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Photo of Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva, who finished first in the short program, easily earning her qualification into the free skate. The 15-year-old athlete was cleared by the Court Arbitration for Sport in a doping investigation, but would still not be part of a medal ceremony if she finishes in the top three slots.

Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva finished first in the short program at the Beijing Winter Olympics, easily earning her qualification into the final free skate.

Jane Herbelin and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Bună ziua!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Russia’s announcement that it is pulling some of its forces from the Ukraine border is met with skepticism, a U.S. woman is cured of HIV in world first and an extremely rare baby ghost shark was spotted in the depths of the oceans off New Zealand. Egyptian online newspaper Mada Masr also looks at how the pandemic has highlighted the country’s endemic education problems.

[*Romanian]

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​💡 SPOTLIGHT

Peace-loving Putin v. war-mongering West: How Russian media is spinning Ukraine

The message from state-controlled media in Russia is clear: we are a peace-loving country constantly provoked by the West. The coverage is very different to the war hysteria before the annexation of Crimea and hides how the Kremlin benefits financially from tensions in Ukraine, writes Pavel Lokshin in German daily Die Welt.

For days now, Russian state broadcasters have had ample opportunity to convey to domestic audiences the Kremlin’s official line on the Ukraine conflict. The message: the West is talking up the threat of war and endangering Russia.

An example was Saturday night’s evening news on the state broadcaster Pervyi. The program opens with an alleged violation of Russian territorial waters in the Pacific by a U.S. submarine, a story that has long since been dismissed as inaccurate by the U.S. military.

This is followed by a fragment on Putin’s phone conversations with U.S. President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron, in which they are said to have discussed “provocative speculations” about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the “impasse the intra-Ukrainian conflict has reached.”

The presenter sees the travel warnings issued by more than ten Western countries for Ukraine and the reduction of embassy staff as an attempt to further aggravate the crisis situation. The press spokeswoman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is quoted as claiming that Western diplomats are aware of “acts in preparation” that would worsen the security situation in Ukraine.

This is not about the danger posed by Russian troops stationed near the border, but about alleged Ukrainian provocations that the West is aware of or has even orchestrated. Later, a regular commentator – who is also press director of the state oil giant Rosneft – speaks about “American scare stories” that even the Ukrainians did not believe.

The situation is similar to the internet offerings of state propagandists. Vladimir Solovyov, who usually presents TV talk shows, mocks Joe Biden in his internet broadcast: the U.S. president always mixes up countries, maybe he doesn’t know what the Ukrainian conflict is about.

It resonates with the audience. The 79-year-old is "senile". The West is “a madhouse”. Top Ukrainian military officers are “fools” who are looking forward to war. NATO planes and ships are “on our borders”.

This is the Kremlin’s core message to its people. Russia is a peace-loving country that is constantly provoked by the evil West. The message is so omnipresent that even the media that are critical of the Kremlin are reluctant to make the Russian deployment on the Ukrainian border a broad issue.

Last Friday, the thrice-weekly Novaya Gazeta, whose editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov was awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, ran the story of a tortured activist on its front page, and on Wednesday, a major interview with a security expert about the “political thriller” between Russia and the United States.

In many cases, the American warning of war is not taken seriously, even among Kremlin critics. Yulia Latyninia, a journalist critical of the Kremlin who left Russia five years ago after threats and attacks, spoke on her program of a “war that will not happen” but from which the Kremlin has already benefited.

Because the ruble’s exchange rate had fallen as a result of the Western panic, the Russian state budget had saved eight billion rubles. This refers to the fact that Russia sells its main exports – oil and gas – for foreign currency. The lower the ruble, the higher the revenue for the state budget.

Overall, the mood of the media in Russia is very different from the Russian war hysteria of 2014 and 2015, which was meant to prepare the domestic population for the annexation of Crimea, for example. But it would be premature to conclude that the Kremlin is not planning an escalation. This time, the Russian state can present its people with a fait accompli and trust that the people believe it — a plausible calculation given the many years of propaganda.

Pavel Lokshin / Die Welt

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Ukraine update: Russia’s announcement that some of its forces surrounding Ukraine were pulling out was met with skepticism. Meanwhile, as Ukraine is marking a “Day of Unity”, the websites of the country’s defense ministry and armed forces, as well as two banks, have been hit by a cyberattack that authorities believe was launched by Russians.

• France to announce withdrawal of troops from Mali: Following a meeting with the heads of state in West Africa and the Sahel region, French president Emmanuel Macron is expected to announce that French troops will be withdrawn from Mali under pressure from the military junta. About 4,800 French troops are deployed in the Sahel as part of the anti-terrorism Opération Barkhane launched in 2014.

• At least five dead in multiple attacks in Somali capital: At least five people were killed in two attacks on police stations carried out by Al Shabaab militants in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu.

• Poland and Hungary lose legal challenge against EU’s rule-of-law mechanism: The European Union’s highest court has ruled in favor of the bloc’s mechanism that punishes member states rule-of-law violations by withholding funds, dismissing a challenge by Hungary and Poland.

• First woman reportedly cured of HIV: A middle-aged American woman with leukemia has become the first woman and the third person to date to be cured of HIV after receiving a stem cell transplant, researchers reported.

• Ottawa police chief resigns: Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly has announced his resignation after weeks of criticism for his handling of the ongoing “Freedom Convoy” protests that have paralyzed Canada’s capital city for more than two weeks.

• Rare baby ghost shark discovered in New Zealand: Scientists in New Zealand found a newly hatched baby ghost shark, a little known species of fish also called “chimaera,” that lives in very deep waters and is rarely visible to humans.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Honduran daily La Prensa reports on the arrest of the Central American nation’s former president Juan Orlando Hernandez, following an extradition request from the United States on accusations that he colluded with drug traffickers. Speculations had been swirling for months that the U.S. was planning the extradition request after Hernandez left office. Xiamara Castro replaced him last month to become Honduras’ first female president.

📣 VERBATIM

When we see the withdrawal, we will believe in de-escalation.

— Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, expressed skepticism over a Russian Federation statement indicating that some troops would return to their bases after having completed drills near Ukraine's border, but that major military exercises would continue. “Do not hear and then believe. But do see and then believe” the minister told reporters during a video briefing from Kyiv.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

COVID exposes harsh reality of Egypt's public schools

In Egypt, private schools are driven solely by profit. As the economic effects of COVID-19 forces families to choose cheaper schools, many parents are forced to confront the country's endemic education problems. And they're discovering that expensive private schools are better in outward appearance only, reports Nada Arafat in independent Egyptian online newspaper Mada Masr.

🚸 Heba Ismail’s husband lost his job amid the coronavirus pandemic and they could no longer afford the fees for seven-year-old Ali Eddin’s private school. She transferred him to a cheaper experimental public school. However, Ali Eddin’s experience at the new school was “devastating,” Ismail says. Her family ordeal has become increasingly common as the economic effects of COVID-19 have left many Egyptian households financially squeezed, forcing parents to transfer their children from private schools to public schools, reversing a decades-long trend.

🏫 Like many Egyptian families, Ismail was compelled to transfer her child from a private school to a public one for financial reasons. However, the quality of education at many private schools is often only marginally better than public schools — even though they can cost tens of thousands of pounds more a year — and offer little benefit other than their social standing, according to a number of families who spoke to Mada Masr.

💰 Meanwhile, school boards in the private sector have continued to try and maximize their profits. They declined appeals from parents to lower tuition fees or other, nonessential fees, such as for school buses or after-school activities, which would often be canceled. Instead, the schools continued to insist on collecting all their fees in full, saying that they had to continue paying their employees, despite the fact that scores of teachers, administrative staff and workers had been let go.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

10.6%

Driven by inflation and a rebound in consumer demand for basic goods, Colombia has seen its economy grow at its highest rate since 1906, with gross domestic product having expanded by 10.6% in 2021, the nation’s statistics agency has said. Colombia’s best year on record comes right after its worst in 2020, when efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 led to mass unemployment and bankruptcy.

✍️ Newsletter by Jane Herbelin and Anne-Sophie Goninet


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Economy

Europe's Winter Energy Crisis Has Already Begun

in the face of Russia's stranglehold over supplies, the European Commission has proposed support packages and price caps. But across Europe, fears about the cost of living are spreading – and with it, doubts about support for Ukraine.

Protesters on Thursday in the German state of Thuringia carried Russian flags and signs: 'First our country! Life must be affordable.'

Martin Schutt/dpa via ZUMA
Stefanie Bolzen, Philipp Fritz, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister, Mandoline Rutkowski, Stefan Schocher, Claus, Christian Malzahn and Nikolaus Doll

-Analysis-

In her State of the Union address on September 14, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, issued an urgent appeal for solidarity between EU member states in tackling the energy crisis, and towards Ukraine. Von der Leyen need only look out her window to see that tensions are growing in capital cities across Europe due to the sharp rise in energy prices.

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In the Czech Republic, people are already taking to the streets, while opposition politicians elsewhere are looking to score points — and some countries' support for Ukraine may start to buckle.

With winter approaching, Europe is facing a true test of both its mettle, and imagination.

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