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In a break from the past, the U.S. and its allies are increasingly revealing their intelligence findings as they confront Russian preparations for invading Ukraine, looking to undercut Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plans by exposing them and deflecting his efforts to shape world opinion.
The White House in recent weeks publicized what it said was a developing Russian “false-flag” operation to create pretext for an invasion. Britain named specific Ukrainians it accused of having ties to Russian intelligence officers plotting to overthrow President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The U.S. also released a map of Russian military positions and detailed how officials believe Russia will try to attack Ukraine with as many as 175,000 troops.
Experts credit the White House for declassifying intelligence and moving to rebut false claims before they’re made — a so-called “prebuttal” that undercuts their effectiveness better than an after-the-fact explanation.
But the release of information isn’t without risks. Intelligence assessments carry varying degrees of certainty, and beyond offering photos of troop movements, the U.S. and its allies have provided little other proof. Moscow has dismissed Washington’s claims as hysteria and invoked past American intelligence failures, including false information put forward about Iraq’s weapons programs.
There are no clear signs of change so far from Russia, which continues to move forces toward Ukraine and into Belarus, an ally to Ukraine’s north. There is growing pessimism in Washington and London about ongoing diplomatic efforts and a belief that Putin will likely mount some sort of invasion in the next several weeks.
Russia is known for using disinformation as a tactic to sow confusion and discord as part of its overall conflict strategy. When Russia invaded Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, it mounted a campaign to sway ethnic Russian residents of the territory. State media and social media accounts linked to Russia promoted allegations that the West was manipulating protests in Kyiv and false or unconfirmed tales of lurid crimes committed by Ukrainian forces.
This time, the U.S. says, Russia is trying to portray Ukrainian leaders as aggressors and to persuade its own citizens to support military action. At the same time, the U.S. and its allies allege, Russia has positioned operatives in eastern Ukraine who could use explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own proxy forces and then blame Kyiv.
The White House has repeatedly highlighted what it sees as disinformation and is privately sharing additional intelligence with allies including Ukraine. The State Department recently published a fact sheet listing and rejecting several Russian claims. And the Treasury Department sanctioned four men accused of ties to influence operations intended to set the pretext in Ukraine for a new invasion.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki described a “strategic decision to call out disinformation when we see it.”
“We are much more cognizant of the Russian disinformation machine than we were in 2014,” she said Wednesday, adding, “We need to be very clear with the global community and the U.S. public what they’re trying to do and why.”
Moscow continues to make demands that NATO not accept Ukraine or further expand to any other countries. And after British intelligence accused him of being a possible Russia-backed candidate for president, Ukrainian politician Yevheniy Murayev denied the claim and told the AP that it “looks ridiculous and funny.”
Meanwhile, Washington and Moscow go back and forth online. Kremlin-backed RT.com on Dec. 21 posted a video alleging “US private military companies are amassing CHEMICAL COMPONENTS in Eastern Ukraine.” The State Department rejected that claim in its fact sheet on Russian propaganda. Russia’s Foreign Ministry then responded with tweets “debunking @StateDept ‘facts’ on Russian disinformation on Ukraine.”
Washington’s efforts have raised questions in Kyiv, where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has taken a different public approach of trying to tamp down public fears of an expanded war even as many Ukrainians prepare for possible combat.
Ukrainian officials privately question why the Biden administration is warning about an impending invasion but not imposing preemptive sanctions or taking action against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which has been criticized for giving Moscow more leverage over Ukraine and Western Europe. The Biden administration lobbied Democrats in Congress to oppose a Republican-sponsored bill that would have required the imposition of sanctions against the pipeline, which has not yet gone into operation.
The White House has threatened tough sanctions if Russia does invade and is preparing to move forces to NATO’s eastern flank in the event of an invasion. The U.S. and Western allies are also sending weapons and missile systems to Ukraine.
Molly McKew, a writer and lecturer on Russian influence, said the administration’s moves to counter Russia’s influence efforts needed to be accompanied by a clearer statement of American goals and plans to repel any invasion.
Publicly identifying Russia’s actions alone will not stop Russia from carrying them out, said McKew, a former adviser to President Mikhail Saakashvili of Georgia, which fought a war in 2008 with Russia and still is trying to regain control of separatist regions backed by Moscow.
“They’re trying to apply disinformation thinking to military domains,” she said. “You absolutely cannot expose away the crisis.”
In both the U.S. and Ukraine, experts say, there is far more societal awareness now of state-sponsored disinformation. Russia in the past several years has continued to bombard Ukrainians with text messages and false stories during the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine in which at least 14,000 people have died. And Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election led to several investigations and years of often fractious debates.
Bret Schafer, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy, said that while there are risks to elevating false claims in the process of debunking them, “there is a need to head off information threats as opposed to responding to them after they’ve been let out into the wild.”
But publicly accusing Russia of misbehavior is ultimately a limited deterrent. “They don’t care about reputational damage,” he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be preparing to launch an invasion of Ukraine, with more than 100,000 troops positioned around the country. Certainly, the U.S. believes that’s the case and President Joe Biden has warned Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that an attack could come in February.
But Russia denies it’s preparing to invade, and Putin’s intentions remain a mystery.
Russia, which is seeking a pledge that NATO won’t expand to include Ukraine, has options it could pursue short of a full-blown invasion, and other ways to lash out at the U.S. and its allies. All of them carry varying degrees of risk, to Russia and the world.
A look at some of them:
Something short of a full-scale invasion: In 2014, Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. That year it also started arming rebels in the eastern region known as the Donbas, starting a low-boiling conflict that has killed more than 14,000 people. Many Russia watchers speculate that the recent buildup of Russian troops and naval forces is the next chapter in a larger effort to chip away at Ukraine, perhaps taking advantage as the U.S. and its allies in Europe are distracted by COVID-19 and other issues. Possible scenarios include providing additional support to the Russia-backed rebels or launching a limited invasion, just enough to destabilize Zelenskyy and usher in a pro-Kremlin leader.
Stopping short of a full-scale invasion would give Russia more time to get more forces in place and test the commitment of the U.S. and its allies to the punishing sanctions promised by Biden, says retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, former commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe. “He’s going to continue doing what he’s doing right now, continuing to apply maximum pressure on Ukraine and to try to destabilize the government to alarm people,” Hodges said. “There’s a lot of capability in place to do more, should the opportunity present itself.”
That might still end up triggering sanctions that could damage the Russian economy and hurt Putin at home. There’s also the risk that a limited action isn’t enough to achieve the Russian president’s goal of undermining European security by rolling back, or at least halting, NATO expansion, says Dmitry Gorenburg, an analyst with CNA, a research organization in Arlington, Virginia. “I don’t think it gets him what he wants,” he said. “It didn’t get them that before. So why now?”
Economic warfare: Russia is a major player in global energy, the third-largest oil producer after the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, and the source of about 40% of the natural gas used in Europe. It is also a major exporter of wheat, particularly to developing nations. Any move to cut the flow of energy could be painful to Europe in winter with gas and oil prices already high.
Similarly, rising food prices are a problem around the world.
Putin has some economic leverage, but there’s no indication he would use it and it could end up hurting Russia in the long run, says Edward Fishman, a former State Department official who is now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.
Any move by Russia to cut off gas shipments would push European nations to find alternative sources for the future. “It’s a weapon you can only use once,” he said. “You do that once and you lose that leverage forever.” The Biden administration is already working with Qatar and other suppliers to replace Russian gas if needed.
Cyberattacks: There’s no doubt Russia has the capability to conduct significant cyberattacks in Ukraine and around the world, and would almost certainly do so again as part of any operation against its neighbor. The Department of Homeland Security warned law enforcement agencies on Jan. 23 that Russia would consider initiating a cyberattack on the U.S., including possible actions against critical infrastructure, if it perceived the response to an invasion of Ukraine “threatened its long-term national security.”
Russia is the suspected culprit in a 2015 hack against the Ukraine power grid. Hackers this month temporarily shut down government websites in Ukraine, underscoring how cybersecurity remains a pivotal concern in the standoff with Russia. “Whatever the size and scale and nature of their ground and air attacks, cyber will be a big part of anything they do,” warns Hodges.
The risk to the world is that hostile activity against Ukraine could spread, as the cyberattack known as NotPetya did to devastating effect in 2017. The downside to Russia is the U.S. and other nations have the power to retaliate, as Biden warned Putin in June. “He knows there are consequences,” Biden said.
The China factor: China isn’t a direct player in the standoff over Ukraine, but it plays a role. Observers have warned that Moscow could respond to Washington’s rejection of its security demands by bolstering military ties with China. Russia and China have held a series of joint war games, including naval drills and patrols by long-range bombers over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea.
U.S. officials have said they don’t think Russia would launch an invasion as President Xi Jinping presides over the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. “The Chinese are not going to be pleased if their Olympics are disrupted by war,” Gorenburg said. Putin plans to travel to Beijing to attend the opening of the games, as U.S. and European leaders sit it out to protest human rights abuses.
One theory among Russia watchers is that China is intently following the U.S. and European response over Ukraine to gauge what might happen if it were to move against Taiwan. Hodges sees that as a risk. “If we, with our combined diplomatic and economic power plus military power, cannot stop the president of the Russian Federation from doing something that is so obviously illegal and wrong and aggressive then I don’t think President Xi is going to be too impressed with anything that we say about Taiwan or the South China Sea.”
A Russian buildup in Latin America: Senior Russian officials have warned that Moscow could deploy troops or military assets to Cuba and Venezuela. The threats are vague, though Russia does have close ties to both countries as well as Nicaragua. U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan dismissed the idea, and experts in the region and around the world view it as a strategy that probably wouldn’t accomplish much, other than to divert Russian forces needed elsewhere, and thus is unlikely to happen.
A more likely scenario is that Russia steps up its already extensive propaganda and misinformation efforts to sharpen divisions in Latin America and elsewhere, including the United States.
A diplomatic solution: It’s not a foregone conclusion that the standoff ends in an invasion. While the Biden administration said it would not concede to Russia’s security demands, there still seems to be some room for diplomacy. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday that the U.S. response “gives hope for the start of a serious conversation on secondary questions.”
France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia have agreed to sit down for talks in two weeks, an effort aimed at reviving a 2015 agreement to ease the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Some fear this complicates efforts by the U.S. and NATO to show a united front against Russia.
A stand-down may be good for the world but could come at a cost for Putin, Russian journalist Yulia Latynina warned in a New York Times essay Friday. She said the Russian president may have used his troop buildup as a bluff, hoping to compel the U.S. and Europe to relinquish any intention of closer ties to Ukraine. “Instead of trapping the United States, Mr. Putin has trapped himself,” she wrote. “Caught between armed conflict and a humiliating retreat, he is now seeing his room for maneuver dwindling to nothing.”
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The most senior U.S. military officer warns Russia will end up blazing a path of death and devastation, for all sides, should it decide to resolve its differences with Ukraine by using military force.
U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley issued the blunt admonishment Friday during a rare news conference at the Pentagon with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, where both men insisted tragedy could be avoided if Moscow was willing to pull back from the brink.
“Given the type of forces that are arrayed, the ground maneuver forces, the artillery, the ballistic missiles, the air forces, all of it packaged together, if that was unleashed on Ukraine, it would be significant, very significant,” Milley told reporters.
“It would result in a significant amount of casualties. And you can imagine what that might look like in dense urban areas,” he said. “It would be horrific. It would be terrible. And it’s not necessary.”
The U.S. warning Friday comes as the standoff between Russia and Ukraine appears to have reached a tipping point.
Later Friday, President Joe Biden told reporters he would add U.S. troops to the NATO presence in Eastern Europe.
“I’ll be moving troops to Eastern Europe and the NATO countries in the near term. Not too many,” Biden said upon return to Washington from a speech in Pennsylvania.
Putin’s call with Macron
Senior U.S. defense officials cautioned that Russia had amassed sufficient firepower to launch a full-scale invasion at any time, while Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted in a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron that the West had failed to adequately address Moscow’s security concerns.
Putin, according to the Kremlin, told Macron that the most recent Western diplomatic responses did not consider Russia’s concerns about NATO expansion such as stopping the deployment of alliance weapons near Russia’s border and rolling back its forces from Eastern Europe.
Separately, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Russian radio stations Friday that Russia did not want war with Ukraine but that it would protect its interests against the West if necessary.
“If it depends on Russia, then there will be no war. We don’t want wars,” Lavrov said. “But we also won’t allow our interests to be rudely trampled, to be ignored.”
Escalating tensions and rhetoric
But the U.S. defense secretary pushed back, telling Pentagon reporters Friday that no one has done anything to lead Russia to encircle Ukraine with more than 100,000 troops.
“There was no provocation that caused them to move those forces,” Austin said Friday at the Pentagon, calling out Moscow for a new wave of disinformation campaigns.
“Indeed, we’re seeing Russian state media spouting off now about alleged activities in eastern Ukraine,” he said. “This is straight out of the Russian playbook. And they’re not fooling us.”
Austin also painted Moscow’s saber-rattling as counterproductive.
“A move on Ukraine will accomplish the very thing Russia says it does not want — a NATO alliance strengthened and resolved on its western flank,” he said.
But with no sign of give from any side — U.S. and NATO officials have repeatedly rejected Russia’s demands — there are growing concerns that fear or hysteria could spread, making an already fragile situation more perilous.
“We don’t need this panic,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told a news conference in Kyiv on Friday, accusing U.S. leaders of talking up the possibility of conflict.
“Are tanks driving here on our streets? No. But it feels like this (reading the media),” he said. “In my opinion, this is a mistake. Because those are signals of how the world reacts.”
Despite the disagreement over rhetoric, U.S. and European officials said they continue to hold out hope that diplomacy can prevail.
One senior U.S. administration official, talking to reporters on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss developments, said remarks like those Friday by Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov are a positive sign.
“We welcome the message,” the official said. “We need to see it backed up by swift action.”
The official added that Monday’s United Nations Security Council meeting on Ukraine will be “an opportunity for Russia to explain what it is doing, and we’ve come prepared to listen.”
Ramping up military preparations
While Russia and the U.S. and its allies have spent much of the past week trading demands, both sides have also ramped up military preparations.
Russia has launched military drills involving motorized infantry and artillery units in southwestern Russia, warplanes in Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea, dozens of warships in the Black Sea and the Arctic, and Russian fighter jets and paratroopers in Belarus.
Ukraine’s military held artillery and anti-aircraft drills in the country’s southern Kherson region Friday near the border with Russian-annexed Crimea.
And the U.S., which has been providing Kyiv with anti-tank missiles, grenade launchers, artillery and ammunition, said another shipment arrived Friday to help bolster Ukrainian defenses.
Also Friday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the military alliance has already bolstered its troop presence in Eastern Europe and continues to watch Russia’s military movements, including the positioning of aircraft and S-400 anti-aircraft systems in Belarus, closely.
“The aim now is to try to reduce tensions,” Stoltenberg said, speaking online from Brussels at a Washington think-tank event.
“We urge Russia, we call on Russia to engage in talks,” he said, adding that opting for the use of force will not work out well for Moscow.
“When it comes to Ukraine, I am absolutely certain that Russia understands they will have to pay a high price (for invading),” Stoltenberg said. “I am certain President Putin and Russia takes NATO very serious when it comes to our ability to protect and defend all allies.”
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.
European allies agreed on Friday to draw up plans within two weeks for how to continue their fight against Islamist militants in Mali, Denmark’s defense minister said, after France said the situation with the Malian junta had become untenable.
Tensions have escalated between Mali and its international partners since the junta failed to organize an election following two military coups.
It has also deployed Russian private military contractors, which some European countries have said is incompatible with their mission.
“There was a clear perception that this is not about Denmark. It’s about a Malian military junta which wants to stay in power. They have no interest in a democratic election, which is what we have demanded,” Danish Defense Minister Trine Bramsen told Reuters.
Speaking after a virtual meeting of the 15 countries involved in the European special forces Takuba task mission, she said the parties had agreed to come up with a plan within 14 days to decide on what the “future counterterrorism mission should look like in the Sahel region.”
The ministers held talks after the junta had insisted on the immediate withdrawal of Danish forces despite the 15 nations’ rejecting its claims that Copenhagen’s presence was illegal.
“European, French and international forces are seeing measures that are restricting them. Given the situation, given the rupture in the political and military frameworks, we cannot continue like this,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told RTL radio earlier in the day, adding that the junta was out of control.
He said the Europeans needed to think about how to adapt their operations.
‘Full of contempt’
Speaking to France 24 TV, Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop said that Le Drian’s comments were “full of contempt” and Paris needed to act less aggressively and respect Mali.
“France’s attitude needs to change. … We are reviewing several defense accords and treaties to ensure they don’t violate Mali’s sovereignty. If that’s not the case, we will not hesitate to ask for adjustments.”
He said that Paris welcomed military coups “when they served its interests,” referring to a coup in neighboring Chad that has drawn little resistance from France.
The junta’s handling of Denmark is likely to affect future deployments, with Norway, Hungary, Portugal, Romania and Lithuania due to send troops this year. It raises questions about the broader future of French operations in Mali, where there are 4,000 troops. Paris had staked a great deal on bringing European states to the region.
Colonel Arnaud Mettey, commander of France’s forces in Ivory Coast, which backs up Sahel operations, told Reuters that the junta had no right to refuse Denmark’s presence given agreed treaties.
“Either they are rejecting this treaty and so put into question our presence, or they apply it,” he said. “France and the European Union will not disengage from the Sahel. Takuba will carry on.”
Diop said the departure of French troops was not on the table for now.
However, Denis Tull, senior associate at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said Paris may ultimately not be left with a choice.
“If this confrontation continues, there probably will simply be no political context in which the French transformation agenda for [France’s counterterrorism force] Barkhane can be applied and implemented as planned,” he said.
Toyota is working with Japan’s space agency on a vehicle to explore the lunar surface, with ambitions to help people live on the moon by 2040 and then go live on Mars, company officials said Friday.
The vehicle being developed with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is called Lunar Cruiser, whose name pays homage to the Toyota Land Cruiser sport utility vehicle. Its launch is set for the late 2020’s.
The vehicle is based on the idea that people eat, work, sleep and communicate with others safely in cars, and the same can be done in outer space, said Takao Sato, who heads the Lunar Cruiser project at Toyota Motor Corp.
“We see space as an area for our once-in-a-century transformation. By going to space, we may be able to develop telecommunications and other technology that will prove valuable to human life,” Sato told The Associated Press.
Gitai Japan Inc., a venture contracted with Toyota, has developed a robotic arm for the Lunar Cruiser, designed to perform tasks such as inspection and maintenance. Its “grapple fixture” allows the arm’s end to be changed so it can work like different tools, scooping, lifting and sweeping.
Gitai Chief Executive Sho Nakanose said he felt the challenge of blasting off into space has basically been met but working in space entails big costs and hazards for astronauts. That’s where robots would come in handy, he said.
Since its founding in the 1930s, Toyota has fretted about losing a core business because of changing times. It has ventured into housing, boats, jets and robots. Its net-connected sustainable living quarters near Mount Fuji, called Woven City, where construction is starting this year.
Japanese fascination with the moon has been growing.
A private Japanese venture called ispace Inc. is working on lunar rovers, landing and orbiting, and is scheduled for a moon landing later this year. Businessman Yusaku Maezawa, who recently took videos of himself floating around in the International Space Station, has booked an orbit around the moon aboard Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s Starship.
Toyota engineer Shinichiro Noda said he is excited about the lunar project, an extension of the automaker’s longtime mission to serve customers and the moon may provide valuable resources for life on Earth.
“Sending our cars to the moon is our mission,” he said. Toyota has vehicles almost everywhere. “But this is about taking our cars to somewhere we have never been.”
Editor’s note: Here is a fast take on what the international community has been up to this past week, as seen from the United Nations perch.
UN chief: We cannot abandon the Afghan people
The U.N. secretary-general warned on Wednesday that Afghanistan is “hanging by a thread,” as the organization appealed for a total of $8 billion to scale up humanitarian assistance to more than 22 million Afghans this year.
UN Chief: Afghanistan ‘Hanging by a Thread’
Norway hosts talks between Taliban and Afghan civil society
Norway hosted three days of talks in Oslo between a Taliban delegation and members of Afghan civil society. Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said at the U.N. this week that the meeting did not confer recognition or legitimacy on the Taliban but was “a first step” in dealing with the de facto Afghan authorities to prevent a humanitarian disaster in that country.
Norway Defends Hosting Talks with Afghan Taliban
Military coup in Burkina Faso
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed concern about the January 23 military coup in the West African nation of Burkina Faso that deposed President Roch Marc Christian Kabore and his government. Guterres said the role of militaries must be to defend their countries and people, not attack their governments and fight for power.
The secretary-general’s special representative for West Africa and the Sahel, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, will travel to Burkina Faso this weekend on a good offices mission.
West African Nations See String of Coups
A U.N. team of experts arrived in Lima, Peru, on January 24 to assess the social and environmental impacts of an oil spill linked to the underwater volcanic eruption that triggered a tsunami in the Pacific island nation of Tonga. The team is specialized in contamination assessment and will advise authorities on how to manage and coordinate their response.
Some good news
World Health Organization chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a meeting of the agency’s executive board on January 24 that if countries change the conditions driving the spread of coronavirus infections, it is possible to end the acute phase of the global pandemic this year. That includes vaccinating 70% of their populations, monitoring the emergence of new variants and boosting testing.
A small but important glimmer of hope in Libya: the U.N. political chief told the Security Council on January 24 that the overall humanitarian situation improved in 2021. Rosemary DiCarlo said the U.N. recorded a 36% decrease in the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance, from 1.3 million at the start of 2021 to 803,000 by the end of the year. Additionally, about 100,000 of the more than quarter million displaced Libyans returned home last year.
Quote of note
“Were we to observe a minute of silence for each victim, that silence would last more than eleven years.”
— U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, addressing a virtual U.N. memorial ceremony marking the International Day for Holocaust remembrance on January 27.
What we are watching next week
On January 31, the U.N. Security Council will hold an open meeting to discuss tensions between Russia and Ukraine. The meeting was requested by the United States, and Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters, “This is just one more step in our diplomatic approach to bring the Russians to de-escalate and look for an opportunity to move forward.” The meeting will take place one day before Russia assumes the rotating presidency of the 15-nation council for the month of February.
Did you know?
The ancient Greek tradition of an Olympic truce goes into effect on January 28. It starts seven days before this year’s Winter Olympics open in Beijing and continues for a week after the close of the Paralympic Games. The U.N. General Assembly endorsed the truce during a meeting on January 20. The U.N. secretary-general is headed to Beijing for the opening ceremony on February 4.your ad here
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday U.S.-based telecommunications companies AT&T and Verizon can activate more of their fifth-generation, or 5G, transmitters after consultation with the agency.
Earlier this month, the telecommunication companies agreed they would delay launching the new wireless service near key airports after weeks of legal wrangling with the nation’s largest airlines and U.S. government regulators that feared the 5G service would interfere with aircraft technology and cause massive flight disruptions.
But in its release Friday, the FAA said both companies provided additional data about the exact location of wireless transmitters and supported more thorough analysis of how 5G C-band signals interact with aircraft instruments.
The agency said it used that data to precisely map the size and shape of the areas around airports where 5G signals might interfere with aircraft, allowing the regulators to shrink the areas where wireless operators had to delay their antenna activations.
The FAA said that will allow wireless providers to safely turn on more towers as they deploy new 5G service in major markets across the country. The agency expressed its appreciation for the “collaborative approach” AT&T and Verizon took in providing the data.
The FAA says it is continuing to work with helicopter operators and others in the aviation community to ensure they can safely operate in areas of current and planned 5G deployment.
Some information for this report came from Reuters.your ad here
Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine has expanded to include supplies of blood along with other medical materials that would allow it to treat casualties, in yet another key indicator of Moscow’s military readiness, three U.S. officials tell Reuters.
Current and former U.S. officials say concrete indicators — like blood supplies — are critical in determining whether Moscow would be prepared to carry out an invasion, if Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to do so.
The disclosure of the blood supplies by U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, adds another piece of context to growing U.S. warnings that Russia could be preparing for a new invasion of Ukraine as it masses more than 100,000 troops near its borders.
These warnings have included President Joe Biden’s prediction that a Russian assault was likely and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s remarks that Russia could launch a new attack on Ukraine at “very short notice.”
The Pentagon has previously acknowledged the deployment of “medical support” as part of Russia’s buildup. But the disclosure of blood supplies adds a level of detail that experts say is critical to determining Russian military readiness.
“It doesn’t guarantee that there’s going to be another attack, but you would not execute another attack unless you have that in hand,” said Ben Hodges, a retired U.S. lieutenant general now with the Center for European Policy Analysis research institute.
The Russian Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to a written request for comment.
A White House spokesperson did not immediately comment on any Russian movement of blood supplies but noted repeated public U.S. warnings about Russian military readiness.
The Pentagon declined to discuss intelligence assessments. The three U.S. officials who spoke about the blood supplies declined to say specifically when the United States detected their movement to formations near Ukraine. However, two of them said it was within recent weeks.
Russian officials have repeatedly denied planning to invade. But Moscow says it feels menaced by Kyiv’s growing ties with the West.
Eight years ago, Russia seized Crimea and backed separatist forces who took control of large parts of eastern Ukraine.
Russia’s security demands, presented in December, include an end to further NATO enlargement, barring Ukraine from ever joining and pulling back the alliance’s forces and weaponry from eastern European countries that joined after the Cold War.
Putin said Friday the United States and NATO had not addressed Russia’s main security demands in their standoff over Ukraine, but that Moscow was ready to keep talking.
Biden has said he will not send U.S. or allied troops to fight Russia in Ukraine but told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a phone call Thursday that Washington and its allies stand ready to respond decisively if Russia invades the former Soviet state, the White House said.
The United States and its allies have said Russia will face tough economic sanctions if it attacks Ukraine.
Western countries already have imposed repeated rounds of economic sanctions since Russian troops seized and annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014.
But such moves have had scant impact on Russian policy, with Moscow, Europe’s main energy supplier, calculating that the West would stop short of steps serious enough to interfere with gas exports.
A Swedish-Kenyan company, Opibus, has introduced the first African-designed and manufactured electric bus in Kenya with the aim of bringing clean energy to public transportation. Opibus, Kenya’s first company to make electric motorcycles, plans to launch the bus commercially in a few months and bring it to markets across Africa by 2023.
As other vehicles jostle for space while belching clouds of dark smoke in the streets of Nairobi, Benjamin Maina is driving a unique bus; one that is fully electric.
“I feel privileged driving this vehicle,” said Maina. “It is also very amazing when you are driving this vehicle compared to the fossil fuel vehicles, considering there is a lot of vibration on fossil fuel vehicles and also a lot of noise. But with this vehicle, it’s quite silent and very sleek.”
Public transport in Kenya and across the African continent is largely run informally, and emissions standards are rarely enforced, making the vehicles highly pollutive as Jane Akumu, a Sustainable Mobility expert at the U.N. Environment Program explains.
“If you look at the cities, the heavy-duty vehicles which are buses and trucks, that’s the bulk of the pollution,” said Akumu. “So, they are a big contributor to pollution. But as I said, they are also an opportunity. Because how do we shift to cleaner modes? Because we need mass transport to be sustainable to make cities more sustainable.”
The introduction of electric buses into the African market by Opibus is aimed at remedying the situation. Albin Wilson is the chief of strategy and marketing at Opibus.
“This electric bus is really (an) important first step in the transition from fossil fuel vehicles to electric clean mobility,” said Wilson. “And I think we are really showing precedence being the first movers in this market with a bus that is even locally developed.”
Christopher Maina is a resident of Nairobi. VOA asked him about his experience as a passenger riding on an electric bus.
“This ride today is one of its own, having ridden on an electric vehicle,” said Maina. “It’s just cool, no noises like the combustion engines, there are no smells like the combustion engines. So, it’s just cool and awesome to be in this vehicle.”
Africa’s electric car market, currently in its infancy, presents a huge opportunity for investment and the creation of green jobs, say experts. Here again is Jane Akumu.
“When you look at our source of electricity, it is renewable,” said Akumu. “For example, in Ethiopia it is almost 100% renewable energy: hydro and such. If you look at Kenya it is over 90%. So, we have energy. We don’t have to import fossil fuel; petrol, diesel and all that. So, we have the energy here, then this is also very good opportunity for jobs, green jobs.”
Benjamin Maina notes one other benefit of his electric bus – lower costs for maintenance and fuel. It means more money in his pocket, he says, and a higher standard of living.
Pope Francis denounced fake news about COVID-19 and vaccines Friday, blasting the “distortion of reality based on fear” but also urging that people who believe such lies are helped to understand true scientific facts.
Francis met with Catholic journalists who have formed a fact-checking network to try to combat misinformation about the pandemic. Francis has frequently called for responsible journalism that searches for the truth and respects individuals, and his meeting with the “Catholic fact-checking” media consortium furthered that message.
“We can hardly fail to see that these days, in addition to the pandemic, an ‘infodemic’ is spreading: a distortion of reality based on fear, which in our global society leads to an explosion of commentary on falsified if not invented news,” Francis said.
He said access to accurate information, based on scientific data, is a human right that must be especially guaranteed for those who are less equipped to separate out the morass of misinformation and commentary masquerading as fact that is available online.
At the same time, Francis asked for a merciful, missionary approach to those who fall prey to such distortions so they are helped to understand the truth.
“Fake news has to be refuted, but individual persons must always be respected, for they believe it often without full awareness or responsibility,” he said. “Reality is always more complex than we think and we must respect the doubts, the concerns and the questions that people raise, seeking to accompany them without ever dismissing them.”
Some Catholics, including some conservative U.S. bishops and cardinals, have claimed that vaccines based on research that used cells derived from aborted fetuses were immoral, and have refused to get the jabs.
The Vatican’s doctrine office, however, has said it is “morally acceptable” for Catholics to receive COVID-19 vaccines, including those based on research that used cells derived from aborted fetuses. Francis and Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI have both been fully vaccinated with Pfizer-BioNTech shots.
Francis has been one of the most vocal religious leaders speaking out in favor of vaccines and respect for measures to fight the pandemic. He has implied that people have a “moral obligation” to ensure the health care of themselves and others, and the Vatican recently required all staff to either be vaccinated or show proof of having had COVID-19 to access their workplaces.
Some supporters of Burkina Faso’s military coup this week were seen celebrating with Russian flags and calling for their country to switch alliances from France to Moscow. While the extent of pro-Russia sentiment in Burkina Faso is unclear, there is no doubt many are fed up with French efforts to help fight gangs and Islamist militant groups.
Riding through the streets of Ouagadougou on Tuesday, two demonstrators flew a Russian flag, celebrating a military coup in the country a day earlier.
They also turned out in Ouagadougou’s Place de la Nation to celebrate the military takeover.
“No, we don’t want no more France,” one demonstrator told VOA. “We are here because we want the defense of Russia. France hasn’t done anything that gives us success.”
France has been giving military assistance to Burkina Faso during its six-year conflict with armed groups linked to Islamic State and al-Qaida.
Earlier this month, the leader of neighboring Mali, Colonel Assimi Goita, welcomed mercenaries into the country from the Russian private security company Wagner, which has close links to the Kremlin.
The mercenaries took over a military base in Timbuktu that was vacated by French troops in December.
Demonstrators in Burkina Faso carried pictures of Goita at this week’s demonstration and on Jan. 22, held a march in solidarity with Mali. Police broke up the gathering using flash bombs and tear gas.
Analysts say in recent months, there has been growing anti-French sentiment and a pivot toward Russia.
Analysts say Mali is using Russian involvement as a bargaining chip after the West African bloc ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) sanctioned the country for refusing to hold democratic elections within the next five years.
“The Malian military junta is trying to mobilize national feeling, if you like,” said Paul Melly, an analyst with London-based think tank Chatham House. “It seems to have brought the Russians in or sought to bring the Russians in as a sort of tool of leverage. It’s not entirely clear how much practical military impact it could actually bring.”
The Russian Embassy in Burkina Faso and the military junta both declined to give VOA an interview.
Bernard Bermouga, a Burkinabe political commentator, is pragmatic about the situation.
“Whether Burkina Faso aligns with France, Russia or another country,” Bermouga said, “it’s not out of generosity. It’s not free. They’ll want something in return. What is needed is someone who can help Burkina Faso get out of the situation in which it finds itself.”
Activist Francois Beogo from Burkina Faso, who attended the demonstration, said the French must let them work things out on their own. The demonstrators are not against France, he said, but France must manage their affairs and allow Burkinabe to manage theirs. Without France, he said, soldiers will have peace of mind and be able to reflect on how to organize and free the people.
Meanwhile, the Russian organization that trains troops in the Central African Republic has offered military support to Burkina Faso. It remains to be seen if Burkina Faso’s new de facto leader, Paul-Henri Damiba, will take up the offer.your ad here
Some supporters of Burkina Faso’s military coup this week were seen celebrating with Russian flags and calling for their country to switch alliances from France to Moscow. While the extent of pro-Russian sentiment in Burkina Faso is unclear, there is no doubt many are fed up with French efforts to help fight gangs and Islamist militant groups. Henry Wilkins reports from Ouagadougou.
Camera: Henry Wilkins
Reports that Russia is connected to this week’s coup in Burkina Faso have made their way to the Pentagon, though U.S. defense officials decline to say whether the allegations have merit.
Burkinabe soldiers went on national television late Monday, announcing they had deposed President Roch Kabore due to “the continuous deterioration of the security situation which threatens the very foundations of our nation.”
A day later, Alexander Ivanov, the official representative of Russian military trainers in the Central African Republic, issued a statement offering training to the Burkinabe military. The CAR has been employing mercenaries with Russia’s Wagner Group to help with security since 2017.
“The Department of Defense is aware of the allegations that the Russian-backed Wagner Group may have been a force behind the military takeover in Burkina Faso,” Cindi King, a Defense Department spokesperson, told VOA Thursday.
But the Pentagon stopped short of saying whether the allegations are true.
“We cannot speak to these reports or any potential factors that led to this event,” King said of Monday’s coup.
“We support the State Department’s call for the Burkinabe armed forces to respect Burkina Faso’s constitution and civilian leadership,” she said. “We encourage the restoration of safety and security for the Burkinabe people and for legitimate, constitutional rule in Burkina Faso.”
Questions emailed to the Russian Embassy in Washington and the Burkinabe Embassy in Washington seeking comment have not been answered.
The Daily Beast first reported the allegations that Wagner was tied to the coup in Burkina Faso earlier this week, citing sources close to the deposed president as saying his final acts in office were to oppose requests by the Burkinabe military to hire Wagner.
“The president quickly rejected the idea,” one official told The Daily Beast. “Kabore didn’t want to run into any problems with the West for aligning with Russia.”
U.S. military and intelligence officials have been increasingly wary of the presence of mercenaries with Russia’s Wagner Group in Africa, which was initially limited to the CAR and Libya.
The head of U.S. Africa Command confirmed to VOA last week allegations by France and other European nations that Wagner personnel are now in Mali, brought in by that country’s military junta despite multiple pleas and warnings from the U.S. and others.
“Wagner [Group] is in Mali. They are there, we think, numbering several hundred now,” said General Stephen Townsend, the commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). “Russian air force airplanes are delivering them.”
Whether Wagner mercenaries are destined for Burkina Faso, U.S. officials are wary.
“We’ve been watching this for years,” said Major General Andrew Rohling, the commander of the U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa, during an online seminar late Wednesday.
“It is a way that Russia of course is able to influence [a] military without actually putting a Russian flag on it,” he said, calling the situation in Burkina Faso “a little bit of an unknown right now.”
As in Mali, though, where demonstrators have repeatedly voiced support for Russian assistance, there seems to be at least some support among Burkinabes for turning to Moscow.
Speakers at a rally of about 1,000 people earlier this week in Ouagadougou, the capital, repeatedly called for Russian military intervention.
U.S. forces have been supporting Burkinabe forces through several initiatives over the past several years as the country has battled extremists aligned both with al-Qaida and the Islamic State terror group.
Earlier this week, the Pentagon said it was reviewing the situation in Burkina Faso and the impact on relations with the U.S. military going forward.
Separately, U.S. Ambassador to Burkina Faso Sandra Clark told VOA that should the Burkinabe military install its own leader, Washington could cut support to the country.
VOA’s Henry Wilkins contributed to this report.
China is watching with interest as Russia and the West face off over Ukraine. Beijing is engaged in its own territorial disputes and has offered political support for Moscow. But as Henry Ridgwell reports, China has also invested billions of dollars in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, which could be at risk in the event of any conflict.
Ukraine’s leaders have been working to calm anxiety among the population as the threat of a Russian invasion continues to loom. On social media platforms, Ukrainians have been trading tips on how to prepare for war. On the streets of the capital, Kyiv, life continues as normal and many people are reluctant to speak openly about the tensions. In this report narrated by Jon Spier, for VOA, Ricardo Marquina is in Kyiv and has their story.
Camera: Ricardo Marquina
Produced by: Ricardo Marquina, MHarton
Russian officials have said they don’t need peace at any cost, but what price are they prepared to pay for war?
The answer to that question would help Western policymakers determine what they must do to deter Russian leader Vladimir Putin as he seeks to remake Europe’s post-Cold War security order to his liking.
Western leaders say the Russian leader is prepared to invade Ukraine if he fails to secure the concessions he wants from the United States and NATO that in effect would carve out for Russia a Soviet-era-like sphere of influence across eastern Europe. Russian officials deny they have any intentions to invade their neighbor, despite an unprecedented massive military buildup along the borders of Ukraine.
Dmitri Trenin, a longtime Kremlin-watcher and director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, a think tank, worries the lack so far of a diplomatic solution “will logically lead to a further escalation of the crisis, and increase the chances the only way out of it will be through the use of what Russian officials call military-technical means.”
Washington consistently has rejected Putin’s demand that Ukraine never to be allowed to join NATO, as well as his insistence the Western alliance remove any military presence in other former Soviet bloc nations which are now NATO members.
Trenin doubts a full-scale war between Russia and Ukraine is likely, though he concedes in a commentary the situation remains volatile and unpredictable. By escalating tensions with the West to a boiling point, Moscow may consider it already has achieved some wins, including forcing the U.S. to discuss European strategic issues for the first time since the end of the Cold War, he says. Trenin also contends Putin most likely has squelched any chance of NATO admitting Ukraine as a member.
Others, though, are reading the geopolitical confrontation differently. Timothy Ash, a risk analyst at Bluebay Asset Management in London, fears Putin is a gambler who may have gone too far to back down. He agrees the Russian leader already has notched up some accomplishments.
“Putin has enhanced his image as the guy who calls the shots and the poker player with all the cards. More than ever, he is seen as a leader who everyone has to contend with if they want solutions to the geopolitical problems that he typically creates himself,” Ash says.
But Ash cautions: “If the Russian leader does not proceed with some form of military action in the weeks ahead, his bluff will have been called” and he would risk “emerging from the current crisis as a net loser unless he proceeds further. Does he see it the same way? If so, will he escalate from here? At this point, he may feel that he has little choice.”
Putin appears to relish courting, calculating and taking risks. In 2019, the editors of Britain’s Financial Times newspaper conducted a 90-minute interview with the Russian leader. They noted: “Just before midnight, Vladimir Putin perks up at the mention of the word ‘risk.’ It encapsulates the man and his 20 years in power.”
His interviewers talked with him near a bronze statue of Russia’s legendary and expansionist Tsar Peter the Great, one of Putin’s heroes who carved out a Russian empire in the 18th century. They tried to explore whether the Russian president is a rash gambler or a calculating, and more cautious, risk-taker. But he was elusive and teasing.
They asked him if his appetite for risk-taking had increased with each passing year. He responded: “It did not increase or decrease. Risk must always be well-justified.” But then Putin cited a popular Russian phrase: “He who doesn’t take risks, never drinks champagne.”
Some risks, Putin clearly thinks, are beneath leaders of great powers to fret over. Asked about the attempted assassination in 2018 in England of the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal, which the British government has blamed on the Kremlin, Putin bristled. “Listen, all this fuss about spies and counterspies, it is not worth serious interstate relations. This spy story, as we say, is not worth five kopecks.” A kopeck is worth a hundredth of a ruble.
Invading Ukraine would cost Russia a lot more, and the risks would be massive in terms of loss of life (Russian, as well as Ukrainian) along with treasure. Putin and his aides have made no secret that a key domestic goal is to upgrade and modernize Russia’s economy. In his Financial Times interview, Putin highlighted that, saying, “The most important task we need to achieve is to change the structure of the economy and secure a substantial growth of labor productivity through modern technologies.” One of his aides emphasized that in an interview, too, with VOA a few months earlier.
War in Ukraine possibly may be too big of a risk for Putin to take, reckon some longtime Putin-watchers. Economically for Russia, it likely would result in capital flight, with many foreign investors fleeing the country or reducing their investments and would mean much slower economic growth.
All of that would lead to declining living standards of ordinary Russians, which in turn could trigger the kind of major social unrest that rocked Kazakhstan this month and which the Kremlin always fears. Russians already are complaining about feeling an economic pinch and Putin’s popularity and trust ratings in opinion polls have been slumping for months.
Modernization of the economy would be set back by years and possibly decades by a further wave of tough sanctions — especially if Washington includes in them, as it has threatened to do, novel export controls that would bar the export to Russia of products that are fitted with electronic components and software designed and/or manufactured in the United States.
The export controls would disrupt strategic Russian industries, including artificial intelligence and quantum computing and civilian aerospace sectors, Biden administration officials say. They note there is hardly a semiconductor on the planet that is not made with American tools or designed with American software.
“Despite being described as reckless, Putin is anything but,” notes Eugene Rumer, a former national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia at the U.S. National Intelligence Council. Now an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment, a Washington-based think tank. “Putin surely is not blind to the risks of war,” he has argued.
Cost of war
Some Western diplomats tell VOA that Putin will stay his hand this time and continue with hybrid warfare and cycles of escalation and de-escalation, which present him with more opportunities to roil and divide Western allies. They note the foreign risks he’s courted to date have been limited. His military foray in Libya has been disguised by using mercenaries, and in Syria he mainly restricted Russian intervention to airstrikes, deploying ground forces sparingly, thereby minimizing Russian casualties.
Other diplomats worry Putin may see this as his best chance to rectify what he sees as historical slights by the West and to restore Russia’s dominant role in central and eastern Europe. It will all come down to whether he is a rash gambler, who wants to wager on one big win, or a calculated risk-taker prepared to notch up incremental wins, they say.
Western leaders are trying to increase the price of war for Russia — economically and in terms of Russian casualties. Some of Washington’s European NATO partners are joining in supplying Ukraine with more lethal weaponry that could be used in an insurgency, if Russia invades.
Putin was in his 30s and 40s when Russia waged a costly and ultimately unsuccessful nine-year counter-insurgency war in Afghanistan in the 1990s, seen by many scholars as a contributing factor to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This week, Britain’s Boris Johnson cited what befell Russia in Afghanistan, warning publicly that an invasion of Ukraine would be “disastrous” for Russia.
A member of Ukraine’s National Guard on Thursday opened fire on his fellow soldiers, killing five people and wounding five more, Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said. The serviceman was detained by police but his motives remain unclear.
The incident occurred in the city of Dnipro, 500 kilometers (310 miles) southeast of Kyiv on Thursday morning. The soldier, identified by the authorities as Artemiy Ryabchuk, 20, was on guard duty at a military factory and opened fire on his colleagues, fleeing the scene immediately after.
Four soldiers and one civilian died, and five more people sustained injuries. Police detained Ryabchuk shortly after the shooting. It wasn’t immediately clear what prompted him to open fire.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy demanded the authorities thoroughly investigate and analyze the incident.
“I expect law enforcement to fully inform the public about all the circumstances of the crime. Motives of the killer, how [the shooting] became possible — everything should be analyzed as thoroughly as possible,” Zelenskiy said in an online statement, adding that conclusions should be drawn from the incident about personnel in the National Guard.
The shooting took place against the backdrop of soaring tensions between Russia and Ukraine. Moscow has massed an estimated 100,000 troops near its borders with Ukraine, stoking fears that such a buildup might indicate plans to invade its ex-Soviet neighbor.
The Kremlin denied harboring such plans, but demanded security guarantees from the West, including a clause precluding NATO from accepting Ukraine and other former Soviet states as members — a demand the U.S. and NATO have rejected as a nonstarter.
Ukraine’s officials have acknowledged the threat of an invasion, but insisted it was not imminent and accused Russia of fomenting tensions and fear among Ukrainians in order to destabilize the country from within.
Australia has offered to provide additional liquefied natural gas to Europe, should Russia decide to cut off energy supplies as tensions rise over Ukraine.
As tensions over Ukraine grow between Russia and the West, there are mounting fears that Moscow could reduce or shut down the gas it supplies to Europe.
The European Union is already short of gas after the easing of COVID-19 restrictions put huge demands on depleted stocks. The EU depends on Russia for around a third of its gas supplies and could need alternative sources as fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine escalate.
Australia is one of the world’s leading producers of liquefied natural gas or LNG and is prepared to boost its exports to European countries.
Trade Minister Dan Tehan said in a statement Thursday that Australia was “ready to support our friends and allies in the current challenging and complex, geostrategic environment.”
Tony Wood, Energy Program director at the Grattan Institute, an Australian research organization, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that Australia was well-placed to help.
“Australia, the United States and Qatar together supply about 50% of the world’s LNG as shipped natural gas, whereas what Russia provides, obviously, is via pipeline,” he said. “But there is some flexibility there. So, what is happening now is that they are looking to see if they can get supplies from elsewhere. The U.S. is trying to coordinate some of that, and some Australian gas has already been used to help supplement the problem at the moment, and, of course, it could get worse if the situation in Ukraine gets worse.”
Russia’s gas exports to Europe are mostly pumped through pipelines that go through Ukraine or other Eastern European nations. Moscow has insisted that the Ukrainian system was dilapidated and has accused its neighbor of stealing gas.
Analysts have said that Russia could be using tensions over Ukraine to promote its plan for a new gas pipeline to Germany that bypasses Poland and Ukraine.
The Australian government has also urged its citizens to leave Ukraine immediately, as Russian troops gather on the border and the threat of an invasion grows.
The government has estimated there are about 1,400 Australians in Ukraine. Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne, said Tuesday the advice to leave was “a cautious and prudent step because the security situation is unpredictable.”
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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the ball is now in Russia’s court after the U.S. hand delivered its written response to Moscow’s stated security concerns over NATO and Ukraine. As VOA’s Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine reports, Blinken made clear there will be no change to NATO’s open-door policy to new members, as Russia had demanded.
Producer: Kimberlyn Weeks