Russian President Vladimir Putin may have used an ultra-long table to protect him from coronavirus, but he might need more than that to protect him from Russia’s hard-line military elite.
When the final leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, died last month, we were reminded of the disastrous 1991 coup by the hard-line elements within his administration.
Claiming Gorbachev was ill, the coup leaders, headed by former vice president Gennady Yanayev, declared a state of emergency and attempted to take control of the government.
Side by side at a press conference, they sat stony faced. They were when asked by reporters what had happened to Gorbachev, and why tanks were rolling through Moscow on the way to the White House.
“He’s very tired, he needs rest” was the line fed to non-believing Russian journalists, who for the first time, had the taste of press freedom within their grasp.
“Very tired” or very detained? In Russia, the difference between in power, or out, is only determined by the strength of the person who pushes the hardest.
Push or be pushed
In recent months, Russia’s business elite have had a shocking habit of falling out of windows and finding other sudden yet creative ways to die.
Ravil Maganov was the chairman of Russia’s second largest oil producer, Lukoil. He died after falling from a hospital window in Moscow – the latest in a series of businessmen who suddenly… died.
Journalists who asked questions to police were referred to the state Investigative Committee, who of course never return calls.
At least six other Russian businessmen, mostly tied to the energy industry, died suddenly in unclear circumstances over the last few months.
The only thing they had in common was their suspected wavering loyalty to Vladimir Putin.
Unusually among Russian companies, Lukoil had taken a public stand against Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
On March 3, the company’s board of directors expressed concern over the “tragic events” in Ukraine and called for an end to the conflict.
Power is everything
Inside the Kremlin, power is key. It’s not a place for losers. Eat or be eaten. Push, or be pushed.
Putin took the military risk of his life in February, when he sent his troops to Ukraine for a “special operation”. After an easy win in Crimea back in 2014, a divided west and European Union, and a (former) British Prime Minister who was busy unsuccessfully holding on to power after defending his covid-parties, February seemed the perfect time to bring the country in a fabulous Soviet pastime – invading the neighbours.
But Ukraine did not fall. Kyiv did not fall. And the “drug addicted” leadership in Ukraine, led by former actor Volodymyr Zelensky, turned out to be a more resilient and even more handsome opponent than Putin had anticipated.
Putin may go for shirtless horse rides, but Zelensky looks like an in the trenches leader, with that wife. You just want him to win.
Everywhere you look, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been a disaster, pushing it towards further isolation. Yes, it has friends in low moral places, from China to North Korea, and flip flopping nations like Turkey and India that are reliant on its cheap military hardware – they have their own problems.
Remember the 40 mile column that was snaking its way towards Kyiv? Or the 400 mercenaries sent to kill Zelensky?
Granted, it’s hard to know exactly what IS happening across Ukraine, as Kyiv’s military propaganda is disturbingly good. Journalists aren’t allowed to report from the front line, and the narrative is firmly being dictated from Ukraine’s side.
Which is a huge problem for Vladimir Putin. While Russian troops may have had no idea why they were crossing the border to fight their brothers, back home in Moscow, the message is out that Putin’s war is failing, no matter how hard the Kremlin suppresses the media in Russia.
Russians are world experts at reading between the lines.
Who’s to blame?
Russian hard line military leaders are blaming the Kremlin for the embarrassing failure, and these guys don’t mess around.
There are two things that every Russian man is born with – a lifelong live of vodka, and a world-leading sense of pride.
Russia is a proud country, proud of its victory over the Nazis, proud of its history, even though no one can exactly agree on what that is.
Control the narrative
Which makes Putin’s failure in Ukraine a disaster for him.
He may be riding high in the polls, but in Russia, you can never believe the polls. Honesty does not live freely in Russia.
So how does this all end? Russian troops are said to be withdrawing from the Kharkiv region at record pace, commandeering anything with wheels to roll back to the other side of the border.
The West has known all along it cant afford to humiliate Putin, despite how much it might like to. The man still has the ability to kickstart proceedings that would lead to a long nuclear winter.
Putin himself seems so scared of assassination that he couldn’t even attend Gorbachev’s funeral (among a number of reasons I’m sure).
Don’t drink the tea
Russia’s military commanders must be furious, and asking some tough questions. Why were their soldiers sent to Ukraine in such a bad state? Some don’t have any food, or water, or blankets, so they don’t sleep. Morale is disastrously low. I mean, how good can you feel when a mobile crematorium is parked outside your tent?
What happened to all the money that’s been spent on military infrastructure and war-time logistics?
Why are they fighting with weapons that date back to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan? What on earth happened to Russia’s prized Air Force? Where have they been?
Why is Russia now having to ask its neighbours for Soviet-era weapons to keep fighting?
At first, many believed that Putin was playing 4D chess. Setting up Trump, creating RT to confuse with a propaganda war, dividing Europe, cuddling up to China.
Putin isn’t playing chess at all. He’s playing Scrabble. No agenda, no strategy. Just making up words as he tried to defend the war.
But Scrabble sounds like the perfect game to play when you’re under house arrest.
Something has to give. The business community has so far found that criticising Putin’s war finds you too close to an open window on a 20 storey building.
But will Putin have the luck silencing the hard-line military commanders?
Trump’s campaign debut was panned – but don’t underestimate his chances
Last weekend, Donald Trump held two events in New Hampshire and South Carolina, his first official forays onto the 2024 presidential battlefield.
The experts panned it.
A lot of the political class is talking about Trump in the past tense, and not the future, briefing out to the media that his rambling, Fidel Castro-like monologues bore his audiences silly, that his obsessions and battles with his political enemies do not have the reach they did in 2016 and during his term in office, that he is immersing himself more deeply in extremist QAnon cult waters, that he faces indictments and trials that will derail his campaign and might even put him in jail.
And more: that Trump wallows in the “stolen” 2020 election, knowing that there was no way he could have lost since he got 12 million more votes than in 2016. Trump never concedes. Six years later, he does not acknowledge that Hillary Clinton got almost 3 million more votes than Trump in 2016 – and that he won only because she lost in the Electoral College.
The telling critique – the one driving Republicans in private to say that Trump is done (or should be done, or will be done) is that Trump is a loser.
That Trump lost Republican control of the House of Representatives in 2018, bringing back Nancy Pelosi who secured not one, but two impeachments of the president; that he lost the White House in 2020; that he lost control of the Senate in January 2021 when Democrats swept both Georgia Senate seats, giving them control of that chamber; and that Trump-backed candidates in Pennsylvania, Georgia, New Hampshire, and Arizona again cost Republicans control of the Senate in the 2022 midterms. As Vince Lombardi, legendary gridiron coach of Green Bay and Washington, said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Lombardi would say Trump was a loser.
Trump is having none of it, and his iron resolve was on full display for those listening more closely when he gave his orations last weekend.
“Maybe he’s lost his step,” Trump said in evoking the musings of some Republicans. But, “I’m more angry now, and I’m more committed than I ever was.”
The anger is palpable. The Trump 2023 brand joins his anger with the hottest culture war buttons he can press. Immigration, the open wound that is the southern border, the wall he will finish, the rapists and criminals who are flooding in and that he will keep out tomorrow. Immigration is his lead-off weapon.
Then promises of energy independence and oil forever. Utter hostility to electric vehicles and wind energy – especially if the windmills are offshore. No transgender women in sports. No way they are tolerated. A purge of woke content from school curricula, schoolbooks, school libraries, and school boards. Parents empowered to fire the principal of the schools their children attend; Trump says the parents can vote them out of their jobs.
Trump never goes far into the culture wars without conjuring up Hunter Biden, the president’s son.
Trump cannot get enough of Hunter’s laptop and the criminality of the Bidens, their business dealings and their money. We can barely follow all the Trump twists and turns in this tale, but there is no mistake that Trump wants Hunter nailed and his father to bear the consequences.
Reprising his role as Commander-in-Chief, Trump said, in case we have not been paying attention, that we are on the brink on World War III. That Ukraine would not have happened if he had been president. That we could have a peace deal “in 24 hours.” Trump wants to call Putin and knows Putin will be waiting for that call.
Trump’s great loyalist, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, was on the podium with Trump and put it this way after the event. “How many times have you heard we like Trump’s policies but we want somebody new? There are no Trump policies without Donald Trump.”
That’s the message Trump delivered to his base last weekend. And that’s how Trump intends to win.
Buried in Trump’s massive monologue was the core of what could be a winning message. “My mission is to secure a middle-class lifestyle for everyone. I did it before and I will do it again. And we will be respected in the world once again.”
Three powerful sentences which, coupled with the red meat of his anger and rage, mean that Trump is very much alive and kicking.
Leading athletes and medical experts push for medicinal cannabis in sport
Leading lawmakers, medical experts and athletes are pushing for therapeutic use of medicinal cannabis for chronic pain and injury
Basketball star Brittney Griner is one of the leading players of her generation. She jumped into the spotlight for serving a sentence for possession of cannabis oil in Russia.
It begs the question whether medicinal cannabis and athletes are a good mix. Well, many lawmakers, health experts and athletes around the world want to break down the stigmas associated with its use.
Many want to use Griner’s ordeal as motivation to change cannabis laws and therapeutic use exemptions in sports.
Mark Brayshaw, Managing Director of Levin Health has spoken closely with Dr. Peter Brukner who is a world-renowned Australian sports medicine clinician and researcher.
Brukner believes athletes should be able to compete in their field with medicinal cannabis because it doesn’t enhance their performance.
Brayshaw believes there are higher risks for athletes becoming addicted to anti-inflammatory and opioids. As opposed to any risks associated with taking medicinal cannabis.
He explains it enables athletes to function in a healthy way, pain free.
Overall, there is hope Griner’s case will break down stigma surrounding natural medicines and athletes.
In Australia, there are tens of thousands of new applications for medicinal cannabis every month.
There are also growing calls for countries to adopt therapeutic use exemptions in sport, including in the Australian Football League.
Why is China’s changing its strategy to handling the pandemic?
Changes to China’s COVID policies are coming thick and fast, much faster than many people anticipated given how strict the country has been in the last few years, the latest big announcement is around an app that people had to install on their phone
Then it tracked them when they travelled across the country, alerting them if they’ve been to a high risk COVID area, the government says that that app is now deactivated and people no longer have to have it installed on their phones.
It’s yet another indication of the change in China’s strategy to handling the pandemic.
We’ve seen changes related to quarantine, and also testing as well. And a real change in narrative from the authorities when talking about the virus and how dangerous it is. Now officially case numbers are dropping.
But that is largely due to the fact that much less testing is taking place, and we are seeing signs that in reality cases are surging.
There’s queues of people outside of pharmacies, queuing to get medication for colds and for fevers, and also self testing kits as well.
On social media, many people in China now saying that they have caught COVID For the first time, or that they know a number of people who have COVID When previously they didn’t know anyone at all.
So it’s clear that cases are rising, and this is coming just the month before the Chinese New Year holidays, which will take place at the end of January, traditionally a time when millions of people will travel across the country.
We would expect that to happen this year, as travel within China is now much easier.
So we would expect COVID cases to spread across the country talking to travel and is yet no sign of when the borders will open internationally.
Still very, very hard to get into China and very strict. When people do enter and the procedures they have to follow.
Maybe the government will wait and see how the first phase of reopening goes domestically, before thinking internationally?
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