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Why Ukraine is taking the war to Russia with drone attacks on August 3, 2023 at 10:00 am

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Ukraine has increased its tempo of drone attacks against Moscow, seeking to bring the fight to Russia and ramp up domestic pressure on the Kremlin more than 18 months into the war. 

“Gradually, the war is returning to the territory of Russia,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a speech earlier this week, after a drone shattered the facade of a Moscow skyscraper. 

Kyiv has not claimed credit for many of the attacks. But it appears to be hoping that targeted strikes will confuse and divide Russia as Ukraine presses its counteroffensive against Moscow’s invading forces. 

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“In some ways it’s more effective than what Ukraine can do in the counteroffensive, because over there Ukraine is still fighting in its sovereign territory,” Michal Baranowski, the managing director for German Marshall Fund East, told The Hill. 

“Ukrainians are basically trying to show the Russian elites that look, there is a cost to what Putin is doing … and in many ways that is more of a pressure point than young Russians dying on the front because they don’t care for that.”

The drone strikes inside Moscow, which began in May, have targeted military sites and business districts. Moscow was hit by two drone strikes within the span of two days this week, both of which the Kremlin referred to as terrorist attacks. 

At least one person was injured in the attacks this week, but the strikes have not inflicted significant casualties. However, there are signs that they have spurred panic among Russian oligarchs. 

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A late May attack struck in the elitist Moscow district of Rublyovka and sparked fury from Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, the mercenary leader who led a brief rebellion against Russian President Vladimir Putin in June before reaching a deal to stand down.

Prigozhin, a rare Kremlin ally willing to speak out about the war, slammed Russia at the time for “allowing these drones to fly to Moscow.” 

Ukraine likely is relying on a network of saboteur agents embedded inside Russia to carry out the drone attacks. The agents appear to be using Beaver kamikaze drones, about the size of a small vehicle with a range of at least 600 miles. 

The drone strikes are not just being carried out inside Moscow. Ukraine has also launched them in Russian regions bordering Ukraine, in the Crimean Peninsula, which Putin illegally annexed in 2014, and on Russian ships in the Black Sea.

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The stepped-up attacks will likely increase Russian efforts to crack down the shadowy networks responsible for them. 

“There is only one way to deal with such a threat — the methodical identification and detention of Ukrainian agents and their sympathizers,” Russian military blogger Alexander Kots posted on Telegram.

Still, Mathieu Boulègue, a consulting fellow for the Russia and Eurasia Program at Chatham House, said history shows it can be hard to dismantle a network of shadow operations.

“We know these elements have been embedded inside Russian territory since day one,” Boulègue said. “They’re doing classic infiltration and subversion operations we’ve seen throughout wars in history.”

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There may be another hidden cost to the drone strike tactic: Ukraine risking its moral high ground over Russia, an issue that has creeped up since the attacks began over the late spring.

Boulègue said he worried about critics across the governments of Western allies who are “increasingly starting to look for excuses to push Ukraine into negotiations” with Russia.

Ukraine argues that since Russia conducts frequent missile strikes on Ukrainian territory, responsive attacks on Russian soil are a legitimate act of self-defense.

“Nobody in Moscow, nobody in Crimea, can feel safe until the Russian troops stop killing Ukrainian civilians during this war,” said former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on MSNBC.

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But Ukraine does appear to be toeing a fine line on the issue.

A drone strike Tuesday hit a high-rise building in Moscow City, a wealthy business district in the capital of Russia. Videos circulated on social media showed an intense explosion unfolding across the streets of Moscow, leading to crying and panic.

Washington has avoided discussing the attacks inside Russia. Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder on Tuesday declined to speak on the drone attacks when asked.

“Our focus is on providing security assistance to Ukraine to enable them to defend their country inside Ukraine within their sovereign borders,” Ryder said at a briefing.

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Boulègue said the moral argument carries little weight because there is “nothing you can do that will stoop lower than what Russia has done” in the war.

“It’s war. They are at war and their existential struggle for the survival of their nation and their people,” he said. “And they are using whatever they deem necessary to try to continue this work.”

​ Ukraine has increased its tempo of drone attacks against Moscow, seeking to bring the fight to Russia and ramp up domestic pressure on the Kremlin more than 18 months into the war. “Gradually, the war is returning to the territory of Russia,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a speech earlier this week, after a drone shattered… 

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Humans Need Not Apply: The AI Candidate Promising to Disrupt Democracy

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The rise of AI Steve, the artificial intelligence candidate running for a seat in the UK Parliament, has sparked a heated debate about the role of AI in governance and the potential disruption it could bring to traditional democratic processes.

Steven Endacott, the human force behind AI Steve, envisions his AI co-pilot as a conduit for direct democracy, enabling constituents to engage with the AI, share concerns, and shape its policy platform through a voting system of “validators.” Endacott has pledged to vote in Parliament according to the AI’s constituent-driven platform, even if it conflicts with his personal views.

Proponents argue that AI Steve can revolutionize politics by bringing more voices into the process and ensuring that policies truly reflect the will of the people. They claim that an AI candidate can engage in up to 10,000 conversations simultaneously, allowing for unprecedented levels of public participation and input.

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However, critics raise valid concerns about transparency, accountability, and the potential for AI systems to be manipulated or influenced by their creators, data limitations, or external actors. There are also questions about whether an AI can fully grasp the nuances and human elements involved in complex political issues.

Some argue that AI Steve is merely a clever marketing ploy to garner attention and votes, rather than a genuine effort to “humanize” politics. There are fears that the use of AI in elections could undermine faith in electoral outcomes and democratic processes if voters become aware of potential scams or manipulation.

 

Beyond the specific case of AI Steve, the rise of AI candidates and the increasing use of AI in political campaigns and elections raise broader questions about the integrity of democratic systems and the need for effective regulations and guidelines.

Anti-democratic actors and authoritarian regimes may seek to exploit AI technologies for censorship, surveillance, and suppressing dissent under the guise of enhancing governance. There are also concerns about the potential for an “AI arms race” between political parties to develop and deploy the most sophisticated AI technologies, further eroding public trust.

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As AI tools become more advanced and accessible, upholding electoral integrity will require proactive efforts to establish guardrails, transparency measures, and accountability frameworks around their use in politics. Policymakers, advocates, and citizens must work together to ensure that AI is leveraged as a force for a better and more inclusive democracy, rather than a tool for manipulation or consolidation of power.

The rise of AI candidates like AI Steve serves as a wake-up call for democratic societies to grapple with the implications of artificial intelligence in governance and to strike the right balance between harnessing its potential benefits and mitigating its risks to the democratic process.

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Saudi Arabia Says ‘Thank You, Next’ to the US Dollar

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Saudi Arabia is reportedly considering abandoning the US dollar for oil trade settlements, a move that could shake the foundations of the global financial system. For decades, the petrodollar system has propped up the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency, with Saudi Arabia insisting on dollar payments for its vast oil exports.

However, recent comments from Saudi officials hint at exploring alternatives to the dollar amid growing tensions with the US over various geopolitical issues and the rise of economic powerhouses like China.

Implications of a Petrodollar Shift

If Saudi Arabia abandons the petrodollar, the implications could be significant:

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1. Dollar Dominance Eroded: The dollar’s reserve currency status could weaken, potentially leading to a decline in its value.
2. Global Financial Instability: A sudden shift could trigger volatility in global markets as investors adjust portfolios.
3. Geopolitical Realignment: The move could signal Saudi alignment with China and challenge US economic hegemony.

Challenges and Uncertainties

While the prospect is significant, challenges remain:

1. Finding a suitable alternative currency with the dollar’s liquidity and stability.
2. Potential economic disruption for Saudi Arabia and trading partners.
3. Political backlash and strained relations with the US and allies.

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As the world watches, it remains uncertain whether Saudi Arabia’s comments signal a negotiating tactic or a profound shift in the global financial order.

 

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X Opens the Door to Adult Content With New Policy

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X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, has made a significant policy shift by officially permitting adult content on its platform with some restrictions and guidelines.

In an update to its rules, X stated that users can now share “consensually produced and distributed adult nudity or sexual behavior” as long as it is properly labeled and not prominently displayed in areas like profile pictures or header images.

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“We recognize that many of our users are adults who want to freely express themselves by sharing legal adult content,” said an X spokesperson. “At the same time, we have a responsibility to protect minors and prevent exposure to explicit material without proper labeling.”

Under the new guidelines, users who “regularly post” adult content must adjust their settings to automatically mark images and videos as sensitive content, which blurs or hides the media by default. By default, users under 18 or who haven’t entered their birth date cannot view this sensitive adult content.

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The policy prohibits content “promoting exploitation, nonconsent, objectification, sexualization or harm to minors, and obscene behaviors.” It applies to all adult content, whether photographic, animated, or AI-generated.

X has stated that it will monitor user-generated content and adjust account settings for those who fail to properly mark pornographic posts. Similar rules and enforcement will apply to violent content as well.

The move aligns X with Apple’s app store guidelines, which allow apps with adult content as long as it is hidden by default and behind proper age gates and content warnings.

While adult content was already present on X, this policy update officially permits and regulates it, aiming to balance freedom of expression for consenting adults with protecting minors from exposure to explicit material.

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However, enforcing these rules consistently may prove challenging for X’s reduced content moderation teams following recent layoffs and cost-cutting measures.

The policy shift has drawn mixed reactions, with some praising X for embracing adult expression while others raise concerns about the potential for the platform to become inundated with pornographic content despite the restrictions.

As X navigates this new territory, the effectiveness of its labeling requirements, age verification measures, and content moderation efforts will be closely watched by users, regulators, and advocacy groups alike.

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