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The U.S. and Russia are talking, and Ukraine’s fate hangs in the balance

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The U.S. and Russia are talking, and Ukraine’s fate hangs in the balance

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken greets Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov before their meeting on Friday in Geneva.

Alex Brandon/AP

Alex Brandon/AP

No breakthroughs, but an agreement to keep talking.

That’s the upshot from a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Kremlin counterpart in Switzerland — the latest in a series of high-level talks that the Biden administration hopes will stave off a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine.

At a news conference following his 1.5-hour-long face-to-face with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, Blinken described the discussion as “frank and substantive,” saying, “We didn’t expect any major breakthroughs to happen today, but I believe we are now on a clear path in terms of understanding each other’s concerns and each other’s positions.”

Blinken said he’d made clear the position of the U.S. and its allies, which is to “stand firmly with Ukraine in support of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Russia, with an estimated 100,000 troops poised for a possible move across the border into Ukraine, is demanding written guarantees that Kyiv will never be allowed to join NATO. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied that it has any plans to invade.

The U.S. has been equally adamant that Ukraine should make its own decision on whether to join the alliance formed in 1949, originally as a bulwark against Soviet expansion in Western Europe.

“If any Russian military forces move across Ukraine’s border, that’s a renewed invasion,” Blinken said in an apparent reference to the Kremlin’s 2014 occupation and annexation of Crimea. Military action would “be met with swift, severe, and a united response from the United States and our partners and allies,” he added.

The U.S. envoy also acknowledged that Russian provocations short of invasion, including cyberattacks and paramilitary tactics, would also be met with a “decisive, calibrated, and again, united response.”

The door is open for more talks

Even so, Blinken left the door open to addressing Russia’s “security concerns” and said that he and Lavrov “also talked about the way forward.”

“I told him that following the consultations that we’ll have in the coming days with allies and partners, we anticipate that we will be able to share with Russia our concerns and ideas in more detail and in writing next week,” Blinken said. “And we agreed to further discussions after that. We agreed as well that further diplomatic discussions would be the preferable way forward, but again, it is really up to Russia to decide which path it will pursue.”

Lavrov said the two diplomats “ended up with an agreement that we will receive written responses to all our proposals next week.”

Blinken and Lavrov started Friday’s discussion with a handshake before sitting down to talks at the Hotel President Wilson in Geneva, with both parties acknowledging that a breakthrough was unlikely.

The U.S. envoy arrived in Switzerland after meetings in Berlin with several NATO allies to try to shore up support for sanctions and present a united front against Russia. In his remarks in Germany, Blinken said that Russian President Vladimir Putin faced a simple but stark choice: “dialogue and diplomacy on the one hand; conflict and consequences on the other hand.”

Biden’s “minor incursion” remark muddies the waters

Blinken’s efforts follow remarks by President Biden earlier this week that have muddied the waters. Speaking on Wednesday, Biden said he thought the Kremlin “will move” against Ukraine resulting in a “disaster for Russia.” But he also suggested that anything short of a full invasion would leave the U.S. and its European allies in a quandary as to how to respond.

“I think what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades,” Biden said. “And it depends on what it does. It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do.”

The White House has spent the last few days trying to clean up Biden’s remarks. While the dilemma they reflect is obvious, stating that dilemma publicly could send the wrong signal to Moscow. In any case, Biden’s comments sparked a response from Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who in a tweet on Thursday said: “We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations.”

On Wednesday, the U.S. announced that it was providing $200 million in additional military aid to Ukraine that had been approved in December to help the country defend itself against a possible invasion.

Since 2014, when Russia occupied and annexed Crimea and began providing material support to separatists in Ukraine’s east, the U.S. has stepped up military aid to Kyiv.

Russia would likely have an upper hand in conflict against Ukraine

Ukraine’s military is considered formidable, with considerable battlefield experience in the separatist eastern Donbass region, where at least 14,000 people have been killed in nearly eight years of fighting, according to Kyiv.

A Russian tank T-72B3 fires as troops take part in drills at the Kadamovskiy firing range in the Rostov region in southern Russia earlier this month.

AP

AP

However, Russia’s much larger and more modern army would likely have the upper hand in any military scenario. Its troops at the border are also likely to be backed by heavy artillery and an updated version of Russia’s venerable T-72 tank.

The Russian advantage in armor has made Kyiv especially keen to get its hands on U.S.-made Javelin anti-tank missiles — a request that Washington has obliged.

In 2018, Ukraine’s request for the Javelin missiles figured prominently in a telephone call between Zelenskyy and then-President Donald Trump that led to Trump’s first impeachment.

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Yemen has lost internet after Saudi-led airstrikes

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Yemen has lost internet after Saudi-led airstrikes

A man inspects the wreckage of a building after it was damaged in Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, in Sanaa, Yemen, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

Hani Mohammed/AP

Hani Mohammed/AP

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Yemen lost its connection to the internet nationwide early Friday after Saudi-led airstrikes targeted a site in the contested city of Hodeida, an advocacy group said, plunging the war-torn nation offline.

NetBlocks said the disruption began around 1 a.m. local and affected TeleYemen, the state-owned monopoly that controls internet access in the country. TeleYemen is now run by the Houthi rebels who have held Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, since late 2014.

Yemen was “in the midst of a nation-scale internet blackout following airstrike on (a) telecom building,” NetBlocks said, without immediately elaborating.

The San Diego-based Center for Applied Internet Data Analysis and San Francisco-based internet firm CloudFlare also noted a nationwide outage affecting Yemen beginning around the same time.

The Houthi’s Al-Masirah satellite news channel said the strike on the telecommunications building had killed and wounded people. It released chaotic footage of people digging through rubble for a body as gunshots could be heard. Aid workers assisted bloodied survivors.

The Saudi-led coalition battling the Houthi rebels acknowledged carrying out “accurate airstrikes to destroy the capabilities of the militia” around Hodeida’s port. It did not immediately acknowledge striking a telecommunication target as NetBlocks described, but instead called Hodeida a hub for piracy and Iranian arms smuggling to back the Houthis.

The undersea FALCON cable carries internet into Yemen through the Hodeida port along the Red Sea for TeleYemen. The FALCON cable has another landing in Yemen’s far eastern port of Ghaydah as well, but the majority of Yemen’s population lives in its west along the Red Sea.

A cut to the FALCON cable in 2020 caused by a ship’s anchor also caused widespread internet outages in Yemen. Land cables to Saudi Arabia have been cut since the start of Yemen’s civil war, while connections to two other undersea cables have yet to be made amid the conflict, TeleYemen previously said.

A Saudi-led coalition entered Yemen’s war in 2015 to back its ousted government. The war has turned into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with international criticism of Saudi airstrikes killing civilians and targeting the country’s infrastructure. The Houthis meanwhile have used child soldiers and indiscriminately laid landmines across the country.

The war reached into the United Arab Emirates, a Saudi ally, on Monday when the Houthis claimed a drone and missile attack on Abu Dhabi, killing three and wounding six.

___

Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

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Adele postpones Vegas show in tearful post, saying half of her team is out with COVID

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Adele postpones Vegas show in tearful post, saying half of her team is out with COVID

Adele performs at Genting Arena in March 2016 in Birmingham, England. The British singer and songwriter announced that her Las Vegas residency has been postponed due to COVID-19 issues.

Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

British singer Adele announced Thursday the postponement of her Las Vegas residency due to COVID-related issues — just one day before it was slated to begin.

“I’m so sorry, but my show ain’t ready. We’ve tried absolutely everything that we can to put it together in time, and for it to be good enough for you, but we’ve been absolutely destroyed by delivery delays and COVID,” the award-winning singer and songwriter said in a video posted to her social media.

“Half my crew, half my team are down with COVID. They still are. And it’s been impossible to finish the show. And I can’t give you what I have right now,” she continued.

Her residency, titled “Weekends With Adele,” was scheduled to begin this Friday at the Colosseum of Las Vegas’ Caesars Palace Hotel. The residency was expected to run through the middle of April, featuring her most recent album, “30,” which was released last November.

“It’s been impossible to finish the show,” Adele says, as she tears up in the video. “And I’m so upset, and I’m really embarrassed, and I’m so sorry to everyone that traveled again. I’m really, really sorry.”

New dates for Adele’s residency have yet not been announced. However, the singer wrote in the video caption that more information will be “coming soon.”

Following her Las Vegas residency dates, Adele is slated to perform at London’s Hyde Park in July. She did not say in the video whether her July concert was also subject to change.

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How Biden is trying to clean up his comments about Russia and Ukraine

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How Biden is trying to clean up his comments about Russia and Ukraine

President Biden planned to talk about infrastructure on the anniversary of his inauguration. But first, he had to clean up some comments he had made about Russia and Ukraine.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Biden and his White House on Thursday tried to clean up comments he made about Russia during a lengthy news conference the previous day.

On Wednesday, Biden had predicted Russia would invade Ukraine, but suggested there was a split among NATO members about how to respond if Moscow took action that stopped short of sending its troops across the border — something Biden referred to as a “minor incursion.” He said:

“I think what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades. And it depends on what it does. It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do.”

The president’s unusually frank comments came at a delicate time. U.S. and European officials are working to find a diplomatic way to end tensions after months of Russian troop movements around the Russia-Ukraine border.

They immediately raised alarms at home — and overseas. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Twitter that there was no such thing as “minor incursions.”

The uproar left White House officials spending the one-year anniversary of Biden’s time in office doing a lot of damage control.

We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations. Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones. I say this as the President of a great power 🇺🇦

— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) January 20, 2022

The White House quickly issued a walk-back

Shortly after Biden wrapped up his press conference, his press secretary Jen Psaki issued a statement trying to explain what he meant:

“If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our allies.”

She said that “aggression short of military action” like cyberattacks and paramilitary hits “will be met with a decisive, reciprocal, and united response.”

Then Biden offered his own clarification

On Thursday morning, the president began an unrelated infrastructure event seeking to fix the fallout and clarify his stance.

“If any — any — assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion,” Biden said, adding that it would result in a “severe and coordinated economic response” that he has discussed with allies.

“Let there be no doubt at all that if [Russian President Vladimir] Putin makes this choice, Russia will pay a heavy price,” the president said. But he also said the United States needed to be prepared for other scenarios beyond overt military tactics, such as paramilitary operations or cyber attacks.

White House officials talked to Ukraine and others

Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Berlin, meeting with allies. He plans to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday.

Bernd Von Jturczenka/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Bernd Von Jturczenka/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke about the situation with top officials from nine allies on NATO’s eastern flank, and his counterpart in Japan, the White House said.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken — who is slated to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday — spoke with allies in Berlin.

“We have been in touch at a high level with Ukrainian officials and leaders,” Psaki told reporters at the White House on Thursday.

She also spent time explaining Biden’s comments on major U.S. television networks.

It’s not clear how the U.S. would respond to a paramilitary or cyber hit

Psaki confirmed during Thursday’s press briefing that paramilitary and cyber attacks would be considered “minor incursions” and said “we need to be prepared for a range of scenarios, and we have a range of tools and tactics at our disposal.”

She insisted the White House’s intention was not to diminish the efforts of previous administrations to treat cyberwarfare as a threat that is as dangerous as physical military invasions — though she would not say what kind of response a Russian cyber hit would receive.

Psaki downplayed the specter of a NATO split:

“On NATO, what he was conveying is that we have been focused in ensuring that we remain united with NATO. Now united doesn’t mean that everything will be identical — it means we’re united in taking action should they decide to invade.”

Will Biden talk to Putin again?

During his press conference, Biden was asked whether he was considering another summit with Putin to find a diplomatic solution. “Yes,” Biden replied. “I think that is a possibility.”

Washington has repeatedly warned Russia not to invade Ukraine. Biden spoke with Putin twice last month in the hopes of deescalating the situation.

Psaki said she had nothing to predict about further calls or meetings. “I expect when Secretary Blinken comes back, they’ll discuss with the national security team what the right next steps are,” she said.

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Cyberattack on Red Cross compromised sensitive data on over 515,000 vulnerable people

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Cyberattack on Red Cross compromised sensitive data on over 515,000 vulnerable people

A flag of the International Committee of the Red Cross flutters above the humanitarian organization’s headquarters in Geneva on Sept. 29, 2021. The ICRC is pleading with hackers to keep stolen data confidential.

Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

The International Committee of the Red Cross has revealed that hackers have stolen data on over 515,000 “highly vulnerable people,” recipients of aid and services from at least 60 affiliates of the charitable organization worldwide.

During the investigation into the extent of the attack, which targeted a contractor in Switzerland that was storing the data, the Red Cross has been forced to temporarily halt a program that reunites families torn apart by violence, migration or other tragedies.

The biggest concern is that the hackers will ransom, leak or sell sensitive information on the families and their locations to bad actors who might seek to cause further harm to victims. The Red Cross says it typically reunites 12 missing people with their families every day, work that will be interrupted for fear of further danger.

The aid organization, known for its role in armed conflicts, on Wednesday pleaded directly with the hackers in a statement to keep the data confidential.

“The real people, the real families behind the information you have now are among the world’s least powerful,” said Robert Mardini, the ICRC’s director-general. “Please do the right thing. Do not sell, leak, or otherwise use this data.”

The Red Cross did not immediately attribute the attack to specific cybercriminals, terrorists or nation-state hackers, nor did it provide any information or speculation about potential motivation for the cyberattack on its contractor in Switzerland.

A spokesperson for the ICRC in Washington, D.C., Elizabeth Shaw, told NPR that “there have been no demands” from the hackers in exchange for stolen data, indicating that the breach was likely not a ransomware attack.

The Red Cross has partnered with “highly specialized firms” to help deal with what it’s calling a “sophisticated” attack, Shaw said. “Our message is to underscore that real people, real families are behind the data and sharing, selling or using it has the potential to harm,” she wrote in an email to NPR.

It’s still unclear why the hackers accessed the information, particularly as they haven’t communicated any demands. However, vulnerable people can make for ideal targets for other possible scams and extortion, while refugees can become political pawns in broader geopolitical conflicts. Aid organizations could be espionage targets as well. Both the United Nations and the State Department’s Agency for International Development were breached in 2021.

The families themselves, already victims of conflict and suffering, will be separated from family members longer periods of time, now fearful that they could be vulnerable to having their personal information exposed. “This cyber-attack puts vulnerable people, those already in need of humanitarian services, at further risk,” Mardini said.

Chris Painter, the president of the Global Forum on Cyber Expertise and the former top cyber diplomat at the State Department, told NPR the breach “highlights the human cost to hacking,” rather than simply the financial cost to most companies and organizations that are victims of cyberattacks.

Similar to other sectors, the humanitarian community has benefited from advanced technology to more easily store data and improve response time in crises. However, those organizations don’t always have the resources for advanced cybersecurity.

Niel Harper, the chief information security officer for the U.N. Office for Project Services, and Daniel Dobrygowski, the head of governance and trust at the World Economic Forum, wrote a piece earlier this week on why humanitarian organizations need to invest in cybersecurity — and why more well-endowed funders as well as tech companies should shoulder some of the cost. “Donors must view cybersecurity as critical to aid operations,” they wrote.

Cybersecurity experts called for an international response to the cyberattack against the Red Cross.

“Exposing data of vulnerable people in the Red Cross database should be urgently addressed by international community and the perpetrators should be brought to justice,” wrote Heli Tiirmaa-Klaar, the director of the Digital Society Institute in Berlin in an email to NPR. She previously served as Estonia’s ambassador-at-large for cyber diplomacy.

“This is another grim reminder that cyber risks have real world consequences, and should be dealt with utmost care and responsibility,” she added.

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Pope Benedict XVI failed to stop sex abuse when he was an archbishop, law firm says

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Pope Benedict XVI failed to stop sex abuse when he was an archbishop, law firm says

The former Pope Benedict XVI, seen here in 2010, did not intervene in four cases of sexual abuse when he was the archbishop of Munich and Freising, according to a law firm’s new report. The inquiry was commissioned by the archdiocese.

Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images

Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images

A German law firm investigating the Catholic Church’s handling of child sexual abuse cases says former Pope Benedict XVI failed to take action in four instances — including two that resulted in legal charges — while he was the archbishop of Munich and Freising.

“In a total of four cases, we reached a consensus there was a failure to act,” said attorney Martin Pusch of the law firm Westphal Spilker Wastl, according to news site Deutsche Welle. Despite reports of abuse, Pusch said, the church allowed priests to continue working without restrictions.

In a summary of the findings, the Vatican’s news agency says:

  • At least 497 people were abused in the archdiocese from 1945 to 2019;
  • 60% of the victims were between the ages of 8-14;
  • Most victims were young, with 247 male victims and 182 female;
  • There were 235 perpetrators of abuse, including 173 priests

The report, presented by Pusch and others at a lengthy news conference Thursday, contradicts Benedict’s long-running denial that he covered up or ignored abuse. For much of the time in question, he was known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. He served in the Munich post from 1977 to 1982.

“Two of the cases involved two perpetrators who committed the abuse while Ratzinger was in office,” NPR’s Rob Schmitz reports from Berlin. “The two were kept in pastoral work after being punished by the judicial system.”

“A third case involved a cleric who had been convicted by a court outside Germany and was put back into service in the Munich archdiocese despite evidence showing Ratzinger knew of the man’s past.”

During the news conference, lawyer Ulrich Wastl pointed to records of a meeting in which Munich church leaders agreed to accept the transfer of an abusive priest in early 1980. Benedict denied being present at the meeting — but the minutes of the session show he was, Wastl said.

The law firm’s report also criticizes Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who is currently the archbishop of Munich and Freising, for his role in two cases in 2008. Marx offered his resignation to Pope Francis last year, saying he was willing to take responsibility for his part in the sexual abuse crisis. But Francis did not accept his resignation.

Benedict, 94, resigned from the papacy in 2013, making him the first pope to step down in nearly 600 years. His tenure lasted just under eight years.

The long-awaited report, “Sexual abuse of minors and adult wards by clerics and full-time employees in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising from 1945 – 2019,” runs nearly 1,900 pages.

The church in Munich plans to respond publicly to the report in one week, according to Vatican News. The agency says the church did not get an advance copy of the report before it was released Thursday.

Westphal Spilker Wastl conducted the inquiry at the archdiocese’s request, looking into decades of records involving how Catholic leaders handled instances of priests abusing children and adolescents.

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COVID concerns will keep NBC announcers home from the Beijing Olympics

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COVID concerns will keep NBC announcers home from the Beijing Olympics

Staff members rehearse a victory ceremony at the Beijing Medals Plaza last week. The venue will host some medal ceremonies at the upcoming winter Olympics.

Ng Han Guan/AP

Ng Han Guan/AP

With the 2022 winter Olympics taking place in Beijing in less than two weeks, NBC Sports announced Wednesday that it will not be sending any announcing teams to this year’s Olympics games — citing “COVID concerns.”

“The announce teams for these Olympics, including figure skating, will be calling events from our Stamford (Connecticut) facility due to COVID concerns,” an NBC Sports spokesperson said in an email to NPR.

The spokesperson confirmed that the network will still have a large presence on the ground in Beijing, saying its coverage of everything related to the games will be “first-rate as usual.”

“Our plans are evolving by the day as they are for most media companies covering the Olympics,” the spokesperson said.

As first reported by USA Today, NBC Sports scheduled broadcasting teams to announce from Beijing covering figure skating, Alpine skiing and snowboarding. However, as of Wednesday, those plans have been canceled.

NBC’s Olympic lead prime time host Mike Tirico will still be traveling to Beijing to cover the first few days of the games before traveling to Los Angeles to cover Super Bowl LVI, USA Today reported.

The Olympic logo is seen on a hillside at Zhangjiakou Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou in northern China’s Hebei Province, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. The venue will host the freestyle skiing and snowboard competitions at the upcoming 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Mark Schiefelbein/AP

Mark Schiefelbein/AP

Officials with NBC Sports told USA Today the network’s plan to cover the Olympics from its Stamford facility was a similar strategy used to cover the delayed 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics last year.

“We’ll have more personnel there than in the host city,” Molly Solomon, president of NBC Olympics Production, told USA Today.

Earlier this week, the International Olympic Committee said no tickets will be sold for both the winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Beijing due to the “grave and complicated situation of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Instead, organizers announced this week that they would invite groups of spectators to attend the games in person.

“The organisers expect that these spectators will strictly abide by the COVID-19 countermeasures before, during and after each event as pre-conditions for the safe and sound delivery of the Games,” the Beijing 2022 organizing committee said in a statement.

The International Olympic Committee previously said they only would sell tickets to spectators living in mainland China who met certain COVID-19 safety protocols.

The winter Olympics will take place from Feb. 4 to Feb. 20, and the winter Paralympic Games are scheduled for March 4th through the 13th.

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In Kyiv, Secretary Blinken vowed to stand with Ukraine as Russia tensions continue

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In Kyiv, Secretary Blinken vowed to stand with Ukraine as Russia tensions continue

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is in Kyiv, assuring Ukrainian officials of American support in the face of a threatened Russian invasion.


AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Biden says he believes Vladimir Putin will make some move on Ukraine but warned that Putin, in his words, quote, “has never seen sanctions like the ones I will impose if Russia does invade.” The president acknowledged there are differences among NATO’s allies on how to respond to a Russian incursion, depending on what exactly the incursion is.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Kyiv today, vowing to stand with Ukraine. The U.S. is promising the country financial and military aid, even as it urges Russia to take a diplomatic path. NPR’s Michele Kelemen reports from Kyiv.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary Blinken says the world is watching what Russia does in Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONY BLINKEN: When Russia uses its strength to act with impunity against another sovereign nation, it makes other countries think that they too can violate the rules of international peace and security and put their narrow interests ahead of the shared interests of the international community.

KELEMEN: Despite intensive diplomacy aimed at easing tensions, Russia has kept tens of thousands of troops close to Ukraine and moved more into Belarus over the weekend. Blinken warns that this gives Russian President Vladimir Putin the capacity to take further aggressive action on short order, and he says this will only bring U.S. and other NATO assets closer to Russia, which is precisely what Putin says he doesn’t want.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BLINKEN: We have given more security assistance to Ukraine in the last year than at any point since 2014. And as I say, we’re doing that on a sustained basis. Should Russia carry through with any aggressive intent and renew its aggression and invade Ukraine, we’ll provide additional material.

KELEMEN: A British cargo plane that just delivered weapons was still on the tarmac when Blinken arrived. That’s welcome news to Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who’s sounding a confident note.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DMYTRO KULEBA: (Non-English language spoken).

KELEMEN: “We have a strong military,” he says, “a strong diplomatic strategy and strong partners.” But he wants to make sure that the U.S. isn’t cutting any deals with Russia without Ukraine’s involvement. Secretary Blinken will be meeting his Russian counterpart Friday in Geneva.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KULEBA: (Non-English language spoken).

KELEMEN: “I want to wish Tony good luck,” Kuleba said, pointing out that Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov refuses to meet with him. He’s hoping the U.S. can convince Russia to be more constructive and less aggressive. Russia wants written guarantees that Ukraine will never become part of NATO and is making other demands of the Western alliance. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov sounded impatient today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SERGEI RYABKOV: (Non-English language spoken).

KELEMEN: “We haven’t yet received written responses to our ideas from NATO and the U.S.,” he says, calling the matter urgent. He says Russia won’t wait forever. Blinken isn’t raising expectations about his meeting in Geneva.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BLINKEN: I won’t be presenting a paper at that time to Foreign Minister Lavrov. We need to see where we are and see if there remain opportunities to pursue the diplomacy and pursue the dialogue, which, again, as I said, is by far the preferable course.

KELEMEN: Secretary Blinken travels next to Berlin to meet his German, British and French counterparts to make sure they’re on the same page and ready to punish Russia with more sanctions if Russia tries to further destabilize Ukraine. Aside from military action, Ukraine fears that Russia is trying to scare off investors and hurt the Ukrainian economy. Secretary Blinken says he’s keeping a close watch on that, even as he urges Ukraine to continue on a path of reforms to make the country more resilient.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Kyiv.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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The Tonga volcano caused an oil spill on Peru’s coast. Fishermen are protesting

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The Tonga volcano caused an oil spill on Peru’s coast. Fishermen are protesting

Oil pollutes Cavero beach in Ventanilla, Callao, Peru, on Tuesday after high waves attributed to the eruption of an undersea volcano in Tonga caused an oil spill.

Martin Mejia/AP

Martin Mejia/AP

LIMA, Peru — An oil spill on the Peruvian coast caused by the waves from an eruption of an undersea volcano in the South Pacific nation of Tonga prompted dozens of fishermen to protest Tuesday outside the South American country’s main oil refinery.

The men gathered outside the refinery in the province of Callao near Lima’s capital. Peru’s environment minister, Rubén Ramírez, told reporters that authorities estimate 6,000 barrels of oil were spilled in the area rich in marine biodiversity.

Under the eyes of police, the fishermen carried a large Peruvian flag, fishing nets and signs that read “no to ecological crime,” “economically affected families” and “Repsol killer of marine fauna,” which referred to the Spain-based company that manages La Pampilla refinery, which processes around 117,000 oil barrels a day, according its website. They demanded to speak with company representatives, but no executive had approached them.

A worker pauses on Cavero beach during the cleaning away of oil on Tuesday.

Martin Mejia/AP

Martin Mejia/AP

The company did not immediately returned an email from The Associated Press seeking comment.

“There is a massacre of all the hydrobiological biodiversity,” said Roberto Espinoza, leader of the local fishermen. “In the midst of a pandemic, having the sea that feeds us, for not having a contingency plan, they have just destroyed a base of biodiversity.”

An Italian-flagged ship was loading oil into La Pampilla on Saturday when strong waves moved the boat and caused the spill. Repsol in a statement Sunday said the spill occurred “due to the violence of the waves.”

Oil floats in the water off Cavero beach on Tuesday.

Martin Mejia/AP

Martin Mejia/AP

The eruption caused waves that crossed the Pacific. In Peru, two people drowned off a beach and there were reports of minor damage from New Zealand to Santa Cruz, California.

On Tuesday, northwest of the facility, on Cavero beach, the waves covered the sand with a shiny black liquid, along with small dead crustaceans. Fifty workers from companies that work for Repsol inside the refinery removed the oil-stained sand with shovels and piled it up on a small promontory.

Juan Carlos Riveros, biologist and scientific director in Peru of Oceana – an organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans – said that the species most affected by the spill include guano birds, seagulls, terns, tendrils, sea lions and dolphins.

Workers clean up oil from Cavero beach on Tuesday.

Martin Mejia/AP

Martin Mejia/AP

“The spill also affects the main source of work for artisanal fishermen, since access to their traditional fishing areas is restricted or the target species become contaminated or die,” Riveros said. “In the short term, mistrust is generated about the quality and the consumption of fishing is discouraged, with which prices fall and income is reduced.”

Peru’s environmental assessment and enforcement agency estimates that some 18,000 square meters of beach on Peru’s Pacific coast have been affected by the spill.

In a statement, the Peruvian agency said Repsol “has not adopted immediate measures in order to prevent cumulative or more serious damage that affects the soil, water, flora, fauna and hydrobiological resources.” An AP reporter on Monday observed workers dressed in white suits collecting the spilled oil with plastic bottles cut in half.

José Llacuachaqui, another local fisherman leader, who was watching the cleanup, said the workers were only collecting the oil that reached the sand, but not the crude that was in the seawater.

“That is preying, killing, all the eggs, all the marine species,” he said.

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The U.S. will provide $200 million in military aid to Ukraine amid crisis

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The U.S. will provide $200 million in military aid to Ukraine amid crisis

Secretary of State Antony Blinken pauses while speaking in the briefing room of the State Department in Washington, Jan. 7, 2022.

Andrew Harnik/AP File Photo

Andrew Harnik/AP File Photo

KYIV, Ukraine — As U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits Ukraine, the Biden administration said Wednesday it’s providing an additional $200 million in defensive military aid to the country amid soaring fears of a Russian invasion.

A senior U.S. State Department official said the assistance was approved in late December as part of American efforts to help Ukraine protect itself. Until Wednesday, however, the administration had refused to comment on it. The official wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly before Blinken’s meetings in Kyiv and spoke on condition of anonymity.

“We are committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and will continue to provide Ukraine the support it needs,” the official said. The official did not detail the contents of the aid package.

The announcement came as Blinken opened a hastily arranged visit to Kyiv as he and other administration officials step up warnings about a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine. The White House said Tuesday that Russia could at any point launch an attack in Ukraine.

In comments to U.S. Embassy staff in Kyiv, Blinken went further by saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin has plans to significantly enhance Moscow’s military presence near Ukraine’s border, which now numbers roughly 100,000 troops.

“We know that there are plans in place to increase that force even more on very short notice and that gives President Putin the capacity, also on very short notice, to take further aggressive action against Ukraine,” Blinken said.

After his meetings with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other senior Ukrainian officials and a short trip to Berlin for talks with German and other European allies on Thursday, Blinken will see his Russian counterpart in Geneva on Friday. That meeting is aimed at testing Russia’s willingness to resolve the crisis diplomatically, officials said.

“We’re now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack in Ukraine,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. “And what Secretary Blinken is going to go do is highlight very clearly there is a diplomatic path forward.”

The administration and its European allies have accused Putin of creating the crisis by massing troops along Ukraine’s borders and it is up to him and the Russians to decide whether to invade and suffer severe economic consequences.

The U.S. has not concluded whether Putin plans to invade or whether the show of force is intended to squeeze security concessions without an actual conflict. Russia has brushed off calls to withdraw its troops by saying it has a right to deploy its forces wherever it likes on its own territory.

Blinken’s meetings follow inconclusive diplomatic talks between Moscow and the West in Europe last week that failed to resolve stark disagreements over Ukraine and other security matters.

Instead, those meetings appear to have increased fears of a Russian invasion, and the Biden administration has accused Russia of preparing a “false flag operation” to use as a pretext for intervention. Russia has angrily denied the charge.

From Kyiv, Blinken will travel to Berlin, where he will meet with his German, British and French counterparts to discuss a possible response to any Russian military action. In Geneva on Friday, Blinken will be testing Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Russia’s interest in a “diplomatic off-ramp” for the crisis, the State Department said.

“The trip follows extensive diplomacy with our European Allies and partners about a united approach to address the threat Russia poses to Ukraine and our joint efforts to encourage it to choose diplomacy and de-escalation in the interests of security and stability,” the department said.

CIA Director William Burns visited Kyiv last Wednesday to consult with his Ukrainian counterparts and discuss current assessments of the risk to Ukraine, a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss Burns’ schedule, which is classified. While there, he also discussed the current situation with Zelenskyy and efforts to de-escalate tensions.

In this photo provided by Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock pose for a photo during their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Jan. 17, 2022.

AP

AP

Blinken spoke by phone Tuesday with Lavrov, discussing the diplomatic talks and meetings held last week. The State Department said Blinken “stressed the importance of continuing a diplomatic path to de-escalate tensions” surrounding the Russia-Ukraine situation and “reiterated the unshakable U.S. commitment” to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Russia has rejected the U.S. allegations that it’s preparing a pretext to invade Ukraine. Lavrov dismissed the U.S. claim as “total disinformation.”

Lavrov reaffirmed that Russia expects a written response this week from the U.S. and its allies to Moscow’s request for binding guarantees that NATO will not embrace Ukraine or any other ex-Soviet countries or station its forces and weapons there.

Blinken underscored to Lavrov on Tuesday that any discussion of European security “must include NATO Allies and European partners, including Ukraine,” the State Department said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Lavrov emphasized in the call with Blinken the key aspects of Russian draft documents envisaging “legally binding guarantees of Russia’s security in line with the principle of indivisibility of security approved by all countries in the Euro-Atlantic.” It said Lavrov stressed the importance for Washington to quickly deliver a written response to the Russian proposals.

U.S. Senators Chris Murphy D-Conn. gives a briefing at Ukrainian Presidential office after their meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Jan. 17, 2022.

Efrem Lukatsky/AP

Efrem Lukatsky/AP

Washington and its allies firmly rejected Moscow’s demands during last week’s Russia-U.S. negotiations in Geneva and a related NATO-Russia meeting in Brussels.

The White House said Friday that U.S. intelligence officials had concluded that Russia had already deployed operatives to rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine to carry out acts of sabotage there and blame them on Ukraine to create a pretext for possible invasion.

Ahead of Blinken’s visit to Kyiv, a delegation of U.S. senators was visiting Ukraine to emphasize congressional support for the country.

Speaking Monday on a visit to Kyiv, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock warned that “any further escalation would carry a high price for the Russian regime — economic, political and strategic,” and she emphasized the need to continue negotiations.

Russia in 2014 seized the Crimean Peninsula after the ouster of Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly leader and also threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine. More than 14,000 people have been killed in nearly eight years of fighting between the Russia-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces in the country’s industrial heartland called Donbas.

Putin has warned that Moscow will take unspecified “military-technical measures” if the West stonewalls its demands.

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Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

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