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Djokovic Win, Kazakhstan Toll, Gates Of Hell

Midwinter-Ice Water Bathing Ceremony 2022 In Tokyo

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

👋 Moni!*

Welcome to Monday, where unvaccinated Novak Djokovic wins court battle allowing him to stay in Australia to play in upcoming Australian Open, the death toll in Kazakhstan continues to rise and a natural attraction could get literally extinguished in Turkmenistan. We also look at how the surge in Omicron cases is threatening live events around the world. Again...

[*Chewa - Malawi and Zambia]


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COVID update: As cases continue to surge, India has begun delivering booster shots to high-risk groups. Australia has said it will “push through” the Omicron wave as it records more than one million infections, more than half in just the last week. After nearly two years of closure, schools in Uganda have reopened, ending the world’s longest pandemic-induced school closure for some 15 million students.

Djokovic released: Unvaccinated tennis star Novak Djokovic has been released from detainment after a judge overturned the Serb’s visa cancellation, an unexpected turn in Djokovic’s immigration case to play in the Australian Open. Djokovic has not been seen since the announcement and the Australian Immigration Minister still has the authority to cancel Djokovic’s visa.

Aung San Suu Kyi new sentences: Ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi was given a four-year sentence by a Myanmar court on charges of illegally possessing walkie-talkies and breaking coronavirus rules. This latest ruling means the 76-year-old could be spending the rest of her life in jail.

Kazakhstan death toll rises, with international intervention offered: Amidst continued violent protests, the death toll in Kazakhstan continues to increase with thousands of injuries recorded and nearly 8,000 imprisoned. The government has resigned and a state of emergency has been declared, with a Russian-led military alliance in place to quel demonstrators. China, one of Kazakhstan’s other neighbors, is offering security support to the mineral and oil-rich country.

19 die in NYC apartment fire: A blaze in a Bronx apartment building caused by a space heater malfunction is one of the deadliest in modern New York City history, with many victims unable to escape the flames because of smoke. The dead include nine children and another 60 are in the hospital, some with life-threatening injuries.

Bob Saget dies: American actor and comedian Bob Saget has died at age 65. Best known for playing the affable father in the ‘90s sitcom Full House, Saget later went on to tour with a raunchy, not-so-family-friendly stand-up comedy act.

Closing the Gates of Hell: Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, known for his authoritarian tendencies, has set his sights on the one foe he has not been able to extinguish: the Darvaza Crater, a seemingly inexhaustible vat of flames. After a 1970s gas expedition resulted in the ground collapsing, the hole was reportedly lit on fire to prevent natural gas from spreading, and continues to burn. The so-called Gates of Hell is one of the central Asian country’s few tourist attractions, but President Berdymukhamedov has declared that he now wants to put it out once and for all.


Russian daily Kommersant reports on how Kazakhstan “lost its state for a week” after protests, triggered by a rise in fuel prices, turned into the worst unrest the former Soviet country has experienced in its 30 years of independence. At least 164 were killed and more than 5,000 detained after a Russia-led military alliance was deployed to quell the demonstrations.



Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Rolls-Royce sold 5,586 vehicles to customers in more than 50 countries in 2021, a 49% increase in sales and the largest number in the luxury carmaker’s 117-year history. Demand for luxury vehicles has surged around the world, particularly in China and the U.S., as travel restrictions have left wealthy consumers with more disposable income.


Carnival, Coachella, Beijing Games: COVID threatening live events again

The Omicron variant is again forcing event organizers to weigh whether to cancel, postpone or forge ahead in the face of superspreader risks. It’s a deja vu to the past two winters, though different this time:

❌ Part of the shock in spring 2020 was seeing the COVID-19 pandemic bring virtually all major world events, from concerts to sporting competitions to holiday celebrations, to a screeching halt. Now, with the Delta and Omicron variants exploding around the world, the same hard reality will be facing event organizers in 2022 for a second or third year in a row. We’ve seen this week as Brazil wrestles with the reality in the face of its famous Carnival, a cramped and sweaty celebration that is an essential national tradition and major economic engine … and a potential superspreader event.

📺 In the United States, the Omicron surge has postponed the Grammy Music Awards, which were planned to take place on Jan. 31. No date has been set for the 2022 event, as many other ceremonies have also been postponed, including the Critics Choice Awards, or canceled in-person programming, like the Sundance Film Festival. The effect on cultural programming is even broader: A slew of TV show premieres, concerts and plays have either been suspended or canceled outright to limit infection spread.

⛷️ Sports too is in the variant’s path, with some match cancellations and such superstars as soccer legend Lionel Messi testing positive in recent days. While the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics are going forward with major restrictions next month, the fate of China’s biggest annual holiday, the Lunar New Year, is in question. Ahead of the Winter Games, China’s National Health Commission has announced travel restrictions as part of its “zero-COVID” strategy to prevent the Games from being a mass spreader event.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


"Russia has a gun to the head of Ukraine."

— U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday, that he doesn't foresee any major breakthroughs in the meetings with Russia this week as long as tensions on the Ukraine border remain high. “We’re going to listen to their concerns, they’ll listen to our concerns and we’ll see if there are grounds for progress. But to make actual progress, it’s very hard to see that happening when there’s an ongoing escalation,” Blinken said. “Russia has a gun to the head of Ukraine with 100,000 troops near its borders.”

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

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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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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

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