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Moscow escalator

Moscow escalator

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Scientists said a new drug from Eli Lilly could mean the beginning of the end for Alzheimer’s.
  • Texan parents boycotted a school trip to James and the Giant Peach because cast members played multiple characters with different genders.
  • Emma Raducanu pulled out of Wimbledon for surgery on both wrists.

Moscow escalator

Russia launched rockets at Ukraine’s major cities last night after accusing Kyiv of launching a drone attack on the Kremlin in an attempted assassination of Vladimir Putin. 

So what? This is the first time since invading Ukraine that Putin has been (allegedly) attacked. Something did happen: videos appear to show a drone flying towards the Kremlin Senate, which houses the president’s office, and then exploding. Russia says Putin was not in the sprawling complex at the time.

It’s unclear who was responsible – Kyiv vehemently denies involvement – but in a sense it doesn’t matter. It will be used as a casus belli to make Ukrainians’ lives worse, as Victory Day approaches in a war that Putin cannot seem to win.

Whodunit? There are three theories:

  • Ukraine;
  • homegrown opponents of Putin; or
  • the Kremlin.

From Kyiv? Putin is the most heavily guarded person on earth. Gleb Karakulov, a former captain responsible for protecting him who recently defected, said the president even has identical offices in multiple locations so no one knows where he is during live broadcasts.

The idea that Ukraine could launch a meaningful attack on Putin with explosives strapped to an off-the-shelf drone in the heart of Russia’s security nexus is almost laughable. Indeed, it’s hard to see how Ukraine could benefit from an attack destined to fail.

Resistance? There is a chance that a Russian resistance group or faction within the Kremlin trying to win more control was behind the attack.

  • Domestic disruption is ticking up: operatives sympathetic to if not controlled by Kyiv appear to be behind four separate attacks this week that derailed two Russian trains and hit two fuel depots with drones.
  • Ilya Ponomarev, a dissident former Russian MP now living in Ukraine, said a Russian resistance group was behind the Kremlin attack but gave no details.

False flag? Others say this was probably a classic false flag operation designed to curry domestic support for soon-to-come policies and give Putin cover to ratchet up the violence on the battlefield. 

“It’s all predictable,” Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of Zelensky’s Presidential office, wrote on Twitter. “Russia is clearly preparing a large-scale terrorist attack…it gives [Russia] grounds to justify its attacks on civilians.”

Christopher Steele, who used to head the Russia desk at MI6, said this was “likely to be a false flag operation carried out by the Russian intelligence services to justify an escalation of the Ukraine war and/or further crackdown inside Russia”. 

False flags are straight from the Putin playbook:

  • In 1999 he solidified his grip on power when bombs destroyed four apartment blocks in Moscow and southern Russia, killing hundreds.
  • The blasts were blamed on Chechen separatists, but evidence of FSB involvement has piled up since.  
  • Three FSB agents were arrested by local police who foiled a fifth bombing in Ryazan.

Victory Day. Russia’s annual military procession through Red Square is on 9 May and loyalists are demanding a terrifying response to Tuesday’s alleged attack. Yesterday the chairman of Russia’s lower house of parliament demanded “the use of weapons capable of stopping and destroying the Kyiv terrorist regime”. 

Moscow could use the drones as a justification to 

  • increase domestic surveillance and punishment for anti-war activities;
  • shift more of the economy to a war footing and launch a general military mobilisation;
  • attack more civilian targets in Ukraine; and
  • deploy even more devastating weapons against Ukrainian forces.

“A lot will be revealed by what the Kremlin does next,” says David Satter, author of The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep, in which he investigated the 1999 bombings. Tuesday’s alleged attack was “highly theatrical” and photographed from a spot the regime controls. “They are past masters at acting on the atmosphere in society as a whole, increasing tensions and using that tension to facilitate foreign aggression and/or repression at home.”

At least Ukraine’s President Zelensky is out of range. He’s in The Hague today talking to the International Criminal Court about bringing Putin to justice.


Ghost shipping giant 
A little-known Indian shipping company has grown exponentially in the past year thanks to its willingness to move sanctioned Russian oil, and to its proximity to another shipping company in a Mumbai shopping mall. Gatik Ship Management had two ships on its books in 2021. It now has 58. It used to do business all over the world. Now 78 per cent of its trade is with Russia. Its near-neighbour in the Neptune Magnet Mall is Buena Vista Shipping, which analysts believe is owned by Rosneft, the Russian state oil giant created partly from the serial expropriation of unwary foreign investors. How convenient. The FT has the scoop


Bing go go go
The never-say-die Microsoft rival to Google search has shown journalists its latest AI-powered iteration and it can show you… pictures! It will also cite sources and take users to the relevant source material if they hover over the citation. The search engine in question is Bing, and Open AI’s GPT4 its special sauce. After all the hoopla you might have thought it would have more to shout about than a facility with images that sounds familiar from Google and a transparency on sources that recalls Wikipedia circa 2010. In March, Bing had more than 100 million daily users on average for the first time. Google has more than a billion.

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Word of the day: cybersickness. Definition: a form of motion sickness associated with virtual reality environments and screen usage. The cause: as in cars and boats, the mismatch in virtual reality between what the eyes see and the body feels can trigger nausea, dizziness, headaches – sometimes lasting for hours after stopping using a device. Not everyone is affected equally. In a  new US study of 150 people, women reported 40 per cent higher sickness intensity than men. This may be because the women already had a history of experiencing motion sickness more than the men. There are solutions: a study by the University of Edinburgh found “joyful and calming” music substantially decreased participants’ feeling of nausea when riding a virtual “rollercoaster”. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

California superbloom
After record snows on high ground and record rains lower down, rural California is drawing visitors from across the US to admire its spring wildflowers. They are under threat from climate change and people. After dry winters there are often no flowers at all, and in the southern third of the state suburbs have paved over much of their natural habitat. But 2023 is proving a bumper year and the WaPo has preserved it for posterity with drones and a statewide tour. The poppies in Antelope Valley are the easiest to reach from LA and quite spectacular. “Nature is screaming through a megaphone, ‘Look how amazing I am, come and connect with me,” Evan Meyer of the Theodore Payne Foundation tells the paper. But don’t imagine this is nature alone. Superblooms are partly a result of controlled burns of grassland, perfected over millennia by Indigenous peoples.

culture society identity and belonging

Behind the bunting
Britain leaves its selection of heads of state to accidents of birth but it’s leaving nothing to chance on coronation security. The government has fast-tracked its Public Order Act, granting police new powers, months ahead of schedule, to stop and search protesters for devices such as padlocks, superglue and bike locks. Interfering with key national infrastructure defined to include roads, airports, railways and printing presses, carries a maximum sentence of 12 months in prison and an unlimited fine. Anyone “locking-on” to other people, objects or buildings could be handed a six-month sentence. The Met, which has already arrested Just Stop Oil protesters under the new act, has issued a statement warning it will “deal robustly with anyone intent on undermining this celebration”. Which presumably makes clashes between police and activists more likely, not less.

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Will Brown

Additional reporting by Phoebe Davis, Catherine Neilan and Giles Whittell.

Photographs Getty Images

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