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Ukraine War: CIA Chief Says No Intelligence That Putin Is in Bad Health

Cassandra Sherman



Image source, EPA

There is no intelligence that Vladimir Putin is unstable or in bad health, the director of the CIA has said.

There has been increasing unconfirmed media speculation that Mr Putin, who turns 70 this year, may be suffering from ill health, possibly cancer.

But William Burns said there was no evidence to suggest this, joking that he appeared “too healthy”.

His comments came as the US announced it would provide Ukraine with more long-range weapons.

Earlier Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia’s military focus in Ukraine was no longer “only” the east and implied Moscow’s strategy had changed after the West supplied Ukraine with such weapons.

‘Believer in control’

“There are lots of rumours about President Putin’s health and as far as we can tell he’s entirely too healthy,” Mr Burns said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

Responding to laughter, he added that this was not a formal intelligence judgement.

Mr Burns, who served as ambassador to Moscow, said he had been observing and dealing with the Russian leader for more than two decades.

Mr Putin is “a big believer in control, intimidation and getting even” and these traits have hardened over the last decade as his circle of advisers has contracted, the CIA chief said.

“He is convinced that his destiny as Russia’s leader is to restore Russia as a great power. He believes the key to doing that is to recreate a sphere of influence in Russia’s neighbourhood and he cannot do that without controlling Ukraine.”

Image source, Getty Images

Mr Burns travelled to Moscow in November to warn about the serious consequences for invading Ukraine following intelligence the US had collected about Russia’s plans. But the CIA director said he left “more troubled than when I arrived”.

The Russian president’s plans were based on “profoundly flawed assumptions and some real illusions especially about Ukraine and the will to resist”, Mr Burns said.

“Putin really does believe his rhetoric. I’ve heard him say this privately over the years that Ukraine is not a real country.

“Well, real countries fight back. And that’s what the Ukrainians have done.”

The US estimates that Russian casualties in Ukraine so far have reached around 15,000 killed and perhaps 45,000 wounded, Mr Burns said. He estimated that Ukrainian losses were a little less.

He added Russia’s current concentration of forces in the Donbas suggested the military had learned hard lessons.

Russia invaded Ukraine in February, claiming falsely that Russian-speakers in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region had suffered a genocide and needed to be liberated.

Five months on, Russia has occupied parts of the east and south of the country, but it failed in its original aim of capturing Kyiv and has since claimed its main objective was the liberation of Donbas.

The US has accused Russia of preparing to annex parts of Ukraine.

Image source, BBC

But earlier on Wednesday the Russian foreign minister implied the US supplying long-range weapons could broaden Moscow’s military focus in Ukraine.

Despite Mr Lavrov’s apparent warnings, the US on Wednesday announced it would provide Ukraine with more long-range weapons.

Ukraine will receive another four Himars advanced rocket systems to hold the advance of Russian troops, bringing the total number to 16, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said.

Meanwhile Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska addressed US Congress, asking for more air-defence systems to “help us to stop this terror against Ukrainians”.

She said the weapons could help assure a “joint great victory”.

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Kabul Mosque Attack: ‘Many Casualties Feared’

Cassandra Sherman



A huge explosion has ripped through a mosque in the Afghan capital Kabul, police say.

The blast is thought to have occurred during evening prayers, killing at least three people and injuring dozens more, according to the NGO Emergency.

Khalid Zadran, the Taliban’s Kabul police spokesman, was quoted by local media as saying there had been an explosion in the city’s north-west.

Reports say the Siddiqi mosque’s imam was among the dead.

It is unclear who was behind the attack, which comes the week after a prominent pro-Taliban cleric was killed in a suicide bomb blast, also in Kabul. The Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the earlier attack.

Security forces have arrived at the scene, in a northern Kabul neighbourhood, the spokesman added.

Italian NGO Emergency – which operates in Kabul – said three deaths have been recorded so far.

The NGO also tweeted to say it had received 27 people wounded in the blast, including children. “Five children [were] among them, including a seven-year-old,” it said.

A Taliban intelligence official told news agency Reuters that as many as 35 people may have been wounded or killed, and the toll could rise further.

Witnesses described hearing a powerful explosion which shattered windows in nearby buildings.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the explosion took place at a mosque among worshippers in the Khair Khana area of Kabul.

Intelligence teams were at the blast site and investigations are ongoing, they added.

A spokesman for the Taliban said it strongly condemned the attack.

IS focus seems to be widening

The mosque was crowded, the bomb powerful, and another cleric seems to have been in the sights of IS (Islamic State), the group which has emerged as the Taliban’s most potent enemy.

In the past month, three prominent religious leaders were targeted in Kabul and there were assassinations in other cities.

Last week it was Sheikh Rahimullah Haqqani, known to be close to the Taliban. This time it’s Amir Muhammad Kabuli, said to be an adherent of the more moderate Sufi faith.

Video posted on social media showed a scene of carnage.

One religious student who was just outside the mosque told the BBC he saw the bodies of the dead and injured sprawled inside, including children attending evening prayers.

IS’s signature has been its devastating attacks on the minority Shia Hazara community. But their focus now seems to be widening just as the Taliban celebrate their one year in power – a takeover which ended one chapter of a long bloody war but only ushered in yet another.

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Liz Cheney: Trump Critic Blasts Republican ‘personality Cult’ After Defeat

Cassandra Sherman



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A leading Republican critic of Donald Trump says the party has “embraced his cult of personality” after she was ousted in a primary election.

Liz Cheney, 56, was defeated by the political newcomer and Trump-backed candidate Harriet Hageman in Wyoming.

She had faced an uphill battle to win re-election after joining the congressional committee investigating Mr Trump’s attempts to cling to power.

Ms Cheney – once a rising star in the party – also voted to impeach Mr Trump.

The primary election in the broadly conservative state highlighted the competing wings of the Republican Party – with more traditional conservatives facing off against Trump-backed candidates around the country ahead of mid-term elections in November.

The result means Ms Cheney, a three-term congresswoman and the eldest daughter of former Vice-President Dick Cheney, will not contest her seat in the US House of Representatives which she has held since 2017.

It illustrated the continuing influence of Mr Trump, who has backed dozens of candidates ahead of the mid-term elections that will determine control of Congress as well as governorships and state legislatures.

And those candidates – who have mostly repeated his false claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election and defended him amid mounting legal troubles – have performed well.

“I think the Republican Party today is in very bad shape,” Ms Cheney told the Today programme on NBC. “The party… embraced Donald Trump [and] embraced his cult of personality.”

Ms Cheney won her primary in 2020 by a wide margin, and she told the programme that she believed she would have been successful once again had she repeated Mr Trump’s unfounded claims of voter fraud.

“That path would have required that I accept, that I embrace, that I perpetuate the Big Lie,” she said.

Ms Hageman – who ran to be Wyoming governor in 2018 – was handpicked by the former president and has said she believes the election Mr Trump ultimately lost to President Joe Biden was “rigged”.

In her victory speech, she said the primary result showed Republicans will “hold our elected officials accountable for their actions” and “dislodge entrenched politicians”.

The 59-year-old spent decades as a trial lawyer, with a particular focus on defending the interests of the energy and mining sector while opposing environmental policies.

While she has since praised Mr Trump’s record as president, Ms Hageman described the former president as “racist and xenophobic” before the 2016 election.

“[I] heard and believed the lies the Democrats and Liz Cheney’s friends in the media were telling at the time,” she told the New York Times last year.

Image source, Reuters

Ms Cheney became a virtual outcast within her party over her criticism of Mr Trump. Only two of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach him after his supporters attacked the US Capitol last year have successfully maintained their places on the ticket for re-election.

Speaking to Today, Ms Cheney said it was “dangerous” to elect officials who questioned the result of that election and described it as a “red line” that she would continue to resist.

“I am absolutely going to continue this battle,” she said, before vowing to do “whatever it takes” to stop Mr Trump from returning to the White House.

There had been speculation in the lead-up to the primary that Ms Cheney was preparing to challenge Mr Trump for the Republican nomination in 2024. “[It] is something I’m thinking about and I’ll make a decision in the coming months,” she told Today.

Mr Trump earlier congratulated Ms Hageman on her victory in a post on his social media platform, Truth Social.

“Liz Cheney should be ashamed of herself, the way she acted, and her spiteful, sanctimonious words and actions towards others,” he wrote. “Now she can finally disappear into the depths of political oblivion.”

Elsewhere, Republican Sarah Palin – who is eyeing a political comeback – has advanced to November’s election in Alaska in the race to represent the state in the House of Representatives.

She rose to prominence as a vice-presidential candidate in 2008, and Mr Trump is her key ally and supporter.

In the state’s Senate race, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, 65, who has defied Mr Trump, is through to November’s poll.

But under new voting rules one of her opponents will be another Republican, Trump-backed Kelly Tshibaka, 42.

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North Korea Leader Kim Jong-un ‘suffered Fever’ During Covid Outbreak, Says Sister

Cassandra Sherman



Image source, Getty Images

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un suffered from “fever” during the Covid outbreak, his sister has said – in what appears to be the first suggestion he had the virus.

Sister Kim Yo-jong said her brother had been “seriously ill” but praised him for carrying on, state media reported.

Her comments came in a speech as the North Korean leader declared victory in the country’s battle against Covid.

Mr Kim ordered restrictions to be lifted and hailed the “miracle” of just 74 virus deaths.

Speaking on Wednesday at a meeting with health workers and scientists, he declared a “shining victory” over the virus and praised the “indomitable tenacity” of North Koreans, KCNA reported.

North Korea refers to “fever” rather than coronavirus patients due to a lack of testing equipment.

The secretive country announced its first Covid outbreak in May and has reported fever infections and deaths since. But there is widespread doubt over the data, especially the number of deaths.

In a speech reported by state news agency KCNA, Ms Kim praised her brother, saying: “Even though he was seriously ill with a high fever, he could not lie down for a moment thinking about the people he had to take care of until the end in the face of the anti-epidemic war.”

In her speech Ms Kim also blamed leaflets from South Korea for causing the outbreak in the North.

North Korea has not reported any new suspected cases since 29 July – but international observers say the country has limited testing.

KCNA claims there have been 4.8 million infections since late April, but only 74 deaths, which is a fatality rate of 0.002% – the lowest in the world.

Many experts find these statistics hard to believe. They say the country has one of the world’s worst healthcare systems with few intensive care units and no Covid treatment drugs or vaccines.

The country has not rolled out any vaccination programme during the pandemic, relying instead on lockdowns, homegrown treatments, and what Mr Kim has called the “advantageous Korean-style socialist system”.

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