8 July 2020

Making Sense of the Recent China-India Clashes

 Harsh V. Pant and Kriti M. Shah
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The original article charted changes in South Asia’s geopolitical landscape since the end of the Cold War, and particularly how other major powers, including the United States, Russia, and China, have adapted to the rise of India and how this has impacted the relationship between India and Pakistan. In June 2020, the deadliest clashes between India and China on parts of their disputed borders since a brief conflict in 1962 erupted. Orbis editor Nikolas Gvosdev turned to Professor Harsh V. Pant, director of studies at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi and Professor of International Relations at King’s College London, for his thoughts on recent developments and how these events fit into the overall geopolitical analysis he and his co-author, Kriti M. Shah, presented last year.

Can you give us a thumbnail sketch of the recent clashes between India and China?

Since the start of May, Indian and Chinese forces have been squaring off in the tough terrain of the Line of Actual Control, the un-demarcated border known as LAC—more than 3,000 kilometers for India and 2,000 for China. Reflecting heightened nationalism from both Asian powers, the conflict took a dramatic turn on June 16 when clashes in Ladakh led to the deaths of at least 20 Indian troops and an unconfirmed number of Chinese troops. The confrontation emerges as the biggest and most serious border crisis since the 73-day Doklam standoff in 2017 when Indian soldiers detected construction activity on what is considered disputed territory on the Doklam Plateau and had to cross into Bhutan to restore status quo ante.

A Failed Afghan Peace Deal

Seth G. Jones
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On February 29, 2020, the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement intended to be a first step toward an intra-Afghan peace deal. Important provisions of the deal included a U.S. commitment to eventually withdraw all U.S. and foreign troops from Afghanistan, a Taliban pledge to prevent al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups from using Afghan territory to threaten the United States and its partners, and a promise by both sides to support intra-Afghan peace negotiations. As part of the agreement, the United States promised to decrease the number of U.S. forces from approximately 14,000 to 8,600 soldiers, proportionately reduce the number of other international forces in Afghanistan, and work with both sides to release prisoners. There were notable problems with the agreement, such as its failure to include the Afghan government in the negotiations. It was an attempt to make the best of a bad situation.

Despite such problems, a peace agreement that prevents Afghanistan from once again becoming a haven for international terrorism would allow the United States to withdraw its forces and reduce its security and development assistance, which exceeded $800 billion between 2001 and 2019. An agreement is particularly desirable as the United States focuses on competition with China and Russia, and as the United States deals with the budgetary pressures caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says

By Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt and Michael Schwirtz
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WASHINGTON — American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter.

The United States concluded months ago that the Russian unit, which has been linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe intended to destabilize the West or take revenge on turncoats, had covertly offered rewards for successful attacks last year.

Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the officials said. Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019, but it was not clear which killings were under suspicion.

The intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March, the officials said. Officials developed a menu of potential options — starting with making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow and a demand that it stop, along with an escalating series of sanctions and other possible responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the officials said.

Afghan Deaths Pile Up in Uncertainty Over U.S. Deal With Taliban

By Mujib Mashal
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KABUL, Afghanistan — Two employees of Afghanistan’s human rights commission were killed in Kabul on Saturday as a bomb attached to their vehicle exploded, the latest in a rising number of targeted killings in the Afghan capital.

From assassinations of religious scholars and assaults against cultural figures to widespread Taliban attacks across the country, the rise in violence is sapping the brief optimism from an American agreement with the Taliban. Under that deal, the United States would withdraw its troops, paving the way for direct negotiations between the Afghan sides to end the war in a hoped-for political settlement.

The peace deal has hit a wall over a prisoner exchange that was supposed to enable direct talks. Instead, the violence has intensified.

In a statement, Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights commission said one of its vehicles was struck by a magnetic bomb on Saturday morning, killing two employees who were on their way to work.

The victims were identified as Fatima Natasha Khalil, 24, a donor coordinator for the commission who had recently completed a degree from the American University of Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan, and Jawid Folad, a longtime driver at the commission.

This Time, Russia Is in Afghanistan to Win

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The recent revelations in the New York Times and other media that U.S. intelligence officials believed a Russian military intelligence unit had offered secret bounties to the Taliban for killing U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan renew deep concerns about the nefarious agenda Vladimir Putin’s Russia has not only in Afghanistan but also to destabilize the West.

The timing of the revelations—the findings were briefed to U.S. President Donald Trump in late February—is significant as it coincided with the signing of the U.S.-Taliban peace deal in Doha, Qatar, at the end of February. It is likely that the Taliban’s murky dealings with Russia were taking place while they were negotiating with the United States throughout 2019 and 2020, calling into question the insurgent group’s commitment to any peace deal.

The agreement provided for a phased withdrawal of NATO forces, with the United States pulling out 5,000 of its 13,000 troops over the next few months. In return, the Taliban claim they would not enable Afghan soil to be used for terrorism. But the obstacles to peace are so profound and numerous that the chances of the deal being honored are slim. A United Nations report stated that the Taliban retained close links to al Qaeda and sought its counsel during the negotiations with U.S. officials. And the Haqqani network, the biggest faction of the Taliban, has been accused by the Afghan government of collaborating with an ISIS affiliate—Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP)—to carry out numerous attacks in Afghanistan in 2020. (The most horrific examples were the suicide and gun attack on a Sikh gurdwara and the storming of the Dasht-e-Barchi hospital’s maternity ward in Kabul, killing nurses, women in labor, and newly born babies.)

The Hong Kong We Know Is Dead

By Keith B. Richburg
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Hong Kong’s first handover to China, in 1997, came with fireworks, lion dances and a mood of cautious optimism that this former British colony would enjoy ‘a high degree of autonomy’ for at least the next 50 years.

Just 23 years later, Hong Kong’s second handover to China—punctuated by a draconian new national security law that proscribes much protest activity and free expression—has seen fearful citizens deleting their Twitter accounts, political parties disbanding, and some activists and ordinary people planning to flee abroad. The optimism of 1997 has been replaced by a sense of foreboding and dread.

In a fitting coda, Beijing’s Communist Party rulers chose the exact anniversary of the handover, midnight on 30 June, to impose their new security law on Hong Kong and unveil its strictures on an unwilling population. After 23 years, China seems to be publicly affirming that the ‘one country, two systems’ experiment has failed and that Hongkongers were not sufficiently imbued with a patriotic love of the motherland and its authoritarian communist one-party system.

Now Hongkongers who had enjoyed a wide range of freedoms and a tiny taste of democracy will be subjected to the same sweeping constraints on their liberties as any Chinese citizen living on the mainland.

Britain can't protect Hong Kong from China – but it can do right by its people

Simon Jenkins

‘The bravery of young Hongkongers in defying the new measures has been impressive’: riot police pin down a protester during a pro-democracy demonstration on 1 July. Photograph: Willie Siau/Sopa Images/Rex/Shutterstock

The sight of young people anywhere being brutally stripped of their freedom is depressing. When that freedom was a legacy, however brief, from the British crown, it is more so. The ban on dissent now imposed by China on Hong Kong smashes the spirit and letter of the Sino-British treaty of 1984. It shows China for what it is, an unprincipled dictatorship.

When I reported in 1997 on the Hong Kong celebrations bidding farewell to British rule, there was one question on all lips. It was: how long would Beijing’s 50-year pledge of “one nation, two systems” survive? The guesses were five years, perhaps 10. China would surely milk the cash cow for all it was worth, but any sign of trouble and Beijing would instantly wipe this “imperialist pimple” off the map. No one dreamed China’s patience would last 23 years.

So it has proved. The ruthlessness of Beijing’s repression has surprised even hardened China-watchers. The former governor, Lord Patten, calls it Orwellian in its reach, not least in criminalising China’s critics everywhere abroad. A certain tolerance might have better served Beijing’s image. But every visitor to China knows that what matters to Beijing is how something looks in Beijing, not abroad. Authoritarianism validates its own rules.

America’s Military Has a Problem: Russia and China Are Building Hypersonic Weapons

by James Grant

On June 5, the Space Development Agency (SDA), the Pentagon’s new space technology arm, issued a solicitation for the development of an advanced “space-layer” missile defense tracking system. The technical notice arrived with little fanfare, and passed without much public notice. But for those in the know, it reflects the start of a major strategic initiative—one with the potential to safeguard American military superiority.

The problem is acute. Today, America’s preeminence in missile technology is being challenged for the first time since the end of the Cold War. Alongside the United States, the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China are currently developing the next generation of kinetic weapons: the hypersonic missile. Hypersonic weapon systems are designed to defeat existing missile defenses through incredible speed—up to twenty-seven times the speed of sound—and high maneuverability (the ability to modify their trajectories in flight).

No effective countermeasures currently exist against these weapons. As our adversaries match—and in some cases exceed—our technological progress in this arena, the Pentagon must prioritize the research and development of a defense against hypersonic weapons.

A Hypersonic Arms Race 

China’s INEW and the Sleepy Elephant

Lt. Gen Prakash Katoch

Following the news of some 40,000 cyber attacks in a week by China, an interesting discussion on TV had a former additional secretary R&AW say that China became serious with cyber warfare when it unveiled its strategy of ‘Unrestricted Warfare’ in 1999. He said China has a dedicated 50,000-strong force for cyber warfare and another 50,000 in support.

All this has been known past years. Compare this with the manpower of Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) operational since 2004 and its activities in last three months mentioned on its website: April 6 – large number of DDoS attacks reported that are propagated via infected Grandstream UCM6200 and Daytek Vigor devices; May 15 – threat actors taking advantage of pandemic situation to trick users to give up sensitive information interests associated with COVID-19 activities, news and information, and; June 24 – reports that Google has dropped 106 extension of the Google Chrome browser from the Chrome Web Store which was found collecting user data.

Hong Kong Is Part of the Mainland Now

By Michael C. Davis

Millions of protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong to promote democracy in 2019. The world looked on, astonished and impressed. Now, it looks on in despair: Beijing has imposed a hard-line national security law on the city, bypassing both public consultation and the local legislative process to go after protesters accused of “colluding with foreign forces,” advocating “separatism,” or merely damaging the city’s “premises and facilities.” A struggle for public order has been redefined as a national security crackdown.

China’s “one country, two systems” model—initiated with Hong Kong’s handover in 1997—sought to return the freewheeling city to Chinese sovereignty without destroying the basic freedoms on which it was grounded. Hong Kong was to continue to adhere to its own rule of law, rather than to the version applied in the mainland, where the law is a tool for forcing compliance with Communist Party dictates.

Twenty-three years after the handover, China has abandoned its promise of a separate system for Hong Kong. The city has done its part, serving China as one of the world’s leading centers of finance, culture, and education. But China never fully carried out its commitment to the democratic reform needed to sustain Hong Kong’s wavering autonomy. Now, it has brought Hong Kong fully under the national security state governed from Beijing.


Coronavirus Bailouts Stoke Climate Change

By Justin Guay

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed climate change from the headlines, but it has hardly arrested it. In the last month, the warming Indian Ocean has encouraged swarms of locusts to hop from East Africa to South Asia. A dust cloud has drifted from the Sahara desert to the Americas. Wildfires have raged in the thawing permafrost of Siberia. This global crisis—like the one occasioned by the novel coronavirus, only more permanently—threatens to shock the global financial system. The consequences of climate change could lead to turmoil in the insurance and banking industries, while upending the energy sector, together producing a financial crisis unlike one ever seen before.

But before the pandemic scrambled economies, a group of global central banks and financial regulators led by Europeans had agreed on ways to manage the risks that global warming posed. These banks and regulators have since been forced to enact emergency measures to cope with the pandemic, so they have largely ignored, abandoned, or delayed many of their own prescriptions. Instead, they are now propping up the very coal, oil, and gas industries that ultimately threaten the financial system by accelerating climate change.

In Europe, as in the United States—where central banks and financial regulators have not meaningfully incorporated climate change into their decision-making—bailout money is finding its way to struggling, debt-laden, and increasingly unprofitable fossil fuel companies. Not only is enabling fossil fuel investments bad public policy, it makes little economic sense. The world’s leading central banks must quickly reverse course and limit investments in the fossil fuel industry in order to avoid further increasing the systemic risk that climate change poses to the financial system.


China’s Military Provokes Its Neighbors, but the Message Is for the United States

By Steven Lee Myers
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In the same week that Chinese and Indian soldiers engaged in a deadly brawl, one of China’s submarines cruised through the waters near Japan, prompting a scramble of aircraft and ships to track its furtive movements. Chinese fighter jets and at least one bomber buzzed Taiwan’s territorial airspace almost daily.

With the world distracted by the coronavirus pandemic, China’s military has encroached upon its neighbors’ territories on several fronts throughout the spring and now into summer, flexing its military might in ways that have raised alarms across Asia and in Washington.

China’s military assertiveness reflects a growing sense of confidence and capability, but also one of confrontation, particularly with the United States over the pandemic, the fate of Hong Kong and other issues that China considers central to its sovereignty and national pride.

China claims all of its recent operations are defensive, but each increases the risk of a military clash, whether intended or not. That appears to be what happened on the night of June 15, when Chinese and Indian soldiers fought along their disputed border in the Himalayas.

CanSino's COVID-19 Vaccine Candidate Approved for Military Use in China

BEIJING — China's military has received the greenlight to use a COVID-19 vaccine candidate developed by its research unit and CanSino Biologics after clinical trials proved it was safe and showed some efficacy, the company said on Monday.

The Ad5-nCoV is one of China's eight vaccine candidates approved for human trials at home and abroad for the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus. The shot also won approval for human testing in Canada.

China's Central Military Commission approved the use of the vaccine by the military on June 25 for a period of one year, CanSino said in a filing. The vaccine candidate was developed jointly by CanSino and a research institute at the Academy of Military Science (AMS).

"The Ad5-nCoV is currently limited to military use only and its use cannot be expanded to a broader vaccination range without the approval of the Logistics Support Department," CanSino said, referring to the Central Military Commission department which approved the military use of the vaccine.

CanSino declined to disclose whether the innoculation of the vaccine candidate is mandatory or optional, citing commercial secrets, in an email to Reuters.

The military approval follows China's decision earlier this month to offer two other vaccine candidates to employees at state-owned firms travelling overseas.

China’s Software Stalked Uighurs Earlier and More Widely, Researchers Learn

By Paul Mozur and Nicole Perlroth

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Before the Chinese police hung high-powered surveillance cameras and locked up ethnic minorities by the hundreds of thousands in China’s western region of Xinjiang, China’s hackers went to work building malware, researchers say.

The Chinese hacking campaign, which researchers at Lookout — the San Francisco mobile security firm — said on Wednesday had begun in earnest as far back as 2013 and continues to this day, was part of a broad but often invisible effort to pull in data from the devices that know people best: their smartphones.

Lookout found links between eight types of malicious software — some previously known, others not — that show how groups connected to China’s government hacked into Android phones used by Xinjiang’s largely Muslim Uighur population on a scale far larger than had been realized.

Did a Cyber-Weapon Blow Up an Iranian Missile Factory—And Is This Cyber-War?

by Matthew Petti 
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An Iranian general would not rule out that a massive explosion east of Tehran last week was caused by “hacking,” amidst speculation that the incident was an act of sabotage.

Iranian authorities had attempted to downplay the blast—which tore through a missile factory east of Tehran—as a gas tank explosion at a different industrial park. But one official refused to rule out an act of cyber-sabotage.

“On the explosion of the Parchin gas facilities, it has been mentioned that the incident was caused by hacking the center's computer systems,” said Brig. Gen. Gholamreza Jalali, head of the Passive Defense Institution, at a conference on anti-chemical weapons defense. “But until we come to a conclusion on the dimensions of this incident and the claim, we cannot comment.”

The explosion damaged the Khojir missile production complex, according to satellite imagery, but Iranian authorities have insisted that it actually took place at the Parchin industrial park forty kilometer away.

The apparent coverup—along with international tensions around Iran’s missile program—have raised suspicions of foul play.

Turkey and Qatar: Love in Bloom

by Burak Bekdil

Few Qataris who fought the Ottoman colonialists to gain their independence in 1915 and end the 44-year-long Turkish rule in the peninsula would ever have imagined that their grandchildren would become Turkey's closest strategic allies.

Qatar, a tiny but extremely wealthy sheikdom, has a constitution based on sharia (Islamic religious law), while Turkey's constitution is strictly secular (officially, if not in practice). In Qatar, flogging and stoning—unthinkable in Turkey—are legal forms of punishment. In Qatar, apostasy is a crime punishable by death, while in Turkey it is not a criminal offense.

But the ideological kinship between the two Sunni Muslim countries, which is based on passionate political support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood (and a religious hatred of Israel), seems to have produced a bond that threatens Western interests.

What Poland wants when it comes to US troops

It’s not a place the Polish government wants to be: caught between its crucial transatlantic ally the United States and its neighbor, Europe’s most powerful country, Germany. 

But that’s exactly where Warsaw has found itself after Donald Trump’s surprise announcement last month that he would remove 9,500 American troops from Germany, largely in retaliation for the German government’s low defense spending, and redeploy some of those forces to Poland. Poland “asked us if we would send some additional troops,” said the US president, flanked by Polish President Andrzej Duda. “They’ll be paying for the sending of additional troops. And we’ll probably be moving them from Germany to Poland.”

Poland, which Trump emphasized is among the few NATO members already spending at least 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense, had in fact already gotten assurances that it will receive the boost in the American military presence in the country that Warsaw has long requested in exchange for helping cover the cost.

The way it’s happening isn’t exactly what the Polish government had in mind, however. And Polish officials may not have received advance notice of Trump’s intention to announce the potential redeployment of forces to Poland from their mutual NATO ally, Germany, during his visit with Duda. “To the best of my knowledge, and I’ve been quite involved in those conversations, there was no concrete conversation between Poland and the US on the troop transfer from Germany to Poland,” according to Poland’s ambassador to NATO, Tomasz Szatkowski.

Emmanuel Macron’s Helpful Defeat

By Ronald Tiersky

French President Emmanuel Macron’s party, La République en Marche, lost the country’s recent municipal elections. Logically enough, commentators now believe Macron is more vulnerable in the 2022 election, even though there is no candidate on the political landscape right now with a tangible chance to beat him.

But politics doesn't always follow logic, and certainly not in France. Nothing is ever permanently won or lost in political life. As social scientists say, “trend is not destiny.”

A victory too great can create the conditions of a subsequent defeat. Or, in this case, Macron’s stark defeat at the local level could actually increase his chances for re-election in two years. The commentariat may be right that he is in greater trouble now, but it is not immediately obvious, when looking at the broader state of French politics. 

There remains no obvious candidate of Macron’s quality. What about Marine Le Pen, whom Macron defeated in the runoff last time? The national-populist right’s old war horse hangs on, but barely. She’s still seen as Macron’s likeliest runoff opponent, but this just shows a lack of political imagination among the commentators. 

Le Pen has worn out her welcome even on the far right. Her campaign performance in 2017 was disastrous. In her single television debate with Macron, a few weeks before the vote, she disgusted even long-time supporters -- people who for decades had supported her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the National Front party.

The Air Force Has a Plan To Stop Drones From Being Shot Down

by Kris Osborn

Senior Air Force Commanders are employing new tactics, technologies and protocols to better safeguard drones from being shot down by enemy fire during missions. 

Air Force Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, the commander of U.S. Forces Europe, recently told reporters that senior U.S. military leaders are now amidst a decided effort to increase mission survivability for combat drones operating in high-risk areas. Responding to a question about an MQ-9 Reaper being shot down over Yemen last year, Harrigian emphasized that drone operations need to become less predictable to enemies. 

“There is something to be said for operating in a manner that offers us an opportunity to not be as predictable as we have been. We’ve been too predictable, so we are working to facilitate tactics that allow us to be less predictable, which includes having an idea where the threat is and how to avoid it,” Harrigian said during a Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies interview forum. 

Describing it in terms of a continuous learning curve, Harrigian explained that advanced communications with air assets and command centers can vastly improve prospects for drone mission success.

“We continue to learn an awful lot about how to optimize our use of Reapers in theaters where they can quickly become tested. It starts with our coms and the environment we are in,” Harrigian said. 

The Case for Kissinger

by Jacob Heilbrunn 

HENRY KISSINGER, who recently turned ninety-seven, is America’s most celebrated living statesman. None of his successors has come close to matching the extraordinary blend of acclaim and notoriety, admiration and criticism that he attracted as national security adviser and secretary of state to Richard M. Nixon and secretary of state to Gerald Ford. The British Foreign Office referred to him at the time as “the Wizard of the Western World'” and Playboy Bunnies voted him the man they would prefer to date in 1972—no small accomplishments for an expert on the Congress of Vienna who spent much of his early career at Harvard, where his cohort included the likes of Samuel Huntington, Stanley Hoffmann, and Zbigniew Brzeziński.

But Kissinger’s foreign policy wizardry was always accompanied by reproaches and rebukes, both public and private. The posthumously published The Letters of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., for example, reveal that in a lengthy November 5, 1974 missive to Kissinger, Schlesinger expressed his dismay to his old friend about the direction of American foreign policy during the Nixon administration:

I cannot but feel that our foreign policy in recent years removed the United States from what historically has been the source of our greatest impact on mankind. We have most influenced the world as a nation of ideals, conveying a sense of hope and faith in democracy… It may well be said that such hope was often delusory and that it often concealed a tough sense of American self-interest. […] The conception of world affairs as a chess game played by foreign secretaries contains an instinctive preference for authoritarian states, where governments can be relied on to deliver their people, as against democracies, where people might always turn on their governments.

How to Forecast Outbreaks and Pandemics

By Caitlin Rivers and Dylan George

In 1900, the deadliest hurricane in U.S. history hit Galveston, Texas. The storm, estimated to have been a Category 4, all but washed the city away. An estimated 8,000 people died, and even more lives would likely have been lost if Isaac Cline, the chief of the Texas section of the U.S. Weather Service, had not spent the day before the hurricane’s arrival walking around and urging people to seek higher ground. He did so on little more than a hunch based on the fact that a bad storm had recently passed over Cuba. The science of weather forecasting had yet to emerge; guesswork was the best anyone could do.

Over a century later, hurricane forecasts are a central feature of summer and fall for millions of Americans. Such forecasts, along with those predicting winter storms, tornadoes, and floods, have saved an untold number of lives and many billions of dollars. Even fair-weather forecasts play an important role in modern life. Take the airline industry, for example. “Even when you’ve got clear skies, that has an economic benefit,” explained Greg Romano of the National Weather Service, “because then you don’t necessarily need to plan to reroute as much, so you can perhaps take on less fuel; you know that you can have tighter schedules.” 

With the world moving quickly toward an age of pandemics, the story of how weather forecasting in the United States improved deserves attention. Because when it comes to modeling the likely course of contagious outbreaks, the country is in some ways closer to the bad old days of deadly, no-notice hurricanes than to the current era of precision storm tracking and multiday weather forecasts.

Putin’s Spin Merchants Flip the Script as Key Referendum Approaches

By Nicolae Reutoi

Just as Winston Smith in George Orwell’s 1984 rewrote history to reflect the changing party line, so Vladimir Putin’s media lieutenants have been busy adjusting Russia’s national narrative. With an upcoming referendum on critical constitutional changes, they have opted to project a fresh Russian ‘truth’ in the hope of rallying support for proposals cementing Putin’s political future.

Mostly gone, for now at least, is the tried and tested electoral pitch of ‘Russia up against a dangerous West’ that has previously served the president so well. That has been largely superseded by a constant stream of ‘good news’ about developments at home and abroad. The airwaves, news websites, and blogosphere have been full of such stories, as Russians prepare to vote on July 1 on 200-plus constitutional amendments, ranging from protecting forestry to ceding more powers to key state institutions.

Yet the only proposal that matters, at least to the incumbent leader and his inner circle, is the one that allows him to stay in power beyond 2024 when, according to the current constitution, he loses the right to run again. It is therefore a critical vote as his approval ratings are reported to have slipped to their lowest level since he became prime minister in 1999.

African Migrants in Yemen Scapegoated for Coronavirus Outbreak

By Vivian Yee and Tiksa Negeri

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The Yemeni militiamen rumbled up to the settlement of Al Ghar in the morning, firing their machine guns at the Ethiopian migrants caught in the middle of somebody else’s war. They shouted at the migrants: Take your coronavirus and leave the country, or face death.

Fatima Mohammed’s baby, Naa’if, was screaming. She grabbed him and ran behind her husband as bullets streaked overhead.

“The sound of the bullets was like thunder that wouldn’t stop,” said Kedir Jenni, 30, an Ethiopian waiter who also fled Al Ghar, near the Saudi border in northern Yemen, on that morning in early April. “Men and women get shot next to you, you see them die and move on.”

This scene and others were recounted in phone interviews with a half-dozen migrants now in Saudi prisons. Their accounts could not be independently verified, but human rights groups have corroborated similar episodes.

E.U. Formalizes Reopening, Barring Travelers From U.S.

By Matina Stevis-Gridneff
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BRUSSELS — The European Union will open its borders to visitors from 15 countries as of Wednesday, but not to travelers from the United States, Brazil or Russia, putting into effect a complex policy that has sought to balance health concerns with politics, diplomacy and the desperate need for tourism revenue.

The list of nations that European Union countries have approved includes Australia, Canada and New Zealand, while travelers from China will be permitted if China reciprocates.

The plan was drawn up based on health criteria, and European Union officials went to great lengths to appear apolitical in their choices, but the decision to leave the United States off the list — lumping travelers from there in with those from Brazil and Russia — was a high-profile rebuke of the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Travelers’ country of residence, not their nationality, will be the determining factor for their ability to travel to countries in the European Union, officials said, and while the policy will not be legally binding, all 27 member nations will be under pressure to comply. If not, they risk having their European peers close borders within the bloc, which would set back efforts to restart the free travel-and-trade zone that is fundamental to the club’s economic survival.

9 Terrifying Technologies That Will Shape Your Future

Luca Rossi

Since the first Industrial Revolution, mankind has been scared of future technologies. People were afraid of electricity. People were afraid of trains and cars. But it always took just one or two generations to get completely used to these innovations.

It’s true that most technologies caused harm in some ways, but the net outcome was usually good. This may be true for future technologies too, although there are serious ethical and philosophical reasons to be scared of some of them.

Some of them shouldn't really scare us. Some of them should. And some of them are already shaping our world.

Before we begin, I have to warn you: some of the things you will read in this story can be VERY controversial. I need you to approach this story with a very open mind, and acknowledge that the ideas I present here are just that, ideas.

I hold no extreme or fixed views, nor do I claim to have the exact answers to ethical and philosophical questions. You may have completely different ideas, and that’s totally fine.