“Russia ready for nuclear war” – Putin

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Thursday, 14th March 2024

Russian President Vladimir Putin has reiterated that his country will respond if there is a threat to its statehood, sovereignty, or independence. The blunt warning to the West comes ahead of a presidential vote this week that Putin is expected to win.

In a video address to the nation, Putin said it was up to Russian citizens to decide on the future of the country by participating in the next presidential elections. “Only you, Russian citizens, can decide on the future of the homeland,” he said, adding: “I would like to underline that the only source of power in our country is the people. This is the fundamental legal provision enshrined in the Russian Constitution”.

He also praised US President Joe Biden as a veteran politician who fully understands the possible dangers of escalation.

Moscow warns NATO: “War could spin out of control”

Russia has warned that the war in Ukraine could expand geographically and spin out of control because of the “provocative actions” of individual Nato nations. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Moscow felt the West was walking “on the edge of the abyss” and pushing the world closer to the chasm with its actions over Ukraine, in response to a question from the Reuters news agency. “This conflict is already underway, and has been going on for more than one year,” Zakharova said. “It’s not so much about the risks of this confrontation, but about the risks of an open, hot phase.” Zakharova also said the West should abandon the idea of strategically defeating Russia.

No sign Moscow wants to use nuclear power against Kiev

“There is no indication that Russia wants to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said on board Air Force One that she is taking Joe Biden to Milwaukee.

Moscow sends troops to border with Finland

President Putin said additional troops and weapons systems would be stationed on the country’s northwestern border with new Nato member Finland.  The announcement came as the Russian leader also warned that Moscow is technically ready for nuclear war. In an interview on Russian state television, Putin said Finland’s joining Nato was an “absolutely senseless step” that did not align with its national interests. Both Finland and Sweden applied for membership in the military alliance after Russia staged its all-out invasion of Ukraine more than two years ago. Both countries are now members.

Biggest NATO military exercise since Cold War starts off Norway

Some 90,000 troops are taking part in Nato’s largest military exercise for decades off the coast of Norway. The drills, which began on Sunday, come days after Sweden was officially welcomed into the alliance. A total of 13 Nato members – including the United States plus new additions Finland and Sweden – are taking part in the exercise, which has been codenamed ‘Steadfast Defender 24’. Collectively, up to 90,000 troops are involved, alongside more than 50 submarines, frigates, corvettes, aircraft carriers and amphibious vessels at sea. One hundred plus combat, maritime surveillance and transport aircraft are also taking part. Nato is conducting the exercise to show it is capable of defending all of its territory up to its borders with Russia.

EU agrees €5 billion boost in military aid for Ukraine

EU member states agreed Wednesday to provide Ukraine with an additional €5 billion in military aid. Belgium, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said ambassadors from the bloc’s 27 nations had agreed “in principle” on the plan to support arms supplies to Kyiv in 2024. The contribution of €5 billion will go on EU-managed fund called the European Peace Facility to support Ukraine as it fights Russia’s invasion. The fund operates as a giant cashback scheme, giving EU members refunds for sending munitions to other countries. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba welcomed the decision, calling it a “powerful and timely demonstration of European unity.” The boost in military funding from Europe comes as $60 billion in military aid from the United States is being blocked by Congressional deadlock. The EU decision on Wednesday comes a day after the White House announced a fresh $300 million weapons package for Ukraine as a stopgap measure on Tuesday. Some of the money in the European Peace Facility will be used to help finance a Czech initiative to buy hundreds of thousands of desperately-needed artillery shells from countries outside Europe.

Germany to host French, Polish leaders for talks on Ukraine

The leaders of France, Germany and Poland will tomorrow hold talks on Ukraine in Berlin aimed at helping organise further aid for Kiev. “In my opinion, these three capitals have the task and the power to mobilise all of Europe” to provide Ukraine with fresh aid, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk told state broadcaster TVP from Washington DC. Friday’s talks come as European countries rally support for Ukraine, which continues to need vast amounts of weapons and ammunition in its ongoing resistance of Russia’s invasion, now in its third year. “We must do everything we can to organise as much support as possible for Ukraine,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told a news conference in Berlin. Germany is Ukraine’s largest European provider of military aid, but Chancellor Scholz is holding back on providing long-range Taurus missiles to Ukraine, which could reach far into Russian territory. Ahead of Friday’s trilateral sit-down, which will include Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Chancellor Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron will have a bilateral meeting. The missile issue has been a source of tension between Scholz and Macron, who has urged allies not to be “cowards” in supporting Ukraine.

“US would support limited Israeli operation in Rafah”

US officials have relayed to Israeli counterparts that the Biden administration would support a limited operation in Gaza’s southernmost city, Rafah, that would prioritise “high-value” Hamas targets in and underneath the city and forgo a large-scale offensive, ‘Politico’ reports, citing four US officials. The US has opposed an Israeli offensive in Rafah without a plan to protect over a million displaced Gazans who have found refuge in the city. Other countries have also warned Israel against an invasion of Rafah. But unnamed officials tell Politico that in private meetings, top administration officials have told the Israelis that the US would back a strategy for “counterterrorism operations” in Rafah rather than full-scale war, like elsewhere in Gaza. An Israeli official tells the publication that some kind of offensive or operation in Gaza is inevitable.

Gallant hints at imminent Rafah operation

Earlier today, while on a visit to Gaza City, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant hinted that Israel would soon launch a ground operation in Rafah. “There is no safe place in Gaza for terrorists…Those who think that we are delaying will soon see that we will reach everyone,” he says. “We will bring to justice anyone who was involved in October 7 – either we will eliminate them or bring them to trial in Israel. There is no safe place, not here, not outside of Gaza, not anywhere across the Middle East – we will bring everyone to their place.” A Defence Department official tells Politico that the US has not picked up that an offensive on Rafah is imminent. “Israel is going to do what Israel decides to do. It’s kind of like trying to predict the weather,” the official adds. “But has the message sent been heard? Yes.”

Gaza aid port plans “sign of international weakness”, says Amnesty chief

Efforts to deliver aid to war-torn Gaza by constructing a seaport or through airdrops are a sign of international powerlessness to end the conflict, the head of Amnesty International said yesterday. Agnes Callamard, Amnesty’s secretary general, said nobody was holding Israel to account over the delays to deliveries by land. “The international community must be prepared to hold Israel to account… We’re not holding the stick that will allow for those violations to stop,” she said in Madrid. “So the airdrops, the construction of a port, are a sign of powerlessness and weakness on the part of the international community. Meanwhile, we continue to transfer weapons. That’s really unacceptable.” Her remarks came after Amnesty and 24 other humanitarian organisations issued a statement saying air drops and sea routes were “no alternative to aid delivery by land” as they could only provide a fraction of the assistance.

6 killed, 83 injured by Israeli forces’ gunfire

At least six people wee killed and 83 others were injured last night when Israeli forces fired on a gathering of citizens in Gaza city. Palestinian news agency Wafa reports that yesterday in different episodes, one person was killed in an Israeli raid on a house in the Jabalia refugee camp and two others died in a bombing that hit a vehicle in Rafah. The Palestinian death toll in the Gaza Strip since October 7 stands at 31,272 dead and 73,024 injured, according to the local Hamas-run Ministry of Health.

Israelis strike Gaza warehouse amid race for aid – UNRWA

The main UN aid agency in war-ravaged Gaza said an Israeli strike yesterday hit one of its warehouses, killing an employee, as calls intensified for land routes to bring food into the besieged territory. “At least one UNRWA staff member was killed and 22 others were injured when Israeli forces hit a food distribution centre in the eastern part of Rafah” in southern Gaza, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees said in a statement. The agency’s chief, Philippe Lazzarini, said the “attack on one of the very few remaining UNRWA distribution centres in the Gaza Strip comes as food supplies are running out, hunger is widespread and, in some areas, turning into famine”. Israel later said a Hamas militant was killed in a strike on Rafah, naming him as Muhammad Abu Hasna, one of four people the Gaza health ministry said were killed in the strike on the UNRWA facility.

US House easily passes TikTok ban bill

The US House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a Bill yesterday that would force TikTok to divest from its Chinese owner or be banned from the United States. The legislation is a major setback for the video-sharing app, which has surged in popularity across the world while causing nervousness about its Chinese ownership and its potential subservience to the Communist Party in Beijing. The lawmakers voted 352 in favour of the proposed law and 65 against, in a rare moment of unity in politically-divided Washington. The warning shot against the app caught many by surprise as both Republicans and Democrats risked the wrath of TikTok’s passionate young users in an election year when the youth vote will be key.

EU Parliament votes to protect media freedom

Groundbreaking new EU laws to safeguard the independence of newsrooms received the final seal of approval by the European Parliament on Wednesday. The Media Freedom Act – first proposed by the EU executive in September 2022 – was overwhelmingly adopted on Wednesday with 464 votes in favour, 92 against and 65 abstentions. The Act will oblige EU governments to better protect media against malign interference and limit the use of spyware against journalists. Outlets will also have to transparently disclose information about ownership, funding and state advertising. A bespoke EU body, called the ‘European Board for Media Services’, will be established to oversee the implementation of the laws. Reporters Without Borders described the move as a “major step forward for the right to information within the European Union.”

Europe one step away from adopting AI rules

Europe moved closer to adopting the world’s first artificial intelligence rules as EU lawmakers endorsed a provisional agreement for a technology whose use is rapidly growing across a wide swathe of industries and in everyday life. The legislation, called the AI Act, will regulate foundation models or generative AI such as Microsoft-backed OpenAI that are trained on large volumes of data to generate new content and even perform tasks. It will restrict governments’ use of real-time biometric surveillance in public spaces to cases of certain crimes, prevention of genuine threats, such as terrorist attacks, and searches for people suspected of the most serious crimes. The rules will cover high-impact, general-purpose AI models and high-risk AI systems which will have to comply with specific transparency obligations and EU copyright laws.

Judge dismisses some charges against Donald Trump

The judge overseeing the Georgia 2020 election interference case on Wednesday dismissed some of the charges against former President Donald Trump and others, but the rest of the sweeping racketeering indictment remains intact. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee quashed six counts in the indictment, including three against Trump, the presumptive 2024 Republican presidential nominee. But the judge left in place other counts, including 10 facing Trump, and said prosecutors could seek a new indictment to try to reinstate the ones he dismissed. The ruling is a blow for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who already is facing an effort to have her removed from the prosecution over her romantic relationship with a colleague. It’s the first time charges in any of Trump’s four criminal cases have been dismissed, with the judge saying prosecutors failed to provide enough detail about the alleged crime.

Starmer wants to legalise assisted dying

UK Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said that he wants assisted dying to be legalised after the next election. Speaking in a phone call with broadcaster and campaigner Dame Esther Rantzen – who, at 83, has expressed her own wish for an assisted death – Sir Keir said he was “personally committed” to a change in the law. It is currently illegal to help someone take their own life in the UK. However, there is growing political momentum in favour of allowing assisted dying, also known as assisted suicide. The last time MPs voted on legalising assisted suicide was in 2015, with the Bill defeated by two votes to one.

Argentinian police more free to shoot in case of danger

Faced with the spread of crime in the city of Rosario, the Argentine government has launched measures that provide for a relaxation of the rules of engagement of the federal security forces, allowing greater license in the legitimate use of firearms. The measure effectively offers greater margins of discretion to officers in their reaction to what they consider to be an “imminent danger”, but also in the event of resistance or escape.

It’s Pi Day, International Mathematics Day

March 14 is the celebration for Pi Greco Day – dedicated to one of the most famous mathematical constants in history and, since 2020, also celebrated as the International Mathematics Day. Organised by the International Mathematical Union, each year a different theme is chosen to stimulate creativity and highlight the connections between mathematics and the world around us: in 2022, for example, participants had to reflect on mathematics as a universal language, while last year the concept was ‘Mathematics for all’. The theme chosen this year, however, is that of games: from puzzles to brain teasers, from board games to card games. As always, there are many events scheduled all over the world, starting with the interactive competition open to all organised by IMU: a challenge that aims to recognise mathematics in our daily lives and immortalise it in a snapshot, with the most beautiful images that will be published on the site. NASA also joins the celebrations, which this year proposes a challenge to solve some of the problems that researchers and engineers continually encounter when designing missions for the exploration of other planets and the cosmos, from the James Webb space telescope to the defence mission Dart planetary.

Photo: Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

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