Welcome to Friday, where Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky insists that Europe is still unified in its support for Kyiv, Peru will have its fifth prime minister in the past 16 months, and meet Flossie the 27-year-old cat. Meanwhile, we look at the uptick in Russia’s spying on its Nordic neighbors.
[*Tswana, Botswana and South Africa]
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• Zelensky says “no schism” in Europe: Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky insisted that Europe is still unified in its support for Ukraine, and against Russian aggression. In a virtual address Friday to “The Idea of Europe” conference, Zelensky said “There is no split. There is no schism among Europeans. We have to preserve this so this is our mission number one this year.” The statement comes at the end of brutal week of Russian air strikes on Ukraine, and as some signs of Western opposition to continued support for Kyiv amid a deepening global economic crisis.
• Netanyahu picks far-right Ben-Gvir as national security minister: As part of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to strike coalition deals and return to power, his Likud party has announced that it would appoint controversial far-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir as Israel’s minister of national security, a newly created role.
• Iran arrests protest-supporting former footballer: Voria Ghafouri, a former international soccer player who backed the ongoing protests against Iran’s regime, has been arrested for spreading “propaganda” against the Islamic Republic. Meanwhile, confrontations between Iranian pro and anti-government fans are being reported outside the stadium where the national team is playing against Wales this morning for its second game at the World Cup in Qatar.
• Writer who accused Trump of rape files new lawsuit: E. Jean Carroll, the Elle magazine columnist who had accused former President Donald Trump of raping her in the 1990s, filed an upgraded lawsuit for battery and defamation, after he denied the allegations last month. Carroll is relying on the new Adult Survivors Act, which allows sexual violence victims to sue over attacks that have passed the statute of limitations.
• Peru’s prime minister resigns: Peruvian President Pedro Castillo has accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Anibal Torres after his call for a confidence vote to challenge the opposition-controlled Congress was declined. Castillo is set to name a fifth prime minister since taking office in July 2021.
• Musk to offer “amnesty” to Twitter’s suspended accounts: Twitter owner Elon Musk announced the social media platform will provide a “general amnesty” to some of the suspended accounts, beginning next week. Several banned users have already been reinstated, including former U.S. President Donald Trump. Musk also revealed Twitter will launch its “Verified” service next week, with “gold checks” for companies, gray colored ones for government accounts and blue for individuals.
• World’s longest-running play to open on Broadway for first time: The Mousetrap, a murder mystery by Agatha Christie which marks its 70th anniversary this Friday, will open on Broadway for the first time next year. The British play has been performed almost 29,000 times since it premiered in 1952 in London.
“Corona is over,” declares Hamburg-based daily Morgenpost on its front page, after a top German virologist says that the evolution of COVID-19 is “at a dead end.” Still, the newspaper reports that Germany’s health minister is skeptical about such an optimistic outlook.
26 years and 329 days
Flossie, at the age of almost 27 — the feline equivalent of being 120 human years old — has been crowned by the Guinness World Records as the world’s oldest living cat.
Nordic 007: The quiet rise of Russian spies in Sweden
This week marks the opening of what's been described as the biggest Swedish espionage case since the end of the Cold War, as tensions rise in the face of the Russian war in Ukraine.
🚨 These are a few examples of the 28 internet searches Payam Kia did shortly before being arrested in November 2021. Two months earlier, his older brother Peyman, a former employee of the Swedish armed forces and security services, had been arrested on charges of aggravated espionage. The two brothers had long been suspected of sharing classified information. But it was only on November 11 that prosecutors brought charges against them, after having gathered enough evidence to support what has been described as Sweden’s largest espionage cases since the end of the Cold War.
⚖️ The trial of the brothers was set to begin Thursday behind closed doors at the Stockholm District Court; and while prosecutors believe financial gain was the motive, the case is drawing extra attention in Sweden and beyond for reasons that extend well beyond individual greed. Over the last decade, due to rising geopolitical tensions, the threat from spies has increased all over Europe. No doubt the beginning of the war in Ukraine has raised the stakes, and activity, for those working undercover on both sides.
🇸🇪🔍 Both brothers are now accused of spying on behalf of Moscow between September 2011 and September 2021. Peyman and Payam Kia, who could each face a life sentence, deny the charges. With its geographic position, sharing the Baltic Sea coastline, Sweden is particularly exposed: The Security Service estimates that one third of the staff at Russian embassies are usually intelligence officers, which means that about 10-15 people at the Russian Embassy in Stockholm are believed to be actively spying.
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“I didn't have the power to get my way.”
— In a candid interview with German news outlet Der Spiegel, former Chancellor Angela Merkel said she had tried to organize talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in the summer of 2021, but that plans had failed to materialize due to her nearing the end of her chancellorship. “For Putin, only power counts," Merkel lamented.
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