👋 Grüss Gott!*
Welcome to Thursday, where Ukraine lashed out at Biden’s prediction about Russian intentions, Austria is betting on a new incentive for the unvaccinated, and the Australian city of Adelaide is baffled by a mysterious spate of googly eyes. We also look at Russia’s latest efforts to dismantle the REvil hacking group, at Washington’s request, and what this means in the context of U.S.-Russia tensions over Ukraine.
[*Swabian - Germany]
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• Biden’s ambiguous comment on Western response over Russia: U.S. President Joe Biden said he thinks Russia will “move in” on Ukraine during a news conference, warning Russian President Vladimir Putin would pay a “serious and dear price” for invading, while acknowledging there would be a lower cost for a “minor incursion.” The comment sparked outcry in Kyiv, where officials have been meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken as Russian troops amass on Ukraine’s border. This Thursday marks one year since Joe Biden was inaugurated as president of the United States.
• COVID update: The UK will gradually lift COVID-19 measures including mandatory face masks in public places and coronavirus passports for large events, as infections level off in most parts of the country. Meanwhile, Austria’s government announced the launch of a national lottery to encourage unvaccinated citizens to get the jab, as the country is set on passing a bill introducing a national vaccine mandate.
• North Korea hints at restart of nuclear, missile tests: North Korea is considering resuming nuclear and long-range weapons tests as it prepares for “confrontation” with Washington, state news agency KCNA reported.
• Pakistani woman sentenced to death for WhatsApp “blasphemy”: A Pakistani court has sentenced a 26-year-old Muslim woman to death for sharing images on WhatsApp considered to be insulting to Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and one his wives. Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws include a mandatory death penalty for insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
• First relief flights land in Tonga: The first foreign aid planes have arrived in Tonga, with much needed humanitarian supplies, five days after the South Pacific nation was devastated by a volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami. A state of emergency has been declared and international communications have been restored.
• France mourns death of actor Gaspard Ulliel: French actor Gaspard Ulliel, who gained international attention for his performances in Hannibal Rising and Saint Laurent, was killed in a skiing accident at the age of 37.
• Adelaide’s googly eyes bandit: Oversized googly eyes have been mysteriously appearing for days across the Australian southern city of Adelaide, on the faces of various mascots and of a colonial monument.
Peruvian daily El Comercio reports on the oil spill off the coast near Lima, caused by waves linked to Tonga’s eruption and tsunami. Authorities sealed three beaches near the capital and are demanding compensation to Spanish oil giant Repsol, which operates the refinery that leaked 6,000 barrels of oil, for what could be the worst ecological disaster to hit the country in recent history.
A new study revealed that a monster iceberg, also known as A68, was dumping more than 152 billion tons of freshwater in the ocean, every single day at the height of its melting. The A68 “megaberg” (when an entire mass of a glacier breaks off to form a gigantic iceberg) detached from Antarctica in 2017 and began an epic three-and-a-half year 4000-kilometer journey across the Southern Ocean. The ice mass received attention by Christmas 2020 as it approached the warmer climes of the British Overseas Territory of South Georgia, and by early 2021 what was once the world’s biggest iceberg had vanished.
REvil bust: Is Russian cybercrime crackdown just a decoy from Ukraine?
This past weekend’s unprecedented operation to dismantle the cybercriminal REvil network in Russia was carried out on a request and information from Washington. Occurring just as the two countries face off over the Russian threat to invade Ukraine raises more questions than it answers.
🇷🇺 🇺🇸 Russian security forces raided 25 addresses in St. Petersburg, Moscow and several other regions south of the capital in an operation to dismantle the notorious REvil group, accused of some of the worst cyberattacks in recent years to hit targets in the U.S. and elsewhere in the West. Russian online media Interfax revealed that this was initiated from a request and information coming directly from Washington. What does it mean that this development came just on the heels of the breakdown in talks between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin?
💻 Talks in prior months between Biden and Putin have previously touched on the topic of cyber security, with the former accusing his Russian counterpart of doing little to address the problem within his own borders. He called on Putin to take all necessary measures to stem these issues following the attack last July, otherwise, the U.S. would be prepared to shoulder the responsibility itself. So was this operation on REvil a sign that Moscow is ready to crack down on cybercriminals inside Russia? Or is its acting now linked to the showdown over NATO and the Ukraine border?
⚠️ The hope among Western law enforcement officials is that the move is ultimately not linked to the current geopolitical standoff. Yet there is the risk that the operation is ultimately a decoy in the larger battle brewing with the West. The timing, following the failed Biden-Putin negotiations, seems aimed at reminding Washington that such potential cooperation would cease if the United States and its allies impose new harsher sanctions in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
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There is now a demonstrable effort to make peace.
— The United Nations chief, Antonio Guterres expressed hope Wednesday there could be an opening to resolve the 14 months of conflict in northern Ethiopia, between government and Tigrayan forces. Though he offered no details, Guterres’ statement came after a call with former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, who is the African Union’s chief envoy to the Horn of Africa.
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Bertrand Hauger and Jane Herbelin
Look out for those googly eyes, and let us know what’s happening in your corner of the world!