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Sensemaker: A gun to the head

Sensemaker: A gun to the head

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Arm, a British chip designer, decided to pursue a listing in America rather than London. 
  • The World Obesity Foundation said more than half of the world’s population could be overweight or obese by 2035. 
  • Scientists found a 4,600 year-old secret tunnel in the Great Pyramid of Giza (more below). 

A gun to the head

Joe Biden hosts the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Washington today; an unusually quiet trip with no press entourage as the two men get “into the weeds” on Ukraine.

Washington is expected to announce a new $400 million military aid package for Kyiv during the visit. Before leaving Germany, Scholz also reaffirmed support for Ukraine against Russian aggression, telling the Bundestag: “There is no negotiating with a gun at your temple, except for your own submission.”

So what? Despite public messages of support – “nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine” – there is growing speculation that behind the scenes in Washington and Europe, officials are worrying about how long the united front can last. The UK, France and Germany are reportedly planning to offer stronger Nato ties as an incentive for Ukraine to start peace talks. France’s Macron has already said he does not believe the war will end militarily. 

Is Ukraine ready? Ukraine’s president says no peace talks with Russia are possible and polls show 87 per cent of Ukrainians oppose any territorial compromises. On the battlefield, Ukrainians have everything to fight for: 15 per cent of their territory is still occupied, and Russia either controls or occupies the Azov and Black Sea ports. Ukrainian forces are clinging to the besieged city of Bakhmut.

Ticking clock. But while western tanks are being repaired and long-range missiles and fighter jets remain off the table, time is on Russia’s side. Ukraine needs a result in 2023, says Jamie Shea, a former Nato director of policy planning. Last year, Kyiv was seen as the winner just by withstanding the Russian assault – now the opposite is true. “Russia wins by not losing,” he says. 

Russia has a history of violating previous agreements on Ukraine (see the Budapest memorandum). So if negotiations ever take place, giving Ukraine real security guarantees is the only way to make a peace deal credible.  

De-jure or de-facto. The best security guarantee for Ukraine is Nato membership. Ukraine has wanted to join the military alliance for years, but Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg said this week that was a “long-term perspective”. Another route, says Shea, is “de-facto” membership, which would mean:

  • no Nato soldiers in Ukraine;
  • a Ukrainian army three or four times bigger than before the invasion;
  • 10-15 per cent of Ukraine’s GDP put into the military budget (which would be difficult for the post-war country);
  • Western weapons and 
  • Western standards for Ukrainian army training and equipment.

The West would effectively be maintaining two categories of armed forces – Nato and Ukrainian – and would have to increase its military stockpiles.

Dayton, not Minsk. Russia’s previous invasion of Ukraine, in the Donbas in 2014, never really ended. Despite signed Minsk agreements, ceasefires were broken and the conflict went on for eight years, acting as a gateway for the full-scale invasion in 2022. To avoid this happening again, Shea, now a professor of strategy and security at the University of Exeter, points to the model of the Dayton agreement for Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995. This included a military implementation chapter that specified:

  • No militia.
  • No heavy weapons.
  • Disarmament.
  • A demilitarised zone.
  • A robust Nato supervision force. 

Who owns Crimea? But it is hard to imagine Putin agreeing to Nato supervision in the demilitarised zone on Russia’s border. It is also hard to imagine Zelensky signing any peace agreement while Crimea is occupied by Russia. Ukraine has to retake Crimea before a lasting peace is possible. To get them out, Kyiv needs those ATACMS missiles and F-16 jets.


Catch me if you can
“Lufthansa is back,” says chief executive Carsten Spohr, after the German carrier doubled passenger numbers in 2022 to 100 million and nearly doubled its revenue in the same period. After two years of huge losses as Covid-19 shut the world down, the company posted an operating profit of €1.5 billion, a turnaround that Spohr described as “unprecedented”. Other airlines are also back in business – Qantas announced this morning that it would create 8,500 new jobs over the next decade. 


Indiana Jones and the cosmic rays
Scientists using cosmic ray muon radiography – which counts subatomic particles hitting Earth from outer space and moving faster through voids than dense material – have found a 4,500 year-old secret tunnel in the Great Pyramid of Giza. They don’t know if the tunnel leads to another secret chamber or was intended simply to reduce the massive weight of the structure, but they do know it exists. Having used muon radiography to map the void they managed to thread a miniature camera on an endoscope through a tiny crack into the tunnel to film “rat droppings and spider webs… before settling on rough walls and a surprisingly smooth roof,” Oliver Moody writes in the Times. “It’s like being in an Indiana Jones film,” said one member of a German-Japanese team hoping to find the legendary relics of King Khufu, aka Cheops. 

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Cry for help
In case it wasn’t already clear from Wednesday’s Sensemaker on the UK childcare crisis, new research from Pregnant Then Screwed hammers the point home. In a survey of 24,000 parents, 76 per cent of mothers who pay for childcare said it no longer makes financial sense for them to work because of the cost. Additionally, 45 per cent of parents say they have to choose between paying for childcare and household essentials. “This is our ultimate cry for help. Parents are at the end of their tether,” says Joeli Brearley, the charity’s founder. Something for political parties to consider: 88 per cent of families with a child under 16 and 96 per cent of families with a child under three would likely vote for the party with the best childcare offering in the next election.

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Graphite squeeze
For a sense of how hard, slow and incremental progress is going to be in building greener batteries, look no further than the Economist’s sit-rep on the global anode business. Attention tends to focus on the cobalt in lithium-ion batteries’ cathodes, but batteries need anodes too. Most are made from graphite and graphite is either mined expensively or synthesised energy-intensively (and with noxious acids) – and China controls 90 per cent of the supply chain. Enter Sweden, tempting battery builders with new graphite samples from a mine in its far north, purified with “low-temperature alkali roasting” and produced with a carbon footprint 96 per cent lower than synthetic versions. 97 per cent of the world’s vehicle fleet still runs petrol and diesel. 


A poisoned well
The West has been slow to respond to a multi-billion dollar campaign from Russia and China to spread disinformation, according to a US special envoy, with China operating globally and spending more than Moscow. “The well has been poisoned by Chinese and Russian disinformation,” says James Rubin, a coordinator for the State Department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC), which aims to “expose and counter” foreign disinformation. Speaking to reporters on a trip to London, Rubin warned that China’s alignment with Russia in the disinformation space was “near complete” on the war in Ukraine, with China “repeating and promulgating the arguments of Russia about this war”. Rubin said it was frustrating that some counties in the so-called global south “can’t even admit that it’s an invasion”.

Thanks for reading. Please tell your friends to sign up, send us ideas and let us know what you think. Email sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Nina Kuryata

Additional reporting by Giles Whittell, Jess Winch and Phoebe Davis.

Photographs Getty Images, Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities

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