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Around the halls: Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and the European security order

Late last year, on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia massed troops on its border with Ukraine and issued draft agreements with the U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) spelling out demands for…

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By Pavel K Baev, Jessica Brandt, Vanda Felbab-Brown, Samantha Gross, Daniel S. Hamilton, Marvin Kalb, Patricia M. Kim, Kemal Kirişci, Michael E. O'Hanlon, Steven Pifer, Melanie W. Sisson, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Angela Stent

Late last year, on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia massed troops on its border with Ukraine and issued draft agreements with the U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) spelling out demands for changes to the European security order including no further expansion of NATO. With the United States and its European allies and partners embarking on a series of pivotal negotiations with Moscow beginning January 9 in Geneva, mass protests erupted in Kazakhstan in the first week of 2022 and the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) intervened militarily at the request of Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. What are Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions? How should the U.S. and its allies respond to Russia’s moves? What are the implications of the Kazakhstan uprising? Below, Brookings experts reflect on recent developments in the former Soviet Union and offer policy recommendations.



Pavel K. Baev
Nonresident Senior Fellow, Center on the United States and Europe

There was never a chance for a breakthrough at the U.S.-Russia talks in Geneva exacted by President Putin’s unprecedented demand for one-sided “security guarantees.” U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman spent a long seven hours checking the depth of disagreements with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, who had announced beforehand that no deviations from the draft agreement published by Moscow in mid-December were possible. Russian demands for discontinuing all military ties between the United States and Ukraine were clearly unacceptable, but Ryabkov expressed satisfaction that the Russian position was taken “very seriously.” If Russia seeks to prove that its behavior will be neither stable nor predictable, despite President Joe Biden’s request presented to Putin in the same city half a year ago, it has succeeded exceedingly.

Material evidence of Russia’s propensity for reckless power projection is supplied by the swift intervention into suddenly riotous Kazakhstan on the eve of Orthodox Christmas. Only some 2,000 paratroopers were airlifted under the pro-forma aegis of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, but the appointment of General Andrei Serdyukov, the seasoned commander of Russian Airborne Troops, as the commanding officer of the operation indicated that any number of reinforcements could be forthcoming. Tense stability has been restored in protest-overwhelmed Almaty, and Russia has established for fact that it can act as security provider and order enforcer in its immediate neighborhood. This success bodes ill for Ukraine, which has to assume that Russian tanks are amassed on its borders for purposes more ominous than just supporting talks with the West.


Jessica Brandt ()
Policy Director, Artificial Intelligence and Emerging Technology Initiative, and Fellow, Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology

On an ongoing basis, Russia uses a suite of asymmetric tools — including information manipulation and cyber operations — to weaken the European security order and undermine democratic states and institutions that could organize against its interests. This is part of its playbook for Ukraine.

In the information domain, the Kremlin is already deploying a “divide and discredit” strategy. For weeks, Russian state media and diplomats have been hammering differences between the United States and its European partners over their approach to the crisis and working to dent the credibility and appeal of NATO — an essential institution of the liberal international order — casting it as the true aggressor. This is part of a long-running strategy to weaken the trans-Atlantic partnership, undermine European cohesion, and disparage liberal institutions, including NATO. If tensions increase, Washington should expect this activity to intensify.

Meanwhile, cybersecurity experts have noted an uptick in intrusions into Ukrainian computer networks, both government and civilian, that could set the stage for a major cyberattack. That would not be without precedent. Russian hackers have previously taken aim at Ukraine’s election infrastructure and energy grid, the Kyiv Metro, and the Odesa airport, among other targets. Policymakers should take seriously the possibility of an attempt to disrupt Ukraine’s economy and government. It’s good, then, that Washington and London have reportedly sent experts to the country to help bolster its defenses against such a move.


Vanda Felbab-Brown ()
Senior Fellow, Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology

A Russian invasion of Ukraine would constitute perhaps the greatest global security crisis in three decades. However, even should talks with Russia avert this without the West making troubling concessions to Russia’s extravagant demands, Putin will succeed in accomplishing some of his nefarious objectives. Putin’s crisis-making consumes the attention of top U.S., NATO, and European policymakers and reduces their focus on other important issues, from the crises in Afghanistan, Somalia, and Ethiopia to the slow-burning morass in Mexico or Venezuela to long-term existential matters such as preventing zoonotic diseases, preserving global biodiversity, and stabilizing the planet’s climate.

No doubt, highly competent officials with regional and functional portfolios remain focused on those issues, but the principals’ attention is depleted by their need to respond to the Putin-orchestrated crisis. Moreover, Putin can maintain such crisis-making for months, leaving troops at the Ukrainian border, withdrawing them, putting them back, and perhaps one day — during crisis number three or four or six — actually invading, undeterred by further Western economic sanctions.

Meanwhile, while tying up high-level U.S. policy focus in eastern Europe, Russia intensely meddles in some of the very places from which it diverts American attention. Across Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and even Latin America, Russia has built up a variety of tools and proxy actors — from disinformation campaign trolls to Moscow-linked “private” security companies problematically propping up regimes in exchange for security access and resources. Often Russia’s objective is simply to frustrate U.S. goals, regardless of their substantive content.


Samantha Gross ()
Fellow and Director, Energy Security and Climate Initiative

Both Europe and Russia have a lot to lose in the energy space if the situation in Ukraine escalates. Russia is the largest supplier of natural gas to the European Union, providing more than 40% of EU imports. Europe is now suffering through a crisis in gas supply. High demand and low storage and supply are combining to create natural gas prices 4.5 times those at this time last year, although down a bit from their highest levels in December.

On the one hand, Russia is enjoying today’s very high gas prices, an argument for stepping back from the brink. Germany has also indicated willingness to stop the nearly completed Nord Stream 2 pipeline if Russia’s aggression against Ukraine escalates. On the other hand, Europe can ill afford to lose any gas supply right now, meaning that applying sanctions on Russian gas or reducing purchases from Russia would be very painful, a situation President Putin surely understands.

On top of these strategic questions lies the security of the gas supply itself. Transit of Russian gas provided $2 billion in revenue to Ukraine in 2020, meaning that Ukraine has every reason to protect the compressors that keep the pipelines running. Russia too has reason not to damage the pipelines, since an estimated 35% of Russia’s gas exports still go through Ukraine. Despite years of building new pipelines that bypass Ukraine, the country is still central to Russia’s energy economy.


Daniel S. Hamilton (@DanSHamilton)
Nonresident Senior Fellow, Center on the United States and Europe

Putin’s saber-rattling is not only existential for Ukraine, it is the most visible, dangerous, and urgent sign that Europe has moved from an era of relative stability to an age of ongoing disruption.

Putin wants to undo the post-Cold War settlement, control his neighborhood, and disrupt the influence of open democratic societies, not because of what they do but because of who they are. It is useful to recall that the pretext for Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine was not NATO expansion, it was a trade agreement between Ukraine and the European Union. Putin understands the challenge a successful Ukrainian democracy would pose to authoritarianism in Russia. Through his current threats and his earlier military interventions in Ukraine, his meddling in neighboring countries, and his continuing use of energy, cyber, and other instruments as political tools, his message is clear: Hard power still matters, and borders in Europe can still be changed by force. He is intent on expanding the arena of competition, not only to the post-Soviet space, but to democracies in Europe and beyond.

Today, Ukraine is the crucible of Europe’s disruption. Our most immediate challenge is to deter Russian aggression there. Tomorrow, others will be tested — and not only by Russia. New technologies are changing the nature of competition and conflict. Digital transformations are upending the foundations of diplomacy and defense. China is disrupting basic principles and arrangements critical to Europe’s security and prosperity. Europe’s earthquake did not end in 1989 or 1991. It continues to rumble.


Marvin Kalb ()
Nonresident Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy

Russian armies roam the Eurasian landmass, as though they’re operating in their own backyard. That’s not to President Biden’s liking, and it certainly raises urgent questions for NATO. It seems to be putting East and West on another collision course.

In recent months, tens of thousands of Russian troops have congregated near the Ukrainian border, and in recent days thousands have actually crossed the border into Kazakhstan in an effort to crush a widespread uprising.

There are differences in Russia’s approach to these two former Soviet republics. In 2014, Russia seized Crimea and moved into the Donbas region of Ukraine. Cover stories were concocted, but Russia’s strategic intent was obvious — Moscow was trying to topple the pro-West regime in Kyiv. Russian President Vladimir Putin apparently believes history has given him a mysterious right to act. In Kazakhstan, Russia invaded as part of an international force, providing convenient cover, but again Russia’s strategic intent is obvious: to keep Kazakhstan in friendly hands.

Whether Russia might now exploit her military presence there to readjust borders is uncertain but possible. Former President Boris Yeltsin warned that Russia “reserves the right” to change her borders with Kazakhstan, and Putin maintains that “Kazakhs never had any statehood” before the Soviet collapse anyway.

A dangerous question emerges, because Putin seems serious about his reading of Russian history: How can the West challenge this notion without sliding step by step into a military confrontation with Russia, something neither side wants?


Patricia M. Kim ()
David M. Rubenstein Fellow, John L. Thornton China Center and Center for East Asia Policy Studies

The mounting crises over Ukraine and in Kazakhstan have raised questions about China’s stances on both, as well as implications for Sino-Russian ties and the larger geopolitical landscape. Beijing’s foremost priority is to maintain stability in its periphery as it looks to orchestrate the Winter Olympics and the 20th Party Congress, all the while struggling to maintain a zero-COVID policy.

China has adopted relatively low-key positions on both Ukraine and Kazakhstan thus far. Beijing has expressed support for Kazakh President Tokayev in his fight against “external forces,” and the dispatch of Russian troops to the former Soviet republic under the auspices of CSTO. Beijing has also avoided taking sides between Moscow and Kyiv in attempts to stay on good terms with both. While Presidents Xi and Putin used their virtual meeting in December to collectively denounce Western “interference” in their internal affairs, official Chinese readouts were careful not to explicitly reference Putin’s demands for security guarantees from NATO and the United States. Just a few weeks later, Xi sent a congratulatory message to Ukraine to mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral ties. These developments suggest that while Beijing sees value in working closely with Moscow to push back against “Western encirclement,” it is not willing to back specific Russian core interests.

Moreover, a Russian intervention in Kazakhstan and growing Russian sphere of influence in China’s backyard are ultimately at odds with Beijing’s long-term interests. U.S. policymakers would be wise to keep these contradictions and larger picture in mind, while working to prevent further solidification of Sino-Russian ties.


Kemal Kirişci (@kemalkirisci)
Nonresident Senior Fellow, Center on the United States and Europe

As Putin resorts to military pressure on Ukraine and raises demands on the U.S. for changes to the European security order, neighboring countries are revisiting their policies towards Russia. The debate over Finland and Sweden becoming NATO members has been revived triggering promises of an “appropriate response” from Russia. The position of Turkey moving forward is also evolving.

During the last few years, under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s relations with Russia has wavered between strategic partnership and rivalry. As late as in September, after meeting with Putin, Erdoğan reasserted his commitment to the partnership with Russia and reiterated his position on keeping Russian S-400 missiles despite U.S. sanctions. Yet Russian threats to invade Ukraine is reviving the weight of history marked by frequent wars, which Turks mostly lost, reinforced by Josef Stalin’s territorial demands in 1945 that propelled Turkey into NATO 70 years ago in February.

Recently, the geopolitical significance of NATO membership has been reiterated by two prominent retired Turkish ambassadors, a small but important uptick in importance attributed to NATO from 48% in 2020 (slide 83) to 58% in 2021 (slide 90) has been reported among the Turkish public. Possibly more significant might be Turkish efforts to shore up the defenses of Ukraine, which has drawn Putin’s ire, and Georgia. With Turkey having the second largest military in NATO and a unique geographical position commanding the Black Sea, these recent developments should be factored into formulating a response to Russian demands.


Michael E. O’Hanlon (@MichaelEOHanlon)
Senior Fellow and Director, Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology

NATO cannot give in to Russian bullying or allow Russia a sphere of influence over its formerly subjugated neighbors. Putin’s demands about Ukraine and eastern Europe are unacceptable as stated.

But we need to develop new concepts for future European security.  Ukraine and Georgia should not be in NATO — even if Moscow should not be able to make that decision for them.

The core concept for future European security in eastern Europe would be one of permanent neutrality for former Soviet republics that are not now in NATO or the Russia-led CSTO. They should retain their sovereign rights to join any other international organization.

However, security alliances should not be used by Washington and Brussels as democracy promotion tools or instruments to advance the “European project.” They represent solemn promises to treat another’s territory as our own, and send American troops to fight and die in defense of allies, if needed. As the North Atlantic Treaty’s Article 10 underscores, alliance enlargement should not happen unless we genuinely believe it would contribute to a more stable Europe.

The new security architecture must require that Russia withdraw its troops from Ukraine and Georgia (and Moldova, most likely) in a verifiable manner. The Crimea issue would have to be finessed, since Moscow almost certainly will not give that strategic peninsula on the Black Sea back to Ukraine. After that occurred, corresponding sanctions that have been imposed on Russia due to its aggressions against neighbors could be lifted, though “snapback” provisions would remain in case Russia subsequently violated its promises.


Steven Pifer (@steven_pifer)
Nonresident Senior Fellow, Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology and Center on the United States and Europe

Moscow has manufactured a crisis by deploying large military forces near Ukraine and has demanded security guarantees in its draft U.S.-Russia and NATO-Russia agreements. Many provisions in those drafts are unacceptable to Washington and NATO, while others offer a basis for discussion and perhaps negotiation. The big question: Does the Kremlin intend its draft agreements as an opening bid in a serious give-and-take negotiation, or does it seek rejection, which it would add to its list of grievances to justify a military assault on Ukraine?

U.S. and Russian officials met Monday and described their talks as serious. However, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov stressed Moscow’s demand that NATO foreswear further enlargement and rule out Ukraine and Georgia ever joining. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman termed that a “non-starter” but saw possibilities to address issues such as missiles in Europe and constraints on military exercises. Ryabkov left the door open for dialogue. There will be a NATO-Russia meeting tomorrow, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe meets on Thursday.

NATO should engage Russia on its concerns regarding military activities, provided that Moscow addresses the concerns others have about Russian activities on a reciprocal basis. But it is not legitimate for the Kremlin to seek a veto over NATO enlargement or Kyiv’s foreign policy. While remaining ready to talk, the West should reiterate that Russian military action against Ukraine would lead to painful costs and consequences.

It will then be up to Vladimir Putin to decide how to answer the big question.


Melanie W. Sisson (@MWSBrookingsFP)
Fellow, Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology

If Putin invades Ukraine, it will not be because the Biden administration’s strategy is bad. To the contrary, the administration has done well to make clear the costs Russia will face as a result of aggression. It was wise, moreover, for Biden to establish early that the United States will not commit ground troops either to blunt or to eject Russia should it invade — the interests at stake do not justify direct U.S. involvement.

In the weeks leading into negotiations there has been much preoccupation with what it is that Putin wants. With few exceptions, there has been very little open discussion of what it is that Washington wants, other than Russian forbearance from invading Ukraine.

A negotiating position that requires Russia to do more than simply retrench from Ukraine, and that offers concessions in return, will indicate that the U.S. and NATO agree with Putin that the European security architecture needs revision. If the U.S. and NATO have no such demands for revision, however, they should be unwilling to make any concessions at all. In that case, a Russian invasion will accurately reflect the two sides’ relative satisfaction with the current order. So long as the U.S. and its allies hold firm and impose the threatened costs, they will be demonstrating their belief that the primary tenets of European security are sound. If that is indeed the administration’s position, then its deterrent strategy doesn’t have to work in order to succeed.


Constanze Stelzenmüller (@ConStelz)
Senior Fellow, Center on the United States and Europe

Sunday marked the beginning of a week of negotiations that could prove decisive for the European security order and the trans-Atlantic alliance. After the Kremlin’s two “treaty drafts,” it is clear that for Russia, the goal is to reestablish dominion in eastern Europe, and push the U.S. out of Europe — effectively ending NATO. Russia threatens to use military force against Ukraine in order to achieve this much greater strategic goal.

The alliance response ought to be correspondingly clear and forceful. Specifically, it should state clearly what the West wants from Russia. A start would be: that there will be no further discussions unless Russia moves back its troops to a determined line — say 100 kilometers from the Ukrainian border.

Here are three more things the alliance could and should do:

  1. A declaration of first principles: NATO will not succumb to military threats for political goals; territorial borders are inviolable; countries are free to choose their own alliances. (And remind the Russians, who like to brandish treaties, of exactly where and when they signed on to these principles.)
  2. Counter disinformation about alliance disunity by regularly publishing statistics about U.S.-European consultations.
  3. Establish a cross-alliance task force to map out the prospective relative impact of Western economic sanctions on individual alliance members and discuss potential instruments to mitigate blowback.


Angela Stent (@AngelaStent)
Nonresident Senior Fellow, Center on the United States and Europe

If the U.S. went into the Geneva talks hoping to ascertain whether Russia is serious about negotiating about Euro-Atlantic security issues or merely using what it will claim are failed negotiations to justify another military incursion into Ukraine, then it did not receive an answer. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov agreed to continue negotiating but also said that a guarantee that NATO would not expand further was non-negotiable for the Russians — just as foreclosing NATO enlargement is a non-starter for the Americans.

It is not clear why Putin manufactured the crisis on the Ukrainian border at this particular time — he has been making many of his complaints about the U.S. and NATO since his Munich speech in 2007 — but he clearly senses this is an opportune time with the U.S. distracted by COVID-19 and its dysfunctional political system and key European players focusing their attention elsewhere. The deployment of Russian troops in Kazakhstan at the request of its beleaguered president strengthens Putin’s hand and reinforces his claim that Russia’s neighbors want to be in the Russian sphere of influence.

Putin’s goal is a wholesale relitigating of the post-Cold War settlement in Europe, hoping that the U.S. will withdraw and focus on its own domestic troubles. Where do we go from here? Best case: revived negotiations on the now-defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty. Worst case? Another military incursion into Ukraine followed by punitive sanctions on Russia which will also adversely affect Western economies.

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Spread & Containment

Monkeypox: demand for vaccines is outstripping supply – this is what’s causing the shortages

Chronic weaknesses in our global vaccine manufacturing and distribution systems may broadly be to blame.

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The smallpox vaccine is currently being used to protect against monkeypox. PhotobyTawat/ Shutterstock

Over 30,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in more than 80 countries worldwide in 2022. Most are in countries that have never previously reported monkeypox. While monkeypox is not as transmissible as many respiratory infections (such as COVID-19), it’s still important to curb the spread.

One way to control spread is by vaccinating vulnerable people. Fortunately, we already have vaccines which are very effective at preventing monkeypox. But as case numbers continue to rise, reports are emerging that demand for vaccines is outstripping supply in many parts of the world currently seeing an outbreak, including the US, UK and Europe.

Vaccine supply

There are a number of reasons why we are seeing shortages of the vaccine used to protect against monkeypox. Broadly, it’s due to chronic weaknesses in our global vaccine manufacturing and distribution systems, which make it especially difficult to supply the vaccines needed to protect against new infections and outbreaks.

The vaccine currently being used to protect against monkeypox is the smallpox vaccine, which works because the monkeypox virus is so closely related to smallpox.

Until now, the smallpox vaccine has been a niche product because it’s not been needed since smallpox was eradicated in 1980. Pharmaceutical companies can’t afford to manufacture vast numbers of doses just in case, and few governments can justify buying a vaccine that isn’t used. This means the vaccines currently being administered are from emergency stockpiles that were created to respond to an accidental (or deliberate) release of smallpox.


Read more: Monkeypox Q&A: how do you catch it and what are the risks? An expert explains


As such, there are limited stocks and production capacity globally, so demand is rapidly outstripping supply. Even the US, with one of the largest smallpox vaccine stockpiles, recently ordered 2.5 million additional doses in response to the monkeypox outbreak. But there are reports that the factory in Denmark which makes the world’s only smallpox vaccine approved for monkeypox is temporarily closed, which may further impact the world’s ability to source more vaccine doses. And unfortunately, transferring production to other facilities is not straightforward.

One particular problem for vaccine manufacturers is that it’s hard to predict when or where big outbreaks of infections may happen. Of course, there are some infections that we know consistently require a regular supply of vaccines – such as the influenza virus. But while 1 billion influenza vaccines are produced globally each year, it still takes approximately six months from picking the most important new strains to manufacturing and rolling out jabs.

So even with vaccines in high demand, it isn’t simple to manufacture more doses. This is why we are still striving to innovate ways to rapidly produce new vaccines affordably and at a very large scale.

Vaccines are inherently complicated to make. Because they are made from relatively fragile and complex biological materials (such as a virus), the product has to be exactly right every time. If the formula changes even slightly, it might not work as well – or even increase the risk of side-effects.

Adding to this challenge is the fact that different vaccine products may be manufactured by different methods. For example, the equipment needed to produce a viral vaccine (such as the smallpox vaccine used against monkeypox) will be very different to that used to make COVID-19 RNA vaccines. It’s also slow and expensive to test any necessary modifications or improvements that may be needed to make a vaccine safer and more effective.

Glass vials arranged in a row move through a conveyer belt, where they are filled with the vaccine.
It isn’t just as easy as making more vaccines to meet demand. wacomka/ Shutterstock

Surprisingly, even some simple processes common to all vaccines and other medicines – such as filling doses into vials for distribution to patients – still have a mismatch of capacity. Vaccines are usually manufactured in different locations to packaging facilities, raising logistical hurdles (such as strictly controlled refrigeration requirements) that can further delay distribution. These facilities are used for many different medicines and are usually fully booked years in advance; schedules that are still recovering from COVID-19 disruptions may now be experiencing urgent changes to package the smallpox vaccine from stockpiles.

It also isn’t just a case of developing new monkeypox vaccines that are easier to manufacture. Even with major recent scientific progress, it would take many months to develop a safe and effective new vaccine. For monkeypox, it’s far quicker and simpler to use the existing smallpox vaccine.

What can be done?

Smallpox vaccine production is likely to be increased to meet demand. But until this happens, many countries will have to make best use of what supplies they can access, and rely on other strategies to help curb the virus’s spread.

The most effective way to prevent monkeypox causing further harm is by using an integrated, locally led public health response – vaccines are just one part of this. Testing and contact tracing is vital. If enough infected people in a region can be identified and supported to isolate while they’re infectious, transmission can be blocked.

Given the vaccine shortages, we expect that people don’t need two vaccine doses to be protected against monkeypox. This is why vaccinating the most at-risk groups with one dose now, paired with other public health measures, is the most effective strategy for curbing the spread of monkeypox – especially while vaccine supplies are limited. Second doses can be administered to maximise immunity when supplies do become available.

The current monkeypox outbreak is yet another reminder of the importance of investing in global health, and ensuring there’s more equal access to vaccines and other medical interventions that can help prevent the spread of harmful diseases.

Alexander Edwards does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Government

Ivana Trump’s Money Lessons for Older Americans.

Ivana Trump, the first wife of Donald Trump, was recently found dead in her Manhattan residence. She was 73.

Known throughout her life as a dynamo socialite…

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Ivana Trump, the first wife of Donald Trump, was recently found dead in her Manhattan residence. She was 73.

Known throughout her life as a dynamo socialite and dealmaker in heels, her death from a blunt trauma from a fall down the stairs in her multi-story townhome, was a shock to residents who perceived her as vibrant and full of life. So, her passing got me thinking about Ivana Trump’s money lessons for older Americans.

Listen, it’s tough to age, but don’t let the process get you down. It’s too hard to get back up! Get it?

Seriously, a great challenge is an acceptance of growing older. Aging can be a tough pill to swallow. Especially for those who are known for the travails of their younger days. I have friends who explain as they age, they ‘disappear.’ I hate to hear this.

Personally, I’m living my best self and wouldn’t change a thing. However, Ageism is a real societal challenge. Based on numerous surveys, white papers, and reports from health organizations, those who are 60 and older are subject to negative stereotyping and discrimination in the workplace. Also, to younger generations, they do disappear in a manner of speaking.

But I have news for you. I think that’s about to change for you ‘seasoned’ folks.

During the pandemic, the Labor Force Participation Rate collapsed and has yet to recover. For those who need a reminder, the LFPR represents the people age 16 and older employed or seeking employment. Older Americans decided to accelerate retirement. Younger cohorts decided to go out on their own or sit back – satiated by government stimulus.

I think many older Americans will seek to unravel their retirement decision and return to the workforce. Also, I believe they’ll be welcomed with open arms by employers eager for a generation that is timely, responsible, and willing to work!

Let’s kick Ageism where it hurts. Right in the work ethic!

One money lesson I’ve learned from Ivana Trump about older Americans is that the entire world is wrinkling.

According to Peter Zeihan in his latest book – The End of The World is just the Beginning, population, and spending shrinkages are realities the entire globe must embrace. Demographics outline that mass-consumption-driven economies have already peaked.

By 2030, the world will be populated with twice as many retirees. Therefore, we all better internalize the fact that we’re getting older and financially and emotionally prepare accordingly. Long-term, poor demographics are deflationary.

In my opinion, Ivana Trump refused to accept aging. Thus, I consider Ivana Trump’s money lessons for older Americans applicable to all of us. 

Regardless of her immense wealth, she must have encountered anguish when it comes to getting older. Sure having money doesn’t hurt. Suffering in luxury isn’t bad. However, aging doesn’t care about a net worth statement.

Denial of aging is real and one of Ivana Trump’s best money lessons for older Americans.

Who needs comprehensive studies to understand that denial of getting older is a reality? I see it in myself as I dramatically changed my diet and amped up my physical workouts years ago to fight or slow the inevitable.

Frankly, my graying hairline stresses me out. 

I engage with people regularly who aren’t ready to deal with how someday they may move slower, forget things often and work through periodic illness or injury. Older clients and their adult children have a tough time facing that mom and dad are grayer, smaller, and frailer than they used to be.

Per a July 2022 analysis from the Center for Retirement Research, older Americans and retirees poorly assess the risks they face in retirement. Health and longevity risks (the risk of living longer than expected and exhausting financial resources) are underestimated.

Per the study: Perceived longevity risk and health risk rank lower because retirees are pessimistic about their survival probabilities and often underestimate their health costs in late life.

I cannot tell you how many clients inform me how sure they are about dying early. How do they know? So, I always ask the following question –

“What if you don’t?”

Ivana Trump’s friends were concerned about her home’s beautiful but dangerous staircase. They were worried about her falling. She had an elevator and rarely used it. The stairs at her home were steep, the carpet was worn. Although she had trouble walking, she regularly took the stairs. She had the money to remove or replace the carpet; the elevator would have been perfect, but she rarely used it.

Why?

In her halcyon days, Ivana was New York royalty. Young, vibrant. She could accomplish anything. How can someone like that stare into the mirror and face vincibility? How can you? Can I? Acceptance is the first step to a rich life as we age, to feel comfortable in different but richer skins.

That acceptance opens the door to preparation – eating right, exercising regularly, and preparing for the risks of aging through comprehensive planning and open communication with family and friends.

If I deny aging, then I’ll force everyone around me to deny it too. Or, at the least, family members and friends will discuss issues concerning me behind my back. Who wants that? Older Americans must be open to listening.

This leads to my next financial lesson for older Americans from Ivana Trump.

Communication. Another one of the money lessons Ivana Trump has for older Americans.

I wonder how many times Ivana was advised (perhaps delicately) by Ivanka and the other kids to update her place for aging, move to a one-story, or take the damn elevator. Whatever it is, would Ivana listen or just carry on like it was the 1980s? In her mind, it may have been decades ago, but her aging body lived in the here and now.

There’s a nuance and empathy to communicating with older loved ones.

Remember, they were young like you once. Listen to your special older Americans. Never be condescending. A good idea may be to bring in an objective third party such as your financial advisor to assist with the discussions. I’ve witnessed adult children infantilize their parents, and that never works. Imagine approaching Ivana with that tone! Not good!

Remember, even mild cognitive impairment can drive a communication wedge between you, and your aging loved one. However, don’t give up sparking conversation. I work with clients who consistently need to nuance their speech with their parents. They get their points across eventually. Impaired older relatives eventually take action, but the process is like chipping away at an iceberg with a butter knife.

Don’t give up!

Genworth, a leader in long-term care insurance and research, maintains an impactful Conversation Starters page with helpful tips about what to talk about and how to maintain a dialogue. Check it out.

Use your financial plan to motivate others.

How can you discuss long-term care issues with loved ones if you’re personally in denial about aging? A risk mitigation plan as part of a comprehensive financial strategy validates your commitment to preparation. Actions forge your conversations with credibility.

According to AARP’s most recent Home and Community Preference Survey, 77% of adults 50 and older want to remain in their homes or age in place. The number has been consistent for over a decade. Aging in place requires planning – whether it’s to eventually downsize to a one-story home, renovate kitchen and baths or install easy access ramps for items of mobility such as wheelchairs. It would be worth practicing financial openness and sharing this information with aging parents. In other words, if you’re preparing for these expenses, they should be too.

Don’t forget long-term care insurance as one of Ivana Trump’s money lessons for older Americans.

Ivana didn’t need long-term care insurance. You probably need to consider it.

Unfortunately, nearly half of individuals who apply for traditional long-term care insurance after age 70 have their applications declined by an insurer, according to Jesse Slome, director of the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance. However, loved ones in good health in their 50s and 60s can still consider long-term care insurance. The sweet spot for looking into long-term care coverage is generally between ages 55 and 65, per Jesse Slome.

Three out of every five financial plans I create reflect deficiencies in meeting long-term care expenses. Medical insurance like Medicare does not cover long-term care expenses – a common misperception. Nearly 60% of people surveyed in various studies falsely believe that Medicare covers long-term care expenses.

The Genworth Cost of Care Survey has been tracking long-term care costs across 440 regions across the United States since 2004.

Genworth’s results assume an annual 3% inflation rate. In today’s dollars, a home-health aide who assists with cleaning, cooking, and other responsibilities for those who seek to age in place or require temporary assistance with daily living activities can cost over $54,912 a year in the Houston area. We use a 4.25-4.5% inflation rate for financial planning purposes to reflect recent median annual costs for assisted living and nursing home care. Candidly, I fear that I’ll need to increase this inflation rate in 2023.

As I examine long-term care policies issued recently vs. those 10 years or later, it’s glaringly obvious that coverage isn’t as comprehensive, and costs are more prohibitive.

One option is to consider a reverse mortgage, specifically a home equity conversion mortgage. The horror stories about these products are overblown. The most astute planners and academics understand how incorporating the equity from a primary residence in a retirement income strategy can help with the burden of long-term care costs. Those who talk down these products are speaking out of lack of knowledge and falling easily for pervasive false narratives.

Reverse mortgages have several layers of costs (nothing like they were in the past), and it pays for consumers to shop around for the best deals. Also, to qualify for a reverse mortgage, the homeowner must be 62, the home must be a primary residence, and the debt limited to mortgage debt. There are several ways to receive payouts.

One of the smartest strategies is to establish a reverse mortgage line of credit at age 62, leave it untapped, and allow it to grow along with the home’s value. 

The line may be tapped for long-term care expenses if needed or to mitigate the sequence of poor return risk in portfolios. Simply, in years where portfolios are down, the reverse mortgage line is used for income while portfolios recover. Once assets recover, rebalancing proceeds or gains may be used to repay the reverse mortgage loan, restoring the line of credit.

RIA’s approach to helping older Americans age comfortably in place.

Our planning software allows our team to consider a reverse mortgage in the analysis. Those plans have a high probability of success. We explain that income is as necessary as water regarding retirement. For many retirees, converting the glacier of a home into the water of income using a reverse mortgage will be required for retirement survival and especially long-term care expenses.

Ivana Trump’s money lessons for older Americans are lessons for us all, regardless of age.

Planning to age gracefully and healthfully will lead to a prosperous retirement attitude.

As George Burns said: You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.

The longer I live, the more I realize how true that quote is.

The post Ivana Trump’s Money Lessons for Older Americans. appeared first on RIA.

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COVID-19 genomic recombination is uncommon but disproportionately occurs in spike protein region

An analysis of millions of SARS-CoV-2 genomes finds that recombination of the virus is uncommon, but when it occurs, it is most often in the spike protein…

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An analysis of millions of SARS-CoV-2 genomes finds that recombination of the virus is uncommon, but when it occurs, it is most often in the spike protein region, the area which allows the virus to attach to and infect host cells. 

Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Protection

An analysis of millions of SARS-CoV-2 genomes finds that recombination of the virus is uncommon, but when it occurs, it is most often in the spike protein region, the area which allows the virus to attach to and infect host cells. 

The study, led by scientists at UC Santa Cruz, was published August 11 in the journal Nature. It details a new software created by the researchers to search the COVID-19 phylogenetic tree, a diagram of the virus’s evolutionary history, for instances of recombination. This software is open source, allowing public health officials to use it to track instances of recombination within their communities. 

Recombination occurs when two genetically distinct forms of the virus hybridize. This study focused on detectable recombination, when the hybridization results in a sequence that is genetically new, and not on instances where two sequences combine to form a sequence identical to an already existing one. 

“It’s really important for reconstructing the virus’s evolutionary history,” said Russell Corbett-Detig, senior author on the study and an associate professor of biomolecular engineering at the Baskin School of Engineering. “When there’s recombination it’s not one tree, it’s many trees, and being able to trace that accurately is really crucial for understanding evolution of the virus.”

Findings on recombination  

The researchers analyzed 1.6 million samples of COVID-19 and found 589 recombination events, which indicates that only about 2.7% of sequenced genomes result from recombination. These sequences were sourced from the UC Santa Cruz SARS-CoV-2 Browser, a repository for COVID-19 genomic data, which is now the largest collection of genomic sequences of a single species ever assembled, currently at nearly 12 million sequences.

While results show that recombination occurs more frequently in the spike protein region, it is not yet known why this is. This could potentially be the result of a mechanistic bias, indicating it is the natural tendency of all coronaviruses to recombine toward the three-prime region of the viral genome, which contains the spike protein, or that positive natural selection for COVID-19 is favoring recombinants that occur in this region.

While recombination does occur, there is no evidence that the resulting strains are more likely to be epidemiologically important. In fact, most recombinant variants die out, as do most of the thousands of mutated variants of COVID-19.

 A new software, written primarily by UC San Diego Assistant Professor Yatish Turakhia during his postdoctoral training in Corbett-Detig’s lab, enabled the computational feat required for the analysis of millions of genomes. The software, called Recombination Inference using Phylogenetic PLacEmentS (RIPPLES), can efficiently search a massive phylogenetic tree of COVID-19 genomes to find instances where a new sequence appears to be a combination of two distinct sections of the tree. The COVID-19 phylogenetic tree, called UShER, was created by UCSC researchers and is the primary tool used by health officials worldwide to track the spread of variants in their community.

The researchers found recombination most often shows up on the COVID-19 phylogenetic tree in the form of “long branches,” making it appear that several mutations happened sequentially, which is quite rare. 

“In a tree of millions of sequences, you find these long branches, which reduce the possible instances of detectable recombination down to only about 10’s of thousands of branches,” Turakhia said. “These long branches make recombination much easier to spot on the tree, which enables the efficient performance of the new software.” 

Turakhia and his team aim to continue to improve RIPPLES’ speed and performance and to create visual tools to make it more accessible for a wider audience. 

Use for public health

Knowing when recombination occurs is crucial for understanding the evolutionary lineage of a sequence of the virus. Recombination can complicate the process of tracing back the phylogenetic tree of a particular sequence because its genetic material is a result of two joining areas of the overall COVID-19 family tree. 

This can help public officials understand when a lineage of COVID-19 which appears to be novel is truly an independent mutation introduced for the first time, or rather just a combination of two lineages that already existed in the community. Understanding when recombination occurs is also important from a public health perspective as it can potentially make the virus more adept at evading immunity.

Furthermore, the RIPPLES software’s availability and ease of use has positive implications for genomics experts and public health officials alike, who can efficiently search a set of COVID-19 genomic samples for recombination in just minutes.

This reflects a larger theme of the work of scalable translation of pathogen genomics data at Corbett-Detig’s lab and the UCSC Genomics Institute. Researchers are focused on creating tools that enable public health officials to automate and translate the questions they want to ask, and receive answers that are easy to act on and dependable. 

“A big part of the success of our work has been that the software is extremely accessible and computationally cheap in the grand scheme of things,” Corbett-Detig said. “Anybody could take their hundred new SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences and figure out if there were potentially recombinant samples in just minutes on a basic laptop. Global public health needs to be democratized, to the point that anyone can do it, even if they’re not a super wealthy lab with giant servers.”


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