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North Korea Test-Fires 2 More Missiles As US Sends Carrier

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South Korea’s SEOUL — On Monday, the nuclear-powered USS Nimitz and her battle group began operations with South Korean warships, hours after North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles in apparent protest of the allies’ growing maneuvers.

This month’s seventh missile test heightened regional tensions as the North’s weapons tests and joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea intensified in a cycle of tit-for-tat.

The launches could have been timed to coincide with the arrival of the USS Nimitz and its strike group, which included a guided missile cruiser and two destroyers and participated in air defense exercises and other maneuvers with South Korean vessels waters around Jeju Island.

South Korean navy spokesperson Jang Do Young said the drills were aimed at honing joint operational capabilities and proving the U.S. resolve to defend its ally with all available options, including nuclear, in the wake of the North’s “escalating nuclear and missile threats.”

On Tuesday, the Nimitz strike group was scheduled to arrive in Busan’s South Korean mainland port.

“The United States has deployable strategic assets at the ready every day,” said Carrier Strike Group Eleven leader Rear Adm. Christopher Sweeney. “We can and will continue to deploy those assets.”

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The two North Korean missiles were launched from a western inland area

The two North Korean missiles were launched from a western inland area south of Pyongyang between 7:47 a.m. and 8 a.m. and traveled approximately 370 kilometers (229 miles) before falling at sea, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The missiles, which landed beyond Japan’s exclusive economic zone, traveled on an erratic trajectory and reached a maximum altitude of 50 kilometers, according to Japan’s military. (31 miles).

Previously, Japan used similar wording to describe a North Korean solid-fuel missile that appears to be modeled after Russia’s Iskander mobile ballistic weapon, which is supposed to be maneuverable in low-altitude flight to better elude South Korean missile defenses. North Korea also has another short-range system similar to the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System used by the United States.

Hirokazu Matsuno, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, stated that North Korea might increase its testing activity by launching additional missiles or conducting its first nuclear test since September 2017.

The South Korean and Japanese militaries condemned the new launches as a severe provocation endangering regional peace and stated that they were cooperating with the U.S. to further evaluate the missiles. The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command stated that while the launches did not constitute an imminent threat to the U.S. or its allies, they underscore North Korea’s “destabilizing impact” of its illicit nuclear and missile programs.

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North Korea, subject to U.N. Security Council sanctions for its nuclear program since 2016

North Korea, subject to U.N. Security Council sanctions for its nuclear program since 2016, did not immediately respond to the launches.

Last week, the U.S. and South Korea concluded their largest springtime drills in years, including computer simulations and live-fire field exercises. However, the allies have continued their field training as a show of force against the mounting dangers from the North.

North Korea also launched a short-range missile when the USS Ronald Reagan and its battle group arrived in September for joint drills with South Korea, the last time the U.S. sent an aircraft carrier to waters near the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea has launched more than 20 ballistic and cruise missiles this year to push the U.S. to accept its nuclear status and negotiate sanctions relief from a position of strength.

This month’s tests included an intercontinental ballistic missile and a series of short-range missiles designed to overwhelm South Korean defenses as North Korea attempts to demonstrate its ability to undertake nuclear strikes on South Korea and the United States mainland.

The North conducted a three-day practice last week that claimed to simulate nuclear assaults on South Korean targets.

The country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, has called the joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea “invasion rehearsals.” According to the allies, the exercises are defensive.

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The tests included a rumored nuclear-capable underwater drone.

The tests included a rumored nuclear-capable underwater drone, which the North said could unleash a massive “radioactive tsunami” and destroy navy vessels and ports. Analysts questioned whether such a device posed a significant new danger, and Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff warned in a statement Monday that the North Korean allegations were likely “exaggerated and fabricated.”

Following some of its ballistic and cruise missile tests earlier this month, North Korea claimed that those missiles were tipped with dummy nuclear warheads that detonated 600 to 800 meters (1,960 to 2,600 feet) above their sea targets, presenting them as maximum damage heights.

North Korea has already had a record year of weapons testing, launching more than 70 missiles in 2022. It had enacted an escalator nuclear strategy that allows for pre-emptive nuclear strikes in a wide range of scenarios in which it perceives its leadership to be under threat.

“It appears North Korea is practicing, or signaling that it is practicing, the use of nuclear strikes, both preemptive and retaliatory, in various scenarios authorized in its nuclear doctrine,” said Duyeon Kim, a senior analyst at the Center for a New American Security.

“The problem is that continued testing allows Pyongyang to perfect its technology, strengthen its nuclear weapons capability, threaten South Korea and Japan, increase the possibility of miscalculation, which could lead to inadvertent conflict, and accumulate political leverage ahead of future diplomatic talks with Washington.”

Following the North’s confirmation of the drone test on Friday, South Korea’s air force disclosed information about a five-day joint practice with the U.S. last week, which included live-fire displays of air-to-air and air-to-ground weaponry.

According to the air force, the exercise aimed to test precision strike capabilities and reaffirm the credibility of Seoul’s “three-axis” strategy against North Korean nuclear threats. This strategy includes striking potential targets ahead of time, stopping incoming missiles, and taking out the North’s leadership and key military facilities.

SOURCE – (AP)

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China Plans To Send San Diego Zoo More Pandas This Year, Reintroducing Panda Diplomacy

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SAN DIEGO — China is to send a new pair of giant pandas to the San Diego Zoo, renewing its traditional gesture of friendship with the United States after nearly all of the famed bears on loan to U.U.S.oos were returned as relations between the two countries worsened.

San Diego Zoo officials told The Associated Press that if all licences and other criteria are fulfilled, two male and female bears should arrive by the end of the summer, about five years after the zoo’s last pandas were transferred back to China.

“We’re very excited and hopeful,” said Megan Owen, VP of Wildlife Conservation Science at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. “They’ve expressed a tremendous amount of enthusiasm to re-initiate panda cooperation starting with the San Diego Zoo.”

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China Plans To Send San Diego Zoo More Pandas This Year, Reintroducing Panda Diplomacy

The China Wildlife Conservation Association announced Thursday that it has signed cooperation agreements with zoos in Madrid, Washington, D.D.C., and Vienna.

According to the organisation, the relationship will encompass illness prevention and habitat protection research, as well as contributions to the creation of China’s national panda park.

“We look forward to further expanding the research outcomes on the conservation of endangered species such as giant pandas, as well as promoting mutual understanding and friendship among peoples through the new round of international cooperation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning stated in Beijing.

Fears over the future of so-called panda diplomacy grew last year when the zoos in Washington, D.C., and Memphis, Tennessee, sent their pandas to China, leaving only four pandas in the United States, all at the Atlanta Zoo. That financing agreement will expire later this year.

However, in November, Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed hope that his country will resume sending pandas to the United States after he and President Joe Biden met in Northern California for their first face-to-face encounter in a year and agreed to work to ease tensions.

According to Owen, a panda behaviour expert who has worked in San Diego and China, China is considering a pair that includes a female descendant of Bai Yun and Gao Gao, two of the zoo’s past residents.

Bai Yun was born in captivity in China and spent more than 20 years at the zoo, where she gave birth to six cubs. She and her son were the last pandas at the zoo, and they returned to China in 2019.

Gao Gao was born in the wild in China and resided at the San Diego Zoo from 2003 to 2018 before being returned.

Decades of wild conservation efforts and captive research spared the giant panda species from extinction, boosting its number from less than 1,000 to more than 1,800 in the wild and captivity.

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China Plans To Send San Diego Zoo More Pandas This Year, Reintroducing Panda Diplomacy

The black-and-white bears have long been associated with the relationship between the United States and China, dating back to 1972, when Beijing donated a pair of pandas to the National Zoo in Washington, D.D.C., ahead of normalising diplomatic relations. China later lent pandas to zoos to assist in breeding cubs and increasing the population.

According to 2022 research by America’s Congressional Research Service, zoos normally pay a $1 million fee yearly for two pandas, with the money going towards China’s conservation efforts.

According to China’s official Xinhua News Agency, the United States, Spain, and Austria were among the first countries to collaborate with China on panda conservation, with 28 pandas born in those countries.

Demands for the return of giant pandas, dubbed China’s “national treasure,” surged among the Chinese public as unverified reports of mistreatment by USU.S.oos inundated Chinese social media.

Many loan agreements were for ten years and were frequently extended much longer. However, last year’s attempts to prolong the agreements or send more pandas failed. China observers claimed that Beijing was progressively withdrawing its pandas from Western countries due to poor diplomatic relations with the United States and other nations.

Then, on November 15, 2023, a week after the National Zoo’s pandas left for China, Xi spoke at a dinner with American business executives in downtown San Francisco, hinting that more pandas would be sent. He stated that the San Diego Zoo and the people of California are “very much looking forward to welcoming pandas back.”

“I was told that many American people, especially children, were really reluctant to say goodbye to the pandas and went to the zoo to see them off,” he said.

Even after it no longer housed pandas, the San Diego Zoo continued collaborating with Chinese colleagues.

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China Plans To Send San Diego Zoo More Pandas This Year, Reintroducing Panda Diplomacy

According to Owen, China is particularly interested in exchanging information about the zoo’s successful captive panda breeding programme. Giant pandas are difficult to reproduce, partly because the female’s reproductive window is extremely limited, lasting only 48 to 72 hours per year.

Bai Yun’s first child, Hua Mei, was also the first panda born through artificial insemination to live to adulthood outside of China, and she went on to have 12 cubs on her own after being sent to China.

Meanwhile, Bai Yun stayed at the zoo and gave birth to two more girls and three males. Researchers followed her in her den using webcams, providing a better understanding of maternal care behaviour, according to Owen.

“We have a lot of institutional knowledge and capacity from our last cooperative agreement, which we will be able to parlay into this next chapter, as well as training the next generation of panda conservationists,” she said.

Owen said Chinese experts would accompany the bears to San Diego for several months.

She stated that the bears’ return benefits San Diego and the giant panda’s recovery as a species.

“We do talk about panda diplomacy all the time,” Owen said. “Diplomacy is an essential component of conservation in a variety of circumstances…. If we can’t learn to collaborate in often tough conditions or situations beyond the control of conservationists, we won’t succeed.”

SOURCE – (AP)

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Yulia Navalnaya Once Avoided The Limelight. Now She’s Russia’s Newest Opposition Leader

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LONDON — Yulia Navalnaya used to avoid the spotlight, remaining in the background as her husband, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, rose to become President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest adversary.

However, following his death in prison last week, she took on a podium generally designated for prominent leaders in Munich and declared that Putin and his friends would be held accountable for his killing. Later, she earnestly pledged, “I will continue Alexei Navalny’s work.”

It was a bold declaration from a woman who once told the Russian issue of Harper’s Bazaar that her “key task” was caring for the couple’s children and home.

Yulia Navalnaya’s new duty will be to guide the Russian opposition through one of its history’s darkest and most chaotic periods.

Navalnaya

Yulia Navalnaya Once Avoided The Limelight. Now She’s Russia’s Newest Opposition Leader

Navalny’s death dealt a significant blow to the opposition, which is already fragmented. The question is whether Navalnaya can gather her husband’s troops and work with other opposition parties to launch a successful challenge to Putin, who is poised to serve another six years in the Kremlin following the March presidential election.

Putin has stepped up his crackdown on free speech and dissent in Russia, imprisoning opponents and critics alike.

Navalnaya has previously confronted Putin. She and Navalny had been married for over 20 years, and she stood by his side while he helped lead the largest rallies in Russia since the Soviet Union’s demise and during subsequent jail stints.

She has accused Putin of murdering her husband, a claim that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described as “unfounded” and “insolent.”

The risk to Navalny’s life had been “discussed extensively” with his wife and close team before his 2021 return to Russia from Germany, where he received treatment for nerve agent poisoning, according to Vladimir Ashurkov, a longtime friend of the Navalnys and co-founder of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.

Nonetheless, “it was a big decision” for Navalnaya to continue her husband’s profession, he explained.

In their marriage, she was “the rock” on which Navalny relied. Ashurkov stated that they “had an understanding” that Navalnaya would refrain from political activity and keep out of the spotlight.

Analysts believe Navalny returned to Russia from Germany because he realised he would struggle to be seen as a legitimate opposition leader abroad.

His widow is unlikely to travel to Russia due to security concerns, and she now has a similar difficulty in determining how to run her husband’s organisation from exile.

On Friday, immediately after Navalny’s death was announced, she met Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the Belarusian opposition leader.

Navalnaya

Yulia Navalnaya Once Avoided The Limelight. Now She’s Russia’s Newest Opposition Leader

Tsikhanouskaya took over the political baton from her husband, Belarusian opposition leader Syarhei Tsikhanouski, who was imprisoned before Belarus’ presidential election 2020.

She launched a successful campaign but fled Belarus after long-term President Alexander Lukashenko declared himself the victor of an election generally seen as fraudulent in the West.

“We understood each other without any words,” Tsikhanouskaya said of Navalnaya. Tsikhanouskaya stated that she had no idea about her husband’s condition or if he was dead or alive.

“It’s so difficult when you’re in so much pain, but you have to… give interviews to encourage the democratic world to take decisive action,” Tsikhanouskaya told the Associated Press.

Tsikhanouskaya, who has been operating from overseas for nearly four years, described living in political exile as tough. It is “very important not to lose connection with the people inside the country,” she said.

That won’t be easy, particularly in Russia, where most people still obtain news from Kremlin-controlled official media.

Despite being Russia’s most recognised opposition leader — charming and cracking jokes even while serving a 19-year prison sentence — Navalny was rarely shown on state television, and his death was barely briefly mentioned.

The Kremlin is expected to take the same tactic with Navalnaya, essentially isolating her from the Russian people through a state-sponsored information blockade.

Since Putin invaded Ukraine, the space for criticism in Russia has shrunk even more. Russian authorities have increased speech restrictions and imprisoned opponents, many of whom are ordinary citizens, frequently for decades. Hundreds of people who lay flowers in Navalny’s memory have been imprisoned, and convincing Russians to take a collective public stand against Putin will be nearly difficult.

While Navalnaya has dominated headlines since her husband’s death, Graeme Robertson, a professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of a book about Putin and contemporary Russian politics, believes her challenge will be “to stay relevant” when interest fades.

Robertson proposed that she could accomplish this by supporting Navalny’s volunteers and political networks in Russia, keeping them “underground but alive,” and deciding on a short-term aim.

When Navalnaya walked into a meeting of the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council on Monday, she lost little time explaining what that objective — and her leadership of Navalny’s organisation — would look like.

Sitting next to the EU’s foreign policy chief, she urged Western leaders not to recognise the results of March’s presidential election, to sanction more members of Putin’s entourage, and to do more to assist Russians who have fled abroad.

Navalnaya

Yulia Navalnaya Once Avoided The Limelight. Now She’s Russia’s Newest Opposition Leader

Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation has made headlines in Western and independent Russian media recently with sleek movies that converted ordinarily uninteresting corruption probes into online blockbusters.

However, the organisation needed to gain widespread support from the Russian populace, to effect political change, or to develop a governance model.

Tsikhanouskaya, widely regarded as Belarus’ democratic leader, stated that she prioritised the development of democratic institutions and the representation of Belarusians within Belarus.

This includes a transitional cabinet and platforms where “all the parties, all the forces are represented,” she stated, seemingly pushing Navalnaya to follow suit.

Ashurkov stated that Navalnaya could be the person to bring together Russia’s opposition, which is notorious for its “disagreements and squabbles.”

“She has a very high reputation,” he remarked.

The duties ahead of her are formidable, and she will face them while grieving for her husband and battling for his body’s return.

“By killing Alexei, Putin killed half of me, half of my heart and half of my soul,” she went on to say. “But I still have the other half, and it tells me that I have no right to give up.”

SOURCE – (AP)

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Putin Says Russia Has No Intention Of Putting Nuclear Weapons In Space, Denying US Claims

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MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Moscow has no plans to put nuclear weapons in space, asserting that the country has just acquired space capabilities equivalent to those of the United States.

Putin’s warning comes after the White House confirmed last week that Russia had received a “troubling” anti-satellite weapon capability, albeit such a weapon is not currently operational. White House national security spokesperson John Kirby stated that it would violate the international Outer Space Treaty but declined to comment on whether the weapon is nuclear-capable.

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Putin Says Russia Has No Intention Of Putting Nuclear Weapons In Space, Denying US Claims

The deployment of “nuclear weapons or other types of weapons of mass destruction” in orbit as well as the stationing of “weapons in outer space in any other manner” are both prohibited by the convention, which more than 130 nations have signed, including Russia. The White House stated that it would seek to engage the Russians directly on the issues.

“Our position is quite clear and transparent: we have always been and remain categorically opposed to the deployment of nuclear weapons in space,” Putin said in a statement. “Just the opposite, we are urging everyone to adhere to all the agreements that exist in this sphere.”

During a meeting with his defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, Putin stated that Russia has only achieved space capabilities that “other nations, including the United States, have.”

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Putin Says Russia Has No Intention Of Putting Nuclear Weapons In Space, Denying US Claims

“And they know it,” he added.

“We haven’t deployed any nuclear weapons in space or any elements of them to use against satellites or to create fields where satellites can’t work efficiently,” Shoigu said in an interview.

Shoigu claimed that the White House may have concocted assertions about a new Russian space capacity to pressure Congress to back Ukrainian aid and to convince Moscow to resume nuclear arms control talks, which Russia has postponed due to tensions with the U.S. over Ukraine.

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Putin Says Russia Has No Intention Of Putting Nuclear Weapons In Space, Denying US Claims

Putin did not rule out future discussions with the United States, but he restated his belief that Washington’s determination to Russia’s defeat in Ukraine makes them impossible at the moment.

“The U.S. and the West, for one thing, are calling for Russia’s strategic defeat, while, on the other hand, they would like to have a dialogue on strategic stability, pretending that those things aren’t connected,” Mr Putin said. “It won’t work.”

SOURCE – (AP)

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