Will a major world event rock the US election?

The October Surprise that American pollsters await with trepidation is usually a US domestic upset. Witness the seismic impact of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and it’s only mid September. But the past two decades have also seen major international events overshadow November elections.
A startling moment of opportunity looms for adversaries of Washington and the world order it still, perhaps reluctantly heads. And, from Moscow to Minsk, from Beijing to Tehran, three questions are key. Are you better off with another four years of Donald Trump? Is there anything you think you can pull off while he’s trying to be re-elected in the next 50 days?

And if “No” is the answer to those two, then the 75 days of likely chaos and wrangling that follow the election before inauguration present another opportunity. In the White House, there may be nobody at the wheel, instead under it, fighting for the car keys. Is that also a window for competitors to get stuff done?

Russian President Vladimir Putin is the more adept pragmatist and opportunist, despite also having the most to gain from another four years of Trump at the helm. His first term has allowed Putin to make substantial gains in the Middle East — something the Kremlin has done with both little US resistance and fanfare of Russia’s own achievements.
Putin is on a victory lap of the Middle East
But it is important to remember that Russian collisions with US patrols in Syria, and a Russian bounty plot to kill Americans in Afghanistan have both emerged mostly unchallenged in the last six months. The Kremlin is likely not only emboldened, but carefully calculating what the next 120 days might permit.

The protest movement against the brutal Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko is an uninvited but pressing quandary on Putin’s list. Russia has sent journalists, perhaps technical support, maybe even some security forces, to back up Lukashenko. But he is still faltering, and a long-term poor bet, as his plaintive body language when he met Putin in Sochi betrayed. It is hard to overstate how vital retaining control over Belarus is to Moscow and how essential it is for this protest movement – about personal freedoms that really disturb Putin, not the geopolitics that excite his nationalist base — to fail.

Retaining control of Belarus is vital to Moscow's interests.

Belarus is also very low on the US agenda. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was slow to back the protest movement — perhaps, in his slender defense, after a bid to court Lukashenko in the hope to turn him West.

The Kremlin is surely not embracing the idea of years more propping up a leader they will see as too weak to crush his own dissidents and too unpopular to face them down. Lukashenko is an expensive drag, and one they probably have a plan to rid itself of, while imposing a tighter union between Moscow and Minsk. The thorn will be the protests themselves — unpredictable and needing to keep momentum — if Putin thinks a distracted Washington may be unable to respond to his next move. To some degree, it is surprising Putin has not made greater use of a pliable US administration since 2017. He is ambitious, capable, and dexterous, yet has spent the past four years subtly pursuing his goals. That may change.

The West can gnash its teeth over Belarus. But there's little it can do to change things
Subtlety has not been evident in the “maximum pressure” the Trump administration has applied over Iran. You might be forgiven to argue it has been successful. Trump killed Iran’s top hardliner, Qassem Soleimani, in January, in a move many feared could set the region aflame. It didn’t. In fact, Tehran has steered clear of even lower-level retaliation, with Trump tweeting recently, in response to press reports that US diplomats might be at risk, that he would hit back 1,000 times harder.
Sanctions have been tightened almost to their elastic limit. And Covid-19 has affected Iran severely. Mysterious fires have hit the Natanz nuclear facility and other key infrastructure. Yet it would be a mistake to think this has wiped the fabled long memories of Tehran’s hardliners. Internally, in many ways, their hand has been strengthened by the collapse of the nuclear deal they despised. Trump has also given them the gift of a rift. Five years ago, the world was united behind the JCPOA’s ability to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Now Europeans hold their heads in their hands as Trump tears the deal to pieces, as Russia and China look on bemused at Washington denigrating its own allies.
Many feared for the worst when Trump ordered the attack on Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.

And during this collapse, Iran has methodically and slowly made good on its promise to enrich again. Publicly, they have stepped outside the terms of the deal, yet not raced towards the 20% enrichment that would set alarm bells ringing. The IAEA now believes they have enriched 10 times the amount of uranium permitted under the deal, yet has also stated positively it will be able to inspect a second suspect site in the weeks ahead.

The given wisdom in Western capitals is that Iran understands the consequences of it getting the bomb would be so severe, it would outweigh any benefits. There’s a paradox there, in that a new nuclear power might be more relaxed about retaliation. And in the tit-for-tat world of the Gulf, Iran has yet to respond, knows Trump doesn’t want another war in the Middle East, and is patient.

Iran's response to the US may happen slowly and that's more concerning
Less patient is a key Trump ally — one of the few who have pursued goals totally contrary to US interests after a personal chat with the White House occupant — President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. It feels like a decade since his forces invaded Syria, attacking US allies the Syrian Kurds and relocating US forces with sheer might. But it was just over a year ago.

Turkey has since consolidated its gains there, and been busy elsewhere. It briefly saber-rattled around Greece’s islands. And more significantly Erdogan has invested political and military capital backing for the UN-supported government in Libya. Russia has weighed in, similarly boosting its opponent in the oil-rich country’s East, with mercenaries from the Wagner group, heavy armor, missiles and other enablers, according to US officials. Peace talks are under way, but under the cloud of an intense build-up on both sides.

Presidents Putin and Erdogan may see America's neutrality in Libya, and Trump's hectic days ahead, as a reason to act if talks stumble

Putin and Erdogan once celebrated their blooming friendship, despite Turkey’s NATO membership. Now the shine on their grins has gone. And Moscow has a long history of talking peace while pouring greater resolve into war. Both Putin and Erdogan may see America’s neutrality in Libya, and Trump’s hectic days ahead, as a reason to act if talks stumble.

The next 120 days will be hostage to the last four years’ reliance on bluster, the myth of intense, yet ultimately flawed, personal relations between Trump and other leaders, and the stop-start nature of this White House’s foreign policy. US politics may hit a crisis long-predicted and even fomented by its adversaries. Yet the world will not stop, and hope this crisis resolves, and instead keep turning in ways a self-obsessed White House did not anticipate.

UK Foreign Secretary's bodyguard 'left gun on plane' after US visit

The officer accompanied Raab on a visit to the United States and left his weapon in a plane on their return to London’s Heathrow Airport on Friday, Britain’s PA Media news agency reported.

When asked about the report, London’s Metropolitan Police said it was “aware of the incident on a flight into the UK on Friday, 18 September.”

“We are taking this matter extremely seriously,” a spokesperson for the police said in a statement on Saturday. “The officer involved has since been removed from operational duties whilst an internal investigation into the circumstances is taking place.”

David Cameron's bodyguard left a loaded gun in the toilet on a commercial flight, reports say

While in the United States, Raab met officials including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Earlier this year, David Cameron’s police bodyguard was placed under investigation after reports emerged that he left a loaded handgun and the former British Prime Minister’s passport in the toilet on a commercial flight.

The Metropolitan Police told CNN at the time it had launched an investigation into the incident, which delayed takeoff and reportedly caused panic among passengers on a British Airways flight from New York to London’s Heathrow airport on Monday.

A passenger found the gun in the toilet and alerted crew, leading the captain to confirm to the cabin that a gun had legally been brought aboard the flight, newspapers including the Daily Mail and The Sun reported, citing eyewitnesses.

Navalny says he can walk and recognize people as he eyes 'clear road' to recovery from poisoning

Navalny posted a picture of himself walking down a staircase on Saturday, writing that he is regaining his physical and mental capacity.

“Quite recently, I did not recognize people and did not understand how to talk,” Navalny wrote. “Every morning the doctor came to me and said: Alexey, I brought a board, let’s figure out which word we can write on it. This drove me to despair because although I understood in general what the doctor wanted, I did not understand where to get the words from.

“Now I’m a guy whose legs are shaking when he walks up the stairs, but this guy thinks: ‘Oh, this is a staircase! People get up on these. Perhaps we should look for an elevator.’ And before, I would have just stood there and stared at it blankly,” the post added.

In the post, Navalny thanked the doctors of the Charité Hospital in Berlin, where he is undergoing treatment. The German government has said the Kremlin critic was poisoned with a chemical agent from the Novichok group, a conclusion supported by two other labs in France and Sweden.

Earlier this week, his team issued a statement saying that German specialists found traces of the nerve agent on a water bottle taken from Navalny’s hotel room in Tomsk, Russia.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Friday questioned the water bottle as evidence and added that poisoning is one version of what happened to Navalny but it has not been confirmed as traces of poison were not found in Navalny’s blood by Russian labs.

Alexey Navalny sits up in his hospital bed earlier this month.

Mary Ilyushina reported from Moscow, Rob Picheta wrote in London.

How it all went wrong (again) in Europe as second wave grips continent

Daily case numbers in the European Union and United Kingdom this week reached record highs of more than 45,000 on a 14-day notification rate, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), and new restrictions are being imposed in places that were well into reopening. Leaders have raised fears over the pressure that hospitals could face in coming months and the looming prospect of new national lockdowns.
Europe’s death rate has been stable for 72 days, according to the ECDC, although Bulgaria, Croatia, Malta, Romania and Spain are seeing death rate increases.
There are trends that may explain the deterioration. The surge comes just after the summer vacation season, as workers return to city centers and children go back to school. The World Health Organization has suggested the increase could be partly down to the relaxation of measures and people dropping their guard, and evidence indicates young people are driving the second surge in Europe.
Despite the rising numbers of cases, and recent deaths in Europe, the continent still compares favorably to the United States. Europe has reported 4.4 million cases and 217,278 deaths among a population of 750 million, while the US has reported 6.7 million cases and 198,000 deaths in a population of 330 million.

The second wave

People gather along the Seine river bank during sunset in Paris, on Thursday, amid the resurgence of the coronavirus.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday told reporters that the UK is “now seeing a second wave coming in” and that it was “inevitable,” as daily case numbers passed 4,000 for the first time since May.

“Obviously we’re looking very carefully at the spread of the pandemic as it evolves over the last few days,” Johnson said. “There’s no question, as I’ve said for weeks now, that we could (and) are now seeing a second wave coming in. We are seeing it in France, in Spain, across Europe. It has been absolutely inevitable we will see it in this country.

“I don’t want to go into second national lockdown. The only way we can do that is if people follow the guidance.”

WHO warns of 'very serious situation' in Europe, with 'alarming rates' of virus transmission

The UK has the highest number of deaths in Europe at more than 40,000 and new restrictions on social gatherings were imposed across England this week.

Johnson is facing a growing backlash even from his usual cheerleaders in Britain’s right-wing press, with the Daily Telegraph and Spectator both questioning the government’s game plan and Times of London columnist Matthew Parris writing that Johnson’s “shine has gone.”
Their damning words come amid widespread criticism of the UK’s collapsing test-and-trace system that even the PM admits has “huge problems.”

New restrictions were also announced on Friday in Madrid, which accounts for approximately a third of all new cases in Spain, according to the Spanish Health Ministry. The country reported a record 12,183 daily cases on September 11, and has the highest number of cases in Europe at more than 600,000, with more than 30,000 deaths.

France recorded 13,215 new Covid-19 cases in 24 hours on Friday, according to data released by its National Health Agency, its highest tally since April. The figures also showed an increasing trend in hospital admissions with 3,626 new patients over the previous seven days. In one major French city, CNN reported this week that hospitals were close to running out of ICU beds.
People are seen dancing to a busker in Leicester Square, central London, on September 12, days before social gatherings were restricted again.

The Czech Republic reported a record 3,130 daily infections Friday as masks were made mandatory in schools again, and the Netherlands reported a record 1,977 cases. Prime Minister Mark Rutte told a news conference that the country’s number of daily infections was doubling in just over a week. “With an R of 1.4, that number will grow in three weeks to more than 10,000 per day,” he said.

“You don’t have to be a mathematician or virologist to understand that these kinds of numbers will inevitably work into the hospitals,” he warned.

Restaurants, cafes, and bars in six Dutch regions will face new restrictions starting Sunday.

Italy recorded its highest tally since May on Friday with 1,907 daily cases; Poland recorded a record 1,002 daily cases on Saturday.

Where it went wrong

WHO Europe director Hans Kluge warned this week of “alarming rates of transmission” and a “very serious situation” in the region, adding that weekly cases have exceeded those reported during the March peak.

While there was an increase in cases in older age groups — those aged 50 to 79 — in the first week of September, Kluge said, the biggest proportion of new cases is still among 25- to 49-year-olds.

In late August, Kluge said the gradual increase in Europe’s cases could be partly explained by “the relaxation of public health and social measures, where authorities have been easing some of the restrictions and people have been dropping their guard.”

Students wearing masks arrive on September 14 for the start of the school year at the Luigi Einaudi technical high school in Rome, Italy.

He said he was “very concerned that more and more young people are counted among reported cases,” advising against large gatherings and parties.

In several countries, cases are rising particularly fast in densely populated cities, where people are returning to offices, schools and public places after measures eased following spring’s peak.

Like Spain, Austria has seen its biggest spike in its capital. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told national Austrian news agency APA last Sunday that the situation was ”particularly dramatic” in Vienna, which has more than half of all registered new infections.

A waitress in Vienna wears a face mask as required by the new, stricter rules put in place by the Austrian government on September 14.

”We are at the beginning of the second wave. We are facing difficult months in the autumn and winter. The number of infections is increasing from day to day,” he said in a tweet, asking Austrians to reduce social contacts as the obligation to wear face masks was expanded to more public places.

Turkey recorded 63 deaths in 24 hours this week, its highest one-day death count. Turkish health minister Fahrettin Koca said at his weekly coronavirus news briefing on September 2 that the country was “in the second peak of the first wave.”

ICUs are nearing capacity in this French city. And it's only September

“We are at this threshold today because of the movement around the holiday period and weddings which are integral parts of our traditions.”

Authorities in Italy said in late August that approximately 50% of new infections had been contracted during summer vacations, around the country and abroad, primarily among young adults who have not been cautious with social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines.

Countries including Greece and Croatia, largely spared by the first wave, saw fast case number rises in August as tourists took summer vacations following the reopening of Europe’s internal borders in June.

But Europe can take some comfort from experience. Professor Mark Woolhouse, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh, told CNN earlier this month that the initial lockdown was “never, ever going to solve the problem for us in Europe or anywhere else; it was simply deferring it.”

While cases are rising, this can partly be attributed to increased levels of testing, and daily deaths in Europe are down from 3,788 on April 18 to 504 on September 18 on a seven-day rolling average, according to CNN analysis of figures from Johns Hopkins University.

CNN’s Seb Shukla, Laura Perez Maestro, Ingrid Formanek, Eva Tapiero, Mick Krever, Valentina di Donato, Vasco Cotovio, Tomas Etzler, Nadine Schmidt, Isil Sariyuce and Melissa Bell contributed to this report.

Ibiza's 40-year party could finally be over

(CNN) — Hundreds of sweaty clubbers are crammed onto at the Glitterbox dance floor, soaking up the grooves as one of Ibiza’s biggest party nights gets into full swing.

Laser beams scatter overhead. Electronic beats intensify. Arms are held aloft and the energy rushes higher and higher in anticipation. And then, ahead of the next thunderous bass drop, a divine moment of silence.

That was 2019. This year, it’s just been the silence.

It’s still summer season on Spain’s Balearic Islands and, if it wasn’t for coronavirus, the hard partying would normally be in full swing, with young Europeans packing the sandy beaches, bars and super clubs of Ibiza.

“There’s no tourism at all, now, on our island,” says Juan Miguel Costa, Ibiza’s tourism director. “Just a few people coming just for a few days.”

“We had a very bad summer. And the thing is that we will have a very, very bad winter.”

Ibiza is perhaps the best-known Balearic island, attracting everyone from celebrities who arrive on superyachts, to planeloads of young British and German tourists looking for a good time. An underground dance party scene that arrived in the 1980s has matured decades later into an internationally renowned tourism industry all of its own.

But thanks to a summer characterized by Covid quarantines, shuttered nightclubs and canceled flights — the Balearic Islands, alongside other European party hotspots across the Mediterranean — are suffering from an abysmal hangover without even having enjoyed the night before.

And with no prospect of the fun returning anytime soon, the situation is inevitably prompting locals who rely on income generated by the islands’ nightlife to reconsider a future without it.

To some extent, it was already on the cards with plans to try move away from the reputation for alcohol excess and hedonism. Back in January 2020, the Balearics pledged to team new regulations with a conscious shift towards “sustainable and respectful tourism,” aiming to force “real change in the tourist model of these destinations.”

A series of laws designed to curb alcohol excess in the tourist hubs of San Antonio, Ibiza and Magaluf and Playa de Palma on the island of Mallorca, including banning happy hours, party boats promoting drunken cruises and pub crawls, were introduced by the regional government.

Rosana Morillo, general director of tourism for the Balearic Islands, tells CNN Travel that the current situation is being used as a opportunity to consider further ways to change the destination’s reputation, while some, like Ibiza’s Juan Miguel Costa hope that clubbing will return, but balanced with other highlights like heritage, culture, beaches and sports.

Either way, in the age of coronavirus, the future of the party vacation destination lies in the balance.

Season cut short

Balearics-party-tourism-covid (2)

Tourists in Mallorca in July, when travel corridors were briefly open.

JAIME REINA/AFP via Getty Images

The summer of 2020 hasn’t been a total write off for the Spanish islands, although northern Europe lockdowns and travel bans, particularly in Germany and the UK, kept most of their visitors away in the spring.

In June, the island of Mallorca successfully ran a pilot plan for German visitors, which says Morillo, allowed it to be marketed as a safe destination.

By July, the introduction of travel corridors made weeks away in Spain, Greece and other European countries a possibility for British travelers ready to brave the flight, and the Balaerics managed to clock up 1 million visitors in July.

But by late July, in the face of rising figures in certain Spanish regions, the UK government imposed a 14-day quarantine on all travelers returning from the Mediterranean country. Travelers scrambled to get back home, and future trips were canceled. Visitors from elsewhere also dried up, with the German Foreign Office advising against travel to Spain.

“After losing our two main markets, the flow of visitors has been really close to zero,” says Morillo.

The result, she says, is the islands will likely lose about 30% of its annual income.

Different vibe

party-vacations-covid (2)

Some bars decided not to open at all.

Clara Margais/Getty Images

Those that who decided to accept the quarantine and head there anyway — if they could find a flight — were met with a very different kind of vacation.

The bustling Mallorca strip was laid bare. Ibiza’s super clubs were boarded up.

While bars can open in Spain, so long as they maintain social distancing and don’t allow dancing, many businesses decided it wasn’t financially viable.

“Most of them [in Ibiza] decided not to open, that was the first impact,” says Costa, adding that those that did had only around 45 to 50% of the visitors they’d had the year before.

Areas like San Antonio, depend on British tourism, says Costa.

Despite decreased capacity, there were still local accounts of drunken tourists refusing to wear masks, failing to social distance and acting recklessly.

“Always you can find people who were not so civic, and they don’t follow the rules,” says Costa. “But most of them they respect, and they covered all the healthy measures we had implemented.”

In Mallorca, all bars on Punta Ballena street were closed mid-July following reports that the “mainly British tourists there, and the bar operators themselves,” were not complying with the rules, a spokesman for the Balearics regional government told CNN back in July.

But Morillo says the majority of visitors to the Balearics were compliant with the rules, and praises the islands’ hotels for their “high standards.”

Of all the Balearics, Mallorca has a particularly strong reputation as a raucous destination for recently graduated British high schoolers, who head there to party and let off steam.

As Brit James Sawyer, 23, describes it: “The strip transports a night out in Leeds [a university city in the north of England] to a nicer climate. Virtually everyone’s English and it’s essentially Neverland.”

For tourists used to partying in the Balearics, not being able to do so this summer was a disappointment.

“It’s a rough year for holidays in general,” says British traveler Jack Painter, a big fan of house music and a long-time visitor to Ibiza.

“It’s been rubbish not being able to go away properly, but me and my friends who would normally go to party destinations have had to make do with partying in Airbnbs in the UK.”

Meanwhile, Sawyer says he’s less worried about the risk of catching Covid abroad, and more concerned with how quarantining and isolating back in the UK would impact his job.

Painter agrees — he says his main reason for not going to the Balearics this year is the threat of quarantine.

“The only thing that would put me off would be having to quarantine in the UK when I got back,” he says. “Even if some of the superclubs are shut, many of the bars in the Balearics still have a great atmosphere and play quality dance music, plus the islands themselves have loads more to offer beyond the partying — it might be time to take more advantage of that side of life on the islands.”

Reimagined tourism

Officials in the Balearics are keen to emphasize what the islands have to offer beyond the nightlife.

Officials in the Balearics are keen to emphasize what the islands have to offer beyond the nightlife.

Clara Margais/Getty Images

Morillo says the Covid crisis has been an opportunity to continue conversations with those in tourism sector about the islands’ future.

“They have understood that this is not the future we want, and that this current situation is an opportunity for us to change our model, for the hotels to change the offers they make based on these, let’s say, alcohol consumption and cheap holidays,” she says.

Because even if virus cases dwindle again, and countries lift their quarantines, a clubbing vacation is largely out of the question in the age of Covid.

Live events and gigs are off the table. Clubs remain closed. Gathering in crowds of hundreds or thousands seems unthinkable.

And more recently, an airplane full of reportedly rowdy passengers traveling from the Greek island of Zante — another Mediterranean island with a partying reputation — back to the UK was forced to isolate upon return after 16 people tested positive for the virus as a direct result of the flight.

Costa is keen to emphasize Ibiza’s suitability as a family vacation destination, and its beautiful nature and heritage.

But he also doesn’t want to discount the importance of the island’s thriving, world-famous nightlife.

“What is in our mind is to be able to let people know that in Ibiza we have nightlife, as well, of course we have parties, but as well we have other products that are really interesting.

If you are a family with two kids, you can come to Ibiza without any problem […] It’s not a full party island. That’s what we try to let people know, that is important for us.”

He admits he’s concerned about the future of the island’s big clubs in the age of Covid-19 — he’s worried about the Balearic Islands tourism situation more generally.

Morillo says she hopes if the virus situation improves in the Balearics, the British quarantine might be lifted allowing for winter tourism to tide business over until summer 2021.

“At the beginning of next season, there will be places which have been closed for 18 months, and that’s a long time without any money,” says Costa.

Business owners can get some help with the local government and the central government, as can furloughed workers.

But despite his fears about the future, tourism officials are confident things will change, if and when a vaccine becomes readily available.

“This is just 2020 and we have to forget it,” says Costa.

There's no such thing as safety when you're a Putin critic in Russia

It’s not just Navalny who has been under attack.

Just one day after he emerged from his medically-induced coma, at least three volunteers linked to his team were targeted at their office in Novosibirsk, Siberia.

Two masked men were recorded by security cameras, bursting in to the office of “Coalition Novosibirsk 2020,” which is also headquarters of Navalny’s local team.

One of them threw a bottle containing an unknown yellow liquid — described to CNN as a “pungent chemical”, “unbearable” by witnesses — at volunteers who were there for a lecture about the upcoming local elections, before running off.

The Kremlin has denied having anything to do with the attacks, but analysts are skeptical.

“Russia has a track record of sudden deaths among the Kremlin’s critics: Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko and Boris Nemtsov, to name but a few,” says longtime Russia analyst Valeriy Akimenko from the Conflict Studies Research Centre, an independent research group. “If this wasn’t a murder plot or assassination attempt, it was an act of intimidation.”

Which raises an important question: How much immediate danger is Navalny in, if and when he does return to Russia?

“I don’t think the words safety or security apply to anyone who is opposition in Russia,” says Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian opposition politician and chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom, who has been poisoned twice in the past five years.

“I can have as much protection as I like, but I have to touch doorknobs and breathe air,” he says. “The only real precautionary measure I’ve been able to take is to get my family out of the country.”

The Kremlin has denied any involvement in either of the attacks on Kara-Murza, though his wife has directly accused the Russian government of bearing responsibility.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle has also denied any involvement in Navalny’s poisoning, but Akimenko points out that the language coming from the Kremlin in the weeks since has hardly been reassuring, given the near-death of a prominent politician.

“Just look at what’s been coming out of Russia,” he says. “Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying no need for Putin to meet Navalny; Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying no legal grounds for a criminal inquiry; Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin talking instead about an investigation into possible foreign provocation; and on state TV, ceaseless attempts to muddy the waters by blaming anyone but the Russian state.”

As if being an outspoken opponent of the government wasn’t enough of a risk for Navalny, other Putin critics believe that what is being seen as a failed assassination attempt, in order to scare opponents, might have backfired.

“Now that Alexey Navalny has survived, this may prove to be a spectacular miscalculation that only empowers the opposition and Navalny,” says Bill Browder, a prominent financier who became a thorn in the side of Putin after leading the push for a US sanctions act named after Browder’s lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who died under suspicious circumstances in a Russian prison.

Kara-Murza points out that in the very area of Siberia where the campaign office attack took place, Navalny’s allies made gains against Putin’s ruling United Russia in elections this past weekend.

“When Russians have a real choice, they are very happy to demonstrate how sick they are of Putin’s one-man rule,” he told CNN.

Whenever he does return to Russia, the risk both to him and his supporters is likely to remain very high; has this affected the opposition’s morale?

“Putin rules by symbolism,” says Browder. “To take the most popular opposition politician and poison him with a deadly nerve agent is intended to scare the less popular ones into submission.”

So, will it work?

Kara-Murza says the Putin critic Boris Nemtsov, who was assassinated near the Kremlin in February 2015, just days before he was due to take part in an anti-government protest in Moscow, used to tell his allies: “We must do what we must and come what may. Of course, we understand the dangers, but we are determined, not scared.”

Russia's regional elections pose serious test for pro-Kremlin party

And while Akimenko says: “If Russia’s opposition leaders aren’t worried, they should be,” he adds that: “They have been fearless in the face of both personal physical attacks against Navalny and persecution disguised as prosecution.”

The Navalny episode revealed the dangers of political opposition in Russia to the world.

But for those actively involved in that fight, it has merely underscored the threat they already knew existed, says Kara-Murza

“I was poisoned twice,” he said. “Both times I was in [a] coma. Both times doctors told my wife I had 5% chance of living. Boris Nemtsov had 0% when he was shot in the back. But it’s not about safety; it’s about doing the right thing for our country. It would be too much of a gift to the Kremlin if those of us who stand in opposition gave up and ran.”

CNN’s Mary Ilyushina contributed to this report from Moscow

Saudi Arabia announces UN aid funding to stricken Yemen after CNN report


The investigation revealed that support pledged to UN agencies by Saudi Arabia for Yemen had more than halved in 2020, falling from more than $1 billion to just $500 million this year. Of this amount, the UN told CNN only $23 million had so far come through its appeal.

The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSrelief) announced the additional Saudi funding in a televised statement Friday.

“Today, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, represented by the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSrelief), signed three important agreements with UN organizations, namely the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNHCR for a total of $204 million,” said KSrelief’s Supervisor General, Dr. Abdullah Al Rabeeah.

“The amount was pledged by the Kingdom to support the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan 2020, and the Kingdom hopes that these UN organizations will do their utmost to implement these programs as soon as possible,” he added.

The $204 million in funding announced by KSrelief on Friday will form part of the $500 million originally pledged by the Kingdom during a conference hosted by the United Nations and Saudi Arabia in June of this year, $300 million of which was promised to UN agencies.

The funds announced Friday will all go toward the UN Humanitarian Response Plan, with the lion’s share — $138 million — allocated to the WFP, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

A further $46 million has been allocated to WHO and $20 million to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, leaving $94 million of the $300 million pledged to UN agencies to be finalized, OCHA said.

Kuwait also pledged $20 million at a high-level UN meeting on Yemen held Thursday but it is not yet clear how the funds will be allocated, according to OCHA.

“We welcome these developments and continue to urge all donors to fulfill their pledges and increase their support, given the increasingly desperate situation on the ground,” an OCHA spokeswoman said.

Funding shortfalls

CNN’s report, published Tuesday, revealed the devastating impact of funding cuts to humanitarian aid organizations in Yemen by the United States, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which have pushed the war-torn country ever closer to the brink of famine.

A spokesperson for KSrelief told CNN at the time that the country had been ready to fulfill its unmet funding commitments to Yemen in July, but was waiting to finalize agreements with the agencies, citing concerns over appropriation of aid by the Iran-backed Ansarullah — known as Houthi rebels.

“Previously, there were concerns about the lack of funding, but now we can assume that with the arrivals of the funds this afternoon, the UN organizations will begin to implement their programs tomorrow, now that the money is available,” Al Rabeeah said Friday.

“I can assure you that the funds will be transferred today and that I do not anticipate any delays,” he added.

The UN Financial Tracking Service (FTS) has since updated the total amount received from Saudi Arabia to $231.1 million in funding to its Yemen humanitarian response plan. However, according to data from the FTS, there is still more than $214 million in unmet funding commitments to Yemen from Saudi Arabia.

In Yemen, 80% of the population is dependent on aid, but UN data has revealed billions of dollars in funding shortfalls this year alone.

The WFP also estimates that more than 66% of people in Yemen are considered “food insecure” and that more than 14 million of them could die if they are no longer able to access food assistance from aid groups operating in the country.

According to KSrelief, Saudi authorities will be “closely following up” the situation in Yemen to ensure that humanitarian programs are being funded to help those most in need.

“We pray that these programs will be beneficial,” Al Rabeeah added.

The US, Saudi Arabia and UAE are key actors in the conflict in Yemen, and in 2018 and 2019 they were the biggest donors to the UN response in Yemen.

In 2019, the US contributed almost $1 billion to the UN appeal, but this year, it has donated less than half that so far, giving $411 million, UN data shows. Despite the US’ sizeable cut in funding, it is still the biggest donor to the UN’s Yemen appeal.

A spokesperson for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) told CNN that the country would resume all operations in the Houthi-controlled north “when we are confident that our partners can deliver aid without undue Houthi interference and account for US assistance.”

The Houthis have placed harsh restrictions on UN agencies trying to access parts of the country it controls in the north. Tensions have been high since the World Food Program, along with the US and its allies, accused the Houthis of stealing food aid from other parts of Yemen.

The Houthi rebels overthrew the internationally recognized government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi in 2015. A Saudi-led coalition, in which the UAE is a key partner, has waged a campaign against the Houthis for the past five years, destroying much of the Houthi-controlled areas with US backing.

Previous CNN investigations have shown that the US government profited from the war, by selling Saudi Arabia and the UAE American-made bombs and armaments.

Why passenger jets could soon be flying in formation

(CNN) — Birds are the undisputed masters of aerodynamics.

No matter how many supercomputers and wind tunnels scientists throw at solving flight’s thorny calculations, they’ll never match the perfection of airborne avians.

A focused peregrine falcon diving on its prey, a pair of feisty hummingbirds in a territorial dogfight, or a huge albatross soaring effortlessly for days over the ocean are the envy of aerodynamicists and pilots.

The airborne cacophony of a huge flock of geese, honking away while flying in a perfect “V” formation, is a wonder to see and hear.

Airbus fello fly

Airbus

Those formations have also provided the inspiration for researchers at Airbus UpNext, the aircraft manufacturer’s future-flight demonstration and technology incubator.

As far back as a century ago, avian scientists began to understand that birds were increasing aerodynamic efficiencies by flying in close formation, taking advantage of the changed airflow in each bird’s wake.

With that in mind, the Airbus fello’fly flight demonstration project will fly two large commercial aircraft in formation, looking to mimic the energy savings of our feathered friends.

Building on test flights in 2016 with an Airbus A380 megajet and A350-900 wide-body jetliner, fello’fly hopes to demonstrate and quantify the aerodynamic efficiencies while developing in-flight operational procedures.

Initial flight testing with two A350s began in March 2020. The program will be expanded next year to include the involvement of Frenchbee and SAS airlines, along with air traffic control and air navigation service providers from France, the UK, and Europe.

“It’s very, very different from what the military would call formation flight. It’s really nothing to do with close formation,” explained Dr. Sandra Bour Schaeffer, CEO of Airbus UpNext, in an interview with CNN Travel.

Free Lift

Birds fly in a "V" formation to increase aerodynamic efficencies.

Birds fly in a “V” formation to increase aerodynamic efficencies.

PATRICK PLEUL/DPA/DPA/AFP via Getty Images

An aircraft in flight sheds a core of rotating air from the end of its wings, known as a “wingtip vortex.”

Extremely powerful vortices — especially those generated by a large aircraft — have been known to flip smaller planes that have encountered the horizontal tornado of air streaming behind.

Avoiding wake turbulence is part of a student pilot’s curriculum, as it will be in the fello’fly demonstration. “Pilots are trained to not fly into the vortex of a preceding aircraft,” said Bour Schaeffer, an experienced flight-test engineer.

“They will be 1 1/2 to 2 nautical miles away from the leading aircraft, and slightly offset, which means they are on the side of the vortex. It’s no longer the vortex, it’s the smooth current of rotating air which is next to the vortex, and we use the updraft of this air.”

Taking advantage of the free lift in this updraft of air is called “wake-energy retrieval.” Bour Schaeffer says that upcoming flight trials using two A350s could prove that on long-haul flights, fuel savings of between 5% and 10% may be achieved, “which is an enormous number. This is the reason why we want to accelerate it. It is not a product today, but it is something we strongly believe in.”

Millions of years

While it may seem simple to just watch a flock of birds to figure out the aerodynamics of their energy-saving flight, it really isn’t.

“Birds have been doing this for millions of years, but the disadvantage we have is that we can’t do controlled experiments very easily,” said Dr. Charles Bishop, of the School of Natural Sciences, Bangor University, in Gwynedd, Wales.

Airbus fello fly

Airbus’s fello’fly project tries to mimic the energy savings of birds’ “V” formation.

Airbus

However, Bishop cited a landmark 2001 paper in weekly international journal Nature by Henri Weimerskirch, where the researcher and his team had access to tame pelicans — known in the birding community as the best at formation flight, even better than geese or swans.

“Their study is technically the only one that shows direct evidence of energetic advantage rather than theoretical calculations in aerodynamics.”

Weimerskirch was able to put heart rate monitors on the birds, and according to Bishop, the trailing pelicans in the formation clearly saved energy.

“They had a 14% drop in heart rate, and they also glided more. They were finding it easy [to fly] with this aerodynamic advantage.”

Practical challenges

And just like the pelicans, the pilots of the trailing A350 in the fello’fly test will position the aircraft to optimize the effect of the upwash — but that points to one of the challenges facing the research team.

“You can’t see the wake, so you just can’t say ‘Ah, I’m in the right spot,'” said Bour Schaeffer. “We need to provide assistance to the pilot to position the aircraft properly.”

Once in the upwash, autoflight systems will be required to maintain the correct position, reducing the workload on the pilots and ensuring a smooth ride for passengers by avoiding the more turbulent components of the wake.

Procedures to enable the two aircraft to coordinate their position will be tested — much like during an aerial refueling mission.

“We need to make sure we can do the joining safely. We will have no compromise on safety, whatsoever,” said Bour Schaeffer.

Once the wake energy retrieval concept is proven out, operational and financial considerations will still have to be solved.

According to Bour Schaeffer, air traffic service providers and government aviation agencies will need to be convinced to change regulations to allow for much closer aircraft separation standards than what are currently in place.

Flight planning procedures will have to be developed for planes to match routes with other aircraft, along with positions and altitudes to begin a formation flight.

And a process to share the savings in fuel costs amongst airlines will be a priority.

“We know there are questions. Our aim as a demonstrator is to find answers to those questions.”

Howard Slutsken is a regular contributor to aviation magazines and blogs, and is based in Vancouver BC.