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Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel protest cutting funds to seminary students who avoid military service.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel protest cutting funds to seminary students who avoid military service.

SYRIA WILL ATTEND 2ND ROUND OF GENEVA 2
Syrian state television announced that the government will participate in the second round of the Geneva 2 peace conference, due to start Feb. 10, quoting Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad. The announcement came as a first group of 200 civilians is about to be evacuated from the city of Homs, after an agreed ceasefire between the Syrian army and opposition fighters. Read the full story from the BBC.

U.S. DIPLOMAT EMBARRASSED BY LEAKED TAPE
Victoria Nuland, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Europe, is finding herself embroiled in a diplomatic scandal after she was recorded as saying “F*** the EU” during a phone conversation about Ukraine’s future. Read the story here.

SOCHI GETS UNDERWAY, CRITICISM CONTINUES
The opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games will start at 8:14 p.m. local time (11:14 EST). If you can’t wait until then to see what the Russians have prepared for the ceremony, here’s a short video of the rehearsal.

  • To learn more about the Olympians, check out this list of the top 10 athletes to watch from RT.

  • Google seized the occasion of the opening ceremony today to send a direct message to the Russian administration for its law that bans “gay propaganda” with today’s doodle, which features the colors of the gay pride flag.

  • The New York Times published a scathing editorial on Vladimir Putin today, arguing that Sochi is no reason to ignore Russia’s “soul-crushing repression, the cruel new anti-gay and blasphemy laws and the corrupt legal system.”

VIOLENT ANTI-GOVERNMENT PROTESTS IN BOSNIA
Anti-government protesters in the Bosnian city of Tuzla clashed with police yesterday as they demonstrated for the second consecutive day to denounce growing poverty that they blame on mass privatization that took place after the fall of communism in the country. More than 130 people were injured in the protests, most of them police officers. Another demonstration is planned for today as well as in the capital of Sarajevo. Read more from France24.

RUSSIA TO SEND GRAIN SUPPLIES TO NORTH KOREA
Russia will provide North Korea with 50 tons of grain this year as part of a humanitarian assistance program, Ria Novosti reports. Alexander Timonin, the Russian ambassador to North Korea, says Moscow has already spent $8 million for food aid between 2012 and 2013. The ambassador also said that Russia had no information suggesting Pyongyang is planning new nuclear tests.

PALACE SQUATTING?
Look here to see what Hugo Chavez’s daughters have been up to since his death last year, and what it means for his successor, Nicolas Maduro.

BY THE NUMBERS
France leads the world in tweet removal requests. See how many and why.

MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD

CRIME INT’L
In Kenya, a pastor was caught red-handed with a married women. Worse, he had already been caught before with the first wife of the same man.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

When Did Putin "Turn" Evil? That's Exactly The Wrong Question

Look back over the past two decades, and you'll see Vladimir Putin has always been the man revealed by the Ukraine invasion, an evil and sinister dictator. The Russian leader just managed to mask it, especially because so many chose to see him as a typically corrupt and greedy strongman who could be bribed or reasoned with.

Putin arrives for a ceremony to accept credentials from 24 foreign ambassadors at the Grand Kremlin Palace on Sept. 20.

Sergiy Gromenko*

-OpEd-

KYIV — The world knows that Vladimir Putin has power, money and mistresses. So why, ask some, wasn't that enough for him? Why did he have to go start another war?

At its heart, this is the wrong question to ask. For Putin, military expansion is not an adrenaline rush to feed into his existing life of luxury. On the contrary, the shedding of blood for the sake of holding power is his modus operandi, while the fruits of greed and corruption like the Putin Palace in Gelendzhik are more like a welcome bonus.

In the last year, we have kept hearing rhetorical questions like “why did Putin start this war at all, didn't he have enough of his own land?” or “he already has Gelendzhik to enjoy, why fight?” This line of thinking has resurfaced after missile strikes on Ukrainian power grids and dams, which was regarded by many as a simple demonstration of terrorism. Such acts are a manifestation of weakness, some ask, so is Putin ready to show himself weak?

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However, you will not arrive at the correct answer if the questions themselves are asked incorrectly. For decades, analysts in Russia, Ukraine, and the West have been under an illusion about the nature of the Russian president's personal dictatorship.

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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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