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Monday, November 14, 2022

Friday briefing: Warnings of war in Ukraine grow louder |

Top story: Russia seeks ‘excuse to go in’ says Biden

Hello, it’s time for Friday’s Guardian morning briefing with me, Warren Murray.

Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, has agreed to meet his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, next week provided there is no invasion of Ukraine in the meantime. A fresh flurry of meetings between western leaders begins today with the US president, Joe Biden, hosting a call with the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, Britain, the European Union and Nato. The US vice-president, Kamala Harris, is due to arrive in Munich for weekend talks with leaders including the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, the UK foreign secretary, Liz Truss, and Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Biden has said he believes Russia is on the brink of invading and his administration had “reason to believe” the Kremlin was “engaged in a false-flag operation to have an excuse to go in”.

Moment of peril: Blinken says Russia readying to attack Ukraine in ‘coming days’ – video
Moment of peril: Blinken says Russia readying to attack Ukraine in ‘coming days’ – video

Blinken has told a UN security council meeting that “Russia plans to manufacture a pretext for its attack. This could be a violent event that Russia will blame on Ukraine, or an outrageous accusation that Russia will level against the Ukrainian government.” Claims of attacks by Russian-backed separatists at several locations in Ukraine’s Donbas region, including at a kindergarten and a school, were said to bear the hallmarks of an attempt to incite conflict. Russia continues to deny that it has any intention of invading Ukraine but Blinken told the security council: “Our information indicates clearly that [Russian] forces, including ground troops, aircraft, ships, are preparing to launch an attack against Ukraine in the coming days.” We will have updates all day at our Ukraine crisis live blog.


Batten down for Storm Eunice – The east of England, including London, has been added this morning to the red weather warning for wind issued by the Met Office because of Storm Eunice, whose arrival has prompted rare danger-to-life warnings, with people told to stay indoors at home to avoid its 90mph winds. It joins the warning starting from 7am along the coastline of Devon, Cornwall and Somerset, as well as the south coast of Wales, due to the combination of high tides, strong winds and storm surges. People have been warned to stay home if possible, tie down objects in their gardens and be wary of fierce winds that could cause trees to topple over and tiles to fly off buildings.

Red warning issued as UK readies for Storm Eunice – video
Red warning issued as UK readies for Storm Eunice – video

A Network Rail spokesman said disruption is “inevitable” and Welsh services will be suspended for the whole day. Airports including Gatwick and Stansted are advising customers to check with their airlines. National Highways announced a severe weather alert for strong winds covering the whole strategic road network. The M48 Severn Bridge, the alternative Prince of Wales bridge, A14 Orwell Bridge in Suffolk and QEII Bridge in Dartford are all closing this morning. Yellow weather warnings for wind and snow are in force for a large part of Scotland, where blizzards are predicted, and the whole of Northern Ireland. Strong winds from Storm Dudley have already caused significant disruption to rail and ferry services, with trees blown on to train tracks and overhead power lines.


Call to rein in APPGs – More than £13m has been poured into MPs’ interest groups by private firms including healthcare bodies, arms companies and tech giants, analysis by the Guardian and openDemocracy has found. There are now 755 all-party parliamentary groups (APPGs) – a number that has ballooned from 560 five years ago. They are chaired by MPs but often run or funded by lobbyists and corporate donors seeking to influence government policy. The chair of the Commons standards committee, Chris Bryant, has called in the Guardian for parliamentary authorities to be able to shut down the largely self-policed groups where there are clear conflicts of interest. His standards committee has opened an inquiry into the system.


Mural makers in court – A collective of street artists known as Subset are about to enter a court battle as part of a 10-year “game of cat and mouse” with Dublin city council over three murals, including one celebrating the life of Sir David Attenborough. Under Irish law, organisers of public murals need planning permission. Subset argues Dublin is behind the times and should embrace street culture like others cities of the world.

Dublin mural of David Attenborough by Subset.
Dublin mural of David Attenborough by Subset. Photograph: Subset

It says all its murals are painted with permission and consultation of the buildings’ occupants or owners. Subset’s works are well known in Dublin with impactful takes on contemporary issues including Covid, LGBTQ+ rights and the abortion referendum in 2018.


Trumps on witness stand – Donald Trump, Donald Jr and Ivanka have been ordered by a New York judge to appear for a deposition within the next three weeks as part of the investigation over alleged fraud in the valuation of assets belonging to the family business. Under the judge’s ruling, Trump must testify within 21 days and hand over “documents and information” within 14 days. On Monday it was revealed that the longtime accounting firm for the Trump Organization, Mazars USA, had broken off ties with the family business, saying it could no longer stand by 10 years of annual financial statements that it had prepared for the group.


Stamp man gets own issue – A set of stamps is being launched to pay tribute to David Gentleman, the designer credited with changing the face of the British stamp. Gentleman designed more than 100 stamps for Royal Mail between 1962 and 2000, and provided many more designs that were not used. Among his innovations, Gentleman introduced a small cameo of the Queen, based on her profile as depicted by Mary Gillick on coins from 1953.

David Gentleman holding his design for a fire service commemorative postage stamp UK, 1974.
David Gentleman holding his design for a fire service commemorative postage stamp, 1974. Photograph: Evening Standard/Getty Images

Gentleman said: “Stamps were fun to design, though squeezing a lot into a small space wasn’t easy. At first it was difficult to fit in the Queen’s head until I turned it into the simple profile which is still used today. Stamps I particularly enjoyed designing were for the Battle of Hastings 1066, and Social Reformers.”

Today in Focus podcast: Tory fifth column against net zero

The Net Zero Scrutiny Group insists it accepts the facts of the climate emergency. But as the cost of living crisis deepens, they see an opportunity to push back against their own Conservative government’s climate agenda, as Helena Horton reports.

Today in Focus

The Tory fifth column against net zero

Lunchtime read: Dirty money secrets of ‘London laundromat’

In 2021 the multimillionaire DJ Mikaela Jav, real name Izzat Khanim Javadova, and her husband were forced to hand £4m to Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) after admitting in a settlement they brought it into the UK illegally through a $2.9bn (£2.1bn) money-laundering scheme.

Izzat Khanim Javadova, who performs as DJ Mikaela Jav, entered the UK on the golden visa scheme
Izzat Khanim Javadova, who performs as DJ Mikaela Jav, entered the UK on the golden visa scheme. Photograph: Handout

The pair had entered the UK years earlier after investing at least £2m under the “golden visa” scheme, which attracted thousands of wealthy people from Russia and former Soviet states to settle in Britain if they brought some of their millions with them. The scheme remained open for years, and even after parliament’s joint intelligence and security committee said it was “welcoming oligarchs with open arms”. The Home Office finally ended it on Thursday with immediate effect.

Sport

Rangers have dismantled a stunned Borussia Dortmund 4-2, leaving their hosts and earlier Europa League favourites staring elimination square in the face. Novak Djokovic could be allowed to enter this year’s Italian Open despite the men’s world No 1 being unvaccinated, according to officials in Italy. The undersecretary for sports, Valentina Vezzali, said tennis is “an outdoor sport and the tighter green pass is not required”. The FIA has dismissed Michael Masi as Formula One’s race director after his role in the controversial finale to last season’s championship-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. At the Winter Olympics, Team GB are guaranteed a medal at last, in the men’s curling – keep up with the action at our live blog.

Business

US stock futures have bounced and selling pressure eased in Asian share markets today. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia shares outside Japan was last down 0.5%, but markets in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Sydney and Seoul all pared deeper morning losses. At time of writing, the FTSE looks like opening a quarter of a percent higher, while the pound is on $1.361 and €1.197.

The papers

The Guardian’s front-page lead today is “Russia ready to fake cause for Ukraine attack – Biden”. Britain’s curling men are shown at work as the team prepares to bring home Team GB’s first medal of these Winter Olympics. “Is this what Putin means about pulling out troops?” asks the Metro, showing Russian rockets being fired in border drills. Its splash though is “Red alert!”, about the arrival of Storm Eunice.

Guardian front page, 18 February 2022
Guardian front page, 18 February 2022.

“UK braced for the 100mph sting jet storm” says the i, and other papers use this same bit of weather jargon that we all just learned – in fact the Daily Mail’s headline is more or less the same. The Sun dials it up to “100mph killer storm” and the Daily Express calls it the “Storm of the century”. The Telegraph has “Russia begins ‘false flag attacks’” and the Times says “Whitehall convinced Putin is about to invade”.

Joe Biden’s line that the Financial Times uses is becoming repetitive: “Russia poised to invade Ukraine within days, Biden warns allies”. The Mirror’s splash is about the social care crisis – its headline: “Inhumane: thousands of elderly residents kicked out in tsunami of private care home closures”.

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