Are Russian military assets on way to Cuba, Venezuela? Blinken: U.S. still stumped by Havana Syndrome. Military med teams to aid omicron-slammed states.
Blinken: U.S. still at a loss on cause of Havana Syndrome
In an MSNBC interview Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that U.S. officials remain stumped about the cause and origin of the Havana Syndrome. To date, over 200 State Department employees in dozens of countries have reported suffering from the syndrome, most recently in Paris and Geneva.
According to Blinken, U.S. intelligence agencies have been working “overtime” for months. The agencies stepped up the search for answers after members of Congress from both parties complained that the experiences of victims weren’t being taken seriously. “There is no doubt in my mind that people have been directly and powerfully affected,” Blinken said. But “To date, we don’t know exactly what’s happened and we don’t know exactly who is responsible”.
Havana Syndrome symptoms vary widely but include a sensation of increased cranial pressure, headaches, memory lapses, nausea, dizziness, sleeplessness, and “cognitive fog”. These often occur after sufferers report hearing some sort of persistent loud noise. While symptoms are real, the cause is a mystery. State Department sources have variously claimed that Russia, China, and other adversaries are behind it, but there is no real evidence to assign blame. Even the mechanism is in doubt. A State Department-funded study said some sort of “microwave” weapon may be responsible, but other scientists have dismissed this conclusion. One study even raised the possibility that the “noise” victims have described and even recorded is the mating call of a type of cricket.
Biden promises more free tests, masks amid omicron surge
COVID infection and hospitalization numbers are breaking records across the country. The surge is disrupting schools and businesses and overwhelming hospitals. As the price of at-home tests and supplies have dwindled, the White House was heavily criticized last month for its refusal to offer free tests for Americans. With numbers climbing, the Biden administration is now playing catch up.
Earlier this month, the administration announced that free tests would be available for people to request them through a website. Today, Biden said he was doubling the number of free tests available to 500 million. Additionally, N95 masks will be available for free. The government has a stockpile of about 750 million N95s, but it’s not yet clear how they plan to distribute them. More details should be forthcoming next week.
The White House is also dispatching military medical teams to six states at the forefront of the omicron surge. Teams will be arriving in New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, Michigan and New Mexico to support local hospitals. Administration officials say this is only the “first wave” of such emergency deployments.
Could Russian military assets be on way Cuba, Venezuela?
As predicted by many, talks between U.S. and Russian diplomats in Geneva have ended “unsuccessfully” according to Russian sources. The talks were an attempt to diffuse military tensions over Ukraine. Russia currently has some 100,000 troops poised on its border with Ukraine.
Russian officials have now sharply upped the ante in their pressure campaign on the West by threatening to bring the fight closer to U.S. shores. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who represented Russia in the Geneva talks, said he could “neither confirm nor exclude” the possibility of Russia deploying military assets to Cuba and Venezuela if his government’s demands aren’t answered. His statements threaten a repeat of the Cuban Missile Crisis that brought the two powers to the brink of nuclear war in the 1960s.
What does Putin want?
This is the question that has kept global observers worrying and guessing. Many doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin has genuine ambitions to invade Ukraine. Putin has floated a list of demands with regard to NATO deployments and expansion encroaching on Russia’s borders and sphere of influence. Essentially, Putin wants to turn back the clock to a point before rapid eastward NATO expansion during the Clinton presidency.
But recent statements by Putin asserting that Russia and Ukraine were essentially one and the same country are also suggestive. This has been true at different points over the last thousand years, but Ukrainians have their own language and distinct cultural identity.
Some Ukrainians believe that their democratic government poses a challenge to the elite in Russia. The average Russian citizen is considerably less well off than the average Ukrainian, and enjoys fewer freedoms. This is despite the fact that Ukraine lacks Russia’s wealth of mineral resources.
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