BBC 2024-02-08 18:01:45

Zelensky sacks Ukraine’s commander-in-chief

Ukraine’s president has sacked the commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces, Valerii Zaluzhnyi.

It follows speculation about a rift between the president and Gen Zaluzhnyi, who has led Ukraine’s war effort since the conflict began.

General Oleksandr Syrskyi was announced as his replacement in a presidential decree.

The move marks the biggest change to Ukraine’s military leadership since Russia’s invasion in February 2022.

Mr Zelensky said the high command needed to be “renewed” and that Gen Zaluzhnyi could “remain on the team”.

“Starting today, a new management team will take over the leadership of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” he said on Thursday.

The president said he and Gen Zaluzhnyi had a “frank conversation” about the changes needed in the army, and that he thanked the general for defending Ukraine from Russia.

Mr Zelensky said the new army chief, Gen Syrskyi, has experience of both defensive and offensive warfare.

The general led the defence of Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, at the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022.

He was the mastermind behind Ukraine’s surprise and successful counter-attack in Kharkiv that summer and has since been serving as the head of military operations in eastern Ukraine – one of the two main axes in Ukraine’s counter-offensive.

“We must make this year a crucial one,” Mr Zelensky said.

“Crucial for achieving Ukraine’s goals in the war. Russia cannot simply accept the existence of an independent Ukraine – the very fact of our country’s independent life.”

He said his “renewal” of the army’s leadership was “not about surnames” or politics, but rather the management of Ukraine’s armed forces and the experience of battlefield commanders.

“The army’s actions must become much more technologically advanced. The generalship must be reset,” he added.

Mr Zelensky said he expected a detailed plan for the armed forces this year, taking into account the reality of the war with Russia. He said there needed to be a different approach to frontline management, mobilisation and recruitment.

Ukraine’s defence minister, Rustem Umerov, thanked Gen Zaluzhnyi in a statement, saying:

“General Valerii Zaluzhnyi had one of the most difficult tasks – to lead the Armed Forces of Ukraine during the Great War with Russia.

“But war does not remain the same. War changes and demands change. Battles 2022, 2023 and 2024 are three different realities. 2024 will bring new changes, for which we must be ready. New approaches, new strategies are needed.

“Today, a decision was made on the need to change the leadership of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

“I am sincerely grateful to Valerii Fedorovych for all his achievements and victories.”

Gen Zaluznyi was appointed as the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces in July 2021.

He led the Ukrainian army’s resistance against Russian troops for almost two years.

He had repeatedly pushed for more Ukrainians to be mobilised, saying in December that he would have welcomed the introduction of “any method” to the army’s demand for manpower.

Speculation had been rising in recent weeks that Gen Zaluzhnyi’s dismissal was imminent. At the end of January, the Financial Times reported that the president had offered the general a new role, but he had refused.

Supreme Court justices sceptical of Trump’s Colorado ballot ban

Kayla Epstein

US reporter

Oral arguments are over in the historic case that challenges Trump’s eligibility to be on the election ballot in Colorado.

As some legal experts predicted, the justices did not focus on the very thorny and politically fraught question of whether Trump did, in fact, engage in insurrection.

  • They were much more concerned about whether Section 3 of the 14th Amendment actually barred a person from serving as president if they committed insurrection, and if a state was allowed to enforce the clause
  • The nine justices questioned three major players: Trump’s attorney Jonathan Mitchell, and on the other side the Colorado plaintiff’s attorney Jason Murray and Colorado Solicitor General Shannon Stevenson
  • Attorneys from both sides faced sharp questions about whether the term “officer of the United States” applies to the presidency. Even liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson questioned if the clause covers the nation’s highest office
  • Murray, arguing for the effort to keep Trump off Colorado’s ballot, faced especially sharp questions from justices across the ideological spectrum about his legal reasoning
  • Justices grilled lawyers on the potential consequences of a state being allowed to make such an impactful decision, whether it required an act of Congress to give actual legal weight to the clause

Putin challenger barred from Russia’s election

Russia’s election commission has rejected anti-war challenger Boris Nadezhdin as a candidate in next month’s presidential vote.

Mr Nadezhdin has been relatively critical of Vladimir Putin’s full-scale war in Ukraine when few dissenting voices have been tolerated in Russia.

Election authorities claimed more than 15% of the signatures he submitted with his candidate application were flawed.

He had tried to challenge this, but the commission rejected his bid.

Refusing to give up, Mr Nadezhdin, 60, said on social media that he would challenge the decision in Russia’s Supreme Court.

The Central Election Commission said that of the 105,000 signatures submitted by Mr Nadezhdin, more than 9,000 were invalid and they cited a variety of violations.

That left 95,587 names, meaning he was just short of the 100,000 required signatures to register as a candidate, commission member Andrei Shutov said.

“There are tens of millions of people here who were going to vote for me, ” Mr Nadezhdin complained to the commission. “According to all polls, I am in second place after Putin.”

“The decision has been made,” declared commission chairwoman Ella Pamfilova. “If Nadezhdin wants, he can go to court,” Tass news agency quoted her as saying.

Russia’s presidential election is due to take place from 15-17 March, although the result is not in doubt as only candidates viewed as acceptable to the Kremlin are running.

A final decision on who can take part in the election will come on Saturday, but the election commission chairwoman said it was already clear there would be four candidates on the ballot.

Other than Vladimir Putin, they include nationalist leader Leonid Slutsky, parliament deputy speaker Vladislav Davankov and Communist Nikolai Kharitonov. All their parties have broadly backed Kremlin policies and none of the trio is seen as a genuine challenger.

“Running for president in 2024 is the most important political decision of my life. I am not retreating from my intentions,” Mr Nadezhdin wrote on Telegram. “I collected more than 200,000 signatures across Russia. We conducted the collection openly and honestly.”

Boris Nadezhdin is one of the few government critics whose voices have been heard on the ubiquitous talk shows on state-run TV since the invasion on 24 February 2022. He has appeared as a type of anti-war “whipping boy” that other guests would target for criticism.

In the 1990s he worked as an adviser for Putin critic Boris Nemtsov who was assassinated a stone’s thrown from the Kremlin in 2015. But he also has ties to Sergei Kiriyenko, a key Putin political overseer.

Read Steve Rosenberg: How Russians view looming elections

Although Mr Nadezhdin’s run for the presidency was viewed initially with suspicion by some opposition figures, Russia’s main opposition leader Alexei Navalny gave his backing to the Nadezhdin campaign from his jail cell inside the Arctic Circle, as did exiled former business magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Mr Nadezhdin appeared on the BBC last month promising to end the war in Ukraine on his first day as president, although he was realistic about his chances of success.

“My first task will be to stop the conflict with Ukraine, and then to restore normal relations between Russia and the Western community.”

He is not the first presidential hopeful to have run on an anti-war platform. In December, former TV journalist and independent politician Yekaterina Duntsova was barred from running because the election commission said there were mistakes on her application form.

Mr Nadezhdin said he had tapped into a wave of anti-war sentiment in Russia, meeting the wives of reservists who want their husbands to return from the war. His campaign started slowly and it was only in recent weeks that Russians began registering their support in large numbers.

His increasing success also attracted condemnation from pro-Kremlin propagandists such as Vladimir Solovyov, who suggested he might be a stooge for “Ukrainian Nazis”.

Why Gen Z are dressing like Mob Wives

It’s playful, bold and easy to achieve – no wonder this opulent aesthetic is popular right now. And despite a backlash, it’s a look that keeps gaining fans.

Things move fast in fashion. This time last year trend reports and style pages were all about the stealth wealth aesthetic. The look – which was helped to prominence thanks to the fashion choices on TV show Succession – was all about understated style and “quiet” luxury. White T-shirts, beige sweaters, navy blazers. Clothes that look ordinary but which come with extraordinary price tags.

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But no sooner had the Roy family and their $500 Loro Piana baseball caps departed our screens than the stealth wealth trend – much like the clothes it championed – started to fade quietly into the background. Fast forward to early 2024, and things look quite different. Specifically, a lot more sparkly, gaudy and all-out glamourous.

Right now, fashion is embracing a more ostentatious, maximalist vibe. It’s there in the huge faux fur coats that celebs have been wearing for the past few months (namely, Jennifer Lopez sporting two different white versions in the space of a week). It’s there in Miley Cyrus’s bouffant hair and five fantastically glitzy Grammys outfits. It’s there in the leopard print revival. And it’s there in the much-discussed “Mob Wife” trend on TikTok – characterised by aforementioned fur coats and animal print, paired with stacks of gold jewellery. This is luxury at its very loudest.

Sharon Stone played the iconic Ginger McKenna in the 1995 film Casino (Credit: Alamy)

Like most TikTok trends, the Mob Wife frenzy feels like it has exploded fast. A video posted in early January by Kayla Trivieri – long time adopter of the aesthetic – declared “Clean girl is out, mob wife era is in… bold glamour is making a comeback.” The hashtag #mobwife has now had more than 100 million views, spawned countless explainers on how to get the look, and caused debates on the glamourisation of organised crime. There has already been a backlash, followed by a backlash to the backlash, with a debate about cultural appropriation, followed by some women of colour calling out hypocrisy. It’s even provoked a response from Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola. Inspirations for the look include characters Carmela Soprano and Adriana La Cerva from The Sopranos, Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface and Sharon Stone in Casino.

Some people thought the trend was suspiciously well timed, coinciding as it did with the 25th anniversary of The Sopranos. In reality, the whole aesthetic has been bubbling away for several months – helped along by some celebrity style inspiration.

Hailey Bieber, Kendall Jenner and Dua Lipa have all been photographed sporting enormous fur or faux fur coats. At the start of this year Rihanna wore an Armani leopard print faux fur coat (over a tracksuit) to board a private plane to Aspen. There’s subsequently been a surprise demand for vintage furs.

Using fashion as a vehicle to display your wealth is nothing new

The stealth wealth look has been tied to old money, and the idea that it’s gauche to show off your wealth, whereas more maximalist dressing has commonly been associated with the “nouveau riche”. The idea is that those who have come from nothing want people to know they’ve made it — and why not? Many of the muses – fictional or otherwise – who’ve inspired the mob wife trend are working-class and immigrant women who, when they come into money, want to embrace that by dressing glamorously. There’s hence often been an inherent snobbery about some of these styles, with animal print in particular often deemed “trashy”.

Using fashion as a vehicle to display your wealth is nothing new. As Thorstein Veblen wrote when describing the “leisure class” in the 19th Century: “Dress must not only be conspicuously expensive; it must also be ‘inconvenient'”.

Hip-hop style has long swung between a casual and more over-the-top look, incorporating fur, conspicuous logos and plenty of bling. Dapper Dan, the designer credited with bringing high-fashion to the hip-hop world says: “As people move up the economic scale – when they start from nothing and bridge the gap between the poor and the rich – they want to make statements of ‘I’ve arrived’.”

Jennifer Lopez channels the Mob Wife look in glamorous white faux fur (Credit: Getty Images)

Certain designers have embraced the rich-girl, maximalist look too, especially Gianni Versace, who was inspired by Greco-Roman art, the Renaissance, Pop Art and the Baroque and whose designs oozed excess and sexuality. Detractors thought his designs were vulgar and flashy – he didn’t care. “I don’t believe in good taste,” he famously said. 

There’s now a nostalgia for the all-out glamour of that era – see Olivia Rodrigo wearing a vintage 1995 embellished Versace dress to the Grammys, and Kim Kardashian sourcing pieces from Azzedine Alaia’s famous autumn/winter 1991 catwalk show, where the models walked out in head-to-toe leopard print.

It’s not just celebrities buying into the look. Fashion marketplace Depop has seen searches for leopard print rise by 213%, with increased interest in faux fur and hoop earrings, too. The stealth wealth trend was never one for the masses. Sure, the aesthetic itself was easy to copy, but to truly buy into the trend you needed your camel cashmere coat to have extremely deep pockets. Whereas styles like the mob wife aesthetic, while seeming on the surface to signal wealth, are actually much more accessible.

Mob Wife is less a trend in the traditional sense, and more an opportunity to play dress up

The vintage vibe is part of the appeal, with all the essential elements easy to pick up in thrift stores or charity shops. You can spend £50 on a faux fur coat or £5,000 and pull off the same effect. As The Sopranos costume designer Juliet Polsca told The Washington Post: “It’s more about the attitude, it’s this fearlessness.” There’s also an argument that – after Barbie made last year all about girly aesthetics – we’re yearning for a return to a sexy, grown-up, powerful look.

TikTok trends are notorious for how fast they come and go (coastal grandma, anyone?) – and it’s likely creators will soon find another look to leap on (let’s face it, those fur coats won’t work come springtime). As trend analyst Mandy Lee has argued, Mob Wife is less a trend in the traditional sense, and more an opportunity to play dress up. “We seem to be in this endless cycle of nostalgia for trends that were rooted in subcultures, values and context. Today, they are quite literally costumes that people put on and take off everyday.”

Perhaps it’s this playfulness that’s so appealing – and the element of escapism. One of the arguments for the rise of the stealth wealth trend was that, in a cost-of-living crisis, no-one wanted to flaunt their wealth. Perhaps, conversely, when money is tight and the news cycle is gloomy, we want more than ever to feel and look a million dollars. Secret wealth codes are all well and good, but has anyone ever felt truly fabulous in a navy sweatshirt, even if it did cost $2,000? Red lipstick and a leopard print coat, however… that’s a mood that’s hard to resist.

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‘I used to be convinced I didn’t have a future’

Data scientist Hannah Ritchie argues that planetary damage could be about to peak – but that the US election result could be “pivotal”.

In a global survey of young people’s feelings about climate change, half recently told researchers that they believe “humanity is doomed“. In other words, they don’t believe that the needs of the current generation can be met without undermining the next. They worry that life as we know it is not sustainable.

Data scientist Hannah Ritchie once believed likewise. As a teenager, she feared that humanity’s ravaging of the planet – via everything from climate change to deforestation and overfishing – presented a series of unsolvable problems. Her undergraduate degree, begun at Edinburgh University aged just 16, only seemed to confirm these concerns. “I used to be convinced I didn’t have a future left to live for,” the now 30-year-old writes in her first book, Not the End of the World.

Today, however, Ritchie feels differently. While she’s still worried about the trajectory the world is on, she believes there’s hope humanity can turn things around. As deputy editor at Our World In Data and a senior researcher at the University of Oxford, she points to developments and statistics that tell a more optimistic story, from improving air quality to rising EV sales.

Ritchie speaks to BBC Future Planet about what shifted her mindset, why the world might be reaching overall “peak pollution” – and ways that a more sustainable future could be secured.

What prompted you to change your mind about humanity’s future? And why do you now think that doomist predictions do not inspire action?

Climate change has always been part of my life and I’ve always been quite worried, even as a kid. That got worse when I went to university, because I was studying environmental science and all the trends were very much going in the wrong direction. At the time I felt very anxious, hopeless, and like these problems were completely unsolvable.

The feeling of ‘it’s too late’ just leads to inaction and paralysis – Hannah Ritchie

A key turning point for me was discovering the work of the Swedish physician and statistician Hans Rosling. When I was studying, I’d assumed that all of the human wellbeing metrics – such as global poverty, mortality and hunger – were also getting worse alongside the environmental ones. But Rosling would do TED talks where he’d show, using data, how the world had changed over the last few centuries for the better.

So, I started asking: can we do both things at the same time? Can we continue to improve human wellbeing while also reducing our environmental impact? And, over the last 10 years or so, according to the environmental data, there have been signs for cautious optimism. It’s not inevitable that we get there, but I think there’s the opportunity for us to do so.

The world is already driving down air pollution levels in many cities (Credit: Getty Images)

The problem with doomism is not people thinking that climate change is a really serious problem – because that’s also what I think. It is the idea that it’s too late to do anything about it. I think the science is very clear that it’s never too late; the impacts of climate change are on a spectrum and where we land on that spectrum depends on what we do today. The more action we take, the more climate damage we limit.

The feeling of “it’s too late” just leads to inaction and paralysis. And I know, from feeling that way in the past, that it didn’t actually make me very effective in driving solutions forward.

Air pollution, climate change, forests, food, biodiversity, ocean plastic and overfishing: all pose vast threats to human and planetary health. But your data analysis has given you hope that a greener future is possible. So what do you think has been the most powerful instance yet of humanity’s ability to change for the better?

The ozone layer was the climate change problem of its day, and we don’t talk about it anymore because it’s a problem that we solved. We have reduced the emissions of ozone depleting gasses by more than 99%.

The world has reduced the emissions of ozone depleting gasses by more than 99% since 1986 (Credit: UN Environment program (2023), via Our World in Data)

It’s easy for us to look back now and say that was inevitable. But I think people working on this at the time, faced really strong pushback from governments, as well as from industry, who denied that it was a problem. You see lots of parallels between that and climate change today.

Another example is acid rain. This was a big environmental problem that, especially across Europe and North America, we’ve done a really good job of tackling.

On air pollution more broadly, while it is still a massive health problem, we have seen progress. In rich countries in particular, public policy has been very effective at driving down local air pollution. And China has managed to dramatically reduce levels in many of its cities in a very short period of time. 

Your book gives numerous examples of the green transition already underway around the world.

There’s the possibility we could be approaching peak deaths from air pollution, with rates falling even as the number of people in the world continues to rise. There’s your optimism that total emissions will peak in the 2020s, with global per capita CO2 emissions already having done so. There’s the passing of peak deforestation. The passing of peak agricultural land. And the reaching of peak petrol car sales.

In light of such trends, would you say that the planet has already reached overall “peak pollution”?

That requires aggregating across many different metrics. I’m going to say we’re very close to peak pollution. We’re very close to peak CO2 emissions: we’ve been on a plateau for a number of years and I hope we peak and decline soon. On air pollution, we could be very, very close to the peak. And we’ve passed the peak on some air pollutants already – such as sulphur dioxide, which causes acid rain.

China has dramatically reduced air pollution levels in many of its cities in a short space of time (Credit: Community Emissions Data System)

We’ve also peaked on small but significant things like the global sale of combustion-engine cars. So, there are a range of smaller peaks that then build up to get a macro-level peak of pollution.

You speak a lot about the positive power of new technology and technological progress. For example, the fact that solar power has gone from the most to the least expensive energy source in just 10 years. What is most helping humanity to unlock peak pollution?

The falling cost of low carbon energy – in particular solar, wind and batteries – is essential for us to peak and reduce CO2 emissions. To make progress, these technologies need to be competitive with or cost less than fossil fuels. Without doing that, our hopes of tackling climate change would be really low. So it is good news that many are already cost competitive.

What is the biggest barrier to reaching peak pollution?

A major factor limiting progress is the lack of investment in the energy transition and clean technologies by fossil fuel companies. They generate extremely large profits that they could re-invest in forward-looking solutions, but they are failing to do so. That doesn’t mean ending fossil fuels tomorrow, but it does mean investing in a clean energy future.

Another challenge in reaching peak pollution – in terms of both CO2 emissions and air pollution – is the levels of energy poverty in the world. In rich countries, pollution is falling, but it is still rising in low and middle-income nations. That’s because you’ve got billions of people who, quite rightly, want a higher standard of living. For these countries, the priority is not necessarily how to keep pollution low, but how to supply energy quickly and cheaply.

The science is very clear that it’s never too late – Hannah Ritchie

Meat-heavy diets pose a particular challenge to passing peak overall pollution – whether that’s seen in terms of deforestation or emissions. What would you say to politicians who are wary of telling people what to do when it comes to their diet?

I’m much more optimistic on energy transition, and less so on the food system side. Many individuals don’t really care where their energy comes from. They might protest the building of a wind or solar farm, but most people don’t mind as long as energy is cheap and reliable.

Whereas diet is a very personal thing. It’s strongly tied to our identity and individual behavioural changes are harder to make than technological ones. I’m sceptical we’ll see a long term and large-scale shift to plant-based diets without quite significant technological advances – which can provide people with meat-like products.

Meat-heavy diets pose a particular challenge to stemming pollution (Credit: Poore and Nemecek, 2018)

In general, I’m also very cautious of telling people what they should do. Prescription is ineffective – especially on what people eat but also more broadly. So, for politicians, it’s a very fine line to tread. How do you show people the impacts, and the alternatives, but without forcing it on people?

Other figures who, like you, emphasise the importance of technology and possibility of continued economic growth, have been termed “ecomodernists”. And some of the high-tech solutions that this group advocate – from nuclear power to agricultural intensification and cultured meat – have sparked concerns.

Is ecomodernism a phrase you identify with? And what would you say to those who warn that sometimes relying on new technology can accelerate environmental decline?

There’s probably a range of definitions of what an ecomodernist is. For me, technology is just a really strong lever. I don’t think technology on its own will save us, but when you’re trying to scale solutions for 8 billion people, you need it.

Often people try to reach for solutions from the past. They might have worked for a small population of millions, but they don’t scale to a population of billions. In agriculture, for example, you can’t feed eight billion people without strong technological changes and without increases in crop yield – which we’ve seen from technological innovations. I’d also push back on nuclear being a new technology: it’s been around much longer than solar and wind.

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If you were to argue that we need to massively shrink individual demand on the planet’s resources by changing our behaviours, you would still need a strong technological component. Even if energy demand is lower, for instance, you will still need a lot of solar, wind and batteries. And you’ll still probably need nuclear or geothermal or hydro to provide a balance on the grid.

So, I think there’s often a false dichotomy. Even in a world where you must reduce demand, you still need really strong technological developments.

Both businessman Bill Gates and American journalist David-Wallace Wells have hailed you as the “Hans Rosling” of the environmental movement, based on your optimism about the world’s potential for positive development. Others however, have cautioned that figures like Rosling go too far in their optimism, and that averages can obscure underlying inequalities between and within nations. How mindful are you of these risks?

We can’t just look at global averages. In our work at Our World in Data, we show data metrics across countries, not just the global average. This often reveals that, while there are still really large inequalities, on the human-side things are getting better.

And finally, you also emphasise that individual behaviour change is no good without systematic change in our wider politics and economies. How hopeful are you, at the start of 2024 with a year of elections ahead, that the world will keep up its positive trajectory on peak-pollution?

I think it’s a decisive year. I’m quite worried about a few elections: the US [result] will be pivotal. It could significantly slow down the nation’s transition – and how other countries respond – if it steps back from climate action. So, it is important that the economic incentives for the energy transition are there. When such incentives exist, this stuff can start to happen even without strong political support. We need to build solutions and setups that can withstand swings from one political side to the other.

Many renewable energy sources, such as solar, are already cost competitive with fossil fuels (Credit: Getty Images)

What makes you most hopeful?

The number of amazing people from so many disciplines all working on these problems. I felt very helpless when I felt like I was alone and others weren’t working on this. Yet now the picture has changed dramatically. That’s what makes me most optimistic we can get there.

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