Welcome to Friday, where the Pentagon is tracking a suspected Chinese spy balloon flying over Montana, clashes kill 27 in South Sudan a day before the Pope’s visit, and Portugal’s Bobi is a very good (and very old!) boy. Meanwhile, for Russian-language independent website Vazhnyye Istorii/Important Stories, Lydia Mikhalchenko gains rare access to Chechen war veterans fighting for Ukraine.
[*Halēā - Malayalam, India]
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• EU summit starts in Kyiv after Russian missiles strike Kramatorsk: Russian missiles hit the Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk Thursday, leaving at least 5 wounded and destroying buildings. The attacks came ahead of President Volodymyr Zelensky hosting European leaders for an EU summit starting today in Kyiv, air raid sirens sounded across the capital.
• At least 27 killed in South Sudan ahead of Pope’s visit: Violent clashes between cattle herders and members of a rebel group killed 27 in South Sudan’s Central Equatoria state, on the eve of Pope Francis’s arrival in the capital Juba. The pontiff’s visit is aimed at reviving a peace process in a country mired in decade-long civil war.
• Pentagon tracking suspect Chinese spy balloon over the U.S.: The Pentagon has spotted a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon flying over the United States. The balloon is said to be traveling at high altitude, without presenting any military or physical threat to people on the ground. Beijing reportedly said it did not intend to violate U.S. airspace.
• Adani fraud claims cause political mayhem in India: Opposition leaders are disrupting the functioning of India’s parliament for the second day in a row, demanding an investigation into the accusations of fraud against billionaire Gautam Adani, considered close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Adani group's companies have lost an estimated $108 billion in recent days over the claims, by a U.S. research firm, of “brazen” stock manipulation and accounting fraud.
• Guantanamo detainee freed after 20 years: Guantanamo detainee Khalid Ahmed Kassim, who had been imprisoned in Guantanamo for 20 years, was released from the U.S. prison in Cuba. Kassim, a Yemeni national, had been imprisoned without a trial but had pleaded guilty in 2012 to conspiracy to commit murder, spying and “providing material support for terrorism.”
• China to resume full travel with Hong Kong and Macau: Beijing has announced that it would be possible to travel again between mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau, without mandatory COVID tests. The three border checkpoints will reopen Feb. 6.
• New Guinness Record broken for oldest dog ever: Bobi the dog has just broken a longstanding Guinness record. At 30 years and 226 days, the Portuguese pooch is now officially the world’s oldest recorded dog in history, overtaking Australia’s Bluey, who died in 1939 at age 29.
*Erratum: The introduction to yesterday’s newsletter incorrectly stated that Israel had launched airstrikes on the West Bank, which instead targeted central Gaza.
French sports daily L’Equipe devotes its front page to the announcement of France center-back Raphaël Varane’s retirement from international soccer at 29 years old. The headline is also a winking reference to the French government’s controversial pension reform that plans to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64, which has sparked waves of protests and strikes in the country.
Hong Kong's government announced the "Hello Hong Kong" initiative, with plans to give away 500,000 free airline tickets to revive its tourism industry and attract visitors. This operation’s cost for the half-million tickets is estimated at $254.8 million in total.
With the Chechen war veterans fighting for Ukraine — and for revenge
They came to fight Russia, and to avenge the deaths of their loved ones and friends killed in Chechnya. Not wanting to sit in the trenches, they've found work in intelligence and sabotage. Russian-language independent website Vazhnyye Istorii/Important Stories’ correspondent Lydia Mikhalchenko met with some of these fighters.
💥 At least five Chechen units are fighting for Ukraine, with more than 1,000 troops in each unit — and their number is growing. Most of these Chechen fighters took part in the first and second Chechen wars with Russia, and were forced to flee to Ukraine or elsewhere in Europe after their defeat. Four of the five Chechen battalions are part of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and are paid the standard wages and receive equipment and supplies.
🇷🇺🇺🇦 Arby had already fought against Russia in the second Chechen war. He notes the difference between the Chechen war and the Ukrainian war: in Chechnya, the territory was smaller, and the concentration of the enemy higher. But the tactics of the Russians are similar. They fight as they did in the Second World War. Only now, they also have drones, which they use to direct artillery strikes. Arby, like many Chechen fighters, hopes they will go to liberate their homeland after Ukraine's victory.
✊ Sabah is 36 years old, and came to Ukraine from Europe. He is not going back to Russia: "I am a resident of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria and have always felt that way. Our fathers taught us to shoot with hunting rifles when we were children. I will fight against Russia all my life. I will avenge the Chechens they killed. I will never forgive them. If I have sons, they will continue to do so."
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“We see that the ideology of Nazism [...] again creates direct threats to the security of our country.”
— Speaking at the Mamayev Kurgan memorial complex in Volgograd to mark the 80th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Stalingrad, Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed fingers at Germany’s recent decision to help Ukraine by sending tanks, comparing the situation to World War II. "We are again being threatened by German Leopard tanks," Putin added.
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