Biden threatens Putin with sanctions ‘he's never seen’ before

Warns full-scale invasion would have ‘devastating’ consequences for Russia, but admits sanctions would hurt US and NATO allies, too

President Joe Biden has admitted to “differences” among NATO members as to how the alliance would respond to Russian “aggression” in Ukraine and said the US and its allies would suffer from heavy sanctions against Moscow.

“There are differences in NATO as to what countries are willing to do, depending on what happens,” Biden told reporters on Wednesday. The response would depend on the scale of the Russian move against Kiev, “to what extent we will be able to get total unity on the NATO front.”

At one point, Biden suggested that a “minor incursion” might not necessitate a severe response. He gave the example of cyberwarfare – as opposed to killing Ukrainian troops – and said, “We can respond in the same way.”

Biden made the comments in just his second major press conference since taking office a year ago, painting a dark picture of prospects for war in Ukraine. He said Russia will likely make some effort to test and divide NATO, adding that a full-scale invasion would be disastrous for Moscow but also painful for the Western allies.

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FILE PHOTO: Russian snipers take part in a competition. © Rostislav Netisov / Sputnik
Is an all-out Russia-Ukraine war about to break out?

The US president also seemed to offer conflicting assessments on the likelihood of a full-scale war. At one point, he said of Russian President Vladimir Putin, “My guess is, he will move in, he has to do something.” Later, he told another reporter that his Russian counterpart hasn’t yet decided on a course of action.

“There’s a whole range of things that I’m sure he’s trying to calculate, how quickly he can do what he wants to do and what he wants to do,” Biden said. “I believe he’s accounting the short- and long-term consequences for Russia will be, and I don’t think he’s made up his mind yet.”

Biden said Russia could eventually win a conventional shooting war with Ukraine, at heavy cost of lives, but the costs of occupation would be great. He added that resulting sanctions against Moscow, including eliminating the ability of Russian banks to transact in US dollars, would exact a heavy toll.

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.

“Our allies and partners are ready and willing to impose severe costs on Russia and the Russian economy,” Biden said. He acknowledged that the sanctions would be painful for NATO member economies, too, but said Putin’s potential punitive options, such as cutting off natural gas shipments to the West, would be ruinous for Russia.

“It’s not like they have all these wonderful choices out there,” Biden said. “This is not all just a cakewalk for Russia. Militarily, they have overwhelming superiority relative to Ukraine, but they’ll pay a severe price.”

Asked by a reporter about the fact that past sanctions have failed to influence Putin’s actions, Biden replied:

He’s never seen sanctions like the ones I will impose.

There is still hope for a diplomatic solution and the countries could hold a peace summit, Biden said. Russia has demanded a guarantee that Kiev will never become a NATO member and that NATO won’t station strategic weapons in Ukraine. Biden said “we can work out something” on the weapons-deployment issue, and Ukraine won’t be ready to join NATO in the near term, but a permanent promise on NATO membership can’t be made.

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FILE PHOTO. © Maxym Marusenko / NurPhoto via Getty Images
The CIA’s high-stakes game in Ukraine

Biden also acknowledged concerns about how a war in Ukraine could spread – four NATO members border the country – saying, “The only war that’s worse than one that’s intended is one that’s unintended.” He argued that short of “full-blown nuclear war,” Putin should understand that he’s “not in a very good position to dominate the world.”

In any case, the potentially catastrophic consequences of a war in Ukraine dictate caution on all sides, Biden said. A large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine would be “the most consequential thing that’s happened in the world in terms of war and peace since World War II.”


Declassified video shows US drone strike on civilians

The botched US air raid killed 10 civilians in Kabul, most of them children

The Pentagon has released surveillance videos showing a US air strike that killed 10 civilians in the Afghan capital last year, one of the final American combat missions in the country as Washington ended its two-decade war.

Published by the New York Times on Wednesday, the declassified 25-minute video shows the moment an Afghan aid worker and nine other non-combatants, including seven children, were killed in the US strike, all captured by two drones flying over Kabul during the August 29, 2021 bombing raid.

While the military initially claimed the strike targeted members of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) who were transporting explosives – with one senior official deeming the operation righteous – it was later forced to backtrack and acknowledge that only civilians were killed in the attack. 

Ahead of the strike, two MQ-9 Reaper drones trailed a white Toyota Corolla driven by a man later identified as Zemari Ahmadi, an aid worker with the US-based Nutrition and Education International. After following him for some time, Ahmadi’s car was struck as he pulled into the driveway of his home, seen around eight minutes into the footage. The blast engulfed the property, instantly killing Ahmadi and several children who rushed out to greet him, as well as other family members nearby.

READ MORE: Pentagon names alleged ‘ISIS-K facilitator’ killed in Afghanistan drone strike, after admitting Kabul op killed 10 civilians

A probe by the Air Force concluded that the operation did not violate any laws and recommended no disciplinary action. Though the investigation did find that surveillance footage showed the presence of at least one child near the site of the strike about two minutes before it was launched, the Pentagon said that would have been easy to miss in real-time.  

“[In] two independent reviews that I conducted, the physical evidence of a child was apparent at the two-minute point. But it is 100 percent not obvious; you have to be looking for it,” Air Force Inspector General Sami Said told reporters in November following the inquiry, insisting the massacre was a “mistake” and not an act of “negligence.”

The declassified footage was obtained in a months-long Freedom of Information Act suit led by the Times, which was the first to uncover evidence the drone strike may not have killed any IS terrorists as the military initially claimed. The Pentagon also attempted to pin the loss of innocent life on a “secondary explosion” near Ahmadi’s home – suggesting he was indeed carrying a bomb in his car – but later said the fireball was likely caused by a propane tank, effectively abandoning any notion that he was a militant.

READ MORE: Pentagon offers unspecified ‘condolence payments’ for 7 Afghan children & aid worker murdered in botched drone strike


Instagram introduces new feature for exclusive content

Subscription-based model hopes to expand outside Meta umbrella

Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri has unveiled three new money-making features for creators who use the platform in an effort to compete with sites like OnlyFans and Patreon that offer users a reliable income stream.

“Creators do what they do to make a living, and it’s important that that is predictable,” Mosseri said in an Instagram post describing the new features on Wednesday. “Subscriptions are one of the best ways to have a predictable income.”

Instagram creators will be able to deliver “stories” live directly to subscribers using the new feature, which is currently only available to a small set of pre-selected creators. Parent company Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the feature on Wednesday via Facebook, which has offered its own “subscriptions” feature since 2018 but has been unable to seriously compete with creator-centric models like Patreon.

Subscribers will also have access to exclusive livestreams produced by creators, and will receive special purple badges next to their username. Creators scrolling through comments will be able to recognize their subscribers and - presumably - prioritize interacting with them.

Mosseri suggested the subscription-based model would eventually expand outside Instagram, with creators able to “take their subscriber list and bring them off of Instagram onto other apps and websites built by other companies” – a data-mining bonanza for whatever companies Meta opts to partner with.

“Creators should own their relationship with subscribers,” he said.

Warning users against re-sharing subscriber content via screen recordings or screenshots, a Meta spokesperson made it clear that the company will own its relationship with creators as well, calling on creators to report any unauthorized reuse of paid content.

READ MORE: Facebook faces $3bn+ legal action over dominance


Biden must give Putin ‘bloody nose’ if Russia invades Ukraine – US senators

Republican senators want Biden to take action in Ukraine, but stop short of calling for war

Republican lawmakers turned up their anti-Russia rhetoric on Wednesday after a meeting with President Joe Biden. The elected represtatives told reporters that the American leader needs to give Russian President Vladimir Putin a “bloody nose,” should Moscow invade Ukraine. Talks between Washington and the Kremlin on the matter are currently stalled.

A bipartisan coalition of senators met with Biden on Wednesday morning after returning from Ukraine, where they pledged US support to pro-Western factions in Kiev. Following the closed-doors meeting, the Republican contingent struck a hawkish tone.

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FILE PHOTO. © Maxym Marusenko / NurPhoto via Getty Images
The CIA’s high-stakes game in Ukraine

“As of yet no one has given Vladimir Putin a bloody nose,” Mississippi’s Roger Wicker told reporters. “I think the alliance, our friends in NATO and a bipartisan majority are prepared to assist Ukraine in making sure that, if it happens, this time Vladimir Putin will get a bloody nose,” referring to US claims that Moscow is preparing to invade Ukraine. 

Moscow has reportedly stationed a large number of troops near its border with Ukraine, but denies that any plans of invasion are afoot, and has reminded the West that these troops are on Russian soil.

The White House insists that Ukraine be allowed to join NATO in the future, while the Kremlin considers the idea of Western forces and weapons stationed so close to its border to be unacceptable. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, Switzerland, on Friday in a bid to resolve the deadlock.

Meanwhile, in Washington, both parties are hardening their rhetoric. “We want to have strong bipartisan sanctions,” North Dakota Senator Kevin Cramer (R) told reporters after Wednesday’s meeting. “But … enough has been done to punch back a little bit. Right now Vladimir Putin is saying ‘Thank you, Mr. President’ but words are cheap and it's time to demonstrate some action.”

Cramer did not specify what he saw “action” entailing. Likewise Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar (D), who also traveled to Kiev with the delegation, promised “consequences” for Putin should the Russian leader move on Ukraine, without explaining what these consequences would be. 

Members of the delegation have called on Biden to slap economic sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is currently not pumping gas to the EU due to delays in certification in Germany. Some have also called for shipments of arms to anti-Russian forces in Ukraine. 

The White House’s official line on Ukraine is that “all options” are being considered. 


France calls for new 'European order'

The French leader has marked the beginning of his country’s presidency of the EU with a call for a new ‘European order’

French leader Emmanuel Macron, has marked the start of his country’s presidency of the EU by calling for a “frank” dialogue with Russia, which he deemed necessary for building a new rules-based “European order.”

“Our continent’s security requires strategic rearmament of our Europe as a force of peace and balance, particularly in our dialogue with Russia,” Macron said in a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday.

He explained he has been making this point “for several years.”

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Annalena Baerbock © Riccardo De Luca / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Germany wants to 'normalize' relations with Russia – Baerbock

Both for us and for Russia, for the sake of the security of our continent which is indivisible, we need this dialogue,” Macron said, adding that it should be “a frank and demanding dialogue in the face of destabilization, interference and manipulation.

According to the French president, cooperation with Russia must be based on principles and rules “to which we agreed and which we acted not against, not without, but with Russia thirty years ago.” 

This new system, Macron argued, should be free of threats, coercion, and spheres of influence, and would give states a free choice when it comes to the membership of organizations or security arrangements, while guaranteeing their territorial integrity.

He suggested that this “new order of security and stability” should first be discussed within the EU, then within the NATO framework, before being proposed “for negotiation with Russia.” 

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US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, left, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov pose for a photo during the talks on security guarantees on the territory of the US Permanent Mission to the UN Office in Geneva, Switzerland. © Sputnik / Alexey Vitvitsky
How the EU found itself excluded from talks on deciding Europe's future

He also said that France would continue to work with Germany within Normandy format to find a “political solution” to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which, in his words, “remains the source of the current tensions.

Macron’s latest rhetoric sounds different from the stance of the US and the NATO bloc it dominates. Growing tensions between Russia and Western countries over the situation in Ukraine were not resolved during a series of security talks that took place, last week, between diplomats from Russia, the US, and the 30-member military pact.

Moscow has requested written guarantees that the bloc will not expand further eastwards. Meanwhile, American intelligence services, and the countries' popular media, have been pushing allegations of a supposed imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin has denied these reports, calling them misinformation.


Bill Gates warns of worse pandemics in future

The billionaire calls for massive government investments to prepare for potential outbreaks that could be deadlier than Covid-19

Software magnate Bill Gates has raised the specter of future viruses that could be more lethal than Covid-19, saying rich countries should ramp up vaccine funding to brace for potentially catastrophic outbreaks.

The Microsoft co-founder made his comments while announcing a new $150 million pledge by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). He noted that while Covid-19’s Delta and Omicron variants were among the most transmissible viruses ever seen, the world could have been hit with a more virulent pathogen, killing far more people.

By investing in vaccine research and production capacity to ensure that future jabs are quickly made available all around the world, governments can prepare themselves to blunt future outbreaks, Gates said. 

“When we talk about spending billions to save  . . .  trillions of economic damage and tens of billions of lives, it’s a pretty good insurance policy.”

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© Getty Images / BlackJack3D
Covid-19 pandemic declared ‘nowhere near over’

CEPI is trying to raise $3.5 billion to shorten the time it takes to develop a new vaccine to 100 days. Gates credited the group with saving lives by helping to fund trials for several of the vaccines now authorized for inoculation against Covid-19, but he lamented that adequate supplies haven’t reached developing nations quickly enough.

“It was at-risk money that caused the trials to take place,” he said. “So there was a huge global benefit. We’re all a lot smarter now, and we need more capacity for the next time.”

Wellcome Trust, a UK charity that focuses on medical research, matched the Gates foundation with its own $150 million pledge to CEPI. Jeremy Farrar, the director of Wellcome Trust, echoed Gates’ comments on the dangers of future pandemics. CEPI was formed after the 2013 to 2016 Ebola epidemic.

“We were then and we are now living in what I think is an era of more frequent and more complex epidemics and pandemics,” Farrar said.


Ukraine planning 'false flag' Donbass incident – militia

Incident supposedly being prepared by British-trained saboteurs to spark conflict, militia leader explosively claims

Ukrainian commandos trained by Britain are planning a “series of terrorist attacks” in the Donbass to use as cover for a false flag operation, an official from the unrecognised, so-called, Donetsk People's Republic has alleged. 

Local Militia spokesman Eduard Basurin said on Wednesday that Kiev will stage a provocation to accuse Russia of invading the country. He added that he believed neo-Nazi ‘Right Sector’ militants were also operating in the area. However, he provided no evidence to back up the allegations. 

Basurin, however, insisted that he had “reliable information” suggesting six groups of saboteurs from the 8th Special Purpose Regiment of Ukrainian Armed Forces (VSU) had been trained by specialists from the UK and deployed near the line of contact. Their targets would allegedly include gas and water supply as well as power stations.

The purpose of their supposed provocation is to accuse Russia of ‘false flag’ attacks to prepare “aggression” against Ukraine, and to create panic among the local residents, he added.

Moreover, members of the ‘Right Sector’ were also spotted in the vicinity of Mariupol, a city close to the contact line, according to Basurin. The group was accompanied by a psychological operations detachment and a crew from a Ukrainian TV channel, and is operating the village of Pavlopol, controlled by the 36th Brigade of the Ukrainian army, he alleged. 

Much of the Donbass region has been outside Kiev's control since the Western-backed 2014 Maidan saw the democratically-elected Ukrainian government overthrown. Fighters loyal to the self-declared 'People's Republics' in Donetsk and Lugansk have been clashing with Kiev's forces in an effort to hold the territory since then.

In December, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu alleged that American private military companies had begun shipping "unidentified chemical components” to towns in the Donbass as a potential precursor to an attack. Shoigu provided no further details or evidence of the purported plot.

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Ukrainian soldiers in a trench near Donetsk, January 14, 2022.
US claims Russia preparing ‘false flag’ in Ukraine

Last week, Washington accused Russia of planning a ‘false flag’ attack in the separatist-controlled territory as a pretext for invading Ukraine. The allegation echoed claims of the Ukrainian government and came after CIA Director William Burns visited Kiev. Russia has rejected it as baseless, and called US insinuations of a planned invasion “fake news.”

“Russia is not going to attack anyone,” the Russian embassy in Washington said on Tuesday evening, commenting on statements coming from the State Department and the Pentagon that an invasion could “come at any moment” and even from Belarus.

“We urge you to stop the hysterics and not to put tension around the problem of Donbass. And the main thing is not to push the ‘hot heads’ in Kiev to new provocations,” the embassy said, adding that if the US actually wanted to solve the internal Ukrainian conflict, it would stop sending weapons to Kiev and urge the government there honor the Minsk Agreements, designed to stem the fighting.


Human trafficking gang leader jailed

The migrants died of suffocation and hyperthermia in a shipping container

A Belgian court has sentenced a Vietnamese man who led a human trafficking gang to 15 years in prison, after 39 migrants he smuggled to Britain were found dead in an airtight shipping container on a truck.

Vo Van Hong, 45, was found guilty on Wednesday of being the ringleader of the cross-channel human trafficking operation. In addition to his prison sentence, the Bruges court also ordered him to pay a €920,000 ($1.04 million) fine. It also sentenced 17 other members of the gang to between 18 months and 10 years for their involvement in people smuggling.

Some of the convicted had allowed their properties to be used as meeting points for migrants, arranged documents for victims, or acted as intermediaries. Six taxi drivers who took migrants to meeting points were also sentenced.

In the 234-page ruling, judges noted that the criminals had dehumanized the victims and charged them at least €24,000 ($27,000) for the trips.

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Sezen Aksu © Wikipedia
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Hong’s sentencing was linked to the discovery of 39 dead bodies found in a shipping container on an industrial estate east of London in 2019. The victims – 31 men and eight women – were all Vietnamese, the youngest two aged only 15.

The migrants died of suffocation and hyperthermia in the container, which arrived on a ferry from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge. Most of the dead came from the Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces in north-central Vietnam, Reuters reported.

Last year, a British court also convicted four suspects in relation to the 39 deaths, sentencing them to prison terms ranging from 13 to 27 years.

Vo Van Hong was one of 23 suspects arrested and put on trial in Belgium after a police raid on several addresses in May 2020.


Brzezinski becomes US ambassador to Poland

Son of infamous Cold War hawk takes up new role amid growing tensions with Russia

Mark Brzezinski, son of former US national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, has been sworn in as US ambassador to Poland. Vice President Kamala Harris conducted the ceremony on Wednesday, which was attended by Brzezinski’s sister Mika and brother-in-law Joe Scarborough, both hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

Brzezinski, who previously served as US ambassador to Sweden from 2011 to 2015, was nominated for the position in August and confirmed by the Senate last month.

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FILE PHOTO. © Sputnik / Sergey Stepanov
NATO troops invited to deploy near Russian border

His father, Zbigniew, served as the national security advisor under former president Jimmy Carter and was well known as the architect of the Grand Chessboard theory of geostrategic power. The elder Brzezinski viewed the Eurasian continent as the fulcrum of world power and believed it was in the best interests of the US to control it, given its richness in natural resources, physical wealth, and population. 

His efforts to wrest control of Eurasia from the Soviet Union included funding and supporting the Mujahideen, the Islamic fundamentalist faction in Afghanistan which later became the Taliban. He openly spoke in interviews of seizing the opportunity to “giv[e] to the USSR its Vietnam war.”

However, the consequences of that project later led to the 9/11 attacks and America’s own war in Afghanistan. It became the longest in US history and eventually culminated in disaster for the Biden administration, whose pullout from Afghanistan last August was widely criticized and has contributed to his spiraling approval ratings. 

Brzezinski the younger heads to Warsaw as tensions between the US and Russia mount, with the US attempting to frame troop movements within Russian borders as a plot to attack Ukraine despite no evidence of such a plan and NATO members threatening to further amass their own troops along Russia’s borders.


Supreme Court justices deny ‘false’ story on supposed mask in-fighting

Judges say there’s no truth to NPR report saying Gorsuch refused to wear a mask, forcing diabetic colleague to participate in meetings remotely

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch have taken the rare step of issuing a joint statement in defense of cordial relations on the US Supreme Court, refuting media reports of a Covid-19 mask argument at the Marble Palace.

The controversy began on Tuesday, when US state-funded media outlet NPR said that Gorsuch had refused an order by Chief Justice John Roberts to wear a mask. The order reportedly stemmed from the health concerns of Sotomayor, who is diabetic and therefore at high risk of severe illness or death from Covid-19. As a result, the story alleged, Sotomayor had to participate in hearings and weekly conferences remotely when the high court took the bench earlier this month for the first time since the Omicron variant caused a surge in new Covid-19 infections.

Other media outlets, such as Newsweek and CNN, piled on, posting articles citing NPR and alleging that Gorsuch refused to comply with a mask order. Rolling Stone sharpened the tone of the narrative, saying that the conservative judge Gorsuch was standing up for his right to “endanger” his left-wing colleague Sotomayor and that he “didn’t care” about her health concerns.

The problem is, according to the justices involved, the articles weren’t actually true. “Reporting that Justice Sotomayor asked Justice Gorsuch to wear a mask surprised us,” the judges said on Wednesday. “It is false. While we may sometimes disagree about the law, we are warm colleagues and friends.”

Prior to Sotomayor and Gorsuch issuing their joint statement, Fox News reported that Roberts hadn’t told justices to wear masks and that Gorsuch hadn’t refused any order. Nor did Sotomayor ask Gorsuch to wear a mask.

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Michelle Wu speaks to reporters in Boston, Massachusetts, November 2, 2021 © Reuters / Brian Snyder
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NPR’s assertions were attributed to anonymous “court sources.” Without citing anyone – not even unidentified sources – the outlet added that Gorsuch “has proved a prickly justice, not exactly beloved even by his conservative soulmates on the court.”

NPR has reportedly struggled to meet a target set in 2018 for reducing the number of corrections needed. Last April, it corrected a story after a senior editor falsely claimed that US intelligence agencies had “discredited” bombshell reporting on the contents of a laptop that President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, left at a Delaware repair shop. Earlier this month, the outlet corrected an article that falsely stated police officers died from injuries suffered in last year’s US Capitol riot.

As of Wednesday afternoon, NPR hadn’t corrected its article on mask-wearing at the Supreme Court.


Moldova declares state of emergency

The decision comes after Gazprom warned it could cut off shipments

The government of Moldova has declared a new 60-day state of emergency, following a warning from Russian energy firm Gazprom that it could halt gas deliveries to the country due to unpaid bills.

Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilița announced the news at a cabinet session on Wednesday, saying, “the decision has been approved. It must now be confirmed by parliament. After that, an emergency commission will take full measures to ensure that consumers have uninterrupted access to gas.”

Gavrilița reported that Gazprom had sent the government of Moldova an official notice that if it failed to pay its outstanding debts to the company in January, the Russian state energy giant would shut off gas shipments. Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Spinu also said that Moldova would request to pay off its debts in stages.

“[State energy company] Moldovagaz will pay Gazprom an advance of $38 million by January 20,” Spinu announced. “That leaves another $25 million in January, and Moldovagaz requested that this payment be delayed, but it could not come to terms with Gazprom, which didn’t want to help its daughter company.” He added that Moldovagaz is counting on receiving credit in order to pay down this debt.

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© Getty Images / kodda
Moldova won't be cut off from Russian gas after Gazprom grants last-minute extension on unpaid bills

Vadim Cheban, the head of Moldovagaz, had previously announced that the company would not be able to pay back Gazprom in January, saying that tariffs had not kept up with the rising cost of gas, and that the company was in such financial straits that it could not get credit from banks.

Moldova had previously declared a state of emergency in October to combat its energy crisis, after which Moldovagaz and Gazprom signed a five-year contract, agreeing to monthly payments. Moldova was forced to request an extension on its November payment, when Gazprom also threatened to shut off shipments, but Moldovagaz was eventually able to pay the $75 million bill. In his address on Wednesday, Spinu insisted that this situation will not happen again once the current crisis has been resolved.


Florida official placed on leave over backing vaccines at work

The state’s Department of Health placed the official on leave after he called his employees’ low vaccination rate “pathetic” and urged them to get the jab.

The Florida Department of Health has suspended one of its top officials over an email in which he criticized his employees for their vaccine hesitancy. The department is probing whether his email amounted to “coercion.”

Orange County Medical Director Dr. Raul Pino wrote an email to more than 500 employees of the Florida Department of Health earlier this month, calling them out on their reluctance to get vaccinated against Covid-19. In the email, Pino called the department’s low uptake rate  – less than 40% had gotten two jabs and only 13% had received boosters – “irresponsible” and “pathetic.”

“I am sorry but in the absence of reasonable and real reasons it is irresponsible not to be vaccinated,” he wrote, according to local media. “I have a hard time understanding how we can be in public health and not practice it.”

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However, Florida passed legislation last year forbidding all employers, public and private, from mandating vaccines. To the department, Pino’s email could constitute an attempt to force the jab on employees.

“As the decision to get vaccinated is a personal medical choice that should be made free from coercion and mandates from employers, the employee in question has been placed on administrative leave, and the Florida Department of Health is conducting an inquiry to determine if any laws were broken in this case,” a department spokesperson said in a statement to several media outlets.

An epidemiologist, Pino joined the department in 2019 and, over the last two years, coordinated the response to Covid-19 in central Florida’s Orange County. 

After imposing a brief lockdown in early 2020, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has taken a hands-off approach to managing the Covid-19 pandemic. Under DeSantis, Florida prioritized seniors for vaccination and made monoclonal antibody treatment available to those seriously affected by the virus. Florida has seen the third-highest caseload per 100,000 residents, but ranks 17th in terms of deaths per 100,000. 

However, the state has the third highest overall Covid-19 death toll behind New York and California, a fact that Democrats have used to hammer DeSantis’ anti-mandate policies.


Ukrainian parliament leader blasts Western media

The threat of a Russian invasion is no worse than it was last year, according to one of Kiev’s high-ranking politicians

Western media outlets are driving rumors that Russian troops are planning to wage an offensive across the border into Ukraine, a close political ally of President Volodymyr Zelensky has claimed, as tensions remain high on the shared border. 

Speaking on Wednesday to the Ukrainian outlet Focus, David Arakhamia, the head of the “Servant of the People” faction in parliament, said that such claims of an invasion are not a recent phenomenon. The party was founded by Zelensky in 2017 ahead of his bid to become president, and is named after the popular comedy show he starred in before embarking on his political career.

“There is always a threat from the outside. But! Remember the escalation last spring? Today’s situation is no worse than that – it's roughly in the same range,” said the official, who also is a member of the Verkhovna Rada’s National Security, Defense and Intelligence Committee. 

“Why is the Western media making such a big deal out of it? It's hard to say,” Arakhamia remarked. “Any surprises can be expected from [Moscow], we must be ready for anything, but not amplify panic.” 

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The building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation on Smolenskaya Square in Moscow. © Sputnik / Maria Devakhina
Russia responds to US media report about Ukraine embassy 'evacuation'

He said that while Russian troops may not order an offensive, Kiev’s economy will feel the repercussions of fear mongering by the media outlets. “When they start throwing in fakes that the Russian embassy is withdrawing families [from Ukraine], we can already see how this is affecting the economic situation,” he explained.

Arakhamia’s remarks come amid a flurry of reports in Western media in recent months that Moscow is beefing up its troops and hardware on the Ukrainian border ahead of launching an invasion. On Monday, the New York Times claimed that Moscow had started to repatriate a number of diplomats and their families from Ukraine.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry hit back at the report, stating that Moscow’s embassy in Kiev “is working normally,” but did not deny any downsizing. Diplomatic spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused the foreign media of spinning reality. 

“They are doing this despite attacks on Russian foreign service workers by Ukrainian radicals, and the provocations of local security forces. But the American media have not and will not cover this.” 

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken © Alex Brandon / POOL / AFP
'Russia could invade any moment' – Blinken

The Kremlin has repeatedly rejected accusations that it is planning to invade, with its press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, describing them as “groundless” and manifestations of “hysteria” circulating in the press. 

The official also 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. 

The latest claims that Moscow is planning an incursion into Ukraine come just months after similar alarms were sounded last April. Such calls have been an annual occurrence for some years now. 


Russian troop movement into Belarus shows Moscow could launch attack on Ukraine ‘at any point’ – State Department

Troops from Russia and Belarus to hold joint exercises next month

The upcoming Russian-Belarusian military exercises could be linked to Moscow’s “plans for a possible invasion” of Ukraine and are a show of force designed to provoke a crisis for a potential attack, the US State Department said on Tuesday.

“We are very alert to everything that Russia is doing. The fact that we’re seeing this movement of forces into Belarus clearly gives the Russians another approach should they decide to take further military action against Ukraine,” the unnamed official said. “We are concerned across several dimensions about Russia creating a pretext for a possible invasion.”

The statement comes as tensions between Russia and Ukraine remain at an all-time high. In recent months, Western media outlets and politicians have accused Moscow of concentrating troops and military equipment on the border with Ukraine, allegedly with a view to launching an offensive in the near future.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky © Stefanie Loos-Pool / Getty Images
Ukraine explains possible reason for Russian invasion

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has denied the claims, stating that Russia is simply moving its armed forces within its territory and that reports of an attack are groundless. However, according to the Americans, an invasion could be imminent.

“President Putin created this crisis by amassing 100,000 Russian troops along Ukraine’s borders. This includes moving Russian forces into Belarus over the weekend. This is neither an exercise nor normal troop movement. It is a show of strength designed to cause or give false pretext for a crisis as Russia plans for a possible invasion,” the official said. “And let’s be clear: This is extremely dangerous. We are now at a stage where Russia could, at any point, launch an attack on Ukraine.”

Russia and Belarus are to hold Union Resolve 2022 drills from February 10 to 20, as part of an inspection of the two nations’ ability for a joint response. Before that, the two militaries “will practice redeploying troops and creating task forces within a short period of time in dangerous directions,” according to the head of the Belarusian Defense Ministry’s International Military Cooperation Department, Oleg Voinov. During the exercises, they will practice “reinforcing the state border.”


Russian club causes fury after promising new Turkish signing ‘lots of Natashas’

CSKA Moscow triggered anger in a social media post announcing a signing

Russian Premier League giants CSKA Moscow have caused outrage online through a derogatory post which announced new Turkish signing Yusuf Yazici. 

Currently fourth in the table and eight points behind leaders Zenit, the Moscow club has signed Yazici on loan from French club Lille with an option to buy the attacking midfielder permanently if all goes well.

Through no fault of his own, however, life in Russia has gotten off to a rocky start for the Turkey international. 

When announcing his capture, the CSKA social media account posted a mock set of private messages between the player and his new employers. 

A number of them go unanswered by the 24-year-old, who is greeted and asked questions such as "where are you?" then told "we are ready to sign the contract"

Once CSKA writes: "Yusuf, this is Russia, we have a lot of Natashas here," though, the Turk is shown as responding: "Five minutes, I'm on my way!"

CSKA deleted the post from social media.

Deleted not long after, the post caused outrage for appearing to cheapen local women.

The Russian Football News Twitter account called it "one of the crassest and [most] terrible transfer announcements you'll ever see.

"We criticize foreign media a lot for their portrayals of Russia, but when local clubs act like this, it's even worse," it added.

CSKA's TV editor-in-chief Katerina Kirilcheva released a statement that offered her "sincere apologies for the presentation video that was published by our media group."

"Initially we had another script for the video, but in the player's absence it was impossible to shoot the footage we needed," she claimed.

"Given the time constraints, I came up with another script that was unfortunate and inappropriate, and for many, also offensive. Once again, I apologize to our fans, especially ladies, and to Yusuf personally," Kirilcheva signed off. 

Amid calls for heads to roll, CSKA PR chief Sergey Aksenov told Sport-Express "such things should not appear on official sites.

"This is unacceptable. The people responsible for this incident have been suspended from work," he confirmed.

Earlier this season CSKA caused similar anger among fans when Russian TikTok sensation 'Bad Barbie' filmed herself gyrating on the team's pitch after being invited for a promotional shoot at their home stadium.

READ MORE: ‘You’ve disgraced the club’: Fan fury after ‘Bad Barbie’ Tiktok sensation films herself thrusting against pitch at stadium (VIDEO)

With Yazici set to join their squad, CSKA will look to put the latest debacle behind them when they take on Luxembourg team Dudelange in a friendly on Monday. 

The match is part of preparations for the re-start of the Russian Premier League, which returns from its winter break at the end of February. 


WATCH Haircut protest staged in museums

Beauty services were offered in Dutch museums and concert halls, in line with existing Covid rules

Dozens of museums, theaters and concert halls in the Netherlands have staged an unusual protest against current Covid-19 restrictions by opening their venues for hairdressing, manicures and gym sessions.

Some businesses, such as hair and nail salons, gyms and non-essential stores were recently allowed to reopen after full lockdown, while museums, theaters, restaurants and cinemas remained closed. Many in the cultural sector have questioned the logic of the arrangement and on Wednesday, staged a protest to demonstrate what they feel is an absurd situation. They used the hashtag #OpenCultuur (Open Culture) to draw attention to the demonstrations on social media.

A major Amsterdam concert hall, Concertgebouw, posted photos and videos of hairdressers taking center stage and being entertained by musicians as they cut hair.

The only way to listen to classical music in Amsterdam (and the most epic way to have your hair cut),” reads the venue’s tweet.

Those who took part in the protest underlined that their actions has nothing to do with an anti-vaccination stance or Covid-19 denial – and the institutions were following the pandemic rules with regard to QR-codes, mask-wearing and social distancing.

The Museum of Limburg in Venlo chose to become a gym on Wednesday, saying that its own staff “left their workplace for an active Zumba session.

Meanwhile, their colleagues in the world-famous Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, along with some members of the public, could enjoy manicures surrounded by the artist’s paintings.

Though some of the institutions, including one offering yoga classes, received warnings from authorities, the day of protest was ultimately branded a success.

We look back on a successful day of action! Young and old have played sports in many museums, drawing attention to the reopening of the cultural sector. Unfortunately, a number of museums were forced to close early,” the Dutch Museums Association said on Twitter.

The Dutch government pledged to reconsider further easing of restrictions on January 25.


The CIA’s high-stakes game in Ukraine

Purported plans for guerrilla war could see the country brought to the brink

With fears of a conflict breaking out between Russia and Ukraine, there has been no end of speculation about how the standoff could spiral into all-out fighting. Some of the theories and purported plans come with evidence, others don’t – but in their own way, they’re all intriguing.

Not surprising, but still revealing, are reports that the CIA have trained special forces in Ukraine to defend the country against a possible invasion. In all likelihood, the scheme would have included far-right fighters. Through well-timed leaks and statements by anonymous “persons familiar” and conveniently retired US officers, these trainees are now presented as the potential backbone of a guerrilla-style resistance force. 

The purpose of advertising this fact now is clear: to deter Russia from launching that large-scale attack on Ukraine that Washington alleges is coming, Moscow denies planning but won’t rule out either, and Kiev cannot really make up its mind аbout: If you, Russia, occupy substantial parts of Ukrainian territory, so goes the American message, we’ll turn this into a bloody quagmire for you. In essence, what the late US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski was always proud of having done in – and to – Afghanistan during the Soviet intervention there in the 1980s.

The training program was started under Obama and extended under Trump (another nail in the coffin of claims he was a Russian agent) and then Biden. It inhabits a twilight world of ambiguous terminology and not very plausible deniability. Somehow it’s all very defensive, allegedly, but then again, in reality it is, of course, not – and no one is actually supposed to buy the cover story because then it would have little deterrence value. The “tactical skills” taught in such programs are, of course, at least as useful for attack and sabotage as for “mere” intelligence gathering and defense. 

Never mind that there is a “good chance that the CIA is training actual, literal Nazis,” as Jacobin has put it, entirely realistically: If you have any idea at all about the virulence and the modus operandi of the Ukrainian far right, then you know that this is exactly the opportunity its cadres crave. And if you have any realism left about what the CIA does, then you know that it does not mind training fanatics. Never did, from Latin America via Afghanistan to Syria and Ukraine. In fact, if anything the Agency has a massive bias for them. 

Read more

© Military TV UA / Youtube
Ukraine gets British anti-tank missiles (VIDEO)

Moreover, we have had reliable information about this phenomenon before. In fact, it is even larger. Last September, a detailed and solidly researched report for the Illiberalism Studies Program at George Washington University’s Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies found that members of Ukrainian far-right organizations such as Centuria and the Azov Battalion both systematically infiltrate the country’s military and receive plenty of training by Western countries, including at elite institutions such as Britain’s Sandhurst and Germany’s Offizierschule des Heeres. 

Put differently, Ukraine’s far right deliberately uses the leverage it gains by Western training, connections, and de facto approval or, at least, benevolent toleration to increase its already substantial influence in the country’s politics and armed forces. Meanwhile, American right-wing extremists have shown an ever greater interest in Ukraine. 

The potential upshot is predictable: If a short-sighted strategy of making nationalist and far-right fighters the spearhead of systematic guerrilla resistance should ever be implemented, the long-term effects would be devastating, and could quite possibly include a nasty blowback into US society itself. None of this information, it is worth underlining, originates with Russian media. All of it comes from the West. None of this is hyperbole, “information war,” or whatever lazy label commonly used to dismiss inconvenient news about the West and Ukraine. If you want to ignore these risks, go ahead. But in that case, just own your neo-Cold War bias and ignorance, please. And don’t be surprised when things go terribly wrong, again, on a proxy battlefield of West-Russia conflict.

Against this background, a recent article in the British Times also begins to make – sort of – sense. Despite a cursory nod to the well-known human rights abuses committed by far-right Ukrainian formations, its main point is that their fighters have their national role to play when it comes to defending the country against separatists or Russia. And, indeed, with Ukraine’s president bestowing highest military honors on them, how dare we doubt? 

Expect more of this in the future: Our media will now not only ignore or downplay the reality of the Ukrainian far right – as always by dismissing any discussion of it as “Russian disinformation” – but make us learn to love it as long as it’s “our” far right, fighting on “our” side of the “new Cold War,” or hot one, as the case may be.

None of this is surprising. In fact, to use a cliché commonly applied to Russia, this is all from the classic Cold War playbook of the West, in particular the USA: a ruthless logic of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” and an equally ruthless readiness to “destroy the village to save it.” 

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken © Alex Brandon / POOL / AFP
'Russia could invade any moment' – Blinken

Because, of course, supporting a regular army, in Ukraine or elsewhere, is one thing. Supporting a guerrilla-style insurgency is a very different one: It necessarily would come with cruel consequences for Ukraine’s civilians. Russia would qualify partisan-style attacks as terror – as every state, including of course the USA and, for instance, Israel routinely does now – and respond massively. You can be certain that there are cynics in the West who would welcome the resulting reports of “Russian atrocities” as information-war ammunition. Too realistic a picture for you? Too ugly? Don’t shoot the messenger.

Organizing partisan resistance would also have the capacity to split Ukraine. For, whatever you may have been told, there really are important regional differences in the country. While many Ukrainians may well generally support resisting an invasion, the call to engage in partisan warfare against an occupation may divide them much more. 

And then? A guerrilla war waged by western Ukrainians in occupied eastern Ukraine, with the local population caught between enraged occupation troops and national partisans demanding loyalty at gunpoint? If you think that that’s a strange scenario, then you have no idea about how insurgencies operate in general. You also must have missed that even in western Ukraine the anti-Soviet insurgents of the post-World War Two years killed at least as many fellow Ukrainians as Soviets. Guess why. 

In sum, to openly speculate about or call for guerrilla war is not a sign of support. Don’t be naïve: it’s a sign that Washington would be ready to turn Ukraine into hell on Earth if only it can embarrass Russia. If you like seeing Ukrainians reduced to pawns coldly sacrificed for this sort of geopolitics, just be honest and don’t sell it as an act of friendship.   

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.



Is an all-out Russia-Ukraine war about to break out?

The world is bracing for a potential armed showdown over Ukraine, which all sides say they don’t want to happen

Russia and its CSTO ally Belarus have announced joint military exercises in February, which Western pundits claim are part of preparations for an invasion of Ukraine. Meanwhile, Kiev has been receiving new weapons from the UK, this week, with the shipments touted as boosting its ‘self-defense’.

At the same time, EU members are debating what exactly would trigger anti-Russian sanctions that they have pledged to impose in response to an attack. Moscow continues to insist it has no intention to use force against Kiev.


Pop star sparks protests over insult to Islam

Criminal complaints have been filed against Turkish singer Sezen Aksu for allegedly insulting Adam and Eve in a 2017 song

Iconic Turkish singer Sezen Aksu has come under fire from government and religious officials who accuse her of insulting Adam and Eve in lyrics to her 2017 song ‘Sahane Bir Sey Yasamak’ (which roughly translates to ‘Living is a wonderful thing’).

The controversy erupted after the pop diva shared the song on her official YouTube account to mark the New Year, according to the Daily Sabah. Although the lyrics apparently did not receive much attention when the song was released, the news outlet reported that Aksu is being criticized for insulting the couple, who are considered sacred figures in Islam and referred to with religious honorific titles.

The song contains a verse that translates to “Give my regards to that ignorant Eve and Adam.” The lyrics were cited as the reason for a criminal complaint brought against Aksu recently in Ankara for “insulting religious values,” Deutsche Welle Turkish reported on Monday.

“This situation aroused justified anger among those who believe in the religion of Islam. As a matter of fact, there was anger against the suspect by many people on the suspect's YouTube channel, Facebook page and website,” Mikail Yilmaz, an attorney for the complainants, said. He added that Aksu used “derogatory expressions” about Adam and Eve “in a way that could cause public outrage.”

Protesters also staged a rally outside her home in Istanbul while the hashtag #SezenAksuHaddiniBil (Sezen Aksu, know your place) went viral on Twitter, Daily Sabah reported, adding that more criminal complaints had been filed alleging insult to religious values. The violation reportedly carries a prison sentence of up to a year.

The Presidency of Religious Affairs (DIB) also issued a statement on Monday, warning “those speaking about exemplary personalities honored by Islam to be more careful.” Noting that Adam and Eve were mankind’s ancestors, the government body stated that “any careless attitude toward such religious figures is disrespect in the slightest sense.”

READ MORE: K-pop star condemned for failing to kneel in South Korea

Meanwhile, Mustafa Acikgoz, a lawmaker with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK), slammed Aksu on Twitter for attacking Turkey’s values “under the guise of arts and music,” while prominent cleric Ahmet Mahmut Unlu reportedly called her “an ignorant person who doesn’t know about God’s word.”

Aksu has not commented on the issue yet, but other artists have defended her. Popular singer Mustafa Sandal called her one of the country’s “most important poets.”


Poll reveals how many Americans think country on ‘wrong track’

40% of respondents gave Biden’s performance an ‘F’ grade

More than two-thirds of voting Americans agree President Joe Biden has taken the US down the wrong track, a new poll conducted a year into his presidency has revealed.

The results showed some 68% of respondents thought the country was going in the wrong direction, while 32% suggested it was headed the right way. Conducted over the weekend by Morning Consult and Politico, the poll surveyed 2,005 registered voters.

More than half of respondents (56%) disapprove of the job Biden is doing in the White House, with 40% disapproving strongly. 

While 40% in total approve of his performance, only 16% “strongly” approve, while 4% lack an opinion on the matter.

Read more

One year of Biden: Are we better off?

Asked what grade they would give Biden, 40% said he got an ‘F’, while only 6% gave him an ‘A’ and 14% gave him a ‘B’. 

When questioned about their primary concerns, 42% pointed to the economy as their chief issue, with security issues coming in second at 14%. Inflation has driven up prices for everything from food staples to fuel and building materials in recent months – and 59% of respondents indicated that Biden’s policies were either “very responsible” or “somewhat responsible.

Healthcare and aging-related issues like Medicare and Social Security both drew the attention of 11% of voters, while energy and education trailed at 5% each.

A majority (47%) also suggested they would trust Republicans in Congress more than Democrats (34%), while 19% had no opinion. Democrats have a slim majority in the House and a single-vote lead (cast by Vice President Kamala Harris) in the Senate, meaning losing just one seat could upend the current balance of power.

When judged on his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, Biden received low marks from voters, with 44% ranking his performance as “poor.” Both Congress and White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci were rated “poor” by 32% of respondents.

Biden’s approval ratings cratered last year as he failed to deliver on his chief campaign promise of “shutting down” the Covid-19 epidemic. The number of coronavirus deaths has soared in recent months as the Omicron variant has swept across the nation despite the availability of vaccines.