Russia bans ‘false information’ about mercenaries

Russian President Vladimir Putin¬†signed a law forbidding the spread of “false information” about “volunteer” forces fighting in service of Russia. The law is clearly meant to prevent public criticism of paramilitary groups and private military organizations, such as the Wagner Group, currently operating in Ukraine. Offenders may be sentenced to up to five years.¬†The previous version of the criminal code already included prohibitions on the spread of “false information” regarding the Russian armed forces. The amendment’s language appears to be an acknowledgement by Moscow that the “private” forces fighting in Ukraine are acting under the direct orders of the Russian military.¬†(Photo: Wikipedia)


Russia agrees to (shorter) grain deal extension

Russia agreed to extend the Black Sea grain deal with Ukraine, but for only 60 days rather than the 120 days of the original agreement. The UN-brokered deal enables safe shipment of grain from Ukraine’s blockaded ports to boost global supply and stabilize prices. The agreement rolled over in November, but Russia now argues¬†that provisions for the easing of restrictions on its own agricultural and fertilizer exports have not been met. So far, 24 million tonnes of grain have been exported under the initiative. But the International Rescue Committee noted that only 10% has gone to countries most in need. It has called on the UN to broker a 12-month deal, pointing out that food price inflation is at 40% in countries most at risk of “humanitarian catastrophe”‚ÄĒdouble the rate of the rest of the world. (Map: PCL)


ICC issues arrest warrant for Putin

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is seeking the arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin in connection with the forced deportation of Ukrainian children. The ICC Pre-Trial Chamber also issued a warrant for Maria Lvova-Belova, the Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights. Both stand accused of the war crimes of unlawful deportation and transfer of children from occupied territories of Ukraine into Russia. While Ukraine is not a party to the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, the country accepted¬†ICC¬†jurisdiction for purposes of “identifying, prosecuting, and judging the perpetrators and accomplices of acts committed in the Territory of Ukraine since 20 February 2014.” (Photo: OSeveno/WikiMedia)


Russia imposes sanctions on Baltic citizens

The Russian Foreign Ministry has¬†issued sanctions against 144 citizens of Lithuania,¬†Latvia and¬†Estonia. Moscow accused the individuals of hostile acts against the Russian state. The alleged acts include lobbying for sanctions, interference with Russia’s internal affairs, and inciting “Russophobic” sentiments.¬†The three¬†Baltic states are particularly outspoken in their support of Ukraine, and¬†calls for¬†holding Russia accountable for war crimes and possible “genocide.” (Photo of Riga, Latvia, via Wikimedia Commons)


Ukraine denies plot to kill Transnistria leader

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU)¬†denied plotting to assassinate the president of the Russian-backed breakaway de facto state of Transnistria in Moldova. The denial comes after the Transnistrian Ministry of State Security¬†said it thwarted an SBU-orchestrated terrorist attack targeting multiple Transnistrian government officials. The SBU characterized the accusation as an instrument of Russian provocation amid Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Transnistria controls around 4,000 square kilometers of internationally-recognized Moldovan territory, but is not recognized by any UN member state. However, Russia has maintained a military presence in the breakaway state, which borders Ukraine, since the 1990-2 Transnistria War. (Photo via Ukraine Defense Ministry)


Nord Stream pipeline sabotage: rush to judgment

Ukraine is denying involvement in September’s attack on the¬†Nord Stream pipelines¬†following a¬†New York Times¬†report citing anonymous US officials to the effect that an unnamed “pro-Ukrainian group” was to blame. Russia’s online partisans are meanwhile hyping a piece by Seymour Hersh, similarly citing anonymous officials to the effect that the attack was a US covert operation. Rarely has there been a more blatant case of the cyber-commentariat deciding what to believe on the basis of political convenience. (Map:¬†Wikipedia)

Fort Lee

US welcomes Ukrainians; Afghans left in limbo

More than 271,000 Ukrainians have been admitted to the United States since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 last year‚Äďfar exceeding the goal of 100,000¬†set¬†by President Joe Biden’s administration last March. Meanwhile, hundreds of Afghans protested in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad,¬†over long delays¬†in their US resettlement process. After the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan in August 2021, the United States opened programs to provide fast-track visa access for at-risk Afghans. However, these program have¬†reportedly stalled, leaving many in vulnerable positions in Pakistan, struggling to access essential services.¬†(Photo of evacuees arriving at Fort Lee, Va., via¬†Homeland Security Today)

Planet Watch
doomsday clock

Doomsday clock moves, Russia nixes talks

The¬†Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists¬†moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock forward, citing the mounting dangers of the war in Ukraine. The Clock now stands at 90 seconds to midnight‚ÄĒthe closest to global catastrophe it has ever been. The press release announcing the move spared no criticism for Russia, excoriating Moscow for breaking its commitment to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and borders in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, and violating international protocols by bringing its war to the Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia nuclear plants. The statement also expressed alarm over Russia’s repeated implicit threats to unleash nuclear war.¬†The statement nonetheless called on the United States to “keep the door open to principled engagement with Moscow¬†that reduces the dangerous increase in nuclear risk.” However,¬†Kremlin representative Dmitry Peskov responded to the statement by rejecting¬†any imminent return to the negotiating table: “Right now we can only state that the prospects for stepping on a diplomatic path are not visible at present.” (Image:¬†BAS)

Greater Middle East

From Palestine to Iran: free the land

In Episode 160 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes hideous ironies in the current horrific headlines. Russia was excluded from the official commemorations of Holocaust Day at Auschwitz-Birkenau as it pursues its war of aggression and extermination in Ukraine in the perverse name of “de-nazification.” But Israeli flags were of course displayed at the commemoration‚ÄĒeven as Israel escalates toward a genocidal solution to the Palestinian question. The fundamental contradiction driving the conflict is the expropriation of the Palestinian people of their lands, and the denial of their self-determination by Israel. The emergence of an explicitly anti-Zionist bloc in the protests against the¬†new far-right government in Israel is a sign of hope. The US, however, is undertaking its biggest joint military exercises ever with the new Israeli regime, despite Biden’s supposed rejection of its extremist policies of settlement expansion and annexation‚ÄĒviewing the Jewish State as a strategic ally against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Meanwhile, the oppressive regime in Iran treats minority peoples such as the Kurds, Baluch, Ahwazi and Baha’i much as Israel treats the Palestinians. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Photo: B’Tselem)


US to designate Wagner Group ‘transnational criminal organization’

The US Treasury Department announced¬†that it will designate the Russian mercenary organization Wagner Group as a “transnational criminal organization,” imposing further sanctions on the group’s financial activities. The Treasury Department press release on the move stated: “Wagner personnel have engaged in an ongoing pattern of serious criminal activity, including mass executions, rape, child abductions, and physical abuse in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali.” The Wagner Group is believed to have some 50,000 mercenaries fighting in Ukraine. (Photo: Wikipedia)


Germany calls for Ukraine war crimes tribunal

In an address¬†at the Hague Academy of International Law,¬†German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called for an international tribunal to prosecute Russian officials for war crimes and the crime of aggression in the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war.¬†Making her case for the tribunal, Baerbock said loopholes in international criminal law allow¬†Russia to escape the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Baerbock was referring to the 2010 “Kampala Amendments” to the Rome Statute, which allow the ICC to prosecute the crime of aggression‚ÄĒbut only with a¬†referral from the UN Security Council.¬†Since Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council, it can veto any such referral. (Photo: EuroMaidan Press via Twitter)