Holocaust-Era Letters Prompt Writer to Dive Into Family’s History

Eleanor Reissa’s mother and father survived the Nazi Holocaust in Europe during the 1940’s. After the war but before they were married, they wrote letters to each other. Those letters led Eleanor on a journey to learn about her parents’ past. The result of that journey was just released in book form. Victoria Kupchinetsky has the story from Cold Spring, New York. Camera – Michael Eckels.

Britain Promises to Target Assets of ‘Putin’s Oligarchs’ 

President Joe Biden and other Western leaders have repeatedly warned they will impose swift and punitive economic sanctions against Moscow in the event Vladimir Putin orders an invasion of Ukraine. British ministers announced Sunday they plan new legislation to make it easier to impose sanctions on “Putin’s oligarchs” and Russian officials who have investments and assets in Britain.

Russians have invested about an estimated $2 billion in the London property market alone, according to Transparency International, an anti-corruption lobbying and research organization in Berlin.

And the House of Commons’ own research library noted in a report last year: “For some time the UK has been accused of being a hub for dirty money — especially London’s prime property market.”

The British move is in response to frustration in Washington, where officials have complained that the government of Boris Johnson has not done enough to stop London from being used as a destination, and also a way station, for the profits of the Russian mega-rich.

The Britain problem 

 

Last week, analysis by the Center for American Progress, an influential Democratic-aligned think tank, outlined the challenges the White House will face making economic sanctions bite. It suggested that the “economic domain will be the primary theater for U.S.-Russia confrontation,” but noted “expectations for what imposing economic costs can achieve must be kept in check.”

The think tank singled out Britain as a problem. “The United Kingdom, in particular, has become a major hub for Russian oligarchs and their wealth, with London gaining the moniker ‘Londongrad,’” Max Bergmann, author of the report noted. “Uprooting Kremlin-linked oligarchs will be a challenge given the close ties between Russian money and the United Kingdom’s ruling Conservative Party, the press and its real estate and financial industry,” he concluded.

Britain’s foreign secretary, Liz Truss, is outlining legislative proposals to British lawmakers, which she says will make it easier to freeze the assets of Russians with financial links to Putin and his government.

Britain’s sanctions regime currently only covers assets lodged in Britain that can be tied to businesses or individuals who can be linked to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

“There will be nowhere to hide” for Putin’s oligarchs, Truss told Britain’s Times Radio on Sunday. Truss said new legislation would widen the scope of sanctions.

Bill Browder, a British-American financier who has long campaigned to expose high-level corruption in Russia, has been urging British authorities for years to target Putin-connected oligarchs. In 2018, in the wake of the poisoning on English soil of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal, he told British lawmakers that Western weakness only emboldens the Kremlin. The British government blamed the Kremlin for attempted assassination of Skripal and his daughter, something Russia denies.

“The Achilles heel of the Putin regime is to go after Putin-connected oligarchs in the UK by seizing their assets,” he argued. He told a British parliamentary panel approximately $800 billion worth of Russian state-backed assets, mostly real estate, are held outside Russia and could be targeted. About $300 billion in cash and assets are estimated to be in the United States.

According to a 2018 report by Transparency International, large amounts of the Russian state-backed money controlled by Putin-connected oligarchs flow through British Crown dependencies and British Overseas Territories in the Caribbean and then are transferred to the British capital. 

“London has certain advantages and Russians have always found London particularly attractive,” according to Robert Barrington of Transparency International. “It has these historic links with the Crown dependencies and overseas territories, so it is very easy to be part of that global laundering system. It is also a huge market in itself, so if you want to hide dirty money, it is easier to do,” he said.

Anti-corruption campaigners say there was a huge jump in Russian money flows to London after the 2008 financial crash, partly because Britain courted foreign money and offered easy-to-get investor visas with very few questions being asked. An estimated 500 Russian multimillionaires live in Britain.

Their cash has driven up real estate prices and helped fuel the profits of expensive private schools and exclusive shops as well as providing a large share of the incomes of British bankers, fund managers, lawyers, and PR executives. More than 10,000 properties in Westminster, a central London borough, are owned by anonymous companies; some are thought to be Chinese or Gulf Arab in origin, but many are Russian.

The British government announced new asset-seizure powers in 2017 known as unexplained wealth orders, allowing for the confiscation of property without proving criminality and placing the burden of proof on the owners to explain their wealth. Britain’s i newspaper reported last week that officials were looking to issue more unexplained wealth orders in the event Russia invades Ukraine, forcing those suspected of having tight links to President Putin to explain the origins of their wealth.

Doubts 

 

But some skeptics harbor doubts about the determination of the authorities to move against Russian wealth. They note since 2017 only five such orders have been issued. “No one has done more to channel the flood of money out of Russia than London’s army of lawyers, bankers, and accountants; no one has been more accommodating of Putin’s oligarchs than Britain’s politicians,” wrote Oliver Bullough in Britain’s Sunday Times this week.

Author of “Butler to the World: How Britain Became the Servant of Tycoons, Tax Dodgers, Kleptocrats and Criminals,” Bullough says: “If the government really wants to help Ukraine, it should force Putin’s oligarchs to take their cash home.”

Critics also say the government needs to insist that so-called crown dependencies in the Caribbean need to introduce rigorous transparency rules for stashed overseas money. And they worry that Russian oligarch money and properties are well concealed behind shell companies.

In December, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to force offshore companies that own British property to declare their ownership, and to tackle criminals who abuse UK-registered shell companies. He made the promise at the US-convened Summit for Democracy, a virtual conference that explored how to strengthen the world’s democracies.

The chairman of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, Tom Tugendhat, said he plans to hold a new set of new hearings to discuss the assets and investments of Russian oligarchs in London. His committee did the same thing in 2018 and recommended several steps, but the recommendations languished.

Turkey Orders TV Programs to Protect Family Values

Turkey’s president has ordered that steps be taken against media like TV programs that are deemed contrary to Turkey’s “fundamental values.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a circular posted Saturday on the Official Gazette, said the decision aims to eliminate the harmful effects of television programs with foreign content that have been adapted in Turkey and to protect Turkish culture.

All precautions would be taken against productions that negatively affect the family, children and youth, through Turkish laws and the constitution. Children and youth will be protected from “messages conveyed through certain symbols,” the decision stated, without elaborating.

Turkey’s media watchdog, the Supreme Council of Radio and Television, already has wide-ranging powers, and can fine media or order temporary blackouts for television channels that are mostly critical of the government for violating Turkish values. It has also fined channels for erotic or LGBT content.

Ilhan Tasci, a member of the media watchdog from the main opposition party, called the move “the censorship circular” and said it violates the constitution that promises to protect press freedom.

The majority of media companies in Turkey are already owned by businesses close to the conservative and nationalist government and closely follow government lines.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Turkey at 153 out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index of 2021. At least 34 media employees are currently behind bars, according to Turkey’s Journalists Union. 

Last week, well-known journalist Sedef Kabas was arrested pending trial for insulting Erdogan, after citing a proverb on Tele 1 television and social media referring to an ox. Tens of thousands of people in Turkey have been prosecuted for allegedly insulting Erdogan.

The circular follows the launch of Fox TV’s Turkish adaptation of the international show “The Masked Singer,” where celebrities perform in costume to hide their identities. The show has been criticized online for alleged Satanic and pagan content.

Elsewhere in the region, Netflix’s first Arabic movie has sparked intense debate in Egypt and other Middle East countries, with critics denouncing it as a threat to family and religious values that encourages homosexuality.

Others have rallied to the film’s defense. They say detractors are in denial about what happens behind closed doors in real life and say that those who don’t like the movie titled “Ashab Wala A’azz,” (“No Dearer Friends”) can simply not subscribe to Netflix.

Cincinnati Bengals, Los Angeles Rams Advance to US Pro Football Championship Game

The Cincinnati Bengals will face the Los Angeles Rams in the 56th edition of the Super Bowl, the championship game of the U.S. National Football League and one of the premier championship events in all of professional sports.   

The visiting Cincinnati Bengals came back from a 21-10 halftime deficit to post a 27-24 overtime win over the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC (American Football Conference) Championship game. Kansas City appeared to be on their way to a third consecutive Super Bowl appearance when they posted 21 quick points in the first half, led by superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes. But the Bengals took command in the second half, thanks to a stellar defensive effort and clutch play by second-year quarterback Joe Burrow, taking a narrow 24-21 lead in the fourth quarter. 

The Chiefs tied the game at the end of regulation after a 44-yard three-point field goal by placekicker Harrison Butker, and won the chance to get the ball to begin the overtime period. But Bengals defensive back Vonn Bell intercepted a Mahomes pass to receiver Tyreek Hill, allowing Burrows to lead Cincinnati on a long drive capped by the game-winning 31-yard field goal by placekicker Evan McPherson. 

The Rams earned their way to the Super Bowl with a 20-17 win over their in-state California rival San Francisco 49ers in the NFC (National Football Conference) Championship on their home field. Los Angeles was led by quarterback Matthew Stafford, who finished with 337 yards and two touchdowns, both of them to star receiver Cooper Kupp, who finished with 142 receiving yards.   

San Francisco held a narrow 17-7 lead early in the fourth quarter when Stafford led the Rams on three drives to go ahead. Los Angeles sealed the victory when the defense staged a furious pass rush on 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who threw a desperation pass that was intercepted by defensive back Travin Howard. 

The two franchises will play for the Vince Lombardi Trophy on Sunday, February 13 on the Rams’ home field of SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, making it the first team to host both a conference championship game and the Super Bowl in the same season. This is the second Super Bowl appearance in five seasons under Rams coach Sean McVay, while Cincinnati is making its first Super Bowl appearance in 31 years, bringing an end to numerous seasons filled with either losing teams or promising ones that failed to live up their potential, earning them the nickname “Bungles.” 

The first Super Bowl in 1967 was a matchup of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers against the Kansas City Chiefs of the then-rival American Football League. The two leagues merged in 1970 under the NFL banner, with the AFL forming the American Football Conference and the old NFL forming the National Football Conference.   

37 Olympic Athletes, Officials Test Positive Sunday in China

Olympic officials in China say 37 people, including athletes and team officials, tested positive for the coronavirus Sunday. On Saturday, 34 people connected with The Games also received positive results.  

The Pacific Maritime Association says, according to a New York Times report, that more West Coast longshoremen “contracted the coronavirus in the last month than in all of last year.” 

The newspaper said last year the association recorded 1,624 coronavirus infections among the dockworkers, while at least 1,850 cases have been reported within the last month.  

Archbishop Chrystostomos II, the head of the Cyprus Orthodox Christian Church, said Sunday on state broadcaster CyBC, that he will suspend 12 priests in the diocese who have refused to adhere to his calls to get vaccinated. 

The religious leader warned that the suspensions could last as long as six months and could possibly lead to the priests being defrocked.  

Archbishop Chrystostomos said the priests’ insubordination was “unheard of,” according to an Associated Press report.  

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has tested negative for COVID-19 after being exposed to it on a flight to Auckland. A government spokesman said Ardern will remain in isolation until Tuesday to adhere to public health guidelines.  

The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center said early Monday that it has recorded 374.8 million global COVID infections and over 5 million deaths. The center said almost 10 billion vaccines have been administered.  

Some information in this report came from the Associated Press and Reuters.  

Ukraine: What We Know   

The latest developments in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine:       

  • The U.S. plans to confront Russia over its actions along Ukraine’s border at a Monday meeting of the United Nations Security Council.    

  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Sunday the Western military alliance has no intention of sending troops to Ukraine if Russia invades its former Soviet republic.    

  • Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told the “Fox News Sunday” show that a Russian invasion “could happen, really, at any time.”  

  • The West is demanding that Russia pull its troops and weapons from the Ukraine border, while Moscow is pushing for NATO to curtail its operations in Eastern and Central Europe. Russia also insists the Western defensive alliance reject Ukraine’s membership bid, a move the United States calls a “non-starter.”   

* According to U.S. and Ukrainian estimates, Russia has amassed about 127,000 troops along its border with Ukraine, including in Belarus and in occupied Crimea.   

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse. 

UN Security Council to Discuss Russia-Ukraine Crisis

The United Nations Security Council is due to discuss the crisis along the Russia-Ukraine border Monday in a session the United States called to address Russia’s deployment of more than 100,000 soldiers in the region and “other destabilizing acts aimed at Ukraine.” 

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said on ABC’s “This Week” show Sunday that the council will press Russia to justify its massing of troops.

“Our voices are unified in calling for the Russians to explain themselves,” she said.  

Russia has dismissed the U.S. move, with its Deputy U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy calling the session a public relations “stunt.” 

Russia is one of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and can use its veto power to block any punitive action by the council against Russia. 

Monday’s meeting is the latest round of talks about the conflict amid efforts to find a diplomatic resolution. The United States has threatened to impose sharp economic sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine, and has ruled out Russian demands that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization withdraw troops from eastern Europe and prevent Ukraine from joining the alliance. 

Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, says it has no plans to invade Ukraine again. But Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Sunday that Russia will ask NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to clarify whether they intend to implement key security commitments.  

“We are sending an official request to our colleagues in (NATO) and the OSCE, urging them to explain how they intend to implement (their) commitment not to strengthen their security at the expense of the security of others,” Lavrov said on state television.  

NATO has ramped up its military presence in member countries bordering Russia, but NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Sunday that NATO has no intention of sending troops to Ukraine if Russia invades the former Soviet republic. 

“We have no plans to deploy NATO combat troops to Ukraine…we are focusing on providing support,” Stoltenberg told the BBC. “There is a difference between being a NATO member and being a strong and highly valued partner as Ukraine.” 

In the United States, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told the “Fox News Sunday” show that a Russian invasion “could happen, really, at any time.” Kirby said Russian President Vladimir Putin “continues to add troops” just across the border from Ukraine.  

Kirby rejected imposing sanctions ahead of a possible Russian invasion or naming which Russian financial institutions the West would target.  

“Once you try that,” Kirby said, “the deterrent effect is gone.”   

Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, told CBS News’s “Face the Nation” show that Ukraine wants sanctions imposed now against Russia, as well if Moscow invades.  

“We ask both,” Markarova said. “Russia is there. Russia illegally occupied Crimea. Russia illegally occupies together with their controlled people, parts of Donetsk and Luhansk territories, and they didn’t change their behavior during the eight years. So yes, we believe the basis for sanctions is there.”  

“The reason why Putin attacked us (in taking Crimea) is not because he wants Ukraine, or only Ukraine,” Markarova said. “The reason he attacked us is because we have chosen to be a democracy and we have the Euro-Atlantic and European aspirations.”  

Two key lawmakers on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic chairman Robert Menendez and top Republican James Risch, told CNN’s “State of the Union” show that they are close to reaching a bipartisan agreement on sanctions they said would “crush” Russia’s economy if it attacks Ukraine.  

Several countries, including the U.S., have shipped weapons to the Kyiv government to help it defend itself.  

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to visit the region this week and plans to speak to Putin by phone.  

Johnson is considering doubling British troops in the Baltic countries and sending defensive weapons to Estonia, his office said.  

Some information for this report came from Reuters. 

Macron Tells Iran’s Raisi Nuclear Talks Need to Speed Up

French President Emmanuel Macron has told his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi that a deal lifting sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear activities is still possible but talks need to accelerate, Macron’s office said on Sunday.

France, Germany and Britain, known as the E3, and the United States are trying to save the 2015 Vienna agreement with Iran, but Western diplomats have said negotiations, which have been in their eighth round since Dec. 27, were moving too slowly.

Iran has rejected any deadline imposed by Western powers.

“The President of the Republic reiterated his conviction that a diplomatic solution is possible and imperative, and stressed that any agreement will require clear and sufficient commitments from all the parties,” the Elysee palace said in a statement after a telephone call with Raisi on Saturday.

“Several months after the resumption of negotiations in Vienna, he insisted on the need to accelerate in order to quickly achieve tangible progress in this framework,” it added.

“He underlined the need for Iran to demonstrate a constructive approach and return to the full implementation of its obligations,” it said.

Macron also asked for the immediate release of Franco-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah, re-imprisoned in January, and French tourist Benjamin Briere, who was sentenced on Tuesday to eight years in prison on spying charges.

Manchester United’s Greenwood Held on Suspicion of Rape, Assault

Manchester United player Mason Greenwood was arrested on suspicion of rape and assault on Sunday after a woman posted visual and audio allegations on social media of an incident.

United said the 20-year-old forward “will not return to training or play matches until further notice.”

The police did not name Greenwood but the statement about the investigation was provided after inquiries about the footballer.

“Greater Manchester Police were made aware earlier today of online social media images and videos posted by a woman reporting incidents of physical violence,” the force said in a statement. “An investigation was launched and following enquiries we can confirm a man in his 20s has since been arrested on suspicion of rape and assault.  

“He remains in custody for questioning. Enquiries are ongoing.”  

The allegations were posted early Sunday morning on the Instagram account of a woman who uploaded images of bruising to her body and bleeding from her lip. A voice note purporting to be of an attack was also posted. The posts were all deleted from the social media site but were widely shared.

“Manchester United does not condone violence of any kind,” the club said.

Nike, one of Greenwood’s sponsors, expressed its unease.

“We are deeply concerned by the disturbing allegations and will continue to closely monitor the situation,” the sportswear firm said in a statement.

Greenwood, who progressed through the United academy into the first team, has scored six goals this season. He extended his contract last year through 2025.

Greenwood made his England debut in September 2020 but was sent home from Iceland for a disciplinary breach after the game. He hasn’t played since for Gareth Southgate’s side.

‘No justice’: N. Ireland Marks ‘Bloody Sunday’ Amid Brexit Backdrop

The Northern Irish city of Londonderry began commemorations Sunday of one of the darkest days in modern UK history when, 50 years ago, British troops without provocation killed 13 unarmed civil rights protesters. 

The anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” comes with Northern Ireland’s fragile peace destabilized by Brexit, and with families of the victims despondent over whether the soldiers involved will ever face trial. 

Charlie Nash saw his 19-year-old cousin William Nash killed as members of the British Parachute Regiment fired more than 100 high-velocity rounds on January 30, 1972, at the demonstrators in Londonderry, known as Derry to pro-Irish nationalists. 

“We thought there might be rioting, but nothing, nothing like what happened. We thought at first they were rubber bullets,” Nash, now 73, told AFP. 

“But then we saw Hugh Gilmour [one of six 17-year-old victims] lying dead. We couldn’t take it in. Everyone was running,” he said. 

“It’s important for the rest of the world to see what they done to us that day. But will we ever see justice? Never, especially not from Boris Johnson.” 

Amnesty? 

The UK prime minister this week called Bloody Sunday a “tragic day in our history”.

But his government is pushing legislation that critics say amounts to an amnesty for all killings during Northern Ireland’s three decades of sectarian unrest, including by security forces. 

 

Thirteen protesters died on Bloody Sunday, when the paratroopers opened fire through narrow streets and across open wasteland. 

Some of the victims were shot in the back, or while on the ground, or while waving white handkerchiefs. 

At the entrance to the city’s Catholic Bogside area stands a wall that normally proclaims in large writing: “You are now entering Free Derry.” 

This weekend the mural says: “There is no British justice.” 

Several hundred people, including relatives of the victims, on Sunday retraced the fateful 1972 march, walking in somber silence under a leaden grey sky ahead of a late morning memorial service. 

Children bearing white roses and portraits of the victims joined the poignant procession.

“I’m here to honor the people who were murdered by the British state who were trying to achieve their civil rights,” said Michael Roach, 67, a Texan with Irish roots. 

“There will be no justice until the paratroopers are held to justice for murder.” 

‘Unjustifiable’ 

After an initial government report largely exonerated the paratroopers and authorities, a landmark 12-year inquiry running to 5,000 pages found in 2010 that the victims were unarmed and posed no threat, and that the soldiers’ commander on the ground violated his orders. 

“We in the inquiry came to the conclusion that the shootings were unjustified and unjustifiable,” its chairman Mark Saville, a former judge and member of the UK House of Lords, told BBC radio on Saturday. 

“And I do understand, people feel that in those circumstances justice has yet to be done,” he said, while expressing concern that with the surviving soldiers now elderly, the government should have launched any prosecution “a very long time ago”. 

Then as now, Londonderry was a largely Catholic city. But housing, jobs and education were segregated in favor of the pro-British Protestant minority. 

Simmering tensions over the inequality made it the cradle of the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland starting in the late 1960s, which finally ended with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

‘Reckless’ 

The UK’s divorce from the European Union has unsettled the fragile post-1998 consensus. 

Protestant unionists want Johnson’s government to scrap a protocol governing post-Brexit trade for Northern Ireland, which treats the province differently from the UK mainland (comprising England, Scotland and Wales). 

The government, which is in protracted talks with the EU on the issue, is sympathetic to their demands. 

Heading into regional elections in May, some nationalists hope that Brexit could help achieve what the Irish Republican Army (IRA) never did — a united Ireland, a century after the UK carved out a Protestant statelet in the north. 

Sinn Fein, which was once the political wing of the IRA, is running ahead of the once dominant unionists in opinion polls. 

“Northern Ireland finds itself again in the eye of a political storm where we appear to be collateral damage for a prime minister whose future is hanging in the balance,” said professor Deirdre Heenan, a Londonderry resident who teaches social policy at Ulster University. 

“The government’s behavior around the peace process has been reckless in the extreme,” she added. 

Protestant hardliners have issued their own reminders of where they stand: leading up to the anniversary, Parachute Regiment flags have been flying in one unionist stronghold of Londonderry, to the revulsion of nationalists. 

“How can they do that, this weekend of all weekends?” asked George Ryan, 61, a tour guide and local historian. 

 

NATO Chief: No plans to Send Combat Troops to Ukraine if Russia Invades 

NATO has no plans to deploy combat troops to non-NATO member Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Sunday. 

Asked on BBC Television whether he would rule out putting NATO troops in Ukraine if Russia does invade, Stoltenberg said: “We have no plans to deploy NATO combat troops to Ukraine … we are focusing on providing support.” 

“There is a difference between being a NATO member and being a strong and highly valued partner as Ukraine. There’s no doubt about that.” 

Britain Considering Major NATO Deployment Amid Ukraine Crisis

Britain is considering making a major NATO deployment as part of a plan to strengthen Europe’s borders in response to Russia massing troops on the border with Ukraine, the government said Saturday.

Britain has said that any Russian incursion into Ukraine would be met with swift sanctions and would be devastating for both sides.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to visit the region next week, and also will speak to Vladimir Putin by phone.

Johnson is considering the biggest possible offer to members of the NATO defense pact in the Nordics and Baltics, which would double troop numbers and send defensive weapons to Estonia, his office said.

“This package would send a clear message to the Kremlin “we will not tolerate their destabilizing activity, and we will always stand with our NATO allies in the face of Russian hostility,” Johnson said in a statement.

“I have ordered our Armed Forces to prepare to deploy across Europe next week, ensuring we are able to support our NATO allies.”

Officials will finalize the details of the offer in Brussels next week, with ministers discussing the military options Monday.

Stepping up diplomatic efforts after facing criticism for not doing enough, Johnson will make a second trip to meet NATO counterparts early next month, his office said.

Britain’s foreign and defense ministers will also both go to Moscow for talks with their Russian counterparts in coming days, with the aim of improving relations and de-escalating tensions. 

 

 

 

Russia Moves Naval Exercise That Rattled EU Member Ireland

Russia says it will relocate naval exercises off the coast of Ireland after Dublin raised concerns about them amid a tense dispute with the West over expansion of the NATO alliance and fears that Russia is preparing to invade Ukraine.

The Feb. 3-8 exercises were to be held 240 kilometers off southwestern Ireland — in international waters but within Ireland’s exclusive economic zone. Ireland is a member of the 27-nation European Union but not a member of NATO.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney this week objected to the war games, saying “This isn’t a time to increase military activity and tension in the context of what’s happening with and in Ukraine. The fact that they are choosing to do it on the western borders, if you like, of the EU, off the Irish coast, is something that in our view is simply not welcome.”

Russia’s embassy in Ireland on Saturday posted a letter on Facebook from Ambassador Yuriy Filatov saying the exercises would be relocated outside of the Irish economic zone ”with the aim not to hinder fishing activities.”

The decision was a rare concession amid the escalating tensions surrounding Russia’s massing of an estimated 100,000 troops near the border with Ukraine and its demands that NATO promise never to allow Ukraine to join the alliance, stop the deployment of NATO weapons near Russian borders and roll back its forces from Eastern Europe.

The U.S. and NATO formally rejected those demands this week, although Washington outlined areas where discussions are possible, offering hope that there could be a way to avoid war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made no public remarks about the Western response. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said it leaves little chance for reaching agreement, though he also says Russia does not want war.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Friday that Putin could use any portion of his force to seize Ukrainian cities and “significant territories” or to carry out “coercive acts or provocative political acts” like the recognition of breakaway territories inside Ukraine.

Two territories in eastern Ukraine have been under the control of Russia-backed rebels since 2014, after Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.

A Russian lawmaker is encouraging residents of those areas of Ukraine to join the Russian army, a sign that Moscow is continuing to try to integrate those territories as much as possible. Viktor Vodolatsky said Saturday that residents in rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine fear assaults by Ukrainian forces and that those who hold Russian passports would be welcomed in the Russian military.

“If Russian citizens residing in the (territories) want to join the Russian Armed Forces, the Rostov regional military commissariat will register and draft them,” Vodolatsky, deputy chairman of parliament committee on relations with neighbors, told the state news agency Tass.

Russia has granted passports to more than 500,000 people in the rebel-held territories. Vodolatsky said the recruits would serve in Russia — but that leaves open the option that they could join any future invasion force.

A senior official in President Joe Biden’s administration said the U.S. welcomed Lavrov’s comments that Russia does not want war, “but this needs to be backed up with action. We need to see Russia pulling some of the troops that they have deployed away from the Ukrainian border and taking other de-escalatory steps.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly.

Lavrov has said the U.S. suggested the two sides could talk about limits on the deployment of intermediate-range missiles, restrictions on military drills and rules to prevent accidents between warships and aircraft. He said the Russians proposed discussing those issues years ago, but Washington and its allies never took them up on it.

He also said those issues are secondary to Russia’s main concerns about NATO. He said international agreements say the security of one nation must not come at the expense of others, and said he would send letters to his Western counterparts asking them to explain their failure to respect that pledge.

Washington has warned Moscow of devastating sanctions if it invades Ukraine, including penalties targeting top Russian officials and key economic sectors. Lavrov said Moscow had warned Washington that sanctions would amount to a complete severing of ties.

NATO, meanwhile, said it was bolstering its deterrence in the Baltic Sea region.

Russia has launched military drills involving motorized infantry and artillery units in southwestern Russia, warplanes in Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea, and dozens of warships in the Black Sea and the Arctic. Russian troops are also in Belarus for joint drills, raising Western fears that Moscow could stage an attack on Ukraine from the north from Belarus. The Ukrainian capital is only 75 kilometers from the border with Belarus.

Despite Reports, No Decision on Tom Brady Retirement, Sources Say 

Despite reports that he is retiring, Brady has told the Tampa Bay Buccaneers he hasn’t made up his mind, two people familiar with the details told The Associated Press.

It’s not known when he’ll make an announcement, leaving his team guessing and fans hoping for one more run that seems unlikely considering his age and family obligations.

ESPN first reported Brady’s retirement on Saturday, citing unidentified sources. Brady’s company posted a tweet indicating he’s retiring, and reaction came from around the world congratulating Brady on his career. Even the NFL’s Twitter account posted a series of congratulatory messages.

But TB12sports deleted its tweet, and Brady’s agent, Don Yee, said the 44-year-old quarterback would be the only person to accurately express his future.

Sources: No decision

Brady informed Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht he has not made a decision, according to two people who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the conversations.

Brady’s father, Tom Brady Sr., told multiple reporters that his son hasn’t made a firm decision yet.

A seven-time Super Bowl champion and the NFL’s career leader in numerous passing categories, Brady is under contract for 2022, but he has cited a desire to spend more time with his wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, and three children.

After ESPN’s report, TB12sports’ Twitter account posted: “7 Super Bowl Rings. 5 Super Bowl MVPs. 3 League MVP Awards. 22 Incredible Seasons. Thank you for it all, @TomBrady.”

That post was removed, and Yee released this statement: “I understand the advance speculation about Tom’s future. Without getting into the accuracy or inaccuracy of what’s being reported, Tom will be the only person to express his plans with complete accuracy. He knows the realities of the football business and planning calendar as well as anybody, so that should be soon.”

Seven Super Bowls

Brady led the NFL in yards passing (5,316), touchdowns (43), completions (485) and attempts (719), but the Buccaneers lost at home to the Rams last Sunday in the divisional round.

Brady won six Super Bowls with the New England Patriots in 20 seasons playing for coach Bill Belichick. He joined the Buccaneers in 2020 and led them to the second Super Bowl title in franchise history.

Brady would leave the sport as the career leader in yards passing (84,520) and TDs (624). He’s the only player to win more than five Super Bowls and was MVP of the game five times.

Italian President Mattarella Re-Elected

Italian President Sergio Mattarella was re-elected for a second term on Saturday, with party chiefs asking him to carry on after a week of fruitless voting in parliament to choose a successor.

At the eighth round of balloting among more than 1,000 lawmakers and regional delegates in the Chamber of Deputies, loud applause broke out when Mattarella passed the 505 votes needed for election.

Mattarella, 80, had ruled out remaining in office, but with the country’s political stability at risk he changed his mind in the face of appeals from parliamentary leaders who met him at his palace earlier in the day.

In Italy’s political system, the president is a powerful figure who gets to appoint prime ministers and is often called on to resolve political crises in the euro zone’s third-largest economy, where governments survive around a year on average.

Ukraine, NATO Differ on Imminence of Russian Attack

Ukraine’s leader and his defense and security aides are assessing Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s intentions differently from many of their Western counterparts. Are they just more stoical after eight years of persistent Russian provocations and a long-running war in eastern Ukraine—or are they misreading their Russian adversary?

Washington and London have both warned the chances are high that Putin will order an invasion of Ukraine. U.S. President Joe Biden has been warning for weeks of the “distinct possibility” Russia might invade Ukraine next month, and he reiterated the point Thursday in a phone discussion with Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy, according to the White House.

Britain’s defense secretary, Ben Wallace, says he is “not optimistic” a Russian incursion into Ukraine can be stopped. He told the BBC while visiting Berlin there was still “a chance” an invasion could be halted, but added, “I’m not optimistic.”

Russia denies it is preparing to launch a major assault on Ukraine, accusing Western powers of alarmism. The Kremlin insists the more than 100,000 troops it has deployed along Ukraine’s borders are just taking part in exercises.

But Zelenskiy appears to suspect Moscow will do something short of launching a full-scale invasion and more likely will continue to wage the highly sophisticated form of psychological and hybrid warfare it has been using against Ukraine and Europe with growing intensity for the past decade and more.

The Ukrainian president has been calling for calm ahead of Wednesday’s meeting among officials of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France — known as the “Normandy format” — to discuss once again the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, nearly half of which has been occupied since 2014 by Russian soldiers and armed local proxies.

Asked at a news conference Friday for foreign media about the different assessments and of a possible rift with Biden, Zelenskiy cited his concerns over Ukraine’s economy, saying that talk of an imminent invasion is adversely affecting the economy. “For me, the question of the possible escalation is not less acute as for the United States and other partners,” he said.

But he complained the media was giving the impression we have an army in the streets and “that’s not the case.” And he said Ukraine doesn’t “need this panic” because it is damaging the economy. “We may lose the current economy,” he added.

The Ukrainian leader pointedly took issue last week when the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia announced evacuations of personnel from their embassies. Zelenskiy and his aides expressed frustration, saying the withdrawal of some diplomatic staff was premature.

One official told VOA the evacuations undermined efforts to calm the fears of ordinary Ukrainians. The United States and Britain also have told their nationals to leave Ukraine.

According to Ukrainian officials, Zelenskiy has broached the issue of evacuations with U.S. officials, including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, saying the withdrawal of staff is an “overreaction” and something Russia can exploit to sow fear and to destabilize.

Aside from worries about the economy and Ukrainian morale, though, Kyiv appears to be at odds with Washington and London over Putin’s strategy, as well as over how near he is to completing a military buildup that would allow him to launch a full throttle invasion.

According to Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, Russia doesn’t have enough troops in place to mount a full-scale invasion. He told reporters this week, “The number of Russian troops massed along the border of Ukraine and occupied territories of Ukraine is large, it poses a threat to Ukraine, a direct threat to Ukraine, however, at the moment, as we speak, this number is insufficient for a full-scale offensive against Ukraine along the entire Ukrainian border.”

Some independent Ukrainian analysts agree with Kyiv’s assessment that a full-scale invasion isn’t likely. “I don’t believe there will be a full-scale military invasion,” said Taras Kuzio, an analyst at the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based research group, and a professor at the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy.

“In that sense, I agree with Ukrainian military officials,” he said in a recent British television debate. “There aren’t enough troops there. Ukraine is a huge territory. It has the third largest army in Europe. And if you’re working on the basis of a three-to-one ratio of invading versus defending armies, which is the number you need to be successful, then Russia would need 500,000 to 600,000 troops to overcome Ukraine. It doesn’t have that, and it’s not projected to have that.”

Kuzio believes it is more likely Russia may mount an incursion around the Black Sea coast and expand on territory it holds in the Donbass region.

Ukrainian officials admit privately they are caught somewhat in a quandary. They need Western military assistance and materiel—from anti-tank rockets to surface-to-air missiles—and they need the West to be strong, to stand up to Putin and to deter Russia from any kind of attack, limited or otherwise. But they don’t want to talk up the threat, wreck their economy and panic their people. It is a fine line they’re walking, several officials told VOA.

Western officials say they have to be ready for all eventualities and they don’t want to be caught wrong-footed, as they were in 2014 when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. Russia then encouraged and assisted armed proxies to seize part of the Donbass in the wake of a popular uprising that toppled Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a Putin ally.  

That means, they say, reinforcing NATO’s military presence in eastern Europe, in neighboring NATO countries, and making sure everyone understands the stakes are high. “Putin is unpredictable and any gaps he sees he will jump through; any weakness, he will exploit,” a senior NATO official told VOA.