Washington tells Russian ambassador he might have to leave

An ongoing diplomatic visa row between Moscow and the US can only get worse, Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov believes

The US State Department has told Russian diplomats that Ambassador Anatoly Antonov would have to leave the US by April if Moscow fails to meet certain demands by Washington, Antonov himself told journalists on Wednesday.

The Russian ambassador would only be able to stay in the US if Moscow grants visas to the bodyguards of the US envoy to Russia, John Sullivan, Antonov explained, adding that this is all part of increasingly tense relations between the two nations.

“There is no progress when it comes to the [Russian] diplomatic property [in the US] or visas or the development of relations themselves,” the Russian ambassador said, adding that he believes the situation can only get worse from now on.

He also said that the Russian diplomats try to contact the State Department every two weeks and have already sent between 400 and 500 notes requesting access to the Russian diplomatic compounds in San Francisco, Washington, New York, and Seattle. All the compounds were seized back under the Trump administration between 2017 and 2018. At least some of the facilities were officially Russia’s diplomatic property and Moscow blasted their seizure by the US as an illegal property takeover and an openly hostile act.

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A car enters the the Russian Embassy in Washington, US. © REUTERS / Joshua Roberts
US lying about expulsion of Russian diplomats – ambassador

So far, the US has only “paid lip service” to the Russian requests but has done nothing about them, the ambassador said, adding that American diplomats “are reluctant to accede even to this very basic request” and let the diplomats visit the property seized from them.

“Everything that has been happening over the recent months … only suggests that the US has taken an increasingly hardline stance” on Russia’s diplomatic presence on American soil, the ambassador said, adding that Washington continues to push Russian diplomats and their families out of the country.

The US has said that Russian diplomats can stay on its territory for no longer than three years and now demand some of the embassy staff members leave earlier than initially planned, Antonov said. A total of 27 people would have to leave the US by January 30 and another 28 people would have to return to Russia by June 30 under the terms Washington set back in September 2021.

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FILE PHOTO. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation in Moscow. © Getty Images / Vladimir Zakharov
Russia & America disagree on whether visa row resolved – media

The US stopped short of declaring them persona non grata but said that if they fail to leave in time, they would be stripped of their diplomatic immunity and could be arrested, the ambassador explained.

A total of 300 people, including diplomats and their families, have had to leave the US over the four years Antonov served as ambassador, he said, adding that he does not see any signs this negative trend might change in the near future. The US has not commented on the Russian ambassador’s latest statements.

Both the Russian Embassy in Washington and the American Embassy in Moscow are currently suffering from staff shortages. Multiple rounds of tit-for-tat expulsions over the years have left diplomatic missions limiting their services, such as the US decision to no longer process visa applications by Russians.

Back in November 2021, Antonov said that Moscow is in favor of lifting all the restrictions imposed over recent years and getting both embassies’ work back to normal.


NATO rejects Russia’s ‘red line’

Alliance rejects key Moscow demand to stop expansion into former Soviet territory, demands Russian withdrawal instead

NATO has said it “will not compromise” on potential expansion into Ukraine, Georgia, and other former Soviet republics, as this clashes with the “core principles” of the alliance, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on Wednesday.

The alliance’s response, which Stoltenberg said all 30 members agreed upon, was delivered to Moscow earlier in the day by the US ambassador, alongside Washington’s separate written note.

The US has asked Russia to keep the contents of its response private. 

Stoltenberg, who was half an hour late to the scheduled online press event, outlined three basic topics that the NATO response touched on. One was re-establishing diplomatic ties between NATO and Russia, which he blamed Moscow for severing. The other was NATO’s readiness to “engage in dialogue” and “listen to Russian concerns,” while respecting the right of each country to choose its own security arrangements.

Russia should refrain from “aggression” aimed at NATO allies and withdraw from “Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova,” where it is not wanted, Stoltenberg said. 

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US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. © Sputnik / Anton Denisov
Russia receives US response to security proposals

Ukraine insists that Moscow is “illegally occupying” Crimea, which voted to rejoin Russia after the 2014 coup in Kiev. Russia has also recognized the independence of two breakaway regions of Georgia that Tbilisi tried to seize by force in 2008, and has maintained peacekeepers in the disputed Moldovan region of Transnistria since 1991.

The third area of possible cooperation listed by Stoltenberg involves “risk reduction” and transparency agreements on exercises, as well as arms control proposals that he argued have been so effective previously. Since 2001, the US has unilaterally exited the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty, the Open Skies treaty, and the intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) treaty, claiming without evidence that Russia was in violation of them.

“A political solution is still possible, but, of course, Russia has to engage in good faith,” Stoltenberg said, accusing Moscow of “aggression” against Ukraine since 2014.

Stoltenberg insisted that “NATO is a defensive alliance and we do not seek confrontation,” but repeatedly said that the alliance “cannot and will not compromise on principles” such as the right of every country to join. That decision rests solely with the applicant country and NATO members, now 30 in number, he said.

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A Russian serviceman takes part in an amphibious assault exercise along the coast held by army corps and naval infantry units of the Russian Black Sea Fleet at the Opuk training ground near Kerch, Crimea, Russia. © Sputnik / Konstantin Mihalchevskiy
Ukraine says Russia not currently capable of launching invasion

Asked about the reluctance that some NATO members have reportedly displayed in recent weeks, Stoltenberg maintained that “all allies are on board, all our allies have agreed” with the written response submitted to Russia. Croatia’s president has publicly said he would withdraw all troops from NATO in case of war in Ukraine, while Germany has reportedly denied the use of its airspace to UK weapons deliveries to Kiev. 

Stoltenberg also reassured reporters that NATO has “plans in place we can activate on very short notice” if Russia “invades” Ukraine, with the lead element of 5,000 troops from the French-led NATO Response Force (NRF) on high alert, and the US assigning 8,400 troops on high readiness to the force as well. The Pentagon has previously said that some 8,500 US troops have been placed on heightened readiness status, but the decision had not been made to deploy them yet.


Prince Andrew demands jury trial in sex abuse lawsuit

In an official filing, the disgraced royal denies abusing Virginia Giuffre, disavows knowledge of Epstein’s trafficking scheme

The UK’s Prince Andrew has formally denied sexually abusing Virginia Giuffre, one of Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged trafficking victims, when she was 17. In a new court filing, the British royal denied Giuffre’s allegations, refused to comment on the “trafficking scheme” run by deceased pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, and demanded a trial by jury over Giuffre’s civil suit.

According to the filing, submitted to a Manhattan court by the prince’s lawyers on Wednesday, Andrew denies that Giuffre was “lent out for sexual purposes” to him by Epstein, and denies committing “sexual assault and battery” upon her, as alleged in a civil complaint by Giuffre first filed last August.

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(FILE PHOTO) © Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Prince Andrew deletes social media accounts

The Duke of York also insisted that he “lacks sufficient information to admit or deny” any knowledge of Epstein’s alleged trafficking and abuse of Giuffre and “countless children and young women.”

Later in the filing, Andrew calls for the case to be dismissed on jurisdiction grounds as Giuffre is now a permanent resident of Australia and not the US, before demanding a trial by jury on all counts contained in Giuffre’s complaint.

The trial, which could see other members of the British royal family called to testify, is going ahead despite attempts by Andrew’s lawyers to have the case thrown out. Earlier this month, US District Judge Lewis Kaplan rejected an argument by the prince’s legal team that the case violated a 2009 settlement reached between Giuffre and Epstein, in which she agreed not to sue anyone who could be a “potential defendant” against the convicted sex offender. 

The royal family has not officially commented on the lawsuit bar stating that the prince would be “defending this case as a private citizen,” but Andrew was stripped of his honorary military titles and patronages a day after Kaplan’s ruling.

Andrew does not deny his relationship with Epstein, whose death in a Manhattan jail cell in 2019 while awaiting trial on charges of trafficking minors was ruled a suicide. However, in his filing on Wednesday, the Briton denied being a “frequent guest in Epstein’s various homes.” He also denied being a “close friend” of Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s former girlfriend who was convicted in December for the sex trafficking of minors.

The prince also declined to admit or deny the existence of a photograph of himself with his arm around Giuffre while Maxwell looks on from the background, despite having been presented with this photo during a BBC interview in 2019.


US explains why it asked Russia not to make its security response public

Diplomacy thrives in darkness, Washington appears to suggest

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has revealed a list of diplomatic requests sent to his counterpart in Moscow in response to Russia’s security proposals, describing the paper as a “serious diplomatic path forward, should Russia choose it” during a Wednesday press conference.

However, while he restated several of Washington’s talking points with regard to the confrontation over Ukraine, he declined to go into specifics, arguing that “diplomacy has the best chance to succeed when we provide space for confidential talks.”

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Flags are prepared before a meeting of Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Jan. 21, 2022, in Geneva, Switzerland. © AP Photo/Alex Brandon
Russia-US security talks close with both sides citing major differences

The top US diplomat described the document as addressing “core principles” that Washington is determined to uphold, such as “Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the right of states to choose their own security arrangements and alliances.

Other issues covered included “reciprocal transparency measures regarding force posture on Ukraine,” “measures to increase confidence regarding military exercises and maneuvers in Europe” as well as “arms control related to missiles in Europe,” and “a follow-on agreement to the START Treaty that covers all nuclear weapons.” The US and Russia last year extended the New START Treaty by five years, meaning the last remaining arms reduction agreement between the two nations will expire in February 2026.

Blinken insisted the US was “open to dialogue” and would “prefer diplomacy” – but only “if Russia de-escalates its aggression toward Ukraine” and ceases what he called “inflammatory rhetoric.” He explained that NATO had developed and delivered its own paper while insisting the alliance’s document fully reinforced the US’ own and that there was “no daylight” between the country and the transcontinental alliance it controls.

Despite the diplomacy-centered rhetoric, however, the secretary of state boasted the US had provided more weapons to Ukraine in 2022 than in any previous year, as well as authorizing its NATO allies to transfer their own weaponry to the supposedly-imperiled Eastern European nation. The US and NATO have also moved or activated thousands of troops and other military resources in the area in the event of what they insist is a near-inevitable invasion by Russia.

Blinken met with Russian FM Sergey Lavrov last week to discuss the comprehensive list of security guarantees Moscow delivered last month, but the State Department took a confrontational pose on Monday, announcing that it would not make any “concessions” to Russia that did not benefit both nations. One particular sticking point has been Russia’s insistence that NATO cease expansion eastward, a guarantee Washington has thus far refused to consider.

The US Secretary of State added that he expects to speak with his Russian counterpart again “in the coming days.


Ronaldo handles Russian MMA shirt in gym with F1 star Mazepin

The famously fitness-obsessed footballer took time out from pushing iron while the Formula One racer wore an MMA Union of Russia t-shirt

Cristiano Ronaldo has met Formula One bad boy Nikita Mazepin in Dubai during a gym session which was celebrated by the Russian's team, Haas.

The American racing outfit shared a photo of the pair, with F1 rookie Mazepin describing his "best gym session this year so far" and the Manchester United megastar draping an arm around his t-shirt which read 'Russian MMA Union'.

Portugal captain Ronaldo grinned and raised a thumb to mirror Mazepin's pose while wearing a tiny pair of shorts that showed off his rippling leg muscles.

The 36-year-old is currently in Dubai relaxing during a 13-day break from action for United before they host Middlesbrough in the FA Cup Fourth Round on February 4.

Earlier in the day, Ronaldo shared a photo of himself with his four kids and a football on a beach in the United Arab Emirates.

The self-declared "proud dad" also portrayed himself on a sun-lounger while saying he was enjoying the view.

Mazepin held a gym training session with the President of the MMA Union of Russia, Radmir Gabdullin, the previous day.

Gabdullin is an adviser to the General Director of Uralkali, the title sponsor for Haas which counts Mazepin's father, Dmitry, as a key shareholder.

Mazepin is preparing for pre-season testing in February, with his 2022 F1 campaign getting underway in Bahrain on March 20.

The 22-year-old is hoping to improve on a frustrating debut season when Haas scored no points, and he was also regularly criticized for several crashes and last-placed finishes amid rumors of a strained relationship with teammate Mick Schumacher, who is the son of Formula One's most successful driver of all time, Michael.

This isn't the first time Ronaldo has posed with a leading Russian sports star, as he is good friends with UFC legend Khabib Nurmagomedov.

The MMA great met Ronaldo at Manchester United's Old Trafford home in October 2021, and the five-time Ballon d'Or winner gave the former lightweight champion a shirt of Real Madrid, who he played for at the time, in February 2018.

Gabdullin, who is a former MMA fighter and sparring partner of revered Russian fighter Fedor Emelianenko, described Mazepin's build-up to the 23-race season as "intensive".

"I wish my friend and younger brother success, victories and implementation of tactical and strategic plans at all stages," said the man who succeeded Emelianenko as head of the union.

"Go, Russia, go. Friends, let's support our Russian pilot even more this year."


Bulgaria insists it’s a loyal NATO ally, but won’t send troops to Ukraine

The government in Sofia is calling for a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis, strengthening its own military

Bulgaria is a “loyal ally in NATO” and the alliance’s unity is the best response to the current crisis over Ukraine, Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said on Wednesday, amid conflicting reports on Sofia’s participation in the US military buildup in Eastern Europe.

Petkov’s government voted on Wednesday to follow the “Bulgarian strategy” of reducing tensions between NATO and Russia, including “absolutely all options for resolving this dispute by diplomatic means,” according to the state news agency BTA.

The strategy will be based on rebuilding the Bulgarian military, Petkov said. Defense Minister Stefan Yanev explained that the “top priority” will be investing in building a battalion combat team, a unit of around 1,000 soldiers.

Yanev would not comment on reports by Bulgarian National Radio that Sofia would not accept the deployment of 1,000 US soldiers on its soil, but would be fine with French troops instead. This was reported early on Wednesday by BNR correspondent in Brussels, Angelina Piskova, who quoted a “well-informed diplomatic source.”

The minister said such a thing has not been discussed on the political level, according to BNR.

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Ukrainian forces taking part in a tank drills in Donbass region on April 18, 2021. © Handout / Armed Forces of Ukraine / AFP
No NATO member prepared for large-scale deployment to Ukraine, UK PM admits

Local media reported that Yanev also told lawmakers that Bulgarian soldiers won’t fight in Ukraine without parliamentary approval, which he “does not see coming.”

Earlier on Wednesday, CNN reported that Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania were in discussions with the US to accept 1,000 American troops each, as part of Washington’s effort to “reassure” NATO members in Eastern Europe and “deter” the alleged Russian invasion of Ukraine. The US intelligence has heralded such an invasion since late October, though Moscow dismissed it as “fake news.”

Speaking before the parliamentary defense committee on Tuesday, Yanev said that neither Russia nor anyone else is preparing to invade Bulgaria, and urged the lawmakers to “reduce tensions, stop reading the foreign press, and stop speculating.”


Croatian PM apologises to Ukrainians for 'nonsense'

The slap-down comes amid disagreements over NATO’s response to a potential Russian incursion into Ukraine

A series of explosive claims from Croatia’s president that Zagreb would pull its soldiers out of NATO deployments in Eastern Europe in the event of a full-blown conflict with Russia are nothing but hot air,  the country’s prime minister has blasted.

Taking to Twitter on Wednesday, Andrey Plenkovic poured scorn on the remarks made earlier this week by Zoran Milanovic and attempted to diffuse the situation.

“Given the fact none of our troops are in Ukraine, and the contingent stationed in Poland has already returned, I do not know what kind of military personnel the president is thinking about withdrawing,” he hit back.

Plenkovic went on, adding that his statements are not in line with the views of the government. “I apologize to Ukrainians for such nonsense,” he said.

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NATO international special forces exercise at the land forces training centre. © NurPhoto / Corbis via Getty Images
NATO member will withdraw troops in event of war with Russia – president

Plenkovic’s remarks follow shortly after Milanovic insisted in a televised address that Croatian troops in NATO contingents stationed in the region would play no part if tensions snowballed into fighting in the former Soviet republic.

“Not only will we not send the military, but if there is an escalation, we will recall every last Croatian military man,” he vowed, also taking aim at US President Joe Biden.

“This has nothing to do with Ukraine or Russia, it has to do with the dynamics of American domestic politics, [US President] Joe Biden and his administration, which I supported.”

Milanovic’s remarks earned him a place on a Kiev-based ‘Peacemaker’ database for alleged “anti-Ukrainian activity,” as well as spreading “Kremlin propaganda” and justifying “Russian aggression.”

His statements also came under fire from Zagreb’s ambassador to Kiev, Anica Jamic, who said that the president “showed a disdainful and ungrateful attitude for the help that Ukraine and Ukrainians gave to Croatia during its struggle for independence, as well as in fighting the devastating fires last year.”

Milanovic’s comments come amid high tensions between Moscow and Kiev, with a number of Western leaders sounding the alarm in recent weeks over a purported buildup of Russian forces along the border with Ukraine. On Monday, the US-led military bloc announced that its members will order more fleets and fighter planes into Eastern Europe as Russia “continues its military build-up” amid the growing row.

Moscow has repeatedly rejected having any plan for a military offensive, and has called such accusations “groundless and wrong.” Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov previously said that the movement of the country’s armed forces on its own territory is an internal matter and of no concern to anyone else.


Giant US corporations issue warning to Biden over Russia – media

As Washington considers punitive measures in case of an invasion of Ukraine, companies are concerned about the economic impact

After US President Joe Biden threatened to hit Russia with devastating sanctions should its troops invade Ukraine, a number of major American firms have urged the White House to take the possible economic repercussions seriously.

On Wednesday, Reuters reported that the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC), which represents Chevron, General Electric, and other big US corporations that do business with Moscow, are asking the administration to consider exempting certain products from financial penalties and allowing them to meet their obligations.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the American Petroleum Institute, a major Washington lobby group, said that any embargos “should be as targeted as possible in order to limit potential harm to the competitiveness of US companies.”

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President Joe Biden pauses as he speaks during a news conference in the White House in Washington, DC, Wednesday, January, 19, 2022.
Biden threatens Putin with sanctions like ‘he’s never seen’ before

A source in Congress told reporters that energy companies have directly contacted lawmakers to ensure that their assets would not be confiscated in the event they were not able to honor their deals in Russia.

Jake Colvin, the president of the NFTC, also said earlier this week that the Biden administration and lawmakers must “get the details right in case they must follow through on the threat of sanctions.”

The concerns from American enterprises come shortly after Biden threatened to hit his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin with penalties “he’s never seen before.” The US president, however, warned that potential embargoes, including eliminating the ability of Russian banks to conduct transactions in US dollars, would have a widespread impact beyond the country’s economy.

“I want to be clear with you, the serious imposition of sanctions relative to dollar transactions and other things, are things that are going to have a negative impact on the United States, as well as negative impacts on the economies of Europe as well, a devastating impact on Russia,” he explained.

In December, Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said that America, along with its allies in Europe, is considering the possibility of completely shutting off Russia from the global financial system if it attempts to launch an offensive in Ukraine.

Her threat came in the wake of a report published by US news agency Bloomberg, which suggested that Washington could target major Russian banks and sever Moscow’s access to the SWIFT payment system.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied having any plans for a military offensive, and has called the accusations “groundless and wrong.” Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, previously said that the movement of the country’s armed forces on its own territory is an internal matter and of no concern to anyone else, despite reports that up to 100,000 troops could have been deployed to the shared border.


China a bigger threat than Russia, US senator says in bid to arm Taiwan

Senator Tom Cotton said Joe Biden had demonstrated “appeasement and weakness” over the past year

The US should be providing as much, if not more, support in the form of weapons and diplomatic and financial backing to Taiwan as it has to Ukraine, Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) told Fox News on Tuesday.

 “China is a bigger threat than Russia to the United States. Taiwan is much more important to the United States than is Ukraine,” Cotton said, while admitting he believes “both Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin want to overturn the United States as the global superpower” even if neither leader feels compelled to “openly coordinate or talk about these actions.

Cotton argued the US should be learning from what he called President Joe Biden’s “past year of appeasement and conciliation and weakness toward Ukraine” and shore up Taiwan with equal if not greater support now in order to preempt “the kind of crisis with Taiwan that we see playing out today on the borders of Ukraine.

Democrats in the US House of Representatives are reportedly working to fast-track a bill that would bestow $500 million in military aid on Ukraine, more than doubling the amount of military aid given to the country in 2020. 

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A Russian soldier during a military exercise near Moscow, January 18, 2022. © Konstantin Morozov/Twitter
US backtracks on talk of Russian invasion

The White House has been warning of an impending Russian invasion of Ukraine for weeks, citing internal troop movements within Russia as proof that a cross-border incursion is imminent. 

While some of those warnings were recently walked back, NATO and the Pentagon continue to move troops and other assets closer to Russia, purportedly anticipating such an invasion.

The Republican Party is less sanguine about the prospect of war with Russia, however, instead pointing to China – with whom the previous president, Donald Trump, was engaged in an ongoing trade war – as the primary threat to American dominance, both economically and militarily. Recent tests of what appeared to be hypersonic missiles have set the US opposition further on edge regarding the possibility of Chinese aggression.

President Joe Biden has previously said that the US is committed to defending Taiwan should China try to reunite the island, which it considers to be part of its territory, with the mainland. The White House later backpedaled on those comments, however.

In December, the US drafted an emergency military plan with Japan to prepare for potential conflict between China and Taiwan as the Pentagon warned Beijing was “likely preparing” to invade the island.


Russia unveils military plans in Cuba & Latin America

Putin has agreed on a new collaboration with Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua

Russian President Vladimir Putin has agreed with the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua to develop partnerships in a range of areas, including stepping up military collaboration, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced.

Speaking on Wednesday in an appearance in front of the Duma – Russia’s parliament – Lavrov reported that Putin had talked recently with the leaders of the three Central American countries, and that they had agreed to work together to strengthen their strategic cooperation.

“President Putin held recent telephone conversations with his colleagues from these three governments, with whom we are very close and friendly, and they agreed to look at further ways to deepen our strategic partnership in all areas, with no exceptions,” Lavrov stated. He noted that Russia already has close relations with these countries in many spheres, “including military and military-technical.”

Asked about the prospects of increased military cooperation with the three countries, Lavrov answered, “for the immediate future, we are counting on regular meetings of the corresponding committees.”

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US will act ‘decisively’ if Russia deploys military to Cuba or Venezuela – White House

Earlier this month, Moscow’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov was asked about the possibility of sending troops to Latin America, and he refused to rule out the possibility. “It’s the American style to have several options for its foreign and military policy,” he said. “That’s the cornerstone of that country’s powerful influence in the world.”

“The president of Russia has spoken multiple times on the subject of what the measures could be, for example involving the Russian Navy, if things are set on the course of provoking Russia, and further increasing the military pressure on us by the US,” he went on. “We don’t want that. The diplomats must come to an agreement.”

United States National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan responded, noting that Russian military activity in Latin America had not been a point of discussion at recent security talks, but said that the US would act “decisively” if it did happen

Leaders from Russia and the US have been holding negotiations recently to attempt to de-escalate the situation around Ukraine, which Washington has accused Moscow of planning to invade. The Kremlin has denied that it has any aggressive intentions and has asked for written guarantees that NATO, the US-led military bloc, will not expand to Ukraine or Georgia, two countries that share borders with Russia.


Ukraine says Russia not currently capable of launching invasion

Ukraine’s top diplomat’s comments contradict claims of an impending Russian offensive

Amid continuing allegations from Western leaders and media outlets that Moscow’s armed forces are beefing up their presence at the frontier with Ukraine ahead of launching an incursion, Kiev’s foreign minister has said that country does not see signs that a war could start at any minute.

Speaking to reporters in the Ukrainian capital on Wednesday, Dmitry Kuleba weighed in on tensions along the demarcation line. “The number of Russian troops amassed along the border of Ukraine and occupied territories of Ukraine is large, it poses a threat to Ukraine – a direct threat to Ukraine,” he argued.

According to the official, however, “at the moment, as we speak, this number is insufficient for a full-scale offensive against Ukraine along the entire Ukrainian border. They also lack some important military indicators and systems to conduct such a large full-scale offensive.”

“We can say 100 times a day invasion is imminent, but this doesn’t change the situation on the ground,” he remarked.

Kuleba’s remarks come shortly after the secretary of Kiev’s National Security Council, Alexey Danilov, sought to squash fears of the purported threat of a Russian invasion, describing it as “panic” whipped up for “geopolitical and domestic” reasons in the West. “The buildup of Russian troops isn’t as rapid as some claim,” he said.

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Russian servicemen take part in an amphibious assault exercise along the coast held by army corps and naval infantry units of the Russian Black Sea Fleet at the Opuk training ground near Kerch, Crimea, Russia. © Sputnik / Konstantin Mihalchevskiy
Ukrainian general names possible date for 'Russian invasion'

Ukrainian and Western officials have sounded the alarm several times in recent months of an imminent offensive, and have pointed to Moscow’s troop movements near its border with Ukraine, where they estimate 100,000 Russian soldiers are stationed.

There have been a flurry of reports in English-language outlets in recent weeks, which have been rejected by Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov as “groundless” and “hysteria.” He has previously insisted that the movement of Moscow’s armed forces on its own territory is an internal matter and of no concern to anyone else, and that Russia “poses no threat to anyone.”

The latest claims that Moscow is planning an incursion into Ukraine come after similar alarms were raised last April.


Liberal justice Stephen Breyer to retire from Supreme Court

Stephen Breyer will step down, giving President Biden a shot at appointing another liberal judge

Justice Stephen Breyer will retire at the end of the Supreme Court’s current term, it's been confirmed. Should President Joe Biden appoint a successor before November’s midterm elections, he will likely be able to replace Breyer with another liberal justice and avoid changing the balance of the court.

At 83, Breyer is the Supreme Court’s oldest justice, and has been urged by liberals for some time now to retire while Biden holds the White House and Democrats hold both houses of Congress. Citing “people familiar with his thinking,” NBC reported on Wednesday that Breyer will step down when the court’s current term ends in October, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer confirming the news shortly afterwards.

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US Supreme Court justices Neil Gorsuch (second from left) and Sonia Sotomayor (bottom right) are shown at President Joe Biden's inauguration last January in Washington.
Supreme Court justices deny ‘false’ story on supposed mask in-fighting

Come Breyer's retirement, Biden will be under pressure to appoint a replacement immediately, lest the balance of power in Congress change following November’s midterm elections. A Republican-held Senate would be under the control of Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, who in 2016 famously prevented Barack Obama from appointing now-Attorney General Merrick Garland to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the bench.

In a statement confirming the retirement, Schumer said Biden's nominee “will receive a prompt hearing" in the Senate and be confirmed “with all deliberate speed." 

It is unclear who Biden plans on replacing Breyer with, although he did say in 2020 that he was “looking forward to making sure there’s a black woman on the Supreme Court to make sure we in fact get everyone represented." 

The nation’s highest court is currently split 6-3, with conservative or conservative-leaning judges in the majority.


Brent oil hits seven-year high

The international oil benchmark soared above $90 amid low output and tension in Eastern Europe

The price of a barrel of crude oil reached $90 on Wednesday, a level unseen since October 2014. It’s the second seven-year record in a week, and insiders are predicting $100 oil by the year’s end, the rise fueled by tight supply and the threat of war in Ukraine.

After closing at $88.20 on Tuesday, the Brent crude price climbed to $90.08 by late Wednesday morning, an increase of more than 2%. The US West Texas Intermediate benchmark was also up by 2.2%, sitting at $87.50 at time of writing.

The last time Brent spiked above $90 was in October 2014. Last week, the oil benchmark also hit a seven-year high, with that spike driven by hostilities in the United Arab Emirates.

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Aerial view of fuel storage tanks at a Texas oil refinery outside Houston, Texas, US.
US helpless as oil prices climb higher

The latest surge comes as the oil-producing OPEC nations slowly increase their output to pre-pandemic levels. However, these producers have not scaled up their spare capacity to buffer against future disruptions, and prices in turn have shown no sign of falling. Moreover, the US is lagging behind its record daily production by around a million barrels, per Reuters, and Russia is increasing its production at a slower rate than expected.

Further complicating matters is the simmering tension over Ukraine, with Washington refusing to drop its demand that Ukraine be allowed to join the NATO alliance and Moscow sticking by its long-held position that a NATO state on its borders would be unacceptable.

All in all, the combination of market and geopolitical factors has led Goldman Sachs to predict an oil price of more than $100 by the third quarter of this year. The all-time highest oil price ever recorded was $143, in mid-2008.


Medvedev vs Tsitsipas: Bitter rivals face colossal grudge match

The top seed meets the rival he once angrily accused of calling him a 'bullsh*t Russian'

Daniil Medvedev's back-from-the-brink win over the impressive Felix Auger Aliassime has set up another tantalizing tussle between the Russian and Stefanos Tsitsipas, who he will meet for a place in the final of the Australian Open that they both have reasons to feel confident about reaching.

As if Medvedev has not been involved in enough entertainment already, the showdown pits him against a player with whom, professional post-match remarks this week aside, he has a relationship as frosty as the bottles players gulp from while they are sitting in their chairs during matches in Melbourne.

Uncompromising Medvedev had just taken his seat after beating Tsitsipas in a comeback win in Miami in 2018 when the most memorable incident between the duo exploded into what threatened to become fisticuffs.

A clearly irritated Medvedev returned to his feet and said something along the lines of "you'd better shut the f*ck up" to Tsitsipas, who was contemplating his defeat.

The match official felt compelled to step in as Medvedev tried to make his way towards his opponent, repeatedly telling Tsitsipas to "look at me" before insisting to the umpire several times that "he started it".

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Daniil Medvedev moved into the Australian Open semifinals. © Twitter @AustralianOpen
Medvedev cites Djokovic inspiration after titanic Australian Open victory (VIDEO)

Medvedev had appeared to try to square up to Tsitsipas, he claimed as the Greek walked away with his bag over his shoulder, because Tsitsipas had called him a "bullsh*t Russian".

That accusation was all the more curious because current world number four Tsitsipas, in common with the man immediately ahead of him in the rankings, Alex Zverev, has Russian heritage through his Russian mother and half-Russian maternal grandfather.

Tsitsipas's mother, Julia Apostoli, beat Zverev's Russian mother, Irina Zvereva, in the final of a tournament in 1994 – and that is not the only good omen the 23-year-old may look to in his bid to beat Medvedev for only the third time in nine meetings.

Before Medvedev recovered from losing the first two sets and being match point down to Aliassime in Melbourne, Tsitsipas breezed past 11th seed Jannik Sinner with apparent ease, never facing a break point on his way to a second consecutive final-four date at the tournament.

Medvedev brushed off a suggestion that his long, sweat-drenched match against Aliassime would affect his physical abilities in the semifinal on Friday, although he would surely rather have rattled off a win in the mere two hours and six minutes that Tsitsipas spent on court in the Australian heat.

On the other hand, Medvedev should be able to summon any extra belief he needs by looking back at his semifinal last year, when he beat Tsitsipas in straight sets.

A noticeably crestfallen Tsitsipas was clearly upset by his underwhelming performance on that occasion, meaning he will not be short of motivation to correct that showing this year.

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Medvedev clinched an epic win in Melbourne. © Getty Images
Medvedev battles back from the brink to win Australian Open epic

The four-time Grand Slam semifinalist has already earned revenge, beating Medvedev in straight sets in the final eight at the 2021 French Open, when he cheekily described the underhand serve with which Medvedev unsuccessfully finished the match as a "very millennial shot".

As part of the 'next-gen' of players expected to succeed Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer as consistent major winners, Medvedev and Tsitsipas both fit the millennial tag.

Medvedev wants to reinforce his champion credentials after earning his first Grand Slam title by cruising past Djokovic at the 2021 US Open. Tsitsipas is desperate to go beyond a major final for the first time, having lost to Djokovic at the last hurdle in Paris.

Tsitsipas has called the experience of playing Medvedev "boring", echoing the words Medvedev used to describe his "unbelievably lucky" fourth-round opponent, Maxime Cressy, in Australia.

On the evidence of their fast-paced, high-quality French Open quarterfinal, viewers who watch their latest clash are unlikely to think of the word boring.

With pre-tournament favorite Djokovic absent following his visa cancelation because he was not vaccinated against Covid, both men will look back with regret if they do not take what is a golden chance to win the title in 2022.

Rafael Nadal is an obvious huge threat in the final, although he has only won the trophy once, and that was 13 years ago.

Nadal's semifinal opponent, world number seven Matteo Berrettini, has gone beyond the fourth round at the tournament for the first time and would be an underdog against Medvedev or Tsitsipas.

Then there is the potential sideshow of more flashpoints between players whose previous encounters give them added incentive to beat each other.

Two of Tsitsipas's wins against Medvedev have come in their three most recent matches, and he seemed in a zen-like mood after beating Berrettini, suggesting that he shares no animosity with Medvedev.

Tsitsipas did say that the pair have not spoken for two months, which will have been no surprise to anyone suspecting that they may not have exchanged Christmas cards.

Medvedev has previously said he does not have "any sort of relationship at all" with Tsitsipas, although he has spoken of an on-court respect for him that has not always been evident.

Each of the last four matches between them has ended in a straight-sets victory. Starting off with momentum – and using their lingering grudges to positive effect – could be crucial in giving one of these contrasting contenders the momentum to carry them through to the final. 


UK PM authorized pet rescue during Kabul exodus, emails suggest

Newly released emails seemingly contradict Boris Johnson's claim that he did not intervene in the evacuation of animals from Kabul

Emails released Wednesday by the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which is investigating the hurried British evacuation from Kabul, Afghanistan in August 2021, suggest Prime Minister Boris Johnson did authorize the evacuation of staff and animals. He has previously denied involvement in the matter.

In one communication dating from August 2021, a UK Foreign Office official discussing an evacuation request from an animal charity wrote that Johnson had approved the evacuation of an “equivalent charity” called Nowzad. 

Referring to Nowzad, the official said that “the PM has just authorized their staff and animals to be evacuated.”

Last year, whistleblower Raphael Marshall, a desk officer at the Foreign Office, had claimed the department “received an instruction from the prime minister" to use "considerable capacity" to help evacuate animals cared for by the Nowzad charity, run by Briton Paul Farthing.

“There was a direct trade-off between transporting Nowzad's animals and evacuating British nationals and Afghan evacuees, including Afghans who had served with British soldiers,” Marshall claimed at the time.

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EU Parliament building in Brussels. © Thierry Monasse / Getty Images
EU back in Afghanistan after Taliban takeover

As the Taliban approached Kabul, Farthing appealed to the UK government for help in evacuating his staff and the animals under their care. Ultimately, the charity chartered its own plane and was given flight clearance by the British government to leave Afghanistan. However, while some 170 dogs and cats were on board, local staff had to stay behind.

The charity’s eventual evacuation drew controversy amid suggestions that people who had worked for the British government in Afghanistan and were at risk of Taliban reprisal had been unable to get out of the country. Farthing has repeatedly denied any suggestions that the UK government prioritized his animals over humans or diverted crucial limited resources to evacuate cats and dogs.

In December, Johnson dismissed the suggestion that he had personally intervened to help animal charities ahead of the Taliban takeover of the Afghan capital, calling the reports “complete nonsense.” 

Following the publication of the emails on Wednesday, Downing Street reiterated Johnson’s previous denials, with a spokesperson saying: “It remains the case that the PM didn't instruct officials to take any particular course of action.” They added that "the PM had no role in authorizing individual evacuations from Afghanistan, including Nowzad staff and animals."


Football boss learns fate over fake Covid vaccine certificate

Markus Anfang stepped down in November over the scandal

Ex-Werder Bremen manager Markus Anfang has received a one-year ban from football coaching for his use of a falsified Covid vaccination certificate.

The Sports Court of the German Football Federation, known as the DFB, handed down the ruling, which is counted as starting from November 20 2021.

Anfang's probation is set for June 10, while he also has to pay a fine of €20,000 ($22,560). His former assistant, Florian Junge, will be sidelined for 10 months and must pay a smaller amount of €3,000 ($3,380).

"Markus Anfang and Florian Junge have significantly violated the role model function as trainers through their actions," claimed the chairman of the DFB Sports Court, Hans E Lorenz.

"However, with regard to their confessions made, it is justified to suspend part of the ban on probation in order to give them the opportunity to make a new commitment for the 2022/2023 season."

Anfang stepped down on November 20 as Werder Bremen revealed he had denied using fake evidence to show he received a Covid vaccination.

Thiat came after the manager previously released a statement in which he insisted that he had received both required jabs at an official vaccination center.

"The reason for the decision is the public prosecutors' investigations into the two coaches and the ensuing unrest surrounding the club," the second division club announced at the time.

"Because of the extreme stress caused to the club, the team, my family and myself, I have decided to immediately step down from my role as head coach of Werder Bremen," explained Anfang, who had only led the team for 13 matches before leaving.

"I requested that the club management dissolve my contract, a request they have granted.

"I wish Werder all the success in the world, both for [Saturday's] game against Schalke and for the future."

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Markus Anfang has resigned as Werder Bremen boss © Carmen Jaspersen / Reuters
German football coach resigns over alleged forgery of vaccine certificates

Werder Bremen appointed Ole Werner to succeed Anfang and are currently fighting for a return to the Bundesliga, sitting two points behind FC Saint Pauli, who currently occupy the last automatic qualifying spot of third place, and four behind second-tier leaders Darmstadt.

Football stadiums in Germany have repeatedly been subject to capacity restrictions under local lockdown rules. Bundesliga matches are currently limited to half of venue capacities, allowing for a maximum of 15,000 fans due to attend.

Germany's most high-profile Covid-related football controversy has concerned Bayern Munich and national team star Joshua Kimmich, who had to go into quarantine amid speculation that he would be docked pay because he chose not to be vaccinated.

Club legend Uli Hoeness was among those who were highly critical of Kimmich's stance. The midfielder said in December 2021 that he regretted not getting vaccinated after he suffered a lung problem as a consequence of contracting Covid.


‘Sex and the City’ sequel blasted for offensive joke about Russian women

Russian viewers accuse ‘And Just Like That’ of “hypocrisy and selective inclusivity”

Russian users have flooded to the ‘And Just Like That’ Instagram page, leaving messages with the hashtag #metoorussian and accusing the show of hypocrisy and intolerance over an offensive joke about Russian prostitutes featured in the eighth episode of the series.

In the latest episode Carrie Bradshaw (played by Sarah Jessica Parker) discusses a new neighbor that has moved into the building, commenting that she seems too young to be able to afford a fancy apartment in an upscale New York City neighborhood. Bradshaw’s friend then suggests that the woman is probably a “Russian prostitute” and that it’s a common occurance among luxurious property owners.

Russian fans were left outraged and took to social media to voice their disapproval of the worn-out stereotype being perpetuated by the show. Users left the hashtag #metoorussian under several Instagram posts by the show, saying the showrunners have “forgotten about tolerance,” and demanding an apology from HBO, which streams the show.

However, no apology has been issued thus far, and instead HBO seems to be deleting some of the comments that feature the hashtag and complaints. Disappointed fans are now calling for a boycott of the show and criticizing the network’s apparent empty posturing regarding inclusivity and tolerance.

“Stop hiding comments about your failure! Better apologize for calling Russian women prostitutes. Trying to be a tolerant show … nonsense. Just trying to make a fuss about tolerance and nothing else. Disgusting,” wrote user ali_gash.

In late December 2021 the Netflix show ‘Emily in Paris’ faced similar accusations after it introduced a near-caricature-like Ukrainian woman, who was depicted as having a dreadful fashion sense and was eager to shoplift. Netflix responded to those criticisms by promising they will be more mindful of such depictions in future projects.


Russia receives US response to security proposals

Envoy delivers American and NATO reactions to Russian offer

Moscow has been handed the American response to its earlier proposals concerning collective security in Europe, the Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed on Wednesday evening. 

US ambassador John Sullivan delivered the feedback from both Washington and NATO on the Russian draft bilateral treaty made public in mid-December. Moscow proposed eight points in the draft, and expected a detailed reply to each one.

The US was asked to stop any further NATO expansion to the east, halt military programs in non-member countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union – and pledge Ukraine and Georgia would “never” join the bloc – remove its nuclear weapons from Europe, and not deploy any offensive weapons capable of targeting Russia along its borders. Moscow demanded legally binding guarantees on all of those matters.

The State Department has reportedly asked Russia not to make its response public. Speaking at the Russian parliament earlier on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the ministry would communicate the “essence of their reaction” to the Russian public.

Lavrov explained that once the American response was received, the Foreign Ministry would work with other departments to give President Vladimir Putin a proposal of further steps concerning Russia’s security.


‘Crypto winter’ is coming – analysts

Bitcoin’s sharp sell-off is reminiscent of the great crypto crash of 2018

The dramatic sell-off of digital coins that saw Bitcoin drop below $34,000 and erased more than $1.4 trillion of the entire crypto market’s value since November has raised investor concerns that the worst is yet to come. They are now talking about the possibility of a “crypto winter,” referring to historic bear markets in the digital currency space.

The most recent such occurrence happened in late 2017 and early 2018 when, after an unprecedented boom, Bitcoin crashed by more than 80% to as low as $3,100, and didn’t reach a new high until December 2020. That so-called ‘Great crypto crash’ was worse than the Dot-com bubble's 78% collapse in March 2000.

“It’s during crypto winters that the best entrepreneurs build the better companies. This is the time again to focus on solving real problems vs. pumping tokens,” the former head of crypto at Facebook-parent Meta, David Marcus, tweeted on Monday. 

The crypto collapse raised concerns that the pain may persist for many months, according to UBS. “There’s this question of how do we characterize that and the nearest analogy is probably 2018, which is this idea of a crypto winter,” James Malcolm, head of foreign exchange research at UBS, told Fortune. “It looks likely to be a fairly difficult and potentially prolonged period and therefore, the crypto winter analogy is quite good,” he said, adding, “Remember, the crypto winter in 2018 wasn’t just over the Northern Hemisphere winter months. It basically extended for a whole year—so it was a crypto winter that lasted effectively a year.” 

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Crypto market loses $130 billion in one day amid Ukraine tensions

Analysts point out that the digital assets’ slump seems to be tracking broader market developments, in particular, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq indexes’ slide into correction territory last week. Cryptocurrencies are becoming more intertwined with traditional markets due to involvement from large institutional funds, they say. The crypto market has been plummeting since the Federal Reserve announced that it would reduce its stimulus to the financial markets.

The largest cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, sunk to its lowest price in six months at the start of this week to near $33,000 after it went into a nosedive on Friday with cryptos across the board plummeting in value. Ether has more than halved in value since reaching its peak in November, while Solana has suffered an even steeper decline, falling 65%. They have bounced back since then, with Bitcoin up by more than 4% to around $38,000 a token on Wednesday.

For more stories on economy & finance visit RT's business section


New owner wanted for abandoned CIA black site

The shadowy facility in Lithuania was used to detain terrorism suspects

A large steel barn once used by the CIA to host suspected terrorists outside of US jurisdiction as part of its “extraordinary rendition” program is up for sale by the government of Lithuania.

The Baltic state’s national real-estate fund, which handles assets that have gone out of use, announced this week that the facility will go on the market at an as-yet-undecided price. The 10-room building, which is located in a forest outside Vilnius, the capital, was used by America’s top spy agency from 2005 to 2006, when it was known as ‘Project No. 2’ or ‘Detention Site Violet’.

The building contains a long corridor and windowless rooms with carpets and soundproof doors. Arvydas Anusauskas, who led a Lithuanian parliamentary investigation into the site in 2010, told Reuters that it was a heavily guarded facility “where one could do whatever you want. What exactly was going on there, we did not determine.”

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20 years of Gitmo an affront to ‘all humanity,’ never-charged ex-prisoner tells RT

The European Court of Human Rights determined in 2018 that inmates had been held there in solitary confinement with constant light and high-intensity noise, shackled and continually blindfolded or hooded. The court ordered Lithuania to pay 100,000 euros ($113,000) to Abu Zubaydah, a high-ranking Al-Qaeda figure who the court said was subjected to human rights violations while jailed there.

The site closed in 2006. Zubaydah and other former prisoners – including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has been named as “the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks” – are currently held by the US at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.

Lithuania previously turned a former Russian KGB jail, where hundreds were murdered and thousands tortured in the 1940s, into a popular museum. The state has no such plans for the former CIA facility, however, which has stood empty since the real estate fund took it over from the Lithuanian intelligence service, which used it as a training site from 2007 to 2018.