RUSSIAN WITHDRAWAL BEGINS IN SYRIA
After yesterday's unexpected announcement from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian armed forces have begun to withdraw from Syria on the civil war's fifth anniversary. A first group of warplanes has already left its Syrian base for Russia, the Defense Ministry said. "The main task now is to take every measure to promote a peace settlement and talks that have begun in Geneva," the Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov told reporters. But Russia explained that it would keep its long-range S-400 air defense missiles on the ground.
- The withdrawal surprised many, including Süddeutsche Zeitung reporter Stefan Kornelius, who writes today that "all logic speaks against Russia's decision." The move comes as the Syrian war enters its sixth year and after a new round of peace negotiations began between the Syrian government and the opposition. The UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura described Russia's decision as a "significant development, which we hope will have a positive impact on the progress of the negotiations in Geneva."
- Russia's withdrawal could potentially embolden terrorist groups, which aren't part of an otherwise fragile ceasefire there. A commander of al-Nusra Front told AFP that Putin's move illustrates that "Russia has suffered defeat, and within the next 48 hours Nusra will launch an offensive in Syria."
- See today's front page of Moscow-based Vedomosti in our Extra! feature.
SUPER TUESDAY 2
Today marks another crucial voting day in the U.S. with primaries in five states: Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio. What's being dubbed as "Super Tuesday 2" could prove to be make-or-break time for Republican candidates John Kasich and Marco Rubio, according to Bloomberg. On the Democratic side, recent polls suggest that Bernie Sanders is closing in on Hillary Clinton in the industrial Midwest, though the former Secretary of State is expected to win big in Florida and North Carolina. Read more from The Washington Post.
An "unhealthy environment" was responsible for 12.6 million deaths worldwide in 2012, almost a quarter of the total number of deaths for that year, a new report from the World Health Organization says. "If countries do not take actions to make environments where people live and work healthy, millions will continue to become ill and die too young," said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan.
MACEDONIA RETURNS REFUGEES TO GREECE
Most of the desperate refugees who crossed into Macedonia from Greece yesterday have been taken back across the border, Reuters reports, putting the number at 600. An estimated 12,000 to 14,000 migrants have been stranded on the Greek side of the border since Balkan states decided to close their borders, and at least three people died yesterday while attempting to cross into Macedonia.
Photo: Juan Boites/ZUMA
Facing the worst air pollution in a decade, Mexico City authorities have advised people to stay indoors due to an "extraordinary increase" in ozone concentration.
POPE APPROVES MOTHER TERESA SAINTHOOD
Mother Teresa of Calcutta will be canonized Sept. 4 in a ceremony that will conclude the Vatican jubilee for "workers and volunteers of mercy," Pope Francis announced.
An Argentine newspaper asks if the founder of the now-closed, ultra-famous El Bulli restaurant in Catalonia is the Lionel Messi of the culinary world. That's not how superstar chef Ferran Adria sees it, Clarin reports. "Using food as a fulcrum, the 53-year-old chef managed in just a few years to bring about a anthropological and cultural transformation. He earned three Michelin stars in the process and knocked France off the culinary throne it had occupied for more than a century. Then, in July 2011, he shut El Bulli down." Adria answers questions from the newspaper, and explains why he shuttered his famous restaurant.
Read the full article, Superstar Chef Ferran Adria Shares His Secret Ingredient.
MYANMAR CHOOSES NEW PRESIDENT
Myanmar's parliament has elected Htin Kyaw, a close confidant of Nobel Peace Prize laureate and leader of the country's biggest party, Aung San Suu Kyi, as the first non-military president in 53 years, Myanmar Times reports. Though she couldn't take the job herself, Suu Kyi has made it clear she intends to lead the government "above the president."
ON THIS DAY
The Godfather premiered on this day in 1972. More in today's 57-second shot of history.
LULA TO ACCEPT MINISTER JOB
Former Brazilian President Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva is poised to accept a minister job in his successor Dilma Rousseff's government, sources close to Rousseff told Folha de S. Paulo. The two are expected to meet tomorrow, and the still popular Lula could take over as chief of staff or as secretary of the government. The newspaper characterizes it as a win-win for both leaders: Lula, who could run for the top job again in 2018, would be protected from prosecution in the ongoing Petrobras corruption scandal, and Rousseff would likely fend off impeachment attempts.
"I asked Dalton what made him get his gun tonight, and he said the Uber app made him," an investigator working on the Jason Dalton case wrote in his report. Dalton, a 45 year-old Uber driver accused of killing six people in Kalamazoo on Feb. 20, told Michigan police that the Uber app had taken over his "body and mind" and made him "feel like a puppet."
BREIVIK MAKES NAZI SALUTE IN COURT
Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik returned to court this morning, this time as a plaintiff, accusing the government of breaching two clauses of the European Convention on Human Rights by keeping him in isolation. As he arrived in court, the man who killed 77 people in 2011 raised his right arm in a Nazi salute.
MY GRAND-PERE'S WORLD
ISRAELI FINDS RARE ROMAN COIN
Israeli Hiker Laurie Rimon recently found a 2,000-year-old Roman gold coin at an archaeological site in Galilee. The coin bears the portrait of Emperor Augustus, and the only other known version of it is on display at the British Museum. Read more from The Jerusalem Post.