The Ukraine war is really about energy

🎸 Knopfler’s supergroup | 🥶 Cryo-lawyers | 👀 15 million informants

In the headlines

Israeli special forces have rescued two hostages in a raid on a residential building in Rafah. The operation took place during heavy overnight airstrikes, which Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said killed at least 67 Palestinians, and comes ahead of an expected Israeli ground offensive on the southern border city. The men’s marathon world record holder Kelvin Kiptum has died in a road accident in his home country of Kenya. The 24-year-old, who came close to breaking the two-hour barrier in Chicago last year, was killed alongside his coach, Gervais Hakizimana. The “Taylor Swift Super Bowl” lived up to the hype, says BBC News, after the singer watched her boyfriend Travis Kelce help the Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers 25-22 in overtime. The pop star, who travelled from her Eras tour in Japan for the game in Las Vegas, watched with the actress Blake Lively, the singer Lana Del Ray, and her mum.

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Gavriil Grigorov/Pool/AFP/Getty

The Ukraine war is really about energy

In his interview with Tucker Carlson last week, Vladimir Putin argued that his rationale for invading Ukraine was all about “ancient history”, says Matthew Syed in The Sunday Times. But that’s just a “smokescreen”. The real reason the Russian leader risked so much for this particular patch of land is simple: energy. In the decades ahead, we’ll need tons of fossil fuels to keep the lights on, and we’ll need tons of materials to build everything we need for the renewable energy transition: solar panels, wind turbines, electric car batteries and so on. The prices of these materials – the likes of lithium, cobalt, and “rare earths” like neodymium – will soar.

That brings us to Ukraine. The former Soviet state has vast fossil fuel supplies: the second-largest gas reserves in Europe after Norway, and “one of the largest coal deposits in the world”. It is also, as one author puts it, a “mineral superpower”, with “stocks of 117 of the 120 most widely used metals and minerals”. One think tank estimates that the “mineral wealth” of Ukrainian land currently held by Russia is an astonishing $12.4trn. Putin isn’t the only one thinking in these terms, hence the “resource nationalism” in Latin America and China cornering the market for processing critical minerals. Yet many in the West are not – the US blithely sold its last cobalt mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the Chinese in 2016. It’s time our leaders grasped a simple fact: energy needs to be “front and centre of everything we think and do”.

Photography

Smithsonian Magazine has rounded up a selection of pictures showing animals getting up to “wintry antics”. The “chilly but cute creatures” include a white ermine from Wyoming waist-deep in powder snow; a cluster of golden snub-nosed monkeys in China cosying up on a branch; a pair of frost-dusted polar bears playing in Alaska; and a parade of Icelandic horses galloping across a frigid plain. See the rest here.

Noted

Over the past two decades, says Minxin Pei in Foreign Affairs, Chinese leaders have built a “high-tech surveillance system of seemingly extraordinary sophistication”. When anti-lockdown protestors wore masks and hats to disguise themselves from the country’s ubiquitous facial-recognition cameras, police used mobile phone location data to track them down instead. But there’s a lot more to it than technology. The Chinese Communist Party has spent the past eight decades constructing a “vast network” of informers and spies, whose work has been “critical to the regime’s survival”. By one estimate, close to 1% of the country – perhaps as many as 15 million people – serve as informants.

Love etc

Mr and Mrs Starmer at the 2022 Labour Party conference. Christopher Furlong/Getty

Keir Starmer has revealed that after his first-ever conversation with his wife, she snapped: “Who the fuck does he think he is?” The Labour leader told British Vogue that Victoria, whom he married in 2007, was working as a solicitor at the time, and that he had called to grill her about the accuracy of some documents. Before hanging up, he heard her making the profane remark to a colleague. “You might think, ‘Not the best of starts,’ but it was absolutely classic Vic,” he said. “Very sassy, very down to earth, no nonsense from anyone, including from me.”

Comment

“My memory is fine”: Biden responding to questions last week. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty

Is Biden “hiding” from voters?

As an outsider observing the US presidential election, says Helen Lewis in The Atlantic, I’ve long wondered “when Joe Biden’s age would become a thing”. At 81, he’s already the oldest person ever to occupy the White House. He’s older than Bill Clinton, who left the Oval Office in 2000. “He is older than the hovercraft, the barcode, and the Breathalyzer.” And he looks it. Whereas Donald Trump – “a mere debutant at 77” – has a “demonic energy” that makes him seem younger than he is, “Joe Biden looks like he is turning into a statue of Joe Biden”. All of which is why the Justice Department’s report into his handling of classified documents is so damaging. In interviews, the investigators said, Biden couldn’t remember when he was vice president, or even when his son Beau died. Is this really a man with “another four years of presidential decision-making ahead of him”?

The president’s allies are dismissing the report as partisan, says The New York Times. The lead investigator, Robert Hur, is a former Trump administration official. But whatever Hur’s motivation, the details of his report “spoke to worries voters already had”: more than 70% of those in battleground states think Biden is too old for the job. And the President isn’t doing much to dispel those fears. He has given fewer interviews – 86 – than each of the previous six presidents. Trump gave 300; Barack Obama 422. For the second year in a row, he even refused to do the traditional pre-Super Bowl interview, a chance to show his chops to more than 100 million Americans. All this is eroding the public’s confidence, and understandably so. “He looks as if he is hiding, or worse, being hidden.”

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Life

The Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler has assembled over 50 rock legends to record a new version of his 1983 single Going Home (Theme of the Local Hero) to raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust. The supergroup, aptly named Guitar Heroes, includes the likes of Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, Ronnie Wood, Brian May, Pete Townshend and Ringo Starr. The nine-minute instrumental even begins with the final recording of the late Jeff Beck. It’s released on 15 March; listen to a teaser here.

Staying young

Billionaires who have arranged to have themselves cryogenically frozen have hit an unexpected obstacle, says Mother Jones: estate law. Trusts that enforce the financial wishes of the dead typically run out after about 90 years. But those hoping to be revived centuries in the future don’t want to wake up broke. So canny lawyers are trying to craft so-called “cryo-trusts”, where assets can be passed from a dead person to their future, re-animated self. After a campaign by wealth protection lobbyists, the state of Arizona now permits trusts that last for up to 500 years.

Snapshot

Snapshot

It’s an alligator snapping turtle that was found in a Cumbrian lake, says Sky News. The carnivorous reptile, which has an armour-like shell and jaws strong enough to bite through human bone, is native to rivers and swamps in Florida. This particular specimen was spotted in Urswick Tarn – most likely after being dumped by an exotic pet owner – and fished out with a shopping basket by a local parish councillor. It is being treated by the local vets, who have named it “Fluffy”.

Quoted

“Age is mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
Mark Twain

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