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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Russian President Vladimir Putin accuses the United States of inciting the Ukraine crisis , gunfire in Guinea-Bissau sparks coup fears, and the FBI recommends burner phones at the Winter Olympics .
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Russian President Vladimir Putin accuses the United States of inciting the Ukraine crisis, gunfire in Guinea-Bissau sparks coup fears, and the FBI recommends burner phones at the Winter Olympics.
If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.
Putin Accuses the United States of Stoking Ukraine Crisis
Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of trying to drag Russia into war over Ukraine while still ignoring Moscow’s key security concerns. But he also expressed his willingness to continue talks—a slight shift in rhetoric that could reflect his changing calculus.
Washington’s “most important task is to contain Russia’s development,” Putin said in a news conference on Tuesday. “Ukraine is just an instrument of achieving this goal. It can be done in different ways, such as pulling us into some armed conflict and then forcing their allies in Europe to enact those harsh sanctions against us.”
His charges come amid a spate of diplomatic meetings intended to de-escalate tensions and establish a united Western front against Moscow’s potential military moves. In recent weeks, Russia has deployed nearly 100,000 troops to the Ukrainian border and thousands more to neighboring Belarus, moves that have sparked fears of an imminent military invasion.
On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discussed Putin’s security proposals while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson traveled to Kyiv, Ukraine, to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. To bolster regional defenses against a potential attack, Ukraine, Britain, and Poland have also announced plans to establish a trilateral security pact.
During the news conference, Putin appeared to leave room for future diplomatic negotiations. “I hope that eventually we will find this solution though it’s not easy,” he said. “But to talk today about what that will be—I am, of course, not ready to do that.”
His language could also signal a tactical shift away from an immediate military invasion and toward executing intense, longer-term political and economic pressure campaigns against Kyiv. “Putin’s statement suggests that he may be considering other options,” said Daniel Fried, a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council and former U.S. ambassador to Poland. Putin could “prolong the crisis and see if better opportunities arise than a short-term quick kill, which does not seem to be working out for him,” he said.
But his overall political objectives in Ukraine would likely stay constant. “His strategy remains the same: Destroy Ukrainian sovereignty and independence,” Fried said. “He’s not going to give up what he wants, but he may change the tactics.”
What We’re Following Today
Guinea-Bissau’s attempted coup. Gunfire erupted in the capital of Guinea-Bissau on Tuesday, sparking fears of a coup just a week after military forces seized control in Burkina Faso. According to President Umaro Sissoco Embaló, unidentified armed gunmen attacked the government palace in a deadly attempted coup. “Our republican defense and security forces were able to stop this evil,” he told reporters while insisting that the situation was “under control.”
Guinea-Bissau has a long history of coups: Since gaining independence in 1974, the country has undergone four successful takeovers and more than a dozen failed coups. After initial reports of gunfire were released Tuesday, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) denounced the attack. “ECOWAS condemns the coup attempt and holds the military responsible,” the bloc said.
FBI recommends burner phones. As the Beijing Winter Olympics approach, the FBI is advising athletes and visitors to use burner phones at the Games, amid ongoing security concerns over a health app that all attendees are required to download. Although the FBI “is not aware of any specific cyber threat against the Olympics,” the agency said, it “urges all athletes to keep their personal cell phones at home and use a temporary phone.”
Keep an Eye On
Syria’s humanitarian crisis. Heavy snowfall and plummeting temperatures are creating dire conditions for displaced people in Syrian camps, according to U.N. officials. In January alone, the organization said, snowstorms destroyed nearly 1,000 tents while damaging more than 9,500 others. Two babies have died from the harsh weather, and another child was killed after snow caused a tent to collapse.
“It is incomprehensible that any child should face the winter scared for their life,” Save the Children, a humanitarian organization, said in a statement. “Almost 11 years after the crisis in Syria started, it feels like the world has forgotten about children in North West Syria.”
Journalist deaths in Mexico. Four journalists were killed in Mexico in January alone, an alarming spate of murders that has highlighted the country’s perilous media landscape and sparked nationwide protests. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Mexico was one of the deadliest countries for media workers in 2021, along with India.
India’s digital currency push. India is preparing to launch a digital rupee by April 2023, making it the latest country to embrace digital currencies. New Delhi will be joining a short list of other nations—including China, Sweden, Nigeria, and South Korea—that have also experimented with their own central bank digital currencies.
Odds and Ends
To combat littering, one Swedish start-up is recruiting crows to remove cigarette butts from the streets of Sodertalje, Sweden. Research suggests that the birds have the same reasoning abilities as 7-year-old children, making them highly suited for the job, the company said. As part of the training, each bird will receive a tasty morsel of food in exchange for picking up a cigarette butt. “They are wild birds taking part on a voluntary basis,” said Christian Günther-Hanssen, the start-up’s founder.