How China’s Xi Jinping Is Staging the Beijing Olympics on His Terms

When the International Olympic Committee met seven years ago to choose a host for the 2022 Winter Games, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, sent a short video message that helped tip the scale in a close, controversial vote.

China had limited experience with winter sports. Little snow falls in the distant hills where outdoor events would take place. Pollution was so dense at times that it was known as the “Airpocalypse.”

Mr. Xi pledged to resolve all of this, putting his personal prestige on what seemed then like an audacious bid. “We will deliver every promise we made,” he told the Olympic delegates meeting in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur.

host of the Summer Olympics, the Games have become a showcase of the country’s achievements. Only now, it is a very different country.

China no longer needs to prove its standing on the world stage; instead, it wants to proclaim the sweeping vision of a more prosperous, more confident nation under Mr. Xi, the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. Where the government once sought to mollify its critics to make the Games a success, today it defies them.

Beijing 2022 “will not only enhance our confidence in realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” said Mr. Xi, who this year is poised to claim a third term at the top. It will also “show a good image of our country and demonstrate our nation’s commitment to building a community with a shared future for mankind.”

Mr. Xi’s government has brushed off criticism from human rights activists and world leaders as the bias of those — including President Biden — who would keep China down. It has implicitly warned Olympic broadcasters and sponsors not to bend to calls for protests or boycotts over the country’s political crackdown in Hong Kong or its campaign of repression in Xinjiang, the largely Muslim region in the northwest.

combat Covid and imposed stricter safety measures than those during the Summer Olympics in Tokyo last year. It has insisted on sustaining its “zero Covid” strategy, evolved from China’s first lockdown, in Wuhan two years ago, regardless of the cost to its economy and its people.

an accusation of sexual assault by the tennis player Peng Shuai, a three-time Olympian, the I.O.C. did not speak out. Instead, it helped deflect concerns about her whereabouts and safety.

staggering costs of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and the white-knuckle chaos of preparations for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

blue skies. High-speed railways have slashed the trip from Beijing to the most distant venues from four hours to one.

In an area perennially short of water, China built a network of pipelines to feed a phalanx of snow-making machines to dust barren slopes in white. Officials this week even claimed the entire Games would be “fully carbon neutral.”

Christophe Dubi, executive director of the upcoming Games, said in an interview that China proved to be a partner willing and able to do whatever it took to pull off the event, regardless of the challenges.

“Organizing the Games,” Mr. Dubi said, “was easy.”

The committee has deflected questions about human rights and other controversies overshadowing the Games. While the committee’s own charter calls for “improving the promotion and respect of human rights,” officials have said that it was not for them to judge the host country’s political system.

Instead, what matters most to the committee is pulling off the Games. By selecting Beijing, the committee had alighted on a “safe choice,” said Thomas Bach, the committee’s president.

unseasonably warm weather. Sochi 2014 — intended as a valedictory of Vladimir V. Putin’s rule in Russia — cost a staggering $51 billion.

Growing wariness of organizing the quadrennial event gave China an unexpected advantage. Beijing — no one’s idea of a winter sports capital — could reuse sites from the 2008 Games, including the iconic Bird’s Nest stadium for the opening ceremony. The Water Cube, which held the swimming and diving events 14 years ago, was rebranded as the Ice Cube.

Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, once a republic of the Soviet Union.

The final tally was 44 to 40 for Beijing, with one abstention. Almaty’s supporters were left to fume over a glitch in the electronic voting system that prompted a manual recount to “protect the integrity of the vote.” That Kazakhstan has plunged into political turmoil on the eve of the Games seems now, in hindsight, further validation of the choice to pick Beijing.

Xinhua, compared to 480,000 three years before.

ceremonial scepter popular in the Qing dynasty, complete with a 6,000-seat stadium at the bottom that is supposed to hold soccer matches after the Olympics.

military preparations for the Games, including the installation of 44 antiaircraft batteries around Beijing, even though the likelihood of an aerial attack on the city seemed far-fetched.

“A safe Olympics is the biggest symbol of a successful Beijing Olympic Games, and is the most important symbol of the country’s international image,” he said then.

accusation of sexual harassment rocked the sports world last fall, the committee found itself caught in the furor.

fumed in private. Without the protective cover of the international committee, they feared reprisals if they spoke out individually.

The 2008 Olympics also faced harsh criticism. A campaign led by the actress Mia Farrow called the event the “genocide games” because of China’s support for Sudan despite its brutal crackdown in the Darfur region. The traditional torch relay was hounded by protests in cities on multiple continents, including Paris, London, San Francisco and Seoul.

The accusations against China today are, arguably, even more serious. The United States and other countries have declared that China’s crackdown against the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang amounts to genocide. Ms. Farrow’s biting sobriquet has resurfaced for 2022, with a Twitter hashtag.

only screened spectators of its own choosing. It will mostly be a performance for Chinese and international television audiences, offering a choreographed view of the country, the one Mr. Xi’s government has of itself.

If the coronavirus can be kept under control, Beijing could weather the Olympics with fewer problems than seemed likely when it won the rights to the Games seven years ago. Mr. Xi’s government has already effectively declared it a success. A dozen other Chinese cities are already angling for the 2036 Summer Olympics.

“The world looks forward to China,” Mr. Xi said in an New Year’s address, “and China is ready.”

Chris Buckley contributed reporting. Claire Fu, Liu Yi and Li You contributed research.

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Striking photographs show ‘America in crisis’

Written by Jacopo Prisco, CNN

“America in Crisis,” first opened in 1969 at the Riverside Museum in Manhattan. Conceived by Magnum Photos, it was a powerful exhibition meant to document the tumultuous US presidential election of the year before and assess the state of the nation. Featuring the work of 18 photographers, it was immortalized in a book which published the same year and showed a deeply fractured society.

“Our crisis today is the clash between the nation’s traditional vision of itself — the American Dream — and the hard, discordant realities it lives with,” wrote the book’s editors. The country was shaken by the then-recent assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, which happened against the background of profound racial tensions, stark economic inequality and growing opposition to the Vietnam War. In the election of 1968, Republican Richard Nixon narrowly edged out Democrat Hubert Humphrey.

The Selma March, Alabama, 1965. "The direct gaze of this young man, his defiance and his ownership of that flag are so powerful," said curator Sophie Wright.

The Selma March, Alabama, 1965. “The direct gaze of this young man, his defiance and his ownership of that flag are so powerful,” said curator Sophie Wright. Credit: Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

Fifty years on, America is facing an eerily similar social divide, and a new exhibition with the same name brings together historical photographs from the original 1969 project and recent works from the past two years, highlighting the similarities between the two eras.

“We set out to use the same conceptual framework that the original book was produced in,” said curator Sophie Wright, who worked at Magnum Photos for 17 years before leaving in 2020, “so the chapter headings, such as ‘The American dream,’ ‘The long roots of poverty’ and ‘A streak of violence’ are the headings of the contemporary exhibition as well.”

An Elliott Erwitt photo showing support for Nixon at the 1968 Republican Convention in Miami. "Erwitt has been to a lot of presidential inaugurations with a great deal of wit, and his wit is something that I think helps in terms of how we read his images," Wright said.

An Elliott Erwitt photo showing support for Nixon at the 1968 Republican Convention in Miami. “Erwitt has been to a lot of presidential inaugurations with a great deal of wit, and his wit is something that I think helps in terms of how we read his images,” Wright said. Credit: ©Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

Organized by Saatchi Gallery in London, the exhibition is co-curated by Gregory Harris from Atlanta’s High Museum of Art and LA-based photographer and academic Tara Pixley. It includes 120 shots from 40 American photographers.

“There’s a very broad range. We have a gentleman who’s working as a photojournalist for local news (in St. Louis), Robert Cohen, right through to Leah Millis, a senior Reuters photographer. And then we have photographers working much more on the edge of documentary practice, in a more artistic vein, like Zora J. Murff, so there’s a lot of different strategies and approaches to photography within the contemporary selection,” Wright said.

An image of the Capitol attack of January 6, 2021.

An image of the Capitol attack of January 6, 2021. Credit: Balazs Gardi

Juxtaposing these two eras also offers insight into how differently social issues have been documented through the lens of photography over time — and how those issues have evolved in the 50 years since the book’s release. One part of the exhibit where those differences are particularly apparent is based on a chapter titled “A streak of violence,” which in 1969 depicted events following the political assassinations of King and Kennedy.

“That’s a real sucker punch straight after ‘The American dream’ (chapter). And that’s because the audience of that time would have been very alive to what just happened in terms of those of those deaths,” Wright said. “In the contemporary iteration, it’s sadly a much broader issue — that of guns and gun culture within America. We also look at the heavy militarization of the police that’s particularly occurred after 9/11.”

Bungalow Family with Last Ash Tree, Midway, Chicago, USA, 2018. "This really speaks to the American dream of homeownership," Wright noted.

Bungalow Family with Last Ash Tree, Midway, Chicago, USA, 2018. “This really speaks to the American dream of homeownership,” Wright noted.
Credit: Paul D’Amato

Another topic, however, that feels and looks very familiar even five decades later is the battle for equality. The exhibition includes images from the Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, marches of 1965— part of a series of demonstrations that led to federal laws guaranteeing voting rights for African Americans — as well as Black Lives Matters protests in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in 2020. “There’s very obvious imagery that speaks across time, particularly that of protests. The body language is the same, there are compositions that kind of look very similar across the timeline,” Wright said.

Lee Square, Richmond, Virginia, 2020. "This became one of the most significant sites for the Black Lives Matter protests, and it was on the cover of National Geographic. It was a very powerful site of protest in 2020," Wright explained.

Lee Square, Richmond, Virginia, 2020. “This became one of the most significant sites for the Black Lives Matter protests, and it was on the cover of National Geographic. It was a very powerful site of protest in 2020,” Wright explained. Credit: Kris Graves/Courtesy of Sasha Wolf Projects

The exhibition also includes an interactive installation. A foot pedal sits at the base of a series of monolith screens, and by pressing it, images from the exhibition are displayed according to keywords such as “flag,” “crowd” and “police.” This is in contrast to a similar installation in the original exhibition which, instead, paired images together randomly.

“It speaks to the way in which we’re fed images now: The internet puts us into silos and we are presented with what we like. It’s to encourage people to think about what they’re looking at, and how they read those pictures. Photography is an incredibly slippery medium,” Wright explained.

“But I think the power of singular images, despite the noise that we’re all confronted with, is still absolutely there — as an antidote to that noise.”

America in Crisis” is at London’s Saatchi Gallery from Jan. 21, 2022 until April 3, 2022

Top image: The US Capitol in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021.

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Live Updates: Blinken and Lavrov Pledge to Keep Talking as Military Buildup Continues Around Ukraine

michael barbaro

From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily.

[music]

Today: Russia is making preparations for what many fear may be a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, prompting warnings from the U.S. of serious consequences if it does. I spoke to my colleague, Moscow bureau chief Anton Troianovski, about what Vladimir Putin wants from Ukraine and just how far he may go to get it.

It’s Wednesday, December 8.

Anton, describe the scene right now on the border between Ukraine and Russia. What does it look like? What exactly is happening there?

anton troianovski

Well, what you’re seeing on the Russian side of the border within 100 to 200 miles away is that thousands of Russian troops are on the move.

archived recording 1

A top military official says intelligence shows nearly 100,000 Russian troops —

archived recording 2

Russian troops have massed on the border of Ukraine.

archived recording 3

— troops on the border with Ukraine. And that’s prompted fears of an invasion early next year.

anton troianovski

We’re seeing a lot of social media footage of tanks and other military equipment on the move, on trains, in some cases, heading west toward the Ukraine border area from as far away as Siberia.

archived recording

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been building for some time in the wake of —

anton troianovski

These satellite images that we’re seeing show deployment areas around Ukraine that were empty as recently as June that are now full of military equipment-like tanks and armored personnel carriers.

archived recording

The U.S. called it unusual activity.

anton troianovski

And obviously, Russia moves its forces all the time. It does big military exercises, snap military exercises all the time, but what we’re being told is that these military movements are very unusual. Some of them are happening at night and, in other ways, seemingly designed to obfuscate where various units are going. And experts are saying we’re also seeing things like logistics and medical equipment being moved around, stuff that you really would see if there were real preparations being made for large-scale military action.

michael barbaro

So what’s happening in Russia is not just the movement of the troops that would perhaps carry out an invasion, but the kind of military personnel and equipment that would be required to deal with the repercussions of something like invading Ukraine?

anton troianovski

Yes. So American intelligence officials are seeing intelligence that shows Russia preparing for a military offensive involving an estimated 175,000 troops —

michael barbaro

Wow.

anton troianovski

— as soon as early next year.

michael barbaro

And Anton, is Ukraine preparing for what certainly looks, from what you just described, as a potential invasion?

anton troianovski

They’re in a really tough spot because no matter how much they prepare, their military would be utterly outgunned and outmatched. Ukraine doesn’t have the missile defense and air defense systems that could prevent a huge shock-and-awe campaign at the beginning of Russian military action.

They also don’t know, if and when an attack comes, which direction it might come from, because Russia could attack from any of three directions. So we’re not seeing a big mobilization in Ukraine right now, but our reporting on the ground there does show a grim and determined mood among the military. The soldiers on the border have made it clear that if it comes to it, they will be prepared to do what they can to make this as costly as possible for the other side.

michael barbaro

So I guess the question everyone has in this moment is why would Putin want to invade Ukraine right now and touch off what would no doubt be a major conflict, one in which, as you just said, Russia would have many advantages, but would nevertheless end up probably being a very deadly conflict?

anton troianovski

So obviously, we don’t yet know whether Putin has made the decision to invade. He’s clearly signaling he’s prepared to use military force. What we do know is that he has been extraordinarily fixated on the issue of Ukraine for years. But I think to really understand it, you have to look at three dates over the last 30 years that really show us why Ukraine matters so much to Putin.

michael barbaro

OK. So what’s the first date?

anton troianovski

The first one, 1991, almost exactly 30 years ago, the Soviet Union breaks up, and Ukraine becomes an independent country. For people of Putin’s generation, this was an incredibly shocking and even traumatic moment. Not only did they see and experience the collapse of an empire, of the country that they grew up in, that they worked in, that, in Putin’s case, the former K.G.B. officer that they served. But there was also a specific trauma of Ukraine breaking away. Ukraine, of all the former Soviet republics, was probably the one most valuable to Moscow.

It was a matter of history and identity with, in many ways, Russian statehood originating out of the medieval Kiev Rus civilization. There’s the matter of culture with so many Russian language writers like Gogol and Bulgakov coming from Ukraine. There was the matter of economics with Ukraine being an industrial and agricultural powerhouse during the Soviet Union, with many of the planes and missiles that the Soviets were most proud of coming from Ukraine.

michael barbaro

So there’s a sense that Ukraine is the cradle of Russian civilization, and to lose it is to lose a part of Russia itself.

anton troianovski

Yeah. And it’s a country of tens of millions of people that is also sandwiched between modern-day Russia and Western Europe. So the other issue is geopolitical, that Ukraine in that sort of Cold War security, East-versus-West mindset, Ukraine was a buffer between Moscow and the West. So 1991 was the year when that all fell apart.

And then by the time that Putin comes to power 10 years later, he’s already clearly thinking about how to reestablish Russian influence in that former Soviet space in Eastern Europe and in Ukraine in particular. We saw a lot of resources go in economically to try to bind Ukraine to Russia, whether it’s discounts on natural gas or other efforts by Russian companies, efforts to build ties to politicians and oligarchs in Ukraine. Really, a multipronged effort by Putin and the Kremlin to really gain as much influence as possible in that former Soviet space that they saw as being so key to Russia’s economic and security interests.

michael barbaro

Got it.

anton troianovski

And then fast forward to the second key date, 2014, which is the year it became clear that that strategy had failed.

archived recording

Now, to the growing unrest in Ukraine and the violent clashes between riot police and protesters.

michael barbaro

And why did that strategy fail in 2014?

anton troianovski

That was the year that Ukraine had its — what’s called its Maidan Revolution.

archived recording 1

The situation in Kiev has been very tense.

archived recording 2

Downtown Kiev has been turned into a charred battlefield following two straight nights of rioting.

anton troianovski

It’s a pro-Western revolution —

archived recording

They want nothing short of revolution, a new government and a new president.

anton troianovski

— that drove out a Russia-friendly president, that ushered in a pro-Western government, that made it its mission to reduce Ukraine’s ties with Russia and build its ties with the West.

archived recording

Ukrainians who want closer ties with the West are once again back in their thousands on Independence Square here in Kiev. They believe they —

michael barbaro

Hmm. And what was Putin’s response to that?

anton troianovski

Well, Putin didn’t even see it as a revolution. He saw it as a coup engineered by the C.I.A. and other Western intelligence agencies meant to drive Ukraine away from Russia. And —

archived recording

With stealth and mystery, Vladimir Putin made his move in Ukraine.

anton troianovski

— he used his military.

archived recording

At dawn, bands of armed men appeared at the two main airports in Crimea and seized control.

anton troianovski

He sent troops into Crimea, the Ukrainian Peninsula in the Black Sea that’s so dear to people across the former Soviet Union as kind of the warmest, most tropical place in a very cold part of the world.

archived recording

Tonight, Russian troops — hundreds, perhaps as many as 2,000, ferried in transport planes — have landed at the airports.

anton troianovski

He fomented a separatist war in Eastern Ukraine that by now has taken more than 10,000 lives and armed and backed pro-Russian separatists in that region. So that was the year 2014 when Russia’s earlier efforts to try to bind Ukraine to Moscow failed and when Russia started taking a much harder line.

michael barbaro

And this feels like a very pivotal moment because it shows Putin’s willingness to deploy the Russian military to strengthen the ties between Russia and Ukraine.

anton troianovski

Absolutely. Strengthened the ties or you can also say his efforts to enforce a Russian sphere of influence by military force. And it’s also the start of what we’ve been seeing ever since, which is Putin making it clear that he is willing to escalate, he is willing to raise the stakes and that he essentially cares more about the fate of Ukraine than the West does.

And that brings us to the third date I wanted to talk about, which is early this year, 2021, when we saw the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, really start taking a more aggressive anti-Russian and pro-Western tack. He cracked down on a pro-Russian oligarch and pro-Russian media. He continued with military exercises with American soldiers and with other Western forces.

He kept talking up the idea of Ukraine joining NATO. That’s the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Western military alliance. And in a sense, this is what Putin seems to fear the most, the idea of NATO becoming more entrenched in this region. So Putin made it clear that this was starting to cross what he describes as Russia’s red lines and that Russia was willing to take action to stop this.

michael barbaro

So to put this all together and understand why Putin is doing what he’s doing when it comes to Ukraine, we have as a backdrop here this fixation with Ukraine for historic, political, economic and cultural reasons. And what’s new and urgent here for Putin is his belief that Ukraine is on the verge of a major break with Russia and toward the West — in particular, a military alliance, NATO — and that he cannot tolerate. And so that brings us up to now and this very imminent and scary threat of a Russian invasion.

anton troianovski

That’s right, Michael. I spoke to a former advisor of Putin’s recently who described Ukraine as a trauma within a trauma for the Kremlin — so the trauma of the breakup of the Soviet Union plus the trauma of losing Ukraine specifically for all those reasons you mentioned. And the thing is it’s true.

Russia is losing Ukraine. I think objectively, though, you have to say it’s losing Ukraine in large part because of Putin’s policies, because of the aggressive actions he’s taken. And if you look at the polls before 2014, something like 12 percent of Ukrainians wanted to join NATO. Now, it’s more than half.

michael barbaro

Wow.

anton troianovski

So you put all that together, Ukraine is indeed drifting toward the West. It does seem like Putin feels like he’s running out of time to stop this and that he’s willing to escalate, he’s willing to raise the stakes, to keep Ukraine out of the West. And what we’re seeing right now on the border is all that playing out.

[music]
michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

So Anton, the question right now is will President Putin actually carry out an invasion of Ukraine? And how should we be thinking about that?

anton troianovski

Well, it’s quite perilous, of course, to try to get inside Putin’s head, but here’s the case for invading now. Number one: NATO and the United States have made it clear that they are not going to come to Ukraine’s defense, because Ukraine is not a member of the NATO alliance, and NATO’s mutual defense pact only extends to full-fledged members. And of course, I think, politically, Putin believes that neither in the U.S., nor in Western Europe, is there the will to see soldiers from those countries die fighting for Ukraine.

michael barbaro

Right. And President Biden has just very publicly pulled the United States out of the war in Afghanistan and more or less communicated that unless American national security interests are at play, he will not be dispatching troops anywhere.

anton troianovski

Exactly. So Putin saw that, and he sees that potentially things could change. If the West does have more of a military presence in Ukraine in the future, let alone if Ukraine were to become a member of NATO at some point — it’s not going to happen in the next few years, but perhaps at some point — then attacking Ukraine becomes a much more costly proposition. So it’s a matter of war now could be less costly to Russia than war later.

michael barbaro

Right. The geopolitics of this moment may work in favor of him doing it in a way that it might not in a year or two or three.

anton troianovski

Absolutely. And then there’s a couple of other reasons. There’s the fact that if we look at everything Putin has said and written over the last year, he really seems convinced that the West is pulling Ukraine away from Russia against the will of much of the Ukrainian people. Polling doesn’t really bear that out, but Putin really seems to be convinced of that. And so it seems like he may also be thinking that Ukrainians would welcome Russian forces as liberators from some kind of Western occupation.

And then third, there’s the economy. The West has already threatened severe sanctions against Russia were it to go ahead with military action, but Russia has been essentially sanctions-proofing its economy since at least 2014, which is when it took control of Crimea and was hit by all these sanctions from the U.S. and from the E.U. So Russia’s economy is still tied to the West.

It imports a lot of stuff from the West. But in many key areas, whether it’s technology or energy extraction or agriculture, Russia is becoming more self-sufficient. And it is building ties to other parts of the world — like China, India, et cetera — that could allow it to diversify and have basically an economic base even if an invasion leads to a major crisis in its financial and economic relationship with the West.

michael barbaro

Right. So this is the argument that Putin can live with the costs of the world reacting very negatively to this invasion?

anton troianovski

Exactly.

michael barbaro

OK. And what are the reasons why an invasion of Ukraine might not happen? What would be the case against it, if you were Vladimir Putin?

anton troianovski

Well, I mean, I have to say, talking to analysts, especially here in Russia, people are very skeptical that Putin would go ahead with an invasion. They point out that he is a careful tactician and that he doesn’t like making moves that are irreversible or that could have unpredictable consequences.

So if we even look at the military action he’s taken recently, the annexation of Crimea, there wasn’t a single shot fired in that. That was a very quick special-forces-type operation. What we’re talking about here, an invasion of Ukraine, would be just a massive escalation from anything Putin has done so far. We are talking about the biggest land war in Europe since World War II, most likely. And it would have all kinds of unpredictable consequences.

There’s also the domestic situation to keep in mind. Putin does still have approval ratings above 60 percent, but things are a bit shaky here, especially with Covid. And some analysts say that Putin wouldn’t want to usher in the kind of domestic unpredictability that could start with a major war with young men coming back in body bags.

And then finally, looking at Putin’s strategy and everything that he’s said, for all we know, he doesn’t really want to annex Ukraine. He wants influence over Ukraine. And the way he thinks he can do that is through negotiations with the United States.

And that’s where the last key point here comes in, which is Putin’s real conviction that it’s the U.S. pulling the strings here and that he can accomplish his goals by getting President Biden to sit down with him and hammering out a deal about the structure of security in Eastern Europe.

So in that sense, this whole troop build-up might not be about an impending invasion at all. It might just be about coercive diplomacy, getting the U.S. to the table, and getting them to hammer out an agreement that would somehow pledge to keep Ukraine out of NATO and pledge to keep Western military infrastructure out of Ukraine and parts of the Black Sea.

michael barbaro

Well in that sense, Anton, Putin may be getting what he wants, right? Because as we speak, President Putin and President Biden have just wrapped up a very closely watched phone call about all of this. So is it possible that that call produces a breakthrough and perhaps a breakthrough that goes Putin’s way?

anton troianovski

Well, that’s very hard to imagine. And that’s really what makes this situation so volatile and so dangerous, which is that what Putin wants, the West and President Biden can’t really give.

michael barbaro

Why not?

anton troianovski

Well, for instance, pledging to keep Ukraine out of NATO would violate the Western concept that every country should have the right to decide for itself what its alliances are. President Biden obviously has spent years, going back to when he was vice president, really speaking in favor of Ukrainian sovereignty and self-determination and trying to help Ukraine take a more Western path. So Biden suddenly turning on all of that and giving Putin what he wants here is hard to imagine.

michael barbaro

Right, because that would create a very slippery slope when it comes to any country that Russia wants to have influence over. It would then know that the right playbook would be to mass troops on the border and wait for negotiation with the U.S. and hope that the U.S. would basically sell those countries out. That’s probably not something you’re saying that President Biden would willingly do.

anton troianovski

Right. And then, of course, the other question is, well, if Russia doesn’t get what it wants, if Putin doesn’t get what he wants, then what does he do?

michael barbaro

So Anton, it’s tempting to think that this could all be what you just described as a coercive diplomatic bluff by Putin to extract what he wants from President Biden and from the West. But it feels like history has taught us that Putin is willing to invade Ukraine. He did it in 2014.

History has also taught us that he’s obsessed with Ukraine, dating back to 1991 and the end of the Soviet Union. And it feels like one of the ultimate lessons of history is that we have to judge leaders based on their actions. And his actions right now are putting 175,000 troops near the border with Ukraine. And so shouldn’t we conclude that it very much looks like Putin might carry out this invasion?

anton troianovski

Yes, that’s right. And of course, there are steps that Putin could take that would be short of a full-fledged invasion that could still be really destabilizing and damaging. Here in Moscow, I’ve heard analysts speculate about maybe pinpoint airstrikes against the Ukrainian targets, or a limited invasion perhaps just specifically in that area where Russian-backed separatists are fighting.

But even such steps could have really grave consequences. And that’s why if you combine what we’re seeing on the ground in Russia, near the border, and what we’ve been hearing from President Putin and other officials here in Moscow, that all tells us that the stakes here are really high.

michael barbaro

Well, Anton, thank you very much. We appreciate your time.

anton troianovski

Thanks for having me.

michael barbaro

On Tuesday afternoon, both the White House and the Kremlin released details about the call between Putin and Biden. The White House said that Biden warned Putin of severe economic sanctions if Russia invaded Ukraine. The Kremlin said that Putin repeated his demands that Ukraine not be allowed to join NATO and that Western weapons systems not be placed inside Ukraine. But Putin made no promises to remove Russian forces from the border.

[music]

We’ll be right back.

Here’s what else you need to know today. On Tuesday night, top Democrats and Republicans said they had reached a deal to raise the country’s debt ceiling and avert the U.S. defaulting on its debt for the first time. The deal relies on a complicated one-time legislative maneuver that allows Democrats in the Senate to raise the debt ceiling without support from Republicans, since Republicans oppose raising the debt ceiling under President Biden. Without congressional action, the Treasury Department says it can no longer pay its bills after December 15.

Today’s episode was produced by Eric Krupke, Rachelle Bonja and Luke Vander Ploeg. It was edited by Michael Benoist, contains original music by Dan Powell and Marion Lozano, and was engineered by Chris Wood. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly.

That’s it for The Daily. I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.

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Rare snow and hailstorms cover Saudi desert

(CNN) — For most people, thinking about the Saudi Arabian desert probably conjures up images of sand dunes baked by relentless sunshine.

More recently, however, those sands have been covered in snow.

Several recent snow and hailstorms in the region have transformed landscapes in and around Saudi Arabia, stirring excitement among locals and causing a sensation on social media.

Earlier this month, Saudi photographer Osama Al-Habri captured aerial images of Badr Governorate, southwest of the Islamic pilgrimage city of Medina, dressed in white as locals gathered to enjoy the unusual sight.

Al-Harbi told CNN that winter weather of such intensity in the Badr desert area was a rare phenomenon that had not occurred for years. He described it as a “historic hailstorm.”

The Saudi photographer, who documented the scenes on January 11, said the site was teeming with visitors, many who had traveled miles for a glimpse of the frozen landscape.

Saudis melt snow for coffee in Jabal al-Lawz near Tabuk.

Saudis melt snow for coffee in Jabal al-Lawz near Tabuk.

Ibrahim Assiri/AFP/Getty Images

At the time of Al-Harbi’s visit, Saudi Arabia’s National Center of Meteorology had forecast moderate to heavy rain in the Medina region, along with winds, low visibility and hail, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

Wintry conditions were experienced again this week, when snow fell in northwestern Saudi Arabia, covering the city of Tabuk, near the border with Jordan, and nearby mountains on February 16, according to Reuters.

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On Ukraine, Biden Flusters European Allies by Stating the Obvious

Her party leader and chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has been more circumspect, saying after a meeting with the NATO secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, on Tuesday that Germany was ready to discuss halting the pipeline should Russia attack Ukraine. “It is clear that there will be a high price to pay and that everything will have to be discussed should there be a military intervention in Ukraine,” Mr. Scholz said.

The issue is sensitive for Washington, too. Last week, at NATO, Wendy R. Sherman, the deputy secretary of state, said: “From our perspective, it’s very hard to see gas flowing through the pipeline or for it to become operational if Russia renews its aggression on Ukraine.”

But the divisions are precisely why her boss, the secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, is in Berlin on Thursday to talk to the German government and to senior diplomats from Britain and the so-called Normandy Format on Ukraine — France and Germany.

Set up in 2014 after the commemoration of D-Day in Normandy, the group includes Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany, but not the United States, because at the time President Barack Obama wanted to leave Ukraine to the Europeans.

Some consider that to have been a mistake, and there are discussions now about whether the United States should also join to try to de-escalate the current crisis. Negotiations produced the Minsk accords, which both Russia and Ukraine accuse the other of violating, and which Russia continues to say hold the key to the Ukrainian crisis.

Further divisions were on display on Wednesday in Strasbourg, France, where Emmanuel Macron, the French president, gave a long speech to the European Parliament setting out his priorities for the French presidency of the European Union — and implicitly for his own re-election campaign with voting in April.

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Silvio Berlusconi Angles for Italy’s Presidency, Bunga Bunga and All

ROME — Early this month, Silvio Berlusconi sat at a dining room table in his mansion with his girlfriend, more than a half-century younger, and an old political ally. As they feasted on a pumpkin souffle and truffle tagliatelle, the 85-year-old Italian former prime minister and billionaire made hours of phone calls, working his way down a list of disaffected lawmakers he hoped to persuade to elect him president of Italy next week.

“‘We are forming the Bunga Bunga party and we want you with us,’” Christian Romaniello, a lawmaker formerly with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, recounted Mr. Berlusconi as saying, referring to the sex-fueled bacchanals that Mr. Berlusconi has deemed merely “elegant dinners.” According to Mr. Romaniello, Mr. Berlusconi then added, “‘But I’ll bring the ladies.’”

The Italian presidency, the country’s head of state, is a seven-year position usually filled by a figure of unimpeachable integrity and sobriety whose influence flows from moral authority. The current holder, Sergio Mattarella, is a quiet statesman whose brother was murdered by the mob. Another contender is Mario Draghi, the prime minister and a titan of European politics who has led the country to a period of unusual stability.

Then there is Mr. Berlusconi, who despite his recent bad health, waxen appearance and weakened political standing, is making an unabashed push to win a career-culminating position that he hopes will wash away decades of stains — his allies say unjustly thrown mud — and rewrite his legacy.

mob links and bribing lawmakers; the tax fraud conviction; the ban from office; the sentence to perform community service in a nursing home; his use of his media empire for political gain; his use of the government to protect his media empire; the wiretapped conversations of his libertine party guests regaling the Caligulan extent of his bunga bunga debaucheries; his close relationship with the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, who gifted Mr. Berlusconi a large bed; his appraisal of Barack Obama as “young, handsome and sun tanned”; his comparing a German lawmaker to a concentration camp guard; his second wife’s divorcing him for apparently dating an 18-year-old.

It’s an unorthodox résumé.

Mr. Berlusconi’s conflicts of interest, judicial problems and past behavior made him less than an excellent candidate, said Emma Bonino, a veteran Italian politician and civil rights activist who once ran for the office herself. “I don’t think he would give a good image of our country in the world,” she said.

Mr. Berlusconi declined to comment for this article. But he and his team of longtime advisers are selling him as a moderate, pro-European champion of democracy and can-do capitalism. “I think Silvio Berlusconi can be useful to the country,” Mr. Berlusconi, speaking of himself in the third person, said in October.

In usual fashion, he is using all the levers at his disposal to reach the requisite majority of 505 votes in the secret balloting for the presidency among lawmakers that starts on Monday.

read the headline) and published an insert on his qualities (“hero of liberty”). Weeks ago, lawmakers opening their mailboxes found a photograph of Mr. Berlusconi, arms up and bathing in adoration, on the cover of an anthology of his speeches.

the great-grandfather has remained the father figure of the center-right, which now has — if united — the largest bloc of lawmaker electors in Parliament and a strong desire to choose the next president.

But Mr. Berlusconi’s insistence has caused a major headache for Matteo Salvini, the leader of the nationalist League party, both at work and at home. Mr. Salvini’s girlfriend is the daughter of Denis Verdini, one of Mr. Berlusconi’s closest advisers, who is publicly applying pressure — from house arrest after his conviction in a bankruptcy fraud case — to elect Mr. Berlusconi.

After years of promising Mr. Berlusconi that he would back his candidacy for president, Mr. Salvini sent a stinging message to Mr. Berlusconi this week, saying that, “We must verify if Berlusconi has the numbers before the start of voting next week.” Mr. Salvini indicated that he had somebody else in mind.

Giorgia Meloni, the hard-right leader of Brothers of Italy, the third party in the center-right alliance, spoke on Tuesday of the possibility of Mr. Berlusconi’s stepping aside, prompting speculation that he might drop out.

the cover of Espresso magazine.

For all Mr. Berlusconi’s seeming unsuitability to fill the role of head of state, his allies argue that Italians elected him multiple times, that political considerations motivated the magistrates who hounded him for decades and that he was a self-made and brilliant businessman who built an empire.

But his outsize appetites and self-interested use of power fueled a backlash that seeded and grew the enormous anti-establishment Five Star Movement, co-founded by the comedian Beppe Grillo, who once derided Mr. Berlusconi as a “psychotic dwarf.”

Five Star took power in 2018 as Italy’s leading party, and Mr. Berlusconi’s support dwindled. He took a back seat to the rising nationalists, first Mr. Salvini and then Ms. Meloni, and railed against Five Star as incompetent good-for-nothings and a threat to democracy. He mocked their trademark universal welfare plan as a joke. He called their power structure communist.

Five Star has since imploded and scattered members into a mixed group of lawmakers desperate to avoid new elections that would almost certainly cost them their jobs and pensions. Mr. Berlusconi has explicitly promised to keep the legislature going as president, has called the universal income plan good for the poor and showered gifts on former rivals.

Luigi Di Maio, the Five Star leader who once refused to join any government with Mr. Berlusconi, this Christmas accepted a centuries-old oil painting of Venice from the mogul’s collection, according to a person close to Mr. Di Maio, who declined to comment.

As Mr. Berlusconi worked the phones alongside his girlfriend, who is also a member of Parliament in his political party, he sat next to Vittorio Sgarbi, one of his former ministers and a lawmaker and television personality who is well liked by many Five Star members.

When Mr. Sgarbi called Mr. Romaniello, the former Five Star lawmaker, who was interrupted while making Carnevale masks with his two small children, he jokingly introduced Mr. Berlusconi as “a Grillo-following friend.”

In an interview, Mr. Romaniello said that he was flattered by the call and added that friends contacted by Mr. Berlusconi also respected the former prime minister’s phone banking and “positive charisma.” But Mr. Romaniello said that he still considered himself, politically, “an adversary,” adding that Five Star had been born “as the antithesis of Berlusconi.” A phone call, he said, would not win his vote.

By Tuesday, even Mr. Sgarbi had bailed on Mr. Berlusconi and was urging him to be a kingmaker.

“I don’t think he can do it,” he said in an interview, saying that the duo had only persuaded about 15 lawmakers to back him, far short, even if he had a base of about 450 conservative supporters, to win the election. “It’s useless to try if you don’t have the numbers.”

On Wednesday, as Mr. Berlusconi’s lawyers in Milan successfully argued for a delay in a bribery trial related to his bunga bunga tribulations until after the presidential vote, his team snapped back and vowed that he would persist and, as always, speak for himself.

“I will not disappoint those who have trusted me,” Mr. Berlusconi said.

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A massive black diamond believed to come from space is going on sale

Written by Isabelle Jani-Friend, CNN

A 555.55-carat black diamond that is truly from out of this world has been unveiled by auction house Sotheby’s Dubai.

The rare gem, which Sotheby’s has dubbed “The Enigma,” is believed to have come from outer space — either created from a meteoric impact or from a “diamond-bearing” asteroid that collided with Earth.

A natural faceted black diamond of this size is an “extremely rare occurrence,” according to Sotheby’s, which expects it to sell for as much as £5 million ($6.8 million) when it goes under the hammer in February in London, after being exhibited in Dubai and Los Angeles.

Black diamonds, also known as Carbonado diamonds, can be dated to between 2.6 to 3.8 billion years ago and have trace amounts of nitrogen and hydrogen — elements found in interstellar space. They also contain osbornite, a mineral present in meteorites.

Nikita Binani, a jewelry specialist at Sotheby’s in London, called the diamond “a true natural phenomenon.”

“Its sale represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire one of the rarest, billion-year-old cosmic wonders known to humankind,” she said in press release Monday.

The black diamond is thought to come from interstellar space.

The black diamond is thought to come from interstellar space. Credit: Sotheby’s

The shape of the diamond is inspired by the Middle Eastern palm symbol of the Hamsa, a sign of protection, which means five in Arabic. The theme of five runs throughout the stone, according to the auctioneer. In addition to its 555.55 carats, it also contains exactly 55 facets, or faces.

Black diamonds that are faceted have sold in the past at prices surpassing £10,000 ($13,600) per carat, Sotheby’s told CNN.

The diamond will be open for bidding online from February 3 to 9, and the auction house said it will accept cryptocurrency as payment.

The move follows the sale of a 101-carrat diamond, dubbed “The Key 10138,” which became the most expensive jewel ever purchased with cryptoccurency when it sold last year, according to Sotheby’s.

The pear-shaped gemstone sold for the equivalent of $12.3 million, after the auctioneer announced it was accepting offers in bitcoin and ethereum, in addition to traditional forms of payment. Sotheby’s would not disclose which of the two cryptocurrencies had been used to make the purchase.

A number of auction houses have begun welcoming cryptocurrencies for big-ticket items, which have included paintings and NFTs — the blockchain-backed tokens increasingly used to transfer ownership of digital artworks and collectibles. Sotheby’s CEO Charles Stewart told CNN’s Julia Chatterley last April that he believed NFTs and crypto were opening up the art market.

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Italy Ponders a New Role for Draghi. Let the Politicking Begin.

The secrecy, and self-interested nature, of the vote makes it ripe for influence peddling. In recent days, opening gambits took the form of government-collapsing ultimatums, with Mr. Berlusconi saying that he would pull his party out of government if Mr. Draghi became president.

Secret negotiations between the nationalist League, led by Matteo Salvini, and the center-left Democratic Party, are already underway, with the aim of avoiding new elections, possibly by keeping Mr. Draghi as prime minister of a government consisting of political leaders rather than technocrats.

Many, though perhaps not Mr. Draghi, are hoping that after sufficient votes fail to materialize for presidential hopefuls in opening ballots, a reluctant Mr. Mattarella, 80, can be persuaded by a broad alliance to serve another term, or at least to stick around for a couple more years and leave a new term early.

In theory, that would allow Mr. Draghi to defer his dream job until after the vital recovery fund programs have been put in place. But a year or two is an eternity in constantly evolving Italian politics.

Mr. Draghi, no political neophyte, has added his own pressure, asking the political parties if it was at all imaginable for a government that splinters on the choice of a president — be it him or anyone else — to “come back together magically” to run the country.

But even Mr. Draghi has not been untarnished by the political sniping. His backers say that he has become a more politically cautious broker between the bickering parties than their firm leader. In his most recent news conference, the prime minister sounded defensive, insisting that he was the one really making decisions. His honeymoon period seems to have ended.

“There is a lot of noise in the system because of this presidential race,” Mr. Colao said, nevertheless acknowledging that political pressure had “on the margins” increased the urgency of getting modernizing projects into the pipeline.

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Paris Fashion Week: How to watch the Autumn-Winter 2022 menswear shows online

Written by Leah Dolan, CNN

CNN Style is one of the official media partners of Paris Fashion Week. See all coverage here.

It seemed another round of virtual catwalks was in store for the fashion industry this season, until France eased its coronavirus restrictions just days before the start of the Paris Fashion Week menswear shows on Tuesday.

Now, 17 designers — including Loewe, Rick Owens and Dior Homme — are billed to stage in-person shows during the Autumn-Winter 2022 menswear week, while the remaining 52 labels will show using a mixture of digital streams and physical presentations.

Aside from the promise of a more lively affair (the country is opening its borders again to British travelers after implementing restrictions before Christmas) there are likely to be moments of reflection.

Notably, it will be Louis Vuitton’s first Paris fashion week without its director of menswear, Virgil Abloh, who died November 2021 at 41 years old after a private battle with cancer. Louis Vuitton honored Abloh with a final show in Miami at the end of last year, and is scheduled to host two events and a live stream on Thursday.

Much interest surrounds Japanese label Kenzo this month, too. The collection revealed this Friday will be the first since the brand appointed streetwear visionary Nigo as artistic director.

Scroll down to watch the livestreamed show as they happen.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Top image: Details at the Louis Vuitton Menswear show in Paris for Spring-Summer 2022.

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