Adrian Olivier,

Sunday 5 May – Sunday 12 May:

On Monday, a New York judge threatened to put Donald Trump in jail if he violated his gag order again. Judge Juan Merchan began Monday’s court session by finding Trump in contempt for violating his gag order a 10th time – each violation came with a $1,000 fine. Merchan then issued his warning, saying “Mr. Trump, it’s important to understand that the last thing I want to do is to put you in jail.” The judge continued saying that he was “aware of the broader implications of such a sanction. The magnitude of such a decision is not one-sided.” But the judge said his job was to “protect the dignity of the judicial system and compel respect.” “Your continued violations of this Court’s lawful order threaten to interfere with the administration of justice in constant attacks, which constitute a direct attack on the rule of law. I cannot allow that to continue,” Merchan said. “As much as I do not want to impose a jail sanction, and I have done everything I can to avoid doing so, I want you to understand that I will, if necessary and appropriate.” Trump was looking at Merchan as he spoke, and he shook his head when the court provided a paper copy of the judge’s order. That gag order bars Trump from commenting on witnesses, court staff or the jury. Trump has not been accused of violating the gag order in the days following the second hearing in front of the judge. But if prosecutors ultimately raise another violation before the end of the trial, Merchan will have a consequential decision to make.

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin was sworn in for a fifth term which will last six years. Putin gave an inauguration speech in which he said tensions with the West had reached unprecedented levels. “You, citizens of Russia, have confirmed the correctness of the country’s course,” he said during a speech in the St Andrew Hall in the Grand Kremlin Palace. “This is of great importance right now, when we are facing serious challenges. I see in this a deep understanding of our common historical goals, a determination to steadfastly defend our choice, our values, freedom and Russia’s national interests.” The Russian prime minister, Mikhail Mishustin, signed an order on Tuesday that dissolved the cabinet. Envoys from France, Hungary, Slovakia, Greece, Malta and Cyprus attended the inauguration. In a subsequent blessing held in a church, the Russian Patriarch Kirill compared Putin to the legendary medieval prince Alexander Nevsky, saying that he “did not spare his enemies, but he became famous as a saint. “The head of state must sometimes make fateful and formidable decisions,” he said. “And if such a decision is not made, the consequences can be extremely dangerous for the people and the state. But these decisions are almost always connected with victims.” Speaking of the west, he said: “The choice is up to them: they can either keep trying to contain Russia and continue the policy of aggression and years-long pressure on our country, or they can start looking for a path to cooperation and peace. “Dialogue, including on security and strategic stability, is possible, but not from a position of strength, without any arrogance, swagger and exclusivity claims, but only on equal terms and with due respect for each other’s interests,” he added. “We are a united and great people and together we will overcome all obstacles, realise all our plans, together we will win,” he said after being sworn in on Tuesday. 

On Tuesday, Ukraine’s security services said that they had foiled a Russian plot to assassinate President Volodymyr Zelensky and other top military and political figures. Two Ukrainian colonels accused of participating in the plot have been arrested on suspicion of treason. The Ukrainian domestic intelligence agency, the S.B.U., said in a statement that the plot had involved a network of agents — including the two colonels — that was run by Russia’s Federal Security Service, or F.S.B., the main successor to the K.G.B. According to the S.B.U., the agents working at Russia’s direction were tasked with identifying people close to Mr. Zelensky’s security detail who could take him hostage and later kill him. The agency’s statement said the other top Ukrainian officials targeted in the plot included Vasyl Malyuk, the head of the S.B.U., and Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence agency. These claims have not been verified. The services said the two colonels accused in the plot belonged to the State Security Administration, which protects top officials. They had been recruited before the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, according to the statement, which identified three F.S.B. members — Maxim Mishustin, Dmytro Perlin and Oleksiy Kornev — as running the operation from Moscow. The two Ukrainian colonels were not named. As for the assassination attempt aimed at General Budanov, the services said it was planned to take place before Orthodox Easter, which was celebrated on May 5. The F.S.B.’s network of agents in Ukraine was tasked with observing and passing on information about General Budanov’s whereabouts, the Ukrainian security services said. Once his location had been confirmed and communicated, he would have been targeted in a multilayered attack involving a rocket strike, followed by a drone attack to kill people who were fleeing and then a second rocket strike, the security services said. Weapons for the attack were provided to one of the colonels, including attack drones, ammunition for a rocket launcher and anti-personnel mines, according to the security services and Ukraine’s prosecutor general. The colonel was to pass the weapons to other agents to carry out the assault, the Ukrainian statement said.

On Tuesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Serbia from France — the 25th anniversary of a mistaken strike by NATO warplanes on the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade during the 1999 bombing campaign. Three Chinese journalists were killed in that incident – which many in China believe was not an accident – creating a strong emotional bond between Serbs and the Chinese as victims of American hegemony. 

On Wednesday, China and Serbia proclaimed an “ironclad friendship” and a “shared future” during a visit to Belgrade by the Chinese president. Xi appeared briefly on Wednesday morning with the Serbian president, Aleksandar Vucic, before a cheering crowd of people, some of whom told Serbian media outlets they had been bused in by the ruling party, gathered in front of the Palace of Serbia, the former headquarters of the now defunct government of Yugoslavia that now houses Serbian government offices. “The ironclad friendship between China and Serbia has withstood the test of international storms and tribulations,” Mr. Xi told Mr. Vucic in a meeting, according to an account from Xinhua, China’s official news agency. “It has a deep historical bedrock, a robust political foundation, wide-ranging common interests and a solid basis in public opinion.” The leaders later signed an agreement declaring their intention to “deepen and elevate the comprehensive strategic partnership between China and Serbia,” and “build a new era of a community with a shared future,” local news outlets reported. “Just as we have clear positions on the issue of Chinese integrity — that Taiwan is China — so they support the territory of Serbia without any reservation,” Mr. Vucic, who was Serbia’s information minister under President Slobodan Milosevic during the Kosovo war, said on Wednesday. China, Mr. Xi said, “supports Serbia’s efforts to preserve its territorial integrity regarding Kosovo.” The two leaders also announced that a free trade deal signed between their two countries last year would come into effect on July 1.

On Wednesday the U.S. House of Representatives quashed a motion by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene to remove House Speaker Mike Johnson over his foreign aid bills in support of Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. The vote on the motion to table Greene’s resolution was 359 to 43, as 196 Republicans and 163 Democrats supported killing the proposal. Greene took to the House floor on Wednesday evening to announce her plans, prompting boos from fellow Republicans present in the chamber.

On Wednesday, Swiss direct air capture (DAC) company Climeworks put its “Mammoth” DAC plant, located in Iceland, online. The plant, at full capacity, will be able to suck in 36,000 tons per year, according to the company and is 10 times bigger than its predecessor, Orca. DAC, is a technology designed to suck in air and strip out the carbon using chemicals. The carbon can then be injected deep beneath the ground, reused or transformed into solid products. The whole operation will be powered by Iceland’s abundant geothermal energy and Climeworks plans to transport the carbon underground where it will be naturally transformed into stone, locking up the carbon permanently. Climeworks said the price per ton was closer to $1,000 than the critical $100 price target threshold that is expected will make the technology affordable and viable on a large scale. The company aims to reach $300-350/ton by 2030 and $100/ton by 2050 and has the goal of removing 1 million tons of carbon per year by 2030 and 1 billion tons by 2050. 

On Thursday, Xi Jinping met with the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in the Hungarian capital of Budapest. In Budapest, Xi pledged more investments in transport and energy, including the construction of a high-speed railway connecting the capital city centre to its airport and cooperation in the nuclear sector, according to Hungarian officials. Xi also promised to move forward on a $2.1bn project to connect the Hungarian capital with the Serbian capital. The plan, which is mostly financed by a loan from China, is part of the Belt and Road Initiative.

On Thursday, Russia held its 79th annual Victory Day parade in Moscow’s Red Square. The parade began when the the national flag of Russia and the Banner of Victory were carried into Red Square. The parade was led by Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Ground Forces Army General Oleg Salyukov and reviewed by Acting Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu. The marching column on Red Square included 30 ceremonial regiments of over 9,000 service personnel, among them over 1,000 troops taking part in the special military operation. 

On Friday, Russian troops launched renewed offensives into Ukraine, opening a new front in the war. At around 5 a.m., Russian soldiers supported by armoured vehicles moved across the border with a goal – as assessed by Ukrainian sources – to “get 10 km deeper and create a buffer zone at the border to secure Russian territory from feeling the war.” Asked about developments, Zelensky did not downplay their seriousness but said Ukraine’s military had been expecting such a move. “Russia launched a new wave of counteroffensive actions in [northern Kharkiv region]. Ukraine met them there with our troops, brigades and artillery,” he told reporters early Friday afternoon. “But our military and military command were aware of this and anticipated their forces to meet the enemy with fire. Now there is a fierce battle in this area […] I think as of now we have stopped the enemy with artillery fire,” Zelensky said. In an address on Saturday evening local time, Zelensky said Ukraine was “strengthening our positions” and adding forces to the Kharkiv region. Governor of Kharkiv Oblast Syniehubov insisted the latest Russian ground assaults did not put the city, which lies just 30 km south of the Russian border, under heightened risk. “The enemy group does not pose a threat to Kharkiv city, its forces are only enough for provocations in the northern direction.” The precise goal of Russia’s new push – which began in the early hours of Friday morning – is unclear. It may be to create a buffer zone designed to reduce Ukrainian attacks on Russian territory, or possibly even a renewed assault on the city of Kharkiv, 30 kilometers (18 miles) to the south. Equally, it could be an attempt to draw Ukrainian forces away from other key Russian objectives further south – which was the rationale Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky offered in his Sunday evening address. “The idea behind the attacks in Kharkiv region is to stretch our forces and undermine morale and the motivational foundations of Ukrainians’ ability to defend ourselves,” he said.

On Sunday evening, Putin said in a statement he would remove Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who has overseen Russia’s armed forces since 2012. He will be replaced by Andrei Belousov, an economist with no military experience. Shoigu was appointed as secretary of Russia’s Security Council, a consultative body that advises Putin on military and strategic issues. Intelligence chief Nikolai Patrushev was dismissed from that position despite being widely seen as one of Putin’s closest, and most hawkish, confidants. Kremlin spokesman Dimitry Peskov refused to elaborate on Patrushev’s fate, saying only that details would be announced in the coming days. His son, Dmitry Patrushev, has been promoted to deputy prime minister from agriculture minister as part of the same reshuffle. The appointment of Belousov, a veteran economic adviser, to the top defence job is being interpreted as a sign that Putin is looking to switch gears, more than two years into the war against Ukraine and just short of a year after a failed mutiny by mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin. Other key Putin allies, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, have so far kept their roles in the reshuffle. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has told reporters this evening that announcing a new defence minister makes sense as Russia’s military spending balloons. He said Russia was heading towards a situation similar to that of the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s when 7.4% of Russia’s GDP went into the military and law enforcement. Mr Peskov said this is why Vladimir Putin wanted to hand the position to a civilian with an economic background. “The one who is more open to innovations is the one who will be victorious on the battlefield,” he said.

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