Sentinel minutes for week #23/2024


Forecasters did not anticipate events spiraling into global catastrophes this week.


The week saw a large number of geopolitical developments of note.

Ukraine/Russia war

tl;dr: As Ukraine gets more support from NATO (weapons, permission to strike inside Russia), Russia can leverage threats (nuclear, escalation to NATO, supplying NATO’s enemies) to make that aid less palatable. As neither side backs up, the taboo of avoiding direct NATO/Russia confrontation erodes.

Ukraine struck at Russian territory with Western weapons. France to send Mirage fighter jets and train pilots, and Belgium to send F-16s.

Putin said that he could use nuclear weapons if Russian sovereignty or territory were under threat, but also that Russia doesn’t need to use nuclear weapons to achieve victory in Ukraine. It depends how you define victory, but he’s plausibly right. Nonetheless, he does not “rule out” changes to Russia’s nuclear doctrine or nuclear tests.

On the verbal side, Putin warned that Russia could supply weapons to other countries to strike the West, announced sanctions against UK figures, and announced the US as an enemy.

Former Dmitry Medvedev wrote various warnings in a Telegram post (translated by GPT-4):

Western countries, which supposedly “approved the use” of their long-range weapons on the territory of Russia (regardless of whether we are talking about the old or new parts of our country), must clearly understand the following:

  1. All their military equipment and specialists fighting against us will be destroyed both on the territory of former Ukraine and on the territory of other countries if they launch strikes on the territory of Russia.

  2. Russia assumes that all long-range weapons used by former Ukraine are already directly controlled by military personnel of NATO countries today. This is not “military aid,” but participation in a war against us. And such actions by them can very well become a casus belli.

  3. NATO will have to decide how to qualify the consequences of possible retaliatory strikes on equipment/objects/military personnel of individual bloc countries in the context of Articles 4 and 5 of the Washington Treaty.

Most likely, NATO leadership wants to pretend that it’s a matter of sovereign decisions by individual North Atlantic Alliance countries supporting the Kyiv regime, and there are no grounds yet to apply the 1949 Treaty rule on collective self-defense.

These are dangerous and harmful delusions. Such “individual assistance” from NATO countries against Russia, whether it be controlling their long-range cruise missiles or sending a contingent of troops to Ukraine, is a serious escalation of the conflict. The former Ukraine and its allies among NATO countries will receive a response of such destructive power that the Alliance itself simply will not be able to refrain from involvement in the conflict.

And no matter how much retired NATO farts chatter that Russia will never use non-strategic nuclear weapons against former Ukraine and especially individual NATO countries, life is much more frightening than their frivolous discussions.

Just a few years ago, they insisted that Russia would not engage in open military conflict with the Bandera regime so as not to fall out with the West. They miscalculated. War is ongoing.

They may miscalculate about the use of TNW (Tactical Nuclear Weapons) as well. Although that would be a fatal error. After all, as the President of Russia rightly pointed out, European countries have a very high population density. And for those enemy countries whose lands are beyond the range of TNWs, there is, finally, strategic potential.

And this, unfortunately, is not intimidation or a nuclear bluff. The current military conflict with the West is developing according to the worst scenario. There is a constant escalation of the power of NATO weapons being used. Therefore, no one can rule out the conflict moving into its final stage today.

Beyond talk, Russia attacked Ukraine’s energy grid—leading to a shutdown, and sent warships to the Caribbean—with potential stops in Venezuela and Cuba. Various infrastructure attacks (a) across Europe, particularly related to the Ukraine war supply chain, might have been caused by Russia. A number of major London hospitals were hit by a cyberattack by a Russian group on a provider of digital services for the hospitals, and have had to cancel procedures and revert to paper. Germany’s CDU was also hit by a cyberattack, and hackers made Poland state news announce a fake military draft. On the Russian side, a cyberattack on a large supermarket chain was disrupted for several days. Otherwise, Europe took down a large ransomware network.

Observers worry that Russia is holding Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, and to be using it as a source of leverage; in some way implicitly threatening that if the war doesn’t develop in its favor, it might cause a nuclear meltdown there in some “plausibly deniable” way. Russia doesn’t seem to have immediate plans to do this, though.

Biden expressed opposition to Ukrainian membership in NATO as part of any peace deal with Russia. If Ukraine doesn’t receive sufficient assurances about its future security, this opposition could prolong the war. Not supporting a Ukrainian bid to join NATO could also prevent escalation, though. While Ukraine may not join NATO in the near future, it could join the EU in coming years. Ukraine and Moldova are ready to start talks on EU accession. On the other hand, the EU accession process is long, drawn out and bureaucratic, and it’s not clear to what extent the move is an empty expression of sympathy, as opposed to the start of a long journey.

The US is pressuring China by threatening sanctions over exports to Russia, and Russia is pushing back, to the extent it can. The United States tested two unarmed Minuteman missiles, and might deploy tactical and strategic weapons to deter China and Russia.


Taiwan carried out military drills. China was unhappy about US arms sales, including F-16 parts, to Taiwan, and China’s Defense minister said that the prospects for peaceful China-Taiwan reunification are being eroded.

On Twitter, Taiwan’s new president congratulated PM Modi on winning re-election—and Modi replied. Although India recognises the People’s Republic of China and has not formally recognized Taiwan as an independent country, Modi thanked the President of Taiwan for his message. China was displeased.

Dmitri Alperovitch thinks that a Chinese economic blockade of Taiwan would either fail or launch a war, and hence that, “Taiwan needs to focus on the main threat – full scale invasion….” Mr. Alperovitch is an astute observer of geopolitics who called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine accurately in advance.


NATO published an article about “a NATO strategy for the coming bio-revolution.” “At their February 2024 meeting, Allied Defence Ministers formally adopted NATO’s Biotechnology and Human Enhancement Technologies Strategy. Current NATO staff driving the development and delivery of this Strategy outline one of its main features: the first-ever set of Principles of Responsible Use for Biotechnology and Human Enhancement technologies in defense and security.” NATO recognizes the importance, transformative nature and potential utility of these emerging technologies – and their risks.

Middle East

The intensity of the Israel-Hezbollah conflict has increased, with fires breaking out in northern Israel as a result of Hezbollah attacks. Israel has threatened a strong response. Team members estimate the chance that Israel invades Lebanon by the end of 2024, as evidenced by the presence of at least 3 Israeli tanks in Lebanon, at 21% (range, 20%-22%).

The IAEA wants improved access to Iran to assess its nuclear status, but Iran wants to reduce its nuclear obligations under the 2015 nuclear agreement.

Houthi rebels claimed that they successfully attacked the USS Eisenhower in the Red Sea – but they didn’t. Fake images and videos posted on social media as part of a disinformation campaign were amplified by pro-Russian and pro-Chinese accounts.

North Korea

North Korea sent balloons filled with trash into South Korea. People in South Korea are now sending their own balloons filled with K-pop USB sticks. But also, South Korea suspended a military agreement to de-escalate the border. Team members think the probability of a new war breaking out on the Korean peninsula by the end of 2024 is very low; one team member estimates the chance at approximately 5%, which is close to the base rate, which includes the so-called Second Korean War.

The Telegraph sums conflicts as “World War III has already started”.

Artificial Intelligence

In an article in Business Insider, William Saunders, a former OpenAI safety researcher, laid out his concerns about the risks posed by AI to humanity and about OpenAI not adequately addressing these concerns or giving employees sufficient opportunities to raise concerns without fear of retaliation.

Leopold Aschenbrenner advocated for a dangerous US government AI race with China, according to OpenAI insiders writing in the New York Times. These OpenAI employees think that OpenAI’s path is too reckless. However, some agreed with Mr. Aschenbrenner on a number of points.

The FTC and the DOJ are reportedly starting antitrust investigations into Microsoft, OpenAI, and Nvidia.

As a background fact, Microsoft’s security is substantially worse than that of other clouds.

Biological Risks

HPAI H5N1 “bird flu” continues to spread in dairy cattle herds in the US but has still not yet been reported in any specifically beef cattle herd. So far, H5N1 has been detected in 91 cattle herds in 11 states. Here’s an excellent map of H5N1 detections in multiple species in the US.

Some cattle infected with H5N1 are dying or being culled. It is not clear what percentage of infected cattle would die because of H5N1 infections in the absence of culling, but that percentage is likely between 0.5% and 10%.

Some of the animals died of secondary infections contracted after bird flu weakened their immune systems, ​​said state veterinarians, agriculture officials, and academics assisting in state responses to bird flu. Other cows were killed by farmers because they failed to recover from the virus. Cattle infected with bird flu suffer reduced milk production, digestive issues, fever, and diminished appetite, according to farmers and veterinarians. In South Dakota, a 1,700-cow dairy sent a dozen of the animals to slaughter after they did not recover from the virus, and killed another dozen that contracted secondary infections…. A farm in Michigan killed about 10% of its 200 infected cows after they too failed to recover from the virus….

Cattle have also been lost in Colorado, Ohio, Texas, New Mexico and at least one other state.

On the positive side, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved $824 million for emergency response efforts addressing the H5N1 bird flu strain. There are various vaccines that could be deployed in case this jumps to humans.

A 59-year-old man with an H5N2 bird flu infection died in Mexico. He suffered from several comorbidities that contributed to his death. His was the first confirmed human case of H5N2; however, he was bedridden and had no known exposure to poultry or other animals. He most likely caught it from a human in an example of limited rather than sustained human-to-human transmission. Because this case occurred almost two months ago and no further spread has been detected, the risks to humans associated with this flu strain are likely low at this time. There have been ‘suspected’ human H5N2 flu cases in the past couple of decades that were not fatal; while strains of this subtype have evolved over this period, it is possible that the IFR of current H5N2 strains could be low in humans. The virus that infected this patient has been sequenced, and the HA gene fits well among other H5 sequences in the region.

African swine fever has been reported on a pig farm in east Germany. While this disease is fatal in pigs, it does not affect humans. The disease is believed to be spread by wild boar in the region.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists reports that MIT researchers ordered and combined parts of the 1918 pandemic influenza virus, i.e., that measures meant to screen for dangerous viruses before printing them could be evaded.


As mentioned briefly last week, the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season is forecast to be “extraordinary.” It could be the most active ever, with the largest number of storms ever forecasted for the Atlantic. Tens of millions of people in North American coastal regions are at risk, and based on previous years, property damage could exceed $100B in the US alone.

This summer could be the warmest ever in Europe, North America (the US, Mexico), and Asia. We can expect to see more and more intense heat waves, rainfall events, droughts, and fires.

A study has identified seven stars that may be surrounded by Dyson spheres under construction – a potential sign of an advanced civilization. The data may well turn out to have more natural explanations, though.

China deployed robot dogs during a military exercise, which “can also independently arrange movement routes to avoid obstacles and quickly close in on its target.. Notable insofar as this breaks the taboo of autonomous AI weapons.

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