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Ukraine, All Eyes On Minsk

Angela Merkel, François Hollande, Petro Poroshenko and Vladimir Putin meet in a crucial peace summit on the Ukrainian conflict Wednesday in Belarus’ capital Minsk. The leaders of Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia will attempt to find a compromise and broker a durable ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, where clashes between government forces and pro-Russian separatists have been ongoing despite a September ceasefire. Le Monde reports hopes for peace appeared slim on the eve of the summit.

  • Before the meeting, pro-Russian separatists and envoys from Kiev, supervised by Russian representatives and members of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) discussed propositions. Denis Pushilin, the self-declared Chairman of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” said after the meeting it was “too soon to talk about a ceasefire.”
  • Chances for a ceasefire were diminished early Wednesday as 19 Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 78 wounded in a rebel attack near Debaltseve, a key railway town in the Donetsk region, according to The Moscow Times.
  • European officials have acknowledged pro-Russian rebels are unlikely to agree to halt battles, making chances for a ceasefire even slimmer. But a Russian diplomat quoted by Reuters said “it was 70 percent likely that an agreement would be reached.”
  • In a phone call Tuesday, President Obama urged Vladimir Putin to agree to a peace deal, the White House stated. “If Russia continues its aggressive actions in Ukraine, including by sending troops, weapons, and financing to support the separatists, the costs for Russia will rise,” Washington said.
  • In a statement after the same phone call, the Kremlin said both leaders noted the necessity of safeguarding the rights of inhabitants of all Ukrainian regions, including the Russian-speaking.

More migrants are feared dead after their boats sank in the Mediterranean Sea. Survivors of a northbound boat that had left the coast of Libya were quoted by the United Nation’s refugee agency after being brought to safety on the island of Lampedusa. “Nine were saved after four days at sea. The other 203 were swallowed by the waves," the Italian spokeswoman of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Carlotta Sami said in a tweet Wednesday. La Stampa is reporting that the death toll could rise beyond 300. At least 29 other migrants died Monday after their inflatable boat overturned in similar conditions.

Australian police and counterterrorism forces prevented an “imminent” terrorist attack involving “public beheading,” set to be carried out in Sydney on Tuesday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott told the country’s parliament Wednesday. Omar al-Kutobi, 24, and Mohammad Kiad, 25, were arrested during a raid on a house in Fairfield, just 20 minutes after one of the two men recorded a video in front of an ISIS flag, ABC(Australia) reports. According to the police, who placed both men under surveillance after receiving a tip, a machete and a hunting knife were found in the home, as well as the video showing one of the men talking about carrying out the attack.


Can you believe it’s already been three years since Whitney left us? Time for your 57-second shot of history.

The United States, the United Kingdom and France announced Wednesday they were closing their embassies in Yemen’s capital Sanaa after Shiite rebels seized power there in an extremely unstable situation,AP reports. The U.S. and British embassies evacuated their staff Wednesday while France will close its embassy Friday. All three countries urge their citizens to leave immediately.

A Belgian court in Antwerp has jailed 45 members of “Sharia4Belgium”, a group now considered as a terrorist organization, in what is the country’s largest-ever trial of its kind, RTBF reports. The leader of the group, Fouad Belkacem, was sentenced to 12 years in prison, while the other 44 members — most of which are said to be fighting or dead in Syria — were given sentences ranging between 3 and 12 years. The Sharia4Belgium organization was accused of brainwashing young men before sending them to fight among jihadist groups in Syria.

U.S. President Barack Obama will propose to Congress on Wednesday a new three-year authorization for the use of force against Islamic State with limits on U.S. combat troops' involvement, lawmakers and congressional aides said, according to Reuters.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports the White House could seek to slow down the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan for a second time. This comes as “foreign forces scramble to ensure Afghan troops are capable of battling Taliban insurgents on their own”, the daily writes.

The NBC news anchor Brian Williams has been suspended for six months without pay for giving a misleading account of coming under fire on a helicopter in Iraq, the television network announced in a statementearly Wednesday. "By his actions, Brian has jeopardized the trust millions of Americans place in NBC News. ... His actions are inexcusable and this suspension is severe and appropriate,” NBC Universal Chief Executive Officer Steve Burke said.

Demonizing the rich, a pastime of Colombia's political Left, doesn't help social progress. Yes, the rich must pay a high share of taxes, but capital and opportunity cross borders like never before, writes El Espectador’s Mauricio Rubio: “The Left seems more inclined to build a new country with guerrilla captains involved in kidnappings than with businessmen who dodged taxes. Or frankly even with those who have paid taxes, not to mention occasional kidnapping ransoms, or with businessmen currently financing peace talks with FARC guerrillas. Apparently their opinions count for little.
It is no coincidence that the world's great donors are ‘gringos.’ They too pay their taxes grudgingly, sabotage social spending and live in a country with vast income gaps. But the rich are respected there, and some of them give back.”
Read the full article, The Problem With Hating Your Rich Neighbor In A Globalized World.

The host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show Jon Stewart will step down this year after anchoring the news satire program for 16 years, the 52-year-old announced in an emotional address at the end of Tuesday night’s edition. "This show doesn't deserve an even slightly restless host and neither do you,” Stewart said, adding he was not sure what he would do next but that he will be hosting the show until September.

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Why does popcorn pop? Researchers Emmanuel Virot and Alexandre Ponomarenko tried to answer this rather vital question in a study published in the Journal of The Royal Society Interface.

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Smaller Allies Matter: Afghanistan Offers Hard Lessons For Ukraine's Future

Despite controversies at home, Nordic countries were heavily involved in the NATO-led war in Afghanistan. As the Ukraine war grinds on, lessons from that conflict are more relevant than ever.

Photo of Finnish Defence Forces in Afghanistan

Finnish Defence Forces in Afghanistan

Johannes Jauhiainen


HELSINKI — In May 2021, the Taliban took back power in Afghanistan after 20 years of international presence, astronomical sums of development aid and casualties on all warring sides.

As Kabul fell, a chaotic evacuation prompted comparisons to the fall of Saigon — and most of the attention was on the U.S., which had led the original war to unseat the Taliban after 9/11 and remained by far the largest foreign force on the ground. Yet, the fall of Kabul was also a tumultuous and troubling experience for a number of other smaller foreign countries who had been presented for years in Afghanistan.

In an interview at the time, Antti Kaikkonen, the Finnish Minister of Defense, tried to explain what went wrong during the evacuation.

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“Originally we anticipated that the smaller countries would withdraw before the Americans. Then it became clear that getting people to the airport had become more difficult," Kaikkonen said. "So we decided last night to bring home our last soldiers who were helping with the evacuation.”

During the 20-year-long Afghan war, the foreign troop presence included many countries:Finland committed around 2,500 soldiers,Sweden 8,000,Denmark 12,000 and Norway 9,000. And in the nearly two years since the end of the war, Finland,Belgium and theNetherlands have commissioned investigations into their engagements in Afghanistan.

As the number of fragile or failed states around the world increases, it’s important to understand how to best organize international development aid and the security of such countries. Twenty years of international engagement in Afghanistan offers valuable lessons.

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