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Ukraine Mall Terror, 46 Migrants Dead In Texas Truck, Sardinia Beaches

Greenpeace protesters projected the message ''G7: End Fossil Fuels Now'' onto the Waxenstein mountain in the Bavarian Alps, as Germany hosts the G7 summit.

Joel Silvestri, McKenna Johnson and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where at least 16 die as Russia strikes a shopping mall in central Ukraine, 46 people are found dead inside a truck in Texas and Bangkok airport authorities make a surprising discovery in two women’s luggage. From India, Banjot Kaur writes in news site The Wire about the dangers of yoga malpractice — and the need for nationwide regulation.

[*Nĭ hăo - Mandarin]


​💡 SPOTLIGHT

Sergey Lavrov, Putin’s decoy-in-chief

The Russian Foreign Minister, among the country’s most recognizable figures, embodies both the corruption and confusion of the Putin regime. Not everything is what it seems — and that’s the point, writes Ukrainian journalist Anna Akage.

From the outside, one might have the impression that the Russian Federation is run through a highly complex and well-coordinated apparatus that ensures that any single cog in Vladimir Putin’s system is by definition both in synch with the other cogs — and utterly replaceable. The Kremlin appears to us through this lens as an impregnable citadel with long arms and peering eyes that are literally everywhere.

And yet, this is a completely false picture — and there’s no greater proof than in looking more closely at one of Russia's most prominent figures, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The way in which Lavrov, 72, so regularly and effortlessly falls in tune with Putin's unpredictable actions is evidence that there is indeed no system. There is just one-man rule, and a symphony of yes-men and henchmen (and a few women) to create the illusion of something more elaborate and functional.

Needless to say, this non-system has had brutal consequences for Ukraine, and continues to threaten other neighbors and the world at large.

So it’s worth understanding who Sergey Lavrov is. And more importantly, ask what his modus operandi says about Putin, and the risks that it creates for events unfolding in the coming weeks and months.

The jowly, chain-smoking Lavrov is perhaps the second most recognizable Russian political figure of the past two decades, having served as Russia’s top diplomat since 2004, after stints as permanent representative of the USSR at the United Nations in the 1980s and deputy foreign minister in the 1990s for Boris Yeltsin.

However, the Moscow native has been in big-time Kremlin politics since the days that Putin was merely a junior officer in the KGB, and has developed his own set of powerful relationships. He exists separately from Putin’s true inner circle, dominated by his contacts from his native Saint Petersburg, such as former deputy chief of staff Igor Sechin and businessmen Gennady Timchenko.

Lavrov’s diplomatic weight was important for Putin, and lofty position and experience in international politics, to some degree, render Lavrov an independent political player, which he has repeatedly proved with outrageous statements about Jews or the risk of Russia using nuclear weapons.

At the end of last year, the investigative journalistic team working with jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny released a major investigation of Lavrov, revealing previously secret information about the politician: Lavrov has two families, official and "for the soul," a mistress and illegitimate children. Many of these people, close to and distant from Lavrov, have huge fortunes: apartments and houses in Russia and Britain, offshore bank accounts, and other property. Evidence was further revealed in March when the UK government imposed sanctions on the London-based daughter of Lavrov’s mistress.

Lavrov is closely linked with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, and still serves as a kind of personal lobbyist for the aluminum and energy tycoon, using his public office (the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs!) to solve Deripaska's personal and business problems.

Navalny's team reports that when Western countries imposed sanctions on Deripaska, Lavrov stood up explicitly to defend his benefactor. "Lavrov, like other Putin cronies, has been a parasite in his post for 17 years and uses the post of minister to live beautifully,” the Navalny report said.”They literally milk the whole country, believing that they have no responsibilities, but only endless privileges, given to them for some reason."

Such deep corruption at the highest levels of Putin's government is a major problem for Russia, but the more dangerous aspect of Lavrov internationally is actually how often he is out of sync with Putin.

The first and most telling example was Lavrov's repeated declarations that the Kremlin would not attack Ukraine just days before the war. At that time, the minister ridiculed the panic in the Western media, which was reporting the imminent outbreak of hostilities. And since then, the disconnect between Lavrov's words and Putin's actions has become more and more pronounced. Some even quip that if Lavrov reports that something will never happen, then it is about to happen. Or vice versa. A recent example was Lavrov’s previewing what he billed would be a historic Putin speech at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, even if the Russian president said nothing of consequence.

In Putin's entourage, more and more politicians are becoming set pieces rather than real political actors. Russian political blogger Maxim Katz attributes this to the fact that the propaganda script is constantly changing: the limited liberation of the peoples of Donbas suddenly turns into a large-scale war against all Ukrainians, which escalates into a war against Nazism and only a few days later into NATO confrontation. Under these conditions, says Katz, the Kremlin does not need patriots who truly believe in Putin, but rather flexible performers who can easily forget their own statements and can stay one step ahead of any situation.

For those who are not able to adapt quickly, a different fate awaits. For example, the star of 2014’s Russian annexation, Natalia Poklonskaya, who uttered the legendary phrase "Crimea is Ours", was recently transferred to a closed structure without the right to speak publicly or on social networks because she doubted the motives of the invasion.

Sergey Lavrov, on the other hand, is not threatened by such troubles: he is an exemplary element of the corrupt propaganda system, which is simultaneously the greatest strength and greatest weakness of the Putin regime. It is a system in which only Putin knows what will happen tomorrow, and what happened yesterday. Everyone else is a noise to distract from the signal, which makes reading the future of Russia (and the future of its neighbors, and beyond) virtually impossible.

Anna Akage

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Ukraine shopping mall bombed with more than 1,000 inside: The death toll is at 18, and is expected to climb, after two Russian missiles hit the Armstor shopping center in the central Ukrainian city of Kramenchuk. According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, more than 1,000 people were inside the mall Monday at the time of the attack. At least 36 people are still missing, as rescue workers dig through the rubble. G7 leaders condemned the attack and suggested that it was a war crime in a joint statement.

NATO and UN summits: More than 2,000 people are protesting against European militarization in Spain’s capital ahead of a NATO summit which begins today. As war wages in Ukraine, more NATO members are expected to increase their defense expenditures. Meanwhile at a UN summit in Lisbon, Portugal, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres declared an “ocean emergency” and urged policymakers to make drastic changes to protect the oceans.

• 46 migrants found dead in Texas truck: 46 people were found dead inside a semi-truck abandoned on the outskirts of San Antonio, Texas, a major transit route for smuggling migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border. Another 16 people have been taken to the hospital.

• Iran applies to join BRICS ahead of U.S. nuclear talks: Iran has submitted an application to join the BRICS group, which includes Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Iran’s bid to join the group of emerging economies comes alongside news that an Iranian negotiator is set to go to Doha, Qatar on Tuesday to revive nuclear talks with the U.S. after they were abandoned in 2018 by the U.S. government.

• Chlorine gas leak kills 12 in Jordan: At least 12 are dead and over 250 more are injured after an accident in Jordan’s Aqaba port led to a chlorine gas leak.

• Fuel sales banned in Sri Lanka: After months of food, fuel, and electricity shortages, Sri Lanka has announced a two-week ban on fuel sales. The country is currently unable to purchase imported oil and will only be allowing the sale of fuel for essential services such as airports, food distribution, agriculture, and health services.

• Sardinia to protect its beaches: Home to some of the world’s most famous beaches, Sardinia will now be putting new measures in place this summer to counter mass tourism. Among the restrictions are towel bans, as well as visitor caps with pre-booked tickets and entry fees to prevent overcrowding.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Portuguese daily newspaper Publico’s front page features fish-costumed protesters, a day after the UN Ocean Conference opened in Lisbon, with a focus on how to restore the health of the world's oceans.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

109


Authorities discovered 109 live animals during an X-ray scan of the luggage of two women traveling at an airport in Bangkok, Thailand. Two white porcupines, two armadillos, 35 turtles, 50 lizards, and 20 snakes were headed for India, where more than 70,000 wild animals were discovered at airports between 2011 and 2020.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Taking a position: a call to regulate yoga in India

Trained practitioners warn that unregulated yoga can be detrimental to people's health. The government in India, where the ancient practice was invented, knows this very well — yet continues to postpone regulation, writes Banjot Kaur in Indian news website The Wire.

🧘 Yoga is one of the five kinds of alternative Indian medicine listed under India’s AYUSH efforts — standing for "Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and naturopathy, and Homeopathy." Yoga and naturopathy are taught at the undergraduate level in 70 medical colleges across 14 Indian states. The Mangalore University in Karnataka first launched this course in 1989; today, these subjects are also taught at the postgraduate level. Yet, despite this history of formal training, yoga and naturopathy practitioners aren’t required by any national Act to register before they start practicing.

💊 It is not difficult to understand why yoga needs to be regulated, the president of Indian Naturopathy and Yoga Graduates’ Medical Association (INYGMA) Naveen Visweswaraiah says, comparing yoga to a drug. Just as a drug has contraindications and dose limits, so does the practice of yoga. "More is better" doesn’t work and is often harmful. But in the absence of registration — let alone a law governing the practice of yoga — discussing dosage, indications and side-effects is off the table right now.

⚖️ The AYUSH ministry said that yoga and naturopathy were not fit to be considered Indian “systems of medicine” because, once again, they don't involve drugs. This is a strange argument, especially since Prime Minister Modi has made yoga a staple of his message of national pride. This said, the ministry created a "Yoga Certification Board" through a simple communiqué in 2018. This board introduced multiple certificate courses ranging from a few hours to a couple weeks. The courses have no prerequisite qualifications, except having graduated from high school. “This is like certifying quacks even if they don’t become doctors,” Visweswaraiah said.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

“It is what’s right and of course it would have been what was right 70 years ago.”

— Thomas Will, who heads Germany’s office in charge of investigating Nazi-era crimes, reacted to the conviction of a 101-year-old former concentration camp guard for being an accessory to more than 3,500 murders and sentenced to five years in prison by a German court Tuesday. The man, identified as Josef S., has denied working at the Sachsenhausen camp just north of Berlin, and it is unclear if he will serve any prison time. “We go by the simple principle that murder does not have a statute of limitations,” Will said.

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

Greenpeace protesters projected the message ''G7: End Fossil Fuels Now'' onto the Waxenstein mountain in the Bavarian Alps, as Germany hosts the G7 summit. — Photo: Angelika Warmuth/dpa/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Joel Silvestri, McKenna Johnson and Anne-Sophie Goninet


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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Why Hasn't Joe Biden Visited Ukraine?

U.S. President Joe Biden has been evasive when asked if he plans to follow European leaders by visiting Kyiv. However, such a move could have far-reaching consequences for Ukraine and the rest of the world.

Cameron Manley

U.S. President Joe Biden has been unyielding in his response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: heavy sanctions on the Russian government and financial markets and strong words about Russian President Vladimir Putin, labeling him a “ butcher" and “war criminal”. The U.S. has also sent upwards of $54 billion in aid to Ukraine.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

This week, the war looms heavily over Biden’s trips to Germany and Spain for meetings with world leaders at the G7 and NATO summits.

Already on this side of the Atlantic, the staging would thus seem perfect for the U.S. president to reaffirm support for Ukraine by going to Kyiv, following in the footsteps of top European leaders, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and UN chief Antonio Guterres, who have paid recent visits to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

And yet, save a surprise detour this week, it appears that Biden will in fact not be making the much anticipated trip to Kyiv. What's holding him back?

Russians say he's scared

By all accounts, Biden had plans to visit Ukraine, responding positively in April to President Volodymyr Zelensky's invitation to come and see the destruction“with his own eyes.”

However, when asked last week if he still plans to visit Ukraine, Biden evasively said that it depends on “many things regarding whether this will cause more difficulties for the Ukrainians, whether it will distract from what is happening.” When asked to clarify whether this meant that he would not visit Kyiv during his trip to Europe, he replied: “During this trip, it’s unlikely.” He stressed, though, that he spoke with Zelensky three to four times per week.

Russian news has pounced on Biden’s notable absence from Kyiv. On Thursday, Russian daily Kommersant ran the headline: “Not the time to head to Kyiv” and notes that this is not the first instance where Mr. Biden has had to make excuses for not visiting Ukraine.

Russian media sites have mocked Biden for his “fear” of visiting Kyiv.

In March, the U.S. president visited Poland and was closer than ever to the Ukrainian border. The fact that he never walked the streets of Kyiv, unlike British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was explained by the U.S. president himself: He was "not allowed." The White House refused to clarify what or who was stopping him.

Other Russian media sites have also mocked Biden for his “fear” of visiting Kyiv, using tweets from U.S. citizens to substantiate calling the president a “puppet” or “coward.”

Over the course of several months, high-ranking officials from Washington have indeed visited Kyiv, most notably Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and even First Lady Jill Biden, who made an unannounced visit at the start of May.
Photo of \u200bUkrainian President Zelensky on the phone with U.S. President Biden on June 15

Zelensky on the phone with Biden on June 15

Sarsenov Daniiar/Ukraine Preside/Planet Pix/ZUMA

Leaders of war and peace

Of course, when and if he were to visit, the appearance would likely be unannounced, for security reasons. Indeed, a visit from the U.S. president himself carries higher stakes than perhaps any other world leader. It's worth remembering that during the Guterres visit to Kyiv in late April, Russia launched a new round of missile attacks on the city that the United Nations chief said were an attempt to "humiliate" the UN.

Moreover, it may be no coincidence that the first air strikes on Kyiv in weeks have coincided with this current round of European summits, as Russia has continuously demonstrated its readiness to escalate.The U.S. sending its president to Ukrainian soil would no doubt raise the stakes further.

Back in March, Zelensky said that Biden, as the leader of the free world, is also the “leader of peace.” But of course these are war times, and the prospect of a visit to Kyiv begs the question of whether Biden wants to be seen as the leader of the war.

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