This is how mass deforestation is wiping out species around the world


(NEW YORK) — The mass-clearing of trees will be the doom of many forms of life on this planet.

Forests are critical to the Earth’s ecology. They capture and store carbon out of the atmosphere. They can alter the air quality and quantity of drinking water. And they provide the most habitat for the world’s terrestrial species.

And yet, alarming rates of deforestation are continuing all over the globe, despite warnings from scientists and urgent calls from environmental activists to cease the clearing as much as possible.

The planet is losing an estimated 137 species of plants, animals and insects every day due to deforestation, according to the World Animal Foundation.

Here are four important species at risk of extinction, each in a region heavily affected by deforestation:

Harpy eagle, the Amazon rainforest

Populations of the harpy eagle, one of the largest eagle species in the world, are dwindling as tree canopies in the Amazon rainforest disappear, and along with it the habitat for the eagles’ preferred prey, a new study published Wednesday in Nature Scientific Reports found.

The eagles rely on specific prey that live in the canopy forests: two-toed sloths, brown capuchin monkeys and grey woolly monkeys, but as the food supply decreased, the eagles did not switch to alternative prey, the researchers found.

The eagles would then deliver prey to their hatchlings less frequently, and when they did, the animals tended to have a smaller estimated weight in landscapes with 50% to 70% deforestation, according to the study.

The researchers observed multiple eaglet deaths from starvation and did not locate any nests in areas with more than 70% deforestation.

Brazil is home to 2.1 million square miles of rain forest — more than 65% of all the rain forest in the world, according to the World Animal Foundation.

But because of the Brazilian government’s dedication to meat and leather trade, about 15% of the world’s tropical forest cover was cleared between 1991 and 2004, according to the Foundation.

The harpy eagle is at risk of disappearing in a similar fashion as 10 mammal, 20 bird and eight amphibian species during three decades of deforestation, according to the foundation. The species is listed as near threatened, with a decreasing population, on the International Union of Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

Apex predators are threatened around the world, and their extinctions are often driven by failure to acquire prey due to “severe prey scarcity,” according to researchers.

Sumatran orangutan, Southeast Asia

The palm oil industry, 85% of which is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia, has wiped out a critical amount of trees in Southeast Asia — and with it, many endangered species.

Less than 80,000 orangutans are left in the world, and all of them live in Indonesia and Malaysia. Their habitats are under “constant threat” of deforestation, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Up to 3,000 are killed every year, according to the Orangutan Conservancy.

The trees are cleared by illegal logging and for conversion from rain forests to palm oil plantations. About 80% of the orangutan’s habitat was cleared in the 1990s and early 2000s by degradation, fragmentation and clearing — and sometimes by intentionally set fires, the magazine Scientific American reported.

Orangutans are agile climbers and “supremely adapted to life in trees, and it’s rare for adult orangutans to ever touch the ground, according Scientific American.

The orangutans are then forced to new areas in search for food, often bringing them in contact with humans, which leads to them being killed as “pests,” according to the Orangutan Conservancy.

Poachers are also targeting orangutans for the bush meat trade, ironically often by loggers who are clearing the forest, since the logging companies do not provide food for the workers, according to the magazine.

The Sumatran orangutan is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN’s Red List.

Koala, Australia

Koalas have been on the decline due to deforestation even before the 2019 Australian bushfires wiped out an estimated 5,000 of the marsupials.

Between 2012 and 2016, at least 5,183 koalas were killed due to the bulldozing of trees, the World Wildlife Fund Australia found.

The koalas live in eucalyptus trees in forests and woodland, using them as both food and shelter. The habitats are left fragmented or completely destroyed as a result of the clearing, and they are forced to the ground to seek alternative shelter. They are often hit by cars, attacked by dogs or contract diseases, according to WWF Australia.

“If you lose your home and your food source then you are doomed,” Deborah Tabart, chairman of the Australian Koala Foundation, told ABC News over email.

Protecting the habitat is the “only way” to save the species, Tabart said. The Australian Koala Foundation has proposed the Koala Protection Act, which would focus on protecting trees, including habitats that are empty. While current federal legislation focuses on protecting the koala species itself, its habitat “is almost impossible to protect,” according to the foundation.

The organization is also calling for a moratorium on logging of native forests, protection of all koala habitat and better management of plantation forests adjacent to koala habitats.

The species is listed as vulnerable with a decreasing population on the IUCN’s Red List. At the current rate, koalas could become extinct by 2050, according to WWF Australia.

Jaguar, North America

Populations of the largest species of cat in the Western Hemisphere are continuing to decrease due to loss of habitat.

While jaguars tend to live in habitat with dense tree canopy cover, such as the Amazon rainforest in Brazil or the Maya Forest in Central America, their range historically came as far north as New Mexico and Arizona, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The big cats require expansive areas of land for survival, but their current range is now just 51% of its historic range, according to the IUCN.

Accelerated deforestation continue to threaten the jaguar habitat, especially when it occurs in corridors that connect conservation areas, according to a 2016 study published in the scientific journal Biological Conservation. Without the corridors to travel through, the populations can become isolated and lose genetic diversity, which could then affect the short and long-term survival of the species.

In Gran Chaco, South America’s largest tropical dry forest located in Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia, about a third of critical jaguar habitat has been lost since the mid-1980s due to deforestation driven by agricultural expansion, a study published in Biodiversity Research in 2019 found.

There is a possibility that jaguars could reestablish a population in the United States through Mexico, which is the current northern edge of the range, Dan Thornton, assistant professor in the Washington State University School of the Environment and one of the authors of the study, told Washington State Magazine.

Jaguars are listed as near threatened with a decreasing population on the IUCN’s Red List. They are so elusive, that it is difficult to estimate how many are left in the wild, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

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China marks Communist Party centennial with warning from Xi


(HONG KONG) — As tension runs high in Hong Kong, Thursday marked 24 years of the former British colony’s return to China, and one year since Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law in response to months of unrest and challenge to its authority.

In stark contrast to the mood in Hong Kong, Beijing has been in a celebratory mode, with patriotic shows, military flybys and cannon salutes to memorialize the founding of the Communist Party 100 years ago.

Chinese President Xi Jinping declared in front of tens of thousands gathered in Tiananmen Square that foreign powers attempting to bully his country will “get their heads bashed” and that they’ll be met with a “great wall of steel.”

In a defiant hourlong address, Xi said there was no room for so-called “sanctimonious preaching.”

China’s strongest leader since Mao Zedong also made an “unshakeable” commitment to unification with Taiwan, which China sees as a wayward province. “No one should underestimate the resolve, the will and ability of the Chinese people to defend their national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Xi said.

Beijing’s emphasis on security and territorial integrity isn’t lost on the citizens of Hong Kong, who’ve witnessed authorities carry out an intensive crackdown in the city over the last year since the introduction of the security law. Peaceful mass protests against Beijing’s encroachment erupted in the Asian financial hub in mid-2019 garnering global attention. However as the protest began to grew increasingly violent over the course of months, Beijing became determined to paint them as a Western-backed revolution laying the groundwork for the security law.

It now appears that any hint of resistance in Hong Kong is met with a heavy hand. Police say they can’t allow people to gather because of COVID-19 restrictions, but non-political gatherings seem to have been tolerated in other situations. Hong Kong’s malls on July 1 were packed.

On Wednesday, Amnesty International said the national security law has created a “human rights emergency” and that Hong Kong is “on a rapid path to becoming a police state.”

Beijing has also promoted Hong Kong’s top security official John Lee to become the number two leader in the city, ostensibly rewarding him for enforcing the security law.

When it was first introduced, Beijing insisted the security law would only be used to target an “small minority,” but 12 months on, activists say the law is being weaponized into wiping out the opposition entirely, to stamp out dissent and to curb the city’s freedoms.

The law has sent a chill throughout Hong Kong, and radically transformed its political landscape. Hong Kong police have arrested more than 100 people and charged dozens under its provisions, including almost the entire pro-democracy camp of lawmakers and media tycoon Jimmy Lai. Last month Lai’s paper Apple Daily was forced to close after its editorial staff were arrested and assets frozen.

On the day Apple Daily closed, in response President Biden released a statement saying, “It is a sad day for media freedom in Hong Kong and around the world.”

“Through arrests, threats and forcing through a National Security Law that penalizes free speech, Beijing has insisted on wielding its power to suppress independent media and silence dissenting views,” the statement continued.

Most prominent figures who’ve come to define the Hong Kong democracy movement have fled the city or are in jail. One of them is Albert Ho, who spoke with ABC News just days before he was sent to prison in May. “It’s just a matter of time,” Ho said, “You know, when Hong Kong is now facing such a setback and so many of my friends are already behind bars.”

Albert Ho was sentenced to 18 months in prison for inciting people to participate in an unauthorized assembly back on China’s National Day on October 1, 2019 when an unauthorized protest march later turned violent.

The judge who sentenced Ho and nine of his fellow pro-democracy activists said the harsher than normal sentence was to serve as a “deterrent” and “was necessary in maintaining public order.”

For many, the only response has been to leave, with the United Kingdom and other countries offering an easier pathway to citizenship for some Hong Kongers.

Ronny Tong, a top adviser to Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam, said that Hong Kongers will have no problem living in the city, as long as they respect the fact that the territory is part of China. “If you do understand the one country, two systems, which involves Hong Kong being a place which is a little bit different from other places, that we are part of China, that is a fact that you can’t change. Not only is it a fact you can’t change, but it’s a fact you need to respect,” Tong said.

“The other thing I would like to say is that I have confidence in the judiciary,” Tong added.

But there are now also questions hanging over whether the integrity of Hong Kong’s judiciary, which is based on the English common law system, might become caught in the crosshairs.

China’s head of security Zheng Yanxiong recently said that the city’s courts should derive power from Beijing. “[Hong Kong’s] independent judiciary’s power is authorized by the National People’s Congress. It must highly manifest the national will and national interest, or else it will lose the legal premise of the authorization,” said Zheng.

Zheng’s comments come as Hong Kong courts start to hear the national security cases of the past year.

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US leaves main base in Afghanistan as pullout now set to end in late August


(NEW YORK) — The Pentagon confirmed on Friday that it had turned over the sprawling Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan to the Afghan government and also announced that it now expects the total withdrawal of U.S. troops to be completed “at the end of August.”

The withdrawal of all U.S. military personnel from the base marks a major milestone in the withdrawal process as it had been the main hub for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan for the last 20 years.

Handing over control of the base had been seen as a key indicator that the end of the withdrawal from Afghanistan would be completed in July — months earlier than the Sept. 11 deadline set by President Joe Biden.

But the Pentagon announced Friday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had approved a plan to transfer command authority for the U.S. Forces Afghanistan from Gen. Austin Scott Miller to Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Miller will remain in Afghanistan for “a number of weeks.”

“The idea is to have him remain there … to effect all this, the turnover responsibilities, and … make preparations for Gen. McKenzie to assume those responsibilities,” said Kirby.

U.S. Army soldiers from the elite 75th Ranger Regiment helped to close Bagram Airfield on Thursday, a military source confirmed to ABC News.

U.S. military operations at the base ended with the departure of the last military flights carrying out American military personnel and equipment. Earlier this week, U.S. Central Command had said that 896 C-17 cargo flights of material had already taken place.

Kirby also said that the total U.S. military drawdown “process” from Afghanistan would be completed by the “end of August.”

The spokesman also said that the current defensive airstrike authority that Miller has to target the Taliban in support of the military will be transferred to McKenzie.

That development eases concerns that the Afghan military would be even more vulnerable to Taliban forces without American combat air support after all U.S. troops had left.

Even after the completion of the U.S. withdrawal, a force of 650 American military personnel will remain in Kabul to help defend the U.S. Embassy and the civilian airport in Kabul, according to a U.S. official.

This force will be led by Rear Adm. Peter Vasely who will be based at the embassy in command of what will be known as U.S. Forces Afghanistan-Forward.

While Turkey had agreed to provide security at the airport, a move seen as vital in ensuring the safety and operations of the U.S. Embassy, the pace of the U.S. military withdrawal had moved so quickly that questions remained about whether Turkey would have its forces in place.

Also, many details remain to be finalized for plans to remove at least 9,000 Afghan interpreters and their families outside of Afghanistan.

In addition to the new command in Kabul, Army Brig. Gen. Curtis Buzzard will be based in Qatar to lead the defense security cooperation management office that will administer U.S. funding to the Afghan military.

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French astronaut makes ‘crepe’ in space


(NEW YORK) — While it may not be a traditional crêpe, it’s as close to the real deal as a French astronaut can get in space.

Thomas Pesquet, the first French commander of the International Space Station, shared a video on Twitter of his spin on the sweet treat.

“Unfortunately for my teammates, my culinary skills do not match my nationality. At least Shane and Oleg with whom I have already lived were warned this time. Creation so French today: chocolate crepe, strawberries, (how’s that a tortilla?),” the translated tweet said.

The 43-year-old first shared the video Monday and as the floating disc of dough made its rounds on social media, comments varied with some hailing the snack as hilarious and original, to others calling it dismal and disappointing.

Although the recipe may not be Le Cordon Bleu-worthy, Pesquet gets serious points for creativity and credit for the first known crepe served in space.

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Princes William, Harry attend Princess Diana statue unveiling amid family tensions

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(LONDON) — Princes William and Harry, who have reportedly been estranged for over a year, made a rare appearance together Thursday to honor their mother, the late Princess Diana.

William and Harry, the only children of Diana and Prince Charles, were both present as a much-anticipated statue of Princess Diana was installed in the Sunken Garden of Kensington Palace on July 1, which would have been Diana’s 60th birthday.

“Today, on what would have been our Mother’s 60th birthday, we remember her love, strength and character — qualities that made her a force for good around the world, changing countless lives for the better,” the brothers shared in a joint statement. “Every day, we wish she were still with us, and our hope is that this statue will be seen forever as a symbol of her life and her legacy.”

The princes also thanked the statue’s sculptor, Ian Rank-Broadley, and the garden designer, Pip Morrison, for their “outstanding work” as well as shouted out “all those around the world who keep our mother’s memory alive.”

Also in attendance at the event were Diana’s siblings: The Earl Spencer, The Lady Sarah McCorquodale and The Lady Jane Fellowes.

Not in attendance were the brothers’ wives as well as their father, Prince Charles, and their grandmother, Queen Elizabeth.

The statue itself, which is 1.25 times life size and bronze, aims to “reflect the warmth, elegance and energy” of the late Princess of Wales and shows her surrounded by three children meant to represent “the universality and generational impact” of her work, according to Kensington Palace.

“The portrait and style of dress was based on the final period of her life as she gained confidence in her role as an ambassador for humanitarian causes and aims to convey her character and compassion,” the palace continued.

The base of the statue features Diana’s name and the date of its unveiling. In front of it is a paving stone engraved with an extract from the poem “The Measure of a Man.”

The statue was commissioned by William, 39, and Harry, 36, in 2017 to mark the 20th anniversary of their mother’s death.

Diana died in August 1997 after a car crash in the Pont D’Alma Bridge in Paris. William and Harry were 15 and 12, respectively, at the time.

“It has been 20 years since our mother’s death and the time is right to recognize her positive impact in the UK and around the world with a permanent statue,” the brothers said in a joint statement in 2017. “Our mother touched so many lives. We hope the statue will help all those who visit Kensington Palace to reflect on her life and legacy.”

Just one year after the 20th anniversary of Diana’s death, in 2018, Prince Harry wed his wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex.

The couple, who now live in California, stepped down from their roles as senior, working members of the royal family last year amid family tensions that they went on to reveal in a tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey in March.

In the interview, Harry described himself and William as being on “different paths.”

“The relationship is space at the moment, and, you know, time heals all things, hopefully,” Harry said. “I love William to bits. He’s my brother. We’ve been through hell together, and we have a shared experience, but we were on different paths.”

William and Harry grew up at Kensington Palace and Diana lived there until her death.

Harry and Meghan, who just welcomed their second child, a daughter named Lilibet Diana, at one point also lived in Kensington Palace near William and Kate, who still have their main residence there with their three children.

In 2019, Harry and Meghan moved from the palace to a new home in Windsor and also left the household they shared with William and Kate, a split that author Robert Lacey said was due to an “explosive argument” between the brothers.

Citing palace insiders, Lacey wrote in his new book, “Battle of Brothers,” that Harry reportedly hung up the phone on William, who then went to address him in-person about the way Meghan was reportedly treating palace staff.

After the argument, William reportedly instructed a royal aide to “start the process of dividing their two households immediately,” according to the book.

William and Harry’s first in-person reunion in over a year happened in April, when the royal family came together for the funeral of the brothers’ grandfather, Prince Philip.

Their wives, Kate and Meghan, have not seen each other in person in over a year.

Many see today’s event as a chance for the brothers to bridge the gap between them.

“I think there’s been a lot of hope that an event like this would bring the brothers back together, and it’s certainly true that their mother’s memory and honoring her memory is pretty much one of the only things that really unites them right now,” Victoria Murphy, ABC News royal contributor, said.

Robert Jobson, another ABC News royal contributor, said he hopes William and Harry will be able to reconnect, adding that the presence of Diana’s sisters and close members of the family might help.

“Just standing there and looking at that statue … in the Sunken Gardens where they used to play as kids with her looking over them, maybe that just might be the catalyst to start the end to this rift,” Jobson added.

While he said the relationship between the brothers is still “extremely complicated,” ABC News royal contributor Omid Scobie said he understands “it is still a case of distance” and “they’re simply not talking at the moment.”

“This is really going to be the first time where they have a proper opportunity to chat to each other,” Scobie said. “And maybe being here in the presence of the memory of their mother will be a reminder of the importance of love and family.”

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Spectator arrested for allegedly causing massive Tour de France crash

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(PARIS) — After a four-day search, a woman was arrested Wednesday as part of the investigation into a large crash at the Tour de France earlier last week, according to local prosecutors.

The 30-year-old suspect turned herself into police and expressed feelings “of shame, of fear, in the face of the consequences of her act,” public prosecutor Camille Miansoni said Thursday. She is “distressed by the media coverage of what she calls ‘her blunder,'” added Miansoni.

Prosecutors said police would take measures “proportionate to the seriousness of the facts and to the personality of the author.”

The woman is accused of causing a large crash by holding a sign in front of cyclists in the opening stage of the competition on Saturday. She had allegedly left the scene before authorities arrived. Her cardboard sign read “allez opi-omi,” meaning “go grandma-grandpa” in German.

After the crash, three riders withdrew from the race due to their injuries, according to the Tour’s organizers, including German cyclist Jasha Sütterlin of Team DSM.

“Following the crash, he was taken to hospital for examinations which revealed no broken bones, but a severe contusion to his right wrist that will require further examinations back at home,” Team DSM said in a statement about Sütterlin, who admitted he was “so disappointed.”

Tony Martin, a member of top Tour contender Primoz Roglic’s Jumbo Visma squad, hit the woman on the right side of the road, causing a domino effect for riders inside the peloton.

The first fall was followed by another, which injured four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome.

Riders briefly halted the race on Tuesday to protest against the danger caused by spectators who were too close to the road.

“Following the crashes during the third stage of the Tour de France, the riders have been discussing how they wish to proceed to show their dissatisfaction with safety measures in place and demand their concerns are taken seriously,” the riders’ union, the Cyclistes Professionnels Associés, said in a statement. “Their frustration about foreseeable and preventable action is enormous.”

The local chief of police Nicolas Duvinage on Thursday called for calm in a press conference, saying the suspect was trying to send a message on TV to her grandparents and that it is “wise not to carry out a media lynching.”

Fearing a backlash, Tour de France organizers decided to drop their suit against the fan in question and withdrew their complaint “for the sake of appeasement … in the face of the excitement on social media,” said Tour director Pierre-Yves Thouault. “We don’t want to look like we are flogging a dead horse. But we remind you of the safety rules.”

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New Israeli prime minister maintains tough stance against enemies


(JERUSALEM) — Israel may have a new prime minister but the departure of Benjamin Netanyahu does not appear to be changing the country’s tough stance against Iran.

Naftali Bennett has been in office less than three weeks and has already made clear that nothing has changed on the Jewish State’s right to defend itself.

The new prime minister on Wednesday vowed Israel will “always defend itself against any external threat” — a message widely seen as a warning to Iran.

Bennett also insisted Israel “will not have its hands tied” when it comes to security.

Like his predecessor Netanyahu, Bennett has indicated a revived U.S.-Iran nuclear deal will not stop Israel from acting to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

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Putin urges Russians to get vaccinated in marathon call-in show


(MOSCOW) — Russia’s President Vladimir Putin used his annual marathon call-in show to try to persuade Russians to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, as the country faces a devastating third wave of the epidemic.

The show is a fixture of Putin’s two-decade rule and sees him take dozens of questions from ordinary citizens over around three hours while sitting on stage in front of phone banks where volunteers field calls.

Besides big questions of the day — around the economy or relations with Western countries — Putin also takes appeals from Russians asking him to help with local problems, down to fixing the pot-holed road in their town.

The heavily promoted and carefully choreographed show allows Putin to present himself as a leader in touch with even the smallest, everyday concerns of his people and able to solve any problem. After a question is put to Putin, local officials will usually scramble to fix the issue, making getting an appeal onto the show akin to winning the lottery.

Russian state television said around 2 million questions were sent in for Putin, who was on air for nearly four hours Wednesday.

Here are some of the key moments.

‘The only way to overcome the epidemic is with the help of vaccination’

A devastating third wave of the coronavirus pandemic is swamping Russia, left almost unchecked with few lockdown restrictions and a very slow pace of vaccination caused by widespread reluctance among Russians.

Only around 11% of Russians are currently fully vaccinated, and two-thirds are estimated to not want to get it. In the past two weeks, that has prompted Moscow and several other regions to introduce mandatory vaccinations for most public-facing workers — such as teachers and restaurant staff — making Russia the only country in the world to introduce large-scale obligatory vaccination.

Putin spent a significant part of the call urging Russians to get vaccinated, saying it was the way to avoid lockdowns. But while he said the mandatory vaccination in some regions was correct, he stopped short of giving his full-throated backing to the controversial decision, instead putting it on local authorities.

“I have said, as you know, that I don’t support mandatory vaccination. I continue to hold to that point of view,” Putin said. But he added it was necessary in some regions for it to be obligatory for “certain categories” of citizens to be vaccinated.

“It’s very well-known,” Putin said, “the only way to overcome the further spreading of the epidemic is with the help of vaccination.”

Throughout the pandemic, Putin has left announcing unpopular decisions, such as partial lockdowns, to regional authorities, which analysts say is to avoid taking backlash for them.

‘If I said I got the jab, that’s how it is’

Putin himself has faced criticism for refusing to say which of Russia’s three vaccines he has taken and, unusually, not releasing video of him getting vaccinated, even after he said he had received both shots early this year.

In the call-in, Putin for the first time said he received Russia’s primary vaccine, Sputnik V. He said he had hesitated between it and another Russian vaccine, EpiVacCorona made by the Siberian Vektor Institute, but opted for Sputnik V because it gave longer lasting immunity.

“I started from the basis that I need to be protected as long as possible, and so I took the decision for myself to get Sputnik V,” Putin said.

He said he briefly had a temperature of 37.2 Celsius overnight after getting the jab, but by morning it had passed.

Asked why he hadn’t shown himself getting the vaccine, Putin said he thought it wasn’t important.

“I hope that the majority of the citizens of country understand that if I said I got the jab, that’s how it is,” Putin said.

On confrontation with British warship near Crimea

Putin downplayed an incident last week where Russian fighter jets and ships confronted a British navy warship as it pointedly sailed through waters close to Crimea to demonstrate Western countries don’t recognize Russia’s occupation of the peninsula.

Putin called the incident a “provocation” from Britain and the United States, but dismissed a question asking if it had brought Russia close to World War III.

“Even if we had sunk that ship its difficult to imagine that the world would be on the edge of a third World War. Because those who are doing that know they won’t come out the winners in that war,” Putin said.

On social media platforms

Recently, Russia’s state censor threatened to block Twitter and other foreign social media platforms as the Kremlin has sought to bring Russia’s internet under tighter control amid a broader crackdown on dissent in the country.

Authorities have demanded the platforms remove “extremist” content — in reality often including calls to peacefully protest against Putin.

There has been growing speculation Russia might follow through in blocking platforms like Twitter, but in the call-in Putin said it did not plan to.

“We don’t intend to block anyone, but there are problems which consist in that they tell us to push off, when they don’t fulfil our demands and Russian laws,” Putin said.

He said foreign social media platforms must obey Russian laws to store data locally, saying to do otherwise was insulting to Russia.

‘Like the surface of Venus’

Putin made unusually strong warnings about the need to prepare for the impact of climate change on Russia. He frequently takes an ambiguous position on global warming, normally acknowledging it but also often questioning the role of humans in it, as might be expected from the ruler of a country reliant on exporting fossil fuels.

Asked by a viewer why “nature is going crazy,” Putin said the growing frequency of extreme weather was the result not just of humans but of “global processes.” He said humans must minimize their impact or “there might be irreversibly consequences.”

“Which might lead our planet to the state of Venus, where temperatures on the surface reach 500 degrees,” Putin said.

He noted that 70% of Russia’s territory was located in northern regions, large swathes of which are permafrost.

“If all that will melt, it will lead to very serious social and economic consequences. And we must, of course, be ready for that,” Putin said.

He said Russia will fulfil all its obligations to the Paris Climate Accord and that its government had prepared a strategy for handling the impact of climate change on key sectors of Russia’s economy.

‘Petitioning the tsar’

The call-in show plays heavily on an old trope in Russia of petitioning the tsar, where ordinary people plead with Putin to solve their local problems, from settling employment disputes to poor gas supplies.

Putin usually promises to look into the issues and local officials jump into action, with the implicit threat that those who fail to will face punishment. It creates the impression of Putin as a benevolent but severe ruler, dispensing justice and righting the wrongs of lower-level officials if only he can be reached.

Elena Kalinina from the Siberian region of Kemerovo appealed to Putin for help getting the crumbling roof of her grandson’s school repaired. She said after she sent her appeal, local education officials threatened her to withdraw it.

Putin promised the woman the school would be included in a renovation program and said, menacingly, “those who are threatening you would be better looking at their own problems.”

Kemerovo’s governor within hours ordered local officials to look into the state of the school’s roof and to find out who had threatened Kalinina.

The show is an attempt to portray Putin as “tsar of the Russias, defender of the nation, masterful chief exec with all the facts at his fingertips and stern and loving father of his people,” Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian politics and an associate fellow at the Royal United Service Institute, wrote on Twitter before the show.

On his potential successor

Putin last year changed Russia’s constitution to allow him to potentially remain in office until at least 2036, having already been president for four terms. Although the move was partly aimed at heading off possible succession fights, speculation over how Putin might handle his eventual exit from power hasn’t gone away.

One caller asked Putin if there was anyone he trusted to handover power to.

“On the one hand, there are no sacred places and there are no irreplaceable people,” Putin answered. “On the other hand, of course, my responsibility consists in giving recommendations to those people who will pretend to the position of the president. Of course, when the time comes, I will be able to say who, in my opinion, is worthy to head Russia.”

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‘Humbling’: Two generations of soldiers reflect on historic Afghanistan withdrawal

ABC News

(KABUL, Afghanistan) — This moment in history is not lost on 22-year-old U.S. Army Spc. Jaida Thompson as she helps the U.S. military withdraw from Afghanistan, a place where American troops have been since she was a toddler.

“I feel like it’s a big mission, and I’m very grateful to be a part of it,” she told ABC News at Bagram Air Base, the U.S. military’s main hub for the removal of 2,500 troops and most of their equipment from Afghanistan.

“It’s like crazy that I get to be here to close it down and be a part of something that was here before I was even brought up,” she told ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz during an exclusive visit to the air base to see the withdrawal operations taking place nearly 20 years after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“I’m glad that I get to help finish something that I didn’t get to be a part of at the start,” Thompson said.

The base is abuzz with activity as logistical troops load gear onto as many as 15 C-17 cargo flights a day, part of the 896 C-17 flights that U.S. Central Command says have removed military equipment and personnel from Afghanistan in the last two months.

A U.S. official has told ABC News that the U.S. troop withdrawal will be completed in July, months ahead of the Sept. 11 deadline set by President Joe Biden earlier this year.

While the pace of activity at the base is constant, for some service members who have spent time at Bagram over the years it is a strange experience to see it transformed. Living areas that once housed as many as 20,000 troops are now empty and the American fighter jets that took off from the base have already left the country.

“It’s a little surreal to see things very bare and empty,” said Col. Erin Miller, the commander of the Resolute Support sustainment brigade who is helping to oversee the withdrawal.

Miller, who is on her third deployment to Afghanistan, described the withdrawal operation as “bittersweet” because “you’ve had a connection to this country for 19, 20 years and now we’re taking everything out and leaving our partners here and then leaving Afghanistan, most likely for good.”

Getting all of the equipment out of Afghanistan has required a lot of effort from service members that has not gone unnoticed.

Gen. Austin Scott Miller, the top commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan to Bagram, recently awarded the Bronze Star to 23-year-old Army Reserve Spc. Abigail Lopez who is on her first deployment.

“I put a lot of work in dedication and encouragement and I’m a very hard worker,” she told Raddatz as to why Miller presented her with the award.

Like Thompson, Lopez was also a toddler when 9/11 happened and she appreciates the history she and her fellow troops are making with the withdrawal, as well as what hundreds of thousands of American service members have accomplished before her service.

“A lot of Americans came out and did what they had to do and I feel like we accomplished that mission until now,” she told Raddatz.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jose Leal, who joined the Army a month before 9/11, described being in Afghanistan as the U.S. troop presence comes to an end as a “humbling experience.”

“This is part of history. And I’m pretty sure that what we’re doing here is going to go in the books,” said Leal.

He noted that pulling out of Afghanistan “was not an easy task. However, it needed to be done. And I’m very grateful and thankful for being part of it.”

Col. Mike Scarpulla, from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division who commands the base, agreed with Miller that the withdrawal operation is bittersweet but expressed confidence that Afghan security forces will be able to hold their own after U.S. troops leave.

“We’ve spent so much time here with our partners, working with them. They’re ready,” he said. “They can handle this. They’re quite capable of this.”

However, he acknowledged some hesitation that he likened to “the first time you see your child on a bike without training wheels.”

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Sister of last American hostage held by Taliban begs Biden: ‘Get my brother home’


(CHICAGO) — The sister of the last American hostage being held by the Taliban made a desperate plea this week to President Joe Biden as the U.S. military completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan, telling ABC News in an exclusive interview, “I don’t think anybody can come home with their head held high until every stone has been turned.”

U.S. Navy veteran Mark Frerichs, 58, was abducted in Kabul in January 2020 after being lured to what he thought was a new business meeting — but which turned out to be a horrific ruse, family members and officials have said.

Frerichs’ sister, Charlene Cakora, said in an emotional interview that “it is almost too late now” to hope for either a negotiation or hostage rescue mission to secure her brother’s freedom from his Taliban captors, given the military’s hasty move to exit Afghanistan by July Fourth.

But she urged the commander-in-chief to pull out all the stops.

“President Biden,” she addressed the president during the ABC News interview at her home outside Chicago, “oh, please do everything you can to bring my brother home.”

“You have the power to bring my brother home, please get my brother home safely. We are relying on you,” Cakora pleaded, her voice cracking with emotion as she dabbed at tears on her cheeks. “He’s a good man. He deserves better. He does not deserve to be left behind. He’s an American citizen. And I know that you would not leave an American citizen behind, so please, I beg you, do everything you can to get my brother home.”

Cakora has not been given the opportunity to speak directly with either the former or current president.

Asked on Friday about Frerichs’ family’s concerns that their loved one will be left behind, the White House — without specifically naming Mark Frerichs — said they are working to free Americans in captivity.

“The president’s message is that he will continue to fight every day of his presidency to bring Americans home who are detained overseas, whether it’s in Afghanistan or any other country around the world,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. “Again, we will have a diplomatic presence on the ground. We will continue to work closely with the government, with security support, humanitarian support, and there needs to be continued, a continued political process, ongoing negotiations.”

As the U.S. military completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan after two decades of warfare following the 9/11 attacks, Cakora said she and her husband Chris feel like “our leverage is pretty much gone right now.”

Each week has brought the closing of another American base — Jalalabad and Kandahar, and this week Bagram Airfield — as the Taliban have waged an offensive against government forces, capturing dozens of districts countrywide.

“We can’t lose hope and we have to be strong for Mark, but it’s hard,” said Cakora, who said she’s been passing the time in her garden.

“I do a lot of weed pulling and I take all the frustration out with that,” she said. “And I try not to watch the news too much, as far as that. But it’s been really tough the past month due to the fact that our troops are coming home.”

U.S. officials and sources close to Frerichs’ family confirm that he is being held by a faction of the Taliban, the Haqqani network, known for abducting and holding Westerners captive inside Pakistan’s tribal areas. American diplomats have focused in recent weeks on engaging the government of Pakistan, whose intelligence services have a decades-long relationship with the Haqqani network.

In a statement to ABC News last week, the Pakistani government said there is “no evidence” that Frerichs is being held captive in their country, but pledged to assist in efforts to return him to his family.

Frerichs’ family, frustrated by the lack of progress, say they’re aggravated that it took almost a year and a half for U.S. officials to turn to Pakistan for help.

“They’re not using right methods,” Cakora said. “There’s capabilities, there are stones unturned I firmly believe, and I don’t think anybody can come home with their head held high until every stone has been turned.”

U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad cut an initial armistice deal with Taliban leadership in Doha, Qatar, last year — a month after Frerichs was kidnapped — but Khalilzad did not mention Frerichs publicly for several more months.

Cakora told ABC News that last fall, Taliban leaders in Doha said they were holding Frerichs hostage and had provided him with medical treatment — a startling admission she said Khalilzad shared with her.

“He [Khalilzad] said that he is healthy and well,” Cakora said of her brother. “And that’s pretty much it — he’s healthy and well and he has had some high blood pressure issues, and so he’s seeing the doctor for that, he’s taken medication for that.”

As ABC News has previously reported, Khalilzad has insisted in recent months that he has raised Frerichs’ captivity directly with his counterpart in Doha, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. He has not disclosed what response he has received, but sources say the Taliban chief has not denied that the group’s Haqqani faction has held the American.

“In my meetings with the Taliban, I have demanded his release,” Khalilzad told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on May 18.

It remains unclear why the Taliban kidnapped and continue to hold Frerichs. In the past, hostages such as American Caitlan Coleman and U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl were used as political bargaining chips for the Taliban to demand prisoner releases.

No Taliban were released in exchange for Coleman, who was freed with her three children in 2017 after pressure was put on Pakistan by the Trump administration. Bergdahl, however, was traded for five Taliban who were being held at the Guantanamo prison, in a controversial decision by President Barack Obama.

Taliban negotiators in Doha have been seeking the release from a U.S. federal penitentiary of convicted heroin trafficker Hajji Bashir Noorzai, who was an early bankroller of the extremist group — but the Taliban has never specifically promised Frerichs’ freedom in exchange for Noorzai.

U.S. Department of Justice officials under the Obama, Trump and Biden presidencies have resisted freeing Noorzai from his two life sentences, officials have told ABC News.

Cakora is imploring all involved to free a man who has had no involvement in the “forever war.”

“I just want to tell anybody, the people who are holding Mark, I just want to let you know that Mark’s my brother and I want him home safe,” she said. “And wouldn’t you want your brother home if you were in the same situation?”

Barring the mercy of the Taliban, Cakora said that Biden should do whatever it takes to get the former Navy diver back to his hometown of Lombard, Illinois.

“I think I feel that if they leave a man behind that served this country for six years, I would think that, how could they sleep at night, you know? I mean, how are they sleeping at night knowing that they left a U.S. citizen behind — a U.S. veteran?” Cakora said. “They’re pretty cold if they’re not doing their job, because that’s their job.”

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