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Sensemaker: More war

Sensemaker: More war

What just happened

Long stories short

  • The death toll from an earthquake that struck Indonesia yesterday passed 250.
  • Shamima Begum’s lawyers said she was a victim of trafficking when she joined Islamic State, in a new appeal against the removal of her British citizenship. 
  • Richard Fierro, a US army veteran, said he wasn’t a hero for tackling a gunman who killed five people at the LGBTQ+ Club Q in Colorado Springs on Saturday.

More war

As Russia regroups after the Kherson defeat, the US talks about a “negotiations window”. But peace talks aren’t going to happen anytime soon (see below). 

That means a desperate winter as the fight goes on to liberate Ukraine. The good news is that unlike Europe and despite the midterms, America appears willing to go on funding it adequately. 

Talk talk. Last week General Mark Milley, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs, said Ukraine’s success in driving Russia out of Kherson put it in a strong position to negotiate – and to avoid a World War I-style stalemate. But what is there to talk about?

For the record:

Ukraine wants

  • to restore its territorial integrity within its 1991 borders (Crimea included);
  • prosecution of war criminals; 
  • security guarantees against another Russia’s invasion; and
  • reparations from Russia for damages caused by the war.

Russia wants

  • to keep illegally annexed territories in Ukraine (Crimea included);
  • Ukraine’s neutrality (including a pledge not to join Nato); 
  • the “demilitarisation” of Ukraine; and
  • an end to western sanctions. 

Crimea, Nato and reparations/sanctions are red lines for both sides. Given these mutually exclusive lists of demands, it’s hard to envisage a peace deal that could hold. It would either be unacceptable for Ukraine, or not agreeable for Russia, or would violate international law: 

Unacceptable. Talks could lead to a Korean scenario in which both sides dig in “wherever the current lines are, just stop shooting and then negotiate a settlement later,” Mark Cancian of the Center of Strategic and International Studies says. The front lines between North and South Korea are still where they were seventy years ago. 

Untenable, because no one trusts Putin. “Who is against negotiations to end Putin’s invasion of Ukraine? No one,” the former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul says. “Who believes Putin would negotiate in good faith? No one who knows Putin.” 

Unlawful, because Moscow won’t accept reality. “The only deal that would meet the standards of international law is routinely rejected by Moscow because it does not accept that it is the aggressor and is obliged to withdraw from occupied territory”, King’s College London’s Professor Lawrence Freedman warns. 

Ukraine’s position is that no negotiations are possible until Russia’s army leaves, and there are two more reasons why in current circumstances a negotiated settlement wouldn’t hold:  

  • 75 per cent of Russians support the war, making it hard for Putin to sell a withdrawal even if he wanted to. Instead his new commander on the front, Sergey Surovikin, AKA General Armageddon, is under pressure to attack.  
  • 90 per cent of Ukrainians believe they’ll win in the end and are ready for a long war if necessary. Any concession to Russia would be considered a defeat. 

So the war grinds on, and it depends heavily on the US. Including the latest $38 billion appropriations request submitted to Congress, the US is on course to earmark more than $100 billion for Ukraine in less than a year, compared with around $30 billion from EU institutions, the UK, Germany and Canada combined. 

There were fears before the midterms that left liberals and the far right would demand a slowdown in spending for Ukraine. But Cancian says there’s still a “strong bipartisan consensus to help”. 

The Democrats’ Senator Chris Coons grasps what’s at stake. This is “the most important fight for freedom in the world today,” he says. So do the Republicans’ Richard Shelby, vice-chair of the Senate appropriations committee; and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, where a cluster of arms manufacturers in East Camden builds most of the smart munitions being used in Ukraine.

There’s a risk the US will run out of air defence systems and man-portable anti-tank missiles before they can be replaced, Cancian says, but there are solutions, including using heavier anti-tank missiles and buying up weapons on the international market. 

All Ukraine has to do is fight. 


England are off to a strong start – but this is the easy bit

Paul Hayward

An inquest in the event of England not winning this World Cup would be nothing compared to the reckoning facing Iran’s players back home. Their declaration of support for anti-regime protestors and an apparent boycott of their own national anthem will carry consequences far more serious than another England blow-out.

But guess what. After six games without a win leading into Qatar (their worst-ever build-up), England stopped the grumbling about Gareth Southgate’s supposed conservatism. For now.


Argentine inflation

Argentina is no stranger to economic crises. But inflation is currently rising at its fastest rate in decades. Consumer prices rose 88 per cent in October from a year ago, ahead of Turkey’s 85.5 per cent rate to take the top spot among G20 countries. Economists expect annual inflation to hit three digits by the end of the year, the highest rate since the country hit dizzying levels of 3,000 per cent hyperinflation in the early 1990s. President Alberto Fernandez has frozen prices on 1,700 household items, but his officials admit that there is “no consensus” over how to stabilise prices. Ahead of elections next year, protests are at their highest levels in years as the poverty rate hits 40 per cent. “I don’t think about the future – it just stresses me out,” Carla López, 21, told El Pais. “I think that, more than living, we’re surviving.”


El Salvador’s Bitcoin problem

Mike Peterson, a California surfer, was travelling the world looking for the perfect wave when he wound up in El Zonte, in El Salvador. In 2019, he dubbed the town Bitcoin Beach, after an anonymous donor gifted him hundreds of thousands of dollars in Bitcoin to promote… Bitcoin. In 2021, inspired by Peterson, El Salvador’s populist president Nayib Bukele pushed a law through congress that made his country the first in the world to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender. Since then, the country has purchased around $103 million in the cryptocurrency. But after the market’s recent crash, the value of this investment is closer to $39 million. El Salvador has debt repayments due in January. And Bukele is now in discussions with China, which has reportedly offered to buy the country’s $21 billion in foreign debt as part of a trade agreement. 

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Vaping benefits?

Vapes and e-cigarettes are better than other nicotine replacements at helping you quit smoking, according to new research led by the University of Oxford and funded by Cancer Research UK. The updated review of 78 studies of over 22,000 participants found high certainty in people quitting for at least six months if they used a vape to help. A qualifier: e-cigarettes may be a better alternative to smoking for the 22 per cent of the world who light up – that doesn’t make them risk-free. In the same breath as welcoming the findings, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive warned against previously non-smoking young people taking up vaping as “we don’t yet know the long-term health effects”. A recent US study funded by the National Institute for Health found vaping “significantly impaired” the function of blood vessels increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Cliff edge 

Even granite cliffs are no match for crashing waves. Rising sea levels will erode them three to seven times faster than hitherto between now and the end of the century if the results of a new UK study are any guide. The study of rock cliffs in Bideford (North Devon) and Scalby in North Yorkshire measured the incidence of cosmogenic radionuclides in surface rocks to compare erosion rates over millions of years. Bottom line: they will speed up much faster than indicated by previous research. If sea levels rise by a metre by 2100, which they could given current global warming projections, the cliffs at Bideford and Scalby could retreat by up to 14 and 22 metres respectively. Homeowners, insurers, town planners and one or two others will be affected. The study is in Nature Communications.


Bob for Bob

There’s anxious interest in Hollywood and beyond in the re-elevation of Bob Iger to his old job as CEO at Disney. The reason isn’t so much his $27 million-a-year deal as the $1.5 billion Disney lost in the last quarter alone. That was a result of heavy investment in streaming under Iger’s successor/predecessor, Bob Chapek, as subscriber numbers plateaued in the Great Post-Pandemic Shakeout. The GPPS hammered Netflix first, ending one of the great Covid growth stories and spooking investors. Those who’d loaded up on Disney stock in anticipation of sustained-if-copycat success at Disney Plus started selling that stock too. Now they’re buying again. Disney’s share price was up 10 per cent this morning in Germany. Which is nice for Iger, because most of his $27 million depends on stock awards with a target value he’s already well on his way to reaching just by telling investors he’s thrilled and honoured to be back.

Thanks for reading. Please share this round, send us ideas and tell us what you think. Email sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Nina Kuryata

Additional reporting by Giles Whittell, Jessica Winch, Sebastian Hervas-Jones and Phoebe Davis.

Photographs Getty Images

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