US warns Russian attack may be 'imminent,' Ukraine disagrees: Here's why

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(WASHINGTON) -- As the U.S. continues to warn that the threat of a Russian attack on Ukraine remains "imminent," there is one dissenting voice that has grown stronger -- Ukraine's.

From President Volodymyr Zelenskyy down, the Ukrainian government has tried to urge calm, with senior officials making clear in recent days they don't see the risks now as any more heightened than over the last eight years of Russian-stoked conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar, for example, said the number of Russian troops massed on Ukraine's borders "are not enough for a full-scale invasion." Instead, Russian leader Vladimir Putin is using the troop build-up "primarily to politically blackmail the West and pressure Ukraine," she wrote in a Facebook post.

"Russia's tactical goal is provoke integral divisions in our society, sow fear and panic, to destabilize the internal situation," she added.

Ukrainian concern that fear and panic could spread, sending Ukraine's economy spiraling or creating political turmoil, has started to create divisions between the U.S. and Ukraine -- despite efforts on both sides to make clear they stand united against any Russian aggression.

"All is under control. There are no reasons to panic," Zelenskyy said in a televised address to his country Monday night -- but the speech spent more time on COVID-19 than Russia.

Some of the steps the U.S. has taken in recent days, some in Kyiv fear, are playing into Moscow's playbook -- stoking fear and panic.

That includes the State Department's decision to draw down the U.S. embassy, ordering diplomats' families to evacuate and authorizing non-emergency staff to depart if they choose.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price called it a "prudent precaution," but his Ukrainian counterpart, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko criticized it as "a premature one and an instance of excessive caution."

"The Russian Federation is currently taking active efforts to destabilize the situation in Ukraine. A large amount of misinformation, manipulation, and fakes are spreading in Ukrainian and international media in order to cause panic among Ukrainians and foreigners, intimidate business, and undermine the economic and financial stability of our state. In this situation, it is important to soberly assess the risks and stay calm," Nikolenko added.

Just four countries have followed the U.S., to varying degrees -- the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Germany.

"We cannot allow ourselves for that to happen - that our economy falls. If people cross into a state of panic, that is a dangerous situation for our country, and it will be far easier to then manipulate us, and that is Russia's goal," warned Aleksey Danilov, a top Ukrainian national security official.

Some economic damage is already apparent. Yields on Ukrainian sovereign Eurobonds in U.S. dollars suddenly shot up to 11-14% on Jan. 14 and have risen even higher since -- losing Ukraine access to the international financial market, according to Anders Åslund, a senior fellow at the Stockholm Free World Forum.

"Ukraine's emerging economic problems are entirely due to the shadow cast by the threat of a dramatic escalation in Russian military aggression," Åslund wrote for the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank.

The White House and State Department defended the administration's decisions and rhetoric, denying that drawing down the embassy, putting 8,500 U.S. troops on alert, and warning of an "imminent" threat have escalated the situation.

"I will let others assess, but there are 100,000 troops -- Russian troops -- on the border of Ukraine and no clarity that the leader of Russia doesn't intend to invade. That sounds pretty dangerous to me," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.

But 100,000 is not enough for an invasion, according to Malyar and the top commander for Ukraine's forces on the frontlines. Lt. Gen. Oleksander Pavlyuk told ABC News last week that Ukraine had assessed Russian had 127,000 troops in total, although the U.S. still says approximately 100,000. Either way, Ukraine's own army is approximately 200,000 strong now, and many more Russian troops would be needed to invade a country the size of Texas.

The number of Russian troops is also "not increasing in the way that today many are representing," Danilov, who serves as secretary of Ukraine's national security council, told the BBC in an interview Tuesday. "Is it unpleasant for us? Yes, but for us, it's not news. If for someone in the West that has become news, well, I'm sorry."

Still, Psaki denied there was daylight between Washington and Kyiv, adding, "We are in constant contact with Ukrainians to reiterate our support, to convey updates on shipments of supplies, military equipment -- something that's been happening over the last several days."

Nikolenko too highlighted that military cooperation, praising "its proactive diplomatic position and for strengthening Ukraine's defense capabilities, including the provision of weapons and equipment."

Asked about the differences, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine Kristina Kvien denied there were any. In an exclusive interview Tuesday where a shipment of U.S. Javelin anti-tank and other weapons was being unleaded, she told ABC News, "President Zelenskyy is taking the threat very seriously, and he is being careful to make preparations as needed."

The Ukrainian people have "been living with Russian threats for a long time, so I would say that they are just a bit more 'sang-froid' as they say in French. But that doesn't mean that they don't take them seriously," added Kvien, the embassy's chargé d'affaires.

In Kyiv, there is calm, if at least more talk now about the threat of a Russian attack -- whether across the border, in cyber space, or through continued efforts to destabilize Ukraine's government and economy.

"This looks and feels different … It certainly has people a lot more alert, especially if you watch the news all the time," said Reno Domenico, an American businessman who has lived in Ukraine for 15 years. But he said the cafes remain full, and people are out shopping because, "People don't panic, and panic is a bad thing. You make bad decisions when you panic."

After the U.S. Embassy urged Americans to consider departing immediately, Domenico said more people started talking about the possibility. While everyone should have a plan, he added, his is to stay put for now.

ABC News's Patrick Reevell contributed to this report from Kyiv, Ukraine, and Desiree Adib from New York.

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North Korea fires pair of projectiles presumed to be cruise missiles in fifth test this year

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(SEOUL, South Korea) -- North Korea fired a pair of projectiles on Tuesday morning believed to be cruise missiles, a South Korean official told ABC News.

An official with the South Korean Ministry of National Defense said the projectiles were detected by South Korean and U.S. intelligence agencies, which are analyzing the launch. Further details were not immediately available.

North Korea has test-fired missiles at least five times this year. North Korean state media boasted the successful launches of hypersonic missiles on Jan. 5 and Jan. 11, followed by a short-range ballistic missile from a train car on Jan. 14 and another short-range ballistic missile from the Sunan airport in the capital, Pyongyang, on Jan. 17.

The latest launch came just five days after North Korea implied it would withdraw from a self-imposed moratorium on testing nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles, blaming the U.S. for the failed trust between the two countries.

“The hostile policy and military threat by the U.S. have reached a danger line that cannot be overlooked anymore despite our sincere efforts for maintaining the general tide for relaxation of tension in the Korean peninsula since the DPRK-U.S. summit in Singapore," North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency reported last Thursday.

Testing cruise missiles does not violate the resolutions the United Nations Security Council imposed on North Korea to curb its nuclear and missile activities, but Seoul-based analysts presumed that Pyongyang’s latest launch was aimed at South Korea and the U.S.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in South Korea's capital, said the reclusive regime wants "to prove to the outside world that they are capable of bolstering its defense."

"North Korea aims to enhance its presence in the international community ahead of their most revered anniversaries of the late leader and founder of the country," Yang told ABC News on Tuesday.

Cha Du-hyeogn, a visiting research fellow at the Asan Institute of Policy Studies in Seoul, said North Korea is purposely launching missiles that will be detected by South Korean and U.S. radars in order to be noticed.

“The continued missile testing is nothing new in North Korea’s viewpoint because Kim Jong Un forewarned during last year multiple times that the regime will keep developing missiles and nuclear weapons for their defense," Cha told ABC News on Tuesday. “Pyongyang aims to show its citizens that the leader’s words will eventually come true despite the economic difficulties, and also prove to the international community that they are gearing up the military capabilities, enough to become a threat."

ABC News' Morgan Winsor contributed to this report.

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Stampede at Africa Cup of Nations soccer game leaves eight dead, 38 injured


(LONDON) -- At least eight people died in a stampede outside a stadium hosting a game at Africa's top soccer tournament in Cameroon on Monday, officials said.

The deadly crush occurred at the southern entrance of the Olembe Stadium in Cameroon's capital, Yaounde, as fans jostled to watch the host country play Comoros in a round-of-16 knockout match in the Africa Cup of Nations. Another 38 people were injured during the incident, including seven seriously, according to a press release from the Cameroonian Ministry of Communication.

The dead were taken to Yaounde Emergency Center, while the injured were admitted to four different hospitals across the city, the ministry said.

The ministry added that Cameroonian President Paul Biya "sends his deepest condolences to the hard-hit families, as well as his wishes of a speedy recovery to the injured, to whom he sends the profound compassion of the entire nation."

The Confederation of African Football (CAF), which organizes the Africa Cup of Nations, said in a statement Monday that it "is aware of the incident."

"CAF is currently investigating the situation and trying to get more details on what transpired," CAF added. "We are in constant communication with Cameroon government and the Local Organizing Committee."

The International Federation of Football Association (FIFA), soccer's world governing body, said in a statement Tuesday that it "sends its deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims who lost their lives following the tragic incident."

"The thoughts and prayers of the global football community are with the victims, the ones who have been injured in this incident, and all the staff of both CAF and the Cameroonian Football Association (FECAFOOT) at this difficult moment," FIFA said.

It's the first time in 50 years that Cameroon is hosting the much-anticipated Africa Cup of Nations. The Central African country was supposed to host the monthlong competition in 2019 but was stripped of that right due to serious delays with its preparations. That year's event was ultimately hosted by Egypt.

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Will British Prime Minister Boris Johnson be ousted amid COVID-19 party controversy?

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(LONDON) -- The British prime minister's political future is in the balance.

"If Boris Johnson is still PM by the end of the week, I'd be very surprised," an unnamed source told the Telegraph.

Boris Johnson has been increasingly under fire for his actions during the COVID-19 pandemic. A string of news reports have claimed that numerous parties were held at Downing Street in 2020 and 2021, while the rest of the country was under strict lockdown and social contact was extremely limited.

The latest revelation that Downing Street staffers held a birthday party for Johnson last June has led to Dame Cressida Dick, head of London’s Metropolitan police, confirming her force will be investigating whether lockdown rules were broken in Downing Street.

"As a result of the information provided by the Cabinet office and my officers own assessment,” Dick told politicians at the London Assembly, “I can confirm the Met is now investigating a number of events that took place at Downing St and Whitehall in the last two years in relation to breaches of COVID-19 regulations."

Johnson has been fighting to save his position since these reports first started to emerge. As news of discos in the basement and wine bottles being brought in by the suitcase filled the front pages public anger grew. The resentment toward Johnson and his staff reached fever pitch with the report that staff had been partying the night before Prince Philip's funeral -- a particularly painful juxtaposition with the images of Queen Elizabeth seated alone, abiding by the COVID-19 regulations as she said goodbye to her husband.

Downing Street sent a formal apology to the Queen, with Johnson telling journalists: "I deeply and bitterly regret that that happened. I can only renew my apologies both to Her Majesty and to the country for misjudgments that were made, and for which I take full responsibility."

Johnson has maintained that he never knowingly breached any COVID-19 regulations, admitting that he attended what he described as "a work event" in the Downing Street garden last May. He told parliament, "When I went into that garden just after 6 on 20 May 2020, to thank groups of staff before going back into my office 25 minutes later to continue working, I believed implicitly that this was a work event."

He has commissioned a report into these various gatherings to determine whether any rules were indeed broken. The senior civil servant in charge of this report, Sue Gray, was expected to release her findings this week but this report will now be delayed while the police investigate.

Many of his own members of parliament have said they are withholding judgement on his leadership until this report is published.

What could happen next?

There are four possible scenarios:

1. The report finds that Johnson deliberately misled parliament and therefore breached ministerial code. He will then have to resign.

2. The report doesn't prove Johnson lied to parliament but is so damning his reputation is destroyed and he feels compelled to resign.

3. His fellow members of parliament decide they no longer have confidence in him and trigger a no confidence vote.

4. The report exonerates Johnson, the mutinous air within his party subsides and he continues as prime minister.

What happens if he resigns?

According to its (unwritten) constitution, the UK cannot be without a prime minister, so Johnson could continue to serve while a leadership contest is played out. A less likely scenario is that a member of his cabinet will become prime minister until a new leader is chosen.

How can the Conservatives trigger a no confidence vote?

Fifteen percent of Conservative members of parliament -- which amounts to 54 of the 359 currently serving -- need to write to the chairman of the 1922 Committee (an influential group of backbench members), saying they no longer have confidence in the prime minister's leadership.

The current chairman of the 1922 Committee is Sir Graham Brady. We know some letters have been sent but this process is clouded in secrecy with Brady famously telling the BBC during the last leadership contest that not even his wife knew how many letters were coming in.

Once 54 letters have been received, Brady will initiate a no confidence vote.

What is the process for a no confidence vote?

If Johnson wins more than 50% of his members of parliament's votes, then he stays on as prime minister and there cannot be another no confidence vote until 12 months later.

But if he does not reach that threshold, then he is out and cannot contest it.

How does a leadership contest pan out?

If Johnson has resigned or loses the no confidence vote, then the Conservative Party leadership contest will begin, and there will be a series of votes to determine who will be the next leader and prime minister.

Any Tory member of parliament can stand, providing they have enough support from their colleagues. There are a series of rounds to whittle down candidates; if candidates don't meet a certain threshold in each round, then they are eliminated. This shortlisting process continues until only two candidates remain.

What is the timeframe for a leadership contest?

These first elimination rounds can take a few weeks. For the last leadership contest in 2019, it was two weeks.

Once the two final candidates have been selected, all Conservative Party members are then called to vote on which one of the two will be their next leader. Whoever wins the majority in this ballot becomes the next Conservative Party leader and prime minister.

The 1922 Committee determines the time frame for each step.

Who are the likely contenders?

Likely contenders include Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, Cabinet Minister Michael Gove, Health Secretary Sajid Javid and former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

What happened last time?

In 2019, Theresa May resigned, prompting a Conservative Party leadership contest. Johnson won, securing 66% of the votes, while his rival, Jeremy Hunt, took the remaining 34%. The candidates, besides Hunt, that stood against Johnson, were Michael Gove, Sajid Javid, Rory Stewart, Esther McVey and Andrea Leadsom. Three others -- James Cleverly, Sam Gyimah and Kit Malthouse -- dipped their toes in but never formally ran.

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Canada’s foreign affairs department hit with cyberattack

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(NEW YORK) -- Canada's foreign affairs department was hit with a cyberattack last week, according to the Treasury Board of Canada.

The hack of Global Affairs Canada, the government entity responsible for diplomatic and global relations, occurred on Wednesday, according to a statement provided by the Treasury Board to ABC News.

The statement does not identify who carried out the cyberattack.

As a result of the attack, some access the internet and internet-based services are not currently available, but mitigation measures were being taken to restore them.

The Treasury Board said no other government department experienced a cyberattack.

"We are constantly reviewing measures to protect Canadians and our critical infrastructure from electronic threats, hacking, and cyber espionage. We encourage all government and non-government partners to use cyber security best practices," the statement says.

The attack comes amid tensions over Ukraine and two days after the Canada Centre for Cyber Security warned malware was being used to target Ukrainian organizations.
New cyber vulnerability poses 'severe risk,' DHS says.

On Sunday, the Department of Homeland Security warned that the U.S. could be a target of Russian cyberattacks if the government responds to a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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NATO to put more forces on standby amid fears of Russian attack on Ukraine

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(KYIV, Ukraine) -- Amid deepening anxiety over a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, the United States announced it's pulling out diplomats' families and some staff from its embassy in the country. Meanwhile, NATO announced it was putting extra forces on standby.

As Russia continues to mass tens of thousands of troops close to Ukraine's borders, NATO said the alliance was sending a small number of ships and fighter jets to Eastern Europe to strengthen its "deterrence" presence there and reassure its eastern members,

Denmark is sending a frigate to the Baltic Sea and four F-16 warplanes to Lithuania. At the same time, France is ready to send troops to Romania under NATO command, and Spain is considering deploying fighter jets to Bulgaria, NATO said in a statement. The Netherlands has agreed to send two F-35 jets to Bulgaria and has put a ship and land-based forces on standby for a NATO response force, officials said.

"NATO will continue to take all necessary measures to protect and defend all Allies, including by reinforcing the eastern part of the Alliance," NATO's Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.

The NATO announcement coincided with a report in The New York Times that the Biden administration may be preparing to send up to 5,000 American troops to Eastern European members of the alliance.

The White House and the Pentagon have not confirmed the report, though the administration has previously said sending more U.S. troops to Eastern Europe is on the table if Russia attacks Ukraine.

NATO on Monday said the "United States has also made clear that it is considering increasing its military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance."

The steps to boost NATO's readiness came as the U.S. State Department announced Sunday it was ordering the families of its diplomats at its embassy in Ukraine's capital Kyiv to leave the country over security fears.

The State Department said it has also authorized non-emergency staff at the embassy to depart voluntarily.

The United Kingdom on Monday followed suit, with its Foreign Office saying some embassy staff and their dependents would be withdrawn "in response to the growing threat from Russia."

Ukraine's government criticized the U.S. evacuation calling them "premature" and "excessively cautious."

"While we respect right of foreign nations to ensure safety & security of their diplomatic missions, we believe such a step to be a premature one & an instance of excessive caution," Oleg Nikolenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's foreign ministry, tweeted.

Ukrainian officials are unhappy with the message the evacuations send by suggesting that a Russian invasion could be imminent. In general, they are much more skeptical that Russia is planning to launch a major attack and worry that western countries risk helping Moscow by exaggerating the risk and spreading panic.

Privately, American officials acknowledge there is a gap between the Ukrainian and U.S. assessment of the level of threat. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a U.S. official told ABC News this weekend that Ukraine was "p----- off" over the evacuations.

A senior State Department official on Sunday insisted the embassy drawdown did not undermine America's commitment to Ukraine, saying they were just "prudent precautions" given the heightened fear of a Russian attack.

The official said the decision was "based on this military buildup, based on how we see these developments," calling it the "right moment."

Those leaving the embassy will do so on commercial flights, the State Department has said, indicating it is not an emergency evacuation.

The State Department were scarred by the chaotic evacuation of Afghanistan, where thousands of Americans were stranded after the sudden Taliban takeover there caught the U.S. off guard. Officials are anxious to avoid a similar situation in Ukraine, should the worst happen.

Russia has repeatedly insisted it has no intention of attacking Ukraine. However, its military buildup continues near Ukraine's eastern border and now in Belarus, where trainloads of Russian tanks and artillery have been arriving for joint exercises there.

A top commander of Russian-controlled separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine on Monday also accused Ukraine's military of preparing to launch an offensive against the separatist areas.

The U.S. and Ukraine are concerned that a false claim of a Ukrainian offensive against the separatists could be used as a pretext for Russia to launch an invasion.

Eduard Basurin, the head of the militia of the separatists' self-declared 'People's Republic of Donetsk' (DNR), in local media warned it "firmly recommends the enemy to give up its criminal intentions," promising the Ukrainian army "will suffer irreparable damage, after which it will not be able to recover."

Ukraine's government has insisted it will not launch any offensive and there is no evidence Ukraine is preparing to.

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Stowaway survives 11-hour flight in wheel well from Africa to Europe

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(AMSTERDAM) -- A stowaway was found alive in the nose wheel well of a cargo airplane that traveled from South Africa to the Netherlands on Sunday, according to Dutch police.

Authorities discovered the man hiding after the plane landed at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport on Sunday morning. He was taken to a hospital in stable condition, a Dutch police spokesperson told ABC News.

The man's name has not been released. His age and nationality were unknown.

The freight flight flew 11 hours from Johannesburg to Amsterdam, with a stop in Nairobi. It was unclear whether the stowaway climbed into the aircraft's landing gear in South Africa or in Kenya, the Dutch police spokesperson said.

An investigation into the incident is ongoing.

It's unusual for stowaways to survive long flights, due to the cold temperatures and low oxygen levels at high altitudes.

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State Department orders diplomats' families to leave US embassy in Kyiv amid Russia tensions

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(WASHINGTON) -- The State Department ordered diplomats' families Sunday afternoon to depart the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, amid heightened fears of a Russian attack on the country.

The embassy has also authorized non-emergency employees to depart, according to an internal cable obtained by ABC News.

In an updated travel advisory issued later Sunday, the State Department confirmed the drawdown and urged U.S. citizens in Ukraine to consider departing the country now using commercial flights.

"These are prudent precautions that in no way undermine our support for, our commitment to Ukraine," a senior State Department official said Sunday. The department made the decision now "based on this military buildup, based on how we see these developments," they added, calling it the "right moment."

Ukraine has been on the State Department's highest travel advisory -- Level 4: Do Not Travel -- for months because of COVID-19. Last month, the embassy updated that warning to say, "Russia is planning significant military action against Ukraine," which "would severely impact the U.S. Embassy's ability to provide consular services" to Americans.

A State Department spokesperson said Saturday that the U.S. will not evacuate Americans like in the operation conducted out of Afghanistan last August.

"American citizens should not anticipate that there will be U.S. government-sponsored evacuations. Currently commercial flights are available to support departures," the spokesperson said.

The change in the embassy's status has upset some Ukrainian officials, many who are skeptical that Russia is planning an attack and think it is instead continuing to raise the pressure to destabilize the country.

"The U.S. embassy in Kyiv is going to continue to operate in an uninterrupted way to support Ukraine at this critical moment," the senior State Department official said.

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Biden, Putin might meet to resolve standoff over Ukraine, Blinken says


(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin might meet in an effort to resolve the standoff over Ukraine and the threat of a Russian invasion.

"If it proves useful and productive for the two presidents to meet, to talk, to engage, to try to carry things forward, I think we're fully prepared to do that," Blinken said in Geneva, Switzerland, after holding talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

There were no breakthroughs in their meeting, he said, but the two sides have agreed to return to their capitals and hold consultations before meeting again -- keeping the door to diplomacy open after weeks of heightened tensions over Russia's massive troop buildup near Ukraine's border.

Later, speaking with ABC's George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America -- asked whether it would take a summit to resolve the situation -- Blinken confirmed the U.S. was open to that idea.

"That's certainly something we're prepared to do. Right now, the plan is to take stock of where we are next week after we share some ideas with Russia," Blinken told ABC News.

Those ideas will be a written response to Russia's two draft treaties, released publicly in December, where Moscow demanded that the U.S. and NATO bar Ukraine from joining the Western military alliance and pull troops back from Eastern European member states.

Those two demands are "nonstarters," U.S. officials have said, but after repeated Russian requests for a written response, Blinken confirmed Friday that the U.S. will provide one before he and Lavrov meet again.

"There are certain issues and fundamental principles that the United States and our partners and allies are committed to defend. That includes those that would impede the sovereign right of the Ukrainian people to write their own future. There is no trade space there - none," Blinken told reporters.

That disagreement has left three previous rounds of talks last week to end inconclusively -- between the U.S. and Russia, NATO and Russia, and at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. But Russia has dismissed more talks with European countries, instead seeking direct engagement with the U.S. -- and to create a rift between the U.S. and its NATO allies.

Blinken said after Friday's high-stakes meeting that he would return to Washington to consult Biden, members of Congress, and allies and partners.

"Based on our discussion, I believe we can carry forward this work of developing understanding agreements together that ensure our mutual security, but that's contingent on Russia stopping its aggression toward Ukraine," he said.

But that's unlikely to happen any time soon. Russia now has some 100,000 troops massed on three sides of Ukraine, including in Crimea, the peninsula it annexed in 2014, and Belarus, Ukraine's neighbor to the north where strongman Alexander Lukashenko has increasingly relied on Russian support to prop him up.

Lavrov did not commit to pull those troops back, but said again that Russia is not going to attack Ukraine. He urged Blinken to focus on Russia's security proposals rather than the heightened tensions over Ukraine, he said at his own press conference afterwards.

"I haven't heard any point today that would justify the American position on what is happening on the Russian-Ukrainian border. Only concerns, concerns, concerns," Lavrov told reporters, calling the State Department's stated concerns about Russian actions "blatant lies."

Despite that brusque tone, Blinken said the two sides left the meetings with a "better understanding" of each other's positions - calling it "not a negotiation, but a candid exchange of concerns and ideas."

Whether that means Russia is engaging in good faith, or whether Putin still continue to destabilize Ukraine and even launch an attack, remains unresolved.

"It's ultimately going to be President Putin who decides what Russia will do," Blinken told Good Morning America.

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Massive explosion in Ghana mining region leaves dozens dead or injured

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(LONDON) -- More than a dozen people were killed and many more were injured by a massive explosion that rocked southwestern Ghana on Thursday, authorities said.

A vehicle transporting mining explosives between the gold mines of Tarkwa and Chirano in Ghana's Western Region collided with a motorcycle in the small town of Apiate on Thursday afternoon. The truck caught fire from the collision and exploded about 15 minutes later, as residents were gathered around the scene of the crash, according to a spokesperson for the Ghana Police Service.

Police officers, firefighters, soldiers and medics rushed to the scene to rescue victims. At least 179 people were affected by the "huge" explosion, including at least 13 who died and 45 who were referred to specialist hospitals, the police spokesperson said while cautioning that the numbers could change.

Initial reports estimated the death toll to be higher because some of the wounded were in such bad condition that they were thought to be dead, according to Assistant Commissioner of Police Samuel Kwesi Ofori, who is the director-general of the Ghana Police Service's Public Affairs Directorate.

As of Friday afternoon, 36 victims remain hospitalized and 96 have been discharged, Ofori said.

The powerful blast leveled surrounding buildings, set homes ablaze, knocked out power and left a vast crater in the ground. It took firefighters hours to extinguish the flames, according to a spokesperson for the Ghana National Fire and Rescue Service.

About 384 people have been displaced in the area due to the incident, which remains under investigation, according to Ofori.

Ghanaian Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia traveled on Friday to the site in Apiate, near the mining city of Bogoso, some 180 miles west of Ghana's capital.

"This is a sad day," Bawumia said.

After visiting some of the hospitalized victims, the vice president thanked nurses and doctors for doing "a fantastic job in saving lives."

"The early intervention yesterday has helped a lot," he told reporters outside a hospital. "We want to assure all of those patients and their families, the government is willing to be responsible fully for all their medical bills."

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Massive explosion rocks town in Ghana

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(APPIATSE, Ghana) -- A town in Ghana was rocked by a huge explosion Thursday that sent several people to the hospital, the authorities said.

The Ghana Police Service announced that the explosion took place around 3 p.m. local time in the town of Appiatse, between Bogoso and Bawdie. Buildings and structures were gutted, and debris was scattered in the streets.

A preliminary investigation has determined that the explosion appears to have been caused by a mining vehicle carrying explosives, traveling from Tarkwa to the Chirano mines, colliding with a motorcycle, police said.

"The public has been advised to move out of the area to nearby towns for their safety while recovery efforts are underway," police said in a statement.

First responders and residents scrambled to find victims, with some using construction vehicles to clear debris. Smoke from the explosion could be seen miles away.

Police said victims had been taken to area hospitals but didn't provide any details on the number of victims or the extent of their injuries. The number of fatalities isn't immediately known.

"An appeal is also being made to nearby towns to open up their classrooms, churches, etc. to accommodate surviving victims," police said.

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Nineteen-year-old breaks record of youngest woman to fly solo around the world


(LONDON) -- From flying over an active volcano to surviving in minus 31 degrees Fahrenheit, British-Belgium teen Zara Rutherford has experienced a lot in her five-month journey flying over 40 countries and five continents.

When the 19-year-old landed in Belgium on Thursday, she made history by breaking the record of the youngest woman to ever fly solo around the world. The pilot who previously held the record, Shaesta Waiz, was 30 years old when she completed the journey.

"It's been ... challenging, but so amazing at the same time," Rutherford told ABC News. "I think there're some experiences that I'll just never forget and others that I would wish to forget."

Rutherford embarked on her epic journey with her Shark Aero, a high-performance, two-seat ultralight aircraft manufactured in Europe. The small plane is especially made to withstand long journeys at the cruising speed of 186.4 mph.

Since both of her parents are certified pilots, Rutherford learned her way behind the airplane controls when she was very young.

"Zara's first flight in a very small airplane, was when she was three or four months old. … And frequently, she'd be given the opportunity to sit in the front, to start with, of course, on about six cushions to be able to manipulate the controls and move the aircraft around," Sam Rutherford, Zara's father and a former army helicopter pilot, told ABC News.

But it was not until about five years ago that Rutherford truly realized her passion for flying.

"It only really crystallized into something she actually wanted to do more formally when she was 14, and at 14, she started actually taking flying lessons," Rutherford's father said.

Then teen ran into maintenance problems, COVID-19 complications and visa issues along her journey. She said once she reached Russia, she fully realized the risks of her mission.

"There was no humans. It's too cold. It's like nothing. There's no roads, there's no power like electricity cables. There's nothing, there's no animals, there's no trees. I didn't see a tree for over a month," Rutherford said.

"When you're flying alone and suddenly this challenge comes up, I can't say, 'I'm done. I'm out. I give up.' You have to still land the plane. You have to make sure that you get down on the ground safely," she said.

Still, she was often amazed by the things she saw along the way.

"That is still like the hands down the most amazing thing flying straight over Central Park … because of air space [regulations] you have to fly quite low. And it's quite strange when… some of the buildings still are higher than you like. Wow, this is incredible," the young solo pilot said.

Someone to look up to

Before starting her journey, Rutherford messaged Waiz -- the American-Afghan pilot who previously held the flying record -- on LinkedIn and asked if she would mind if she attempted to break her record.

"'Of course, that's OK. Records are meant to be broken,' I told her," Waiz, who finished her journey in 2017, told ABC News.

"'Not only are you going to fly around the world, but I'm going to do everything I can to help you, because it is an incredible experience and I want [you] to have that,'" she said to Rutherford.

Waiz got on her first plane as an infant, when her family left Afghanistan as refugees during the Soviet–Afghan War and settled in California. She didn't fly again until she was 17.

"I was terrified. But as soon as that plane lifted off, something ignited in me and I just thought to myself, 'This is what I want to do for the rest of my life,'" she recalled.

Changing perspectives

Flying solo around the world, for Rutherford and Waiz, was not just about crossing geographical borders and breaking records, but also about getting to see life from a different perspective.

To Waiz, the unique thing about aviation is the way it takes away all discriminations and differences among people.

"When you're in the airplane and you're flying, it's such an unbiased environment that that aircraft doesn't care where you come from or what you look like," she said.

Rutherford said flying has taught her that life is "fragile," and there is "so much more to life than just getting a good career and making and having a good salary."

She hopes her history-making journey inspires other girls and women to chase their dreams.

"Her aim is actually not to fly around the world. Her aim is to encourage young women and girls to consider and hopefully take up careers in aviation, science, technology, engineering and mathematics," Rutherford's father said. "There's very little point to her flying around the world if nobody gets to hear about it. We all have our own worlds to fly around."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

British police arrest two men in probe of hostage-taking incident at Texas synagogue

Malik Faisal Akram - Obtained by ABC News

(LONDON) -- Two men were arrested in England on Thursday morning as part of an ongoing investigation into a hostage-taking incident at a synagogue in the United States, British authorities said.

Counterterrorism officers detained one of the men in Birmingham and the other in Manchester, about 85 miles north of Birmingham. The pair "remain in custody for questioning," according to a statement from the Greater Manchester Police.

Assistant Chief Constable Dominic Scally of the Greater Manchester Police has said that counterterrorism officers are assisting their U.S. counterparts in the probe of Saturday's hourslong standoff between American authorities and a hostage-taker at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, about 27 miles northwest of Dallas.

An armed man claiming to have planted bombs in the synagogue interrupted Shabbat services on Saturday just before 11 a.m. local time, taking a rabbi and three other people hostage, according to Colleyville Police Chief Michael Miller.

One hostage was released uninjured at around 5 p.m. CT on Saturday, Miller told a press conference later that night. An elite hostage rescue team from the Federal Bureau of Investigation then breached the synagogue at about 9 p.m. CT, after hearing the hostage-taker say he had guns and bombs and was "not afraid to pull the strings," according to a joint intelligence bulletin issued Wednesday and obtained by ABC News.

"As a tactical team approached to make entry to the synagogue, the hostages escaped and were secured by tactical elements," the bulletin said. "The assault team quickly breached the facility at a separate point of entry, and the subject was killed."

No hostages were injured during the incident, according to Miller.

The slain suspect, identified by the FBI as 44-year-old British citizen Malik Faisal Akram, was from the Blackburn area of England's Lancashire county, about 20 miles northwest of Manchester, according to Scally.

A motive for the siege is under investigation. The FBI said in a statement Sunday that the incident "is a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted, and is being investigated by the Joint Terrorism Task Force."

During the negotiations with authorities, Akram "spoke repeatedly about a convicted terrorist who is serving an 86-year prison sentence in the United States on terrorisms charges," according to the FBI.

Multiple law enforcement sources told ABC News that the hostage-taker was demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, who is incarcerated at Carswell Air Force Base near Fort Worth, about 16 miles southwest of Colleyville. Siddiqui, who has alleged ties to al-Qaida, was sentenced to 86 years in prison after being convicted of assault as well as attempted murder of an American soldier in 2010.

Two teenagers were arrested in southern Manchester on Sunday evening in connection with the synagogue attack. They were questioned and later released without being charged, Greater Manchester Police said in a statement Tuesday. Multiple law enforcement sources told ABC News that the teens are Akram's children.

Akram has ancestral ties to Jandeela, a village in Pakistan’s Punjab province, the local police chief told ABC News. He visited Pakistan in 2020 and stayed for five months, the police chief said, a duration that may have been necessitated by COVID-19 restrictions.

Akram has been separated from his wife for two years and has five children, according to the police chief.

After arriving in the U.S. last month via a flight from London to New York City, Akram stayed at homeless shelters at various points and may have portrayed himself as experiencing homelessness in order to gain access to the Texas synagogue during Shabbat services, multiple law enforcement sources told ABC News.

U.S. President Joe Biden, who called the hostage-taking incident "an act of terror," told reporters Sunday that investigators suspect Akram purchased a gun on the street. While Akram is alleged to have claimed he had bombs, investigators have found no evidence that he was in possession of explosives, according to Biden.

ABC News' Luke Barr, Aaron Katersky, Habibullah Khan, Josh Margolin and Joseph Simonetti contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Tonga's undersea cable may take 'weeks' to repair after volcanic eruption

Dana Stephenson//Getty Images

(LONDON) -- It may take weeks to repair an undersea fiber-optic cable connecting Tonga to the rest of the world, which was severed during Saturday's massive eruption of a submarine volcano near the South Pacific archipelago nation.

New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement Wednesday that U.S.-based company SubCom, which builds underwater cable networks across the globe and is the repair contractor for more than 31,000 miles of cable in the South Pacific Ocean, "advises it will take at least four weeks for Tonga's cable connection to be repaired."

The ministry added that Caribbean-based mobile network provider Digicel has set up an interim system on Tonga's main island, Tongatapu, using the University of South Pacific's satellite dish, which may allow a 2G connection to be established Wednesday, though the ministry said it will be "limited and patchy."

Domestic and international communications for Tonga were cut off due to damage to the undersea cable. While limited communication within Tonga has been restored through satellite telephones and high-frequency radio, the internet is still down, the Tongan government said in a statement Tuesday.

Satellite images captured the blast of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano on Saturday evening, with NASA's Earth Observatory calling it "one of the most potent volcanic eruptions in decades."

The explosion "obliterated" the small, uninhabited South Pacific island where the submarine volcano was located, about 40 miles north of Tonga's capital, Nuku'alofa, and "produced an atmospheric shock wave and tsunami that traveled around the world," the observatory said in a statement Saturday.

Nearly 50-foot tsunami waves crashed ashore on several of Tonga's 170 islands, devastating villages, while a huge mushroom-shaped cloud of volcanic ash, steam and gas covered the entire Polynesian kingdom, according to the Tongan government. A search-and-rescue mission was launched the following morning and at least three people have been confirmed dead -- a British national and two Tongan citizens. There were also a number of injuries reported, the Tongan government said.

New Zealand's foreign ministry confirmed Wednesday that no further deaths were reported in Tonga.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement Wednesday that its humanitarian partners on the ground reported the entire population of Tonga -- more than 100,00 people -- had been impacted by volcanic ash and tsunami waves. There's been no reported evidence of ongoing volcanic or tsunami activity within the region in the last 24 hours, according to OCHA.

"However, activity could resume at any time without warning," the agency said.

Data from surveillance flights over Tonga showed up to 100 homes "severely damaged" on Tongatapu and 50 on the nearby island of 'Eua. Mango and Niniva were also "heavily impacted" with structures destroyed and trees uprooted, but those islands are only thinly populated, according to OCHA.

The Tongan government has declared a state of emergency that will last until at least Feb. 13.

Sea and air transportation have been impacted due to continuing large waves in the waters surrounding Tonga as well as volcanic ash blanketing airport runways. Water supplies have also been "seriously affected," the Tongan government said.

Emergency response operations, including distribution of disaster relief supplies, initial assessments of the damages and clean-up of the airports, were still underway Tuesday, according to the Tongan government. New Zealand's foreign ministry said the work to clear airport runways in Tonga is expected to be completed Wednesday.

Australia and New Zealand have dispatched naval ships carrying relief supplies and clean drinking water to Tonga, their South Pacific neighbor. New Zealand's vessels are expected to arrive by Friday, depending on weather conditions, according to New Zealand's foreign ministry.

OCHA said it is understood that ships will be able to dock at Tonga's ports. Meanwhile, relief flights from both Australia and New Zealand are on standby until the Fuaʻamotu International Airport on Tongatapul is operational, according to OCHA.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

New baguette price sparks ire of some in France

MirageC/Getty Images

(PARIS) -- The new price of baguettes at a leading French supermarket is sparking outrage from some.

As of last week, customers in Leclerc stores were greeted with the new baguette price -- 29 cents (in Euros).

The president of the Leclerc supermarket chain, Michel-Édouard Leclerc, announced Jan. 11 that baguettes would remain at that price in Leclerc stores across France for a minimum of four months.

"Yes, blocking the price of the baguette at 29 cents is quite a symbol!" Leclerc tweeted Wednesday, officially launching the initiative, adding that: "The baguette is a benchmark for the evolution of prices and purchasing power for consumers."

That is 10 cents cheaper than Leclerc competitors Intermarché and Super U, and 16 cents less than at Carrefour stores. Meanwhile, the average baguette price in France is 90 cents.

This new price stirred the ire of five key players in the industry that branded the measure as "shameful" and "destructive" in a joint press release signed by the national farmers' union FNSEA, the National Association of French Milling (ANMF), the National Confederation of French Bakery and Pastry shops (CNBPF), the organization representative of the French cereals sector Intercéréales and the General Association of Wheat Producers (AGPB) on Wednesday.

"In France, there are 450,000 people doing all this work in the cereal sector. It's not just bread, but the whole cereal industry. I think it's denigrating the whole industry!" the president of Intercéréales Jean-François Loiseau said to ABC News, arguing that "every day, a French person eats 30 cents worth of bread on average. When Leclerc sells his baguette for 29 cents, if I follow the same proportion, it means that he offers the French to eat bread for 10 cents every day. That's a 20-cent difference every day. Is the subject of purchasing power in France at 20 cents a day, on bread?"

In the joint statement, the five organizations emphasized the difficult circumstances they said they are facing. For many years now, they said they have been fighting to be paid more fairly, while the price of wheat has exploded worldwide in recent months, and production costs are also increasing "strongly."

Some customers had mixed reactions to the pricing announcement.

To Youssef Aïtbaila, 39, who just bought a baguette at the boulangerie Les Pyramides in Colombes, a northwestern suburb of Paris, Leclerc "is right" because "everything has become very expensive."

"It's always good to be able to give everyone access to a cheap baguette because it's true that bread has increased a lot," said Emilie Péré, 38, a client and mother of one.

At the Leclerc store across the street, 30-year-old Justine Grangette wasn't too thrilled about the decision, insisting that it's part of Michel-Edouard Leclerc's "mentality" of cutting prices. "Anyway, I will continue to buy from my local baker."

After an increase in 2021, the purchasing power per household in France is expected to fall by 0.5% in the first half of the year according to an assessement by the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (Insee).

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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