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The Kremlin’s Weakness Escalates Nuclear Risk In Ukraine War

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Russian President Vladimir Putin made a rare national television address on September 21 to issue new and explicit nuclear threats regarding his faltering invasion of Ukraine. It is not the first time Putin has done this, but Russia’s current circumstances makes his saber-rattling more disturbing than before. Putin leads a nation beset on all sides. His military forces have been pushed back by Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive in the northeast, and have suffered huge casualties and material losses since the invasion began in February. At the international level, Putin faces a united Western bloc and potential allies like China, India and Turkey are currently distancing themselves from Russia. Domestically, the waters are becoming increasingly choppy and murky.

Russia experts are divided on whether Putin would really be willing to resort to nuclear weapons – only the Russian president knows for sure. William Alberque, director of Strategy, Technology, and Arms Control at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, considers nuclear escalation highly unlikely. “I see it [Putin’s threats] as a symptom of weakness and an attempt to force Europe into negotiations,” said Alberque.

Sidharth Kaushal, of the Royal United Services Institute, agrees that it’s highly unlikely Russia will use nuclear weapons in the Ukraine war. “I think it is a latent threat, designed to create uncertainty. I think that Russia’s fragile international position represents a deterrent factor. It is already quite isolated, and its partners are beginning to demonstrate misgivings. If Russia were to attack with a nuclear weapon, it would find itself in complete isolation, which would be devastating for its economy,” said Kaushal. “I don’t think he would use them. I think the world will not allow it,” said Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy in an interview with Germany’s BILD TV. The Chinese government also urged restraint following Putin’s threats.

“Still,” said Kaushal, “I think a nuclear attack cannot be ruled out. If Ukraine ultimately destroys the bulk of Russia’s forces, we would be looking at the first defeat of a nuclear power in conventional warfare. This is uncharted territory.” In that sense, some experts don’t consider a nuclear outcome highly improbable. Former NATO leader Rose Gottemoeller expressed her concern about this possibility even before Putin’s speech. Would the Russian leader accept a complete defeat in Ukraine that would lead to the probable collapse of his regime without attempting the riskiest of all last resorts? The uncertainty is frightening, and current events have launched it to the forefront.

The nuclear threat is just one of the Kremlin’s responses to its extreme weakness. Putin also announced the partial mobilization of reserve soldiers, and called for referendums to be held in eastern Ukrainian to vote on annexation by Russia. All of these responses follow the same pattern — when challenged, escalate. In this context, the following are some keys to understanding perhaps the most serious nuclear conflict since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

What are the objectives of Putin’s threats? Deterrence

The purpose of mobilizing reservists is to add manpower that can contain the Ukrainian counteroffensive. But mobilizing these forces will be a very slow process, to say the least. It remains to be seen how much and when this mobilization will have an effect on the battlefield. The purpose of the referendums and the nuclear threat, on the other hand, is immediate deterrence. The annexation of Ukrainian territories following referendums held in undemocratic conditions will, in the Kremlin’s logic, formalize the incorporation of Ukrainian territory (besides Crimea) into Russia. Therefore, any attack against these annexed territories would constitute an attack against Russia, which Putin said would be contested with every weapon in his arsenal.

Moscow clearly expects that both measures will factor heavily in the calculations of Kyiv and its Western partners. In a recent analysis of Russia’s nuclear threats, Gustave Gressel, of the European Council on Foreign Relations, pointed out that Russia’s campaign of nuclear signaling has borne some fruit in the early stages of the war. NATO has refrained from direct intervention and Western nations have avoided some forms of military assistance for Ukraine. US intelligence services call Russia’s approach “escalate to de-escalate.” In other words, up the ante in hopes that the adversary will hold back.

In addition to trying to slow down the Ukrainian counteroffensive, the Kremlin may be hoping that nuclear scare tactics will encourage Europe to push for de-escalation through negotiation. In his speech, Putin mentioned that Kyiv has at times shown a constructive attitude in this regard. But without offering any evidence, Putin alleged that the West has encouraged Ukraine to keep on fighting.

Will Russia really use a nuclear weapon? Keys to the doctrine

Putin is the only person that can answer that question, but one of his executive orders provides some clues. “Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence” (June 8, 2020) establishes the following conditions for possible nuclear weapons use by the Russian Federation:

a) arrival of reliable data on a launch of ballistic missiles attacking the territory of the Russian Federation and/or its allies;

b) use of nuclear weapons or other types of weapons of mass destruction by an adversary against the Russian Federation and/or its allies;

c) attack by adversary against critical governmental or military sites of the Russian Federation, disruption of which would undermine nuclear forces response actions;

d) aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.

At first glance, none of these conditions seems to likely in the near term. But if additional Ukrainian territories are annexed by Russia after the referendums, then Putin could feasibly conjure up an existential threat and justify a nuclear attack under condition d).

Who would make the decision? Putin, but…

Article 18 of the Russian doctrine states that the decision to use nuclear weapons is taken by the President of the Russian Federation. But this power is tempered by the necessary involvement of other figures. “The Russian system gives final authority to the president, but only after consultation with the defense minister and the chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces,” said Kaushal. “The decision, moreover, must be transmitted for execution precisely to the general staff. This structure comes from Soviet-era systems of balance and control. That’s the way it works in theory. But in practice, in view of the concentration of power in Putin’s hands, it’s unlikely that Shoigu, the defense minister, and Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff, would oppose an order from Putin.” Still, the mechanism provides some leeway for military insubordination.

What types of nuclear weapons would Russia use? Tactical bombs

There is little doubt among experts that the Kremlin would opt for tactical nuclear warheads that have a lower destructive potential and are delivered by shorter-range vehicles than strategic, intercontinental missile systems.

Tactical nuclear weapons are not the most powerful warheads currently available, but they range widely in their destructive potential. Some are much less powerful than the 15-kiloton bomb dropped on Hiroshima (Japan), while others are equally or more powerful. The US has a 0.3-kiloton bomb in its arsenal, so despite the lack of Russian transparency, it’s reasonable to assume that Moscow also has similar bombs. But both nations also have 100-kiloton weapons.

According to a report by Hans M. Kristensen published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Russia had a large stockpile of non-strategic nuclear warheads in 2020 – nearly 2,000 – which can be fired from land, air or sea. Some delivery vehicles, such as the nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles, have been used in the Ukraine war with conventional warheads. Russia has amassed a much larger nuclear arsenal than the West, in order to balance out its inferiority in conventional weapons.

How would Russia use them? To terrorize

Former NATO leader Rose Goettemoeller says there are two potential uses. Russia could drop a bomb in the Black Sea to intimidate and terrorize, or it could launch a low-capacity nuclear warhead against an isolated Ukrainian military infrastructure. It remains to be seen how Ukraine would react to such an attack, but in a recently published article, General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, addressed the issue.

“Another factor is the direct threat of the use by Russia… It is hard to imagine that even nuclear strikes will enable Russia to break Ukraine’s will to resist. But the threat that will emerge for the whole of Europe cannot be ignored. The possibility of direct involvement of the world’s leading powers in a “limited” nuclear conflict, bringing closer the prospect of World War III, cannot be completely ruled out either,” wrote Zuluzhnyi.

How would the West respond? It depends on the type of attack

If Russia were to launch a nuclear strike in the Ukraine conflict, the potential consequences are terrifying. US President Joe Biden addressed the issue in his September 21 speech before the United Nations General Assembly. Biden called Putin’s threats “irresponsible,” declaring that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. As before, Biden avoided inflammatory rhetoric, but he did warn Russia that Washington would respond accordingly. “What they do will define the nature of our response.” He emphatically urged Putin not to explore that path. “It would change the face of war like nothing seen since World War II,” he said. At worst, it could change the face of the planet.

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Rare Diamond Destined For A Jewelry Store Has Precious Geological Value

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Gemologist Tingting Gu was working at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in New York when a diamond came to her for analysis and appraisal. It was to be set in a ring and sold in a jewelry store before she realized the geological significance of the gem under her microscope. It was the second ringwoodite diamond ever discovered.

To validate her find, Gu contacted Fabrizio Nestola, a professor with the Department of Geosciences at the University of Padua (Italy). The IaB-type diamond is very rare because it shows a mineral accumulation of ringwoodite with ferropericlase and enstatite. “This is the first time that this combination has occurred, which validates our laboratory experiments and provides us with exceptional new knowledge about the composition and structure of one of Earth’s most inaccessible and remote places,” said Nestola, co-author of the study published in Nature.

The 1.5 cm diamond comes from the Karowe mine in Botswana (southern Africa). A chemical analysis of the gem indicates that it originated 410 miles (660 kilometers) below the Earth’s mantle where it came in contact with water. This finding changes scientists’ current understanding of the Earth’s subsoil in that water is now believed to be much more prevalent at that depth than previously thought.

This discovery provides us with exceptional new knowledge about the composition and structure of one of Earth’s most inaccessible and remote places

Fabrizio Nestola (Department of Geosciences, University of Padua, Italy.

Detailed plane of the diamond, where the analysis highlights a composition of ferropericlase (bluish center), ringwoodite (upper edge) and enstatite (lower edge).
Detailed plane of the diamond, where the analysis highlights a composition of ferropericlase (bluish center), ringwoodite (upper edge) and enstatite (lower edge).Nathan D. Renfro y Tingting Gu (GIA)

Diamonds are (geological) time machines. High pressure and temperatures formed diamonds in Earth’s depths millions of years ago. Volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tectonic plate movements then brought them up to the Earth’s crust. Diamonds are one of the best sources of information about what is happening deep inside the Earth, an environment to which scientists have no direct access.

The diamond that came into Tingting Gu’s hands contains ringwoodite, which is a magnesium silicate mineral first discovered in 1969 in a meteorite that struck Australia. The first terrestrial ringwoodite sample was excavated in 2014 from the Juína mine in Brazil, sealed inside a “super-deep” diamond, according to Nestola. The discovery confirmed scientific theories about the Earth’s mantle, which can only be studied via the deposits expelled by geological cataclysms. It most likely emerged millions of years ago from the depths through a “chimney” of kimberlite volcanic rock. “This was very helpful,” says Nestola, “because the longest manmade shaft ever built only goes 7.5 miles deep.”

Ringwoodite is nothing more than an olivine, one of the most common minerals in the Earth’s upper mantle, just below the crust, “… to which great atmospheric pressure has been applied,” says geologist Javier García Guinea, of Spain’s National Museum of Natural Sciences. García Guinea, who was not involved in the rare discovery, says the study is “continuist” in nature, but acknowledges that “this is science, which is done step-by-step.”

The analysis of the IaB-type diamond indicates that it comes from a transition zone between the second and third layers of the Earth, at a depth of between 250 and 420 miles. The diamond was formed at a pressure of 23.5 GPa (gigapascals), and a temperature of about 3,000ºF (1,650ºC). To help us comprehend these facts, Nestola explained, “The pressure that crushes the atoms of the mineral into a diamond is immense – a single gigapascal is equivalent to four Mount Everests on top of your head.”

The presence of H₂O in the Earth’s lower mantle has implications for the structure and evolution of the planet

Geologist Antonio García Casco (Department of Mineralogy and Petrology, University of Granada, Spain).

The chemical composition of the IaB-type diamond suggests that there are oceans of water between the Earth’s substrata, “… which is not new information – this has been known for decades,” said geologist Antonio García Casco (Department of Mineralogy and Petrology, University of Granada, Spain). But at those extreme depths, water is not the liquid we see on the surface. “It [H₂O] is transformed into a fluid that’s half-liquid and half-gas. It adheres to minerals and can comprise between 10-20% of their weight,” said García Casco.

García Casco says the study about the IaB-type diamond is significant because it leads us to “infer the presence of free-flowing H₂O in the lower mantle,” which has implications for “the structure and evolution of the planet. For example, implications for mantle convection and plate tectonics, which permanently change the planet.” For García Casco, this study is an opportunity for mineralogists to observe transformation processes that only occur “at depths that will be forever inaccessible.”

The diamond, saved in the nick of time from ending up in an engagement ring, “freezes and captures its environment, and then ferries it up from the depths until it reaches the light of day,” says Nestola. For geologists like him, the more material a gem absorbs, the more valuable it is to science. “Just the opposite for a jeweler,” he laughs.

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Abanderado: The Unlikely History Of A T-Shirt Men Wore Because Women Told Them To

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A short-sleeved white t-shirt displays little hint of transgression, yet it is capable of defining its wearer’s personality to a large extent. In the case of Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, the garment eroticized the protagonist, underlining his status as a paragon of the prototypical masculine ideal of the era. On the opposite end is Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski, dressed in a grimy, faded white tee in keeping with his carefree and lazy character. Between both those extremes lie endless possibilities. Fashion brands have riffed limitlessly on the timeless potential of the simplest of designs. In Spain, the success of the white t-shirt came about through Abanderado, a brand founded in the 1960s that managed to consecrate its shirt as a symbol synonymous with success.

From Mataró to the world

Abanderado was founded by Pere Sans in 1963 in Mataró, one of the hubs of the textile industry in Spain. In its early days, the company produced underwear for women, men and children. Before long, its white men’s t-shirt had triumphed. Maruca García Paredes, director of the fashion department at Madrid’s University School of Design, Innovation and Technology (ESNE), points out that the popularity of this basic item has fluctuated throughout history: “Its origins date back to the Middle Ages, but its spread began with the dawn of mass textile production. Curiously, its popularity plummeted in 1934 when Clark Gable appeared without an undershirt in the movie It Happened One Night. Marlon Brando restored its notoriety in A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Succeeding at selling a product as ubiquitous as the white t-shirt is not an easy task: there aren’t many obvious ways to stand out from competitors. So what made Abanderado different?

History of advertising in Spain

Decades before Calvin Klein revolutionized the fashion industry with provocative underwear ads starring a teenaged Kate Moss and a chiseled Mark Wahlberg, Abanderado had already made history on Spanish television: advertising was one of the brand’s strengths. At that time, the viewing audience was not as diversified as it is today and broadcasts on non-state run and regional channels had not yet begun. A TV advertisement was guaranteed to reach hundreds of thousands of potential customers. Thus, Abanderado became the first brand to advertise men’s underwear in Spain in the 1970s and sales skyrocketed.

The spots were hardly innovative. They extolled the values of the time by glorifying the “masculine” man. Although Abanderado’s clothing was designed for men, some of its advertisements were nonetheless directed at women. What is perhaps one of its most remembered spots ended with an eloquent musical slogan: “Men wear Abanderado because women buy Abanderado.” In the space of a few seconds, that song synthesized and legitimized a chauvinistic idea rooted in the era: that men wouldn’t dream of buying their underwear. This was a task reserved for women, that is, their mothers or wives.

The brand’s white t-shirts, with short sleeves or straps, became a consumer favorite. Children wore them to school and through adulthood. The lyrics of one of the jingles, sung by a woman, emphasized that idea of Abanderado as a signature present in the key moments of your life: “Since you were little you have always carried Abanderado within you. On the most important day, when serving as a soldier, when you fall in love, Abanderado.” The song alluded to the first communion and military service, two essential pillars for the most conservative sectors of Spanish society.

The message came at a time when Spain was facing great societal change following the death of the dictator Francisco Franco and the transition to democracy. On its website, the brand cites a 1980s study that listed Abanderado as the leader in men’s underwear sales, with a 37% market share. At that time, the company had more than 600 workers in its Mataró factory, making it one of the most important companies in the Catalonian municipality.

Michael Jordan signs with Abanderado

The turn of a new decade provided a huge boost for the brand. In 1991, Abanderado was sold to the American company Sara Lee. Its campaigns had borne fruit and Abanderado ads were already part of the collective imagination, although the firm ran the risk of appearing somewhat dated. The new parent company ensured it would reach a whole new generation by signing the biggest sports star in the world at the time: NBA star Michael Jordan wore Abanderado shorts in a spot that has become part of history. It was 1992 and Jordan and the Dream Team had just returned from the Barcelona Olympics with gold medals. According to the commercial, Jordan had also discovered Abanderado briefs while at the Games. The campaign signaled a powerful change in the brand’s mentality: women were no longer identified as the primary audience and an influential male figure was chosen to appeal to the interests of men, the primary wearers of Abanderado products.

At the beginning of the 2000s, Abanderado changed hands again. It was acquired by the Sun Capital fund, which moved its headquarters from Mataró to Madrid. Shortly afterward, the brand’s t-shirts ceased to be manufactured in Spain. As of 2014, Abanderado has been owned by the American multinational Hanesbrands, the parent company of other underwear labels including Dim, Wonderbra Champion and Playtex.

Where is Abanderado today? Has the company managed to keep its shirts relevant? Is the brand name familiar to younger generations outside of television and traditional advertising? The brand’s golden age may be in the past but the current panorama works in its favor. The white tank top has grown ever more popular among followers of current fashion trends. Luxury brands such as Prada and Bottega Veneta have not passed up the opportunity to include simple white shirts in their latest collections – with three-figure prices. “That has been the major change,” says stylist Inés Marinero, “the transition from an undershirt to a trendy garment. It’s something that started in 1990s and it’s now back in fashion. Sporty luxury is now a part of our lives, which is why the white shirt is now also worn with more elaborate and sophisticated fabric designs.” A few weeks ago, the style section of The New York Times dedicated an expansive article to the garment entitled: “Reinventing the Humble Tank Top.” García Paredes also links the popularity of the white t-shirt to “the informalization of the intimate garment”, adding that it has become “a staple whose versatility can go from elegance and sophistication to daring, comfort and simplicity.”

Almost six decades after announcing itself on the market, Abanderado is now just a shadow of what it was in its heyday, citing economic problems and a constant trickle of layoffs. But its white shirt remains ingrained on the minds of a large part of Spanish society. Its next task is to try and repeat its marketing success on the new generation.

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Britney Spears’ First Year Of Freedom: Dancing, Beaches And Bitterness

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In movies, stories end with “The End” and the rolling of the credits. But in real life, they continue to unfold right up to the coffin. The story of the conservatorship of singer Britney Spears, who was subjected to strict parental control by court order for 13 years, had a cinematic ending. The princess of pop, looked up in a castle in Las Vegas, was freed by an army of fans, with no other weapon than the hashtag #FreeBritney. A wave of protests began in 2019 when The New York Times began to echo what her followers had been warning for some time: the artist was not well. It sparked a movement. As much as her Instagram account or her show in Las Vegas said otherwise, the singer was a puppet in the hands of her father, who had taken advantage of her psychiatric admission in 2008 to take charge of her life and her fortune. The change in social perception was decisive. On September 30, 2021, just one year ago, Spears finally achieved her freedom. World attention waned, but her life went on.

If there were post-credits scenes in Britney Spears’ movie, they would show her naked, drinking champagne, on a paradisiacal beach. Since regaining control of her life, the 40-year-old singer has done what anyone in her situation would do. “She has traveled the world. She has been on the beach practically the whole year,” says Juan Sanguino, journalist and author of the book Britney, One More Time. “Essentially, she has dedicated herself to doing what she likes the most, which is trying on clothes, dancing, doing yoga, being with her boyfriend and being on Instagram. Because she is addicted to Instagram.”

In the last year, the singer has been more present on the social network than on Spotify. She has only released one song, a duet with Elton John in which they cover old songs by the English artist. In this same time, she has shared 483 photos and an undetermined number of stories on Instagram, causing a cascade of headlines. “For the public, this first year of free Britney has meant the discovery of her as a person,” says Sanguino. “Much has been said about her as an icon, a star, a symbol or a metaphor. But she had never been talked about as a person until now.”

After years under the gag of the conservatorship, Spears is now telling her own story. And she is doing it on Instagram, a platform on which she has 42 million followers and which he uses almost like a virtual diary. Here she publishes her free dance sessions and her home fashion shows, compulsively trying on clothes while swaying her body from side to side, staring at the camera. Here she announced that she was going to have heer first glass of champagne in 13 years and her first visit to a bar (“I feel so sophisticated,” she said). She shared her first time sailing and her first selfie. “Year of first times … on the bucket list I guess,” she wrote in one post.

A #FreeBritney protest in Dallas, September 25, 2021.
A #FreeBritney protest in Dallas, September 25, 2021.Omar Vega (Getty Images)

She also announced her third pregnancy and subsequent miscarriage. And her third marriage, with the 28-year-old Iranian model Sam Asghari. Getting married and growing her family were two of the singer’s great wishes, which she was unable to fulfill during her conservatorship. Celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Drew Barrymore, Selena Gomez, Madonna and Donatella Versace —who designed her dress— attended the wedding. But there was no trace of the Spears family. The singer of “I’m a Slave 4 U” is at odds with her father, against whom she is waging a legal battle over the consequences of his guardianship. She is also fighting her sister, brother and mother for their role in the process. The most significant absence in the link, however, was that of her children, Sean Preston, 16, and Jayden James, 15, the result of her marriage to dancer Kevin Federline.

The minors explained their absence a few months later in a television interview with their father in which they confirmed their estrangement. At the Spears’ house, the dirty laundry is aired on Instagram. And that’s where Britney shared a voice message assuring that a part of her had died: “I literally have no purpose anymore. They were my joy. They were my everything. I hope to see them. That’s what I live for. And suddenly they disappear.”

Spears has also gone to Instagram to share details about the conservatorship, posting bitter, emoji-filled declarations that tabloids have analyzed with relish. “I think she is suffering from a clear situation of post-traumatic syndrome,” says Sanguino. “It’s like she had just been released from a kidnapping. She was managing it with a therapist, but the way to learn to live with what she has suffered is also to recognize it, proclaim it and share it.”

She has also used his social networks to settle accounts with former colleagues, perhaps going too far on some occasions. She accused her ex, singer Justin Timberlake, of using her to gain “fame and attention,” in a post that she deleted after a few minutes. “This new Britney is more badass, more forward, more inappropriate from the media point of view,” Sanguino concedes. “But it’s also more authentic, more real.”

It has only been a year since the story of Britney Spears, the icon, ended. That of Britney Spears, the woman, began to be narrated in the first person. Like any human story, it has its chiaroscuro. It says a lot about the past of the princess of pop, but even more about her audience. “Society has changed,” says Sanguino. “Her case has become a symbol of everything we had to leave behind, of that cruelty, of that wild misogyny of the 2000s. People saw in Britney a chance to atone socioculturally.” She has taken that opportunity to stop living as an icon and start living as a free woman.

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