RUSSIA CLAIMS TROOPS ARE WITHDRAWING
The Russian defence ministry has claimed it is withdrawing some of its 130,000 troops stationed close to the Ukrainian border, after a series of military drills were allegedly completed. The Kremlin said units of Russia's western and southern military districts would begin returning to their permanent bases, as it published videos of tanks, infantry combat vehicles and self-propelled artillery systems being loaded onto trains. Yesterday, Moscow also said tactical battalion groups were returning from Crimea to their permanent bases.
Ukrainian foreign minister Dymytro Kuleba has hailed the news, saying: “We and our allies have managed to prevent Russia from any further escalation. Diplomacy is continuing to work.” However, US president Joe Biden has disputed this in a nationally televised address, saying the Russian defence ministry’s claims had not been verified. He also alleged Russia now had around 150,000 troops stationed on Ukraine’s border, warning an attack was “still very much a possibility” and the human cost would be “immense”.
Russia has routinely denied any plans to invade Ukraine and instead accused the West of stoking “hysteria” to discredit Moscow. The US has told its citizens to leave Belarus as soon as possible, as large-scale joint military exercises with Russia began in the country last week and are set to continue until 20th February. Meanwhile, yesterday Ukraine said the websites of its defence ministry and two banks were the target of a cyber attack. The cause is unclear, but Ukraine’s online infrastructure has had large-scale attacks before, for which Russia was blamed.
PRINCE ANDREW SETTLES OUT OF COURT
The Duke of York has settled with Virginia Giuffre for an undisclosed sum over the US civil sexual assault case filed against him. The out-of-court settlement means Prince Andrew makes no admission of guilt over Giuffre’s allegations he sexually assaulted her three times when she was 17 – allegations he has repeatedly denied. Lawyers of both parties filed a letter to the judge saying a settlement had been reached in principle. It read: “The parties will file a stipulated dismissal upon Ms Giuffre’s receipt of the settlement.”
Reports suggest the settlement is likely to be in excess of $10m (£7m) to Giuffre and an agreed “substantial donation” to Giuffre’s charity in support of victims’ rights. This is before paying his own legal bill, which is also expected to run into millions. Yesterday’s legal statement added the Queen’s second son pledged to “demonstrate his regret for his association” with the disgraced late financier Jeffrey Epstein by supporting victims and “the fight against the evils of sex trafficking”.
Prince Andrew also recognised Giuffre’s suffering “both as an established victim and as a result of unfair public attacks” and said he never intended to “malign Ms Giuffre’s character”. The statement added he commended the “bravery of Giuffre and other survivors in standing up for themselves and others”. Giuffre’s lawyer David Boies said he believed the statement “speaks for itself”. Buckingham Palace has declined to comment. The Queen stripped her son of his royal patronages and honorary military titles last month.
Twenty-time Grand Slam winner Novak Djokovic on how he is willing to forgo competing for future major tennis trophies over his refusal to get a Covid vaccine. He stressed he should not be associated with the anti-vax movement, but supported an individual’s right to choose. Djokovic was deported from Australia last month over a protracted scandal with the Australian government, which eventually cancelled his visa due to his vaccine status.
The world number-one men’s tennis player said he had obtained a medical exemption to enter the country to play in the Australian Open, after recently recovering from Covid-19. Australia’s immigration minister personally cancelled his visa due to his presence allegedly threatening “civil unrest” and potentially encouraging anti-vaccine sentiment in the country.
MET OFFICER ADMITS RACISM PROBLEM
Metropolitan police deputy assistant commissioner Bas Javid has acknowledged “people who have racist views and are racist” are among the force’s staff. He replied: “Yes, I do” when asked by BBC Newsnight if he thought racism was a problem in the force. His comments followed Dame Cressida Dick’s resignation as Met commissioner last week and recent allegations of a toxic culture within the force concerning racism and misogyny among officers. “Let me be really clear on this: there’s absolutely no room for racism in policing, and especially here in the Metropolitan police,” said Javid. “Anyone who works for us and demonstrates any type of racism or discrimination behaviour will be removed from the organisation”. The brother of the health secretary, Javid has served in three police force areas during his 28 years as an officer.
HOUSEHOLDS CUT BACK ON ESSENTIALS
Up to a fifth of UK households have struggled to pay their TV, internet and phone bills in the last year, according to telecoms regulator Ofcom’s annual affordability report. It also reported some have had to cancel services or cut back spending on essentials such as food and clothing to make ends meet. Ofcom linked this with the rising pressure on household finances. This includes consumers facing further inflation-busting increases of up to 10% in mobile, telephone and broadband bills this year.
Ofcom’s Lindsey Fussell said: “People rely on their broadband for staying in touch, working and learning from home. But for those who are really struggling with rising bills, every penny counts.” Ofcom has warned price increases are set to outstrip expected rises in benefits such as universal credit. It also estimates 4.2m homes are eligible to move onto social tariffs, which could save around £144 annually.
COURT RULES HANCOCK BROKE LAW
The High Court has ruled former health secretary Matt Hancock did not comply with public sector equality duty when he appointed Conservative peer Dido Harding as head of the National Institute for Health Protection – a new public health quango set up in response to the pandemic. Yesterday’s ruling represents a successful claim from race and equality thinktank the Runnymede Trust.
Two judges made the decision at the High Court after considering arguments made at a hearing in December. The trust also took fault with the appointment of Mike Coupe as NHS Test and Trace director of testing. Campaign group the Good Law Project also joined in making complaints, arguing an “open process” was not adopted by the government when making appointments to posts “critical to the pandemic response”. However, the judges dismissed this claim.
COVID STILL THREAT IN EASTERN EUROPE
A new wave of omicron infections remains a significant threat as it moves towards eastern Europe, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has urged authorities to improve vaccination and other measures. In a statement, WHO European regional director Hans Kluge said Covid-19 cases have more than doubled in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Russia and Ukraine over the past two weeks.
Countries such as the Czech Republic and Poland have hinted at easing their Covid-19 restrictions next month if daily infection numbers continued to fall. WHO stressed rapid testing and masking should continue, citing over 165m cases being recorded across the WHO European region, with 25,000 deaths in the past week. Kluge added under 40% of over-60s in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan are fully vaccinated.
‘FAMILY MEDS’ CAUSED FAILED DRUG TEST
Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva could have ingested traces of a banned substance after sharing a glass with her grandfather on Christmas Day, according to Russian media sources. This explanation was provided by Valieva’s mother and lawyer, who appeared by video conference call at her Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) disciplinary hearing on Sunday. Valieva tested positive for cardiac medication and banned performance-enhancing drug trimetazidine in a sample given on 25th December.
Valieva’s grandfather has claimed to have a heart condition for which he takes the medication banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency for athlete consumption. CAS cleared Valieva to compete on Monday. She has returned to the ice in the women’s individual figure skating, which began yesterday and will finish on Thursday. Russian newspaper Pravda has reported experts do not believe the explanation provided.
A man has discovered human bone from more than 5,000 years ago, according to carbon dating analysis. Simon Hunt found the human femur or upper leg bone lying on the pebbles and rocks of the Thames riverbed at low tide last September while taking his boat down to the river in Brentford, west London. Experts say it is dated between 3,156 and 3,365BC and belonged to a person around 5ft 7in tall living in the late British Neolithic period at the end of the Stone Age. It was not possible to tell if they were male or female.
Picture of the day
In the historic Deritend area of Birmingham, artist Akse P19 has painted a mural depicting Cillian Murphy as crime boss Tommy Shelby from the hit BBC period drama Peaky Blinders. The mural was commissioned by the BBC and marked the announcement of its sixth and final series release date on 27th February. Akse P19 is a street artist most well-known for his portrait of footballer and community activist Marcus Rashford last year.