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14 March

In the headlines

“Putin’s missile strike brings war to Nato’s border,” says the Daily Express, after 30 Russian cruise missiles destroyed a Ukrainian military base just six miles from Poland. The attack killed at least 35 people and wounded 134. US officials say Putin has asked China for military assistance, including a request for drones. If Beijing agrees, it could have a significant “battlefield impact”, says CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Twitter. It increases the likelihood of a proxy war with China supplying one side and Nato the other. But there are “tentative signs” of progress in peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, says the FT’s Max Seddon. According to Russian MP Leonid Slutsky, “substantial progress” has been made between the two countries that could turn into “a unified position” within days.



The far right’s love affair with Putin

How ironic it will be, says Andrew Sullivan in The Weekly Dish, if it is Vladimir Putin who kills off the far right’s infatuation with authoritarianism. In both the US and Europe, the love letters idolising the Russian president’s “reactionary zeal” have flowed for years. “Russia is like, I mean they’re really hot stuff,” Donald Trump chortled in April 2014. Just two weeks ago, amid the pre-Ukraine invasion posturing, he marvelled at Putin’s tactics: “This is genius.” Nigel Farage said Putin was one of the world leaders he most admired, and a “very canny” political operator. Eric Zemmour, the French far-right presidential candidate, described him as “the last bastion against the hurricane of the politically correct”.


Selling out the rule of law

Liz Truss received glowing coverage for her claim that Roman Abramovich and other oligarchs have “blood on their hands” over Ukraine, says Matthew Syed in The Sunday Times. I have a simple question for the Foreign Secretary: “What planet have you been on these past 10 years?” During successive Conservative governments, ministers have rolled out the red carpet for dodgy Russians, allowing the City to be “transformed into a money-laundering operation”. But it isn’t just the Tories, it’s “almost the entire political class”. It was New Labour which presided over the golden visa scheme, allowing foreigners to secure residency in Britain in exchange for big investments.

Global update

Hong Kong has “the highest Covid death rate, per capita, of anywhere in the world, at any time during the pandemic”, says Philip Cowley in UnHerd. Before Christmas, the island had recorded just 200 deaths; the tally is now around 3,500. The problem is that less than 30% of over 80s are vaccinated. A region once hailed for its “Zero Covid” approach is now “providing a natural experiment into quite how lethal omicron can be when it is let loose among a vulnerable population”.

Gone viral

Rod Stewart has been out fixing potholes on a road near his home and complaining about the state of it. The 77-year-old crooner posted videos on Instagram showing him shovelling gravel near his home in Harlow, Essex, because “no one can be bothered to do it”. “People are bashing their cars up,” says the singer. “My Ferrari can’t go through here at all.”


It’s Coffee Caye, a 1.2-acre uninhabited island off the coast of Belize, now known as the “Principality of Islandia”. A group of friends crowdfunded more than $250,000 from 100 or so investors to buy the tiny spit of land in the Caribbean to found “the world’s newest micro-nation”, says CNN. So far there’s an Islandia flag, a national anthem and a government elected from among the investors, and there are plans to start issuing novelty passports. Accommodation is rather lacking: there are no buildings, so even fully paid-up citizens have to sleep in a tent.

Inside politics

Had it not been for Ben Wallace, Britain’s most important contribution to the war in Ukraine might never have happened, says Tim Shipman in The Sunday Times. The Ukrainians are now armed with 3,615 NLAW short-range anti-tank weapons thanks entirely to the Defence Secretary’s persistence in pushing the government to send lethal weaponry since March last year. Boris Johnson approved the requests (“in large letters”, says Politico), but Foreign Office mandarins kept “throwing up unnecessary bureaucratic hoops to jump through”. Not until last December were the weapons shipments finally confirmed. Last week President Zelensky told Johnson in one of their daily phone calls that his soldiers shout “God save the Queen” when they fire them.


The Biden administration has been formally briefing TikTok stars so that they can spread its message on Ukraine. National Security Council staffers and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki spoke with 30 top influencers last week, answering questions on distributing aid to Ukrainians, working with Nato, and how the US would react to Russia using a nuclear weapon. “People in my generation get all our information from TikTok,” says Kahlil Greene, a 21-year-old influencer with 550,000 followers.

On the money

Uber fares will rise sharply in the UK today, as all rides become subject to 20% VAT. The change is the result of a High Court ruling last December. Uber has said price hikes will vary from city to city, suggesting the firm will effectively subsidise some rides – but they haven’t said where.


Quoted 14.3.22

“Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its brevity.”

French philosopher Jean de La Bruyère