Russia-Ukraine: Two years of war
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The Pentagon is seen from the air in Washington, U.S., March 3, 2022, more than a week after Russia invaded Ukraine.

REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

What We’re Watching: Suspected US intel leaks, peace talks for Yemen, Lula talks trade with Xi

A murky document mystery

Some months ago, mysterious documents began showing up on websites used mainly by online gamers that appear to reveal top-secret US government information on the war in Ukraine and other sensitive topics. In particular, they include what seem to be maps of Ukrainian air defenses and an analysis of a secret plan by US ally South Korea to covertly deliver 330,000 rounds of ammunition to Ukraine to boost its widely expected spring counteroffensive.

Once noticed, copies of the documents made their way into mainstream media and triggered investigations by the Pentagon and the US Justice Department over possible leaks. Ukrainian officials say the documents may have come from Russian spies. Others say someone inside the US intel community must have leaked them. Some experts warn the documents may be fakes.

Given the stakes for Ukraine and for US relations with allies, this isn’t a story anyone should ignore. But the most important questions – Who did this? Why? Are the documents real? Will they change the war? If so, how? – can’t yet be answered. And like the mystery surrounding the explosion that damaged the Nord Stream pipeline last September, they may never be answered. We’ll keep watching.

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Houthi supporters rally in Sana'a to mark the 8th anniversary of the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen.

REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

Hard Numbers: Yemen peace talks, Ukrainian drone challenge, UAE snubs South Africa, Spanish paleo tripping

8: Saudi officials on Sunday met in Yemen's capital, Sana'a, with reps of the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and Omani mediators in what the UN is framing as the most serious effort yet to end 8 years of proxy civil war in the country. The talks come weeks after bitter rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia buried the diplomatic hatchet, raising hopes for peace in Yemen.

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A Somali refugee girl carries her sibling in the Hagadera refugee camp near the Kenya-Somalia border, in Garissa County, Kenya, January 17, 2023.

REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Hard Numbers: Somalia’s deadly drought, Yemen prisoner swap, North Korean war games, a happier world?

43,000: Somalia’s longest-recorded drought claimed 43,000 lives last year, with up to 34,000 more deaths projected in the first half of 2023, according to a new WHO report. The country has suffered several failed rainy seasons, and the crisis is being exacerbated by rising global food prices. Meanwhile, Somalia is being starved of aid as donors prioritize Ukraine.

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Luisa Vieria.

Stories we overlooked in 2022

A handful of stories – the war in Ukraine, China’s zero-COVID policy, and US elections – have dominated much of the media coverage this year. Meanwhile, many other crucial global stories have been woefully undercovered. We take a look at four of them.

Venezuela: The challenge of migrating again

Since strongman President Nicolás Maduro responded with an iron fist to widespread protests in 2014 over shortages of goods and sky-high inflation, Venezuela has been subject to more severe US economic sanctions that have put its already-struggling economy on life support. (One of the first sanctions was imposed by the Bush administration in 2006 over Caracas’ failure to crack down on drug trafficking and terrorism.)

As a result of the economic and political crises gripping the country, more than 7 million Venezuelans have fled since 2015, making it one of the world’s largest migrant crises. For those who stayed behind, their quality of life is abysmal: Joblessness is rife, the medical system is in tatters, and more than 67% live in extreme poverty. Meanwhile, most of those who fled sought refuge in Latin America, mainly in Colombia, where they have struggled to find jobs – forcing many women to resort to sex work or even to sell their hair to survive.

But 2022 brought fresh challenges for Venezuela's migrant population. Global inflation has disrupted Latin America’s gig economy, which many Venezuelan migrants rely on to get by. As a result, thousands have been forced to uproot their lives – again – resulting in new migration routes to North America.

Consider that in the first 10 months of this year, Venezuelans accounted for 70% of people who trekked through the Darien Gap, a perilous crossing between Colombia and Panama that’s submerged in dense jungle and swarming with drug cartels and guerrilla groups. The US recently lifted some sanctions on Venezuela's oil sector in a bid to offset losses from Russia. But Washington is still a long way off from reaching any agreements with the Maduro regime that would rescue Caracas’ economy.

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UK Prime Minister Liz Truss and Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng attend the annual Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, Britain

Hannah McKay via Reuters

What We’re Watching: UK PM's budget U-turn, OPEC mulls production cut, Yemen truce expires

Truss’s tax U-turn

Will it be enough? New British PM Liz Truss’s government has reversed course on its economic agenda. Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng told the Conservative Party conference on Monday that a proposal to scrap the UK’s 45% tax rate for high-income earners would be axed. He cited the recent market chaos and vowed that there would be “no more distractions” in pursuing the rest of the government’s proposed tax policies. This caps a dismal couple of weeks for the new Tory leadership during which the Bank of England tried to calm markets after Kwarteng introduced £45 billion ($49 billion) worth of tax cuts despite sky-high inflation. The upheaval also caused the pound to plummet against the greenback (it regained some value on Monday). Truss and Kwarteng said they changed tack after listening to voters struggling amid the cost-of-living crisis. But it had become clear that the plan would have struggled to pass the House of Commons. The top tax rate accounted for just £2 billion of the proposed tax cuts, so this reversal will only go so far in placating opponents and markets. Truss addresses the party conference on Wednesday, and after her rocky start, we’ll be watching to see whether she can win support for her economic plan – and revive her party’s dismal approval rating enough to stay in the top job.

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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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Luisa Vieira

Crow on the menu during Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia

US President Joe Biden is currently en route to the Middle East for the first time since taking office, and he’ll be making stops in Israel and the West Bank before making a more controversial swing through Saudi Arabia.

Yes, the same Saudi Arabia that, as a presidential candidate, Biden promised to treat like a “global pariah” because of the kingdom’s grim human rights record, its brutal war in Yemen, and the alleged involvement of the powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

But that was then, and this is now. With inflation soaring, midterm elections approaching, and prospects for a new Iran nuclear deal receding, Joe Biden is hopping on a jet to Riyadh with a few key issues in mind.

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People tour a Sana'a graveyard for Houthi fighters killed in fighting during a 2016 ceasefire in Yemen's civil war.

REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

Is Yemen on the road to peace?

A powerful country invades its neighbor. The conflict quickly becomes a brutal proxy war. A horrific humanitarian crisis ensues. While much of the world’s attention has been on Ukraine for the past few months, the civil war in Yemen is now in its eighth year. But in recent weeks signs of hope for peace have emerged, if faintly. What is the latest in a grinding conflict that has provoked what the UN calls "the world's worst humanitarian crisis"?

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