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Digest 03.06: Orban blackmails EU, while Putin waits for the world to forget about the protracted war

3-6-2022 |

CNN: After 100 days of war, Putin is counting on the world's indifference

Rewind the clock to February 23, the day before Russia launched its all-out invasion of Ukraine, and one might be tempted to guess that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's days in office were numbered.

After all, Russia's military outspent that of Ukraine by roughly ten to one. Moscow enjoyed a twofold advantage over Kyiv in land forces; and the nuclear-armed power had ten times the aircraft and five times the armored fighting vehicles of its neighbor.

A visibly angry Russian President Vladimir Putin had appeared on television just days before, delivering a rambling historical monologue that made clear he expected nothing less than regime change in Kyiv.

100 days later, whatever plans Putin may have had for a victory parade in Kyiv are on indefinite hold.

Ukrainian morale did not collapse. Ukrainian troops, equipped with modern anti-tank weaponry delivered by the US and its allies, devastated Russian armored columns; Ukrainian missiles sank the guided-missile cruiser Moskva, the pride of Russia's Black Sea Fleet; and Ukrainian aircraft stayed in the air, against the odds.

Does this mean Russia is losing? It is too early to draw hasty conclusions: hard battles continue.

"You have the watches, but we have the time."

That saying, sometimes attributed to a captured Taliban fighter, summed up America's dilemma in fighting the Afghanistan war, a grudging acknowledgement that insurgencies operated on different political horizons and timelines, and that insurgents needed only to outlast -- not defeat -- the technologically superior US military.

To repurpose that phrase, the deciding factor in Ukraine may be who has the time: A Russian dictator who is likely to hold power until he dies, or a Ukrainian people who are fighting for their national survival.

POLITICO: Orbán wins again as furious EU envoys take church patriarch off Russian sanctions list

The European Union finally agreed on the details of its latest package of sanctions against Russia — but only after Viktor Orbán's Hungarian government pulled one last trick.

Viktor Orbán
Photo Bernadett Szabo / Reuters file

At the 11th hour, Hungary demanded that diplomats meeting to put the finishing touches on the EU's oil ban remove the head of the Russian Orthodox Church from the list of sanctioned individuals.

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow has been criticized for his closeness to Vladimir Putin, and was included in the proposed list of people to be sanctioned in the bloc's sixth round of measures against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

In the end, diplomats felt they had no choice but to give in, and Kirill was duly removed from the list.

But the episode, which follows Orbán holding up progress on the main oil embargo for a month, has left a bitter aftertaste for many countries.

The question is, what can they do to stop him from repeating what one envoy called "Hungarian hostage" tactics in the future?

“Many member states are disappointed with Hungary," another EU diplomat said. "Hungary has lost the last sympathies of its former friends in Central and Eastern Europe with this unnecessary stunt.”

A third diplomat said Hungary would be more isolated because of the way it has held up this latest round of EU sanctions.

The Guardian: Biden calls for assault weapons ban in fiery speech: ‘how much carnage will we accept?’

In a primetime gun control address, the president pushed stronger background checks and repealing gun manufacturer immunity

Joe Biden has urged for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines after a series of mass shootings that stunned America, demanding: “How much more carnage are we willing to accept?”

Biden’s impassioned plea came after a month that saw 10 people shot dead at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and 19 children and two teachers killed in Robb elementary school in Uvalde, Texas; both gunmen were 18 and used an AR-15-style weapon.

There have been 20 mass shootings since Uvalde, including on Wednesday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where a gunman shot and killed four people and himself at a medical office. And just moments after Biden’s speech, authorities reported yet another shooting – this time outside a megachurch in Iowa – that killed three, including the shooter.

During his remarks, Biden emphasized that his aim was not to challenge the second amendment, and he championed those who have purchased and kept guns legally and safely.

“We believe we should be treating responsible gun owners as an example of how every gun owner should behave,” he said. “I respect the culture and the tradition and the concerns of lawful gun owners.”

“At the same time,” he added, “the second amendment is not absolute.”

REUTERS: Elon Musk wants to cut 10% of Tesla jobs

Tesla (TSLA.O) CEO Elon Musk has a "super bad feeling" about the economy and needs to cut about 10% of jobs at the electric carmaker, he said in an email to executives seen by Reuters.

Elon Musk
Photo AP Photo / Matt Rourke

The message, sent on Thursday and titled "pause all hiring worldwide", came two days after the billionaire told staff to return to the workplace or leave, and adds to a growing chorus of warnings from business leaders about the risks of recession.

Tesla shares fell nearly 3% in U.S. pre-market trade on Friday and its Frankfurt-listed stock was down 3.6% after the Reuters report. U.S. Nasdaq futures turned negative and were trading 0.6% lower.

"Musk's bad feeling is shared by many people," said Carsten Brzeski, global head of macroeconomic research at Dutch bank ING. "But we are not talking about global recession. We expect a cooling of the global economy towards the end of the year. The U.S. will cool off, while China and Europe are not going to rebound."

Musk, the world's richest man according to Forbes, did not elaborate on the reasons for his "super bad feeling" about the economic outlook in the brief email seen by Reuters.

Wedbush Securities analyst Daniel Ives said in a tweet it appeared Musk and Tesla were "trying to be ahead of a slower delivery ramp this year and preserve margins ahead of an economic slowdown."