👋 Oraire ota*
Welcome to Thursday, where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky lands in Brussels to address European leaders, North Korea parades intercontinental ballistic missiles in Pyongyang, and there’s good news if you like Disney movies (less so if you work there). Meanwhile, we look at why it’s becoming difficult for close Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin to get new mercenaries to sign up for his Wagner paramilitary Group.
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• Zelensky in Brussels: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has just arrived in Brussels, where he will join European Union leaders as they gather for a summit. As part of his whirlwind European tour, Zelensky was in London on Wednesday afternoon before heading to Paris where he met with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, reiterating his call for western leaders to provide Kyiv with fighter jets.
• Death toll in Turkey-Syria earthquake passes 16,000: The death toll from Monday’s earthquake in Turkey and Syria has passed 16,000. Rescue operations are still underway, but chances of finding more survivors are getting thinner four days into the disaster, amid freezing conditions. Meanwhile, six UN aid trucks (the first humanitarian convoy since the earthquake hit) have crossed from Turkey into northwestern Syria.
• Pakistan close to IMF bailout: After a week of tough negotiations with a team from the International Monetary Fund, Pakistani authorities have announced they expected a deal to be found within 24-48 hours, allowing the country to avoid defaulting on external payment obligations. Pakistan is facing one of its worst economic crises, with inflation reaching 26% in January.
• North Korea shows off missiles during large military parade: North Korea displayed a dozen intercontinental ballistic missiles during a nighttime national military parade late Wednesday. The missiles were paraded through Pyongyang’s Kim II-sung square, in what state media said offered a view of the country’s nuclear attack capability.
• Japan arrests “Luffy” gang ringleaders: Japanese police have arrested four men for allegedly masterminding scams and robberies while behind bars in the Philippines. The four men, thought to be at the head of the so-called Luffy gang, had managed to recruit accomplices in Japan to carry out the robberies and are believed to have stolen billions of yens from their victims.
• Too much tweeting breaks Twitter: "You are over the daily limit for sending Tweets" is the message many Twitter users received as the social media platform went down for about 90 minutes. Twitter owner Elon Musk clarified this morning that there were “internal and external issues with the app simultaneously,” adding that service should be back on track later today.
• Good and bad news from Disney: The Walt Disney Co. has just announced that sequels are on the way for a number of their most popular franchises Toy Story, Frozen, and Zootopia. , the company has also declared that 7,000 jobs are to be axed, representing around 3.6% of the company’s global workforce.
British daily The Times features a Churchill-esque Volodymyr Zelensky on its front page, to mark the Ukrainian president’s “historic visit” in the UK — the first stage of a surprise diplomatic tour of European capitals and Zelensky’s second foreign trip since the Russian invasion started nearly a year ago. In a speech to the British parliament, the Ukrainian president pleaded for more weaponry, in particular fighter jets, saying: “We have freedom. Give us wings to protect it.”
Saudi Arabian billionaire businessman and royal Prince Alwaleed bin Talal announced he will award a one million riyals ($266,500) bonus to each player from the country’s Al Hilal soccer club for their 3-2 win over South American champions Flamengo, which sent them to the FIFA Club World Cup final.
Freedom or death? Wagner Group struggles to recruit new prisoners for Russia's war
Many of the convicts that the Wagner Group mercenary outfit enlisted to fight in Ukraine are dead or missing, which has created a major recruitment problem for the paramilitary group headed by Putin confidante Yevgeny Prigozhin.
⚖️ Back in September, Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the private paramilitary Wagner Group, promised a full pardon to any Russian prisoners who agreed to fight in Ukraine. It was a critical recruitment tool to bolster Vladimir Putin's announcement at the time of a "partial" mobilization of new troops. Yet now, amid fears of a new wave of Russian mobilization, convicts in Russian penal colonies who are refusing to go to the front line are being threatened with new criminal cases and sentences.
❌ The new recruitment methods can be explained by the fact that, unlike in the summer and fall of 2022, convicts are aware of the high numbers of dead and wounded on the front line. Now they are far less willing to trade their prison sentence for what they see as virtual suicide. According to the Speaker of the U.S. National Security Council, John Kirby, the Wagner PMC in Ukraine is made up of around 50,000 fighters, 40,000 of whom are former prisoners.
📈 Olga Romanova, head of the Rus’ Sidiashchaia, a non-governmental NGO that supports convicts and their families, estimates the number to be slightly higher: 50,000 recruits of which 40,000 are “either dead, injured, or have surrendered or deserted the army.” Romanova also reports that rather than admit that the convicts he recruits are incompetent, have surrendered, or run away, Prigozhin prefers to say they are dead, sending out fake funeral notices to the recruits’ families.➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
➡️ Watch the video: THIS HAPPENED
“Ukraine is part of the European family.”
— German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Brussels today “a strong sign,” as the Ukrainian president is expected to address European leaders and lawmakers. Meeting with Zelensky in Paris last night, as part of his whirlwind tour of Europe, both German and French leaders reiterated their support to Kyiv, each stating in turn that Russia “must not win.”
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✍️ Newsletter by Ginevra Falciani, Renate Mattar, Inès Mermat and Anne-Sophie Goninet
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