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Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a concert marking the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad in the World War Two

Reuters

80: In an event marking the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad, a Soviet victory over the Nazis, Putin tried to cast the war in Ukraine in historical and moral terms. "We are again being threatened by German Leopard tanks,” he said, referring to Berlin’s recent decision to send the heavy machinery to Ukraine. Meanwhile, Kyiv says Moscow is amassing 500,000 troops in preparation for an offensive.

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A mock customs post is set up with protesters from border communities between Ireland and Northern Ireland against Brexit.

Reuters

Are the EU and UK close to a post-Brexit deal?

For a fleeting moment, it seemed like Brexit wrangling could finally end. But no. After reports claimed that the EU and UK were close to clinching a deal on trade rules for Northern Ireland, Brussels announced that, despite some progress, several issues remain intractable. (Really sorry you still have to hear about Brexit, but the Northern Ireland Protocol, you might recall, is the arrangement that Boris Johnson reached with the EU to avoid creating a hard border between the Republic of Ireland, an EU member, and Northern Ireland, a part of the UK.) One big sticking point is that Downing Street, along with the pro-UK DUP Party in Northern Ireland, wants to limit the role of the European Court of Justice in overseeing trade-related disputes. Another is the failure to agree on a practical border system that would avoid rigorous checks by customs. With Prime Minister Rishi Sunak facing mounting pressure from Tory Brexiteers not to give an inch to Brussels, we’re watching to see how he navigates a major political test that threatens to further split his Conservative Party.

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A protester near the Invalides during a demonstration against the government's pension reform plan in Paris

REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Round Two: French pension reform strikes

For the second time in a month, French workers held mass protests on Tuesday against the government’s proposed pension reform, which would raise the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64. Organized by the country’s eight big trade unions, authorities say as many as 1.27 million protesters hit the streets nationwide, bringing Paris to a standstill and closing schools throughout France. (Unions say the number was higher.) Meanwhile, President Emmanuel Macron is sticking to his guns, saying that incrementally raising the national retirement age by 2030 is crucial to reducing France’s ballooning deficit. (Currently, 14% of France’s public spending goes toward its pension program – the third-highest of any OECD country.) But for Macron, this is about more than just economics; his political legacy is on the line. Indeed, the ideological chameleon came to power in 2017 as a transformer and tried to get these pension reforms done in 2019, though he was ultimately forced to backtrack. But as Eurasia Group Europe expert Mujtaba Rahman points out, protesters’ “momentum is the key” and could determine whether legislators from the center-right back Macron or get swayed by the vibe on the street. This would force him to go at it alone using a constitutional loophole, which never makes for good politics. More demonstrations are planned for Feb.7 and Feb. 11.

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Annie Gugliotta

Three Months ago: Islamic Republic announces (sham) public trials

Media attention may have subsided, but protesters in Iran remain unbowed four months after the in-custody death of Mahsa Amini – she was arrested by the Islamic Republic’s “morality police” three days before her death – set off something resembling a revolution. Three months ago, we wrote that the mullahs who rule the country with an iron fist had announced the public trial of around 1,000 Iranians for participating in anti-regime demonstrations. Since then, at least four men have been publicly hanged: Sayed Mohammad Hosseini, 39, Mohammad Mehdi Karami, 22, a karate champ, Majid Reza Rahnavard, 23, a store worker, and Mohsen Shekari, 23, a barista. They were each accused of killing a member of the Basij paramilitary, a ruthless volunteer force that operates under the draconian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp – though rights groups say their confessions were coerced under torture.

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Eyewitness footage shows explosion at military industry factory in Isfahan, Iran.

Reuters

What we know about the Isfahan attack

In what’s broadly believed to have been an Israeli attack, three drones hit an Iranian ammunition factory in the central city of Isfahan, Iran, on Saturday night. Iranian state media said damage to the site was “minor,” but phone footage suggests that the compound – used to produce advanced weapons and home to its Nuclear Fuel Research and Production Center – took a serious blow. An oil refinery in the country's northwest also broke out in flames on Saturday, though the cause remains unknown. Then, on Sunday night, a weapons convoy traveling from Syria to Iraq was also targeted by airstrikes. US reports attributed the Isfahan attack to Israel – which has in the past targeted nuclear sites in Natanz and hit Iranian convoys transporting weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Indeed, this comes after Russia purchased hundreds of Iranian-made “suicide drones,” which it has used to pummel Ukrainian cities. While the deepening military alliance between Iran and Russia is a growing concern for Washington, it’s unclear if Uncle Sam played a role in the Isfahan hit – or whether Israel, which has to date refused to deliver heavy arms to Kyiv, agreed to carry out this attack in part to frustrate Iranian drone deliveries to the Russians. The escalation comes just days after CIA Director William Burns flew to Israel for meetings with his Israeli counterparts – and as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken heads to Israel and the West Bank this week. Crucially, it highlights the increasing overlap between Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and the longtime shadow war between Iran and Israel.

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Demonstrators gather in New York City to protest the death of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police officers.

Deccio Serrano/ Reuters

50: The Memphis Police Department has disbanded the 50-person Scorpion special unit after five of its officers were charged with murdering 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, a Black man stopped for an unsubstantiated driving violation. The unit, founded in 2021, was supposed to tackle high-impact crimes in Memphis, where around 65% of the population is Black.

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Mourners carry the bodies of Palestinians, including militants, killed in an Israeli raid, during their funeral in Jenin

REUTERS/Raneen Sawafta

After Jenin raid, Palestinian militants vow “revenge”

At least nine Palestinians were killed Thursday in Jenin in one of the deadliest West Bank operations in recent years carried out by the Israel Defense Forces. Israel’s military said it stormed the Jenin refugee camp to arrest members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad suspected of carrying out and planning “multiple major terror attacks.” Authorities confirmed that at least seven gunmen and two civilians were killed in the operation that also injured 20 Palestinians. While members of Israel’s new right-wing government have been criticized for wanting to relax the military’s rules of engagement, this raid was part of a long-running effort to root out terror groups in the northern West Bank, which began last year after a series of attacks that killed 31 Israelis – retaliatory missions notably led to more than 100 Palestinian deaths. Israel is now on high alert, fearing a slate of missile strikes from the Gaza Strip as well as unrest in the West Bank and Jerusalem after Palestinian terror outfits – including Hamas and PIJ – vowed “revenge.” Friday saw a limited exchange of Palestinian rockets and Israeli airstrikes.

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Damage at the site of the blast in Beirut's port area, Lebanon. Photo taken August 5, 2020

REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo

Will Lebanese port blast victims ever get justice?

The long-stalled investigation into the July 2020 Beirut port blast that killed at least 218 people got very messy this week. After a 13-month hiatus, the investigation resumed with Judge Tarek Bitar charging three high-ranking officials – including former PM Hassan Diab – with homicide with probable intent. (The charges related to the unsafe storage at a port warehouse of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate that ultimately exploded, decimating large parts of the city.) But then, the chief prosecutor (yes, the prosecutor!) announced on Wednesday that he was charging the judge for reopening the case. It’s unclear what the exact charges against him are, but Bitar, the second judge to oversee this investigation, has been subject to intimidation for pursuing the case. Meanwhile, the prosecutor also ordered 17 suspects in pre-trial custody to be released. Indeed, this is the latest sign that a culture of impunity plagues Lebanon. Meanwhile, as the elite continue to line their pockets, Lebanon’s economic situation remains catastrophic. Just this week, the US said it was rerouting aid funds to help cash-strapped Lebanon pay security personnel’s wages over fears that the security situation could spiral.

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