Discover more from News Items
The Berlin Exchange.
1. Iran agreed to provide international atomic monitors with documents that will help resolve a contentious investigation, paving the way for a broader nuclear agreement with world powers and a potential return of Iranian oil to global markets by the third quarter.
The agreement was announced on Saturday in Tehran between International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi and Iran’s nuclear chief Mohammad Eslami. Potentially, it represents a key step toward restoring a 2015 agreement that curbed the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
“We reviewed the outstanding issues and reached the conclusion to exchange necessary documents between the Atomic Energy Organization and the IAEA by May 21 at the latest,” Eslami said. “These issues should be resolved by the day of return to the nuclear deal.” (Source: bloomberg.com)
2. Institute for the Study of War:
Russian forces continue their focus on encircling Kyiv. The western envelopment remains bogged down but Russian troops have moved more rapidly from the east and are arriving in the capital’s outskirts on the Sumy axis. The speed of the advance from the east is likely to slow as Russian forces leave sparsely-inhabited and flat terrain and enter the more congested and built-up eastern suburbs. Russian mechanized forces around Kharkiv appear to be supporting operations toward the east and west of the city, likely weakening their ability to encircle or seize it.
The Russian military has concentrated considerable combat power around Mariupol to encircle and ultimately seize or destroy it. The purpose of this effort is not entirely clear. The capture or destruction of Mariupol will not likely materially affect the outcome of the war, whose decisive operations are more than 600 kilometers northwest around Kyiv. Russian forces have also renewed their ground offensive west from Crimea toward Odesa, currently focusing on advancing from Kherson to Mykolayiv, and seized the Zaporizhya Nuclear Power Plant north of Crimea. The continued pursuit of objectives along three diverging axes by the same group of forces in Crimea has hindered the Russian military’s ability to generate decisive effects on any of the three. The full, updated report on The Russian campaign in Ukraine is here. (Source: understandingwar.org)
3. The Economist:
The fact that the war is taking place on Ukrainian soil, and that Ukrainians have proved adept at getting their message out, means that outsiders are undoubtedly getting a somewhat skewed picture: few people are uploading photos of burnt-out Ukrainian tanks. Nevertheless, Russia’s early performance was “worse [than] in Georgia in 2008,” Konrad Muzyka, a defence analyst, observed on February 27th.
The Georgian war, in which Russian forces performed poorly, was said to have led to sweeping reforms. They were evidently not sweeping enough. Mr Putin has spent over a decade pouring money and technology into his armed forces, but in the words of one Western defence official he only has a “Potemkin army” to show for it. In some cases, its tactics have verged on the suicidal. A video reportedly taken in Bucha, north-west of Kyiv, shows a Russian armoured vehicle using its loudspeakers to tell civilians to remain calm. A man wielding a rocket-propelled grenade strolls up to the vehicle and calmly destroys it.
Such almost nonchalant effectiveness typifies what has appeared inspiring about Ukraine’s resistance. Andrey Kurkov, a Ukrainian novelist, has written of a “democratic anarchy matrix” which grew up in the country after it abandoned feudalism and rejected monarchy, mixing individualism and common cause in such a way that they reinforce, rather than contradict, each other. Since the tanks came over the borders it has been easy to spot. (Source: economist.com)
4. President Vladimir Putin was denounced for his “recklessness” after Ukraine said that Russian forces attacked a nuclear power plant, raising the stakes in the war and prompting calls for an even more robust response to the Kremlin’s aggression.
NATO foreign ministers and European leaders condemned what Kyiv described as an assault on the Zaporizhzhia facility in southeast Ukraine, Europe’s largest atomic generator. If confirmed, it would be the first time an operating nuclear plant has been deliberately targeted by military forces.
“The reckless actions leading to damage to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant were despicable,” U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement after holding talks. Both nations pledged further humanitarian support “in the face of Putin’s increasingly savage and evil actions.”
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said that “all channels” had been used to communicate to Russia that it shouldn’t commit such an act. “There are rules in this world, even for the Russian president,” she told reporters. (Source: bloomberg.com)
5. Tyler Cowen:
Putin would like to find a way of making nuclear threats without quite incurring the liability from … making nuclear threats.
Enter nuclear power plants. When Russian forces attack the plant, there is some chance that something goes wrong, such as a radiation spill. But more likely than not, the plant will hold up, and most dangerous processes can be shut down and the very worst outcomes avoided. You can think of Putin as choosing a “nuclear radiation deployment” with only some small probability.
Why might he do this? Well, he is showing that the use of broader nuclear deployments is not out of the question. He is also showing that he is willing to take a huge risk.
Most of all, he doesn’t much have to fear retaliation. The Western powers cannot know if these nuclear attacks are deliberate strategy or simply an accident of tactics in the field, and so — if only for that reason — they will not respond with a major escalation. If Russian forces moved on Estonia, they might be courting a very serious NATO response. But not in this situation.
You don’t have to believe that Putin sat in his lair rubbing his hands as he dreamed up this diabolical strategy. It’s also possible that the attack on the nuclear power plant started by mistake, or was ordered by lower-level commanders. Putin then simply allowed it to continue, perhaps out of a general love of chaos. At the very least, he did not consider it a priority to stop the attack. (Source: bloomberg.com)
6. The war in Ukraine has provoked an onslaught of cyberattacks by apparent volunteers unlike any that security researchers have seen in previous conflicts, creating widespread disruption, confusion and chaos that researchers fear could provoke more serious attacks by nation-state hackers, escalate the war on the ground or harm civilians.
“It is crazy, it is bonkers, it is unprecedented,” said Matt Olney, the director of threat intelligence at the security firm Cisco Talos. “This is not going to be solely a conflict among nations. There are going to be participants that are not under the strict control of any government.”
The online battles have blurred the lines between state-backed hackers and patriotic amateurs, making it difficult for governments to understand who is attacking them and how to retaliate. But both Ukraine and Russia appear to have embraced tech-savvy volunteers, creating channels on the chat app Telegram to direct them to target specific websites.
Hackers have inserted themselves in international conflicts before in places like Syria. But experts said that those efforts have attracted fewer participants. The hundreds of hackers now racing to support their respective governments represent a drastic and unpredictable expansion of cyberwarfare. (Source: nytimes.com)
7. Glenn Gerstell, former general counsel of the National Security Agency and Central Security Service:
Last week President Biden warned Mr. Putin against Russian cyberattacks on the United States’ critical infrastructure. But American businesses aren’t ready for a war in cyberspace. Although Mr. Biden designated the Department of Homeland Security to lead what he vowed would be a forceful response to any such aggression, this isn’t enough. The D.H.S. doesn’t have the legal authority to order the private sector to follow its lead. More broadly, the federal government, even if warned by companies like Microsoft of incoming cyberattacks, doesn’t have the necessary infrastructure in place to protect American businesses from many of these attacks.
That the United States has to resort to threats of retaliation is itself a problem. America should already be cyberattack-proof, but coordinating these efforts across the country has been an uphill battle.
As the former general counsel of the National Security Agency, I witnessed daily the scope and sophistication of such maliciousness from Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. All of them leverage the various sectors of power at their disposal — including commercial and state-owned enterprises as well as spy agencies — to come out against U.S. businesses and citizens in full force.
Yet the United States lacks an organized response. The weekly reports of ransomware attacks and data breaches make it clear that we’re losing this battle. That’s why America’s leaders must rethink the current cyberdefense system and rally around a centralized regulator to defend both citizens and the private sector against current and future attacks. (Source: nytimes.com)
8. Ukraine's president has attacked Nato leaders in a fiery speech over their refusal to implement a no-fly zone around the country. Speaking from Kyiv, Volodymyr Zelensky said the West's reluctance to intervene has given Russia "a green light" to continue bombarding towns and villages. Nato has argued that a no-fly zone will result in confrontation with Moscow. But Mr. Zelensky said he disagrees that direct action could "provoke Russia's direct aggression against Nato." In angry comments, he said the argument reflects the "self-hypnosis of those who are weak, under-confident inside" and that Western reservations indicated that "not everyone considers the struggle for freedom to be Europe's number one goal." "All the people who will die starting from this day will also die because of you. Because of your weakness, because of your disunity," a furious Mr Zelensky added. (Source: bbc.com)
9. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has told the BBC that he is convinced Ukraine can win its war with Russia. He could not say how long the conflict would last, but insisted that Ukraine's defeat was not inevitable. Mr. Blinken praised the "extraordinary resilience" of the Ukrainian people. "If it's the intention of Moscow to try somehow to topple the government and install its own puppet regime, 45 million Ukrainians are going to reject that one way or the other," he said. (Source: bbc.com)
10. Damien Cave:
The liberal world order has been on life support for a while. President Biden, in his inaugural address, called democracy “fragile.” President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said two years ago that “the liberal idea” had “outlived its purpose,” while China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has extolled the strength of an all-powerful state and, as he put it last March, “self-confidence in our system.”
The multinational response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shown that the demise of the global postwar rules-based order may not be inevitable. A month ago, no one predicted that Germany would reverse decades of military hesitancy and pour 100 billion euros into its defense budget, or that Switzerland would freeze the assets of Russian oligarchs, or that YouTube, World Cup soccer and global energy companies would all cut ties to Russia.
But the reappearance of war in Europe is also an omen. With toddlers sheltering in subway tunnels, and nuclear power plants under threat, it is a global air raid siren — a warning that the American-led system of internationalism needs to get itself back into gear, for the war at hand and for the struggle against authoritarianism to come…
Almost universally, from leaders in Europe and Asia to current and former American officials, Ukraine is being viewed as a test for the survival of a 75-year-old idea: that liberal democracy, American military might and free trade can create the conditions for peace and global prosperity.
Because the founder of that concept, the United States, continues to struggle — with partisanship, Covid and failure in distant war zones — many foreign policy leaders already see Ukraine in dire terms, as marking an official end of the American era and the start of a more contested, multipolar moment. (Source: nytimes.com)
11. The Biden administration is weighing a ban on U.S. imports of Russian crude oil as Congress races toward passing such a restriction to punish the Kremlin for its invasion of Ukraine.
Conversations are taking place within the administration and with the U.S. oil and gas industry on the impact such a move would have on American consumers and the global supply, according to people familiar with the matter.
Earlier this week, the White House publicly rebuffed suggestions from lawmakers that the U.S. ban Russian oil. But pressure has grown for a ban along with American outrage over Russia’s invasion, and lawmakers have made clear they will act.
“We are looking at options that we can take right now, if we were to cut the U.S. consumption of Russian energy -- but what’s really most important is that we maintain a steady supply of global energy,” Cecilia Rouse, the chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, told reporters at a briefing.
Russian oil made up only about 3% of all the crude shipments that arrived in the U.S. last year, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show. U.S. imports of Russian crude so far in 2022 have dropped to the slowest annual pace since 2017, according to the intelligence firm Kpler. (Source: bloomberg.com)
12. Former Vice President Mike Pence urged Republicans to move on from the 2020 election and declared that “there is no room in this party for apologists for Putin” as he further cemented his break from former President Donald Trump.
Pence, in a speech Friday evening to the party’s top donors in New Orleans, took on those in his party who have failed to forcefully condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin for his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
“Where would Russian tanks be today if NATO had not expanded the borders of freedom? There is no room in this party for apologists for Putin,” Pence said, according to excerpts from the speech, which was closed to reporters. “There is only room for champions of freedom.” (Source: politico.com)
13. French politics:
For half a century, the Le Pen family has defined France’s far right and led one of Europe’s most prominent populist parties. Now, that legacy is under siege.
Voters who once supported Marine Le Pen are turning up at rallies for Éric Zemmour, an anti-immigrant TV pundit and rival to the far-right leader in France’s presidential elections in April.
He is poaching Ms. Le Pen’s top lieutenants, and testing the loyalty of her niece and heir-apparent, Marion Maréchal, who will speak at a rally for Mr. Zemmour on Sunday, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Zemmour is now neck-and-neck with Ms. Le Pen in some polls, threatening her standing as the most likely candidate to square off against President Emmanuel Macron in the election’s runoff.
Ms. Le Pen is losing ground at a moment when the center of gravity in French politics is shifting to the right. Polls show that support for Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Zemmour combined is garnering around 30% of the total vote heading into the first round of the election. That compares with the 21% Ms. Le Pen won in the first round of 2017, when she was the only viable far-right candidate in the race.
She also finds herself squeezed between Mr. Zemmour, whose rhetoric is more incendiary, and Mr. Macron, who has moved to challenge Ms. Le Pen on one of the far right’s top issues—fears that Islam is spreading through French society—by passing legislation that cracks down on mosques and other Islamic organizations.
“Marine Le Pen has become too nice,” said Lucas Fluckiger, a 22-year-old engineering student who voted for Ms. Le Pen’s National Rally party at the regional elections last year. Mr. Fluckiger was one of thousands attending a rally for Mr. Zemmour on a recent Saturday in Saulieu, a town nestled in the Burgundy wine region of central France. This year, Mr. Fluckiger said, he will cast his vote for Mr. Zemmour. (Source: wsj.com)
14. Jobs report:
Falling coronavirus caseloads brought a flood of new jobs and new workers last month, signs that the pandemic’s vise grip on the economy may be loosening.
U.S. employers added 678,000 jobs in February, the Labor Department said Friday, continuing a streak of strong job growth that persisted even during the latest wave of coronavirus cases. The unemployment rate fell to 3.8 percent, its lowest level since the pandemic took hold.
Demand for workers has been strong for months. Now there are signs that constraints on the supply of workers may be easing as well. More than 300,000 people rejoined the labor force in February, a sign that improving public health conditions, more predictable school schedules and abundant job opportunities are drawing people back to the job market. (Source: nytimes.com)
15. A research team led by scientists at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center has discovered a molecule that inhibits the growth and metastasis of pancreatic cancer cells through the iron metabolism pathway. Their findings, recently published in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, pave the way toward the development of a new drug candidate for the treatment of pancreatic cancer.
The molecule, MMRi62, targets iron metabolism to kill cancer cells and the harmful proteins that encourage their growth and spread, suggesting that further development and refinement of this compound could lead to a new type of pancreatic cancer therapy. (Source: rosewellpark.org, aacrjournals.org/mct)
16. One of the benefits of subscribing to News Items:
If you write a book, and it’s really good, the book gets an official News Items “must read” recommendation. Think of it as The Newsletter Nobel Prize for Literature. News Items subscriber Joseph Kanon has written what I think is his best historical thriller yet. Two paragraphs from The Times of London:
Joseph Kanon is a pro too. He had a prominent career in publishing in America before writing his first thriller in 1997. The setting of his debut, Los Alamos, was the group of wartime scientists around Robert Oppenheimer who were helping to build the atom bomb. In his subsequent novels, such as The Good German, which was turned into a film with George Clooney, and Istanbul Passage, Kanon has continued to explore similar terrain. His milieu is the postwar years, when new enemies and former ideologies cause crises for his cast of spies and defectors.
It may be a formula, but from the opening paragraph of The Berlin Exchange, with its matter-of-fact immediacy, you feel you’re in safe hands. Martin Keller is an American physicist who passed nuclear secrets to the Russians. He has spent ten years in prison in Britain, but in 1963 he is unexpectedly swapped through the recently erected Berlin Wall for three prisoners bound for the West. Why, he wonders, does the East still want him? And why now?
Quick Links: Decades of neglect leave I.R.S. in tax season ‘chaos.’ China sets annual economic growth target at 'around 5.5%.' China to raise defense spending 7.1%, outpacing GDP target. North Korea conducts ninth missile test of the year. Samsung Electronics suspends shipments to Russia. ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack on a Shiite mosque in Pakistan, which killed at least 57 people and wounded more than 100 others. Syria’s Assad says he supports Russia’s ‘correction of history' in Ukraine offensive. Nothing excuses Israel's moral failure on Putin and his war on Ukraine. Temporary cease-fire announced for ‘humanitarian corridors’ in 2 Ukrainian cities. Tunku Varadarajan interviews Robert Service, a leading historian of Russia, who says Moscow will win the war but lose the peace and fail to subjugate Ukraine. Mr. Service is the author of three “Russian” biographies: Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky. Russia to punish ‘fake’ war news, blocks Facebook and Twitter. South Korea's presidential hopefuls let chaebol off the hook. Good news for Missouri Democrats. News Items relocating its Italian bureau.