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Putin’s nuclear threats raise the risk of disaster

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Speaking in a rare, televised address on Wednesday, Putin warned that if the territorial integrity of Russia is threatened, the Kremlin would “certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people. It is not a bluff.”

Gavriil Grigorov | Afp | Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ultimatum to the West drastically increases the risk of a nuclear conflict, analysts and campaigners warned, with world leaders denouncing what they describe as “reckless” and “irresponsible” threats.

Speaking in a rare televised address on Wednesday, Putin called up extra forces for the war in Ukraine and warned that if the territorial integrity of Russia was threatened, the Kremlin would “certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people. It is not a bluff.”

It was widely interpreted as a threat that Putin is prepared to use nuclear weapons to escalate the war following a string of Ukrainian successes.

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday doubled down on the Kremlin’s nuclear posturing, saying that any weapons in Russia’s arsenal could be used to defend its territories — including strategic nuclear weapons.

It comes as pro-Moscow regional leaders in areas of southern and eastern Ukraine announced referendums on joining Russia. The votes are expected to take place in the Russia-controlled regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, reportedly amounting to roughly 15% of Ukrainian territory.

The outcome of the referendums is widely believed to have been pre-determined by the Kremlin, prompting the U.S. and its allies to denounce them as a “sham.”

Political analysts say the Kremlin may then view Ukrainian military action against these four areas as an attack against Russia itself.

“The citizens of Russia can be sure that the territorial integrity of our Motherland, our independence and freedom will be ensured, I emphasize this again, with all the means at our disposal,” Putin said.

Putin’s threats increase the risk of escalation to a nuclear conflict drastically. This is incredibly dangerous and irresponsible.

Beatrice Fihn

ICAN executive director

“Those statements go beyond the Russian nuclear doctrine, which only suggests Russian first use in a conventional war when the very existence of the state is threatened,” said Andrey Baklitskiy, a senior researcher in the weapons of mass destruction and other strategic weapons programme at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research.

“Coming from the person who has the sole decision-making power regarding Russian nuclear weapons this will have to be taken seriously,” Baklitskiy said, noting that Putin’s citation of “territorial integrity” was tricky to determine given that the Kremlin is planning to absorb four Ukrainian regions.

“None of this means that Russia would resort to nuclear use. This would be a truly world-changing decision,” Baklitskiy said.

“And it’s not clear if such a move would even lead to any desired outcomes for [President] Putin … But extending the conditions for possible use amidst the ongoing war is a huge gamble,” he added. “One we all, including Russia, would be safer without.”

‘Eroding the taboo’

U.S. President Joe Biden condemned Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons and urged allied U.N. leaders to reject Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking at the U.N. headquarters in New York City on Wednesday, Biden accused the Kremlin of making “reckless” and “irresponsible” threats and said, “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

His comments echoed remarks by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who told Reuters on Wednesday that the 30-nation Western defensive alliance would remain calm and “not engage in that same kind of reckless and dangerous nuclear rhetoric as President Putin.”

Beatrice Fihn, Nobel laureate and executive director of the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons, urged political leaders to renew efforts to get rid of all nuclear weapons by signing and ratifying the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Mikhail Svetlov | Getty Images

Putin has alluded to Russia’s nuclear weaponry at various points during the conflict with Ukraine. Still, there are doubts among Western leaders over whether Moscow would resort to deploying a weapon of mass destruction.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told German media on Wednesday that he didn’t believe the world would allow Putin to use nuclear weapons.

Beatrice Fihn, Nobel laureate and executive director of the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons, told CNBC that Putin’s “incredibly dangerous and irresponsible” threats drastically increase the risk of escalation to a nuclear conflict.

“Threats to use nuclear weapons lower the threshold for their use,” Fihn said via email. “Subsequent discussion by politicians and commentators about the possibility of Russia using nuclear weapons and about possible nuclear responses without also discussing the devastating humanitarian impact of using even so-called ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons is eroding the taboo against their use.”

Fihn called for the international community to “unequivocally condemn any and all nuclear threats” and urged political leaders to renew efforts to get rid of all nuclear weapons by signing and ratifying the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

‘No going back’

Max Hess, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute think tank, described Putin’s nuclear threats as a “very significant announcement.”

“Now, the real threat from Putin’s speech was that he’s prepared to use nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory, including the territory that they plan to annex,” he told CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe.”

“This includes not only the Donetsk and Luhansk region, the traditional Donbas, but also all of Zaporizhzhia and all of Kherson — Ukrainian regions that very much remain contested and where Russians do not control their entirety.”

“What this means then for those territories that are still under Ukrainian control with regards to Putin’s threats is still left unsaid,” Hess added.

Escalation of economic war against Russia is still possible, analyst says

If Putin were to use a so-called tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine, there would be “no going back” and “no negotiation,” according to Timothy Ash, an emerging markets strategist at BlueBay Asset Management.

In such a scenario, Putin “is finished with the West forever, and likely then even the Chinese, India, South Africa, the BRICS, and the rest of the non-aligned world turns against him,” Ash said. The BRICS acronym refers to Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

A weapon of mass destruction, or WMD, “is a deterrent,” Ash said. “Once it is used, its power is actually denuded.”



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Tim Draper predicts bitcoin will reach $250,000 despite FTX collapse

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Tim Draper, founder of Draper Associates, onstage at the Web Summit 2022 tech conference.

Ben McShane | Sportsfile via Getty Images

Venture capitalist Tim Draper thinks bitcoin will hit $250,000 a coin by the middle of 2023, even after a bruising year for the cryptocurrency marked by industry failures and sinking prices.

Draper previously predicted that bitcoin would top $250,000 by the end of 2022, but in early November, at the Web Summit tech conference in Lisbon, he said it would take until June 2023 for this to materialize.

He reaffirmed this position Saturday when asked how he felt about his price call following the collapse of FTX.

“I have extended my prediction by six months. $250k is still my number,” Draper told CNBC via email.

Bitcoin would need to rally nearly 1,400% from its current price of around $17,000 for Draper’s prediction to come true. The cryptocurrency has plunged over 60% since the start of the year.

Digital currencies are in the doldrums as tighter monetary policy from the Fed and a chain reaction of bankruptcies at major industry firms including Terra, Celsius and FTX have put intense pressure on prices.

FTX’s demise has also worsened an already severe liquidity crisis in the industry. Crypto exchange Gemini and lender Genesis are among the firms said to be impacted by the fallout from FTX’s insolvency.

Last week, veteran investor Mark Mobius told CNBC that bitcoin could crash to $10,000 next year, a more than 40% plunge from current prices. The co-founder of Mobius Capital Partners correctly called the drop to $20,000 this year.

Nevertheless, Draper is convinced that bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency, is set to rise in the new year.

“I expect a flight to quality and decentralized crypto like bitcoin, and for some of the weaker coins to become relics,” he told CNBC.

What is DeFi, and could it upend finance as we know it?

Draper, the founder of Draper Associates, is one of Silicon Valley’s best-known investors. He made successful bets on tech companies including Tesla, Skype and Baidu.

In 2014, Draper purchased 29,656 bitcoins confiscated by U.S. Marshals from the Silk Road dark web marketplace for $18.7 million. That year, he predicted the price of bitcoin would go to $10,000 in three years. Bitcoin went on to climb close to $20,000 in 2017.

Some of Draper’s other bets have soured, however. He invested in Theranos, a health startup that falsely claimed it was able to detect diseases with a few drops of blood. Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos’ founder, has been sentenced to 11 years in prison for fraud.

‘The dam is about to break’

Draper’s rationale for bitcoin’s breakout next year is that there remains a massive untapped demographic for bitcoin: women.

“My assumption is that, since women control 80% of retail spending and only 1 in 7 bitcoin wallets are currently held by women, the dam is about to break,” Draper said.

Crypto has long had a gender disparity problem. According to a survey conducted for CNBC and Acorns by Momentive, twice as many men as women invest in digital assets (16% of men vs. 7% of women).

“Retailers will save roughly 2% on every purchase made in bitcoin vs dollars,” Draper added. “Once retailers realize that that 2% can double their profits, bitcoin will be ubiquitous.”

Payment middlemen such as Visa and Mastercard currently charge fees as high as 2% each time credit cardholders use their card to pay for something. Bitcoin offers a way for people to bypass the middlemen.

However, using the digital coin for everyday spending is tough, since its price is very volatile and the coin is not widely accepted as currency.

“When people can buy their food, clothing and shelter all in bitcoin, they will have no use for centralized banking fiat dollars,” Draper said.

“Management of fiat is centralized and erratic. When a politician decides to spend $10 trillion, your dollars become worth about 82 cents. Then the Fed needs to raise rates to make up for the spend, and those arbitrary centralized decisions create an inconsistent economy,” he added. Fiat currencies derive their worth from their issuing government, unlike cryptocurrencies.

Meanwhile, the next so-called bitcoin halving — which cuts the bitcoin rewards to bitcoin miners — in 2024 will also boost the cryptocurrency, according to Draper, as it chokes the supply over time. The total number of bitcoins that will ever be mined is capped at 21 million.



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George Clooney, Gladys Knight among Kennedy Center honorees

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken, second from left, and his wife, Evan Ryan, left, join 2022 Kennedy Center Honorees, front row from left, Amy Grant, Gladys Knight, George Clooney, Tania León, and Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter, back row from left, Kennedy Center Chairman David Rubenstein, along with fellow 2022 Honorees Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr., The Edge, and Bono for a group photo at the State Department following the Kennedy Center Honors gala dinner, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, in Washington.

Kevin Wolf | AP Photo

Performers such as Gladys Knight or the Irish band U2 usually would be headlining a concert for thousands but at Sunday’s Kennedy Center Honors the tables will be turned as they and other artists will be the ones feted for their lifetime of artistic contributions.

Actor, director, producer and human rights activist George Clooney, groundbreaking composer and conductor Tania León, and contemporary Christian singer Amy Grant will join Knight and the entire crew of U2 in being honored by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The organization honors a select group of people every year for their artistic influences on American culture. President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their respective spouses are slated to attend.

The 61-year-old Clooney — the actor among this year’s musically leaning group of honorees — has television credits going back into the late 1970s but became a household name with the role of Doug Ross on the television show “ER.” conductor Tania León, and

From there he starred in movies such as “Three Kings,” “Ocean’s Eleven” (and “Twelve” and “Thirteen”), “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and his most recent film, “Ticket to Paradise.” He also has extensive directing and producing credits including “Good Night, and Good Luck.” He and his wife, humanitarian rights lawyer Amal Clooney, created the Clooney Foundation for Justice, and he’s produced telethons to raise money for various causes.

“To be mentioned in the same breath with the rest of these incredible artists is an honor. This is a genuinely exciting surprise for the whole Clooney family,” said Clooney in a statement on the Center’s website.

Knight, 78, said in a statement that she was “humbled beyond words” at receiving the Kennedy honor. The Georgia-born Knight began singing gospel music at the age of 4 and went on to a career that has spanned decades.

Knight and family members started a band that would later be known as Gladys Knight & The Pips and produced their first album in 1960 when Knight was just 16. Since then she’s recorded dozens of albums with such classic hits as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Midnight Train to Georgia.” Along the way she’s acted in television shows and movies. When Knight and the band were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Mariah Carey described Knight as “a textbook you learn from.”

Sometimes the Kennedy Center honors not just individuals but groups; “Sesame Street” once got the nod.

This year it’s the band U2. The group’s strong connection to America goes back decades. They performed in Washington during their first trip to America in 1980. In a statement the band — made up of Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. — said they originally came to America with big dreams “fueled in part by the commonly held belief at home that America smiles on Ireland.”

“And it turned out to be true, yet again,” read the statement. “It has been a four-decade love affair with the country and its people, its artists, and culture.”

U2 has sold 170 million albums and been honored with 22 Grammys. The band’s epic singles include “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Lead singer Bono has also become known for his philanthropic work to eradicate poverty and to raise awareness about AIDS.

Christian music performed Amy Grant said in an interview with The Associated Press that she’d never even been to the Kennedy Center Honors even though her husband, country musician Vince Gill, has performed during previous ceremonies. Grammy winner Grant is well known for crossover pop hits like “Baby, Baby,” “Every Heartbeat” and “That’s What Love is For.” She’s sold more than 30 million albums, including her 1991 record “Heart in Motion,” which introduced her to a larger pop audience.

Composer and conductor León said during an interview when the honorees were announced that she wasn’t expecting “anything spectacular” when the Kennedy Center initially reached out to her. After all, she’s worked with the Kennedy Center numerous times over the years going back to 1980, when she was commissioned to compose music for a play.

But the 79-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner said she was stunned to learn that this time the ceremony was going to be for her.

León left Cuba as a refugee in 1967 and eventually settled in New York City. She’s a founding member of the Dance Theatre of Harlem and instituted the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert Series.



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