MOSCOW – Russia's top diplomat angrily rejected U.S. allegations that Moscow was preparing a pretext to invade Ukraine, as Russian troops that are amassed near the Ukraine border launched more drills Monday.
The White House said Friday that U.S. intelligence officials had concluded that Russia had already deployed operatives to rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine to carry out acts of sabotage there and blame them on Ukraine in a “false-flag operation” to create a pretext for possible invasion.
Speaking to reporters Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed the U.S. claim as “total disinformation.” He reaffirmed that Russia expects a written response this week from the U.S. and its allies to Moscow's request for binding guarantees that NATO will not embrace Ukraine or any other ex-Soviet nations, or station its forces and weapons there.
Ash delays flights of aid to Tonga
Thick ash on an airport runway was delaying aid deliveries to the Pacific island nation of Tonga, where significant damage was being reported days after a huge undersea volcanic eruption and tsunami.
New Zealand's military is sending much-needed drinking water and other supplies, but said the ash on the runway will delay the flight at least a day. A towering ash cloud since Saturday's eruption had prevented earlier flights.
New Zealand is also sending two navy ships to Tonga that will leave today and pledged an initial 1ámillion New Zealand dollars ($680,000) toward recovery efforts. Australia also sent a navy ship from Sydney to Brisbane to prepare for a support mission if needed.
Communications with Tonga have been limited, but New Zealand and Australia sent surveillance flights to assess the damage Monday.
Meanwhile, unusually high waves attributed to the eruption caused an oil spill across the Pacific on the Peruvian coast, but authorities said Monday the spill was controlled within hours and there's an ongoing process to clean the area.
Fewer to attend Beijing Olympics
Only “selected” spectators will be permitted at next month's Beijing Olympics because of the coronavirus pandemic, organizers said Monday.
Beijing had already announced that no fans from outside the country would be permitted at the events, and had not offered tickets to the general public.
Monday's announcement posted on the organizing committee's website confirmed expectations that the Winter Games would have few onlookers at the venues, under even more strict conditions than imposed during last year's Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Pundit fined for migrant remarks
French far-right presidential candidate ╔ric Zemmour was convicted Monday of inciting racial hatred over 2020 comments he made about unaccompanied migrant children.
A Paris court ordered Zemmour to pay a fine of 10,000 euros (more than $11,000) and several thousand euros in damages to anti-racism groups. Zemmour said he will appeal the decision, adding “I absolutely do not regret” the comments.
Zemmour, a 63-year-old former TV pundit who is running in France's Aprilá10 presidential election, is drawing fervent audiences with his anti-Islam, anti-immigration invective. The case against him focused on September 2020 comments he made on French news broadcaster CNews about children who migrate to France without parents or guardians, calling them thieves, murderers and rapists who cost France money.
Chinese president touts vaccine help
Chinese President Xi Jinping said Monday that his country will send an additional 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine to other countries, calling for global cooperation to tackle the pandemic and other challenges while urging other powers to discard a “Cold-War mentality” – a veiled swipe at the United States.
Xi touted China's efforts to share vaccines, fight climate change and promote development in the opening speech of a virtual gathering hosted by the World Economic Forum. The online event is being held after the group put off its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Xi, who hasn't left China since the coronavirus emerged in early 2020, said his country has exported more than 2 billion doses of its COVID-19 vaccines to over 120 countries and international institutions.
Black diamond toábe auctioned
Auction house Sotheby's Dubai has unveiled a diamond that's literally from out of this world.
Sotheby's calls the 555.55-carat black diamond – believed to have come from outer space – “The Enigma.” The rare gem was shown off on Monday to journalists as part of a tour in Dubai and Los Angeles before it is due to be auctioned off in February in London.
Sotheby's expects the diamond to be sold for at least 5ámillion British pounds ($6.8ámillion). The auction house plans to accept cryptocurrency as a possible payment as well.
Greeks over 60: Get vaccine or pay
Greece imposed a vaccination mandate Monday for people 60 and older as a spike in infections has put sustained pressure on Greek hospitals, where most of the seriously ill patients belong to that age group.
Older people failing to get vaccinated will face penalties, starting at a 50-euro ($57) fine in January and followed by a monthly fine of 100 euros ($114) after that.
About 69% of Greece's 10.7ámillion people are fully vaccinated, just under the EU average of 70.3%.