Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared victory in Mariupol, after Russian forces laid siege to the southern Ukrainian city for nearly two months. Putin’s claim of “liberation” for Mariupol came as fighters and civilians remained holed up at a massive steel factory complex in the city. A marine commander of the remaining forces made a desperate appeal for international help with an evacuation.
Serhiy Volyna: “This is our appeal to the world. This could be the last appeal of our lives. We are probably facing our last days, if not hours. … All of us, Mariupol military battalion of soldiers, more than 500 wounded, and hundreds of civilians, including women and children, we plead to take us to safety on the territory of a third-party state.”
Russia had been considering storming the complex but for now has opted to blockade it. In eastern Ukraine, the governor of Luhansk says Russia now controls 80% of the region as fighting continues along a 300-mile frontline.
Russia’s military has test-fired a new intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering nuclear warheads around the world. On Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin said a test of Russia’s Sarmat missile had succeeded in hitting targets nearly 4,000 miles from a launch site in northwestern Russia.
President Vladimir Putin: “This truly unique weapon will strengthen the combat potential of our Armed Forces, reliably ensure Russia’s security from external threats and provide food for thought for those who, in the heat of frenzied, aggressive rhetoric, try to threaten our country.”
German officials have pledged to stop importing oil from Russia by the end of the year. Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock of the Green Party, made the pledge during a visit to Latvia Wednesday.
Annalena Baerbock: “Phasing out fossil fuels is a double security factor. Apart from the Russian threat, it is clear that we will only be able to create sustainable security and peace worldwide if we also take resolute joint action against the climate crisis. This includes becoming CO2 neutral in Europe as quickly as possible.”
Russia receives about $1 billion a day from Germany and other EU members from sales of coal, oil and gas.
Israeli warplanes bombed the Gaza Strip overnight, targeting what Israel said was an underground weapons factory. It was the second night of airstrikes on the besieged Palestinian territory this week. The assault came after Palestinian militants in Gaza launched a barrage of rockets at southern Israel. Many of them appeared to be intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system, though one rocket caused slight damage to a home in the Israeli city of Sderot.
In occupied East Jerusalem, at least 20 Palestinians were injured today as Israeli soldiers fired stun grenades, rubber bullets and pepper spray to clear worshipers from the Al-Aqsa Mosque after dawn prayers. This follows a similar crackdown last weekend that saw hundreds of Palestinians arrested and over 150 injured. On Wednesday evening, Israeli police in Jerusalem blocked a march of more than 1,000 Israeli ultranationalist protesters from reaching the Old City’s Muslim Quarter, as many waved Israeli flags and shouted, “Death to Arabs.”
Nicaragua’s parliament has voted to shut down 25 nongovernmental organizations that have criticized Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. Groups banned include the Nicaraguan Permanent Human Rights Commission. This is the group’s executive secretary, Marcos Carmona.
Marcos Carmona: “We regret this government is silencing the Nicaraguan Permanent Commission on Human Rights. We know they are affecting not only our institutions but all people of Nicaragua. We were the only institution that documented the arbitrary abuses committed by different agencies of the state and by government officials.”
Another group ordered closed in Nicaragua was the Luisa Mercado Foundation, which is run by Sergio Ramírez Mercado, an acclaimed Nicaraguan writer and a former Sandinista who served as vice president under Ortega from 1985 to 1990. The Ortega administration has accused many of the organizations of accepting foreign funding and being involved in efforts to destabilize the Nicaraguan government.
Here in the United States, the Justice Department says it will appeal a federal judge’s ruling that struck down a mask mandate on public transportation. Monday’s decision by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Florida — a Trump appointee — voided the mask mandate for the entire nation. Judge Mizelle was confirmed by Republican senators in 2020 to a lifetime appointment on the federal court at the age of just 33, even though the American Bar Association gave her a rating of “not qualified.” Judge Mizelle’s ruling blindsided Biden administration officials even as they were considering allowing the public transit mask mandate to expire in May.
In a statement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was well within its legal authority to protect public health when it ordered the mandate. The CDC added, “When people wear a well-fitting mask or respirator over their nose and mouth in indoor travel or public transportation settings, they protect themselves, and those around them, including those who are immunocompromised or not yet vaccine-eligible.”
The White House has finalized a rule change to the National Environmental Policy Act that restores several key provisions to the landmark 1970 law. The Trump administration gutted environmental and community safeguards under the act in 2020, when it moved to speed up the approval process for major infrastructure projects, while exempting some projects from environmental review entirely.
In more climate news, a wildfire burning north of Flagstaff, Arizona, exploded in size Wednesday to nearly 20,000 acres, fanned by high winds and fueled by dry grass and brush. Arizona and other western states are suffering an unprecedented megadrought brought on by the climate emergency. Eleven large wildfires are currently burning across the Southwest and Southern Plains, with some 8 million U.S. residents under fire alerts today.
The Military Times is reporting the Pentagon is moving forward on a plan to build and test portable micro nuclear reactors to power military bases overseas and in remote areas in the U.S. despite warnings about high risks involved. In 2018, the Army published a list of possible sites where the micro nuclear reactors could be deployed. Sites named included Guantánamo Bay, Diego Garcia, Guam, Fort Buchanan in Puerto Rico and Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
Texas and Tennessee are both preparing to execute their oldest prisoners on death row today. In Texas, 78-year-old Carl Buntion is scheduled to be killed just a week after he had to be rushed to a hospital due to chest pains. Longtime death penalty critic Sister Helen Prejean has called on Texas to halt the execution. In a tweet, she wrote, “Carl can barely walk and has been diagnosed with vertigo, arthritis, and other chronic illnesses. What does this execution have to do with public safety?” Meanwhile, the state of Tennessee is scheduled to execute 72-year-old Oscar Franklin Smith today.
In Ohio, an intensive care unit doctor accused of killing 14 patients has been found not guilty by a jury on all counts. Prosecutors accused Dr. William Husel of murdering 14 patients by giving them excessive doses of the powerful synthetic painkiller fentanyl. Husel’s defense team argued that he was attempting to give comfort to critically ill patients in severe pain. Husel still faces 10 civil lawsuits filed by families of his former patients.
Florida’s Republican-led Senate has voted to eliminate Walt Disney World’s self-governing status. The move is widely seen as retaliation by Governor Ron DeSantis and his allies over Disney’s opposition to Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law.
In other news from Florida, the Republican-led state Senate has approved a new congressional map that critics say is designed to curtail Black political power in the state. Florida state Senator Shevrin Jones criticized the redistricting plan.
Sen. Shevrin Jones: “And so, Governor DeSantis, I’m not going to call what you’re doing a culture war anymore. I’m going to call it just what it is: It’s a racist tactic that you’re doing, and you know what you’re doing.”
In Georgia, a majority of workers at an Apple store in Atlanta have filed a petition for a union election. If they vote to join the Communications Workers of America, the workers will form the first union at an Apple retail store in the United States. Union organizers say Apple employee pay has failed to keep up with inflation — and Apple’s soaring profits — in recent years.