Facebook restricts EU users’ access to RT and Sputnik

Facebook’s parent company will throttle European users’ access to Russian state media

Social media behemoth Meta will restrict access to Russian state-backed media outlets on its Facebook and Instagram platforms throughout Europe, the company’s vice president Nick Clegg announced Monday, citing “requests from a number of governments.”

“Given the exceptional nature of the current situation, we will be restricting access to RT and Sputnik across the EU at this time,” Clegg tweeted, vowing to continue to “work closely” with governments on the matter.

The ban comes just days after Facebook barred Russian state media outlets from monetizing on its platform anywhere in the world, citing the attack on Ukraine and declining a request by Russian authorities to discontinue the deployment of biased fact-checking and warning labels on Ukraine-related content. Moscow responded by partially restricting access to the platform in Russia.

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© Jaap Arriens / NurPhoto via Getty Images
EU to ban RT and Sputnik

Facebook is one of several social networks that has pledged to squelch Russian media amid the ongoing offensive in Ukraine. On Sunday, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen vowed to block Russian state-owned media transmissions across the EU, announcing “we are developing tools to ban their toxic and harmful disinformation in Europe.”

EU officials have also spoken with the CEOs of Google and its subsidiary YouTube, requesting the social media platforms step up their efforts to block access to Russian state media. Google and YouTube demonetized Russian state channels over the weekend, but the EU has insisted this is not sufficient, arguing for a ban on the content itself, which it has denounced as “war propaganda.”

Twitter, which already warns users when they are looking at Russian state-backed media, announced on Monday that it would add warning labels to tweets sharing content from such outlets, even if the poster is not a Russian state-owned media account.

READ MORE: RT responds to Ofcom investigations

Offending tweets now carry an orange exclamation point alerting the user that “This Tweet links to a Russia state-affiliated media website.” The new label will not be applied to RT, Sputnik or other media already carrying the “state-affiliated media” scarlet letter. However, tweets sharing content allegedly affiliated with the Russian state will not appear on the platform’s “top search” function.


US expels diplomats from Russia’s UN mission

Moscow’s envoy to the UN gets notice of 12 more staffers being expelled while holding a press conference

US-Russia diplomatic relations have deteriorated further, as Washington ordered the expulsion of 12 staffers who work at Moscow’s mission to the United Nations in New York on Monday.

Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, interrupted a press conference on Monday as his office notified him of the expulsions. He said US officials had delivered a letter saying that 12 Russian diplomats had been declared persona non grata and would have to leave the country by March 7.

“The US authorities have undertaken another hostile action against the Russian mission to the United Nations, grossly violating the commitments of the host country agreement that they undertook,” Nebenzia said.

The notice came less than one week after Washington expelled the second-ranking diplomat at Moscow’s embassy in Washington, Sergey Trepelkov. The US State Department attributed that move to Russia’s “unprovoked” expulsion of the deputy chief of mission from Washington’s embassy in Moscow.

The US expelled 27 Russian diplomats and their families late last year, demanding that they leave the country by January 30. Ambassador Anatoly Antonov said at the time that the embassy was facing a severe staffing shortage. Before that, Russia had nearly 200 diplomats working in the US, including Moscow’s mission to the UN.

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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

Nebenzia told reporters that he didn’t know the reason, if any, cited by the US for the latest expulsions because he hadn’t seen the letter himself. Nor was he able to identify the diplomats who were ordered to leave.

A spokeswoman for the US mission to the UN told Reuters that the Russians who were expelled had been “engaging in espionage activities that are adverse to our national security.” She added that the expulsions have been in the works for several months, suggesting the move wasn’t driven by tensions over the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Nebenzia called the order “sad news,” and “another demonstration of gross disrespect of the host country agreement.”


Ukraine goes visa-free for foreign fighters

Kiev suspends entry requirements for anyone who wants to enlist its foreign legion

Foreigners who wish to travel to Ukraine and join the International Legion to fight against Russia can do so without a visa starting March 1, President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on Monday amid the ongoing military offensive launched by Moscow.

Zelensky’s Order 82 establishes a visa-free regime for the duration of the current state of emergency, and instructs the Ukrainian government to begin its implementation immediately.

The only exception is made for citizens of the “aggressor state,” meaning that any Russian nationals who’d like to take Kiev’s side in the conflict are not welcome.

The Ukrainian president announced the establishment of the International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine – a separate unit composed entirely of foreign volunteers – on Sunday, in a speech in which he called the Russian offensive the “beginning of a war against Europe.”

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Kharkov, Ukraine, Feb. 26, 2022.
Zelensky invites foreigners to fight for Ukraine

“The leadership of Ukraine invites all foreigners who wish to join the resistance to the Russian occupiers and to protect world security to come to our state and to join the ranks of the Territorial Defense Forces,” Zelensky had said, inviting anyone who wishes to “stand side by side” with Ukrainians to do so.

Moscow ordered troops into Ukraine last week, in what President Vladimir Putin called a special operation to demilitarize and “denazify” the “regime” in Kiev. Zelensky has accused Russia of an unprovoked invasion. While the US, UK and the EU have taken Ukraine’s side and introduced sanctions against Russia, they have promised support in the form of weapons and ammunition – but not troops.


Hunter Biden’s partner gets prison sentence

Biden’s Burisma board colleague sentenced to prison for securities fraud

Devon Archer, a close friend and former business partner of President Joe Biden’s son Hunter, was sentenced on Monday for defrauding a Native American tribe. A federal judge in New York said Archer may go to prison for a year and a day, as well as serve one year of probation and forfeit $14 million in property.

Archer gained notoriety when it emerged he introduced Hunter Biden – his partner at Rosemont Seneca – to the Ukrainian gas company Burisma back in 2014.

Both Archer and Biden sat on Burisma’s board of directors for years, reportedly being paid over $83,000 a month.

Monday’s sentence is not related to the Ukrainian gas deals, however, but the June 2018 conviction for conspiracy and securities fraud, over Archer’s role in a bond scheme to defraud an Oglala Sioux tribe to the tune of tens of millions. 

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FIL PHOTO. Hunter Biden and Joe Biden attend an event organized by World Food Program USA. ©Teresa Kroeger / Getty Images
NYT digging into Hunter Biden’s business links – media

Archer and two other defendants conspired to have the Wakpamni Lake Community Corporation issue a series of tribal bonds and defrauded both the tribe and the buyers of the bonds while pocketing the profits, the court said in 2018. Archer and another defendant had used the bonds to meet capital requirements in broker deals, and used the profits to buy companies “as part of a strategy to build a financial services conglomerate,” according to the Department of Justice.

On Monday, Judge Ronnie Abrams said the crime was too serious to avoid prison time, but cut the sentence down from the 30 months requested by prosecutors, reportedly citing the Covid-19 pandemic as the reason. He also ordered a one-year probation rather than the requested three years. The US government may also seize up to $14 million in assets owned by Archer as restitution to the tribe.

Abrams also gave Archer 60 days to report to prison, but then said he would set a new surrender date pending appeal.

Archer has appealed the sentence all the way to the US Supreme Court, without success. In November 2021, it emerged that Archer had requested – and Judge Abrams had granted – permission to go on over 40 international trips since his indictment and even conviction.


Amazon’s Alexa offers healthcare

Virtual assistant to provide remote touch-free healthcare services

Amazon has announced its Echo devices, powered by the Alexa AI virtual assistant, can put customers in touch with doctors hands-free via the telemedicine company Teladoc. The company will offer voice-activated medical care at all hours, a Monday press release revealed. 

Concerned users need only state “Alexa, I want to talk to a doctor” in the vicinity of their Echo, Echo Dot, or Echo Show device to be hooked up with a Teladoc call center. They can then share their symptoms, though the consultation won’t necessarily be free. Virtual “visits” – audio-only for now, though Teladoc has promised video visits are “coming soon” – will cost $75 for the uninsured. The consultations are available for non-emergency services only, and customers must already have an Alexa voice ID.

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A question we will all be asking ourselves soon enough. © Global Look Press / Andrei Solokow
Amazon's Alexa now offering to diagnose coronavirus in happy marriage of Big Tech with Big Brother

Amazon has offered medical services to its employees since 2019 with its “Amazon Care” program, which connects patients with doctors and sends professionals to users’ homes if necessary, and the program has since expanded to cover non-employees, offering in-home visits as well as telehealth services.

The Alexa personal assistant has also deployed medical advice courtesy of WebMD since 2017, and Amazon even operates a prescription delivery service, offering its Prime members “unlimited” two-day delivery on all the pills they can pop. 

However, the Alexa option omits the cumbersome step of actually having to place a phone call, log into a computer interface, or otherwise expend physical effort in order to speak to a doctor.

READ MORE: 'Alexa, who's eavesdropping on me?' 1000s of humans reportedly audit 'snippets' from Amazon devices

A Teladoc spokesperson has promised Amazon will not be able to access, store, or record the content of any Alexa consultations. The virtual assistant is infamous for its propensity to “accidentally” eavesdrop on clients when it’s supposed to be dormant, and using humans to hone its voice-recognition services without customers’ knowledge. Those humans have been caught passing around particularly choice recordings, and some snippets have even been requested by courts as evidence.


Biden comments on nuclear war fears

US president says Americans shouldn’t worry about a potentially catastrophic conflict with Russia amid Ukraine tensions

President Joe Biden has shrugged off fears that tensions between Washington and Moscow over the Ukraine crisis will escalate into nuclear war, denying that Americans have any reason to be concerned about risks of such a conflict.

Asked by a reporter whether Americans should be worried about nuclear war, Biden curtly replied, “No.” The question came at a spontaneous moment while Biden and First Lady Jill Biden were walking by a group of journalists on Monday during a Black History Month event at the White House.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday put his country’s deterrence forces – including nuclear weapons – on highest alert. Moscow said the move was made at least partly in response to comments by UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who told Sky News that unless Putin was stopped in Ukraine, other countries in Eastern Europe would come under threat, leading to a conflict with NATO.

“Statements were made by various representatives at various levels on possible altercations, or even collisions and clashes, between NATO and Russia,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday. “We believe that such statements are absolutely unacceptable.”

READ MORE: Russia blames UK FM for elevated nuclear alert


Ukraine lodges formal EU membership bid

The bloc’s top officials, however, showed a mixed reaction to the idea

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a formal EU membership bid on Monday amid the military offensive launched by Russia in the country.

“Our goal is to be with all Europeans and, most importantly, to be equal. I’m sure that’s fair. I am sure we deserve it,” Zelensky said in a video address shared on social media, urging the “immediate accession of Ukraine via a new special procedure” into the bloc.

The president claimed the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine is “fighting not only for our country, but for all of Europe,” as well as purportedly “for peace for all.”

Ukraine’s potential ascension into the EU has been a favorite talking point of pro-western politicians in the country for decades now. The 2014 Maidan protests – which ultimately resulted in a coup overthrowing the country’s democratically-elected government and led to years of conflict with the breakaway regions in the east – largely revolved around EU aspirations as well. Still, Kiev made little to no actual progress in achieving its proclaimed goal over the years.

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Vasily Nebenzya, Permanent Representative of Russia to the United Nations speaks during a special session of the General Assembly at the United Nations headquarters on on February 28, 2022 in New York City. © Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images
No plans to occupy Ukraine, Russia tells UN

The renewed drive to join the EU has been met with apparent skepticism by the top officials of the bloc, who pointed out that no fast-track ascension procedure even exists. The process routinely takes years to come to fruition, while a potential member has to meet assorted criteria to join, political and economical alike.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, for instance, said that while Ukraine is regarded as a part of the “house of Europe,” its potential ascension was not something that could be done in a couple of months.

“And it’s not that we woke up in a different world just now because the European Union has always been a house whose doors were open,” Baerbock said, adding that accepting Kiev into the bloc would not mean the latter seeks to sever the country from Russia.

EU top diplomat Josep Borrell provided even a longer time frame for a potential ascension of Ukraine, stating that any membership bid could take “a lot of years.”

Some leaders of the EU members, however, appeared to be more welcoming towards Kiev’s aspirations. Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said the bloc needed to show a clear sign to Ukraine that it was welcome, while his Slovenian counterpart, Janez Jansa, expressed his “full support” towards a speedier ascension procedure for Kiev.


US sends delegation to Taiwan amid ‘invasion’ fears

The trip by former Pentagon and national security figures is a show of support for the island claimed by Beijing

US President Joe Biden on Monday sent a group of former military and national security figures to Taiwan, where they will meet with officials, including President Tsai Ing-wen. The trip comes amid concerns in the US that Beijing may be enticed to invade the island having observed the US’ unwillingness to commit troops to Ukraine.

The visit was initially reported by Reuters and confirmed shortly afterwards by Taiwanese diplomats. Taiwan’s embassy in the US said the trip is “a sign that relations between Taipei and Washington remain ‘rock-solid’!”

Led by former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, the delegation includes Meghan O'Sullivan, a former deputy national security advisor in George W. Bush’s administration, and Michele Flournoy, a former under secretary of defense under Barack Obama. Former National Security Council officials Mike Green and Evan Medeiros also traveled with the group.

The team is expected to arrive in Taipei on Tuesday, and meet with President Tsai on Wednesday.

A similar trip took place under Biden’s direction last April, when a group of former lawmakers and diplomats traveled to Taiwan to assure Taipei that Washington would support the island nation’s defense. While the government in Beijing insists that Taiwan belongs to China, the US has unofficially supported Taiwanese independence, supplying weapons to Taipei even while recognizing China’s claim to the island.

The US is not party to any binding security treaties with Taiwan, and has never pledged to defend the island with force. This non-committal position, coupled with the US’ refusal to commit troops to Ukraine in response to Russia’s military offensive there last week, has led to speculation in the US media that Beijing may be considering “an invasion.”

In an interview last week, former President Donald Trump claimed that China would “absolutely” move on Taiwan during Biden’s presidency.

While there are no signs that such a move is in the works, Taiwan has accused the Chinese military of probing its air defense zone with jets last week. 

Speaking to Reuters, an unnamed US official declined to link the delegation’s trip with any increased threat, saying that it instead represented Biden’s “broader commitment to Taiwan.”


Pentagon blames ‘fat finger mistake’ for reposting Tucker Carlson’s Ukraine take

The US defense chief’s account retweeted a screenshot of the Fox News host’s comment on the Russian military deployments

No, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin hasn’t come over to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s side on Ukraine policy. The Pentagon has deleted a Twitter post in which the defense chief’s account mistakenly shared a Fox News screenshot that appeared to defend Moscow’s motives in massing troops near Ukraine in December.

“It was a fat finger mistake by one of our social media guys,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told media outlet Politico on Monday. “He undid it immediately.”

However, the post lives on as a screenshot of the apparently inadvertent retweet from Austin’s account. The photo in question was from December, when Fox host Tucker Carlson defended Putin’s controversial deployment of military forces near Ukraine’s borders. A caption at the bottom said, “Putin just wants to keep his western border secure.”

Like other US officials, the secretary of defense warned for weeks of a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine. For instance, Austin earlier this month likened Russia’s military to a snake that was uncoiling and preparing to strike Ukraine. He told ABC News that Russia’s deployments near Ukraine were “not a bluff,” and an invasion could happen “any day.”

READ MORE: Ukraine won’t get any US combat troops, Pentagon says



Putin slams West’s ‘empire of lies’

Russia’s president has criticized the West as the country faces a new massive wave of sanctions

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called the West an “empire of lies,” responding to a new wave of sanctions that hit the country over its special military operation in neighboring Ukraine.

Speaking to top government officials on Monday, he said: “I invited you to discuss economic and financial issues … bearing in mind the sanctions that the so-called Western community — an empire of lies, as I called it in my address — is trying to implement against our country.”

The “empire of lies” term was coined by Russia’s president last Thursday, when he announced the launch of the offensive in Ukraine. Since the US is a “system-forming power,” the whole collective West has become such an “empire,” he said then.

“By the way, American politicians, political scientists, and journalists themselves write and say that, in recent years, an actual ‘empire of lies’ has been created inside the United States. It’s hard to disagree with that, as it’s true,” Putin stated.

All [the US] satellites not only dutifully agree, sing along to its music, but also copy its behavior, and enthusiastically accept the rules they are offered. Therefore, with good reason, we can confidently say that the entire so-called Western bloc, formed by the United States in its own image and likeness, all of it is an ‘empire of lies.’

Russia’s operation in Ukraine has become the only option left to prevent further bloodshed in the country and stop Kiev from trying to launch an all-out assault on the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Lugansk in the country’s east, the Kremlin has explained. Ahead of the offensive, Moscow formally recognized the People’s Republics there as independent states.

READ MORE: London takes back 'Putin regime change' claim

Kiev, however, claimed the attack was “unprovoked,” insisting it has had zero plans to retake the breakaway regions by force. Donetsk and Lugansk split from Ukraine back in 2014 following the Maidan coup, which ousted the democratically-elected government of the country. While active, large-scale combat ended with the 2014-15 Minsk agreements, the roadmap out of the crisis the deal had provided was never implemented, with the republics enduring years of low-intensity warfare that left thousands of people dead.


Bulgarian defense minister fired over Ukraine comments

Sofia’s military chief has been sacked for calling Russia’s conflict in Ukraine a ‘military intervention’ rather than a ‘war’

Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov has fired defense chief Stefan Yanev over his word choices in describing the Russia-Ukraine conflict, calling the situation a “military intervention” or an “operation” rather than a “war.”

“My defense minister cannot use the word operation instead of the word war,” Petkov told reporters on Monday. “You cannot call it an operation when thousands of soldiers from the one and the other side are already killed.”

The prime minister added that “the Bulgarian interest is not in bending our heads down.” Rather, “When we see something we do not agree with, something so obvious, we cannot keep quiet.”

All four parties in Bulgaria’s ruling coalition agreed to call for Yanev’s resignation, Petkov noted. A new defense minister – reportedly Todor Tagarev, who held the position in 2013 – will be appointed in an extraordinary session of Parliament that will be held on Tuesday.

The firing came in reaction to a Facebook post by Yanev. Commenting on the Russia-Ukraine crisis, the defense minister warned against using the word “war.” He said there was no need for Bulgaria to side with Russia, the US, or European allies in the conflict, adding, “Our suffering motherland does not deserve to be sacrificed in the game of the great powers.”

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File photo: US Army Lt. Col. Steven Templeton of the 4th Infantry Division, fires a machine gun at Novo Selo Training Range, Bulgaria, December 14, 2018.
Bulgaria insists it’s a loyal NATO ally, but won’t send troops to Ukraine

Petkov chided him for the post, saying, “No minister can attempt to do foreign policymaking on his own, especially on Facebook.” Yanev argued that he was being targeted for removal so the government could install a defense minister who will be more willing to serve foreign interests, in some cases at the expense of Bulgaria’s security.

Bulgaria was for long a close ally of Russia and was a Soviet satellite as a member of the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War. However, the country joined NATO in 2004 and became part of the European Union in 2007. Petkov has said that standing in solidarity with Western allies is the best way to ensure Bulgaria’s security.

Moscow last week closed its airspace to flights from Bulgaria, after the Balkan country blocked Russian air carriers from its territory in response to the attack on Ukraine.


Ex-SAS soldier testifies to atrocities committed in Afghanistan

Soldier kicked unarmed Afghan man off cliff before ordering him shot - witness

An Australian special forces soldier has testified to atrocities committed by his comrade as part of an unfolding defamation lawsuit against several Australian media outlets. Ben Roberts-Smith allegedly kicked an unarmed, handcuffed man off a cliff before ordering his subordinates to finish him off, a former colleague listed in court records as “Person 4” revealed in court on Monday.

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FILE PHOTO. Australian Army personnel carry the coffin of Trooper David Pearce from the Cathedral of Saint Stephen in Brisbane, 17 October 2007. © AFP / Eddie SAFARIK.
‘We were fighting & in danger. To now say that’s a war crime makes me really angry’ – is Aussie SAS killer a hero or a villain?

I saw the individual’s face strike a large rock and sustain a serious injury. It knocked out a number of his teeth including his front teeth,” the unnamed SAS fighter told a federal court after describing how Roberts-Smith allegedly kicked the unarmed man off a cliff. He ultimately ordered his underlings to drag the “severely injured” man under a tree and shoot him dead, the man testified.

The grisly execution allegedly took place in the village of Darwan on September 11, 2012 following a failed attempt to hunt down a “rogue Afghan soldier” named Hekmatullah who had supposedly killed three Australians. As the SAS came up empty-handed, they found the alleged victim, a visiting farmer named Ali Jan, and arrested him. Roberts-Smith and another servicemember manhandled him down a cliff, where he fell and hit a “large rock,” sustaining “serious facial injury,” according to Person 4.

Person 4 heard shooting and turned around to see the Afghan farmer had been killed; Roberts-Smith then allegedly asked the witness for his camera in order to photograph the dead man with a type of radio used by Afghan insurgents to communicate - a radio Person 4 claimed the farmer had not been carrying “to [his] knowledge” but had come from another man killed by Roberts-Smith previously.

The narrative emerged as Roberts-Smith has sued multiple Australian media outlets, including the Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, and the Canberra Times. The former soldier accused the media of defaming him with wrongful accusations of war crimes and other acts of wrongdoing - from bullying and domestic violence to murder.

READ MORE: US Afghanistan watchdog predicted air force’s collapse months in advance

Roberts-Smith has denied all charges. “There was no cliff…there was no kick,” he told the court last July, insisting the dead man had been an enemy “spotter” killed for legitimate reasons. Person 4, who has been challenged regarding his refusal to testify about another incident in which he was seen “standing over a dead Afghan prisoner” after another witness heard shots fired, will be cross-examined on Tuesday. 

An ongoing investigation into war crimes allegedly committed by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, based on the Brereton report, which found enough “credible information” to implicate 25 Australian Defense Force members in the illegal killing of 39 Afghan individuals, has been delayed following the collapse of the Afghan government. While the Taliban could be reasonably expected to cooperate with such an inquiry, the reluctance of other countries to recognize the Islamic militant group as a legitimate governing body is expected to hinder the proceedings. 


RT responds to Ofcom investigations

London going after anyone outside its “echo chamber,” says RT’s deputy editor-in-chief

The British media regulator’s investigations of RT’s news programs are part of political pressure on any outlet that exists outside the “echo chamber” of approved narratives, RT's deputy editor in chief and head of communications, Anna Belkina, said on Monday. 

Though Ofcom is nominally independent, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson last Wednesday accused RT of “peddling” material that is “doing a lot of damage to the truth” and called for Ofcom to investigate the channel.

“We are not surprised by the announcement of Ofcom investigations, nor can we possibly divorce this action from the immense political pressure that had been placed on what is supposed to be an entirely independent regulator by the politicians both within and outside of the UK,” said Belkina.

“What we have witnessed over the last few days, be it comments from the President of the EU Commission or from the UK PM Boris Johnson, is that none of them had pointed to a single example, a single grain of evidence that what RT has reported over these days, and continues to report, is not true. Instead, what they have said is that the honest information that RT brings to its audience is simply not allowed in their supposedly free media environment. When it comes to the Russian voice, or just a different perspective from theirs, it is not allowed to exist in their space.

“This collective Western establishment seems to be terrified of a mere presence of any outside voice for the fear of losing their historically captive audience, if that audience encounters a different perspective. Yet what they fail to realise is that it is their own echo chamber that seeds the public mistrust that they have so long lamented. They will reap what they sow.”


Russian football chiefs respond to UEFA & FIFA suspension

The Russian Football Union (RFU) has reacted after UEFA and FIFA banned all Russian teams from their competitions

The Russian Football Union (RFU) says it reserves the right challenge the decision by governing bodies FIFA and UEFA to suspend Russian teams from all their competitions due to the ongoing military campaign in Ukraine.

In a joint statement on Monday, FIFA and UEFA announced that no Russian teams at club or international level would take part in their tournaments “until further notice.”

The RFU has decried the step as “discriminatory” and says it will harm “millions of Russian and foreign fans.”

“The Russian Football Union categorically disagrees with the decision of FIFA and UEFA to suspend all Russian teams from participating in international matches for an indefinite period,” read a statement on the RFU website.

“We believe that this decision is contrary to the norms and principles of international competition, as well as the spirit of sports.

“It has an obvious discriminatory character and harms a huge number of sportspeople, coaches, employees of clubs and national teams, and most importantly, millions of Russian and foreign fans, whose interests international sports organizations must protect first of all.

“Such actions divide the international sports community, which has always adhered to the principles of equality, mutual respect and independence from politics.

“We reserve the right to challenge the decision of FIFA and UEFA in accordance with international sports law,” it added.

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© Mike Kireev / NurPhoto via Getty Images
FIFA and UEFA suspend all Russian teams

Among other things, the decision from UEFA and FIFA means that the Russian men’s national team is set to miss out on the chance to qualify for this year’s World Cup in Qatar.

Russia had been due to play Poland in a semifinal playoff in Moscow on March 24, before meeting either Sweden or the Czech Republic in the Russian capital later that month.

However, all three nations had refused to play Russia in light of the military operation launched by Moscow in Ukraine.

FIFA had initially said Russia must play home matches at a neutral venue without fans, and without the country’s flag or anthem.

Monday’s decision has gone much further by banning Russian teams altogether, and follows recommendations earlier in the day from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for Russian and Belarusian athletes not to be allowed to compete in international competitions across all sports.   

READ MORE: Olympic officials recommend total ban on Russia and Belarus


No plans to occupy Ukraine, Russia tells UN

Moscow seeks to “demilitarize and denazify” Kiev, ambassador tells the UN General Assembly

Russia seeks to save lives in the Donbass and punish those responsible for eight years of genocide and atrocities, Moscow’s envoy to the UN Vasily Nebenzia told the General Assembly during a session called to denounce the invasion of Ukraine.

“Occupation of Ukraine is not part of our plans. The purpose of this special operation is to protect people, who have been subjected to abuse and genocide by the Kiev regime for the past eight years. This is why it’s necessary to demilitarize and de-nazify Ukraine,” Nebenzia said.

As one example of “ghastly crimes” committed by the government in Kiev, the Russian envoy cited the murder of people protesting the US-backed coup in Kiev, when 40 people were burned alive in a building in Odessa. Moscow is seeking to bring to justice anyone who committed such atrocities, “including Russian citizens,” Nebenzia said.

Russia is defending itself from a “regime” which “aspires to gain access to nuclear weapons,” the UN envoy added, noting the statement of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to that effect at the Munich Security Conference on February 18. 

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The facade of 10 Downing Street is lit up with the colors of Ukraine's flag, in London, Britain on February 24, 2022.
London takes back 'Putin regime change' claim

Rather than violating the underlying principles of the UN, as critics have accused Russia of doing, Nebenzia argued the military operation is actually ensuring the key principle is upheld – to prevent another world war.

NATO’s placement of military assets in Ukraine would have forced Russia to take measures that would have put Moscow and the alliance “on the brink of conflict,” he said.

Ukraine and its Western backers have accused Russia of unprovoked aggression and dismissed accusations of genocide and atrocities in the two breakaway regions of Donetsk and Lugansk.

“Everyone knows that Russia and Russia alone started this invasion,” said Kiev’s ambassador to the UN Sergiy Kyslytsya. 

The UN General Assembly is meeting at the request of the US, which last week submitted a joint resolution with Albania to condemn Russia at the UN Security Council, where it was vetoed by Moscow.


Putin stripped of honorary taekwondo black belt

The World Taekwondo Federation had presented the item to Putin in 2013

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been stripped of his honorary taekwondo black belt by the World Taekwondo Federation.

Putin was awarded the prestigious item by the federation's chief, Choue Chung-won, and was also made a grandmaster of the martial art during a November 2013 visit to South Korea, where taekwondo originated. 

The World Taekwondo Federation announced the decision in a statement and said that it strongly condemned Russia's military operation in Ukraine, which it said goes "against the World Taekwondo vision of 'Peace is More Precious than Triumph' and the World Taekwondo values of respect and tolerance".

"In this regard, World Taekwondo has decided to withdraw the honorary 9th dan black belt conferred to Mr. Vladimir Putin in November 2013," it continued.

"In solidarity with the International Olympic Committee, no Russian or Belarusian national flags or anthems will be displayed or played at World Taekwondo events," the statement added, while announcing that neither itself nor the European Taekwondo Union will organize or recognize taekwondo events in the two countries moving forward. 

"World Taekwondo’s thoughts are with the people of Ukraine," the federation concluded, saying that it hoped for a "peaceful and immediate end" to the conflict.

The World Taekwondo Federation's decision to strip Putin of the honorary black belt is a second personal sporting snub for the leader in recent days.

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Vladimir Putin (third from right) watches judo in Tokyo in 2016 © Toru Yamanaka – Pool / Getty Images
Judo chiefs make Putin decision

On Sunday, The International Judo Federation (IJF) suspended Putin from his role as its Honorary President and Ambassador, a position which he had held since 2008.

A black belt in that sport too, Putin was a regional champion in his hometown St. Petersburg as a youth, the IJF website says, and also made an instructional DVD named 'Let's Learn Judo with Vladimir Putin' in addition to a book on the discipline distributed to millions of schoolchildren.

The IJF has also canceled this year's Grand Slam scheduled for Kazan in May, but Putin has not yet responded to these measures or those from the World Taekwondo Federation.

Elsewhere on Monday, global and European football bodies FIFA and UEFA banned all Russian teams from international competitions, while the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has similarly made calls for all athletes from Russia and Belarus to be prevented from participating at international events.


Airbnb to house Ukrainian refugees

Rental platform will offer short-term housing to up to 100,000 people leaving Ukraine

Airbnb announced on Monday that it will offer “free, short-term housing” for refugees fleeing conflict in Ukraine. The platform's efforts will focus on Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Romania, and could extend to providing longer-term accommodation.

Airbnb announced the move in a blog post, stating that it would be funded by Airbnb itself, donors to the company’s refugee fund, and hosts offering their properties up for free through Airbnb.org, a nonprofit founded by the short-stay firm.

The move is not unprecedented for Airbnb, which has provided accommodation for Afghan, Syrian, and Venezuelan refugees over the past five years, to people affected by natural disasters, and to healthcare workers during the initial weeks and months of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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FILE PHOTO. A road in Kiev. ©Mohammad Javad Abjoushak / SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Russian military offers 'safe passage' for evacuation from Kiev

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi claimed on Monday that some 500,000 refugees have left Ukraine since Russia launched a military offensive last week. Most of those fleeing have been women and children, on account of Ukrainian authorities ordering military-aged men to stay and fight.

Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova have taken most of the refugees, Grandi said. Reports also suggest that some have crossed into Belarus, where the government is supporting Russia’s Ukrainian operation.

Ukrainian and Russian officials met in Gomel, Belarus on Monday for tentative peace talks. Following negotiations, delegations from each side returned to their capitals, with Kremlin negotiator Vladimir Medinsky saying they had agreed to a second round of discussions later this week.

Meanwhile in Ukraine, fighting continues. Russian forces have engaged Ukrainian troops and militias in the cities of Kharkov and Mariupol, as well as on the outskirts of Kiev. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that the aim of the operation is to neutralize and “de-Nazify” Ukraine, while Moscow’s foreign policy has for decades aimed to block Ukraine’s accession to the NATO alliance.


US views on mask mandates are shifting

Support for compulsory face coverings declines as Americans become less fearful of catching Covid-19, poll shows

As their fears of catching Covid-19 fade, Americans are becoming less inclined to think that their fellow citizens should be forced to wear masks in public places, a new poll has revealed.

About 50% of Americans favor requiring face coverings in public, down from 55% last August, according to a poll conducted by the Associated Press and the University of Chicago’s NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The latest result marks a strong shift from the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, when about 75% of respondents agreed with compulsory mask-wearing.

However, even in the February AP/NORC survey, 77% of Democrats still favored mask mandates, and 16% were neutral. Just 7% said they opposed forcing people to wear face coverings, compared with 53% of Republicans.

Most US states have ended their mask mandates. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last Friday said Covid-19 risks are high enough in only about 28% of the country to make face coverings necessary.

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The shift in attitudes about mask rules appears to correlate with a similar slide in virus fears. Just 24% of Americans are now “extremely” or “very” worried about themselves or a family member being infected with Covid-19, down from 36% when the Omicron variant was spreading rapidly in December and January, according to the poll, which was released on Monday.

Covid-19 anxiety is at the lowest level in eight months. Just 13% of unvaccinated Americans have strong concerns about contracting the virus, while 28% of people who’ve been inoculated said they are extremely or very worried.

Concerns over infectious diseases in general also have waned. The poll showed that 48% of Americans are extremely or very worried about disease outbreaks threatening the US, down from 65% last August. Disease concerns are near the same level seen just before the Covid-19 pandemic.


FIFA and UEFA suspend all Russian teams

The ruling means that Russia's men's team is set to be denied the chance to qualify for the 2022 World Cup

Football governing bodies FIFA and UEFA have banned all Russian teams from their competitions until further notice, as the two organizations issued a joint statement on Monday.

"FIFA and UEFA have today decided together that all Russian teams, whether national representative teams or club teams, shall be suspended from participation in both FIFA and UEFA competitions until further notice," read a statement.

"These decisions were adopted today by the Bureau of the FIFA Council and the Executive Committee of UEFA, respectively the highest decision-making bodies of both institutions on such urgent matters.

"Football is fully united here and in full solidarity with all the people affected in Ukraine. Both Presidents hope that the situation in Ukraine will improve significantly and rapidly so that football can again be a vector for unity and peace amongst people."

In a separate statement, UEFA announced that it had ended its partnership with Russian energy company Gazprom "with immediate effect." 

FIFA had earlier been in advanced talks regarding Russian teams after Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic refused to play against Russia in an upcoming men's World Cup qualifying semi-final and potential final in Moscow on March 24 and March 29.

On Sunday, the world football governing body had determined that Russian teams must play at neutral venues amid Russia's military operation in Ukraine, and that Russian national teams would have to perform under a 'Football Union of Russia' banner without fans and the use of their flag or national anthem.

However, with Monday's decision, FIFA and UEFA have gone beyond those measures and have now excluded Russia and its club teams entirely from all their tournaments until further notice, which seems certain to bar the men's team from contention for qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

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© Joosep Martinson / UEFA via Getty Images
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The ban also means that, as things stand, the Russian women's national team would be ruled out of competing at Euro 2022.

Unlike the men's team, who had a tough road ahead in having to first beat Poland and then either Sweden or the Czech Republic to reach the FIFA World Cup, Russia's women have already qualified for the UEFA Euro showpiece in England, which they were due to kick off by facing Switzerland in a Group C clash on July 9.

Last week, UEFA announced that it was moving the 2022 men's Champions League final from St. Petersburg to Paris.