Russia-Ukraine: Two years of war
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Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with local officials in Sevastopol, Crimea March 18, 2023.

Sputnik/Russian Presidential Press Office/Kremlin via REUTERS

What We’re Watching: Putin in Mariupol, Xi in Moscow, Israeli-Palestinian talks, Trump fearing arrest, Kosovo-Serbia agreement

A defiant Putin heads to Mariupol

Vladimir Putin visited the port city of Mariupol in eastern Ukraine on Sunday, two days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for both him and Russia’s children’s commissioner for the mass abduction of at least 1,400 Ukrainian children. The court claims that some Ukrainian orphans have been forcibly resettled with Russian families, while others were sent to “re-education camps” in Russia with their parents' consent but have not been returned.

This is the closest Putin has gotten to the front lines since the war began in Feb. 2022. The strategic city of Mariupol, which became a symbol of Ukraine’s protracted struggle after Russian forces started pounding the city at the start of the war, was taken last May in a brutal offensive that killed at least 20,000 people.

Putin’s Mariupol visit came a day after his stop in Crimea, where he marked the ninth anniversary of Russia's annexation of the territory — and both publicized visits likely served as symbolic shows of defiance against both the ICC and the West.

While Putin is unlikely to be in the dock anytime soon, the ICC warrant is a major geopolitical blow for the Kremlin. It increases Putin's physical isolation – Germany, for example, has already said he’ll be arrested if he visits -- and it's less than ideal for him to be labeled a war criminal as he tries to keep nonaligned countries onside.

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Destroyed train carriages are seen at the site of a crash, where two trains collided, near the city of Larissa, Greece, March 1, 2023.

REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis

Hard Numbers: Greek train crash, US attaches strings to chip cash, Serbia and Kosovo outline peace, camel copies for sale

43: At least 43 people are dead after a passenger train carrying people from Athens, Greece, to the northern city of Thessaloniki collided head-on with a freight train. A provincial stationmaster has already been arrested as part of the initial investigation. Greek rail unions have long complained about staffing shortfalls and outdated equipment.

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Protesters against President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's plan to reform the electoral authority, in Mexico City, Mexico, February 26, 2023.

REUTERS/Luis Cortes

Hard Numbers: Mexicans protest AMLO changes, North Korea seeks grain, Iran hearts Ipanema, a controversial kiss from Kosovo

500,000 or 90,000?: How many people in Mexico City took part in recent mass protests against President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s overhaul of the electoral system? Organizers say 500,000 turned out to oppose the changes, which would weaken independent election oversight. But authorities in Mexico City, which is controlled by AMLO’s party, say it was only 90,000.

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Serb army veterans protesting near Podujevo in Kosovo ,February 21, 2008.

REUTERS/Hazir Reka

Kosovo 15 years later: a dangerous limbo

There are very few places on earth where a dispute over license plates can threaten to ignite a war, and the city of Mitrovica, in northern Kosovo, is one of them.

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Osama bin Laden sits with his successor Ayman al-Zawahri.

REUTERS/Hamid Mir

What We’re Watching: US kills Al-Qaida leader, Pelosi's Taiwan pit stop, Yemen holds its breath, tensions rise between Kosovo and Serbs

US kills al-Qaida leader

President Joe Biden addressed the nation Monday night to make an announcement 21 years in the making: the US killed al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri in a drone strike in Kabul over the weekend. Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man and key architect in the 9/11 terror attacks was killed in the first US attack in Afghanistan since the American withdrawal last August. The operation – a major counterterrorism coup for Biden – reportedly saw al-Zawahri killed at the home of a staffer to senior Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani. A CIA ground team, with the help of aerial reconnaissance, has confirmed the death. “My hope is that this decisive action will bring one more measure of closure,” Biden told loved ones of 9/11 victims. He also warned that the US “will always remain vigilant … to ensure the safety and security of Americans at home and around the globe.” With al-Qaida franchises having cropped up globally over the past decade, the death of Zawahri – who was wary of the brand’s localization and its effect on his authority – will present a challenge for control of the militant group.

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What We're Watching: Bibi on trial, Iran nuclear talks resume, Kosovo's election

Bibi on trial as deadlock continues: One political commentator described it as "the ultimate Israeli split screen." As Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu's corruption trial finally kicked off after months of delay because of the coronavirus pandemic, political parties were meeting with Israel's President Reuven Rivlin to "recommend" whether the incumbent PM or the opposition should be given the first shot at trying to form a new coalition government after Israelis recently went to the polls for the fourth time in two years. Back in court, the prosecutor said that the PM made "illegitimate use" of his power to obtain favorable media coverage and other luxury perks, with Bibi responding by calling the trial an "attempted coup." The political temperature could not be hotter right now: though Netanyahu is likely to have the votes to try and form a government in the next few weeks, political stalemate persists, making it increasingly unlikely that he will be able to hobble together a workable coalition. Netanyahu also must appear in court three times a week, a massive distraction as he tries to save his political career. All this comes as Israel tries to revive its post-pandemic economy without a stable government or a national budget. The prospect of a fifth election looms large.

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