News Headlines 3/30/22

RUSSIA SAYS WILL REDUCE MILITARY ACTIVITY NEAR KYIV, UKRAINE, OTHERS SKEPTICAL: Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said Tuesday (March 29th) that Russia had decided to “cut back military activity” near the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv to, quote, “increase mutual trust and create conditions for further negotiations.” But Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was skeptical, saying there was no reason to believe the announcement as Russian shelling continues, and the U.S. and others also expresssed doubts about Russia’s intentions. Fomin’s remarks were portrayed by Russia as a goodwill gesture, but Moscow has since last week apparently shifted its military focus to gaining control in the eastern Donbas region, as its forces have been stalled in efforts to take Kyiv and other cities. 

The two countries returned to talks yesterday, meeting in Istanbul, and plan to continue today. Ukraine’s delegation presented a framework under which it would declare itself neutral and its security would be guaranteed by a range of other nations, including the U.S., Britain, France, Turkey, China and Poland. Ukraine said it would also be willing to hold talks over a 15-year period on the future of the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized in 2014.

U.N. Nuclear Watchhdog Head Arrives in Ukraine: The director-general of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog arrived in Ukraine yesterday for talks with senior government officials on delivering what the agency called “urgent technical assistance” to ensure the safety of the country’s nuclear facilities, including experts and “safety and security” supplies. The International Atomic Energy Agency said Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a statement, “The military conflict is putting Ukraine’s nuclear power plants and other facilities with radioactive material in unprecedented danger. We must take urgent action to make sure that they can continue to operate safely and securely and reduce the risk of a nuclear accident[.]” Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors, four active power plants, and the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant that was the site of the 1986 disaster. Russian forces have taken control of Chernobyl and of the largest active power plants.

SECOND COVID-19 VACCINE BOOSTER OKAYED FOR THOSE 50 AND OLDER: A second booster shot of the Pfizer or Moderna Covid-19 vaccines was okayed Tuesday (March 29th) for Americans age 50 and older if it’s been at least four months since their first booster. The Food and Drug Administration approved the second booster for that age group and for some younger people with severely weakened immune systems, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention later recommended it as an option, but stopped short of urging that  those eligible for it get it right away. CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said it was especially important for Americans age 65 and older and people in their 50s with chronic illnesses like heart disease or diabetes to consider getting a second booster. However, having two vaccine shots and a booster still offer strong protection against severe illness and death.

GUNMAN KILLS FIVE IN THIRD ATTACK IN ISRAEL IN A WEEK: Five people were killed late Tuesday (March 29th) in the Israeli city of Bnei Brak when a gunman on a motorcycle opened fire in the third such street attack in Israel in a week. The gunman, who Israeli media said was a 27-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank, was killed by police. The previous two attacks were carried out by Arab citizens of Israel who were inspired by the Islamic State (ISIS) extremist group. Israeli authorities haven’t yet determined if the attacks were organized or whether the perpetrators acted individually. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett pledged to fight what he called “a wave of murderous Arab terrorism,” while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack.

SOUTH KOREA SAYS NORTH’S CLAIM OF TEST-FIRING NEW ICBM WAS FALSE: South Korea said Tuesday (March 29th) that North Korea’s claim last week to have test-fired a new intercontinental ballistic missile last week was false. Instead, the South charged the North launched a less-powerful existing weapon and fabricated data  after an earlier failed launch. North Korea had claimed to have fired a Hwasong-17 missile, its longest-range developmental ICBM, last Thursday, but South Korea said it had determined it was a Hwasong-15, another ICBM the North successfully tested in 2017. While both are potentially capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, analysts say the Hwasong-17 has a longer potential range and its size suggests  it’s designed to carry multiple nuclear warheads to defeat missile defense systems. 

EIGHT-HOUR GAP FOUND IN WHITE HOUSE RECORDS OF TRUMP’S JAN. 6 CALLS: The House committee investigating the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol has found a nearly eight-hour gap in the official White House records of then-President Donald Trump‘s phone calls on that day as the violence was taking place, The Washington Post and CBS News reported Tuesday (March 29th). The gap begins a little after 11 a.m. and lasts until about 7 p.m. on January 6, 2021, and involves White House phone calls. AP says that missing records raise questions about whether Trump purposefully went around official channels to avoid records, stating that he was known to use other people’s cell phones to make calls as well as his own, and often bypassed the White House switchboard.