By Natalia Zinets and Vladimir Soldatkin KIEV/GORKI Russia (Reuters) - Russia cut off gas to Ukraine on Monday in a dispute over unpaid bills that could disrupt supplies to the rest of Europe and set back hopes for peace between the former Soviet neighbours. After the weekend loss of 49 troops when pro-Russian rebels shot down a military transport plane, Ukraine's new president ordered his forces to retake full control of their border with Russia - saying this could then pave the way for negotiations. Calling time on weeks of wrangling in talks over natural gas supplies, Russia said Kiev had missed a Monday morning deadline to repay $1.95 billion owed for previous purchases and announced Ukraine would now only get gas it has paid for in advance. At the same time, Moscow insisted that Ukraine must let Russian gas flow across the country through international pipelines to Russia's clients in the European Union - noting a temptation for Kiev to tap into those supplies in transit. Kiev and Moscow blamed each other for the failure to agree on the price of future gas deliveries and refused to abandon well established positions: Russia offering a discount and Ukraine rejecting that as a tool for political manipulation. The talks are bound up with the worst crisis between Russia and Ukraine since the Soviet Union collapsed - a crisis that has brought Western sanctions on Moscow, the Russian annexation of Crimea and Cold War-style sabre-rattling along the borders. Western-backed Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, elected last month to replace the Kremlin-friendly leader ousted in February, said on Monday he wanted troops to regain full control of the border with Russia this week. After that, there could be a ceasefire and efforts to come up with a peace plan. "The ceasefire will be declared as soon as the border is secure," Poroshenko told his security chiefs. "Declaring a ceasefire while the border is open would be irresponsible." His remarks underlined his concern that Russia is supporting the rebels by sending in tanks, guns and men. Hopes of a lowering of tension had already been dented before the gas talks failed by the downing of the plane near the eastern frontier, an attack on Russia's embassy in Kiev and new accusations from NATO that Russia is arming the Ukrainian rebels. All that sent Russian financial markets lower on Monday and helped oil and gas prices climb in Europe that were already firm on fears of supply disruption due to violence in Iraq. "Thanks to the unconstructive position of the Ukrainian government, today a prepayment system was introduced," Alexei Miller, the chief executive of Russian state exporter Gazprom, told Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev during a meeting at a government residence at Gorki, outside Moscow. He said Ukraine had "adopted a position that can only be called blackmail", adding: "They wanted an ultra-low price." At a news conference, he said it would no longer be enough for Kiev to pay part of its debt for supply to resume. That would now happen only once Ukraine paid off all the almost $4.5 billion and paid up-front for a month's deliveries, he said. "NOT ABOUT GAS" Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk accused Russia of deliberately blocking a deal to cause Kiev supply problems next winter, when temperatures plunge and heating needs increase. "But it is not about gas. It is a general Russian plan to destroy Ukraine," Yatseniuk said. "It is yet another step against the Ukrainian state and against Ukrainian independence." Medvedev said some of Kiev's ruling elite were not up to the job, echoing outrage over Ukraine's acting foreign minister using a coarse anatomical expression to describe President Vladimir Putin during the weekend embassy protest in Kiev. "You can see this in many situations; from the paranoid behaviour of the acting foreign minister at the Russian embassy in Kiev to the failure of the prime minister of Ukraine to agree on gas on the basis of a discounted price," he said on Facebook. SUPPLIES IN STORAGE A source at Gazprom said supplies to Ukraine had been reduced as soon as the deadline passed and Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuri Prodan said the country was receiving no gas. Ukraine has at least 12 billion cubic metres of gas in storage, enough to meet its and the EU's needs over the summer. A long-term reduction of supply could hit EU consumers, which get about a third of their gas needs from Russia, around half of it through pipelines that cross Ukraine. Earlier price disputes led to "gas wars" in 2006 and 2009, and Russian accusations Ukraine stole gas destined for the rest of Europe. Gazprom's Miller said Russia would provide Ukraine with the volumes necessary to cover EU demand, but implied that Kiev may take some of those supplies for their own use - a potential shortfall Moscow could not be expected to cover. "Regarding transit risks, they exist and they are not insignificant," Miller said of supplies reaching the EU. The bloc's energy commissioner, Guenther Oettinger, who has been brokering the gas talks, said in Vienna that the EU should top up its storage or could face problems in winter. He urged Russia to reconsider a compromise and held out the prospect of new talks before officials break for summer. But with both sides filing lawsuits at the Stockholm international commercial arbitration court to try to recover billions each says they are owed, any quick agreement seems a way off. SHARES FALL Russian shares fell on the talks' collapse. The dollar-denominated RTS index lost 1.25 percent and the rouble-based MICEX 0.48 percent. Prices for Brent crude were up about 50 cents near $113 a barrel. Western countries saw the talks as a gauge of Putin's willingness to compromise and had been looking for signs that he was trying to avert the threat of the West adding to sanctions on Moscow imposed after Russia seized Crimea three months ago. That move came after Moscow-leaning Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich was ousted by street protests in February and pro-Western leaders took over power in Kiev. Russia denounced that as a Western-backed fascist coup. The gas talks broke down with the sides unable to reach agreement on price and on changes to a 2009 contract that had locked Ukraine into paying the highest price in Europe. Kiev wants to pay $268.50 per 1,000 cubic metres of gas - the price it had been offered when Yanukovich was in power. But, in a compromise last week, it said it would agree to pay $326 for an interim period until a lasting deal was reached. Moscow had sought to keep the price at the 2009 contract level of $485 per 1,000 cubic metres, but had offered to waive an export duty, bringing down prices by about a fifth to $385, broadly in line with what Russia charges other European states. Kiev says that waiving the duty rather than agreeing a new contract price means Moscow could use the threat of cancelling the waiver to keep Ukraine under its thumb. Oettinger said Moscow had declined a compromise under which Kiev would pay $1 billion immediately and then make monthly repayments to Gazprom. It would also pay $385 per 1,000 cubic metres in winter and about $300 in the summer. The U.S. State Department said the EU had presented a "fair and reasonable" compromise to resolve the gas dispute, and talks should be resumed. (Additional reporting by Timothy Heritage in Kiev, Alexei Anishchuk, Maria Kiselova and; Denis Pinchuk in Moscow, Michael Shields in Vienna, Jan Lopatka in Bratislava and Henning; Gloystein in London; Writing by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)
- Associated Press
New first lady Jill Biden took an unannounced detour to the U.S. Capitol on Friday to deliver baskets of chocolate chip cookies to National Guard members, thanking them “for keeping me and my family safe” during President Joe Biden's inauguration. “I just want to say thank you from President Biden and the whole, the entire Biden family,” she told a group of Guard members at the Capitol. “The White House baked you some chocolate chip cookies," she said, before joking that she couldn't say she had baked them herself.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), incoming chair of the Senate Budget Committee who caucuses with the Democrats, told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that Democrats plan to push a coronavirus relief package through the chamber with a simple majority vote. Why it matters: "Budget reconciliation" would allow Democrats to forgo the Senate's 60-vote requirement and could potentially speed-up the next relief package for millions of unemployed Americans. Democrats hold the the 50-50 split in the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote.Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.What he's saying: "What we cannot do is wait weeks and weeks and months to go forward. We have got to act now," Sanders said. * "We're going to use reconciliation — that's 50 votes in the Senate, plus the vice president — to pass legislation desperately needed by working families in this country right now." * When asked if he wants a relief bill passed before former President Trump's impeachment trial begins the week of Feb. 8, he said: "We've got to do everything. This is not — you don't have the time to sit around, weeks on impeachment and not get vaccines into the arms of people."Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.
- The Telegraph
Russian police detained Yulia Navalnaya, the wife of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, at a protest in Moscow on Saturday as demonstrations in support of the opposition leader swept across Russia. Authorities detained at least 1,600 people at unauthorised rallies in Moscow and dozens of cities across the country, with some reports of violent clashes between protesters and riot police. At least 10,000 people joined protests in Moscow, according to estimates, in a test to Vladimir Putin. Protests began in Russia’s Far East and Siberia on Saturday morning. Seven time zones east of Moscow, about 3,000 people marched across the city of Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean, chanting “Navalny!” In Novosibirsk, chants “Putin is a thief” rang out in freezing minus 19 C temperatures as opposition supporters walked across the city to the main square.
A prominent U.S. Senate Republican warned on Saturday that former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial could lead to the prosecution of former Democratic presidents if Republicans retake the chamber in two years. Trump this month became the first U.S. president to be impeached twice after the Democratic-controlled House, with the support of 10 Republicans, voted to charge him with incitement of insurrection for a fiery Jan. 6 speech to his followers before they launched a deadly assault on the Capitol.
- NBC News
Samuel Camargo faces four charges including civil disorder, knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority.
- Associated Press
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said Israel will be closing its international airport to nearly all flights, while Israeli police clashed with ultra-Orthodox protesters in several major cities and the government raced to bring a raging coronavirus outbreak under control. The entry of highly contagious variants of the virus, coupled with poor enforcement of safety rules in ultra-Orthodox communities, has contributed to one of the world's highest rates of infections. It also has threatened to undercut Israel's highly successful campaign to vaccinate its population against the virus.
- Yahoo News Video
It's a club Donald Trump was never really interested in joining and certainly not so soon: the cadre of former commanders in chief who revere the presidency enough to put aside often bitter political differences and even join together in common cause.
- The Telegraph
The acrimonious split within Republican ranks widened over the weekend as Donald Trump made his foray back into politics, backing the re-election of a hard-line supporter as chair of the party in Arizona. His wholehearted support for Kelli Ward was seen by allies as the former president firing a warning shot across the bows of any Republican senators considering backing his impeachment.
A U.S. aircraft carrier group led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt has entered the South China Sea to promote "freedom of the seas", the U.S. military said on Sunday, at a time when tensions between China and Taiwan have raised concern in Washington. U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement the strike group entered the South China Sea on Saturday, the same day Taiwan reported a large incursion of Chinese bombers and fighter jets into its air defence identification zone in the vicinity of the Pratas Islands.
- Business Insider
Barely any time has passed since President Biden's inauguration, and Republicans have already returned to their bag of shenanigans.
- Associated Press
Ailing Pope Francis, who this week is making limited public appearances due to persistent pain, has drawn attention to the plight of homeless people in winter, including a Nigerian man who froze to death near the Vatican. Francis on Sunday asked for prayers for the 46-year-old man named Edwin who he said was “ignored by all, abandoned, even by us.” The pontiff said on Jan. 20 “a few meters away from St. Peter's Square, because of the cold, a Nigerian homeless man was found dead.”
- NBC News
Speaking with NBC's "Meet the Press," Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., called the impeachment trial "a moot point."
India said it will administer homegrown coronavirus vaccine COVAXIN in seven more states from Monday as it seeks to inoculate 30 million healthcare workers across the country. The government this month gave emergency-use approval to the vaccine, developed by Bharat Biotech International Ltd and state-run Indian Council of Medical Research, and another licensed from Oxford University and AstraZeneca PLC that is being manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.
President Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson discussed on Saturday issues including trade, NATO and the coronavirus pandemic in their first phone call since the U.S. leader's inauguration. Why it matters: A new trade agreement with the U.S. is a priority for Johnson, whose country completed its economic split with the European Union at the end of last year, AP noted. Get smarter, faster with the news CEOs, entrepreneurs and top politicians read. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.What they're saying: Biden "conveyed his intention to strengthen the special relationship between our countries and revitalize transatlantic ties, underscoring the critical role of NATO to our collective defense and shared values," a White House readout of the call said. * "President Biden also noted the importance of cooperation, including through multilateral organizations, on shared challenges such as combatting climate change, containing COVID-19, and ensuring global health security," the readout added. A statement from Downing Street said that Biden and Johnson also "discussed the benefits of a potential free trade deal between our two countries, and the Prime Minister reiterated his intention to resolve existing trade issues as soon as possible." * "The Prime Minister warmly welcomed the President’s decision to re-join the Paris Agreement on climate change, as well as the World Health Organization and the COVAX programme to ensure equitable access for vaccines," the statement added. The big picture: Biden's conversation with Johnson came a day after the U.S. president spoke to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexico's Andrés Manuel López Obrador in separate phone calls. Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.
- Associated Press
Four Zimbabwean Cabinet ministers have died of COVID-19, three within the past two weeks, highlighting a resurgence of the disease that is sweeping through this southern African country. President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the coronavirus is reaping a “grim harvest” in the country. Then came the death of the transport minister.
A billion-dollar Mega Millions jackpot that has been building for four months will be up for grabs on Friday, available to whoever can beat the one-in-302 million odds. "We generally see a lot of the sales occur on the day of the drawings," Mega Millions spokesman Seth Elkin, of the Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency, said by telephone. The selection of the six numbers will be the 37th semi-weekly drawing since the last grand prize winner was picked on Sept. 15, the longest jackpot dry spell Mega Millions has ever had, Elkin said.
- The Week
President Biden has issued another two executive orders aimed at the coronavirus pandemic's economic fallout.Millions of Americans have claimed unemployment insurance as they lost their jobs amid the pandemic, not to mention thousands of noncitizen workers who haven't been eligible for the benefits. Congress has so far passed two relief bills aimed at helping those who have lost their jobs, though many families are still struggling. Biden is pushing Congress to pass another $1.9 trillion stimulus program, but took initial and immediate relief steps Friday with another round of executive orders.The first order would increase how much families are given through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program each week. About 12 million families rely on the program, and this order would boost food stamp benefits for a family of four by 15 percent, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese tells The New York Times. And while Biden has called for another round of $1,400 stimulus checks, this order would direct the IRS to ensure Americans are getting their $600 payments as well. Notably, the order will also let people claim unemployment benefits even if they quit their job because they feel unsafe working it during the pandemic, among other economic benefits aimed at low-income Americans.The second order meanwhile lays the groundwork for ensuring federal workers and contractors are paid at least $15 per hour and can access paid leave, CNN reports. It also undoes some of former President Donald Trump's orders that let a president hire and fire employees for political reasons and limited federal workers' bargaining rights.Biden has spent the first two days of his presidency issuing executive orders to combat Trump's policies on immigration, climate, the pandemic, and more.More stories from theweek.com 5 scathingly funny cartoons about Biden's COVID-19 push Biden foolishly low-balls America's COVID response 'No way' McConnell has had a post-Trump 'epiphany,' political scientist says
- Associated Press
Canada said its officials have met online with former diplomat Michael Kovrig, who has been held in China for more than two years in a case related to an executive of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei. Canada’s Foreign Ministry said officials led by Ambassador Dominic Barton were given “on-site virtual consular access” to Kovrig on Thursday. Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor have been confined since Dec. 10, 2018, just days after Canada detained Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who is also the daughter of the founder of the Chinese telecommunications equipment giant.
- NBC News
"I couldn't believe it, it was like an animal. That's the only way I can put it, it was like an animal," the woman said of the assault in Harlem.
- The Telegraph
The SNP has revealed a "roadmap to a referendum" on Scottish independence, with the latest poll showing a majority want a fresh vote. Mike Russell, the Scottish Government's Constitution Secretary, will present the 11-point document to the party's policy forum on Sunday. It says a "legal referendum" will be held after the pandemic if there is a pro-independence majority following May's election. The roadmap states any attempt by the UK Government to challenge the legality of the referendum in the courts will be "vigorously opposed". A Section 30 order - part of the Scotland Act 1998 which allows Holyrood to pass laws normally reserved to Westminster - was granted by the UK Government ahead of the 2014 independence referendum.