NUNZIUM

News That Matters

18/02/2024 ---- 19/03/2024

The Russia-Ukraine conflict, that escalated on March 13, 2024, has become a pivotal point in international politics, with its effects reverberating globally. This complex tapestry of political maneuvering, military strategy, and international response has drawn in numerous nations, each with their unique stance and reaction.

In the political arena, various nations have been actively involved. Ukrainian Justice Minister Denys Maliuska engaged with US lawmakers in Washington, securing hopeful promises of a military aid package. On the other hand, Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, affirmed Russia's refusal to participate in a Ukraine peace conference in Switzerland, demonstrating an unyielding stance.

The conflict has also incited concerns about geographical expansion, given the actions of NATO member states. Russian President Vladimir Putin's assertion that Russia is prepared for a nuclear war has not prompted any change in the US's nuclear posture. Concurrently, Ukrainian armed forces are dealing with a challenging situation on the battlefield.

The conflict's effects extend beyond politics and into tangible on-the-ground impacts. The Novoshakhtinsk oil refinery in Russia's southern Rostov region resumed operations post a drone attack. Meanwhile, Warsaw has allocated $30 million for security measures, including bomb shelters, in response to the escalating conflict.

The European Union has pledged to increase military aid to Ukraine, injecting an additional €5 billion into the European Peace Facility (EPF) by the end of the year. This comes on top of the €6.1 billion committed since 2022. However, the EPF's reform talks have been complicated by political considerations, with countries like Germany, France, and Greece holding differing views on its application.

Ukraine's military supplies have dwindled, leading to a withdrawal from Avdiivka in February. The situation has been exacerbated by a $60-billion support package from the US, which remains mired in bipartisan infighting.

The conflict has also led to the arrest of a South Korean missionary in Russia on spying charges, and the death of three people in Ukraine's eastern Sumy and Donetsk regions due to a Russian drone and bomb attack. Anti-Putin paramilitaries supporting Ukraine have urged civilians to evacuate Belgorod and Kursk while Russian forces have bombed Kherson, injuring a child.

The decision to send troops to Ukraine remains contentious. French President Emmanuel Macron has suggested the possibility, but British Foreign Minister David Cameron and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk oppose this idea, with Poland choosing to focus on providing maximum support to Ukraine against Russian aggression.

In his annual State of the Nation address, President Putin accused the West of instigating the war in Ukraine. Despite sanctions and ongoing conflict, Putin announced that Russia's economy grew at a rate higher than the global average in 2023, outpacing the United States and other G7 countries. He also outlined Russia's production goals for 2030 and announced several state support programs.

As the Russia-Ukraine conflict continues to evolve, the world watches with bated breath, hoping for a peaceful resolution.

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The Middle East has long been a region of unrest, and in October 2023, this tension escalated dramatically. Israel accused UNRWA, a UN Palestinian aid agency, of involvement in a deadly Hamas-led attack. The assault resulted in approximately 1,200 fatalities and over 200 hostages. Israel's retaliation caused over 30,000 casualties and displaced about 80% of Gaza's population.

In November, a ray of hope appeared amidst the destruction. Israel and Hamas negotiated the release of about 110 hostages, with discussions for a new cease-fire and further hostage releases ongoing. However, the EU, startled by the accusations against UNRWA, temporarily halted payments to the agency. In a show of resilience, they plan to resume payments with a €50 million ($54 million) contribution, followed by two €32 million installments later in the year.

The allegations against UNRWA have prompted investigations by the UN and EU. UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini strongly denies involvement in the attacks. In addition, the European Commission has pledged an extra €68 million in emergency aid for Palestinians in Gaza, bringing the total humanitarian aid to €275 million for the year.

The EU, the third-largest donor to UNRWA, finds itself at a crossroads. The US and Germany, the top two donors, suspended their funding earlier in January. EU member states are divided in their views on the Gaza situation. Germany supports Israel's right to self-defense, while Spain and Ireland criticize Israel's military campaign.

The humanitarian crisis was highlighted when over 100 Palestinians were killed attempting to reach an aid convoy. Israeli officials attribute most deaths to a stampede, but Gazan health officials reported gunshot wounds. This incident has drawn global condemnation, with countries including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan criticizing Israeli forces. High-ranking officials such as the EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borell, and UN Secretary-General António Guterres also condemned the incident. France, Italy, and Germany have called for an independent investigation.

The situation in Gaza remains critical. The UN reported that assisting Gaza's 2.3 million people is nearly impossible due to ongoing violence. Israeli airstrikes targeting police officers guarding aid trucks have endangered humanitarian workers. A quarter of Gaza’s population, roughly 576,000 people, are on the brink of famine.

In the midst of the crisis, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant called for a law requiring ultra-Orthodox Jews to serve in the military. With about 60,000 ultra-Orthodox males of military age currently not serving, and 300,000 reservists mobilised following the October attack, Israel's military structure may be on the verge of a significant shift.

Further complicating the situation, Israel has ceased granting visas for international humanitarian workers, according to the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA). This has hindered efforts to deliver food and other essential supplies to Gaza, affecting more than 150 jobs.

In summary, the Middle East continues to be a region of instability, with a complex narrative of allegations, attacks, and aid. As the world watches, there is a collective hope for a resolution that will bring peace and stability to this troubled region.

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The recent report from the European Environmental Agency (EEA), released this Monday, paints a dire picture of the global climate crisis, with Europe at the forefront as the world's "fastest-warming continent." The report warns of "catastrophic" consequences, urging for immediate action to counter the escalating climate change.

The EEA has identified 36 climate-related threats, with 21 requiring immediate attention and 8 flagged as "especially urgent." These threats encompass a myriad of issues, including fires, water shortages, agricultural impact, flooding, erosion, and saltwater intrusion in coastal areas. Europe's warming rate is double the global average, with global temperatures already exceeding 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The human impact of the crisis is glaring, with the EEA director, Leena Yla-Mononen, reporting 60,000 to 70,000 premature deaths in Europe due to heat in the summer of 2022. Southern Europe bears the brunt, but northern Europe is not spared, as evidenced by recent flooding in Germany and forest fires in Sweden.

The crisis also poses severe risks to ecosystems, particularly coastal and marine areas. Without immediate intervention, the majority of the 36 identified climate risks could reach "critical or catastrophic levels" within this century. These risks not only pose a threat to human health and crop production but also to infrastructure. In a worst-case scenario, heatwaves could cause hundreds of thousands of deaths, and coastal floods could result in economic losses surpassing 1 trillion euros annually by century's end.

Meanwhile, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is undergoing its seventh mass bleaching event, confirmed last Friday. This marks the fifth event in the past eight years, attributed to rising ocean temperatures due to climate change and El Niño. Despite the Reef's significant contribution to the Australian economy and its support for 64,000 tourism-related jobs, the Australian government has approved four new coal mines or expansions since May 2022, contradicting calls for reduced greenhouse gas emissions and a shift away from fossil fuels.

In further disconcerting news, the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) announced last month (February 2024) as the warmest February on record. This marks the ninth consecutive month of record-breaking temperatures, with the average surface air temperature reaching 13.54 degrees Celsius, 1.77 degrees above the preindustrial February average for 1850-1900.

A recent study published in Nature Climate Change by researchers from the University of Western Australia and Indiana State University suggests that human-caused climate change began earlier and has heated the world more than previously estimated. According to their findings, the world has already surpassed the internationally approved target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, reaching 1.7 degrees Celsius as of 2020.

The researchers used measurements from a rare species of small, hard-shelled sponges to create a temperature record for the 1800s. They argue that these sponges provide a more accurate temperature measurement tool than those used in the mid- to late 1800s, implying that the timeline for emissions reductions to combat global warming is shorter than previously believed.

In conclusion, the world is warming at a distressing rate, necessitating urgent action. The impacts are already apparent, from Europe's heatwaves to the Great Barrier Reef's bleaching. As global temperatures continue to rise, the urgency for substantial emissions reductions intensifies. The clock is ticking, and the time for action is now.

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The 96th annual Academy Awards, held in 2024 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, were a testament to cinematic brilliance. Broadcasted live on ABC to over 200 territories worldwide, the star-studded event was filled with glamour, surprise, and hosted by Jimmy Kimmel in his fourth appearance as master of ceremonies.

The spotlight was on 'Oppenheimer', the atomic bomb drama directed by Christopher Nolan. Leading the Oscar nominations with 13 nods, the film, produced by Emma Thomas, Charles Roven, and Nolan, emerged as the biggest winner of the night, securing seven awards. Among these were Best Picture, Best Director for Nolan, Best Actor for Cillian Murphy's portrayal of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Best Supporting Actor for Robert Downey Jr. The film also won for best cinematography, original score, and film editing, affirming its cinematic prowess.

'Poor Things', starring Emma Stone, was not far behind, scooping up three craft wins for best costume design, production design, and makeup and hairstyling. Stone's performance also earned her the Best Actress award. The film, which had 11 nominations, was a strong contender.

The ceremony was also marked by historic moments. Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell became the youngest-ever two-time winners of the Best Song trophy, winning for “What Was I Made For?” from 'Barbie'. '20 Days in Mariupol' won the first-ever Oscar for Ukraine for Best Documentary Feature. The Best Animated Feature was awarded to 'The Boy and the Heron', while 'The Zone of Interest' won the Oscar for Best International Feature. The event also saw first-time Oscar nominees, including openly LGBTQ+ actors Colman Domingo, Jodie Foster, and Lily Gladstone.

Despite a brief delay due to protests over the Israel-Gaza conflict near the Dolby Theatre, and criticism towards Al Pacino for failing to name all of the 10 Best Picture nominees before announcing the winner, the ceremony was largely praised. Critics applauded the diversity of the nominees and winners, reflecting the Academy's commitment to representation and inclusivity under the mandatory Academy Aperture 2025 initiative for the Best Picture category.

In conclusion, the 96th Academy Awards were a celebration of triumphs and firsts, leaving a trail of memorable moments, stunning performances, and a new chapter in film history.

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Former US President Donald Trump, in a notable turn of events, has made a triumphant return to the political stage, prevailing in his appeal against exclusion from the Republican primary in Colorado. This victory came on the eve of Super Tuesday when the US Supreme Court unanimously reversed a prior decision, thereby putting an end to efforts in Colorado, Illinois, Maine, and other states to block Trump from the ballot. This decision was a significant boost for Trump, who was previously barred due to a constitutional provision tied to the incitement of the January 6 Capitol attack in 2021.

The Supreme Court's ruling clarified that states do not have the authority to invoke a post-Civil War constitutional provision to keep presidential candidates off ballots, as this power lies with Congress. This verdict sets the stage for Trump's potential candidacy in the November election, with President Joe Biden likely to be the Democratic Party's nominee. Trump's political resurgence was further underscored by his victory in the South Carolina GOP presidential primary, where he defeated former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. Despite facing criminal charges in four jurisdictions, Trump's victories indicate he could secure the necessary 1,215 delegates to clinch the nomination by mid-March.

However, Trump's political resurgence is marred by several legal challenges. A civil fraud case led to a ruling that Trump must pay over $350m in damages, a sum that could rise to around $450m with interest charges. This ruling also prohibits Trump from conducting business in the state for three years. While Trump denies the fraud allegations and is expected to appeal, the decision is on hold pending review by a higher court.

The financial implications of Trump's legal troubles are substantial, with the $354.9m penalty representing 14-17% of his wealth, according to Forbes Magazine. Trump also owes writer E Jean Carroll $83.3 million from a defamation case concluded in January, and he faces legal fees from four criminal cases at both the federal and state levels. These financial burdens could potentially exceed half a billion dollars, possibly surpassing Trump's available cash.

Despite these legal and financial challenges, Trump's political influence remains potent. His recent comments suggesting he would "encourage" Russia to attack any NATO member failing to meet its financial obligations to the Western military alliance have sparked controversy. His critical view of NATO as an excessive financial burden on the US has been met with strong opposition from the White House and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg.

The road ahead for Trump is a complex one, marked by political victories, significant legal challenges, and controversial statements. As the political and legal saga continues to unfold, Trump's influence on American politics remains substantial. His journey will undoubtedly be closely monitored by both supporters and critics in the months to come.

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On February 24, 2024, an incident almost led to a quarter of the world's internet and telecommunication capacity being lost. The mysterious severance of three undersea cables in the Red Sea resulted in a significant disruption to global data traffic. These cables, including the Asia-Africa-Europe 1, the Europe India Gateway, Seacom, and TGN-Gulf, are indispensable conduits, handling 17% of the world's internet traffic and over 90% of communications between Europe and Asia. Beyond this, they serve as unseen highways for global trade, with the Red Sea being a pivotal route for goods moving from Asia to Europe.

The timing of the cable damage raised eyebrows as it coincided with an escalation in attacks by Yemen's Houthi rebels in the Red Sea. Backed by Iran, these rebels had been targeting ships since November of the previous year, in retaliation against US-led airstrikes on their missile and drone launch sites. These airstrikes were carried out in response to over 30 Houthi attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, which the rebels claimed were in support of the Palestinians in Gaza.

On March 2, 2024, the Belize-flagged vessel Rubymar became the first ship to be fully destroyed in the Houthi campaign, in response to Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Despite over six weeks of U.S.-led airstrikes, the rebels continued their attacks, vowing to persist until Israel ceased its combat operations in Gaza.

The exact method used by the Houthis to target the undersea cables remains unclear, as they are not known to possess the necessary diving or salvage capabilities. However, it is possible that the cables were severed by anchors dropped from the ships disabled in the attacks.

The Houthi attacks have had a significant impact on global trade, compelling major shipping and oil companies to suspend transit through one of the world's most vital maritime trade routes. Many have chosen to avoid the Red Sea and Suez Canal due to the attacks, opting for the longer route around South Africa's Cape of Good Hope, adding approximately $1 million (€0.92 million) to costs.

In retaliation, the US and UK have conducted strikes on Houthi-held areas within Yemen. The US military has destroyed seven Houthi mobile anti-ship missiles being prepared for strikes. The operations received backing from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, and New Zealand, with the intention being to further undermine Houthi capabilities.

Despite the international response, the Houthis show no signs of relenting, continuing to threaten global trade, naval vessels, and civilian mariners. There are concerns that the Houthi attacks could escalate Israel’s war against Hamas into a broader regional conflict. The situation is further complicated by the Houthis' alliance with Iran, and with the assistance of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Lebanon's Hezbollah, the Houthis have amassed a formidable arsenal of missiles and drones.

In summary, the Red Sea crisis extends beyond a regional conflict, impacting global connectivity and trade. The undersea cables are vital arteries of our global society, and their protection is a matter of international security. The Red Sea crisis serves as a crucial reminder of the importance of these unseen highways in our interconnected world.

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In the midst of Europe, the Visegrad Four (V4) - Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia - gathered in Prague to deliberate on the persistent Ukrainian conflict. These four nations, borne from the remnants of the Soviet Union and now part of the European Union and NATO, exhibit a clear division in their views on the conflict. Poland and the Czech Republic stand in solidarity with Ukraine, while Hungary and Slovakia, under populist leadership, harbor a more cautious stance.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk's labeling of Russian President Vladimir Putin as a "war criminal" and attributing the war to "Russian aggression" starkly contrasted with Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico's criticism of the West's approach and opposition to EU sanctions on Russia. Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban, known for his close ties with Putin, delayed the latest EU aid package for Ukraine and advocated for peace talks. Despite these divergent views, all V4 nations concurred on not deploying their troops to Ukraine.

In another significant development, Hungary's parliament gave the green light to Sweden's NATO accession, ending a lengthy journey for Sweden. This move was well-received, despite initial delays due to objections from Hungary's ruling Fidesz party. However, the nomination of Tamas Sulyok as Hungary's next president sparked criticism and protests owing to his lack of political experience.

Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, plans to run for presidency again in 2025. This follows his controversial 2020 election victory, which incited widespread protests over alleged vote rigging. Despite a harsh government response to the protests and the shutting down of hundreds of independent media outlets, Lukashenko remains in power, largely due to support from Russia.

As the second anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine loomed, EU leaders, including Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and leaders from Belgium, Italy, and Canada, visited Kyiv to express solidarity. However, the atmosphere in Kyiv was somber, as locals remembered the invasion's horrors. Amid these commemorations, both the EU and the US announced new sanctions against Russia.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, facing this ongoing conflict, called for weapons and funding at the Munich Security Conference. His speech underlined the necessity for international unity against Russia's aggression, warning of potential devastation of Ukraine, the Baltic States, and Poland. Despite the aid received, Zelenskyy's speech was noted as "more desperate" than the previous year, signaling a pressing need for immediate assistance.

In a tragic development, Alexei Navalny, President Vladimir Putin's most formidable opponent, died in a Russian penal colony. Following his death, over 100 people were detained in Russia for paying tribute to him. Navalny's death occurred just weeks before an election that will extend Putin's rule for another six years, a fact that has attracted international criticism.

This intricate political landscape reveals that alliances are being strained and the pursuit of power continues to dictate the fate of nations. As the world observes, the unfolding events in Eastern Europe serve as a stark reminder of the precarious balance of power and the ongoing fight for freedom and sovereignty.

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The escalating crisis in Gaza, characterized by a mounting death toll of 29,400, has gripped the world's attention. Recent Israeli strikes in southern and central Gaza resulted in the loss of at least 48 lives, half of them women and children. The conflict has precipitated a severe humanitarian crisis, with the population on the brink of starvation, prompting European foreign ministers and US agencies to call for a ceasefire.

The enclave, home to 2.3 million people, is teetering on the edge. Over half of its inhabitants have sought refuge in Rafah, bordering Egypt, fleeing the violence and bombardment in the northern regions. Despite assurances from the Israeli government of evacuation before any attack, there are prevailing fears of a potential push to displace Palestinians into Egypt.

The International Court of Justice, the United Nations' highest court, has been hearing arguments on the legality of Israel’s policies in the occupied territories. The hearings, requested by the UN General Assembly for a non-binding advisory opinion, have been ongoing for four days, with China and Iran leading the discourse.

Efforts to broker a ceasefire are in progress, according to Benny Gantz, a member of Israel's War Cabinet. However, the situation remains volatile. Israel has threatened a ground offensive on Rafah during the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan if the remaining Israeli hostages in Gaza are not released by Hamas.

In a separate incident, one Israeli was killed and at least five wounded when three gunmen opened fire near a checkpoint in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The assailants exploited a traffic jam during rush hour, attacking several cars with automatic weapons. Two of the gunmen were killed by security forces, the third was apprehended after being wounded.

In the international sphere, the US vetoed a UN resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and proposed its own draft urging a temporary ceasefire. This unprecedented move by the US, described as a "significant shift" in American policy by former US special envoy for Middle East peace, Frank Lowenstein, was met with controversy. The Algerian-proposed resolution, supported by 13 of the 15-member body, was deemed by Washington to "jeopardize" talks to end the war. The US resolution calls for a temporary ceasefire "as soon as practicable" and on the condition that all hostages are released and barriers to aid reaching Gaza are lifted.

Despite international pressure, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is determined to continue the war until all objectives are met. The potential ground offensive in Rafah, home to over a million displaced Palestinians, has sparked international concern. The UN has warned that such an operation could result in a "slaughter".

As the crisis continues, the International Court of Justice maintains its week-long hearings on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories, with fifty states set to address the judges. The World Health Organization has called for the evacuation of Gaza's second-largest hospital following an Israeli raid. International pressure on Israel is intensifying due to the potential threat the Rafah operation poses to hundreds of thousands of Gazans.

Negotiations for a ceasefire are ongoing, with no significant progress reported as of early Wednesday. The stakes are high and the situation precarious. The world hopes for a swift resolution to prevent further loss of life and suffering. For the people of Gaza, this conflict is more than a political dispute; it's a desperate plea for peace and a struggle for survival.

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