European, US leaders race to defuse Ukraine crisis
The high-stakes diplomacy over Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine continued as European and US leaders raced to defuse an escalating standoff that officials warn could lead to a barrage of Russian missile and bomb attacks on Ukraine within days. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz travelled to Kyiv on Monday and will visit Moscow today, after weekend talks between President Biden and President Putin – and separate discussions between the Russian leader and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron — again failed to yield a diplomatic breakthrough. Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio will today leave for a mission to Kiev and then reach Moscow, where he will meet his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. Worried about the speculation of a war in Europe, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said the price in human suffering, destruction and damage to European and global security was too high to even contemplate.
Scholz: ‘Kiev’s entry into NATO is not on the agenda’
In a media conference in Kiev, German Chancellor Scholz clarified that “Ukraine’s entry into NATO is not on the agenda” and Ukrainian President Zelensky warned: “It is a serious mistake to move embassy staff from Kiev”. However, Zelensky said entry into NATO “would guarantee our security”. He also referred to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, stating it was “a Russian geopolitical weapon”.
‘Chance of agreement with the West’
Despite warnings from US, UK and elsewhere that Russian troops could move on Ukraine as early as tomorrow, in a carefully choreographed meeting Lavrov told President Putin “there is always a chance” to reach an agreement with the West. Exchanges with leaders in European capitals and Washington showed enough of an opening for progress on Russia’s goals to be worth pursuing, he told Putin. The talks “can’t go on indefinitely, but I would suggest to continue and expand them at this stage,” Lavrov said, noting that Washington has offered to conduct dialogue on limits for missile deployments in Europe, restrictions on military drills and other confidence-building measures. Lavrov said possibilities for talks “are far from being exhausted”.
‘There is still a diplomatic path’
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President Biden have agreed that “an opportunity remains” to resolve the crisis in Ukraine “with diplomacy”. Downing Street made this known after a phone call between the two leaders.
‘147,000 Russian units at the borders’
The Ukrainian Centre for Defence Strategies says that as of February 12, the total number of Russian troops along the borders of Ukraine, including those in Belarus and in the occupied territories of eastern Ukraine and Crimea, is 87 tactical groups, approximately 147,000 military personnel”. The centre estimates these troops are equipped with the appropriate weapons and vehicles, as well as logistical and medical support units. Meanwhile, CBS reports some Russian troops near the border with Ukraine have started to move into “attack positions”.
‘ECB will move on to inflation at the right time’
European Central Bank director Christine Lagarde has told the European Parliament the bank would guarantee price stability “by making the right decision at the right time”. She said monetary policy could not fill gas pipelines, speed up the container lines in ports or train new drivers to drive trucks, “but we are well aware that many citizens across the continent are worried about the rising cost of living”. Visiting Strasbourg for the ceremony marking the 20 years of the euro, Lagarde said the introduction of the currency was a milestone in the history of the EU, because “sharing a currency was being part of a common commitment. The euro has simplified the lives of many Europeans.”
Trudeau invokes emergency powers
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has invoked emergency powers to try to quell the protests by truck drivers and others who have paralysed Ottawa and blocked border crossings in anger over the country’s COVID-19 restrictions. Trudeau ruled out using the military. Members of the self-styled Freedom Convoy have blockaded various US-Canadian border crossings, though the busiest and most important, the Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor, Ontario, to Detroit, was reopened after police arrested the last demonstrators and broke the week-long siege that had disrupted auto production.
Wedding boom in Las Vegas
The number of people who want to get married in Las Vegas this year has registered a real boom with more than 80,000 marriage certificates expected to be reached. For the month of February, the estimates speak of “numbers that would be the greatest in recent years”. Registry employee Lynn Goya said Las Vegas is the wedding capital of the world as it is easy it is to get married in Clark County.
Snake re-routes Air Asia flight
A snake inside an overhead compartment has spread terror on a scheduled Air Asia flight between Kuala Lumpur and Borneo, forcing the pilot to re-route to remove the reptile. A video posted on TikTok, showing the silhouette of the reptile swaying in the cabin’s lit ceiling lights, has gone viral. The airline, which called the episode “exceptional”, said passengers were boarded on another flight to reach their final destination. On social networks, amused users referred to David Richard Ellis’ 2006 American thriller, “Snakes on a plane”. In 2019, a bat was discovered on a Spirit Airlines flight, locked up in the bathroom until landing to avoid causing panic on board. In 2016, on an Aeromexico plane bound for Mexico, a large snake on the ceiling wreaked havoc on passengers.