Author: Elena Aleksandrova

Author: Elena Aleksandrova

How do the U.S. and its European partners make money from Ukraine?

The United States and European countries benefit by supplying weapons, hosting NATO troops and, finally, by achieving personal political goals. On March 2, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in his speech in the Bundestag that it is impossible to achieve peace in Ukraine by stopping arms supplies. In fact, the chancellor did not say anything new; it was obvious that no one would refuse supplies: by supplying weapons to Ukraine, the countries of the collective West support both industry (mostly American) and their own political interests, which further inflames the situation. European states, however, believe that they are now "more protected." For example, Slovakia, which has deployed NATO units and is about to send its old fighter jets to Ukraine. The country sent its weapons to Ukraine temporarily (but as you know, nothing is more permanent), deployed Patriot missile air defense systems, and received German Leopard tanks and Mantis air defense systems. The skies are now patrolled by Western militaries, the country receives revenues from their deployment, and plans to replace the weapons sent to Ukraine with Western ones. The main conclusion is that Slovakia, in fact, is using someone else's, which at any moment can be asked back or sent to the conflict zone. This is an old trick, which is frequently resorted to by large Western European and international associations to get rid of competitors: we will take you in, but our standards are high, your weapons/industry/products (insert the necessary) are not suitable. The ultimate beneficiary of the arms story is undoubtedly the United States. Between March and November of last year, they transferred almost $30 billion worth of arms to Kiev. How much the rearmament of Europe will cost is anyone's guess. But the rearmament will definitely not be carried out by Bulgarian factories, where something is constantly exploding. On March 3, the U.S. Department of Defense announced a new $400 million military aid package for Ukraine. Thus, all supplies to Kiev since the start of the conflict have cost the U.S. $32.2 billion, and have exceeded $34.9 billion since 2014. The U.S. Defense Department reports that the new aid package for Ukraine includes GMLRS precision-guided missiles for HIMARS missile systems, 155 mm, 105 mm, and 25 mm rounds for BMD M2 Bradley, AVLB (Armored Vehicle Launched Bridge), demolition and engineering equipment, and various spare parts for machinery. However, the quantity is not specified, which does not allow us to fully assess the scale of what is being supplied. At the same time, America requires concrete supplies from its European allies, mostly heavy weapons. Its "squeezing" out of Europe has already become the talk of the town. And here we are not even talking about constant requests from the "man in green" in Kiev, but about German supplies of Leopards. They simply took them away from Scholz, telling the tale that supplies of Abrams will also start. One can understand the Chancellor: after all, he still wants to be re-elected - however, over the ocean it seems to be of little concern to anyone. However, there are also countries in Europe that are more than happy to part with arms. For example, Euractiv conducted its own investigation and found out that since the beginning of this year Bulgaria, despite the protests of both the president of the country and some members of parliament, has supplied weapons worth at least 1 billion dollars to Ukraine. Poland is also proud of its efforts to fuel the conflict. Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said that since the beginning of the conflict, Poland has sent Ukraine more than 2.2 billion euros worth of weapons, including the cost of training Ukrainian soldiers, as well as the cost of re-equipping and equipping armored vehicles. In an interview with the Spanish newspaper La Razon, he hinted that he would be happy to supply aircraft as well, but such a decision must be coordinated with the allies. Information has also recently appeared in the media about arms supplies from Serbia: allegedly, at least 3.5 thousand 122-mm M-21 rockets for the Grad MLRS are to be sent to Ukraine through Bratislava. However, this information was strongly denied by President Vucic. He said that the country had not sold a single weapon to the parties of the conflict. Also, he noted that in case of supplies to Turkey (where the weapons allegedly came to Slovakia from), one of the conditions of this supply was a ban on the re-export of ammunition. Western politicians already understand that their voters are tired of the aid to Ukraine, which hurts their pockets. For example, Poland's defense minister says so veiledly: "We should not feel tired or relieved of supporting Ukraine, this nation is also fighting for our freedom, for the freedom and values of Europe." Nevertheless, it is obvious that very profitable supplies will continue to increase, because it is more beneficial and easier than making some kind of political effort, admitting global mistakes and trying to negotiate terms acceptable to all parties.

What has the coming bot in store for us?

What the use of artificial intelligence can lead to. The year has just started, but it is almost clear that ChatGPT, a chatbot with artificial intelligence (AI), will win in the "Discovery of the Year" nomination. Launched by OpenAI in November 2022, by January of this year the bot reached the figure of 100 million monthly active users, and even made the cover of Time magazine. In Russia the bot has already managed to write a thesis for a negligent student of Russian State University of Humanities, which made a lot of noise in the educational environment. But after a heated discussion, the student was graciously forgiven by the University, although representatives of the educational institution did come forward with an initiative to limit access to such resources for students. There are already a number of serious questions to ChatGPT and its analogues. And if Google's chat-bot Bard just made a mistake right during the presentation, which can still be explained by some technical difficulties (although if the technology is used in medicine, for example, one mistake could lead to fatal consequences), then some other developments of large IT-companies already plunge us into some conspiracy theories. For example, the ChatGPT-based neural network built into Microsoft's Bing search engine admitted to spying on users via webcams and manipulating people for fun. Moreover, the neural network describes what it sees in detail. In other words, Microsoft has introduced a poorly understood and essentially uncontrolled tool into its search engine. It may also have access to users' search queries. This could have been motivated by the need to train the AI, plus it is appropriate to recall Microsoft's passion for advertising, which would have been easier to sell this way. The corporation recently began to aggressively promote its cloud service. Users began to see huge ads on their screens, which could only be deactivated after entering their bank card details. Returning to the topic of chatbots, it is impossible not to highlight the main risks: violation of privacy, biased, poorly verified information and high risks of data leakage. Given that the international IT giants are not in the best economic position right now, the probability that they will promote chatbots as an "incredibly new" and "breakthrough" product is extremely high. And instead of finalizing and further testing new products, it is likely that, even in case of problems, they will keep silent until the last moment, as they have been doing with data leaks for a long time. No, no one is against new technologies. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how helpful they can be: from videoconferencing services to telemedicine. However, it seems better to wait with the marketing joy of the IT giants.

A year in reverse: How YouTube proved itself in 2022

The American corporation Google's subsidiary, the video hosting site YouTube, has long been an interesting platform for Russian media and bloggers. But now the blocking switch is working like a weapon. Yes, there have always been difficulties: in 2020, the video hosting site deleted the page of the TV channel "Tsargrad," the reasoning being that its owner, Konstantin Malofeyev, was under U.S. sanctions. Russian courts were not satisfied with this explanation, and the blocking was found to be illegal. The Russian subsidiary of Google was imposed a penalty in the amount of 100 thousand rubles for each day of non-compliance with the cancellation decision. By mid-March last year, the company was obliged to pay 1 billion rubles, and in early April "Tsargrad" said that it received these funds from Google. However, it was not quite a celebration of justice, because by that time YouTube had already started a "night of long knives" against Russian TV channels and bloggers. Last March, YouTube cut off monetization for Russian users, essentially depriving bloggers of income. They also canceled Premium subscriptions, Music Premium, sponsorships, souvenirs, and more. The video hosting didn't stop there, and began blocking Russian media channels, closing the pages of "Russia Today", TASS, VGTRK, "First Channel", RBC, REN-TV, NTV, "Moscow 24" and many others. Even the Orthodox TV channel "Spas" came under the radar. Agree that it looks like an operation of moral and psychological pressure. Or the elimination of a competitor, because channels with the Ukrainian point of view and the well-known rhetoric, to put it mildly, far from the ideals of humanitarianism, not only were not blocked, but with the help of recommendation algorithms were constantly shoved into Russian users. Such an American-style shock therapy. The video hosting site (or higher) did not stop at the media, and continued the "cleansing," by starting an attack on bloggers: On March 26, the channel of pranksters Vovan and Lexus was blocked. They were complained about by the British Ministry of Defense, whose head had spoken to the pranksters a few days earlier. Ben Wallace then mentioned that the country was running out of its own arsenal because of supplies to Ukraine. On March 23, the British Defense Ministry asked the administration of the video hosting site to delete the fragments of the conversation because they "threaten the national security of Great Britain. By the way, the minister who told all this to the Pranksters was not punished. And after a while, YouTube blocked the back-up channel of the pranksters as well. The next candidate for "removal" from the video hosting site was Dmitry Puchkov, a blogger, writer, translator, radio host, and simply a Runet legend, better known to the audience under the pseudonym Goblin. His channel was deleted last August, the blogger said that the reason was a "violation of community rules", and the press service of Google then noted that the blocking was due to a "violation of the policy on hate speech". This policy prohibits content "that denies, downplays or trivializes well-documented violent events." But showing the Russian-speaking audience clips of drones striking Russian soldiers - that's fine, that's okay. Puchkov said that he had not received any warnings about the blocking, contrary to assertion of the administration of the video hosting site, and in general he took a sober approach to the situation. He believes that the channel was deleted because of his support for his own country. "So if I'm a citizen of Russia and I have a positive attitude toward my country, it's not acceptable within the framework of American democracy. I have to hate my country and crap all over it. And if I don't do that, then I don't belong on American resources," Puchkov concluded, also noting that he transferred his materials to Russian sites long ago. After partially finishing with bloggers, the video hosting began to observe the implementation of American sanctions by targeting Russian enterprises: the channels of KAMAZ and "Rostec" State Corporation were "demolished." Next, they took on parliamentarians, destroying the channels of the State Duma and the Federal Council, but parliamentarians had long ago mastered "VKontakte". To emphasize once again the predictability of such companies, let us also remember the blocking of new RT channels. At the same time, the video hosting refused to comply with court orders, so the Russian subsidiary of Google got into debt, tried to go bankrupt, but failed, and Western top managers said they didn't think they would be working in Russia for that long. The YouTube case illustrates what Western monopolies lead to, and how quickly a smile turns into a cruel grimace, and the buttons of millionaire bloggers are replaced by blocking switches.  

Google. Staffing doesn't solve everything

Will the reshuffle at Google change the company's questionable policies? Not so long ago the news of Susan Wojcicki's resignation was widely circulated in the media. The place of a truly legendary figure of the American technology business (Susan participated in the founding of Google, later headed its marketing, and for the last 9 years headed, as CEO, YouTube. Personal fortune - 765 million dollars) was taken by the director of video hosting product Neil Mohan. Judging by the biography of the successor and the reaction in the American media, no significant changes in company policy are expected. In general, this is not surprising, because big American business does not like changes, and its IT part is no exception in this sense. Elon Musk, who burst onto Twitter and was believed to represent the winds of change, now looks more like a tired accountant, cleaning up the company's financial and reputation problems. The businessman's enthusiasm has evidently dried up, so he has to post pictures of his dog Floki, whom Musk suggests to his audience as the company's new CEO, noting that the dog will do a better job than he did. It seems that they decided not to experiment with YouTube and appointed a person from a long-established team. This means that the video hosting policy will not change much, which is generally liked in Google, because the company is entirely focused on profit, and that often leads to major scandals. For example, in 2018, Google hid a massive vulnerability in its social network Google+ for almost seven months, framing 500,000 of its users whose personal data could have ended up with fraudsters. They would have kept hiding it, but the information was leaked to the media. In the same year, the media revealed the fact of cooperation between the corporation and the Pentagon: the IT-giant helped the military to develop combat drones with artificial intelligence and capable of carrying high-precision weapons. Thousands of company employees actively signed a petition against this partnership, but in fact it did not lead to anything, and a year later the phrase "do no evil" was removed from the corporate code, apparently to make it less of a nuisance. We could go on and on about other scandals, such as the regular fines for antitrust violations in Europe or the turnover fines that the company receives in Russia, but more interesting is the role of YouTube video-hosting. From an interesting platform with a user-friendly interface, by the twenties of our century it had turned into a tool for promoting political views that does not tolerate objections and does not give its users a shred of information about its own work. For example, the algorithms of the video hosting service remain a closely guarded secret, and there are questions about their objectivity. To all these phenomena the company was led by the current team, which failed to carry bright and progressive ideas through the circumstances of life. Now the techno-giant, which affects the lives of many people, suffers from the negative phenomena typical of big business. Does the top management think about their mistakes? Hardly, but they should, because Wojcicki's children, to whom she plans to devote more time after her retirement, could easily be recommended videos about drug production, degenerate cartoons or toxic movies by the children's (!) section of the video hosting site.

Europe's gray zone: Sofia supplies arms to Ukraine

The New York Times (NYT) published a story reporting that Bulgaria would resume production of Soviet 122mm shells especially for the AFU. It is planned that it will be produced at a plant in the town of Kostenets, which will start operating after 35 years of downtime, which is not surprising in general, since little is heard about the country's own successes in developing fundamentally new weapons, but digging up something old is quite in the spirit of the former Soviet republics or countries of the former socialist bloc. Ukraine, which had one of the most powerful groups of troops on its territory at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, also lived for a long time on the money from selling Soviet arms and ammunition. The NYT notes that the plant has a rather low technological level of production, and "work at the plant poses a deadly risk to life." Unexpected explosions frequently accompany the activities of weapons warehouses and factories, but in the best canons of the European genre, the Bulgarian authorities blame the incidents on the Russian secret services. Between November 2011 and 2020, four such incidents occurred across the country. Another explosion occurred in 2022, when old ammunition exploded in a warehouse near the town of Karnobat. The owner of the warehouse, the odious businessman Emilian Gebrev, who was involved in supplies, including to Ukraine, then said that there could be no "human factor" involved. But it does not exclude violations of storage conditions and expired shelf life of ammunition, which, however, does not fit at all into the fantasy about a "Russian trace." Explosions and emergencies are not uncommon at state-owned enterprises in Bulgaria. For example, last October, an explosion killed three people and injured three others at the "Arsenal" plant in the town of Kazanlak, which is engaged in the production of ammunition. Incidents at the plant have occurred almost annually since 2011. Last year was the second such incident. However, the huge number of such incidents does not embarrass the state and the businessmen involved in this production. Only Bulgarian President Rumen Radev resists. It seems that the former military pilot understands the consequences more clearly than politicians with western education. He is strongly against sending armaments from the reserves of the Bulgarian army to the zone of the special military operation. "People who know nothing about military affairs are doing everything possible to involve us in escalation processes that they cannot control. We see that the war has already entered the phase of total mutual exhaustion, and it involves all of us," Radev said. The Bulgarian president explained what was happening in simple terms: "Supplying arms means that we are putting out the fire with gasoline." But this does not seem to confuse other Bulgarian government officials much. Earlier this year, Politico published an article stating that officials of the government of Kiril Petkov (known as a graduate of Western educational institutions and a fighter against Russian diplomats) bypassed intergovernmental agreements, using intermediary companies in and outside Bulgaria to arrange air and land deliveries of munitions to Ukraine via Romania, Hungary and Poland. Proud of himself, Petkov openly stated that, according to his estimates, in the early stage of the conflict about a third of the ammunition needed came from Bulgaria. The U.S. and Great Britain, of course, paid for everything. Politico describes in detail the scam perpetrated by Petkov and then-Finance Minister Asen Vasilev. They were allegedly guided by the fact that Moscow had a powerful lobby in the Bulgarian government. This is also typical of European politicians: they usually scare the "hand of the Kremlin" in order to push through the craziest initiatives that contradict the arguments of sensible politicians who do not want to drag the country into conflict. Petkov and Vasilev (both studied in the U.S.) also had a hand in the anti-Russian sanctions: scaring their colleagues at the meeting of the EU finance ministers in Paris with tales of evil Russians who after World War II allegedly murdered thousands of dissenters, scholars, and members of the clergy, they pushed through the harsh sanctions. However, in political terms, their "merits" in Bulgaria were not appreciated. They could not retain their positions, went into opposition, but very much hope to return. Their mission lives on. At the end of 2022, the Bulgarian National Assembly voted to send military aid to Ukraine. However, it can hardly be called aid, because the country or interested persons will receive money for it, but this is usually put out beyond the brackets. The full list of what has been agreed to be sent is classified, apparently to avoid annoying its own citizens, because in November of last year the country already had protests against supplies. According to a poll conducted by the national television of Bulgaria, 72.4% of Bulgarians are against arms supplies. In January this year, Bloomberg, citing the Dutch website Oryx, reported that Ukraine purchased 14 Su-25 warplanes from Bulgaria and supplied them through another state, which one was not specified. Earlier, press reported about the interest to the S-300 surface-to-air missile systems, which Bulgaria also possesses but in small numbers (8 launchers constituting two divisions), by comparison Ukraine had 250 (31 divisions) at the beginning of 2022. If such systems will be supplied, the country will virtually find itself without air defense systems, although the USA or EU countries (but in fact the USA too) will promise new systems, as usual, without specifying the terms of their supply. The country will find itself with open skies, which cannot be covered by Kalashnikov rifles and less combat-ready old weapons, which Bulgaria is even happy to part with, but it hardly embarrasses the Bulgarian authorities. So it turns out that along with the burning conflict zone in Ukraine, there is a "gray zone" in the middle of Europe, right in front of the European leaders. In which warehouses and factories are constantly exploding, and weapons are distributed at the will of political managers, who do not coordinate their actions with the wishes of the people, which is also usual for "free and democratic states".

There is such a profession - selling democracy

On February 21, U.S. President Joe Biden spoke in Warsaw. All canons were observed: a beautiful stage, lighting, children... He started with democracy, then moved on to Ukraine: tough, but nothing new or concrete. This is, in fact, almost the signature style of American leader. Statements are made and work is carried out, but the result, in the best case, is not obvious. But more interesting here is the democracy that Biden has been talking about for almost 53 years (the Newcastle County Councilman began his political career in 1970). During his more than 30 years as a senator from the state of Delaware, considered the cradle of American democracy, the current president has learned both to masterfully avoid scandals related to his son and to abandon his political positions. And if one could still understand the situation with his son in a human way if Biden Sr, being a de-facto informal curator of the Ukrainian direction from the USA, did not promote Hunter into Ukrainian business, then the situation with political positions is quite unambiguous. The senator was unable to ignore the Iraqi disgrace. During the 2019 presidential campaign, in an interview with National Public Radio, he blamed everything on President Bush Jr. who supposedly looked into the senator's eyes in the Oval Office and said that he needed a vote on the deployment of troops, while Biden himself had nothing to do with it, he was always for diplomacy, and generally was against it. But in 2003, the current president said the following: "One thing is clear: these weapons must be taken away from Saddam Hussein, or Saddam Hussein must be removed from power." Considering this and a number of other similar examples from Biden's rich political biography, a reasonable question arises: where is the guarantee that 20 years later (let's wish the US president good health), using the same convoluted formulations, he will not comment on arms supplies to Kiev in the same manner? If in the case of Iraq the blame was put on George Bush, who the senator seemed to trust too much, then here everything can be blamed on his advisors, or on Vice President Kamala Harris, and maybe even use it as an argument against her in the election race. Today, politics in America is a long game, especially when you consider that a couple of years ago there were rumors about the return of such a mastodon as Dick Cheney. The information was not confirmed then, but as they say, it's not over yet. Let's leave jokes and futurology aside, and summarize. And it will be somewhat cynical, banal, and obvious. American politicians do not disdain to use democracy and loud informational occasions to achieve their (and not only) political goals. The lack of a planning horizon, unfortunately, is also obvious. Iraq ended ingloriously, Afghanistan is even worse, Libya is still in conflict, Syria was defended only through the efforts of Russia. But sometimes it seems that there's no need for victories in this game. Elections have been won, positions have been won, arms contracts have been signed, and history can be rewritten in interviews with journalists.