The Biden-Putin Summit

What can we expect from the summit meeting between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin?

Nothing.

That is the expectation that Biden is setting. There will be no grand pronouncements, no reset, maybe not even a perfunctory statement of agreement on a minor point. That is part of the reason that Biden plans to hold a press conference by himself. The other part, of course, is in contrast with Donald Trump’s disastrous showing at Helsinki.

But the meeting is necessary and important. Russia is a major country, with a nuclear arsenal equivalent to America’s. Russia is adjacent to our allies in Europe and supplies energy to many of them. It has a long land border across which untoward things can happen. Those are reason enough for the leaders to meet.

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Russia’s Vaccine Missteps

Russia and China have been exporting their SARS-CoV-2 vaccine to build goodwill. At the same time, however, they have been taking steps that undermine that goodwill. Russia has built up its military forces as if to attack Ukraine and is now building them down; additionally, information has come out about earlier attacks on Czech and Bulgarian arms depots. China has been imprisoning Uyghurs in concentration (“reeducation”) camps and has been militarily active in the South China Sea.

Both vaccines, like the AstraZeneca vaccine, use an adenovirus to carry in parts of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to provoke an immune response. The method has been used successfully for an Ebola vaccine.

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Pwned!

Alexei Navalny is a Russian critic of the Putin government. He was nearly killed by a Novichok nerve agent in August. Yesterday, he talked to the FSB agent who poisoned his underwear and got a full confession.

Bellingcat is an investigative organization that developed out of Eliot Higgins’s investigations of Syrian munitions, particularly nerve agent munitions, when he blogged as Brown Moses. They worked with CNN and Navalny in this operation.

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Where We Are – 36 Days Out

The New York Times now has Donald Trump’s income tax returns “extending over two decades”. They say that the returns come from a person who had legal access to them. The Times’s first article provides eighteen takeaways. They promise more to come. Each takeaway is a string that other news organizations can pull.

Trump runs through money and then manages to find yet another source to bankroll him. At this point, he owes $421 million to unknown parties. There are hints and guesses about connections to a hotel deal in Azerbaijan that appears to have laundered money for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and to Deutsche Bank through Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s son.

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The Poison That Took Navalny Down

The German hospital treating Alexei Navalny says that he was poisoned by a cholinesterase inhibitor. That’s a poison in the same family as nerve agents, but not necessarily a nerve agent. Some insecticides have the same characteristic, and there are other compounds as well. Identifying exactly which it is may be difficult after the time that has elapsed since he was poisoned.

The good news is that they say he is in a medically-induced coma and likely to survive. But cholinesterase inhibitors can damage the body in multiple ways, and nobody knows what damage he will sustain.

So it’s likely another poisoning by the Russian government. Their use of poison seems bizarre, but it’s a reminder to people that the government can reach down very personally to people it doesn’t like.

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Donald Trump’s Nonproliferation Ambitions

Today we have a report that Donald Trump would like to meet with Vladimir Putin before the election to present a new arms control agreement to the world.

The easiest thing for Trump to do would be to extend the New START Treaty, which lapses in early February next year. The treaty is written to allow five-year extensions with a minimum of negotiation, and Putin has said he is willing to extend it.

Trump has been surrounded by treaty-haters, though, particularly but not only John Bolton, who would be happy for New START to lapse. Their strategy is to insist that China be a part of arms control negotiations and spin their wheels doing stunts like adding small Chinese flags to places around the table during US-Russian interactions and then whining that China didn’t show up. As China had said it wouldn’t.

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Those Northern Radiation Observations

Nations to the northwest of Russia reported slightly increased levels of radiation on several days in June. The levels were harmless to human health and the environment.  

The isotopes observed include Cs-134, Cs-137, Ru-103, I-131, and isotopes of cobalt. The possible source region for the June 22 and 23 observations was calculated by the monitoring organization for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBTO), which has isotope monitoring stations around the world. The tweet doesn’t say this, but that region was probably calculated by considering the winds during that period. (Lassina Zerbo is the director of the CTBTO.)

Iodine-131 was observed at more northerly stations and on different days than the other isotopes. It has a half-life of 8 days and is a fission product, as are the other isotopes except for cobalt. Cobalt is an activation product of the steel containment vessel for a reactor. It seems likely that these observations come from a leaking nuclear reactor, but where?

Russia has reactors in the suspect area, but officials there have said that none of them have leaked.

Last week, a test of the Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile was thought to be planned for the Kapustin Yar test site, north of the Caspian Sea.

Nothing more than a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) was announced by the Russian government, so it’s not clear why this exclusion would have been for Burevestnik in particular. Up until now, Burevestnik tests have been further north. The deadly test of last year was within the area calculated by the CTBTO.

There’s not enough information to conclude anything more than that these emissions were from a reactor. Russia is party to conventions requiring it to provide information on accidents involving the release of radiation. The other nations within the possible source area have been conscientious about their adherence to those conventions. Russia hasn’t.

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice

Follow The Money!

Following the money is difficult and tedious. Each story is detailed, and the stories appear at different times, later overshadowed by the next Trump scandal. In this post, I collect instances of Russian-associated money going into Republican coffers.

There aren’t enough instances to connect into a pattern beyond that theme, although some names occur in more than one example. I hope reporters will see this as a fertile path forward. Foreign money is prohibited in US political campaigns, but there are ways to get around that.

There are probably more – add them in the comments, preferably with a link, if you have them. Read More

Moving Into The New Year With Molotov and Ribbentrop


In 1939, the Soviet Union formally allied with Nazi Germany and agreed on how to split up the countries located between them. Immediately after, Germany invaded Poland. It is generally thought to be the beginning of World War II. Russia did not acknowledge the existence of the secret protocol on dividing Europe until 1989.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is David-Low-Rendezvous.jpg
Cartoon by David Low in the Evening Standard depicting Hitler greeting Stalin after the invasion of Poland, 

But that is not what Vladimir Putin wants you to believe. No, it was dastardly France, United Kingdom, the United States, and others who joined up with Hitler first at Munich, leaving the poor Soviet Union with no choice! Putin has mentioned this in several speeches, and in the last several weeks, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has joined in.

And they’re dissing diplomats who disagree with them.

The nations Russia has accused of starting World War II are pushing back.

Even Germany…

And, of course, a lot more from amateur and professional historians on Twitter. If you ever wanted to learn more about the beginnings of World War II, this is your big chance.

It’s hard to know what is motivating this propaganda storm from Russia. Here’s a person I trust.

That’s a little unclear, but I think the second sentence is intended to say that when Russia wants to use WW2 to gain friends, it usually talks about its sacrifices rather than the war’s origins.

There is speculation, as you see in the Dalsjö tweet, that it’s in preparation for some sort of military action from Russia. I tend to doubt that – Russia doesn’t need that kind of trouble right now. OTOH, Putin has been feeling cocky about his new weapons designed to deter the United States.

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice