Russia Could Invade Ukraine “At Any Point” As U.S. Attempts To Resolve Standoff

As Russia continues to build up troops — which now range near an estimated 127,000 — at the Ukraine border, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has stated that while the country doesn’t intend to invade like the West fears, the Kremlin will need guarantees that forbid Ukraine joining NATO.

“For us, it’s absolutely mandatory to make sure that Ukraine never, never, ever becomes a member of NATO,” Ryabkov stated on Monday following an eight hour-long meeting with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in Geneva, Switzerland.

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Sherman countered Ryabkov’s wishes by emphasizing that the U.S. will “never allow anyone” to close NATO’s open-door policy, and that Russia will not be able to dictate how the U.S. works with foreign countries. “We will not make decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine,” Sherman said.

Despite Ryabkov’s claims that Russia doesn’t intend on invading, the White House believes an attack could be imminent, with Press Secretary Jen Psaki calling the situation extremely dangerous and more stark than previously during her briefing Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Russia has been reducing its embassy staff in Ukraine, with the New York Times reporting 48 workers have left the country since Jan. 5 –  another sign that a head to this conflict could be coming soon. However, Moscow has denied these actions while assuring the embassy is operating normally.

Sherman wasn’t the only U.S. official making diplomatic efforts this week. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Ukraine to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and is scheduled to meet with Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Friday.

Blinken gave Zelenskyy a warning similar to Psaki’s, saying an invasion could come at “short notice.” Blinken also acknowledged that Ukraine is facing an “unprecedented threat” and repeated his sentiments from back in early December, saying Russia still faces severe economic consequences should they go through with their attack.

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France President Emmanuel Macron has urged for a European “collective security” pact. This would include principles that allow the “rejection of use of force or coercion,” giving countries the choice to reject spheres of influence and join alliances or bodies as they wish.

Macron added that “frank and demanding dialogue” between the EU and Russia would be necessary for a collective security pact, and that relying on talks between Moscow and D.C. is simply not enough. Macron expressed hopes of revitalizing a four-way talk between Germany, Russia, France, and Ukraine in order to find a solution.

Experts anticipate Russia which touts an will accuse Ukraine of a provocation before moving forward with any operations. NBC News detailed a number of possible options Russian President Vladimir Putin could take, ranging from blocking off Ukraine’s army and ports to seizing the eastern half of the country.

According to Ukrainian officials, Russia could utilize ally Belarus — which shares a border with Ukraine — as a launching stage for a multi-headed invasion. Moscow has started moving troops to Belarus for joint military drills, where they’ll rehearse repelling attacks. The two countries previously held a Zapad (West) military exercise in September, which consisted of 200,000 troops.

According to CNN, in addition to sanctions that would be thrown down should Russia attack, the Biden administration is also considering providing Ukraine forces with further ammunition, mortars, Javelin anti-tank missiles, and anti-aircraft missile systems through NATO allies.

Other methods of U.S. assistance include additional arms sales and advice in order to stay in the right against a superior and formidable Russian force, an administration official told CNN.

Omicron Could Infect 50% Of Europeans Within Next Two Months

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned this week that a west-to-east “tidal wave” of new Omicron infections could infect more than half of Europe’s population within the next two months. The WHO stated that the wave of infections could potentially shut down multiple health systems across Europe which would leave more individuals at risk for infection. 

The WHO’s Europe director, Hans Kluge, said that the region has already recorded more than 7 million new cases of Covid within the first week of 2022, which is two-times the amount of infections when compared to two weeks ago. More than 1% of the European population is catching Covid each week within 29 countries, according to WHO’s data. 

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Kluge also explained how the Omicron variant has been reported in 50 out of Europe’s 53 states, and was becoming the dominant strain in western Europe.

“At this rate, more than 50% of the population in the region will be infected with Omicron in the next six to eight weeks. We’re deeply concerned, as we have yet to see its full impact in countries where levels of vaccination uptake are lower, and where we will see more severe disease in the unvaccinated,” Kluge explained. 

Kluge explained that Omicron cases have specifically “exploded” in Denmark, where the current Covid-19 hospitalization rate for unvaccinated patients is six times higher than for those who are fully vaccinated. 

“While vaccines provide good protection against severe disease and death, rising hospital admissions are still challenging health systems and service delivery in many countries … and threaten to overwhelm them in many more.”

The WHO warned that countries in Europe that have yet to be impacted by Omicron have a small window of time to protect themselves and their most vulnerable citizens. 

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Kluge explained how every country’s government should be mandating high-quality masks in every closed and indoor space, as well as ensuring individuals have their full vaccine series and booster doses when applicable. 

“Where the Omicron surge has begun, the priority should be to avoid and reduce harm among the vulnerable, and minimize disruption to health systems and essential services.”

“This means prioritizing vulnerable people for primary course and booster doses, advising them to avoid closed, crowded spaces, and offering the possibility to work remotely wherever possible until the infection surge passes,” Kluge said.

He continued to explain how PCR testing should be prioritized for critical workers and individuals more at risk for severe disease, and rapid tests should be sent out at a larger rate. 

Keeping schools open had “important benefits for children’s mental, social and educational wellbeing, so we’re urging governments to review protocols on testing, isolation and quarantine of classroom contacts to minimize disruption to learning,” Kluge explained.

Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Media Outlet Forced To Close After Raids And Arrests

Hong Kong’s Stand News, a nonprofit, pro-democracy media outlet, was forced to shut down Wednesday after over 200 police officers swiftly initiated a raid on its office and arrested several editors, journalists, and other members.

According to the Associated Press, Stand News’ website and social media will be taken down, while all of the outlets’ employees have been released immediately. Authorities additionally seized what they referred to as “relevant” journalist materials, while freezing News Stands’ assets.

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Among the several arrested was pop star Denise Ho, a board member who CNN notes became the face of the pro-democratic movement in Hong Kong, having appeared before the United Nations and the U.S. Congress.

Others taken include former editor-in-chief Chung Pui-Keun, socialite Christine Fang, legislator Margaret Ng, and acting chief editor Patrick Lam. The police National Security Department has yet to officially refer to their detainees by names, only specifying ages and genders in press releases.

According to the national security police, those arrested were accused of “conspiracy to publish seditious material,” a law that goes back all the way to British colonialism times. AP noted that if found guilty, the convicted could face up to two years in prison and a fine up to 5,000 Hong Kong dollars, or $640 U.S. dollars.

In a press conference, police National Security Department senior superintendent Li Kwai-wah claimed they weren’t targeting only reporters and media, but “national security offenses.” As to how the media could avoid committing offenses, Li simply stated to “not be biased,” and that reporters should know to be responsible. “That’s all I can give you,” Li said.

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In June, Apple Daily was also shut down by Hong Kong authorities for similar “seditious” writing and had $2.5 million of its assets frozen. Editor — as well as the founder, Jimmy Lai Chee-ying — have been given new sedition charges as they continue to await their trial.

Following Apply Daily’s shutdown, Stand News suspended their subscriptions in addition to removing  older op-ed and comment pieces. This was done as a way to prevent their supporters’ money from being wasted in the event they were cracked down on as well.

Now, others are worried that Stand News’ end could signal the death of democracy in the region. Speaking to The Guardian, exiled pro-democracy advocate expressed that other outlets using freedom of speech could see similar consequences.

“They are making it illegal to do honest reporting. If you ‘incite hatred’ to the government by reporting truthful news, you are also subject to this law, which means you can only talk about the positive side of the government now. This is the signal they are trying to send.”

In a statement, the Hong Kong Journalist Association (HKJA) also showed their concern over the arrests while urging the government to protect press freedom in accordance with the Basic Law, a mini constitution. HKJA also acknowledge that their own chairman — and Stand News deputy assignment editor — Ronson Chan Ron-sing while taken by police. The AP  reported Chan was later released.

Journalism isn’t the only platform where Hong Kong is limiting democracy and freedom of speech. NBC News noted that no politicians from any pro-democratic party ran during the Chinese territory’s legislative election held in late Dec. Many have been either barred from running, are in prison, or exiled.

USA China Trade War 2

Harvard Professor Found Guilty Of Lying About Ties With China Government

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Tuesday in a release that Dr. Charles Leiber, a professor and former Chair of Harvard University’s Chemistry and Chemical Biological Department, has been found guilty of lying to federal authorities about his connection with the People’s Republic of China’s Thousand Talents Program and the Wuhan University of Technology (WUT).

Leiber was also found guilty of failing to report the income he received from WUT. Leiber was originally charged on two counts of making false statements to federal authorities, two counts of making and subscribing a false income tax return, and two counts of failing to file reports of foreign and financial accounts (FBAR) with the IRS. Leiber, 62, previously pleaded not guilty to all charges.

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After five days of testimonies, the trial ended with the jury deliberating for two hours and 45 minutes. Leiber’s — who was arrested in January of 2020 — sentencing will come later at a yet-to-be-scheduled date. Leiber is currently facing up to 13 years in prison, 7 years of supervised release, and fines over $500k.

According to the Justice Department, Leiber became a “strategic scientist” at WUT and a contractual participant for Thousand Talents — a recruitment program for scientific talent to further the country’s scientific, economic, and security endeavors — from 2012 to 2015, which Havard was unaware of. Per Leiber’s Thousand Talents contract, WUT paid Leiber a salary of $50,000 per month, living expenses up to $150,000, and awarded him over $1.5 million to establish a nanoscience research lab at WUT.

Leiber additionally opened a bank account with WUT officials at a Wuhan Bank during a trip in 2012, where he deposited parts of his salary from 2013 to 2015. The DOJ states that U.S. taxpayers are required to report any existence of foreign accounts that hold more than $10,000 at a time, which Leiber failed to do in 2014 and 2015.

Leiber’s defense attorney had priorly stated that prosecutors would be unable to prove Leiber “knowingly, witfully, or intentionally” made false statements regarding his connections to WUT and Thousand Talents, while adding Leiber hadn’t been charged with handing over information or technology to China.

Acting U.S. attorney Nathaniel Mendell said in a statement that there is no question Leiber lied to authorities and Harvard about his involvement, adding that “the jury followed the evidence and the law to a just verdict.”

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As the Associated Press notes, Leiber’s trial is one of the highest-profile cases in the Justice Department’s “China Initiative,” which began back in 2018 under the Trump administration. According to the DOJ, “the initiative focuses on protecting our critical infrastructure against external threats through foreign direct investment and supply chain compromises, as well as combatting covert efforts to influence the American public and policymakers without proper transparency.”

However, the initiative has received backlash for potential harm to academic research, the direction and definition of the program, and racially profiling Chinese researchers. MIT Technology Review reported that 90% of all defendants are of Chinese heritage, while also claiming many of the initiative cases “have little or no obvious connection to national security or the theft of trade secrets.”

Spanish Volcano Falls Silent After Months Of Eruption, Leaving Scientists Wary

For the first time in months, the Cumbre Vieja volcano has stopped spewing lava – although scientists are still concerned that the silence doesn’t mean the eruption is over.

Cumbre Vieja, located in Spain’s La Palma Island — part of the Canary Islands — started erupting back on Sept. 19, sending the lives of thousands spiraling. The volcano’s awakening now holds the record for La Palma’s longest eruption, having been active for 88 days.

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Experts have not detected any seismic activity since Monday night. However, according to Involcan, Canary Islands’ Volcanology Institute, it “does not imply a terminator of the eruption, as its cessation has sometimes been followed by a further increase in activity.” Involcan did note this has been the longest tremor-free interval since the eruption began.

There’s no doubt the experts have a right to be cautious – after several days of low activities, the volcano once again sprung to life on Sunday. Authorities noted the eruption also triggered more than two dozen earthquakes from Saturday into Sunday, though none of which were felt by residents.

Talking to Spanish public broadcaster RTVE, state official Mariano Hernández called the situation stable, but admitted that scientists have not given an estimate as to when the unpredictable eruption will finally come to a close. Hernández added that experts continue to monitor the number and magnitudes of the earthquakes.

On Monday, Spain ordered 30,000 people on La Palma — which has a total population of over 84,000 — to remain indoors due to the toxic gases and ash emitted from the eruption. Authorities advised the residents to close their doors, windows, and shutters in order to prevent air from coming in, as well as to turn off their air conditioning and heating.

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According to CBS News, more than 7,000 have been evacuated since the volcano first erupted. Although there have been no related injuries or deaths and the majority of the Island has been unaffected, more than 3,000 buildings were destroyed throughout the process.

The streams of lava and ash have covered 1,220 hectares — or 3014 acres — of land, which much of that area being farmlands. Deltas around 50 hectares — 123 acres — have also formed on the La Palma coast as a result. Deltas are viewed as hazards, as they are unstable and prone to collapse or explosions.

Despite the dangerousness of the situation, that didn’t stop tourists from flocking to see the eruptions with their own eyes – even having a drink while they watch. That lack of care has clearly stuck with those affected, as La Palma Island resident Estefania Martin showed while speaking with NPR.

“People who visit cannot imagine the worry, the sadness, the uncertainty about where you’ll be tomorrow and what to do with your life, and that you might have even lost your job.”

The volcano has only erupted three times since 1900. The first came in 1949, and lasted for 37 days. The second eruption occured in 1971, which lasted 24 days. Both instances, as well as the current eruption, hold a VEI (volcanic explosivity index) of two. That number classifies them as being between “small” and “medium.”

Myanmar’s Deposed Civilian Leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, Faces Two Years In Jail 

Myanmar’s deposed civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is currently facing two years in jail after her original sentence was halved by the country’s military this week. 

Previously, Suu Kyi was sentenced to four years in prison on charges of incitement and breaking Covid-19 rules. This marks the first verdict against the Nobel Peace Prize winner since the military seized power back in February. 

Suu Kyi, 76, was Myanmar’s state counselor and de facto leader of the country before she was ousted and detained by the military ten months ago and slammed with almost a dozen charges that when combined added up to a maximum sentence of 100 years. 

According to media reports, several of the charges involved corruption, which each carry a maximum prison sentence of 15 years, violating Covid-19 pandemic restrictions during the 2020 election campaign, incitement, illegally importing and possessing walkie talkies, and breaking the colonial-era Official Secrets Act — which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.”

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Suu Kyi has rejected all allegations and her supporters are claiming that the charges against her are political. The Zabuthiri Court in Naypyidaw initially sentences Suu Kyi to two years in prison after they found her guilty of incitement, and two years after being found guilty of violating section 25 of Disaster Management Law. The military later cut down both sentences to one year. 

Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns, Ming Yu Hah, said in a statement, “the farcical and corrupt decision is part of a devastating pattern of arbitrary punishment.”

“The harsh sentences handed down to Aung San Suu Kyi on these bogus charges are the latest example of the military’s determination to eliminate all opposition and suffocate freedoms in Myanmar.”

“There are many detainees without the profile of Aung San Suu Kyi who currently face the terrifying prospect of years behind bars simply for peacefully exercising their human rights. They must not be forgotten and left to their fate,” Yu Hah expressed. 

More than 1,300 people have been killed by Myanmar security forces since the initial coup, and more than 10,000 individuals have been arrested according to advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. 

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The United Nations Security Council called for an immediate cessation of violence across Myanmar as troops continued to increase tension and hostility towards civilian militias. Nationwide protests against the junta troops have been occurring since the coup, and all have been met with brutal crackdowns and media suppression. 

“As violence escalates, displacing tens of thousands of people and setting up a humanitarian crisis in the middle of an ongoing pandemic, the situation in Myanmar today is alarming in the extreme. Without a decisive, unified and swift international response this can and will get worse.”

The verdict came one day after security forces entered into a protest in the city of Yangon. At least five people were killed due to a vehicle plowing through anti-junta protesters. One reporter who witnessed the incident told media outlets that it was a military vehicle that rammed through demonstrators. 

According to a statement from Myanmar’s military, eleven protesters were arrested, including two men and one woman who were injured. The statement from the military did not acknowledge the reported deaths or vehicle attack. 

The UN in Myanmar condemned the incident slamming the “reported attack on a number of unarmed civilians in Kyimyindaing Township, Yangon, in which a vehicle belonging to security forces rammed into protesters who were then fired upon with live ammunition leading to deaths and injuries to numerous people.”

U.S. Warns Russia Of “Serious Consequences” If Troops Initiate Conflict At Ukraine Border

On the Ukraine border, a storm is brewing in the form of Kremlin fighters, rifles, and tanks. Around 100,000 troops have gathered at the border, and while this is happened before — Russia gathered and eventually pulled back forces in April — many experts believe this movement is more serious, and could drag Europe and the U.S. into a military conflict.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) summit in Stockholm that if “Russia decides to pursue confrontation, there will be serious consequences.” Blinken added that diplomacy is the best way to avoid any pending conflicts, and called for Russia to pull back its troops.

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While the meeting between Blinken and Lavrov did not produce any solutions, the two have agreed to continue diplomatic conversations, according to State Department officials. Blinken also stated that the two will relay their talks to Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin, and the two Presidents could “speak directly in the near future.”

Moscow has continued to deny any plans for an invasion, and accused Ukraine and its allies of making up claims in order to cover up their own aggressive actions and military build-ups. Russia also stated on Thursday that it arrested three suspected Ukrainian security service agents.

Speaking to NBC News, former U.S. ambassador and Atlantic Council senior director John Herbst explained that if the Kremlin wanted to quickly conduct an invasion, nothing would hold them back from doing just that.

“Moscow is so positioned that they can move with very little warning. They’re certainly threatening. And they’re in a position that if they want to, they can do it.”

Prior to the OSCE meeting, Blinken explained that they were deeply concerned by evidence that Russia had made plans for “significant aggressive” moves, and that they don’t know what Putin has decided in regards to an invasion.

In a speech, Lavrov claimed that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was refusing to consider proposals that would help to deescalate the situation, and warned NATO against turning countries neighboring Russia into “bridgeheads of confrontation.”

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Russia has also been accused of playing a hand in the continuing Belarus-Poland border crisis, which Euronews reports Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said is “absolutely connected” to the Kremlin’s military build-up.

These [are] all absolutely connected factors which lead to the aggression from Russia side, which lead to the using of energy [supplies] against Europe and against Ukraine’s European inspirations.”

Russia and Belarus held a week-long open Zapad (“West”) military exercise on NATO’s border in September. The exercise consisted of 200,000 troops and came after an effort to integrate the two countries while creating a “single defense space.”

Ukraine and Russia have a long history of tensions since Ukraine broke away following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 2014, Russia seized control of the Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula where citizens are ethnically Russian. Russia proceeded to hold a referendum and annexed Crimea.

Putin published a paper in July, arguing that Ukraine is part of historical Russia. Putin also claimed that the two countries’ spiritual unity has been attacked, and that Russia has never been — and will never be — “anti-Ukraine.”

Experts Warn Omicron Covid Variant Is A ‘Reason To Be Worried’

The Omicron Covid-19 variant was first detected in South Africa, and has now spread to 14 countries, with some experts claiming the variant has already reached the US. Scientists are working to figure out how much more dangerous and contagious the new variant is when compared to other variants, especially as international governments race to ease travel restrictions. 

The US has been imposing travel restrictions on travelers from South Africa since Monday, as well as other countries around the region. The variant has already been confirmed in Canada, and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former head of the Food and Drug Administration, discussed the variant on the news recently. 

“The new variant is likely already in the United States, but the government is better positioned to detect cases of the new strain than it was a year ago.”

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As of this week, most travelers from southern Africa are barred from entering the United States, and restrictions have been renewed for all travel from southern Africa to most European countries. Within 36 hours of discovering the new strain, scientists in South Africa alerted the world and began testing current vaccines against the strain immediately. Dr. Anthony Fauci discussed the increased risk for unvaccinated Americans when it comes to any variant. 

“The US certainly has the potential to go into a fifth wave of high infections if enough people don’t come forward for vaccination and booster shots.”

South Africa’s government and president, however, are worried that the region is being unjustly blamed for the new variant, when the reality is these variants only have the opportunity to develop due to uneven distribution of the Covid-19 vaccines throughout the world. 

“We want all travel bans to be reversed, as they have no basis in science. These restrictions are completely unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country,” South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa said. 

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“I think there’s good reason to be worried. I don’t think that means that we’re powerless, answers are coming. We need to collect data. We need to investigate and understand this variant,” said Professor Anne Van Gottberg of South Africa’s Institute for Communicable Diseases.

“We should be doing the things that we know work when you’re dealing with a pandemic virus. It’s not the time to panic. We should be concerned, and our concern should spur us to do the things that we know work,” Dr. Fauci said.

Fauci explained that “the concern over the new variant comes from the number and type of mutations found around the spike protein, the part of the virus molecule that allows it to attach itself to human cells. The high number of mutations and where they were found suggests that this would be more transmissible, and also suggests that it might evade some of the immune parameters that we have, such as antibody and plasma treatments, and the current vaccines.”

“It appears to be spreading very readily and has a transmission advantage. One of the key things we don’t know right now is whether the new variant causes more severe COVID-19 symptoms than previous strains.”

Omicron currently accounts for more than 2,000 new daily cases in South Africa. One expert in the nation is worried that the daily infection rate could triple within the next week alone. 

“I am expecting we will top over 10,000 cases by the end of the week per day,” Dr Salim Abdool Karim said during an online press briefing by the Health Ministry.

Smoggy Air Pollution Forces India to Close Schools, Consider Lockdown

Due to the expansive smog from air pollution that surrounds India’s capital, New Delhi, the country’s authorities have announced schools and five coal-burning power plants will be shut down indefinitely.

The New Delhi state government is also considering a weekend-long lockdown, which would reduce traffic and other air-polluting activities. The government is currently waiting on a decision from India’s supreme court, which could come by Nov. 24.

According to Aljazeera, “anti-smog guns” and water sprinklers have been set up to operate at various hot spots at least three times a day, while trucks carrying essential goods aren’t allowed to enter the capitol until Nov. 21.

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Despite the city putting a ban on fireworks, many disregarded the rule and set them off during the festival of Diwali. Those incidents only made the smog and the air quality levels worse and extremely dangerous to citizens.

As ABC News notes, coal accounts for 70% of India’s power. The city — which houses over 21 million — has recorded PM2.5 (particulate matter) concentration levels around 222, almost 44.5 times above the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended number.

The current air quality index (AQI) has been recorded anywhere from the 200s to the 400s. 200 to 300 is classified as “unhealthy,” while 300 and above is considered “dangerous.” 0 to 50 AQI values are considered “good,” while values between 50 to 100 is classified as “moderate.” Air pollution can cause a number of diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular, and respiratory.

While a lockdown might initially sound like a helpful measure, some argue that it would make very little progress in relieving air pollution while also hurting the economy and the lives of millions. Speaking to ABC News, the Center for Science and Environment’s executive director Anumita Roychowdhury echoed these sentiments.

“This is not the solution that we are looking for, because this is hugely disruptive. And we also have to keep in mind that the economy is already under pressure, poor people are at risk.”

During the United Nations climate summit, India Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the country would cut emissions to net zero by 2070, and expressed intentions to scale up its use of renewable energy and having solar and wind account for half of India’s electricity by 2030.

However, India, which has a total population of 1.3 billion, has shown a reluctancy to completely stop their coal usage. Towards the end of the summit, India changed the phrasing of “phase out” to “phase down” in the compromise agreement, showing coal-based energy is still very much in their future plans.

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According to Scientific America, India phasing out coal requires insuring that renewable energy is fed into the energy grid. However, doing that needs more storage and better technology. India also lacks alternative methods of fossil fuel.

A study found that in 2019, 1.67 million Indians died from air pollution-related causes — the highest total of any country in the world — while also accounting for $36 billion in economic losses. Air pollution accounted for 17.8% of the country’s total deaths.

India also has 22 of the world’s 30 most air polluted cities, with nine in the top 10. Ghaziabad ranks second with a 2020 average of 106.6 PM2.5.

Migrants And Troops Gather At Poland-Belarus Border, Heightening Tensions

At the Poland-Belarus border, tensions are escalating by the minute. The stranded group of 3,000-4,000 migrants at the border have made a number of attempts, including three “large scale” endeavors, to breach the frontier over the past week, but were driven back by the force of 15,000 soldiers and border guards Poland mobilized.

Videos released by Polish authorities show migrants, who are forced to endure freezing temperatures that reach below zero throughout the night at their camps, using shovels and wire cutters in order to break through fencing while being fended off with tear gas.

Authorities say several migrants have been found dead at the border, likely due to the weather conditions and lack of food, water, and medical supplies. The crisis is expected to only grow worse over the coming days.

While saying the situation is difficult, Polish Border Guard head Ewelina Szczepańska expressed confidence in Poland’s security to CNN. Poland’s Ministry of Defense noted that the migrants are camped out in the Kuznica region and are being guarded by Belarusian services.

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The Belarus State Border Committee has said that the migrants do not pose any kind of security threat or behave aggressively, and instead wish to enter the country as refugees. According to a Polish Guard spokesman, Belarusian services are responsible for moving large groups of migrants to the border.

Lithuania, which shares a border with Poland and Belarus, has announced its intentions to redeploy troops as well, while also being prepared for “all possible scenarios.”

The European Union (EU), the United States, and NATO have accused Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko of “manufacturing” a migrant crisis on the EU eastern frontier by directing Middle Eastern migrants to Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia in an act of revenge for sanctions over human right abuses. Lukashenko and his regime have denied all accusations, instead blaming the West for their migrant conduct.

These sanctions, along with visa restrictions, were announced by the U.S. Department of State back in August, which not only stated were in regards to the “increased repression and deteriorating human rights situation” that was unfolding in Belarus, but also acknowledged the anniversary of the fraudulent Belarus election that allowed Lukashenko to continue his reign, which started back in 1994.

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According to Reuters, more sanctions are on the way for Belarus. The EU’s 27 ambassadors met Wednesday, agreeing that the massing of migrants on the Poland-Belarus border amounts to “hybrid warfare” and provides a basis for additional sanctions.

Poland’s Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, has accused Vladimir Putin and Russia of being the “masterminds” behind the ongoing crisis, due to its strong support for Lukashenko and Belarus. The Kremlin denied those claims while also flying two nuclear-capable Tu-22M3 bombers over the border Wednesday as a show of strength.

After German police reported an uptick in migrants illegally entering Germany, Poland announced its plans to spend 1.6 billion zlotys ($4.4 million) on building a wall, which would include motion sensors and cameras, on the Belarus border. Poland had previously been building barbed-wire fencing.

Many have criticized Poland of violating the international right for asylum, to which the country replied that their actions are legal. Poland saw 13.3 million immigrants enter the country in 2020, down from 16.6 million in 2019 – which was the highest total the country had dealt with in the past two decades.