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Saudi King Dies, ISIS Deadline Expires, Kirchner Twist

SAUDI KING ABDULLAH DIES
"The Good King Leaves, Salman Becomes Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques," London-based pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat writes on its front page after Saudi Arabia King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud died early Friday at age 90, three weeks after being hospitalized for pneumonia. Abdullah is succeeded by his 79-year-old half-brother Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who is believed to suffer from dementia. The new king is expected to bring no significant change in the country’s policy and will likely stick with the OPEC’s high oil input policy.

ISIS DEADLINE PASSES, NO HOSTAGE WORD
Japanese officials said they had received no message from ISIS after a deadline to pay $200 million in exchange for two hostages expired today. The mother of one of the hostages made an emotional appeal for her son’s release. “If I could offer my life, I would plead that my son be released. It would be a small sacrifice on my part,” The Guardian quotes her as saying.

MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD


$73.4 MILLION
Apple paid a compensation package worth more than $73 million when it recruited former Burberry boss Angela Ahrendts last year as senior vice president of retail and online sales, regulatory filings show. Meanwhile, the company’s chief executive Tim Cook saw his wage rise by 43% to $2 million.

NETANYAHU’S BREACH OF PROTOCOL
President Barack Obama will not meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he travels to Washington in March just days before a general election in Israel, the White House has announced. Netanyahu plans to address Congress and lobby for new sanctions against Iran, Israel’s arch enemy. A White House official said that the administration wished to “avoid even the appearance of any kind interference with a democratic election,” The Washington Post reports. Obama was not consulted about Netanyahu’s invitation by House Speaker John Boehner. Unnamed officials told the newspaper that this breach of traditional diplomatic protocol would have “lasting consequences” for Netanyahu. “Bibi managed to surprise even us,” Israeli daily Haaretz quotes a U.S. official as saying about the Israeli leader. “There are things you simply don't do. He spat in our face publicly, and that's no way to behave. There will be a price.”

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
As Folha De S. Paulo’s Thais Bilenky reports, what used to be regarded as simple outdoor fun is now considered genuine child therapy in our hyper-connected world. Camps offering “digital detox” for kids are proving popular among Brazilian parents who want to see their offspring stay away from Facebook, Candy Crush and selfies, if only for a few days. “All of a sudden, games that have formerly fallen out of fashion — jumping rope, garden cricket or simply running in mud — gain a newfound popularity,” the journalist writes. ‘We play cards, dance with hula hoops,’ says Marcelo, 15. ‘Things that our digital generation didn't even know existed.’”
Read the full article, In Brazil, Where Parents Send Kids To Digital Detox Camps.

U.S. FEARS CHAOS IN YEMEN
Washington fears that Yemen (see lead photo) could descend into chaos after the country’s U.S.-backed government and president resigned yesterday amid a major offensive from Shia Houthi rebels, The New York Times reports. Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was ousted in 2011’s Arab Spring protests, is expected to return to the forefront of Yemeni politics. Some experts believe that the poorest nation in the Arab world is headed towards civil war, with southern parts and Sunni tribal areas mostly controlled by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which claimed responsibility for the Paris attack on Charlie Hebdo.

FRANCE CAN STRIP TERRORIST NATIONALITY
France’s Constitutional Court ruled that Ahmed Sahnouni, a French-Moroccan binational, could be stripped of his French nationality after being found guilty on terrorism charges in 2013. But the measure is forbidden if it makes the individual stateless, Le Monde notes.

FORMER THAI PM BANNED FROM POLITICS
Former Thailand Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was ousted last May, has been impeached by the army-appointed National Legislative Assembly, meaning she’s effectively banned from politics for five years, The Bangkok Post reports. Accused of corruption in a rice-subsidy scheme, she also faces 10 years in prison. “Democracy has died in Thailand today, along with the rule of law,” she wrote in a statement on Facebook. Read more from The Straits Times.

BIZARRE TWIST IN ARGENTINE PROSECUTOR CASE
Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner wrote in an open letter that she no longer believes that prosecutor Alberto Nisman committed suicide but rather that he was murdered as part of a plot to smear her. Nisman had accused Kirchner of covering up Iran’s alleged involvement in a 1994 attack against a Buenos Aires Jewish center. He was found dead in his appartment hours before he was due to appear in front of a congressional committee. “They used him when he was alive, and then they needed him dead,” Kirchner wrote, stopping short of naming names. She added that Nisman’s accusations “never were the real operation against this government.”

EBOLA VACCINE SHIPPED TO LIBERIA
The first batch of an experimental Ebola vaccine from British company GlaxoSmithKline is due to arrive today in Liberia, where it will be tested, the BBC reports. Trials of other drugs are also to begin soon in West African countries. Meanwhile, Sierra Leone announced it was lifting Ebola quarantines there as the crisis eases.

ON THIS DAY

Tennis superstar Björn Borg retired on this day in 1983. Time for your daily 57-second shot of history.

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Geopolitics

Russia's Military Failures Are Really About Its Soldiers

No doubt, strategic errors and corruption at the highest ranks in the Kremlin are partly to blame for the Russian military's stunning difficulties in Ukraine. But the roots run deeper, where the ordinary recruits come from, how they are exploited, how they react.

Army reserve soldiers go to Red Square to attend a Pioneer Induction ceremony

Anna Akage

To the great relief of Ukraine and the great surprise of the rest of the world, the Russian army — considered until February 24, the second strongest in the world — is now eminently beatable on the battlefield against Ukrainian forces operating with vastly inferior firepower.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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After renouncing the original ambitions to take Kyiv and unseat the Ukrainian government, the focus turned to the southeastern region of Donbas, where a would-be great battle on a scale comparable to World War II Soviet victories has turned into a quagmire peppered with laughable updates by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov on TikTok.

The Russians have not managed to occupy a single significant Ukrainian city, except Kherson, which they partially destroyed and now find difficult to hold. Meanwhile, Ukrainian civilians are left to suffer the bombing of cities and villages from Lviv to Odessa, with looting, torture and assorted war crimes.

The reasons for both the poor performance and atrocities are many, and include deep-seated corruption and lack of professionalism up through the highest ranks, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who had never served in the army, and arrived in his position only because of his loyalty to the No. 1 man in the Kremlin.

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