25 August 2023

Russia’s first lunar mission in 47 years smashes into the moon in failure

Russia’s first moon mission in 47 years failed when its Luna-25 spacecraft spun out of control and crashed into the moon after a problem preparing for pre-landing orbit, underscoring the post-Soviet decline of a once mighty space program.

Russia’s state space corporation, Roskosmos, said it had lost contact with the craft at 11:57 GMT on Saturday after a problem as the craft was shunted into pre-landing orbit. A soft landing had been planned for Monday.

“The apparatus moved into an unpredictable orbit and ceased to exist as a result of a collision with the surface of the Moon,” Roskosmos said in a statement.

It said a special inter-departmental commission had been formed to investigate the reasons behind the loss of the Luna-25 craft, whose mission had raised hopes in Moscow that Russia was returning to the big power moon race.

The failure underscored the decline of Russia’s space power since the glory days of Cold War competition when Moscow was the first to launch a satellite to orbit the Earth - Sputnik 1, in 1957 - and Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to travel into space in 1961.

It also comes as Russia’s $2 trillion economy faces its biggest external challenge for decades: the pressure of both Western sanctions and fighting the biggest land war in Europe since World War Two.

Though moon missions are fiendishly difficult, and many U.S. and Soviet attempts have failed, Russia had not attempted a moon mission since Luna-24 in 1976, when Communist leader Leonid Brezhnev ruled the Kremlin.

Russian state television put news of the loss of Luna-25 at number 8 in its line up at noon and gave it just 26 seconds of coverage, after news about fires on Tenerife and a 4-minute item about a professional holiday for Russian pilots and crews.

Failed moonshot

Russia has been racing against India, whose Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft is scheduled to land on the moon’s south pole this week, and more broadly against China and the United States which both have advanced lunar ambitions.

As news of the Luna-25 failure broke, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) posted on X, formerly Twitter, that Chandrayaan-3 was set to land on Aug. 23.

Russian officials had hoped that the Luna-25 mission would show Russia can compete with the superpowers in space despite its post-Soviet decline and the vast cost of the Ukraine war.

“The flight control system was a vulnerable area, which had to go through many fixes,” said Anatoly Zak, the creator and publisher of www.RussianSpaceWeb.com which tracks Russian space programs.

Former Thai PM Thaksin Returns From Self-exile as PM Vote Looms

Sebastian Strangio

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra returned to Thailand today after 15 years in self-exile, on the same day that a party affiliated with him plans to form a new government.

According to The Associated Press, Thaksin flew via private jet from Singapore and landed at Bangkok’s Don Mueang International Airport around 9 a.m. local time. After arriving, Thaksin walked out of the airport’s private jet terminal with his daughter Paetongtarn Shinawatra, who led the Pheu Thai Party (PTP) at a general election in May. He then greeted a crowd of red-shirted supporters, some of whom had been camping out since the night before.

“After walking out,” the AP reported, “Thaksin placed a flower wreath and prostrated before a portrait of Thailand’s king and queen at the gate of the terminal.”

“It’s time for me to be with the Thai people,” he told Nikkei Asia on Tuesday morning at Singapore’s Seletar Airport, prior to boarding his flight to Thailand.

After being elected twice by considerable margins, Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and left Thailand for good in 2008 to avoid facing prison on corruption charges that he claims were politically motivated. Since then, he has made numerous promises to return to Thailand – 19 by the Thai Enquirer’s count – without them ever eventuating, including just prior to the May 14 election.

Shortly after touching down and greeting his supporters, the 74-year-old former leader was detained by police. According to Reuters, he was set to be taken directly to the Supreme Court for a hearing, before being transferred to prison.

China’s Population-Control Disaster


The historical evolution of China’s birth-control policies and its failed efforts to maintain them, even in the face of population decline, may hold the key to understanding the government’s decision-making process. By ignoring sound research, Chinese leaders have steered the country into a demographic trap.

MADISON, WISCONSIN – More than four decades after China began opening up to the world, the Chinese government’s decision-making process remains shrouded in secrecy. The country’s population-control policies, and my own ongoing efforts to challenge them, are a case in point.
In 1980, the rocket scientist Song Jian and the economist Tian Xueyuan predicted that China’s population would exceed 4.2 billion by 2080, alarming Chinese authorities and leading to the implementation of the country’s notorious one-child policy. In reality, even without any official restrictions, China’s population would have peaked at roughly 1.6 billion and then gradually declined.

Growing up in China, I personally witnessed the brutality of the one-child policy, which inspired me to initiate a campaign against the country’s population-control measures in 2000. At first, my efforts were restricted to posting articles on overseas websites. I later adopted a more scholarly approach, and by 2003 some of my essays were occasionally allowed to appear in Chinese forums.

In October 2004, a state-controlled newspaper published my article calling for an end to population control, which paved the way for a national discussion about the one-child policy. As my campaign gained traction, senior officials began to take my research seriously. For example, Jin Renqing, China’s finance minister at the time, personally reviewed five of my reports.

China’s Homegrown Crisis


It will be impossible to change China’s dreams, but it is possible to affect its calculations. The goal for the West ought to be to persuade China’s rulers that seeking domestic legitimacy in external aggression would be folly, and that their only real choice concerns their approach to the economy.

NEW YORK – China’s economic reality, until recently, was nothing short of extraordinary. China’s annual economic output soared from under $500 billion to $18 trillion between 1992 and 2022, with years of double-digit growth pushing annual GDP per capita from less than $400 to $13,000.

In recent years, however, growth has slowed significantly. To some extent, this was inevitable: moving hundreds of millions of people from inefficient rural agriculture to higher-productivity factory work in cities can only be carried out once.

Along the way, China received the support of the United States and much of the developed world. They invested, extended loans, and transferred technology, while welcoming China into the World Trade Organization. They also tended to look the other way when China stole intellectual property, violated its WTO commitments, and kept important parts of its economy closed to foreign competition.

The West was motivated partly by a simple economic calculation: the promise of gaining access to a consumer market of 1.4 billion people. In principle, as China got richer, its people would be able to purchase more from the West. China’s low labor costs also enabled multinational corporations to produce and sell their goods for less, keeping inflation down and allowing consumers to purchase far more.

Will Critical Minerals Get Their Own OPEC?


The metals and critical minerals that are needed for the transition to a net-zero economy are largely concentrated in only a handful of countries, raising the likelihood that those suppliers could form a new global cartel. Such a development would have major adverse implications for global markets.

MUNICH – We know that the future will be powered by metals, but it remains to be seen if those metals will be fenced in by iron curtains. After all, most critical minerals come from only a handful of countries: China controls nearly all heavy rare-earth materials (including 91% of magnesium and 76% of silicon metal), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) accounts for over 60% of the global cobalt market, and South Africa controls 71% of the world’s platinum supply.

These metals and critical minerals are crucial for the green transition because they are used in everything from electric vehicles to wind turbines. The International Energy Agency estimates that the global critical minerals market already doubled over the past five years, and will (at least) double again by 2040, owing to rising demand for EVs, battery storage, low-emissions power generation, and electricity networks.

A War of Attrition Assessing the Impact of Equipment Shortages on Russian Military Operations in Ukraine

Paul Schwartz

This report examines the impact of Russia’s growing military equipment and ammunition shortages on the Kremlin’s ability to prosecute the war in Ukraine and to carry out operations in other areas. In doing so, it focuses on availability of artillery ammunition, as well as five weapons categories of central importance for Russia’s ability to sustain operations: tanks, artillery, uncrewed aerial vehicles, electronic warfare systems, and long-range precision strike weapons. For each category, the report examines how the size and composition of Russian weapons portfolios in Ukraine are changing under the twin influences of attrition and sanctions, while taking account of Russian efforts to increase defense production and otherwise replenish its forces. It concludes by assessing the impact of Russia’s declining weapons portfolios in Ukraine on its ability to carry out future operations against Kyiv, as well as in other regions of interest such as Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and the Caucasus.

Percentage of Scholarships Country Percentage of Scholarships


China has become a global power, but there is too little debate about how this has happened and what it means. Many argue that China exports its developmental model and imposes it on other countries. But Chinese players also extend their influence by working through local actors and institutions while adapting and assimilating local and traditional forms, norms, and practices.

With a generous multiyear grant from the Ford Foundation, Carnegie has launched an innovative body of research on Chinese engagement strategies in seven regions of the world—Africa, Central Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa, the Pacific, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Through a mix of research and strategic convening, this project explores these complex dynamics, including the ways Chinese firms are adapting to local labor laws in Latin America, Chinese banks and funds are exploring traditional Islamic financial and credit products in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, and Chinese actors are helping local workers upgrade their skills in Central Asia. These adaptive Chinese strategies that accommodate and work within local realities are mostly ignored by Western policymakers in particular.

Ultimately, the project aims to significantly broaden understanding and debate about China’s role in the world and to generate innovative policy ideas. These could enable local players to better channel Chinese energies to support their societies and economies; provide lessons for Western engagement around the world, especially in developing countries; help China’s own policy community learn from the diversity of Chinese experience; and potentially reduce friction.

China’s Digital Silk Road and Malaysia’s Technological Neutrality

Ilaria Carrozza and Giacomo Bruni

The ongoing tech war between the United States and China is increasingly driven by ideological, normative, and political tensions. The development of 5G technologies and the strategic hedging of third countries represent a perfect case in point.

In May of this year, the news broke that American and European Union diplomats had warned the Malaysian government about possible national security risks should the Chinese firm Huawei be involved in building the country’s second 5G network. There has since been heated discussion in the Malaysian media about the wisdom of the 5G rollout. Southeast Asian countries often engage in processes of hedging between great power initiatives, hewing to a so-called “third way.” In the context of the tech war, members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have tended to position themselves as technologically neutral. However, mounting pressure from both the United States and China is shrinking their room for maneuver, pushing them toward the point where they may have to pick sides.

Coincidentally, we found ourselves in Kuala Lumpur as these debates unfolded and the below analysis draws from the many formative meetings we had with a range of actors. These conversations reflect Malaysia’s specific situation, but they also reflect larger debates over the use of Chinese technology worldwide.

Nuancing China’s Export of Digital Authoritarianism

In 2015, the Chinese government launched the Digital Silk Road (DSR) as the digital arm of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that had been announced two years earlier. The framework has since expanded to more than 160 countries worldwide. Chinese companies involved in the DSR have diversified into collaborating with recipient states on a much broader set of issues, including countries’ AI capabilities, telecommunications networks, surveillance technology, Smart City programs, and cloud computing, as well as e-commerce and e-health initiatives.

Russia Is Settling In for a War of Attrition

Ilan I. Berman

Ever since it launched its "special military operation" against Kyiv last year, global publics have wondered just how long Moscow can keep up its war of aggression. The answer, it seems, is quite a while. Despite the enormous costs to date of Russia's Ukraine campaign on the country's geopolitical standing, its fiscal health, and the pace of its population, the Kremlin is giving every sign that it is settling in for a protracted war of attrition against its western neighbor.

The indicators are everywhere. In an echo of the Soviet Union's infamous "gulag archipelago," the Kremlin has begun erecting a network of prisons within Russia itself and in parts of Ukraine that it controls. These facilities are designed to house the thousands of Ukrainians, both soldiers and civilians, that Russian forces have taken captive to date—and the thousands more that they intend to capture in the months ahead. The scope of this effort is massive. An Associated Press exposé published last month, drawing from official Russian government documents, detailed official plans "to create 25 new prison colonies and six other detention centers" in Ukraine alone by 2026.

At the same time, Russia is waging war on Ukrainian society by targeting the country's younger generations. According to Russian media reports, around 700,000 children have found "refuge" in Russia. There, these children are subjected to a policy of "Russification" designed to diminish and ultimately remove understanding of, and loyalty to, Ukrainian culture and history. The Kremlin's conduct, observers said, rises to the level of a grave war crime, given that forced population transfer is included in the 1948 Genocide Convention's definition of genocide.

The government of Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, is inching ever closer to national mobilization, widening the pool of those who could be thrown into the Ukraine fight in the future. Last month, the Kremlin signed into law a bill raising the age of military reserves that could be called up for service to 65. As a practical matter, this means that pensioners in Russia (where the retirement age is 65) can now be forced to serve in the country's armed forces. That move mirrors a recent change to the national draft age for Russian men, which has been widened to range from 18 to 30.

China: A slowdown sends tremors worldwide

Javier Ghersi

The smartest insight and analysis, from all perspectives, rounded up from around the web:

The world's economic engine is sputter­ing, said The Economist. When China abandoned its draconian zero­ Covid con­trols last year, the expectation was that it "would stage a rapid recovery, even as other countries courted recession." In fact, China's economic growth has been slowing, and the troubles keep mount­ing. "Three headlines in the space of two days" last week captured the gravity of China's economic plight. Exports fell by more than 14% from the year be­fore. Country Garden, one of the nation's biggest property developers, missed two bond­ interest payments. And consumer prices declined. "In sum: China's export boom is long over. Its property slump is not. And, therefore, deflation beckons." China's central bank cut interest rates further this week, in a sign of heightened concern from policymakers.

This isn't like the China we've come to know, said Peter S. Goodman in The New York Times. "Over the past decade, China has been the source of more than 40% of global economic growth," almost double the U.S. contribution. But in a sign of "general erosion of public faith," Chinese families have stopped spending and are stashing cash at a record pace. Weakening Chinese demand carries global implications — "from soybeans harvested in Brazil to beef raised in the United States to luxury goods made in Italy." Beijing needs to get its act together, said the Financial Times in an editorial. The "psychological malaise that besets many Chinese households" requires bolder reform and stimulus. Cutting mortgage rates and loosening housing restric­tions "would be a good start." But local governments that racked up debts to finance state­directed infra­structure overhauls are now threatening default. They could sell off pieces to pri­vate companies, but Chinese President Xi Jinping "objects to entrepreneurs get­ting their hands on 'state assets.'"

Keun Lee Says More…

Keun Lee

This week in Say More, PS talks with Keun Lee, a former vice chair of the National Economic Advisory Council for the President of South Korea, a former president of the International Schumpeter Society, Distinguished Professor of Economics at Seoul National University, and the author of China’s Technological Leapfrogging and Economic Catch-up: A Schumpeterian Perspective.

Project Syndicate: Fears that generative artificial intelligence will cause mass unemployment in the long term are likely “overblown,” you argue, not least because the technology will probably bring considerable product innovation (which tends to boost overall employment), in addition to process innovation (which has more uncertain employment outcomes). Beyond re-skilling and up-skilling initiatives, what government interventions would support employment, and how can policymakers strike “the right balance of support and discipline” of AI companies?

Keun Lee: Perhaps most important is what governments must not do: impose excessive regulations on new waves of AI-related innovation. Countries that take a more flexible, open-minded approach, leaving plenty of space for experimentation, will benefit from more new ideas and experiences – and gain critical data revealing where regulation is most needed.

Is The US Dollar On Its Way Out?

Michael G Plummer

The United States has been instrumental in leading the post-war global economic system which it helped create. Yet its economic weight has declined over time and strategic competitors in emerging markets are calling for change, including possible ‘decoupling’. Some suggest that the US dollar’s days as the central global currency are numbered.

The US dollar’s role continues to be central to the functioning of the international financial system. The Bank of International Settlements estimates that the US dollar is involved in almost 90 per cent of foreign exchange transactions and accounts for 85 per cent of transactions in spot, forward and swap markets. Half of global trade and three-fourths of Asia-Pacific trade are denominated in US dollars.

The share of the US dollar held as official foreign exchange reserves has fallen from 61.5 per cent in 2012 to 58.4 per cent in 2022, but so has the euro (from 24.1 per cent to 20.5 per cent) and the renminbi share remains under 3 percent. Foreign currency debt denominated in US dollars has remained at about 70 per cent since 2010. The Fed’s Index of International Currency Usage has also remained constant at about 68 per cent.

Dissatisfaction with the dominant role of the US dollar emerges periodically, usually corresponding to a major shift in the global economy or an international crisis. For example, when Japan emerged as an ‘economic juggernaut’ in the late 1980s, many thought the yen would and should take on a much bigger role. It didn’t. Today, the yen only constitutes about 5 per cent of foreign exchange reserve holdings. Even greater expectations arose when the euro was created, but outside of Europe the currency has not taken on a larger role.

Cambodian Parliament Approves Longtime Leader’s Son as Prime Minister

David Rising and Sopheng Cheang

The son of longtime autocratic Cambodian leader Hun Sen was approved by Parliament on Tuesday as the country’s new prime minister, part of a generational change in top positions in the Southeast Asian nation.

Hun Manet, 45, won his first seat in the National Assembly in the July elections and takes over from his father, who had been Asia’s longest-serving leader with nearly four decades in power, after serving as Cambodia’s army chief.

He was approved by lawmakers unanimously and is to be officially sworn in later Tuesday.

Even though he’s at the head of a Cabinet made up of about three-quarters of new faces, most are the children or are otherwise related to those they are replacing, and experts caution against expecting broad changes in the country where human rights have been under attack and dissent suppressed.

“There is not a big difference between the generations in political outlook, including in terms of how open or how competitive politics should be,” said Astrid Norén-Nilsson, a Cambodia expert at Sweden’s Lund University. “The generational transition is designed to keep the power of the political-cum-business elite intact and perpetuate neo-patrimonial arrangements.”

In a widely anticipated move, Hun Sen announced that Hun Manet, his oldest son, would succeed him as prime minister shortly after his Cambodian People’s Party won a landslide victory in the July elections criticized by Western governments and rights groups as neither free nor fair because the main credible opposition party was barred from participating.

His Cabinet includes Tea Seiha, who will be replacing his father, Tea Banh, as minister of National Defense, and Sar Sokha, who is replacing his father, Sar Kheng, as minister of the Interior. Both are also to serve as deputy prime ministers.

Myanmar Junta Threatens to Punish Those Holding Foreign Currency

Sebastian Strangio

Myanmar’s military government junta is threatening legal action against anyone found to be in possession of foreign currency without the proper authorization, as it makes increasingly desperate moves to shore up the country’s economy.

The Central Bank announced on Sunday that those in possession of foreign currencies without permission will face charges under the Foreign Currency Management Law, the junta-run Global New Light of Myanmar reported.

According to the law, the report stated, “A resident can possess, for up to six months from the date of receipt, US$10,000, or other types of foreign currency in an equivalent amount, if obtained legally by this person. If the foreign currency is not used within six months, it shall be sold to, and exchanged by, foreign exchange dealing license holders at the market price or deposited in a bank account.”

The law states that exchanging and selling foreign currency without license is punishable by up to three years in prison, a fine, and the confiscation of the related assets.

The announcement, as this report from Radio Free Asia (RFA) makes clear, is an attempt to fight the black market money changers who have returned to prominence in the economically strained times since the military coup of February 2021. On August 18, RFA noted, the Myanmar kyat fell to an all-time low of 3,900 to the U.S. dollar, down a remarkably 300 percent since before the coup, when it was trading at around 1,300 to the dollar.

It reflects the economic damage inflicted by the military coup of February 2021, and the various economic distortions that have followed in its wake. In June, the World Bank said in a report that Myanmar’s economy had been “permanently scarred” by the coup and the concurrent impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The country’s economy contracted by 18 percent in the year following the coup, and at its current pace – the World Bank projected that the economy would grow by 3 percent in the year to September, after 3 percent last year – it is unlikely to return to pre-coup and pre-COVID-19 levels until at least 2027.

The New “Wars" Against the West in Africa

Lahcen Haddad

Background: Growing Role of China and Russia on World Stage

Quite a few in the West see Russia's war in Ukraine as just one episode in a series of events that began years ago, whereby the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is trying to reshuffle geostrategic balances and recreate new spheres of dependency at the expense of Western influence, especially that Western countries have been complacently triumphant but ineffectively engaged in geostrategic thinking and review of their dominance of world affairs after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the USSR and the end of the Cold War. Thus, besides setting up a buffer belt of direct influence, made up of Central Asian republics in addition to Armenia, Serbia and Belarus, Russia has created scattered loyalties in small regions and republics in Transnistria (eastern Moldova), Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, Crimea and the Lugansk and Donetsk provinces in eastern and south-eastern Ukraine, not to mention the Suwałki Gap, the sparsely populated strip that cuts across the border between Lithuania and Poland and forms a corridor between Belarus and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad oblast on the Baltic Sea. This vast belt is seen by Russia as a vital sphere that serves as a bulwark against NATO encroachments, while it restores an image (albeit “imperfect”) of the glories of Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union.

Russia is not alone in this geostrategic design. China has been cultivating the same ambition: under President Xi Jinping it has expressed sweeping claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea and reinforced its presence therein. Its Belt and Road Initiative is a global infrastructure development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 to invest in more than 150 countries and international organizations, an initiative that makes of it an indomitable international development player and a future hotbed of global trade exchanges. Its most recent Global Civilization Initiative (GCI) (March 2023) ventures into the realm of values and culture and advocates for “the respect for the diversity of civilizations, the common values of humanity, the importance of inheritance and innovation of civilizations, and robust international people-to-people exchanges and cooperation” (Embassy of China to Samoa, “Initiatives Proposed by China, Fruitful Outcomes Shared by World”, May 5, 2023). China's aim in all these initiatives is to combine economic, financial, cultural, and military power and influence to reinforce its presence on world stage and confirm its presence as an inevitable player in today's and tomorrow's world affairs and exchanges.

Ukraine war prompts new US air tactics in Europe

Rachel S. Cohen
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Nineteen months into Russia’s war on Ukraine, its lessons are shaping how the U.S. Air Force thinks about combat over Europe.

The conflict is pushing the Pentagon to focus on tactics instead of the strategic-level chess moves that have defined the U.S.-Russia military relationship in Europe since the end of the Cold War, Gen. James Hecker, the Air Force’s top officer in Europe, told Air Force Times in a recent interview.

No longer are allied air forces passively circling over Europe for the sake of visibility. U.S. pilots and their counterparts now use air policing missions to practice offensive and defensive maneuvers along NATO’s eastern border.

Struck by Russia’s inability to control Ukrainian airspace and Ukraine’s inability to fully secure it, NATO has begun working through the details of how it would maintain ownership of its own skies while breaking through enemy defenses to secure more airspace.

Hecker said his top priority has become figuring out how to counter air and missile defenses, electronic jamming and other anti-access, area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities, as they are known in military parlance, that would keep the U.S. out of Russian territory.

And it’s a main focus of U.S. and allied discussions at NATO’s highest levels.

A revamp of NATO’s regional security plans led by Army Gen. Christopher Cavoli, the head of U.S. European Command and one of the transatlantic alliance’s two strategic commanders, has spurred a new look at how member militaries would fight future wars if deterrence fails.

Those are “geographically specific plans that describe how we will defend key and relevant places in our alliance” against Russia and terror groups, Royal Netherlands Navy Adm. Rob Bauer, chairman of NATO’s military committee, said in May.

Ukraine has no realistic path to military victory over Russia


There is no rational path to military victory for Ukraine. The longer Kyiv and Washington ignore this painful reality, the greater the damage that will be pointlessly inflicted on the people of Ukraine, and the more territory they might cede in an eventual negotiated conclusion, writes Daniel L. Davis, a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who deployed into combat zones four times.

Some still hang their hopes on the acquisition of more high-quality Western military equipment. Last week, the Biden administration announced it was seeking an additional $24 billion for Ukraine, much of which would be to supply new weapons and ammunition. Others point to America’s willingness to provide F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine in the relatively near future as yet more evidence things will turn around.

The impression most analysts and pundits have is that once the Ukrainian military possesses a certain number of modern weapons, and enough of its forces undergo advanced NATO training, they will be able to match and then defeat Russia. What those beliefs expose, unfortunately, is a lack of understanding of how wars are waged and won. It is the human dimension, not the tools of combat, that determines the outcome of wars. On this front, the UAF may have already suffered irreparable loss.

The issue is no longer about equipment. It is not even about training, be it good or bad. The most crucial component of the Ukrainian Army’s potential to wage war is the human resource. According to leaked U.S. intelligence, as of April the Ukrainian military had lost approximately 130,000 killed and wounded. The number has likely skyrocketed since the June 5 launch of their offensive. Especially harmful to Ukraine has been the loss of their most experienced, NATO-trained troops.

It will be increasingly difficult to replace losses of this magnitude. There are fewer and fewer Ukrainian men left to mobilize, and increasing numbers are fleeing the country or paying bribes to avoid what many see as a pointless sacrifice of their lives.

Troop Deaths and Injuries in Ukraine War Near 500,000, U.S. Officials Say

Helene Cooper, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Eric Schmitt and Julian E. Barnes

The total number of Ukrainian and Russian troops killed or wounded since the war in Ukraine began 18 months ago is nearing 500,000, U.S. officials said, a staggering toll as Russia assaults its next-door neighbor and tries to seize more territory.

The officials cautioned that casualty figures remained difficult to estimate because Moscow is believed to routinely undercount its war dead and injured, and Kyiv does not disclose official figures. But they said the slaughter intensified this year in eastern Ukraine and has continued at a steady clip as a nearly three-month-old counteroffensive drags on.

Ukrainian Military Says Its Troops Continue Push To Sever Russia's Land Bridge To Crimea

The Ukrainian military says its forces continue to advance in the areas near the cities of Melitopol and Berdyansk after making gains on the southeastern front in their attempt to drive toward the Sea of Azov and cut off Russia's land bridge to Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

The push toward Melitopol comes amid a U.S. intelligence report that Ukrainian forces do not appear likely to reach and retake the Russian-occupied strategic city of Melitopol during the ongoing counteroffensive.

An unnamed official who commented to Reuters on August 18 said that, despite the report and limited progress toward Melitopol, Washington believed it was still possible to change the gloomy outlook.

The U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was commenting on an intelligence report that The Washington Post quoted the day before.

The newspaper reported that an assessment by the U.S. intelligence community had concluded that the counteroffensive will fail to reach Melitopol, preventing Kyiv from meeting its objective of severing Russia's land bridge to the peninsula, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014.

The prediction is largely in line with Washington's view that the counteroffensive is going slower than expected.

White House national-security adviser Jake Sullivan declined to comment, according to Reuters, but he said there had been a number of analyses about the war in Ukraine and many of them had changed as events unfolded.

Russia controls nearly a fifth of Ukraine, including the Crimean Peninsula, most of the Luhansk region, and large tracts of the regions of Donetsk, Zaporizhzhya, and Kherson.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian military said in its evening assessment that there had been 30 combat clashes along the front line during the day.

We Cannot Trust AI With Control Of Our Bombs

Fair Observer, Michael T. Klare
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A world in which machines governed by artificial intelligence (AI) systematically replace human beings in most business, industrial and professional functions is horrifying to imagine. After all, as prominent computer scientists have been warning us, AI-governed systems are prone to critical errors and inexplicable “hallucinations,” resulting in potentially catastrophic outcomes. But there’s an even more dangerous scenario imaginable from the proliferation of super-intelligent machines: the possibility that those nonhuman entities could end up fighting one another, obliterating all human life in the process.

The notion that super-intelligent computers might run amok and slaughter humans has, of course, long been a staple of popular culture. In the prophetic 1983 film WarGames, a supercomputer known as WOPR (for War Operation Plan Response and, not surprisingly, pronounced “whopper”) nearly provokes a catastrophic nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union before being disabled by a teenage hacker (played by Matthew Broderick). The Terminator franchise, beginning with the original 1984 film, similarly envisioned a self-aware supercomputer called “Skynet” that, like WOPR, was designed to control US nuclear weapons but chooses instead to wipe out humanity, viewing us as a threat to its existence.

Though once confined to the realm of science fiction, the concept of supercomputers killing humans has now become a distinct possibility in the very real world of the near future. In addition to developing a wide variety of “autonomous,” or robotic combat devices, the major military powers are also rushing to create automated battlefield decision-making systems, or what might be called “robot generals.” In wars in the not-too-distant future, such AI-powered systems could be deployed to deliver combat orders to American soldiers, dictating where, when and how they kill enemy troops or take fire from their opponents. In some scenarios, robot decision-makers could even end up exercising control over America’s atomic weapons, potentially allowing them to ignite a nuclear war resulting in humanity’s demise.

Unlocking AI’s Potential for Everyone


At a time when antitrust authorities are already growing concerned about Big Tech’s market power, the industry’s dominant players are now deploying artificial intelligence models to reinforce their position. To ensure that these powerful new technologies serve everyone, policymakers must set some basic rules of the road.

CAMBRIDGE – Artificial intelligence is moving fast. People are using generative AI and large language models (LLMs) to build new services and perform existing tasks, and the underlying technology itself is advancing quickly. As the Nobel laureate economist Michael Spence observes, this wave of adoption could well yield significant productivity gains, after almost two decades of lackluster growth. Every day brings news like Google’s recent announcement that its AI has helped American Airlines reduce contrails by 54%, reducing each flight’s climate footprint.

But the news isn’t all good. As matters stand, AI is more likely to help Big Tech companies cement their dominance. They are the ones with the resources to develop and maintain the most powerful AI models, and they are already moving quickly to bundle LLMs with their existing services. These developments come at a time when antitrust authorities around the world are already growing increasingly concerned about tech companies’ market power.

To be sure, some commentators – including one Google engineer, in an internal memo – argue that this fear is overblown, owing to the presence of open-source LLMs that technically allow for anyone to compete in the market. But even if there is a blossoming of smaller new entrants, Big Tech’s dominance still looks secure. A recent paper comparing open-source models to the AI application programming interface (API) services that Big Tech companies are providing to third parties finds that the latter performs much better on most criteria.

25 Bangladeshi govt, private websites breached by Indian hackers

A coordinated cyber attack conducted by a group of Indian hackers has resulted in data breaches across 25 public and private institutions within Bangladesh.

Notably, sensitive information from entities such as the Investment Corporation of Bangladesh and the Directorate General of Health Services has been compromised, reports media.

In the lead-up to Tuesday, Bangladesh had received a substantial cyber threat, prompting widespread alerts and vigilance across the nation. Despite these precautions, numerous government and private entities fell victim to a series of cyberattacks, leading to significant data breaches.

Notably, the official website of the Investment Corporation of Bangladesh, which holds details of around 10,000 investors and investment applicants, was among those compromised.

Israel ‘one of the world’s top cyber powers’


Israel’s position as a cyber superpower places it in an exclusive club of world powers, despite having a population a little larger than New York City, according to former Israeli defense official Chuck Freilich.

Freilich, a senior research fellow at the MirYam Institute and the Institute for National Security Studies and a former deputy national security adviser in Israel, recently published a book on the subject, titled, “Israel and Cyber Threat: How the Startup Nation Became a Global Cyber Power.”

A former senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School who teaches at Columbia and at Tel Aviv University, Freilich said Israel’s cyber capabilities are prominent at both the civilian and military levels. The number of cyber start-ups in Israel equals the total number of cyber start-ups in the world, excluding the United States, he noted.

“This is a stunning statistic. It’s the result of a really unique contribution to the Israeli hi-tech scene in general, and the cyber realm especially, by the defense establishment and intelligence agencies,” said Freilich.

Graduates of the Israel Defense Forces cyber units, mainly Unit 8200 and Unit 81, as well as intelligence agencies, enter the private sector and become a primary source of commercial start-ups, he explained.

Private Military Companies Continue To Expand In Africa

John P. Ruehl

In the wake of the July 26 coup in Niger, the world’s spotlight has once again turned to the expansion of private military and security companies (PMSCs) across Africa. Following the removal of the relatively pro-Western government, Niger’s new military rulers asked Russian PMSC Wagner to help defend against a possible military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warning of the PMSC seeking to exploit the instability.

In a continent marked by decades of post-colonial turmoil, PMSCs have steadily gained influence, evolving from their historical role as mercenaries into powerful, corporate-driven forces. As the Sahel region continues to grapple with instability and conflict, the strengthening of PMSCs, both domestic and foreign, will continue to reshape Africa’s security in profound and unpredictable ways.

Africa’s experience with PMSCs dates back to the decolonization period after World War II. Though mercenaries had been steadily sidelined in conflicts for centuries, rag-tag groups of privateers emerged as shadowy accomplices to colonial powers, aiding in suppressing rebellions and fomenting unrest while providing a degree of ambiguity. Britain’s “Mad Mike” Hoare and France’s Bob Denard came to exemplify this era through their active involvement in military operations that undermined the sovereignty of African states.

Third of Russia's modern attack helicopters struck down by missiles

Thomas Harding

Russia has lost almost a third of its crucial attack helicopters that have proven deadly against western-supplied tanks, with military analysts suggesting that the British-made Starstreak missile is having an impact.

The use of US-supplied cluster munitions is also having a devastating effect on Russian lines, with Moscow military bloggers suggesting they “shamelessly mow down fighters” causing a “very painful and terrible death”.

The two weapons are likely to have played a significant role in advances in south-east Ukraine this week which saw them take the Russian strongholds of the small towns of Urozhaine and Robotyne.

It now appears that Russian lines are coming under pressure, with the growing possibility that the Ukrainians could achieve a breakout to the Sea of Azov, about 70km distance. This would achieve Kyiv’s key summer offensive objective of cutting Russia’s army in two and suppressing the Crimea peninsula.

“Recent Ukrainian advances may be significantly weakening confidence in the Russian defence along the wider front in southern Ukraine,” the Institute for the Study of War think tank stated on Friday.

Ukraine is also set to further strengthen its forces with the announcement on Friday that the US would allow Denmark and the Netherlands to send up to 50 F-16 fighters to Kyiv.

Alligator down

There will be growing concern among Moscow’s generals that their stockpile of Ka-52 attack helicopters is diminishing.

Last year, they had 133 on their inventory but according to the Oryx website, which records military equipment losses, they lost 40, plus another three this week.