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)
Hurricane Ian Makes Landfall in Cuba as Florida Braces for Devastation
When it hits the sunshine state, Ian is expected to be a category 3 hurricane.
Ian Lands in Cuba
Hurricane Ian made landfall in Cuba Tuesday morning as a major category 3 storm, battering the western parts of the country with sustained winds of 125 miles per hour.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned that life-threatening storm surges, hurricane-force winds, flash floods, and mudslides are expected. Officials said that around 50,000 people have been evacuated as of Tuesday afternoon.
According to reports, flooding has damaged houses and tobacco crops in the region, and widespread power outages have also been reported.
As dangerous conditions continue in Cuba, Ian is expected to move into the Gulf of Mexico and pass west of the Florida Keys later on Tuesday, becoming a category 4 before the end of the day.
Officials predict it will drop back to a category 3 before making landfall as a major hurricane in Florida, which it is expected to do Wednesday evening.
In a statement Tuesday afternoon, FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell said that Ian is currently forecast to land “somewhere between Fort Meyers and Tampa.” She added that the storm is expected to slow down as it hits Flordia, extending the potential devastation.
Forecasts of Ian’s path, however, remain uncertain, leaving residents all over Florida scrambling to prepare for the storm.
Schools have closed down, airports have suspended operations, and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has activated the National Guard and taken steps to ensure power outages can be remedied, warning that many should anticipate losing power.
There are also numerous storm and surge watches and warnings in place across Florida and in parts of Georgia and South Carolina.
Evacuation warnings have been implemented throughout many parts of Florida, and officials have said that around 2.5 million people were under some kind of evacuation order by Tuesday afternoon.
Mandatory evacuations have been put in place in several counties, largely focused on coastal and low-lying areas. Some of those evacuation orders have extended to parts of Tampa — Florida’s third-largest city.
Tampa has not been hit by a major hurricane in over a century — a fact that just further emphasizes the unusual path this storm is taking.
Florida’s Division of Emergency Management has a tool to track evacuation zones, as well as more resources at floridadisaster.org. For those looking for shelter, the Red Cross has a system to find one nearby.
The current evacuations are being driven by a number of very serious threats posed by Hurricane Ian. According to the NHC, hurricane-force winds, tropical storm conditions, heavy rainfall, and flooding are expected throughout much of the region.
“Considerable” flooding is also expected in central Florida and predicted to extend into southern Georgia and coastal South Carolina.
One of the biggest threats this hurricane poses is storm surge flooding at the coast — which has been a driving factor in the evacuations.
“Life-threatening storm surge looks increasingly likely along much of the Florida west coast where a storm surge warning is in effect, with the highest risk from Fort Myers to the Tampa Bay region,” the NHC warned Tuesday.
As many experts have pointed out, these dangerous threats of storm surges and catastrophic flooding have been drastically exacerbated by climate change. Specifically, sea level rise driven by climate change makes surges and flooding more likely and more extreme.
According to Axios, a profound example can be found in St. Petersburg, Florida — which is expected to be impacted by Ian — and where sea levels have risen by nearly nine inches since 1947.
That, however, is not only the real-time impact of climate change that is evident from this storm. In addition to climate change being “linked to an increase in rainfall from tropical storms and hurricanes,” Axios also notes that Ian “has been rapidly intensifying over extremely warm sea surface temperatures in the Caribbean that are running above average for this time of year.”
“Climate change favors more instances of rapidly intensifying storms such as Hurricane Ian, due to the combination of warming seas and a warmer atmosphere that can carry additional amounts of water vapor,” the outlet added.
See what others are saying: (Axios) (The New York Times) (CNN)
Giorgia Meloni Claims Victory in Far-Right Shift for Italy
Her party has neofascist roots, and she has praised Mussolini in the past.
An Election Without Precedent
Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party grabbed the largest share of votes in Italy’s national election by a wide margin, giving the post of prime minister to the first woman and most right-wing politician since Benito Mussolini.
She declared victory early Monday morning after exit polls showed her party overwhelmingly in the lead with at least 26% of the vote, making it the dominant faction in the right-wing coalition, which got 44%.
The other two parties in the alliance — Mateo Salvini’s far-right League and Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia — took 9% and 8% of the vote, respectively.
The center-left alliance only garnered 26% of the vote, with 63% of votes counted, according to the interior ministry.
Voter turnout dropped to a record low at only 63.91%, nine points below the rate in 2018, with turnout especially dismal in southern regions like Sicily.
Meloni is set to become prime minister in the coming weeks as a new government is formed, and the rest of Europe is bracing for what many see as a neofascist demagogue to take power in the continent’s third largest economy.
Speaking to media and supporters following the preliminary results, Meloni said it was “a night of pride for many and a night of redemption.” She promised to govern for all Italians and unite the country.
But her relatively extreme politics — opposed to immigration, the European Union, and what she calls “gender ideology” — unsettles many who fear she will roll back civil rights and form a Euroskeptic alliance with other far-right leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban.
The Next Mussolini?
During the election, Meloni stressed that she is a conservative, not a fascist, but opponents point to her rhetoric, past statements, and party’s history as evidence to the contrary.
“Either you say yes or you say no,” she howled to Spain’s far-right Vox party earlier this year. “Yes to the natural family, no to the LGBT lobby. Yes to sex identity, no to gender ideology. Yes to the culture of life, not the abysm of death. Yes to the university of the cross, no to the Islamist violence. Yes to secure borders, no to mass migration. Yes to the work of our citizens, no to big international finance. Yes to the sovereignty of peoples, no to the bureaucrats in Brussels. And yes to our civilization.”
Meloni co-founded Brothers of Italy in 2012 as an alternative to the more mainstream right-wing parties. It has roots in the Italian Social Movement (MSI), a neofascist party that sprouted in the wake of World War II to continue Mussolini’s legacy after his party was banned. The Movement’s symbol — a tricolor flame — remains on the Brothers of Italy’s Flag today, and Meloni has refused to remove it.
She joined the MSI’s youth branch in the 1990s and went on to lead it after the party was renamed the National Alliance.
“I believe that Mussolini was a good politician, which means that everything he did, he did for Italy,” Meloni said at the time.
For the first decade, Brothers of Italy struggled to win more than a single-digit percentage of the vote, and it only garnered 4% in the 2018 election.
But in 2021 and 2022, it distinguished itself as the only opposition party to the unity government that fell apart last July, causing its popularity to inflate.
But the party still wrestles with its fascistic roots; last week, it suspended a member who was running for parliament because a local newspaper revealed that he had made comments supporting Adolf Hitler.
In an August video, Meloni promised to impose a naval blockade in the Mediterranean to interdict Libyan refugees from crossing to Southern Europe on boats. She has also discussed pulling Italy out of the Eurozone or even the E.U. entirely, but she moderated her rhetoric toward Europe during the election.
Italy has received some 200 billion euros in European pandemic recovery funds, and it is set to receive more unless the Union punishes Meloni’s government for democratic backsliding.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (Associated Press) (NPR)
Iranian Protests Sparked by Death of Mahsa Amini Spread Internationally
Anger initially directed at the police has now shifted to the Islamic regime itself, with Iranian-Americans protesting outside the U.N. Headquarters as their country’s president spoke inside.
Hijabs Go Up in Flames
The largest protest movement in recent years has gripped Iran since the so-called morality police allegedly beat 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for violating the dress code last week, leading to her later death.
Demonstrations spread from the capital Tehran to at least 80 other cities and towns, with videos on social media showing women burning their hijabs and cutting their hair in defiance.
In response, the government has gradually extended a virtual internet blackout across the country, blocking access to What’s App and Instagram.
To prevent protests from spreading, Iran’s biggest telecom operator largely shut down mobile internet access again Thursday, Netblocks, a group that monitors internet access, said in a statement, describing the restrictions as the most severe since 2019.
Clashes between police and protestors have killed some, but death toll reports on Thursday were conflicted. The Associated Press tallied at least nine people dead, while Iran’s state television put the number at 17, and a human rights group estimated at least 31 deaths.
The violence began on Saturday, shortly after the news that Amini had died the day prior in the hospital where she was comatose for three days.
Previously, the morality police arrested her for violating Islamic law requiring women to cover their hair with a head scarf and wear long, loose-fitting clothing.
Multiple reports and eyewitness accounts claimed that officers beat her in the head with batons and banged her head against one of their vehicles, but authorities have denied harming her, saying she suffered a “sudden heart failure.” Her father told BBC that she was in good health and that he had not been allowed to view her autopsy report.
“My son was with her. Some witnesses told my son she was beaten in the van and in the police station,” he said.
Surveillance footage was released showing Amini collapsing inside the hospital after grabbing her head, seemingly in pain.
From Anti-Hijab to Anti-Regime
Although the protests began in reaction to Amini’s death and Iran’s repressive policing, they quickly flowered into a mass opposition movement against the Islamic regime as men joined ranks of demonstrators and chants of “Death to the dictator!” broke out.
The anger was directed at the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as President Ebrahim Raisi, who attended the United Nations General Assembly this week. Iranian-Americans rallied outside the U.N. Headquarters Wednesday to voice their discontent as Raisi addressed the assembly.
“The hijab is used as a weapon in Iran,” one woman told CBS in Los Angeles. “It is a weapon against the West, and women are used as pawns.”
“Let this be the George Flloyd moment of Iran,” she added.
There have also been demonstrations of solidarity in countries such as Lebanon, Germany, and Canada.