US Warns Russia Against Invading Ukraine
Tensions worsened over Ukraine on Thursday as United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Russia against invasion.
Western powers have been sounding the alarm in recent weeks about Russia massing troops along the border with Ukraine, further stoking tensions in an area where a long-running conflict has already left 13,000 dead.
Moscow, which is accused of backing the separatists fighting Kiev, has denied preparing an attack and accuses NATO of raising the temperature.
“We have deep concerns about Russia’s plans for renewed aggression against Ukraine,” Blinken told Lavrov in talks on Thursday near Stockholm, warning of “serious consequences” if Russia “decides to pursue confrontation”.
Striking a conciliatory note, Blinken said the US was ready to “facilitate” the “full implementation” of the Minsk peace accords.
The Minsk deal was reached after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and aimed at resolving the conflict with pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine but never enforced.
“The best way to avert a crisis is through diplomacy,” Blinken said.
The US, Russia and Ukraine were all in Stockholm on Thursday for a meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), one of the few international dialogue forums to which both the US and Russia belong.
At the plenary session, Blinken called on Moscow to “de-escalate, reverse the recent troop build-up (and) return forces to normal peaceful positions.”
Lavrov meanwhile warned that the “nightmare scenario of a military confrontation was returning” in Europe, accusing NATO of inching its military infrastructure closer to Russia’s borders.
He reiterated his opposition to any NATO expansion eastward — including Ukraine — but said Russia was open to dialogue.
“We are interested in joint efforts toward a resolution of the Ukraine crisis,” he said.
Despite the cordial tone, the OSCE meeting took place amid spiking tensions.
At a NATO meeting in the Latvian capital Riga on Wednesday, Blinken accused Russia of trying to “destabilise Ukraine from within as well as large scale military operations”.
He said it was not known whether Russian President Vladimir Putin had decided to invade, but added: “We do know that he’s putting in place the capacity to do so on short order, should he so decide.”
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Blinken warned there would be “far-reaching and long-lasting consequences” for Moscow if it pushed ahead with any aggression, including “a range of high-impact economic measures that we’ve refrained from using in the past”.
Blinken also held talks on Thursday with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who said his country would “demonstrate restraint”.
But he called on Kiev’s partners to “prepare a deterrence package” that would make Russia think twice before resorting to military force.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had said on Wednesday that Crimea was Ukrainian territory and Kiev’s goal was to “liberate” it.
“We see this as a direct threat to Russia,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday.
Outside the diplomatic forum, tensions continued on the ground on Thursday.
A Ukrainian soldier was killed in clashes with pro-Russian separatists, Kiev said, while Moscow announced it had arrested three Ukrainian spies, including one it said had been planning a terrorist attack.
The OSCE meeting was planned long in advance but comes at a crucial moment as tensions mount on numerous issues in Europe.
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In addition to Ukraine, other issues on the meeting’s agenda include the migrant crisis on the Belarus-EU border and the resurgence of clashes between OSCE members Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The EU reached an agreement Wednesday on new sanctions against Belarus, and the US would follow suit soon, the US State Department said.
The OSCE ministers’ plenary session is not expected to lead to the adoption of any major agreements, as unanimity is required.
A planned resolution on Ukraine was scrapped because of a lack of consensus.
Police Fine British Prime Minister For Not Wearing Seatbelt In Car
The British Police have fined Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for not wearing a seatbelt in the back of a moving car while on a trip to northern England.
Sunak, who recorded an Instagram video on Thursday, was seen turning in his seat to talk to the camera without a seatbelt on, a video that has now been deleted from the social media site.
The PM’s office at Downing Street said the incident was a “brief error of judgment”, but Lancashire constabulary announced they were fining Sunak for the infraction, The Guardian UK says.
The force said: “You will be aware that a video has been circulating on social media showing an individual failing to wear a seatbelt while a passenger in a moving car in Lancashire.
“After looking into this matter, we have today issued a 42-year-old man from London with a conditional offer of fixed penalty.”
Reacting, a spokesperson for Sunak said: “The prime minister fully accepts this was a mistake and has apologised. He will of course comply with the fixed penalty.”
A fixed penalty means Sunak can pay a fine to avoid a court hearing.
The police did not disclose how much they had fined the prime minister, but according to the government’s safety campaign, any driver or passenger not wearing a seatbelt is breaking the law and is liable to be fined up to £500 if the case goes to court, according to The Guardian UK.
Sunak’s transportation habits were already a talking point in the United Kingdom before the incident, a report by AFP says.
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His political rivals have taken aim at his use of a private jet to make multiple short flights in recent days.
This is not the first time Sunak has been slapped with a police fine.
He was fined while serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer for attending a Downing Street party in June 2020 that violated the government’s rules on social distancing, according to an AFP report.
The latest fine makes Sunak the second Conservative prime minister to receive a police fine in less than 12 months. The Metropolitan police, in 2020, issued a fixed-penalty notice to Boris Johnson for attending a party during lockdown. Sunak was fined for attending the same event as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
World’s Oldest Nun Dies At 118
French nun Sister André who was the world’s oldest known person died at age 118 in the southern French city of Toulon, the city’s mayor Hubert Falco said on Wednesday.
Born in the southern French town of Ales on Feb. 11, 1904, as Lucile Randon, Sister André was listed as the oldest person alive by the Gerontology Research Group in April 2022.
The Frenchwoman worked as a home teacher in her youth and did not enter a religious community until she was in her early 40s.
Most recently, Sister André was confined to a wheelchair, and for several years she could no longer see properly.
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She was an honorary citizen of Toulon, where she lived in a retirement home for several years.
Falco praised her as incredibly modern and a nun with a big heart.
Guinness World Records said Lucile, who took the name of Sister André in 1944, was the second-oldest French person and the second-oldest European person ever recorded.
More recently, Sister André received the record for the oldest COVID-19 survivor after an infection in 2021.
“It’s difficult to fathom that someone born before the patenting of plastic, zips or even bras were alive well into the 21st century, and robust enough to beat COVID-19’’, the Guinness World Records editor, Craig Glenday said in a statement.
“It’s been an honour to record her story in the pages of the Guinness World Records book, and she will live on in history as the fourth oldest person ever authenticated.’’
With her death, Maria Branyas Morera, who lived in Spain, assumed the title of the world’s oldest person at age 115.
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Eight Shot At Crowded Martin Luther King Day Block Party
Eight people were shot at a block party packed with more than 1,000 people celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Fort Pierce, Florida, Monday, police said.
All eight of those shot were adults and they were ferried to the hospital for treatment, including one person in critical condition, St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Brian Hester said during a news conference.
Six people, including a baby, were killed in a ‘massacre’ that is likely gang-related, California sheriff’s office says.
At least four others were injured as people ran for safety, the sheriff’s office said. One of those injured was a juvenile who was hurt as people rushed to flee the park where the event was being held, Hester said.
“As the shots rang out, people were just running in all directions,” Hester said. “There were people laying behind cars, laying behind anything they could lay behind. It was kind of hard to tell who was a victim and who was just hiding at that point.”
The shooting began at around 5:20 p.m. in Ilous Ellis Park, he said, where the community had gathered for an afternoon car show, dance performances, live DJ and kids activities to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, an event flyer shows.
In a video taken by a witness, attendees are seen dancing by their cars and enjoying the music when what sounds like gunfire begins to resonate over the song. People in the crowd start to rush away from the noise, some ducking behind cars or grabbing children’s hands and running across the street.
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The incident marks the 30th mass shooting in the country this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
So far this year, the US is averaging about two mass shootings per day.
Two sheriff’s deputies who were stationed in the park ran toward the scene and provided aid to those injured, Hester said. Several witnesses also helped to render aid and drive people to the hospital, he added.
The sheriff’s office has not named any suspects in the shooting, but investigators were following up on several leads from witnesses and community members Monday night.
Investigators preliminarily believe the gunfire involved multiple shooters and resulted from “a disagreement of some sort between two parties,” Hester said.
“So many innocent people that were injured or hurt were not part of the disagreement,” he added.
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“It’s really unfortunate and it’s sad that during a celebration of someone who represented peace and equality, a disagreement results in a use of guns and violence,” Hester said.
He estimated as many as 40 sheriff’s office personnel were working the case Monday night as they processed the scene, spoke to victims at the hospital and followed up on leads.
Investigators are asking anyone with information about the shooting to contact authorities or submit anonymous tips through CrimeStoppers. The sheriff’s department is handling the case because the Ilous Ellis Park is a St. Lucie County park.
Fort Pierce is a coastal city about an hour’s drive north of West Palm Beach.
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