A neutrality agreement would shut the door on Ukraine joining NATO and many experts believe it is the only hope for ending the war.
Zelensky Outlines Diplomatic Proposals
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday detailed several potential diplomatic promises he could make under a peace agreement with Russia ahead of in-person negotiations in Turkey scheduled for Tuesday.
Perhaps the most significant proposed pledge he outlined in his remarks, which were made during a rare interview with independent Russian journalists, was the possibility that Ukraine could declare its “neutrality.”
Under the foreign policy of neutrality, a country essentially agrees to be neutral or non-aligned in future wars, though it still maintains the ability to protect itself if attacked. One of the most classic examples of this is Switzerland, though there are others.
Neutrality varies in practice and it remains unclear exactly how it would look in Ukraine. Experts largely agree that the principle would involve some kind of promise in which Russia agrees to respect Ukraine’s territory.
Such an agreement, however, would also effectively end Ukraine’s attempts to join NATO. Zelensky, for his part, has already acknowledged that his NATO dreams are unlikely, but many experts say an official declaration of Ukrainian neutrality is necessary to end the war.
Still, the Ukrainian leader also said Sunday the question must be put to a national referendum after Russian forces withdraw, and again reiterated that Ukraine will need certain security assurances as part of any deal.
War Continues on Multiple Fronts, But With Possible Shift Ahead
Also during the Sunday interview, Zelensky stated that Ukraine was ready to make a compromise on the eastern Donbas region, which is partially controlled by Russian separatists.
That specific remark comes as intelligence from both the Ukrainian military and the Pentagon has indicated that the Kremlin may be shifting its efforts to control the Donbas region. On Sunday, the head of Ukrainian military intelligence accused Russia of trying to split the country in two in order “to create North and South Korea in Ukraine.”
Still, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Defense Ministry also said during a media briefing Monday that there is no evidence that Russia is going to drop its effort to surround the capital of Kyiv, where large explosions were reported earlier in the day.
Notably, Ukrainian officials have also claimed a counteroffensive around the capital is making gains. They said that Russian forces have been pushed out of several towns, but fighting continues on multiple fronts.
In the southern port city of Mariupol, which is located between the separatist region and Crimea, Ukrainian forces persist in their battle to prevent a takeover. The city’s mayor, Vadym Boychenko, told reporters Monday that Ukraine is still holding on to power but noted that Russian forces were entering “deeper into the city.”
Boychenko accused the Russian military of committing “genocide” and called for a complete evacuation of the roughly 160,000 residents that remain in the city, which previously was home to a population of around 400,000. On Monday, top Ukrainian officials said they will close all humanitarian corridors for safety reasons as Russia persists in its shelling and bombing.
Despite the continued resistance, defense analysts said Mariupol could fall to Russia in just a matter of days. On Monday, the U.K. Defense Ministry also said that Russia has “gained most ground” near Mariupol.
President Zelensky said during his Sunday interview that he offered soldiers defending the city the option to retreat, but they declined because they did not want to abandon the remaining civilians, the dead, and the wounded.
Biden Sparks Backlash With Putin Ad-Lib
As the situation on the ground persists, U.S. President Joe Biden is coping with a war of words following controversial remarks Saturday.
While delivering a high-stakes speech in Warsaw, Poland the American leader took direct aim at Russian President Vladimir Putin in comments White House officials said were unscripted.
“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Biden said.
If taken literally, the president’s words would signal a reversal of the currently-held U.S. policy of not pushing for regime change. Top leaders in Congress and the Biden administration quickly walked back that statement, making clear the U.S. was not seeking a regime change.
“We do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia or anywhere else, for that matter,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement to reporters Sunday. “In this case, as in any case, it’s up to the people of the country in question. It’s up to the Russian people.”
Julianne Smith, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, echoed that sentiment in remarks to CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, where she insisted that “the U.S. does not have a policy of regime change in Russia. Full stop.”
Still, Biden’s ad-lib was widely condemned by many — including top Senate Republicans and French President Emmanuel Macron — as being incendiary, playing into Russia’s hands, and further risking the collapse of U.S.-Russia relations.
“I wouldn’t use this kind of words,” the French leader said Sunday, adding that if allies want a ceasefire “we mustn’t escalate, neither with words nor with actions.”
Biden personally addressed the backlash during a press conference Monday where he said he stood by his remarks and rejected the criticism that he misspoke. The president argued that he was just expressing his personal outrage about Putin being in power and not announcing a policy change.
“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “Nobody believes I was talking about taking down Putin. Nobody believes that.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (NPR)
YouTuber Accused of Murder After Using Livestream as Alibi
Stephen McCullagh may have eluded the authority’s suspicion if not for CCTV footage that allegedly puts him near the scene of the crime.
Police Peer Behind the Veil
A Northern Ireland YouTuber was charged with murdering a pregnant woman last week, and police told the court he used his livestream as an alibi.
On Dec. 18, 32-year-old Natalie McNally was stabbed to death in her Silverwood Green home in Lurgan. She was 15 weeks pregnant.
Police initially arrested Stephen McCullagh, also 32 years old, but soon released him after he persuaded them he was livestreaming the night the murder happened.
McCullagh, from Woodland Gardens in Lisburn, is a part-time assistant audience editor for the Belfast Telegraph and has a YouTube channel with over 30,000 subscribers.
His livestream was indeed active on the night McNally was murdered, but the footage of him playing the video game Grand Theft Auto was pre-recorded days earlier, according to a technical examination of his devices by cyber experts.
Senior detective Neil McGuinness told district judge Rosie Watters that McCullagh denied any involvement in the crime but admitted that the livestream was faked in a written statement.
The YouTuber later revised his story from that night to claim he drank alone at home then fell asleep.
Prosecutors alleged the suspect had devised a “sophisticated, calculated and cool-headed plot” and was “capable of deception beyond imagination.”
Damning Evidence Comes to Light
Police told the court they can trace McCullagh’s movements from the crime scene back to his home on Dec. 18 using CCTV footage from a bus and an account from a taxi driver.
A man police believe to be McCullagh is seen boarding the bus with his hood pulled down and scarf pulled up.
According to the statement, the man removes a black glove to accept his change from the driver, revealing a second yellow glove underneath.
McGuinness said it was consistent with the print of a Marigold glove found in a blood stain at the crime scene.
Police also believe the same man boarded a taxi. Based on an analysis of GPS data, authorities say the cab allegedly stopped at McCullagh’s address.
At the beginning of McCullagh’s pre-recorded stream, he told his audience that he couldn’t respond to their live chat messages because of technical difficulties.
“I could use my phone to dip in every now and again and check it, but I’ve decided that I kind of hate livestreams where people just sit and read comments and go, ‘oh my God, yes, ask me questions,’” he added.
Police allege he deliberately referred to the time and said “I’m not leaving the house tonight” to reinforce his alibi.
At one point, he expresses fear about rising crime and underfunded police.
“That’s why I love sticking to just doing crimes in a video game,” he said. “Keeps things simple, mate.”
See what others are saying: (BBC) (The Guardian) (Irish Mirror)
200 Children Seeking Asylum in the U.K. Are Missing
The missing include at least 13 children under the age of 16.
Children Missing From Hotels
There are 200 asylum-seeking children missing from government care in the United Kingdom according to the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office.
When children are seeking asylum in the U.K. alone or separated from their parents, the government puts them up in hotel rooms for temporary accommodation. They have done so since 2021 and have temporarily accommodated 4,600 children in that time. However, Simon Murray, the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office, said that 200 of the children placed in those hotels are missing, including at least 13 who are under the age of 16.
In response to this information, a collection of more than 100 charities sent a letter to the Prime Minister demanding the end of the procedure of placing kids in hotels over safety concerns. The letter says that these children are at risk of trafficking and exploitation by staying in these hotels alone.
Other officials have echoed these concerns, claiming these hotels are targets for organized crime where people use these vulnerable children for labor or trafficking.
Parliament Calls Incident “Horrific”
Murray told the House of Lords on Monday that despite the media reports, his department does not know of any kidnapping cases, though they are investigating. He went on to say there are many reasons why children go missing.
However, lawmakers were not appeased by Murray’s assurances. In a later debate, one member of Parliament called the missing cases “horrific” and another said that it was “putting children at risk.” The children’s commissioner for England also reportedly chimed in asking for, quote “assurances on the steps being taken to safeguard the children.”
Murray went on to say that the use of hotels for asylum-seeking children will hopefully be phased out as soon as possible but did not give a timeline.
The nonprofit Refugee Council called on the government in a tweet to spare no expense in the location of these missing kids.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (The Guardian) (The Telegraph)
100,000 U.K. Nurses Launch Biggest Strike in NHS History
Opposition leader Keir Starmer called the strike “a badge of shame on this government.”
The NHS Grinds to a Halt
Some 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the United Kingdom’s largest nursing union, launched a historic 12-hour strike Thursday after the government refused to negotiate on higher pay.
The work stoppage, which spans England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, is only the second in the RCN’s 106-year history and the largest the NHS has ever seen. It marks the breaking point for many underpaid nurses and the culmination of a years-long decline in the NHS’s quality of care, put under increasing stress by severe staffing shortages.
Although most NHS staff in England and Wales received a pay rise of around £1,400 this year, worth about 4% on average for nurses, they say it has not kept up with inflation as Britain plunges deeper into a cost-of-living crisis.
When inflation is accounted for, nurses’ pay dropped 1.2% every year from 2010 to 2017, according to the Health Foundation.
Meanwhile, the number of patients waiting for care has reached a record 7.2 million in England, or over one in eight residents, more than double what it was seven years ago.
In July, the cross-party Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee estimated the staffing shortfall could be as high as 50,000 nurses and 12,000 doctors, what one MP called the “greatest workforce crisis in history.”
Many nurses argue that boosting pay will help hospitals recruit more staff.
The RCN demanded a pay raise 5% above the retail rate of inflation, which amounts to a 19% increase, but both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the government’s health secretary have claimed that’s not affordable.
During Thursday’s strike, partial staffing continued to remain open for urgent care such as chemotherapy, kidney dialysis, and children’s accident and neonatal units.
Sunak and Starmer Brawl in Parliament
Labor leader Keir Starmer grilled Sunak during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on the upcoming strike.
“Tomorrow will be the first-ever nationwide nurse’s strike,” he said. “All the Prime Minister has to do to stop that is to open the door and discuss pay with them. If he did, the whole country would breathe a sigh of relief. Why won’t he?”
“We have consistently spoken to all the unions involved in all the pay disputes that there are,” Sunak replied. “Last year, when everyone else in the public sector had a public sector pay freeze, the nurses received a three-percent pay rise.”
Starmer fired back: “Nurses going on strike is a badge of shame for this government. Instead of showing leadership, he’s playing games with people’s health.”
Sunak called Starmer’s demand that he reopen negotiations with the RCN “just simply a political formula for avoiding taking a position on this issue.”
“If he thinks the strikes are wrong, he should say so,” Sunak said. “If he thinks it’s right that pay demands of nineteen percent are met, then he should say so. What’s weak, Mr. Speaker, is he’s not strong enough to stand up to the union.”
While Starmer has called on Sunak to negotiate with the RCN, he has not explicitly backed the 19% pay raise himself.
Unless the government returns to the bargaining table, the RCN plans to launch a second round of strikes on Dec. 20 to be followed by ambulance strikes that Wednesday and the next.
If the government still refuses to budge, the union said in a statement that nurses will strike for longer periods in more places starting in January, disrupting more health services.
Other industries are also set to see work stoppages this month, including workers on railways, buses, highways, and borders, as well as teachers, postal workers, baggage handlers, and paramedics.