Russian warships cross Sicilian channel
The Ukrainian winds of war flow strongly into the Mediterranean. At the same time as the United States and Russia clashed during the first UN Security Council meeting, dedicated to the threat of an invasion in Ukraine, Russian warships crossed the Sicilian channel as part of their pre-announced naval exercises in the Mediterranean, giving rise to some concern. The six Russian ships left in mid-January from the North Sea ports of Severomorsk (North Fleet) and Baltijsk (Baltic Fleet). They are designed to transport and disembark around 60 tanks and over 1,500 soldiers. The fleet crossed Gibraltar and on Sunday began to cross the Sicilian channel. Some fear they are heading towards Crimea, on the border with Ukraine. In recent days, Moscow has launched exercises of all its fleets globally, coinciding with the increase in tensions with the West over the Ukrainian crisis.
NATO planes “spy” on Russian ships
Trying to alleviate fears, the Italian Defence Ministry stated the Russian formation was carrying out a “transit in international waters” and did not “violate the sovereignty of the riparian states”. NATO continues to follow the navigation of the group.
Russia-US clash at UN Security Council
There have been angry clashes between Russian and US envoys at the UN Security Council, after the US called a meeting to discuss Moscow’s troop build-up on its borders with Ukraine. US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Moscow’s actions “hit the heart of the UN Charter and are a clear threat to peace and security”. Her Russian counterpart, Vasily Nebenzya, while denying any intention of invasion, accused the Americans of “creating hysteria” and of using the “megaphone diplomacy” to “deceive the international community” with “groundless accusations”. He said Russia often deployed troops on its own territory and that this was none of Washington’s business. US President Joe Biden defined the UN meeting as “a crucial step in rallying the world to take a stand with one voice” against the use of force and in favour of dialogue. Denmark and Poland have said they were ready to send equipment and ammunition to Kiev, but Hungary has refused to welcome NATO troops for the emergency.
Moscow’s response to Washington
During the night, the Russian government sent a written response to the US proposal for the de-escalation of the Ukrainian crisis. The Washington Post quotes an unnamed American executive confirming they had received a written response from Russia, adding, “It would be unproductive to negotiate in public, so we will leave Russia to decide if they want to discuss their response.”
Diplomatic efforts continue
Meanwhile, diplomacy continues to weave its web in every direction. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to President Putin and later today flies to Kiev to meet Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. The French, German, Polish and Canadian foreign ministers, are expected to follow suit in the coming days. President Putin spoke by phone to French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be holding talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later today.
Johnson attacked after report finds ‘failure of leadership’
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has again faced calls from within his own party to resign after an inquiry into alleged rule-breaking in Number 10 and Whitehall found there had been “failures of leadership and judgment” under his watch. Sue Gray’s partygate report condemned a “serious failure” in Downing Street to observe coronavirus standards. Johnson accepted the civil servant’s findings and apologised, saying he was “sorry for the things we simply didn’t get right and also sorry for the way that this matter has been handled”. Pleading for his job, he told the House of Commons he would “learn from these events and act now” by implementing changes to improve the running of government. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer described Johnson as “a man without shame” who, had “damaged everything and everyone around him”.
Pope for “a free heath system”
Pope Francis has appealed to the Italian government to “continue with the free health system” because otherwise “the poor would have no right to anything”. Addressing members of the Italian tax authorities, the Revenue Agency, Francis said taxation was a sign of legality and justice, and “it must promote the redistribution of wealth, protecting the dignity of the poor, who always risk to end up crushed by the powerful”. He said the tax regime, when right, is in function of the common good.
Record cold kills homeless in streets of New Delhi
Record cold in India has led to homeless people dying in the streets of New Delhi. More than 47,000 homeless people are fighting for survival in the record cold of the past 10 years, which according to official sources has already killed at least 176 of them in January. This winter, temperatures dropped to between 2 and 10 degrees below the seasonal average, leading authorities to set up makeshift shelters.
Chinese New Year celebrations kick off
China and its diaspora have today kicked off week-long celebrations to mark the New Year, the Year of the Tiger. Over 70% of the most important viewpoints closed for COVID HAVE been re-opened in China and themed products and gadgets have seen a surge in sales. The tiger is the third of the 12 zodiac animals in China, along with the mouse, buffalo, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. In Chinese culture, the tiger symbolizes boldness, vigor and strength with which to ward off evil and bring luck and peace. The shopping malls of all Chinese cities are filled with toys, backpacks, jewellery, spring couplets, cookies and tiger-themed sweets.