseparable. 

Our current connectivity is simultaneously the source of our best progress and worst dysfunction, our potential for self-destruction, and success. But this has always been true of our meeting places – the town square, the agora, the place of gathering – the spaces where we meet one another for better and for worse, and in one another, meet ourselves.

*Nathan Dufour Oglesby (aka Nathanology) is a writer, rapper and video artist based in New York City. He holds a PhD in Classics, and is one half of the eco-rap duo Nate and Hila. His music can be found on Spotify, and his videos on YouTubeTikTok and Instagram.

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The ancient guide for uncertain times

The ancient guide for uncertain times

While we might be able to plan for trouble ahead, there is still only so much we can do, according to the Stoics (Credit: Alex Walker/Getty Images)

For many people, the world is in a state of upheaval that can feel difficult to cope with, but can the teachings of the Stoics help in these troubling times?

It was a life of difficulty. Born into slavery, at one point his master broke his leg, leaving him disabled. Eventually freed, he spent the next 25 years pursuing his calling – only for his career to be outlawed by the dictator in charge. He fled abroad, an exile and in poverty.

These sketchy biographical details are almost all that we know of the life of the philosopher Epictetus, born around AD55. While some of them are contested – we can’t be sure if he was born a slave, or simply became a slave young – it’s clear that he didn’t have it easy. Nor was his world one that was placid and predictable, either: if he came to Rome from his birthplace in modern-day Turkey sometime around AD65, as some believe, then he would have had a turbulent childhood. He may have witnessed both the fire that torched two-thirds of the city and lived through a single year so politically turbulent it saw four different emperors, two murdered and one who killed himself. 

And yet Epictetus had everything he needed. After all, he said – according, at least, to a student who painstakingly wrote down his teachings – that “it is not events that disturb people, it is their judgments concerning them”. 

This idea is one of the pillars of the philosophical school known as Stoicism, founded by the philosopher Zeno in Athens during the upheaval, crises and violence of 4th Century BC. It’s also one of many teachings from the school that we can still learn from – which may be why we see its echoes in so much psychologyself-help literature and even religion today.

Whether it’s war or a pandemic, our health or finances, no matter how challenging our lives might feel, the Stoics tell us, we still can thrive. They should know: Stoicism was a school that was “built for hard times”, writes Kare Anderson, seeking to give people a guide to the good life even when the world around them was unpredictable and troubled. Here are some of the main takeaways the Stoics can offer for uncertain times:

Recognise what you can (and can’t) control

As Epictetus said, for Stoics, it isn’t the thing itself that causes turmoil. It’s how you think about it. And few things cause more distress than fighting against circumstances outside of our control, or getting attached to an outcome that isn’t in our power.

The first hurdle – one so important that Epictetus called it “our chief task in life” – is to identify what is outside of your control to begin with, aspects the Stoics call “externals”. Luckily, the Stoics made this rather simple: it’s everything other than your own thoughts, choices and actions. Take health, for example. You may choose to eat five-a-day and exercise (your choices), but that doesn’t mean you won’t ever suffer any health issues (an external). And if you think it does, you’re not just deluding yourself. You’re setting yourself up for real disappointment.The teachings of the Stoic philosophers were intended to help guide people through troubled and challenging times (Credit: Peter J. Hatcher/Alamy)

The teachings of the Stoic philosophers were intended to help guide people through troubled and challenging times (Credit: Peter J. Hatcher/Alamy)

Because it’s so easy for us to mistake what we can and can’t control, Epictetus recommended undertaking this mental habit: “In the case of particular things that delight you, or benefit you, or to which you have grown attached, remind yourself of what they are. Start with things of little value. If it is a ceramic cup you like, for instance, say, ‘I am fond of a ceramic cup. When it breaks, then you won’t be as disconcerted,” he advised. “When giving your wife or child a kiss, repeat to yourself, ‘I am kissing a mortal’. Then you won’t be distraught if they are taken from you.” (Famously, he also said that, when kissing your child, you should tell yourself “Tomorrow, you may be dead” – advice seen as rather morbid in his time, and in ours).

Controversially, the Stoics went even further. While we might prefer to be healthy, or for our loved one to live, such externals aren’t “good” or “bad” on their own. Indeed, they argued, pursuing them can sometimes bring us to worse circumstances. Sure, they admitted, striving for these things was part of being human. But if you came to understand that any particular external wasn’t meant for you, you had to accept it and let it go.

“It’s something like going on an ocean voyage,” Epictetus said. “What can I do? Pick the captain, the boat, the date, and the best time to sail. But then a storm hits. Well, it’s no longer my business; I have done everything I could. It’s somebody else’s problem now – namely the captain’s.”

Because you can’t control these externals, Stoics went on, there’s also no use feeling distraught over them. After all, none of these “indifferents” are really necessary to our happiness – all that matters is, ultimately, how we conduct ourselves in the fact of them.

If this sounds familiar today, it’s because it’s been echoed in various mantras and forms of self-help for years – whether Byron Katie’s (not uncontroversial) teachings on “loving what is” or simply the modern cliché “it is what it is”.

You always choose how to respond

Which brings us to a second key tenet of Stoicism. Accepting circumstances outside of your control doesn’t mean being passive, because you’re always in control of something crucial: yourself.

“If you are doing your proper duty, let it not matter to you whether you are cold or warm, whether you are sleepy or well-slept, whether men speak badly or well of you, even whether you are on the point of death or doing something else: because even this, the act in which we die, is one of the acts of life, and so here too it suffices to ‘make the best move you can’,” wrote Marcus Aurelius, the famous Roman emperor-philosopher, in his diaries known as the Meditations.

To be lucky all the time and to go through life without mental distress is to remain ignorant of half of the natural world – Seneca

In particular, the Stoics recommended meeting every challenge with justice, self-control, and reason. While they understood that these were natural human emotions that were likely to arise, they had little time for “passions” like anger or grief, seeing these as signs of getting too attached to an outcome out of your control.

Seneca, another of Stoicism’s best-known advocates, had particularly cutting words for the Roman senator Cicero, who “had neither peace in prosperity nor patience in adversity”. At one low point, Seneca wrote, Cicero wrote a letter in which he bewailed his past, whined about the present, and despaired of the future.

“Cicero called himself a semi-prisoner, but really and truly the wise man will never go so far as to use such an abject term,” Seneca admonished. “He will never be a semi-prisoner, but will always enjoy freedom which is solid and complete, at liberty to be his own master and higher than all others.” 

See every challenge as a learning opportunity – and a test

Not only is it possible to remain calm in the face of a dire situation, but those challenges are exactly how we learn to be calm, so much so that they should be welcomed – an idea that lives on in the modern-day aphorism “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.

It may even be a sign of the gods’ favour, suggested Seneca: after all, the gods want “good men” to be as outstanding as they can possibly be, so it makes sense that they send trials to those people in particular.

Such challenges also allow us to better understand life in general. “To be lucky all the time and to go through life without mental distress is to remain ignorant of half of the natural world,” Seneca wrote.The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic brought unprecedented change to the lives of many people around the world (Credit: Aditya Irawan/Getty Images)

The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic brought unprecedented change to the lives of many people around the world (Credit: Aditya Irawan/Getty Images)

Then there’s the unpredictability of how everything may turn out: we need to remember that even the worst circumstances, Seneca and other Stoics believed, may somehow be good for us in the end.

Remember that change (and loss) are constants

It seems impossible to not be disturbed by externals like the death of a loved one. But the Stoics were in favour of radically embracing reality. And reality, they taught, means constant change, loss, and hardship. 

“Is someone afraid of change? Well, what can ever come to be without change?” asked Marcus Aurelius. “Can you yourself take your bath, if the wood that heats it is not changed? Can you be fed, unless what you eat changes? Can any other of the benefits of life be achieved without change? Do you not see then that for you to be changed is equal, and equally necessary to the nature of the Whole?”

Rehearse for the worst

As much as they advocated accepting reality, far from resigning themselves to tough situations, the Stoics liked to prepare for them. They particularly guarded against falling into the all-too-human trap of “that would never happen to me”. Humans, after all, tend to be rosy when thinking about the future: we won’t be touched by natural disaster, disease or war, while a business venture or romantic relationship will of course go well. 

But if you’ve ever seen it happen to anyone else, it absolutely can happen to you, Seneca warned. “Should it surprise me if the perils which have always roamed around me should some day reach me?”

And yet many people refuse to think about, or plan for, such outcomes. “A great number of people plan a sea voyage with no thought of a storm,” he wrote. “It is too late for the mind to equip itself to endure dangers once they are already there. ‘I didn’t think it would happen’ and ‘Would you ever have believed it would turn out so?’ Why ever not? Know, then, that every condition can change, and whatever happens to anyone can happen to you too.”

By running through the worst potential outcomes, we feel more emotionally prepared to meet them when they arrive

According to the Stoics, these kinds of blinkers set us up for huge disappointment. By running through the worst potential outcomes, we feel more emotionally prepared to meet them when they arrive. Of course, we’re likely to then prepare practically, too – likely to make things a little easier if disaster does indeed occur. An exercise still adopted in board offices and government buildings around the world today, it’s often called a “premortem”. 

In ancient times, it had more of a ring to it: it was a premeditatio malorum (premeditation of evils).

But don’t spin your wheels worrying

Plan for the future, yes, but don’t get stuck there. Be confident in your own ability to meet any circumstance thrown at you – the same way you always have. “Do not let the future trouble you. You will come to it, if that is what you must, possessed of the same reason that you apply now to the present,” wrote Marcus Aurelius. 

Instead, focus on the present moment. That includes practising gratitude for what we have right now, not focusing on what we would like to have (or avoid) in the future.

Keep it to the simple facts

He also warned against adding any additional assumptions to anything you see. “Do not elaborate to yourself beyond what your initial impressions report,” he wrote. “I see that my little boy is ill. That is what I see: I do not see that he is in danger.”

Consider it an ancient warning against catastrophising, one of the “distortions” cognitive behavioural therapists help patients guard against.

Help others, and ask for help – but protect yourself emotionally

Like the Platonists, the Stoics held that our main goal in life is to excel at being human. And human nature is, they believed, social – so much so that justice (which, in ancient philosophy, goes beyond the concept of “fairness” to include our obligations to other people and to our communities) was one of the foremost virtues.

Helping others was, therefore, important. But so was guarding against adopting someone else’s grief or anger as passionately as if it were your own. By all means, sympathise with someone who is upset, wrote Epictetus. “But do not commiserate with your whole heart and soul.”There are few things more distressing than being caught up in events that are outside of our control (Credit: Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images)

There are few things more distressing than being caught up in events that are outside of our control (Credit: Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images)

Have no shame about asking for help, either, wrote Marcus Aurelius: sometimes, it’s the only way that you can fulfil your life’s “main task” – playing your part to contribute in the best way you can.

Don’t distract yourself from difficult feelings

Despite their disdain for “the passions” like grief and their advice for not getting sucked in by them, the Stoics understood very well that, for most of us, these feelings would still arise. And, in the same way that modern speakers like Brené Brown advise against “numbing” negative emotions, the Stoics argued that we shouldn’t try to “cheat” feelings like sadness or anger. Taking a vacation, or throwing yourself into work, drives them away only temporarily. When they return, they’re likely to come back even stronger.

“It is better to conquer our grief than to deceive it,” Seneca wrote. But how? Today, psychotherapists might suggest “feeling the feelings”, processing them and talking about them. Tara Brach, a well-known clinical psychologist and mindfulness guide, suggests the “sacred pause” – taking a moment to simply stop and tune into our emotions, even in the midst of a fit of anger or sorrow. For Seneca, the solution to simply study philosophy.  

Take the long view and remember that this, too, shall pass

One exercise Marcus Aurelius suggested was to imagine you are looking down on the Earth, seeing everything as it happens. Then imagine the long timeline of history: the people who lived long before you, and those who will live after. (It’s like the ancient version of the Grand Canyon visualisation that some therapists recommend).

“Think of the whole of existence, of which you are the tiniest part; think of the whole of time in which you have been assigned a brief and fleeting moment; think of destiny – what fraction of that are you?”

After all: “Every ocean is a drop in the Universe,” he wrote.

“The whole of present time is a pin-prick of eternity.”

* Amanda Ruggeri is a senior journalist for BBC Future. You can find her at @amanda_ruggeri on Twitter

Posted in 1

Mother of God! It’s Line of Duty already: 100 years of the BBC, part 10

Adrian Dunbar goes in search of bent coppers in Line of Duty
‘Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the wee donkey’ … Adrian Dunbar goes in search of bent coppers in Line of Duty. Photograph: Landmark Media/Alamy

From Jed Mercurio’s bent copper hit to Michaela Coel’s powerful I May Destroy You and Russell T Davies’s prescient Years and Years, the BBC shows it can still be innovative and provocativ

Losing two more director generals, the BBC finds a cop show that even the wee donkey watches, sees Johnson and Trump coming and finally broadcasts an event secretly rehearsed for four decades.

2012 – Line of Duty/Call the Midwife

Off screen, a catastrophic year: long-serving DG Mark Thompson was forced out by the board and replaced by George Entwistle, who resigned after only 54 days. He had failed to take control of two crises involving BBC’s Newsnight: its decision to abandon a report showing Jimmy Savile was a paedophile, but then to run a piece falsely attributing child sexual abuse to Tory politician Alistair McAlpine. But on screen, a franchise began that would grace the BBC for the next decade. So bitterly brilliant was the 1994 BBC One medical drama Cardiac Arrest that it seems bizarre the writer, John MacUre, never had another credit. That’s because he had been a practising doctor, forced under NHS rules to use a pseudonym. Under his real name, Jed Mercurio wrote another great medical show (Bodies) before creating Line of Duty, in which an internal police discipline unit hunted “bent coppers”, one of the catchphrases, along with “mother of God!” and “Jesus, Mary and Joseph” (later joined by the “wee donkey”) of Adrian Dunbar’s Supt Ted Hastings.

Call the Midwife.
The nuns of Nonnatus House have an almost Nobel prize level of medical innovation … Call the Midwife. Photograph: BBC/Neal Street Productions

Mercurio challenged UK TV drama orthodoxy by running storylines across series (the search for “H”, the top corrupt cop) and killing off stars (Keeley Hawes, Daniel Mays, Jason Watkins, Stephen Graham) during a run. The approach was so successful that the show moved from BBC Two to One, and swelled its audience from 3 million to 16 million by 2021’s sixth series, in which the corrupt police leadership explicitly became a metaphor for Boris Johnson’s government. Attempting to provide something for everyone, the BBC also launched the gentler Call the Midwife, Heidi Thomas’s story of mid 20th-century nursing nuns with an almost Nobel prize level of medical innovation. A decade on, it is almost as popular as Line of Duty.

2013 – The Politician’s Husband/Today

Equality was a long way off – in 2017, the government forced the BBC to reveal that the highest earners were way more likely to be men – but it was a sign of progress that key programmes across TV and radio were female-led. A pioneering writer, Paula Milne (Juliet Bravo, John David, Driving Ambition), created a marvellous BBC Two three-parter, The Politician’s Husband, about husband and wife MPs, played by David Tennant and Emily Watson, competing for party leadership and willing to ignore secrets including rape and murder to gain power. Writing while Johnson was mayor of London, Milne previewed the values vacuum that was coming to high British politics.

Coverage of Mishal Husain joining Today made much of her being the first woman of colour and first Muslim to host the veteran show, but, more importantly, she is one of the most impressive broadcasters to emerge across the years, equally adept on radio and TV and with an informed, persistent political interviewing approach of her own, rather than echoing the growly men around her. Another BBC News move – attaching Today’s James Naughtie to Good Morning Scotland in the run-up to the independence referendum – diagnosed another of the BBC’s ailments of old age: the (possibly irresolvable) problem of being a British Broadcasting Company in a Britain increasingly heading in four different directions.

2014 – Sherlock/Inside Number 9

A gleaming vehicle … Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock. Photograph: AP

Alumni of The League of Gentlemen went in different directions to create thrilling new projects. Mark Gatiss joined Steven Moffat (with whom he had worked on the rebooted Doctor Who) to update Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, keeping the violin-playing, cocaine-taking and serpentine plots, but using modern technology and transport to create a gleaming vehicle for Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, as Holmes and Watson, to become major stars. Equally twisty was Inside Number 9, in which Gatiss’s former colleagues Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton created tense half-hours in various genres – farce, horror, ghost, heist, commedia dell’arte – all somehow linked to the number nine.

2015 – Wolf Hall/Poldark/Dickensian

As each renewal of the BBC’s decade-long royal charter has approached, the drama department has pumped out classics of the sort MPs think people should watch. With the next deal due to be negotiated by December 2016, DG Baron (Tony) Hall of Birkenhead filled 2015 with parliamentary pleasers, all cannily channelling earlier successes. The long popularity of Tudor history (The Six Wives of Henry VIII) was satisfied by Wolf Hall, adapted from the first two, Booker-winning volumes of the late Hilary Mantel’s trilogy, with Mark Rylance an alarming Thomas Cromwell. Poldark, a 1975 Cornish mining-and-shagging crowdpleaser, was also remade and, in Dickensian, Tony Jordan, a key EastEnders writer, cleverly mashed-up characters and plots familiar from numerous adaptations of Dickens. The plan was to ply ministers in the government elected in May 2015 (the BBC gambled on it being Ed Miliband’s Labour) with box sets ahead of a favourable licence fee settlement in early 2016. But David Cameron won a majority and his chancellor, George Osborne, immediately summoned Hall to No 11 to impose a stingy settlement. At least viewers got a year of good drama before the cuts started.

2016 – The Night Manager

The Night Manager.
Bond-like … Tom Hiddleston in The Night Manager. Photograph: Des Willie/BBC/The Ink Factory

The treats continued into what should have been licence-renewal year, with another revisiting of past triumphs: the fiction of John le Carré, which had been absent from the BBC since 1987’s A Perfect Spy. His long, involved plots suited long-form TV, as proved by this six-part adaptation of Le Carré’s 1993 story of a hotel employee used by MI6 in a sting operation against a satanic arms dealer. Director Suzanne Bier and screenwriter David Farr adapted a great writer to the zeitgeist with a glossy, Bond-ish thriller with Hugh Laurie as the villain and Tom Hiddleston as the hotelier protagonist. In an unforeseen twist of feminism, Hiddleston – like Aidan Turner in Poldark the previous year – was the object of drooling reviews and tweets by women about his undressed body.

2017 – The Repair Shop

The Repair Shop – Jay Blades
Magic … Jay Blades in The Repair Shop. Photograph: BBC

Of the many attempts to recreate the magic of The Great British Bake Off, the BBC came closest with The Repair Shop, although, as so often in this era, it was the creation of an independent company (Ricochet). As with Bake Off, there was the appeal of engaging expertise as people with ruined heirlooms, furniture, jewellery and knick-knacks brought them to be healed by friendly specialists, led by the furniture restorer Jay Blades, upholstery guru Sonnaz Nooranvary and toy-doctor Amanda Middleditch. It wasn’t completely novel – an Antiques Roadshow for broken bric-a-brac – but had extra emotional heft from the backstories, involving deep love, grief and memory. When the world itself was broken – by the Covid lockdown of 2020 – The Repair Shop made an emergency move to BBC One primetime and became a consoling hit.

2018 – You, Me and the Big C

A technological innovation – the rise of downloadable podcasts – came together with a cultural shift – the primacy of personal experience in reporting – in a show that added “and move” to the Reithian formula to “inform, educate, entertain”. Later-stage cancer patients Rachael Bland, Deborah James and Lauren Mahon broadcast against the dying of the light while dispensing advice, treatment options and the psychology of living with a medical death sentence. Bland died in 2018, James (by then a dame) in 2022. Neither they nor their loved ones would have wanted them to become famous in this way, but they stand as the brightest stars of the newest form of BBC broadcasting.

2019 – Gentleman Jack/Years and Years

Gentleman Jack.
Pioneering … Sophie Rundle and Suranne Jones in Gentleman Jack. Photograph: Jay Brooks/BBC/Lookout Point

That the main BBC offerings in one year would be written by a woman (about a lesbian) and a gay man would have surprised Lord Reith. But they demonstrated the extent to which the BBC had achieved diversity and maturity, although the rise of a new risk area was demonstrated by some objections to the writer of Gentleman Jack, Sally Wainwright, and Suranne Jones, who played pioneering mid-20th-century lesbian Anne Lister, both identifying as heterosexual. But the show confirmed Wainwright – after Happy Valley (since 2014) and Last Tango in Halifax (since 2012) as one of the greatest dramatists of the BBC’s later years.

Another, Russell T Davies (Doctor Who, Torchwood), contributed Years and Years, an extraordinary six-parter following a Mancunian family from 2019-2034. Davies’s essential question was whether chaotic, amoral populism – as represented by the Trump presidency since 2017 – could be repeated in the UK, concluding, through Emma Thompson’s reckless demagogue, Vivienne Rook, that it might. One month after transmission, it did, with Boris Johnson becoming PM and governing in Rookish style; as, three years later, has Liz Truss, even triggering tweets and memes by wearing, for her first Tory conference speech, a near-replica of a militaristic red tunic dress worn by Thompson’s character.

2020 – I May Destroy You/Small Axe

I May Destroy You starring Paapa Essiedu and Michaela Coel.
A rare feat … Michaela Coel and Paapa Essiedu in I May Destroy You. Photograph: Laura Radford / BBC

TV still has much further to go in promoting diversity, but it was a sign of advancement that indisputably the best BBC show of the year was the creation of a woman of colour. In an achievement rare for anyone, Michaela Coel was quadruply involved as creator, writer, actor and director, winning Bafta and Emmy awards. Her autobiographical story of a young woman drugged and raped, who then seeks to find and punish the perpetrator, highlighted an important legal and social cause and expanded the dramatic palette.

Impressively, while much of the media rushed to refresh their schedules after the ideological questions raised by the racist police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020, the BBC had already made I May Destroy You, and Small Axe, an anthology of five films about Black British history from Oscar and Turner prize-winning artist-director, Steve McQueen. Receiving low live ratings in BBC One primetime, the dramas gained proper attention through iPlayer catchup, making a case that material might benefit, in a future subscription-only BBC, from being freed from overnight ratings.

2021 – Trump Takes on the World

Analysis of recent political history is a duty the BBC has taken on: since Churchill and Eisenhower, prime ministers and presidents could expect a documentary as one of their out-of-office projects. President Trump, unsurprisingly, didn’t cooperate with his, but that was not an obstacle to Norma Percy. One of TV’s greatest factual film-makers – BBC pieces include The Death of Yugoslavia; Putin, Russia and the West; and Inside Europe: 10 Years of Turmoil – Percy, in Trump Takes on the World, reconstructed the disruptor politician’s foreign policy through interviews with appalled former colleagues and enemies and astute use of archive. One of the biggest and earliest challenges of the corporation’s second century will be achieving the necessary level of access to chronicle the Johnson and Truss administrations.

2022 – Queen Elizabeth II/Sherwood

Stunning … Lesley Manville in Sherwood. Photograph: Matt Squire/BBC/House Productions

One of few Britons to have lived through the BBC’s full 95 years as a public service broadcaster, Queen Elizabeth II was often on its mind. Though various notions to rename it the Royal British Broadcasting Corporation had been resisted, the organisation was de facto thatkeen to be seen as first call for Windsor weddings, jubilees and funerals. Spats with the palace – over It’s a Royal Knockout! (1987), a misleading trailer for the 2007 documentary Monarchy, and the Diana Panorama interview – caused managers and governors great pain. The eventual state funeral of the Queen, which staff rehearsed regularly from at least the 1980s, increasingly came to be seen as a grand statement of the BBC’s purpose and importance. As the monarch’s frailty became apparent from late 2021, there were fears that the funeral might preclude or (as Hamlet put it) “follow hard upon” the planned platinum jubilee in June 2022; the presenters and documentaries for both events were largely the same. As it turned out, three months after the Queen made an unlikely but perfectly valedictory final TV broadcast – having tea with a CGI Paddington during “platty jubes” events exclusive to the corporation – the long-planned Operation London Bridge was enacted.

There was a temptation for BBC supporters to say that the epic obsequies showed “why we need the BBC”, but that was a trap. Once in a lifetime events are not a good justification for the annual provision of billions of funding and thousands of staff. The death of one of the most constant presences of its first century symbolically warned the BBC that its second will require a new approach, especially with Liz Truss’s culture secretary, Michelle Donelan, not yet resiling from the suggestion of the Johnson administration’s Nadine Dorries that alternatives to the licence fee will be likely after 2027. In this context, it was significant that, in the year the corporation recommitted to one longtime aim – broadcaster by crown appointment – it also continued another: provocative drama. Sherwood, James Graham’s stunning six-parter set in a community divided by the 1984 miners’ strike, combined the political urgency of Play for Today with the creative daring of Dennis Potter’s serials.

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Strictly delights and Mrs Brown’s Boys divides: 100 years of the BBC, part nine

Mrs Brown's Boys.
The curse of the mammy … Brendan O’Carroll in Mrs Brown’s Boys. Photograph: Alan Peebles/BBC

Amid the horrific ‘sexed up’ scandal, the corporation scores big hits with Strictly, Bake Off and The Thick of It, a foul-mouthed widow causes a crisis – and the Queen’s favourite show comes to light.

A fight with Downing Street decapitates BBC management, but revenge is taken with a foul-mouthed Tucker and a superfranchise that takes the biscuit.

2002 – The Kumars at No 42

In their breakthrough series Goodness Gracious MeSanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal brilliantly inverted racial stereotypes, most strikingly in their sketch about Indians, hungry for a takeaway, “getting an English”. Even more boldly, this series played with an Asian cliche – the suffocating loyalty of parents to their kids – by imagining the character Sanjeev’s mum and dad indulging their son’s broadcasting dreams by building him a TV studio at home, in which he interviews real celebrities (including Daniel Radcliffe, Diana Rigg and Adrian Lester).

The Kumars at No 42, with guests George Hamilton and Mariella Frostrup
Playing with Asian cliches … The Kumars at No 42, with guests George Hamilton and Mariella Frostrup. Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy

Queen Elizabeth II is reputed to have confided that The Kumars at No 42 was one of her favourite programmes – an astonishing historical footnote, given that five immediate ancestors, including her father, held the title of emperor or empress of India.

2003 – Today

Although a radio show called Today has run since 1957, the form then – a lighthearted half-hour miscellany – was very different from what it would become: three hours of turkey-cocking political coverage. The most consequential interview in the programme’s history occurred at a time – 6.07am – when listenership is lowest. But the item, on 29 May 2003, destroyed several careers, and launched a chain of events that ended in a death. After Andrew Gilligan told presenter John Humphrys of the claim from an anonymous source that Downing Street had “sexed up” the dossier used to justify joining the US war against Iraq, prime minister Tony Blair’s director of communications, Alastair Campbell, complained to the BBC. The revelation of Gilligan’s source as UN weapons inspector Dr David Kelly forced Kelly into hiding, during which he was found dead, the cause ruled by a coroner as suicide. Campbell, a news manager who became the news, resigned in August. In January 2004, the Hutton inquiry into the affair questioned the reliability of Gilligan’s evidence: he resigned from the BBC, as did director general Greg Dyke and chair Gavyn Davies. Blair won a third term as PM in 2005, but his reputation never recovered.

2004 – Strictly Come Dancing

Light on their feet … presenters Claudia Winkleman, Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly on Strictly Come Dancing.
Light on their feet … presenters Claudia Winkleman, Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly on Strictly Come Dancing. Photograph: Guy Levy/BBC/PA

The rapid liberalisation of retail hours (including Sunday opening) meant advertisers were far keener to push products on Saturdays, making it ITV’s biggest night and shaping the fortunes of Simon Cowell (The X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent) and Ant & Dec (Saturday Night Takeaway, I’m a Celebrity …). The BBC’s attempt to compete rested on reinventing an old format, Come Dancing, with the crucial twist that it was now pro-am pairs. It also reinvented an older Saturday-night presenter, Bruce Forsyth, who, at 76, became a star for a new generation, combining impossibly ancient jokes with impressively youthful feet. Newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky, partnered by Brendan Cole, was the first winner.

2005 – The Thick of It

Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) and co in The Thick of It.
Tucker wit … Peter Capaldi and co in The Thick of It. Photograph: BBC/Mike Hogan

Armando Iannucci’s mock doc about useless New Labour ministers imaginatively sworn at by a brutal spin doctor, Malcolm Tucker (his surname a rhyme for a favourite insult), can be seen as BBC revenge for the David Kelly affair. Many saw Tucker as a lampoon of Alastair Campbell, with the Scottishness and scatological language spectacularly ramped up; the BBC and Iannucci always denied this, but their response was most likely PR and legal spin. Thought to be the first TV show to employ a “swearing consultant” (Ian Martin) to salt Tucker’s tirades, the show identified that the idea of civil servants really running the country in Yes, Minister had been replaced by freelance hardmen brought in to Downing Street as consultants. This proved prescient as Campbell was followed by Gordon Brown’s Damian McBride, David Cameron’s Andy Coulson, Theresa May’s Nick Timothy and Boris Johnson’s Dominic Cummings. Roger Allam’s Peter Mannion MP – a Conservative followed from opposition to eventual government – also skewered the post-Blair Westminster archetype of sleazy, lazy, scandal-prone Tory. Was Boris Johnson watching?

2006 – Gideon’s Daughter

Stephen Poliakoff, after a period in cinema and theatre, returned to the BBC in 1999 with the intention of “slowing television drama down”. The results were Shooting the Past (1999), Perfect Strangers (2001) and The Lost Prince (2003). All were complex, showing Poliakoff’s interest in what English society has chosen to forget or bury. Proving to be the most prolific and inventive male TV dramatist since Dennis Potter, Poliakoff went back to single films, including Gideon’s Daughter. A spin doctor (Bill Nighy) and the mother (Miranda Richardson) of a young boy killed on an unsafe road start a tense relationship in the period of the rise of Blair and death of Diana. Typically, Poliakoff identified wounds, weirdnesses and weaknesses beneath the surface of British society that would burst through in the next decade and a half: it could have been subtitled The Odd Country.

2007 – Gavin & Stacey

Tidy! … Gavin & Stacey.
Tidy! … Gavin & Stacey. Photograph: Baby Cow

One of the biggest successes of the youth-targeted BBC Three was this BBC Wales sitcom about a Welsh-Essex culture clash. The title couple – played by Matthew Horne and Joanna Page – meet on a double blind date, accompanied by their respective best friends Smithy and Nessa, played by the show’s writers, James Corden and Ruth Jones. They had learned from Only Fools and Horses – a similarly warm depiction of working-class culture – the importance of supporting roles that major performers relish: in this case, Alison Steadman as Gavin’s mother and Rob Brydon as Stacey’s Uncle Bryn. Because of demand for the cast elsewhere, the regular series ended in 2010, but a 2019 one-off Christmas reunion attracted 18.49 million viewers – a tidy number indeed in this century.

2008 – A Matter of Loaf and Death

A big BBC problem this decade was the loss of a beloved dog. Gromit, created by Nick Park’s Aardman Studios, was signed by Hollywood for the 2005 horror spoof The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. This left him unavailable to TV for a decade. As consolation, repeats of Park’s earlier BBC shorts The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave were becoming a Christmas tradition when the plasticine superstars – eccentric cheeseaholic inventor Wallace and his wise but silent dog – were lured back for a yuletide special. Park’s status as one of Britain’s greatest creative figures – combining the cartoon vision of Walt Disney with the narrative knack of Alfred Hitchcock and Agatha Christie – was confirmed by this thriller based around the breadmaking business (a serial killer plots to kill a “baker’s dozen” of 13 victims) in which Gromit finds a life-saving use for dough. Peter Sallis did his Wallace (northern, kind, naive) for the last time.

2009 – Pointless/Graham Norton

With radio heading for its ninth decade and television its eighth, producers and critics increasingly feared format exhaustion, schedules becoming a web of repeats and reboots. But the continuing possibility of fresh approaches was shown by this quiz, co-hosted by Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman. Ingeniously, contestants were not required to give a correct answer, but to guess the least popular response in a category (say Shakespeare plays or garden flowers) from a 100-strong focus group. So, with beautiful counterintuition, the optimal score in any round was 0. Much loved by those spending a lot of time at home (a sector massively increased during the Covid pandemic), Pointless deserves a medal for combatting loneliness.

In a significant changing of the guard, Graham Norton took over Eurovision commentary after Terry Wogan’s retirement, and soon added a Radio 2 Saturday-morning show, also influenced by Wogan, to The Graham Norton Show that had been running since 2007. It still flourishes today, confirming him as the BBC’s best celebrity interviewer since Parkinson.

2010 – The Great British Bake Off

Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry in The Great British Bake Off, in 2013.
In patisserie we trust … Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry in The Great British Bake Off, in 2013. Photograph: Production/BBC/Love Productions


Although the schedules looked fresh, there was an undertow of worry about so many shows being created by independent production companies rather than in-house teams. Nightmare exhibit A was Bake Off: the most adored new programme since Strictly, and, like Pointless, reflecting a preference for wholesome material after the 2008 incident in which Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross’s offensive prank call to Andrew Sachs led to Ross’s suspension and the BBC paying a £150,000 fine to Ofcom. Love Productions invented a sort of kitchen version of Strictly, showcasing amateurs. While Michael Gove would soon suggest that “people have had enough of experts”, Bake Off understood that expertise, in any field, is compelling. The soft sponge/hard tart judging combination of Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood was entertaining but also informative, in a way that Reith would have approved. Who knew extreme patisserie would make such good television? Confirming a fault line of the corporation’s old age, intellectual property rights belonged to Love who, at contract’s end, could sell to a higher bidder, as it did in 2016, with Channel 4 the winner.

2011 – Mrs Brown’s Boys

Many will be horrified by the inclusion of this sitcom in which writer Brendan O’Carroll, with false breasts and hair-netted-wig, plays a foul-mouthed Dublin widow named Agnes Brown. But this show epitomises the crisis of identity and funding that engulfed the BBC in its 10th and 11th decades. Was its primary purpose public service content (which wouldn’t appeal to the mass audience implied by a universal licence fee) or content that a large part of the public wanted? Regularly given zero-star reviews in the lower-circulation newspapers, it attracted up to 12 million viewers, exceptionally high as its ribald content forced post-watershed slots. Its few critical admirers praised O’Carroll’s immersive drag acting, well-drilled physical farce and even postmodernist jokes – as when Agnes forgets her handbag and clambers across cameras and sets to fetch it from the room where the first scene took place. Like EastEnders three decades earlier, the show confused politicians smearing the BBC as a highbrow liberal institution.

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What Unites Buddhism and Psychotherapy? One Therapist Has the Answer.

Credit…Linda Merad

Despite often being lumped together these days in what gratingly gets called the “wellness sector,” psychotherapy and Buddhist meditation might be seen as almost opposite approaches to the search for peace of mind. Show up on the couch of a traditional American shrink, and you’ll be encouraged to delve deep into your personal history and emotional life — to ask how your parents’ anxieties imprinted themselves on your childhood, say, or why the way your spouse loads the dishwasher makes you so disproportionately angry. Show up at a meditation center, by contrast, and you’ll be encouraged to see all those thoughts and emotions as mere passing emotional weather, and the self to which they’re happening as an illusion.

These differences also help explain the characteristic ways in which each approach goes wrong — as in the case of the lifelong therapy patient who’s fascinated by his own problems, yet still as neurotic as ever; or the moony meditator engaged in what’s been termed “spiritual bypassing,” attempting to transcend all earthly concerns so that she needn’t look too closely at her own pain.

Attempts to bridge the two philosophies are liable to devolve into mere intellectual exercises, or else to peter out in the banal advice that therapy sessions ought to begin with a period of concentrating on the breath. (For anyone who’s ever paid out of pocket for a therapeutic “hour,” the idea of using valuable minutes that way may evoke strong feelings.) But in “The Zen of Therapy,” a warm, profound and cleareyed memoir of a year in his consulting room prior to the pandemic, the psychiatrist and author — and practicing Buddhist — Mark Epstein aims at something meatier. He seeks to uncover the fundamental wisdom both worldviews share, and to show, as a practical matter, how it might help us wriggle free from the places we get stuck on the road to fulfillment.

Mark Epstein
Mark EpsteinCredit…Larry Bercow

Epstein, whose earlier books on related themes include “Advice Not Given” and “Thoughts Without a Thinker,” is adamant that psychotherapy is right to emphasize the importance of our personal stories — the history and texture of what it feels like to be, uniquely, ourselves — as against the meditator’s tendency to disdain the realm of emotions, seeing them “as indulgent at best and as an impediment at worst.” It’s clear from early in the book that Epstein won’t be romanticizing the ascetic life when he describes a pivotal moment in the story of the historical Buddha, in which he walked out on his wife and child to seek spiritual enlightenment, not as an act of courage, but as a rather obvious case of emotional avoidance.

Buddhism’s critical insight, though, is that those personal stories are just stories, as opposed to nonnegotiable, objective reality; that the selves to which they occur are much less substantial than we tend to assume — and that freedom lies ultimately not in understanding what happened to us, but in loosening our grip on it all, so that “things that feel fixed, set, permanent and unchanging” can start to shift. The goal, in a refreshing counterpoint to the excesses of a certain way of thinking about therapy, isn’t to reach the state of feeling glowingly positive about yourself and your life. It’s to become less entangled with that whole question, so that you get to spend your time on more meaningful things instead.

Much of the appeal of therapists’ memoirs lies, naturally enough, in the opportunity for readers to satisfy their prurient interest in other people’s problems — and in the relief of learning that they’re at least as screwed up as we are. So it’s fitting that Epstein devotes only a relatively short introductory section to setting the stage, chronicling his growing frustration with Western scientists’ attempts to isolate the “active ingredient” in meditation, rather than embracing its spiritual depths. (Recalling his role as an assistant on a narrowly conceived research trip to northern India, he laments: “I had an unparalleled opportunity to probe these monks’ minds, not just their rectal temperatures.”)

Most of the book is spent, instead, in the company of his (pseudonymous) patients, such as Debby, the humanitarian volunteer who finds it easy to appreciate the shining souls of the dispossessed people among whom she works, but has a harder time when it comes to her grouchy and withdrawing husband; and Jack, the son of Holocaust survivors, who “remembers the unbearable and unreachable sadness of his parents. ‘Was I a good boy today?’ he would ask them repeatedly, as if his behavior were the cause of the suffering he intuited but could never reach.” There’s more benefit, for the patients and for the reader, in simply allowing such stories to be told than in attempting to derive generic life lessons from them, and Epstein by and large leaves space for that to happen.

The unifying stance Epstein identifies in Buddhism and in therapy at its best — such as in the work of the British child analyst D. W. Winnicott, champion of the “good-enough mother” — is the willingness to pay attention, while letting people and feelings be as they are. He finds it, too, in the creative approach of another of his heroes, the composer John Cage, who sought to “let the sounds be themselves.” “Kindness is the thread that runs through the work of Winnicott, Cage and the Buddha,” Epstein writes, “each of whom discovered that noninterfering attentiveness — in a mother, an artist, a meditator or a therapist — is, by its very nature, transformative.”

This is where a certain kind of Buddhism-inspired advice book typically comes adrift, vaguely exhorting the reader to cultivate an all-purpose compassionate attitude that’s as impossible to practice (for me, at least) as it is irritating to read about. Mercifully, what Epstein means by kindness includes a large component of humor. Developing the capacity to laugh at ourselves — especially at the self-important, righteously indignant facades we construct as a matter of emotional self-defense — is a sublime expression of non-clinging, an act of inner-directed kindness that soon spreads outward too. One of his patients, a financial executive, starts off full of wounded pride, but his growing capacity to laugh at that trait is heartwarming: “The only change he wanted me to make in my account,” Epstein writes, “was to describe him as bearing a striking resemblance to the young Antonio Banderas.”

The effort to straddle Buddhism and therapy leads Epstein sometimes to lapse into the technical jargon of both, with discussions of the “object-mother,” “mind objects,” the “punitive superego” and the like; while references to his own spiritual journey have the I-guess-you-had-to-be-there quality that often afflicts such accounts. But this wise and sympathetic book’s lingering effect is as a reminder that a deeper and more companionable way of life lurks behind our self-serious stories. “What is your method, anyway?” one patient asks Epstein, in an affectionate dig. “It’s like ‘friendly conversation’ with occasional moments of illumination, is that it?” He’s obliged to concede that she’s right. It doesn’t sound like much. But then again, since neither therapy nor meditation is going to solve the human predicament — none of us are getting out of this alive — perhaps nothing could possibly be worth more.

New York Times – January 11, 2022

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Blast on Crimean Bridge Deals Blow to Russian War Effort in Ukraine

Any impediment to traffic on the bridge could affect Russia’s ability to wage war in southern Ukraine, where Ukraine’s forces have been fighting an increasingly effective counteroffensive.

KYIV, Ukraine — A fireball consumed two sections of the only bridge linking the occupied Crimean Peninsula to Russia on Saturday, disrupting the most important supply line for Russian troops fighting in southern Ukraine and dealing an embarrassing blow to the Kremlin, which is facing continued losses on the battlefield and mounting criticism at home.

The blast and fire sent part of the 12-mile Kerch Strait Bridge tumbling into the sea and killed at least three people, according to the Russian authorities. A senior Ukrainian official corroborated Russian reports that Ukraine was behind the attack. The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of a government ban on discussing the blast, added that Ukrainian’s intelligence services had orchestrated the explosion, using a bomb loaded onto a truck being driven across the bridge.

For President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who presided over the bridge’s opening in 2018, the explosion was a highly personal affront, underscoring his failure to get a handle on a relentless series of Ukrainian attacks.

The explosion is emblematic of a Russian military in disarray. Russian forces were unable to protect the bridge, despite its centrality to the war effort, its personal importance to Mr. Putin and its potent symbolism as the literal connection between Russia and Crimea.

Hours after the explosion, the Kremlin appointed Gen. Sergei Surovikin, yet another new commander, to oversee its forces in Ukraine. Previous leadership shake-ups have done little to right the military’s floundering performance.

The full extent of the damage was not immediately clear. The bridge has sections for train and automobile traffic. By Saturday evening, the railroad section of the bridge had undergone repairs and a train with 15 cars had successfully crossed the span, according to a Russian state news agency, Tass. Car traffic had also resumed on the undamaged side of the bridge, the head of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, said in a post on Telegram.

Even so, Russian officials and hard-line military bloggers were already calling for revenge, with one member of Crimea’s Parliament warning that anything less than an “extremely harsh” response would show weakness.

Any serious impediment to traffic on the bridge could have a profound effect on Russia’s ability to wage war in southern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting an increasingly effective counteroffensive. The bridge is the primary military supply route linking Russia with the Crimean Peninsula. Without it, analysts said, the Russian military will be severely limited in its ability to bring fuel, equipment and ammunition to Russian units fighting in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, two of the four Ukrainian provinces that Mr. Putin announced Russia had annexed on Sept. 30.

A Russian military vehicle captured by Ukrainian forces was driven away from the frontline in the Kherson Region of Ukraine, on Saturday. Ukraine’s forces have been fighting an increasingly effective counteroffensive in the southern part of the country.
A Russian military vehicle captured by Ukrainian forces was driven away from the frontline in the Kherson Region of Ukraine, on Saturday. Ukraine’s forces have been fighting an increasingly effective counteroffensive in the southern part of the country.Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times

Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee said in a statement that a truck had exploded on the automobile side of the bridge, igniting seven fuel cisterns being pulled by a train on a parallel rail line headed in the direction of Crimea.

It was unclear if the driver of the truck, who died in the blast, was aware there were explosives inside. In video captured by a surveillance camera on the bridge, a huge fireball is seen, seeming to consume several vehicles. A small sedan and a tractor-trailer truck driving side by side appear at the epicenter of the blast. The explosion caused two sections of the bridge to partly collapse.

For the Ukrainians, the explosion “is not necessarily a decisive victory, but the balance of war often turns on an accumulation of lesser victories,” said Ben Barry, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a research group based in London. “It is another ratchet of the pressure on President Putin.”

While there were no official claims of responsibilit