Ankara Is Not Sarajevo, Bad Analogies Of Russian Envoy Assassination

The killing of Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov has set off comparisons to 1914 and the singular spark for World War I.

Hommage to Russian Ambassador Andrey Karlov, in Moscow
Hommage to Russian Ambassador Andrey Karlov, in Moscow
Nicole Hemmer*

No sooner had the news broken that Andrey Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, had been assassinated than the comparisons to 1914 began to flow. Google searches for "Franz Ferdinand" briefly spiked. Bill Kristol tweeted that the headlines had "an alarming 1914-ish feel," and Owen Jones of the Guardian caught "a whiff of 1914 that is too pungent to be ignored." That year, Bosnian nationalist Gavrilo Princip assassinated Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, setting in motion events that would result in World War I, a globe-consuming fight that left 17 million dead and Europe in ruins.

Given the uncertainty of the current moment and the players involved, the pull toward such analogies is strong. But there is a real danger here, a danger that exists in any historical analogy that draws surface comparisons while ignoring particulars. Such analogies give us a false sense of security, even when the antecedents are horrific: a sense that we know what's coming next and how to respond, that everything is knowable and under control. But the reality is that we have no idea what comes next, and if we act too assuredly, too trapped within the analogy, the odds of miscalculating grow exponentially.

Let's take that World War I analogy. In 1914, Europe was a tinderbox in search of a spark. A system of alliances that had kept peace, more or less, for a half-century had failed to adapt to the new realities of expanded empires, modern warfare and decaying monarchies. What had once granted stability now almost assured chaos. The empires involved were too insecure to allow the moment of Ferdinand's assassination to pass. And when the dominoes fell, they fell with unimaginable consequences.

There are echoes with today, to be sure. Both Turkey and Russia are led by authoritarians anxious to show their power. Turkey is a member of NATO, an alliance system erected to counter Russian aggression. Add to that the instability in Europe and the United States, as well as the palpable fear that instability has created, and surely 2016 is 1914 redux.

But here is the problem with such analogies: They latch onto similarities, flattening the particulars of each historical moment. Which is why historical analogy is so dangerous in times like this. Russia is not itching for war with NATO. When it comes to testing NATO, Russia prefers to nudge the edges of the alliance, not strike at the heart of it. Witness Vladimir Putin's actions toward Ukraine. The annexation of Crimea is alarming, but Putin was unwilling to risk war by grabbing the rest of Ukraine, which he believes to be properly part of Russia. And in Syria, where Russia has been supporting the Assad regime, Putin was slow to enter the fight, preferring to offer political and munitions support for the first several years of the war rather than direct involvement. Why would he pick a fight with Turkey, a valuable U.S. ally and NATO member? If he does declare war on Turkey, he will not be acting predictably but in a manner entirely out of line with his recent actions.

The other issue with historical analogy is that it ignores, well, history. Before World War I, an alliance system had never resulted in such catastrophic outcomes. The very fact of the war — the knowledge every actor in the drama now carries — changes the calculation every player makes. In 1914, no one knew something like the Great War, with its destructive, devastating results, could happen. Now, everyone does.

We are in a season rife with historical analogy, with many Americans glancing fretfully toward Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, drawing on the experience of those decades to illuminate this one. But historical analogies can often obscure rather than enlighten, assert rather than explain. Easy historical analogies lead us to think we understand more about the world and the future than we do.

The truth is, we don't know what will happen next, nor the best way to respond. History provides lessons for the present, not spoilers for the future. As such, it should inform our understanding, not dictate it. Those who fail to learn from the past may be doomed to repeat it, but those who over-learn are doomed, as well.

*Hemmer is an assistant professor at the University of Virginia's Miler Center and author of "Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics."

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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