By Arshad Mohammed and Thomas Grove WASHINGTON/LUHANSK, Ukraine (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry accused Russian agents and special forces on Tuesday of stirring separatist unrest in eastern Ukraine, saying Moscow could be trying to prepare for military action as it had in Crimea. Armed pro-Moscow protesters were still occupying Ukrainian government buildings in two cities in the largely Russian-speaking east on Tuesday, although police ended a third occupation in a lightning night-time operation. Ukraine's security service said separatists occupying the security headquarters in Luhansk had planted bombs in the building and were holding as many as 60 hostages. Activists in the building denied they had explosives or hostages, but said they had seized an armory full of automatic rifles. The Ukraine government says the occupations that began on Sunday are part of a Russian-led plan to dismember the country. Kerry said he feared Moscow might repeat its Crimean operation. "It is clear that Russian special forces and agents have been the catalyst behind the chaos of the last 24 hours," he said in Washington, and this "could potentially be a contrived pretext for military intervention just as we saw in Crimea." Moscow annexed the Black Sea peninsula last month after a referendum staged when Russian troops were already in control. Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed Western accusations that Moscow was destabilizing Ukraine, saying the situation could improve only if Kiev took into account the interests of Russian-speaking regions. Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union will hold a ministerial meeting next week to discuss the Ukraine crisis, the EU said on Tuesday. The meeting, to be held at a still unspecified location in Europe, will involve Kerry, Lavrov, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Ukraine's foreign minister, Andriy Deshchytsia. The U.S. State Department said Kerry and Lavrov in a phone call on Monday discussed convening direct talks among the parties to try to defuse tensions. PROTESTERS DEMAND REFERENDUM Shots were fired, a grenade thrown and 70 people detained as Ukrainian officers ended the occupation in the city of Kharkiv during an 18-minute "anti-terrorism" action, the Interior Ministry said. But elsewhere in Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland, activists armed with Kalashnikov rifles and protected by barbed-wire barricades vowed there was no going back on their demand for a vote on returning to Moscow rule. In the city of Luhansk, a man dressed in camouflage told a crowd outside the occupied state security building: "We want a referendum on the status of Luhansk and we want Russian returned as an official language." The Kremlin's standoff with the West has knocked investors' confidence in the Russian economy, and the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday cut its forecast of growth this year to 1.3 percent, less than half the 3 percent it had originally projected. Britain expressed fears that Russia wanted to disrupt the run-up to presidential elections next month in Ukraine, which has been ruled by an interim government since the overthrow of Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovich in February. Ukraine, which was controlled by Moscow until the Soviet Union collapsed more than two decades ago, has been in turmoil since late last year when Yanukovich rejected closer relations with the European Union and tilted the country back toward Russia. That provoked mass protests in which more than 100 people were killed by police and which drove Yanukovich from office, leading to Kiev's loss of control in Crimea. In Kiev, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov partly pinned responsibility for the Kharkiv occupation on Russian President Vladimir Putin. "All this was inspired and financed by the Putin-Yanukovich group," he said. An aide said police went in when the protesters failed to give themselves up and surrender their arms. Officers did not open fire, despite shooting and the grenade attack from the other side, he said. One police officer was badly wounded and some others less seriously hurt. In Luhansk, a city of about 450,000, protesters have blocked streets leading to the state security building with barbed wire, tires, crates, metal police barriers and sandbags. Andrei, who said he had stormed the building on Sunday but would not give his family name, said the protesters had 200 to 300 Kalashnikovs and some stun grenades, but there had been no shooting so far. "Once you've taken up arms, there's no turning back. We will stay until the authorities agree to hold a referendum on the status of Luhansk," he said. A standoff also continued in the mining center of Donetsk, Yanukovich's home base, where a group of pro-Russian deputies inside the main regional authority building on Monday declared a separatist republic. Unlike in Kharkiv, there was no clear sign that further police operations were imminent in the other two cities. "We hope the buildings occupied in Donetsk and Luhansk will soon be freed," acting President Oleksander Turchinov said. Russia has warned Kiev against using force to end the occupations, but authorities may have decided not to give Moscow an excuse to intervene, holding back in the hope that the protests will fizzle out. MASS DISORDER In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the occupations bore "all the hallmarks of a Russian strategy to destabilize Ukraine. The West has expressed concern about what it says has been a buildup of Russian forces along the border with Ukraine. Moscow has said the troops are merely taking part in exercises, but NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged caution. "If Russia were to intervene further in Ukraine it would be a historic mistake," he told a news conference in Paris. "It would have grave consequences for our relationship with Russia and would further isolate Russia internationally." Ukraine's ambassador to NATO, Ihor Dolhov, said on Tuesday that Kiev was counting on the United States and other NATO members to supply equipment ranging from uniforms to aircraft fuel, but was not asking for weapons. Lavrov denied responsibility for the trouble in Russian-speaking areas of Ukraine. "One should not seek to put the blame on someone else," he told a news conference in Moscow. Unlike in Crimea, where ethnic Russians form a majority, most people in the east and south are ethnically Ukrainian, although they speak Russian as a first language. Putin will meet his senior officials on Wednesday to discuss economic ties with Ukraine, including on energy, his spokesman said. He gave no details, but the Crimea dispute has raised fears Russia might cut off gas supplies to Ukraine's crippled economy, having nearly doubled the price it charges Kiev. Kiev missed a midnight deadline to reduce its $2.2 billion gas debt to Russia, although producer Gazprom did not say whether it would take any action against Kiev. In Brussels, Ukraine's energy minister, EU officials and industry representatives discussed how to reduce reliance on Russian gas. An EU diplomat said the 28-nation body planned to set up a support group to help Ukraine stabilize its precarious economy and political situation. (Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Jason Bush, Lidia Kelly, Vladimir Soldatkin and Denis Pinchuk in Moscow; William James and Kylie MacLellan in London, Barbara Lewis and Adrian Croft in Brussels and John Irish in Paris; Writing by Richard Balmforth, David Stamp and Peter Cooney; Editing by Giles Elgood and Lisa Shumaker)
- Yahoo News
The New Yorker on Sunday published 12 minutes of new, surreal footage from inside the Capitol during the mob rampage that left five people dead earlier this month.
- NBC News
She displayed "a round metallic object later identified as a Military Police Challenge Coin" and said she was part of law enforcement, police said.
After a probe found "significant errors of judgment and procedure" in the termination of the employee, GitHub's head of human resources resigned, GitHub Chief Operating Officer Erica Brescia said on Sunday. "In light of these findings, we immediately reversed the decision to separate with the employee and are in communication with his representative," Brescia said in a blog https://bit.ly/2KnkVhI, adding that the company apologized to that employee.
- National Review
Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) warned Friday that one-third of Republican voters could leave the party if GOP senators vote in impeachment proceedings to convict President Trump. Paul made the comments in an interview on Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle. The senator’s remarks come amid an increasing divide between congressional Republicans who oppose impeaching the president and a smaller number who support the measure following the riots at the Capitol on January 6. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) is reportedly hopeful that Republicans can use impeachment to purge Trump from the GOP, although he would need the support of at least 16 additional Republican senators to vote to convict. “Look, I didn’t agree with the [Capitol] fight that happened last week, and I voted against overturning the election, but at the same time, the impeachment is a wrongheaded, partisan notion, [and] if Republicans go along with it, it’ll destroy the party,” Paul said during the interview. “A third of the Republicans will leave the party,” Paul continued. “This isn’t about, anymore, the Electoral College, this is about the future of the party, and whether you’re going to ostracize and excommunicate President Trump from the party. Well, guess what? Millions of his fans will leave as well.” While a majority of Americans believe Trump should be removed from office immediately, just 17 percent of Republicans support expelling Trump from the presidency, according to an Axios–Ipsos poll released on Thursday. Support for Trump among Republicans has fallen since the Capitol riots; however, 60 percent believe the party should continue to follow Trump once he leaves office, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found.
- Associated Press
New satellite images of a refugee camp in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region show more than 400 structures have been badly damaged in what a research group believes is the latest “intentional attack” by fighters. The report by the U.K.-based DX Open Network nonprofit, shared with The Associated Press, says “it is likely that the fire events of 16 January are yet another episode in a series of military incursions on the camp as reported by (the United Nations refugee agency).” The Shimelba camp is one of four that hosted 96,000 refugees from nearby Eritrea when fighting erupted in early November between Ethiopian forces and those of the defiant Tigray region.
- The Independent
Man arrested at inauguration checkpoint with gun and ammo says he was lost and did not mean to bring weapon to DC
The man said he got lost driving around Washington DC
- The Telegraph
Miners trapped underground in eastern China for more than a week after a blast at a gold mine have managed to send up a note to rescuers, the local government said on Monday. The blast occurred eight days ago on Sunday afternoon at a mine near Qixia city in eastern Shandong province, leaving 22 miners trapped underground more than 600 metres from the mine’s entrance. After a long period without any contact, rescuers were able to drill through the mine on Sunday afternoon and said they heard "knocking sounds". A note was then sent up from the trapped miners saying that 12 were still alive, the local government said in a statement Monday. "We are in urgent need of cold medicine, painkillers, medical tape, external anti-inflammatory drugs, and three people have high blood pressure," the note read.
Kevin McCarthy warned members to not call out colleagues by name, citing potential political violence
Members of the House Republican Conference ignored leader Kevin McCarthy last week when he warned them against criticizing colleagues by name based on intelligence that doing so could trigger more political violence. Why it matters: McCarthy made clear that name-dropping opponents, instead of spelling out complaints in more general terms, can put a literal target on a politician, especially with tensions so high following the events of Jan. 6.Get smarter, faster with the news CEOs, entrepreneurs and top politicians read. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.That's what happened to Rep. Liz Cheney, the GOP conference chairperson, after she said she would support impeaching President Trump. * She and several other members had to increase their security and take extra precautions because of death threats and other alarming warnings after their colleagues singled them out in their complaints.What McCarthy said: The House minority leader issued his warning during a conference call last Monday. He said his concern was driven by the FBI briefings he receives. * "It doesn’t matter which side of the position you were: I respect it, I respect why you did what you did. But what we are saying on television, when we say a member’s name. ... This is not the moment in time to do it." * "You can incite something else. The country is very divided and we know this. Let’s not put any member, I don’t care who they are Republican, Democrat or any person not even in Congress. Watch our words closely. I get these reports on a weekly basis. I’ve seen something I haven’t seen before.”Several minutes later, McCarthy repeated the message: “Emotions are high. What you say matters. Let’s not put other people in danger. Let’s watch what words we’re using and definitely not be using other members' names in any media.”Days later, some GOP members ignored him and openly criticized their colleagues * Rep. Adam Kinzinger tweeted that the name of his Republican colleague, Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene, "will be one forgotten by next January." * Rep. Lauren Boebart (R-Colo.) mocked Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the House's new mask fines.One of the most blatant attacks, leading to a media firestorm, was when several members of the House Freedom Caucus went after Cheney for voting to impeach Trump. * On the day of the vote, the members circulated a petition to remove her from her leadership role. * Cheney is now fielding a series of threats against her, many from fiery Trump supporters angered by her vote, a source with direct knowledge of the threat said. * “We don’t comment on security matters,” Cheney’s communications director, Jeremy Adler, told Axios.What we’re hearing: McCarthy's team told Axios he isn't looking for repercussions. Spokesman Matt Sparks said the leader wants to lower the temperature and is encouraging members to be mindful of the current environment.Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.
- Associated Press
A New Mexico county official and founder of the group Cowboys for Trump who had vowed to return to Washington after last week’s riot at the U.S. Capitol to place a flag on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk has been arrested Sunday by the FBI. Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin was arrested on charges of illegally entering the U.S. Capitol. According to court documents, Griffin told investigators that he was “caught up” in the crowd, which pushed its way through the barricades and entered the restricted area of the U.S. Capitol, but he said he did not enter the building and instead remained on the U.S. Capitol steps.
- The Independent
The latest updates from the White House and beyond on 17 January 2021
- NBC News
"The situation at the border isn't going to be transformed overnight," a senior Biden transition official told NBC News in an exclusive interview.
More than 20 shellfish trucks parked on roads near British parliament and Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Downing Street residence on Monday to protest against post-Brexit bureaucracy that they say has stopped them exporting to the European Union. Many fishermen have been unable to export to the EU since catch certificates, health checks and customs declarations were introduced at the start of this year, delaying their deliveries and prompting European buyers to reject them. Police were asking the lorry drivers for details.
- Associated Press
From “emaciated” refugees to crops burned on the brink of harvest, starvation threatens the survivors of more than two months of fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. The first humanitarian workers to arrive after pleading with the Ethiopian government for access describe weakened children dying from diarrhea after drinking from rivers. A local official told a Jan. 1 crisis meeting of government and aid workers that hungry people had asked for “a single biscuit.”
- Yahoo News Video
The spokesman for Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert has quit less than two weeks after she was sworn into office, saying he felt like he need to due to the insurrection at the nation's Capitol.
- National Review
Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) on Sunday advised the president not to grant presidential pardons to the rioters who stormed the Capitol this month, warning that doing so would “destroy” Trump. “Mr. President, your policies will stand the test of time. You’re the most important figure in the Republican party. You can shape the direction of the party. Keep your movement alive,” Graham said on Fox News. “There are a lot of people urging the president to pardon folks who participated in defiling the Capitol, the rioters,” Graham continued. “I don’t care if you went there and spread flowers on the floor, you breached the security of the Capitol, you interrupted a joint session of Congress, you tried to intimidate us all, you should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and to seek a pardon of these people would be wrong. I think it would destroy President Trump and I hope we don’t go down that road.” On Wednesday, a large group of Trump supporters overpowered Capitol Police and forced their way into the halls of Congress. Pence and the assembled lawmakers evacuated the Senate floor, where a joint session of Congress was being held to certify the presidential election results. The violence followed a rally outside the White House earlier in the day where President Trump addressed the “Save America March” and repeated his claims that November’s election was rife with voter fraud that threatened to deprive him of his rightful second term. The violence on January 6 resulted in five dead, including a Capitol Police officer. Since then, dozens of criminal cases have been brought in connection with the riot. Graham defended Trump’s rhetoric at the rally, which received bipartisan condemnation and sparked a second impeachment against the president by House Democrats. “President Trump never said, ‘Go into the capitol and try to interrupt a joint session of Congress.’ That was the choice they made and they need to live with that choice,” Graham said. Graham added that there were “irregularities in mail-in voting,” but said “the election is over,” noting that the electoral votes have been certified.” “It is now time to move on,” the South Carolina Republican said. Graham also had a message for incoming president Joe Biden, calling on him to stand up against the second impeachment of Trump, which the Senate is expected to take up after he leaves office.
- The Independent
SLC’s ‘Save America’ rally also saw a defiant teenage protester and an attack on a local media member.
China promised on Saturday to donate 500,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to the Philippines as the two countries signed infrastructure deals aimed at boosting post-pandemic recovery efforts, officials said. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte imposed one of the world's longest and strictest lockdowns to contain the virus in March last year - bringing one of Asia's fastest-growing economies to a standstill. "As a friend of the Philippines and your closest neighbour, we will firmly stand with the people of the Philippines until the defeat of this virus," senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi said during a meeting with the Philippines' foreign minister.
- The Week
Israel has vaccinated at least 25 percent of its population against the coronavirus so far, which leads the world and makes it "the country to watch for herd effects from" the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, says infectious disease expert David Fishman. Recently, the case rate in Israel appears to have declined sharply, and while there could be a few reasons for that, it's possible the vaccination effort is beginning to play a role.> Israel's reproduction number appears to have declined rather sharply in recent days, with around 25% of the country vaccinated, and some additional percentage having at least partial immunity via prior infection. pic.twitter.com/sVyCYYd9dj> > — David Fisman (@DFisman) January 17, 2021One study from Clalit that was published last week reports that 14 days after receiving the first Pfizer-BioNTech shot, infection rates among 200,000 Israelis older than 60 fell 33 percent among those vaccinated compared to 200,000 from the same demographic who hadn't received a jab.At first glance, Fishman writes, that might seem disappointing since clinical trials suggested the vaccine was more than 90 percent effective. But he actually believes the 33 percent figure is "auspicious." Because vaccinated and non-vaccinated people are mingling, there could be "herd effects of immunization." In other words, when inoculated people interact with people who haven't had their shot, the latter individual may still be protected because the other person is. On a larger scale, that would drive down the number of infections among non-vaccinated people, thus shrinking the gap between the two groups' infection rates.> Estimated vaccine efficacy is a function of relative risk of infection in the vaccinated...when there is indirect protection via herd effects, we expect efficacy estimates to decrease because the risk among unvaccinated individuals declines.> > — David Fisman (@DFisman) January 17, 2021More data needs to come in, and Fishman thinks "we'll know more" this week, but he's cautiously optimistic about how things are going.More stories from theweek.com Statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico only needs 50 votes 5 more scathing cartoons about Trump's 2nd impeachment Trump's vaccine delay is getting suspicious
- Associated Press
Twitter on Sunday temporarily suspended the account of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Republican U.S. Congresswoman from Georgia who has expressed racist views and support for QAnon conspiracy theories online. Greene's account was suspended “without explanation," she said in a statement, while also condemning big tech companies for “silencing” conservative views. Before noon Sunday, Greene posted a clip from an interview with a local news outlet in which she condemned Georgia election officials and expressed support for debunked theories claiming that voting machines, absentee ballots and other issues led to widespread fraud in the state during the presidential election.
- NBC News
The imprisonment of a fourth American could derail a bid by the Biden administration to revive a nuclear agreement with Iran.