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Ukraine one year on: the specter of nuclear war

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Ukraine one year on: the specter of nuclear war

 For decades, children in the United States and the Soviet Union were drilled on what to do in a nuclear war. One year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, could the danger have returned for new generations?

Within days of Moscow’s attack, President Vladimir Putin ordered the mobilization of Russian nuclear forces, stunning the world.

Washington bashed such talk as “dangerous” and “irresponsible,” and warned Moscow of “catastrophic consequences.”

But Moscow kept up its threats, giving rise to deep worries that Putin was willing to start a nuclear exchange that could trigger an all-out apocalypse.

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“We have not seen a public announcement from the Russians regarding a heightened nuclear alert status since the 1960s,” said Avril Haines, US Director of National Intelligence.

And President Joe Biden warned that the world risked nuclear destruction for the first time since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

Seconds to midnight

Russian officials sought to clarify their stance, saying the country would only use nuclear weapons if it were facing an “existential threat.”

But in September, when Putin declared the annexation of four Ukraine regions, the question was: would attacking them amount to an “existential threat” to Russia?

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Though there was no sign of Russian nuclear mobilization, in January, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved their “Doomsday Clock” forward to just 90 seconds to midnight, signaling their view that the destruction of humanity was closer than ever.

“Russia’s thinly veiled threats to use nuclear weapons remind the world that escalation of the conflict — by accident, intention, or miscalculation — is a terrible risk,” the Bulletin said.

Arms control failing

The threat has returned not only because Russia invaded Ukraine. The US-USSR arms control pacts that eased the tensions of the Cold War are dead or broken.

The crucial 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty collapsed in 2002.

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In 2019 the United States pulled out of the INF treaty, which limited medium-range nuclear-capable missiles, saying Russia was violating its commitments.

And over the past year the 2011 New Start Treaty between the United States and Russia limiting nuclear warheads has frayed, Washington again accusing Moscow of not complying.

– Nukes ‘don’t give you security’-

But ironically, said Pavel Podvig, a senior researcher at the UN Institute for Disarmament Research, Russia’s threats may have made the world a little safer, by reminding new generations of the unthinkable danger of atomic armageddon.

For one, he said, Russia may have calculated that it could start and quickly finish the war on Ukraine because it had nuclear weapons.

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Instead, it collided with nuclear-armed NATO’s support for Ukraine.

The conflict may even have helped make the case that nuclear weapons are “obsolete”, said Podvig, as Russia may have found that “they don’t give you security.”

Global pushback

Second, Podvig said, is the pushback from world leaders, including Russia’s friends India and China, over Moscow’s nuclear talk, helping to bolster a sense that nuclear threats are taboo.

In September Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised concerns about the nuclear talk with Putin.

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In November the G20 declared at the end of its summit in Bali — where Russia took part — that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is “inadmissible.”

Even more important, said Podvig, was the joint statement by Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the Bali venue.

Biden and Xi agreed “that a nuclear war should never be fought and can never be won and underscored their opposition to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine,” their statement said.

Washington has toned down its own talk, refraining from repeating its warning of “catastrophic consequences” for nuclear use.

“It turns out that people don’t really like when states talk like that,” said Podvig, adding people are again “acutely clear of the danger of a nuclear war.”

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Israel insists it is doing all it can to protect civilians in Gaza and denies genocide charges

Israel insists it is doing all it can to protect civilians in Gaza and denies genocide charges

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Israel insists it is doing all it can to protect civilians in Gaza and denies genocide charges

Israel strongly denied charges of genocide on Friday, telling the United Nations’ top court it was doing everything it could to protect the civilian population during its military operation in Gaza.

The International Court of Justice wrapped up a third round of hearings on emergency measures requested by South Africa, which says Israel’s military incursion in the southern city of Rafah threatens the “very survival of Palestinians in Gaza” and has asked the court to order a cease-fire.

Tamar Kaplan-Tourgeman, one of Israel’s legal team, defended the country’s conduct, saying it had allowed in fuel and medication to the beleaguered enclave.

“Israel takes extraordinary measures in order to minimize the harm to civilians in Gaza,” she told The Hague-based court.

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A protester shouting “Liars” briefly interrupted Kaplan-Tourgeman’s final remarks. The hearing was paused for less than a minute while security guards escorted a woman from the public gallery.

South Africa told the court on Thursday that the situation in the beleaguered enclave has reached “a new and horrific stage” and urged judges to order a half to Israeli military operations. The court was holding a third round of hearings on emergency measures requested by South Africa since it first filed its genocide case at the end of last year.

According to the latest request, South Africa says Israel’s military incursion in Rafah threatens the “very survival of Palestinians in Gaza.” In January, judges ordered Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide in Gaza, but the panel stopped short of ordering an end to the military offensive. Judges will now deliberate on the request and are expected to issue a decision in the next weeks.

ICJ judges have broad powers to order a cease-fire and other measures, though the court doesn’t have its own enforcement apparatus. A 2022 order by the court demanding that Russia halt its full-scale invasion of Ukraine has so far gone unheeded.

Most of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people have been displaced since fighting began.

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The war began with a Hamas attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7 in which Palestinian militants killed around 1,200 people and took about 250 hostages. More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, Gaza’s Health Ministry says, without distinguishing between civilians and combatants in its count.

South Africa initiated proceedings in December 2023 and sees the legal campaign as rooted in issues central to its identity. Its governing party, the African National Congress, has long compared Israel’s policies in Gaza and the occupied West Bank to its own history under the apartheid regime of white minority rule, which restricted most Blacks to “homelands.” Apartheid ended in 1994. 

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Ukraine braces for ‘heavy battles’ as Putin says Russia carving out Kharkiv buffer zone

Ukraine braces for ‘heavy battles’ as Putin says Russia carving out Kharkiv buffer zone

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Ukraine braces for 'heavy battles' as Putin says Russia carving out Kharkiv buffer zone

Ukraine’s top commander warned on Friday of “heavy battles” looming on the war’s new front in the northeastern Kharkiv region as Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow was carving out a “buffer zone” in the area.

Russian forces attacked the Kharkiv region’s north last Friday, making inroads of up to 10 kilometres (6 miles) and unbalancing Kyiv’s outnumbered troops who are trying to hold the line over a sprawling front nearly 27 months since the full-scale invasion.

Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi said the attack had expanded the area of hostilities by around 70km and that Russia had launched its incursion ahead of schedule when “it noticed the deployment of our forces”.

“We understand there will be heavy battles and that the enemy is preparing for that,” the head of the Ukrainian armed forces wrote in a statement on the Telegram app.

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Speaking during a state visit to China, Putin said Moscow’s forces were creating a “buffer zone”to protect Russian border regions, but that capturing the city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest, was not part of the current plan.

The Russian leader told a news conference the assault was a response to Kyiv’s shelling of Russian border regions such as Belgorod.

“Civilians are dying there. It’s obvious. They are shooting directly at the city centre, at residential areas. And I said publicly that if this continues, we will be forced to create a security zone, a buffer zone. That is what we are doing,” Putin said.

Russian forces were able to advance 10 kilometres in one place, but Ukrainian forces have “stabilised” the front, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told Ukrainian media outlets in comments published on Friday.

HEAVIEST ASSAULTS IN EAST

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Moscow’s forces are mounting their heaviest assaults in the eastern Donetsk region, according to data compiled by the Ukrainian General Staff, which said the eastern Pokrovsk front had faced the most regular assaults in recent days.

In his comments, Syrskyi said Ukrainian forces were preparing their defensive lines for a possible new Russian assault on the Sumy region, which would mark another front more than a hundred kilometres to the north of Kharkiv.

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Four dead in New Caledonia riots, France declares state of emergency

Four dead in New Caledonia riots, France declares state of emergency

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Four dead in New Caledonia riots, France declares state of emergency

France declared a state of emergency on the Pacific island of New Caledonia on Wednesday after three young indigenous Kanak and a police official were killed in riots over electoral reform.

The state of emergency, which entered into force at 5 am local time (1800 GMT), gives authorities additional powers to ban gatherings and forbid people from moving around the French-ruled island.

Police reinforcements adding 500 officers to the 1,800 usually present on the island, have been sent after rioters torched vehicles and businesses and looted stores. Schools have been shut and there is already a curfew in the capital.

Rioting broke out over a new bill, adopted by lawmakers in Paris on Tuesday, that will let French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years vote in provincial elections – a move some local leaders fear will dilute the Kanak vote.

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“No violence will be tolerated,” said Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, adding that the state of emergency “will allow us to roll out massive means to restore order.”

He later signed a decree declaring a state of emergency that will last for 12 days and announced that French soldiers would be used to secure New Caledonia’s main port and airport.

Authorities also decided to ban video app TikTok, which the government during a bout of riots on France’s mainland last summer said helped rioters organise and amplified the chaos, attracting troublemakers to the streets.

TikTok could not immediately be reached for comment.

Earlier in the day, a spokesperson for New Caledonia’s President Louis Mapou said three young indigenous Kanak had died in the riots. The French government later said a 24-year-old police official had died from a gunshot wound.

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“He took off his helmet (to speak to residents) and he was shot right in the head,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.

Noumea resident Yoan Fleurot told Reuters in a Zoom interview that he was staying at home out of respect for the nightly curfew and was very scared for his family.

“I don’t see how my country can recover after this”, Fleurot said, adding he carries a gun during the day when he goes out to film the rioters he called ‘terrorists’.

Police were outnumbered by protesters, locals told Reuters.

Electoral reform is the latest flashpoint in a decades-long tussle over France’s role in the mineral-rich island, which lies in the southwest Pacific, some 1,500 km (930 miles) east of Australia.

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France annexed the island in 1853 and gave the colony the status of overseas territory in 1946. It has long been rocked by pro-independence movements.

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New Caledonia is the world’s No. 3 nickel miner and residents have been hit by a crisis in the sector, with one in five living under the poverty threshold.

“Politicians have a huge share of responsibility,” said 30-year-old Henri, who works in a hotel in Noumea. “Loyalist politicians, who are descendents of colonialists, say colonisation is over, but Kanak politicians don’t agree. There are huge economic disparities,” he said.

Henri, who declined to give his full name, said there was significant looting, with the situation most dangerous at night.

The French government has said the change in voting rules was needed so elections would be democratic.

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But it said it would not rush calling a special congress of the two houses of parliament to rubber-stamp the bill and has invited pro- and anti-independence camps for talks in Paris on the future of the island, opening the door to a potential suspension of the bill.

The major pro-independence political group, Front de Liberation Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS), which condemned the violence, said it would accept the offer of dialogue and was willing to work towards an agreement “that would allow New Caledonia to follow its path toward emancipation”.

Most residents were staying indoors.

Witness Garrido Navarro Kherachi said she moved to New Caledonia when she was eight years old, and has never been back to France. Although eligible to vote under the new rules, she says she won’t “out of respect for the Kanak people”.

“I don’t feel I know enough about the history of Caledonia and the struggle of the Kanak people to allow me to vote,” she said.

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