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10 March

In the headlines

Russia has bombed a maternity hospital in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, killing a child and two adults. “Putin is intent on having Ukraine without Ukrainians,” says the city’s deputy mayor. “It’s pure genocide.” Ukrainian refugees with passports will be able to apply online for UK visas from Tuesday, says Home Secretary Priti Patel. Roman Abramovich and six other Russian oligarchs have been sanctioned by Britain. Chelsea Football Club can continue to operate, but it can’t sell tickets to future matches, and Abramovich’s sale of the club is on hold. Covid is now less deadly in England than the flu, says the FT, due to a combination of vaccines, high levels of immunity, and the reduced severity of the omicron variant.

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Britain’s betrayal of Ukraine’s refugees

Britain’s shocking treatment of Ukrainian refugees has so far combined “foot-dragging, hard-heartedness, ineptitude and dishonesty”, says The Economist. As soon as the invasion began, the supposedly “stodgy, bureaucratic” EU said “all Ukrainians could enter without visas”. Ukrainians who turn up in Calais heading for “Global Britain” have been told to make their way to Paris, Brussels, or Lille to fill in a mountain of paperwork. It is not the first time that Britain has cold-shouldered desperate people while promising to help them. Last year Home Secretary Priti Patel vowed not to abandon Afghans “living in terror” under the Taliban. Her promised visa scheme has been a shambles. It is sadly typical of our “fundamentally unserious government” that while our neighbours offer shelter from war, we appear to be the only country following a “paperwork-first” policy.


When Putin met Blair

The only time I met Vladimir Putin, says Alastair Campbell in his podcast The Rest is Politics, was in 2003, when the Kremlin flew Tony Blair out to a “vast complex in the middle of nowhere” outside Moscow. As Blair’s then director of communications, I went along. Putin’s estate had every luxury you can imagine, from “swimming pools to stallions”. But despite the comfortable setting, Putin “abused Blair” relentlessly. He was enraged and shouting, and only just stopped short of calling Blair George Bush’s “poodle”. When it finally ended, I turned to David Manning, Downing Street’s foreign affairs advisor, and said: “That’s the death of diplomacy.”

From the archives

Totemic American brands like McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Starbucks have suspended their operations in Russia. So has Pizza Hut, a chain for whom Mikhail Gorbachev – one of Vladimir Putin’s predecessors – starred in an advert in 1997. He only agreed to take part as long as he didn’t have to eat any pizza himself. Instead, his granddaughter Anastasia did. Watch the full ad here.


I went to the Oscar nominees “luncheon” in LA this week, says Hadley Freeman in The Guardian. There was a lot of clapping. In one speech, every nominee’s name was read out to thunderous and extensive applause. The procedure was so lengthy that, at one point, the best actress nominee Kristen Stewart turned around and asked me, while massaging her palms, “Don’t your hands hurt?” They did, but I didn’t “follow her lead in resolving the problem by smacking the backs of my hands together”.


Xiaohongshu, or Little Red Book in English, is China’s “Instagram on steroids”, says Insider. The app has around 200 million monthly users – mostly the young and affluent – who use it to watch livestreams from brands and follow the exploits of their favourite influencers. “Everything is geared to push you to buy stuff,” and Xiaohongshu’s users have obliged, spending $23m through the app to date. Now it plans to do what TikTok did and expand from China to the world.


The UK is “one of the most dedicated bird-feeding cultures in the world”, says Scientific American. About 64% of British households put out bird seed – some 165,000 tons of it a year. One study has found that feeder seed can account for as much as 75% of a British tit’s daily diet. Another found that the UK feeds blackcaps so much that it may be driving a “speciation event” – the formation of a new species of the bird that stays for feeders rather than migrating to continental Europe.


It’s Syllipsimopodi bideni, a 328-million-year-old prehistoric squid that’s been named after Joe Biden. It has 10 arms – two more than its descendants – and a fossil of it was recently found in Montana. It’s not the first creature named after a president: there’s the Baracktrema obamai flatworm, the Crocidura roosevelti shrew, and a fish named Etheostoma jimmycarter.

Eating in

Not only is one of Ukraine’s food delivery apps, Glovo, still functioning – it’s managed to sync with Kyiv’s air raid systems. “When an alert is on,” says Forbes’s Mike Sapiton on Twitter, “all orders are halted, and people automatically get their money back.”


quoted 10.3.22

“People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war, or before an election.”

Otto von Bismarck