Odesa Power Station Catches Fire, Plunging 500,000 Into Darkness

Nearly 500,000 people have been left without power after an overloaded electrical substation in Odesa, Ukraine’s southern port city on the Black Sea, caught fire, while the temperature in Odesa stood at 2 degrees Celsius (35.6° Fahrenheit) Saturday and is forecast to drop below freezing for much of next week.

Ukrainian officials warned that repairs could take weeks. According to The Washington Post, regional Governor Maksym Marchenko said he did not have a timeline for when power would be restored to the city.

The CEO of the state grid operator Ukrenergo, Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, said critical equipment that had already been damaged several times by Russian missile strikes burst into flames when it could no longer “withstand the load,” delivering a fresh blow to the country’s ailing energy grid that has been pounded by Russian strikes for months.

“[The equipment] has been struck so many times that its state leaves much to be desired,” Kudrytskyi told a briefing in Odesa.

The Ukrainian government said it would appeal to Turkey to send vessels that carry power plants to Odesa and ordered the energy ministry’s nationwide stocks of high-power generators to be delivered to the city within a day.

“We will do everything we can for the improvement of the power supply situation to take days rather than weeks,” he said.

Kudrytskyi warned any further Russian missile or drone attacks could make the situation even worse.

Missiles from Moscow

Since October, Moscow has waged a campaign of massive missile attacks on the energy infrastructure. Moscow claims the strikes aim to reduce Ukraine’s ability to fight; Kyiv says they have no military purpose and are intended to hurt civilians.

Russia has formally integrated occupied areas of Ukraine into Russia’s Southern Military District, the British Defense Ministry said Saturday in its daily intelligence report. The agency said news of the integration is based on a Tass report that the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions are being placed under the three-star command based in Rostov-on-Don.

The report said the move is “unlikely to have an immediate impact,” however, on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Oil price cap

The Group of Seven industrialized countries agreed Friday on a price cap for refined Russian oil exports.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in statement that the agreement follows a similar price cap on Russian crude oil exports set in December and “helps advance our goals of limiting Russia’s key revenue generator in funding its illegal war” in Ukraine.

Officials say the cap is at two levels — $100 per barrel for Russian diesel and other fuels that sell for more than crude, and $45 per barrel for Russian oil products that sell for less than the price of crude, such as fuel oil.

The price caps come as a European Union ban on Russian oil product imports is set to go into force Sunday.

Earlier Friday, European Union officials pledged their unwavering support to help Ukraine rebuild its infrastructure against Russia’s ongoing war, while the U.S. announced a new round of security assistance worth more than $2 billion.

Charles Michel, president of the European Council, and Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv for the 24th EU-Ukraine Summit. The EU officials said the union will support Ukraine “for as long as it takes.”

In a joint statement Friday, the officials promised to help rebuild Ukraine’s devastated critical infrastructure, providing energy support and services for the country “to get through the winter,” and beyond. They said that so far, the EU and its member states have provided assistance worth $570 million in the areas of energy and reconstruction, and another $525 million for humanitarian efforts.

The officials underscored their commitment to promote Ukraine’s integration into the European Union, but they said there was no promise of fast-track membership.

Kyiv applied to become an EU member shortly after Russia’s invasion and wants to start formal accession talks as soon as possible.

“There are no rigid timelines, but there are goals that you have to reach,” von der Leyen told the news conference in response to a question about Ukraine’s accession drive. One of the conditions for Ukraine’s EU integration is its fight against corruption. The EU Commission president praised Kyiv for its expanded efforts to clamp down on graft.

Michel and von der Leyen condemned Russia’s escalating war against Ukraine and its citizens as “a manifest violation of international law, including the principles of the U.N. Charter.” They emphasized the need to establish a Special Tribunal at The Hague for the investigation and prosecution of war crimes against Ukraine.

They also emphasized that the EU will never recognize as lawful any illegal annexation of Ukraine by Russia.

In addition, the EU officials unveiled a new package of sanctions, the 10th, against Russia. It will target the trade and technology that supports its war against Ukraine, von der Leyen said.

U.S. defense assistance

The U.S. announced Friday it would provide an additional $2.175 billion worth of military aid for Ukraine, including conventional and long-range rockets for U.S.-provided HIMARs, as well as other munitions and weapons. According to a U.S. official, the longer-range precision-guided rockets would double Ukraine’s strike range for the first time since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

During a news briefing Friday, Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said the aid includes “critical air defense capabilities to help Ukraine defend its people, as well as armored infantry vehicles and more equipment that Ukraine is using so effectively, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, artillery ammunition.”

Ryder added that “as part of the USAI [Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative] package, we will be providing Ground Launched Small Diameter Bombs to Ukraine.”

Friday’s aid package opens the door to many more deliveries of Ground Launched Small Diameter Bombs, which have a range of 94 miles, according to a document reviewed by Reuters.

In total, the U.S. has supplied nearly $30 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration, the Defense Department reports. Since 2014, the United States has committed more than $32 billion in security assistance to Ukraine, and more than $29.3 billion since the beginning of Russia’s unprovoked, full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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Spanish-born Fashion Designer Paco Rabanne Has Died at Age 88

Paco Rabanne, the Spanish-born designer known for perfumes sold worldwide and for metallic, space-age fashions, has died, the group that owns his fashion house announced Friday.     

“The House of Paco Rabanne wishes to honor our visionary designer and founder who passed away today at the age of 88. Among the most seminal fashion figures of the 20th century, his legacy will remain,” the statement from beauty and fashion company Puig said.   

Le Telegramme newspaper quoted the mayor of Vannes, David Robo, as saying that Rabanne died at his home in the Brittany region town of Portsall.   

Rabanne’s fashion house shows its collections in Paris and is scheduled to unveil the brand’s latest ready-to-wear designs during the upcoming Feb. 27-March 3 fashion week.   

Rabanne was known as a rebel designer in a career that blossomed with his collaboration with the family-owned Puig, a Spanish company that now also owns other design houses, including Nina Ricci, Jean Paul Gaultier, Caroline Herrera and Dries Van Noten. The company also owns the fragrance brands Byredo and Penhaligon’s.    

“Paco Rabanne made transgression magnetic. Who else could induce fashionable Parisian women (to) clamor for dresses made of plastic and metal? Who but Paco Rabanne could imagine a fragrance called Calandre – the word means ‘automobile grill,’ you know – and turn it into an icon of modern femininity?” the group’s statement said.   

Calandre perfume was launched in 1969, the first product by Puig in Spain, France and the United States, according to the company.   

Born Francisco Rabaneda y Cuervo in 1934, the future designer fled the Spanish Basque country at age 5 during the Spanish Civil War and took the name of Paco Rabanne.     

He studied architecture at Paris’ Beaux Arts Academie before moving to couture, following in the steps of his mother, a couturier in Spain. He said she was jailed at one point for being dressed in a “scandalous” fashion.   

Rabanne sold accessories to well-known designers before launching his own collection.   

He titled the first collection presented under his own name “12 unwearable dresses in contemporary materials.” His innovative outfits were made of various kinds of metal, including his famous use of mail, the chain-like material associated with Medieval knights.   

Coco Chanel reportedly called Rabanne “the metallurgist of fashion.”   

“My colleagues tell me I am not a couturier but an artisan, and it’s true that I’m an artisan. … I work with my hands,” he said in an interview in the 1970s.   

In an interview given when he was 43, and now held in France’s National Audiovisual Institute, Rabanne explained his radical fashion philosophy: “I think fashion is prophetic. Fashion announces the future.” He added that women were harbingers of what lies on the horizon.   

“When hair balloons, regimes fall,” Rabanne said. “When hair is smooth, all is well.”   

The president of the Association of Fashion Designers of Spain, Modesto Lomba, said Rabanne “left an absolute mark on the passage of time. Let’s not forget that he was Spanish and that he triumphed inside and outside Spain.”

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Africans Rescued in Mediterranean

Italy’s coast guard Friday found eight bodies, including the body of a pregnant woman, on a migrant vessel that was attempting to make the journey across the Mediterranean from Tunisia to Italy.

The bodies were unloaded on Italy’s Lampedusa island, the first stop for many migrants on the journey across the sea.

Dozens more Africans were aboard the vessel, according to ANSA, the Italian news agency.

Survivors of the journey told officials that three other people had died at sea, ANSA reported. They said a women died and fell into the water with her 4-month-old son, who drowned. In addition, survivors said a man passed out and fell into the water.

The Guardian reports that authorities on Malta had been alerted to the migrants’ situation at sea, but no rescue was dispatched. Prosecutors in Sicily have launched an investigation, the newspaper said.

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EU, US Pledge Additional Support to Ukraine

European Union officials pledged their unwavering support Friday to help Ukraine rebuild its infrastructure against Russia’s ongoing war, while the U.S. announced a fresh round of security assistance worth more than $2 billion.

Charles Michel, president of the European Council, and Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv for the 24th EU-Ukraine Summit. The EU officials said the union will support Ukraine “for as long as it takes.”

In a joint statement Friday, the officials promised to help rebuild Ukraine’s devastated critical infrastructure, providing energy support and services for the country “to get through the winter,” and beyond. They said that so far, the EU and its member states have provided assistance worth $570 million in the area of energy and reconstruction, and another $525 million for humanitarian efforts.

The officials underscored their commitment to promote Ukraine’s integration in the European Union, but they said there was no promise of fast-track membership.

Kyiv applied to become an EU member shortly after Russia’s invasion and wants to start formal accession talks as soon as possible.

“There are no rigid timelines, but there are goals that you have to reach,” von der Leyen told the news conference in response to a question about Ukraine’s accession drive. One of the conditions for Ukraine’s EU integration is its fight against corruption. The EU Commission president praised Kyiv for its expanded efforts to clamp down on graft.

Michel and von der Leyen condemned Russia’s escalating war against Ukraine and its citizens as “a manifest violation of international law, including the principles of the U.N. Charter.”

They emphasized the need to establish a Special Tribunal at The Hague for the investigation and prosecution of war crimes against Ukraine.

They also emphasized that the EU will never recognize as lawful any illegal annexation of Ukraine by Russia.

In addition, the EU officials unveiled a new package of sanctions, the 10th, against Russia. It will target the trade and technology that supports its war against Ukraine, von der Leyen said.

“With our partners, we must deny Russia the means to kill Ukrainian civilians and destroy homes and offices,” she said in a tweet.

US defense assistance

The United States announced Friday it would provide an additional $2.175 billion worth of military aid for Ukraine, including conventional and long-range rockets for U.S.-provided HIMARs, as well as other munitions and weapons. According to a U.S. official, the longer-range precision-guided rockets would double Ukraine’s strike range for the first time since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Brigadier General Patrick Ryder told a news briefing Friday the package includes “critical air defense capabilities to help Ukraine defend its people, as well as armored infantry vehicles and more equipment that Ukraine is using so effectively, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, artillery ammunition.”

Ryder added that “as part of the USAI [Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative] package, we will be providing Ground Launched Small Diameter Bombs to Ukraine.”

Friday’s aid package opens the door to many more deliveries of Ground Launched Small Diameter Bombs, which have a range of 94 miles, according to a document reviewed by Reuters.

USAI is an authority under which the United States procures capabilities from industry rather than delivering equipment that is drawn down from Defense Department stocks. This announcement represents the beginning of a contracting process to provide additional capabilities to Ukraine’s Armed Forces as part of U.S. efforts to strengthen Ukraine’s military over the near and long-term.

In total, the United States has now supplied nearly $30 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration, the Defense Department reports. Since 2014, the United States has committed more than $32 billion in security assistance to Ukraine, and more than $29.3 billion since the beginning of Russia’s unprovoked, full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022.

Wagner Group recruitment

Meanwhile, Britain’s Defense Ministry said Friday the Wagner Group’s recruitment of convicts has dropped significantly. The ministry said the Russian Federal Penal Service experienced a decrease of 6,000 inmates since November. In comparison, the penal service had reported a drop of 23,000 inmates from September to November 2022.

“Wagner recruitment was likely a major contributing factor to this drop,” the British ministry said.  

The Ukrainian presidential office said overall in the last day, Russian shelling in Ukraine had killed at least eight civilians and wounded 29 others. 

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse. 

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Iran Blamed for Hack of French Magazine Charlie Hebdo

An Iranian government-backed hacking team allegedly stole and leaked private customer data belonging to French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, security researchers at Microsoft said Friday.

The magazine was hacked in early January after it published a series of cartoons that negatively depicted Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. The caricatures were part of a media campaign that Charlie Hebdo said was intended to support anti-government protests in the Islamic nation.

Representatives for the Iranian and French governments did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A press officer for Charlie Hebdo said the magazine had no comment on the matter “for the moment.”

Iran publicly vowed an “effective response” to the “insulting” cartoons, and summoned the French envoy in Tehran, while also ending activities of the French Institute of Research in Iran and saying it was re-evaluating France’s cultural activities in the country.

Hack part of larger operation

The hack-and-leak targeting Charlie Hebdo was part of a wider digital influence operation with techniques matching previously identified activity linked to Iranian state-backed hacking teams, Microsoft researchers said in a report. The group responsible is the same one that U.S. Department of Justice officials earlier identified as having conducted a “multi-faceted campaign” to interfere in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, Microsoft said. Iran denied the claims at the time.

Amid Iran’s criticism of the Khamenei cartoons, a group of hackers calling itself “Holy Souls” posted on an online forum that they had access to the names and contact details of more than 200,000 Charlie Hebdo subscribers. In their post, they said they would sell the information for 20 bitcoins (approximately $470,000 USD).

A sample of the leaked data was later released and verified as authentic by the French newspaper Le Monde.

“This information, obtained by the Iranian actor, could put the magazine’s subscribers at risk for online or physical targeting by extremist organizations,” the Microsoft researchers said.

Twitter used to amplify reach

To amplify their operation, the Iranian hackers used Twitter accounts with fake or stolen identities to criticize the Khamenei cartoons. Two accounts impersonating a Charlie Hebdo editor and a technology executive also posted the leaked data before Twitter banned them, Microsoft said.

Twitter’s press team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Two-Century-Old Mystery of Waterloo’s Skeletal Remains

More than 200 years after Napoleon met defeat at Waterloo, the bones of soldiers killed on that famous battlefield continue to intrigue Belgian researchers and experts, who use them to peer back to that moment in history.

“So many bones — it’s really unique!” exclaimed one such historian, Bernard Wilkin, as he stood in front of a forensic pathologist’s table holding two skulls, three femurs and hip bones.

He was in an autopsy room in the Forensic Medicine Institute in Liege, eastern Belgium, where tests are being carried out on the skeletal remains to determine from which regions the four soldiers they belong to came from.

That in itself is a challenge.

Half a dozen European nationalities were represented in the military ranks at the Battle of Waterloo, located 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Brussels.

That armed clash of June 18, 1815 ended Napoleon Bonaparte’s ambitions of conquering Europe to build a great empire, and resulted in the deaths of around 20,000 soldiers.

The battle has since been pored over by historians, and — with advances in the genetic, medical and scanning fields — researchers can now piece together pages of the past from the remains buried in the ground.

Some of those remains have been recovered through archeological digs, such as one last year that allowed the reconstitution of a skeleton found not far from a field hospital the British Duke of Wellington had set up.

But the remains examined by Wilkin surfaced through another route.

‘Prussians in my attic’

The historian, who works for the Belgian government’s historical archives, said he gave a conference late last year and “this middle-aged man came to see afterwards and told me, ‘Mr Wilkin, I have some Prussians in my attic'”.

Wilkin, smiling, said the man “showed me photos on his phone and told me someone had given him these bones so he can put them on exhibit… which he refused to do on ethical grounds”.

The remains stayed hidden away until the man met Wilkin, who he believed could analyze them and give them a decent resting place.

A key item of interest in the collection is a right foot with nearly all its toes — that of a “Prussian soldier” according to the middle-aged man.

“To see a foot so well preserved is pretty rare, because usually the small bones on the extremities disappear into the ground,” noted Mathilde Daumas, an anthropologist at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles who is part of the research work.

As for the attributed “Prussian” provenance, the experts are cautious.

The place it was discovered was the village of Plancenoit, where troops on the Prussian and Napoleonic sides bitterly fought, Wilkin said, holding out the possibility the remains might be those of French soldiers.

Scraps of boots and metal buckles found among the remains do point to uniforms worn by soldiers from the Germanic side arrayed against the French.

But “we know that soldiers stripped the dead for their own gear,” the historian said.

Clothes and accessories are not reliable indicators of the nationality of skeletons found on the Waterloo battlefield, he stressed.

DNA testing

More dependable, these days, are DNA tests.

Dr Philippe Boxho, a forensic pathologist working on the remains, said there were still parts of the bones that should yield DNA results, and he believed another two months of analyses should yield answers.

“As long as the subject matter is dry we can do something. Our biggest enemy is humidity, which makes everything disintegrate,” he explained.

The teeth in particular, with traces of strontium, a naturally occurring chemical element that accumulates in human bones, can point to specific regions through their geology, he said.

Wilkin said an “ideal scenario” for the research would be to find that the remains of the “three to five” soldiers examined came from both the French and Germanic sides.

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British Man Admits Treason Over Crossbow Plot Against Queen

A British man who broke into Windsor Castle Christmas Day 2021 and threatened Queen Elizabeth with a crossbow has pleaded guilty to treason charges Friday in a London court.

Appearing before London’s Old Bailey Court via video link, 21-year-old Jaswant Singh Chail of South Hampton pleaded guilty to an offense under the British Treason Act of 1842, and to threatening to kill the queen. Charges under the act are rare, the last person to plead guilty under the act was in 1981.

Prosecutors say Chail was arrested shortly after 8 a.m. Christmas Day 2021 by a royal protection officer on the private grounds of Windsor Castle. Queen Elizabeth, who died in September 2022 at age 96, then-Prince Charles and other family members were staying at the castle during the holidays. Chail was never near the royal family.

At the time of his arrest Chail was dressed in black clothing and wearing a hood, a metal mask, gloves and carrying a powerful crossbow. He reportedly told the protection officer, “I am here to kill the queen.”

Prosecutors said Chail had recorded a video and posted it to the social media platform Snapchat before he entered the grounds of the castle. In it, he said he was sorry for what he was about to do. He said it was revenge “for those who died in the 1919 massacre.”

He was apparently referring to an incident when British colonial troops opened fire on unarmed civilians protesting a colonial law in their holy city of Amritsar in northwestern India. Nearly 400 Sikh Indians were killed in what has become known as the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre. India has long demanded an apology for the incident.

In court Friday, Judge Jeremy Baker scheduled sentencing for Chail on March 31, and the court ordered medical reports regarding Chail’s mental state to be provided.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.

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Italian Mafia Killer Arrested in France at Pizza Parlor

The downfall of a convicted mafia killer, on the run since 2006, came about in a French pizza parlor.

Edgardo Greco was so confident in his alias as Paolo Dimitrio that he felt free to do an interview with a local Saint-Etienne newspaper in 2021 and even allowed the paper to take and publish a photograph of him.

Greco’s interview about the wonderful Italian cooking at his restaurant in the French newspaper was the beginning of the end for him. The 63-year-old mobster, alleged to be a member of the infamous ‘Ndrangheta organized crime mob, was convicted in an Italian court of the 1991 murders of two brothers whose bodies were never found and the attempted murder of another man.

Italian and French authorities worked together with Interpol, and Greco was identified and arrested.

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NATO Urges Russia to Comply With Last US Nuclear Treaty

NATO on Friday expressed concern that Russia was failing to comply with its last remaining nuclear arms control treaty with the United States. 

As tensions soar over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, leading NATO power the United States has accused Moscow of not meeting its commitments under the decade-old New START pact. 

On Tuesday, Washington slammed Russia for suspending inspections under the treaty and cancelling talks but did not accuse its Cold War rival of expanding its nuclear warhead arsenal beyond agreed limits.

“NATO allies agree the New START treaty contributes to international stability by constraining Russian and US strategic nuclear forces,” the 30-strong alliance said in a statement. 

“Therefore, we note with concern that Russia has failed to comply with legally binding obligations under the New START treaty.”

NATO member states said they “call on Russia to fulfil its obligations” by allowing inspections and returning to talks. 

Russia has hit back at Washington by accusing it of destroying weapons control agreements between the two countries. 

Diplomacy between the two powers has ground to a bare minimum over the past year as the United States leads a drive to sanction Russia and arm Ukraine with billions of dollars in weapons. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued thinly veiled threats to use nuclear weapons, reviving Cold War era fears.

Moscow announced in early August that it was suspending U.S. inspections of its military sites under New START. It said it was responding to American obstruction of inspections by Russia, a charge denied by Washington.

The Kremlin then indefinitely postponed talks under New START that had been due to start on November 29 in Cairo, accusing the United States of “toxicity and animosity.” 

New START, signed by then President Barack Obama in 2010 when relations were warmer, restricted Russia and the United States to a maximum of 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads each — a reduction of nearly 30 percent from the previous limit set in 2002. 

It also limits the number of launchers and heavy bombers to 800, still easily enough to destroy human life on Earth.

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