How Russia’s disinformation campaign seeps into US views

Washington — On a near daily basis, Scott Cullinane talks with members of Congress about Russia’s war in Ukraine. As a lobbyist for the nonprofit Razom, part of his job is to convince them of Ukraine’s need for greater U.S. support to survive.

But as lawmakers debated a $95 billion package that includes about $60 billion in aid for Ukraine, Cullinane noticed an increase in narratives alleging Ukrainian corruption. What stood out is that these were the same talking points promoted by Russian disinformation.

So, when The Washington Post published an investigation into an extensive and coordinated Russian campaign to influence U.S. public opinion to deny Ukraine the aid, Cullinane says he was not surprised.

“This problem has been festering and growing for years,” he told VOA. “I believe that Russia’s best chance for victory is not on the battlefield, but through information operations targeted on Western capitals, including Washington.”

The Post investigation is based on more than 100 documents collected by a European intelligence service.

The files exposed a Kremlin-linked campaign in which “political strategists and trolls have written thousands of fabricated news articles, social media posts and comments that promote American isolationism, stir fear over the United States’ border security and attempt to amplify U.S. economic and racial tensions,” the Post reported.

Social media

One of the main methods for spreading such disinformation is social media, according to Roman Osadchuk, a researcher at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab and an expert on propaganda and influence campaigns.

“The process begins with a Russian publication on a small website or social media account. This is then picked up by a small Russian Telegram channel, which is subsequently shared by a larger channel with more subscribers,” Osadchuk said.

From there, someone will translate the content into English and share it, for example, on X.

“This is how Russian disinformation can quickly spread within the English-speaking X community,” Osadchuk said.

In an article published April 8, The Washington Post cited Microsoft and the social media intelligence company Graphika as saying that some articles created within this operation could have been first published on sites known as doppelgangers.

Osadchuk told VOA that these are deceptive replicas of legitimate media websites. They feature fake articles and are often taken down, only to be replaced by clones with slightly different web addresses.

“Nobody would know about these sites’ existence unless they are promoted on social media platforms. However, as soon as they detect them, social media block them. So, Russians quickly replace banned sites with their clones,” he said.

Worldwide effect

In interviews with U.S. media, two influential Republicans said they believe the propaganda has influenced their base and some of their colleagues.

“It is absolutely true. We see, directly coming from Russia, attempts to mask communications that are anti-Ukraine and pro-Russia messages, some of which we even hear being uttered on the House floor,” House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Turner said in an interview with CNN.

In an interview with the U.S. news website Puck, Michael McCaul, head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said, “Russian propaganda has made its way into the U.S., unfortunately, and it’s infected a good chunk of my party’s base.”

Serhiy Kudelia, a political scientist at Baylor University, says the Kremlin messaging is effective because it plays on existing fears.

He says the disinformation seeks to reinforce already held beliefs such as the wastefulness of aid to Ukraine, or fuels existing anger and energizes opposition to sending assistance.

“When such alignment occurs, it is easier to push through disinformation and invented news stories that would be accepted as credible by a large number of people, including members of Congress, since they reinforce their prior beliefs,” Kudelia said.

“Once fabricated stories enter mainstream public debates, they become almost impossible to debunk or separate truth from lies,” he said.

The disinformation campaign is similar to ones seen in Europe. Both seek to decrease support for Ukraine, undermine public trust in their institutions and polarize society, says Jakub Kalenský, a senior analyst at Helsinki-based European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats.

Kalenský, who is deputy director of the center’s Hybrid Influence team, believes the Kremlin’s disinformation activities have a significant effect on politics worldwide.

“This is why Russia employs thousands of people for this activity. This is why they spend billions every year, because they see it works,” he said.

But Olga Belogolova, director of the Emerging Technologies Initiative at Johns Hopkins University, says that it is hard to know how effective these propaganda efforts are.

“Russian influence operations are not necessarily always designed to get people to believe anything in particular, but to get them to believe nothing at all,” she told VOA. Belogolova added that claims of the efforts being successful in swaying opinion “is not only irresponsible, it’s dangerous.”

Countermeasures needed

Last month, the U.S. Treasury Department issued sanctions on two people and two companies that it says are connected to a “foreign malign influence campaign.” They include Moscow-based Social Design Agency, its founder Ilya Gambashidze, Russia-based Group Structura LLC and its CEO Nikolai Tupikin.

The Social Design Agency and Gambashidze are believed to be involved in the campaign described in the Post article on April 8.

Kalenský advises governments on countering disinformation and says its success requires countermeasures.

These include strengthening detection and documentation of Russian disinformation campaigns, increasing awareness and resilience of audiences to the propaganda efforts, and preventing the aggressor from exploiting weaknesses of social media and societies.

“Finally, we need to impose higher costs on the information aggressors. So far, they are almost unopposed in conducting their aggression,” Kalenský said.

For Cullinane, the Russian disinformation campaign makes his job harder. He says the debate about the role the U.S. should play in the world appears to be shifting and invoking pre-World War II isolationism.

But he remains resolute. Part of his work is finding what resonates most with each lawmaker.

“Some offices focus very much on the human rights situation in Ukraine. Many members are very moved by the plight of religious communities in occupied territories of Ukraine and the persecution they face at the hands of the Russian military,” Cullinane said. “Other offices are very intrigued by the military reform and the military innovation brought about by an active war in Ukraine.”

The national security spending bill is currently awaiting approval in the House.

This story originated in VOA’s Ukraine Service.

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Wife of Julian Assange: Biden’s comments mean case could be moving in right direction

London — The wife of Julian Assange said Thursday her husband’s legal case “could be moving in the right direction” after President Joe Biden confirmed the U.S. may drop charges against the imprisoned WikiLeaks founder.

It came as supporters in several cities rallied to demand the release of Assange, on the fifth anniversary of his incarceration in London’s high-security Belmarsh prison.

Biden said Wednesday that his administration is “considering” a request from Australia to drop the decade-long U.S. push to prosecute Assange for publishing a trove of classified American documents. The proposal would see Assange, an Australian citizen, return home rather than be sent to the U.S. to face espionage charges.

Officials have not provided more details, but Stella Assange said the comments are “a good sign.”

“It looks like things could be moving in the right direction,” she told the BBC, saying the indictment was “a Trump legacy and really Joe Biden should have dropped it from day one.”

Assange has been indicted on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over his website’s publication of classified U.S. documents almost 15 years ago. American prosecutors allege that Assange, 52, encouraged and helped U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks published, putting lives at risk.

Australia argues there is a disconnect between the U.S. treatment of Assange and Manning. Then-U.S. President Barack Obama commuted Manning’s 35-year sentence to seven years, which allowed her release in 2017.

Assange’s supporters say he is a journalist protected by the First Amendment who exposed U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Assange has been in prison since 2019 as he fought extradition, having spent seven years before that holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy to avoid being sent to Sweden over allegations of rape and sexual assault.

The relationship between Assange and his hosts eventually soured, and he was evicted from the embassy in April 2019. British police immediately arrested and imprisoned him in Belmarsh for breaching bail in 2012.

The U.K. government signed an extradition order in 2022, but a British court ruled last month that Assange can’t be sent to the United States unless U.S. authorities guarantee he won’t get the death penalty.

A further court hearing in the case is scheduled for May 20.

Assange was too ill to attend his most recent hearings. Stella Assange has said her husband’s health continues to deteriorate in prison and she fears he’ll die behind bars.

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Kyiv asks allies for help against alleged Russian abuse of Ukrainian POWs

Washington — While the debates around the U.S. aid to Ukraine focus on military assistance, Kyiv is asking Washington for support in another crucial area — locating POWs and civilian hostages held in Russia and their rehabilitation after they return home. 

Ukraine has also called on the United States to introduce sanctions against those who abuse Ukrainian captives in Russian prisons.

Tеtiana, who asked her surname be kept confidential for her family’s safety, said her father, a civilian pensioner, was taken during the Russian occupation of his small Ukrainian village in April 2022.

She found out about his fate only after Ukrainian forces liberated the village. Later, she learned more from Ukrainian POWs who had shared jail cells with him before being released in prisoner swaps.

“They are given just enough food to keep them alive. … They are not allowed to sit. They constantly stand,” she told VOA. 

Tetiana said other treatment amounts to psychological torture.

“They may be told that they’re being taken for a [prisoner] exchange and then returned on the same day and told, ‘We wanted to exchange you, but Ukraine doesn’t want you back,’” she said.

Tetіana talked to VOA in March during visits to the U.S. Senate and State Department with other relatives of prisoners and representatives of the Ukrainian Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War (KSHPPV).  

Olha Pylypey, a member of the small delegation of relatives, told VOA about her brother, Yuliy Pylypey, a marine who fought in Mariupol. On April 12, 2022, he, along with other Ukrainian marines, was captured by the Russian forces at the Ilyich Iron and Steel Works plant. 

Released prisoners told her that her brother is jailed in Kursk, Russia. They also told Yuliy’s family that the administrators and guards of Russian prisons treat Ukrainian captives much worse than regular Russian inmates. 

“They line up [Ukrainian prisoners] and release aggressive dogs on them and don’t allow them to defend themselves,” Pylypey said. She is afraid Yuliy may have also been raped.

Officials at the U.N. Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, or HRMMU, interviewed and documented 60 Ukrainian servicemen recently released from captivity and found that most of them had experienced sexual violence.

“Almost every single one of the Ukrainian POWs we interviewed described how Russian servicepersons or officials tortured them during their captivity, using repeated beatings, electric shocks, threats of execution, prolonged stress positions and mock execution. Over half of them were subjected to sexual violence,” said Danielle Bell, who heads HRMMU.   

Russian officials deny accusations of mistreatment of Ukrainian prisoners. On November 30, 2023, Russian Commissioner for Human Rights Tatiana Moskalkova said she visited 119 Ukrainian POWs in Russian prisons and found the prisons adhered to international standards.

Andriy Kryvtsov, head of the Military Medics of Ukraine nongovernmental organization, helped find his sister-in-law, military medic Olena Kryvtsova, who was part of a prisoner swap after six months in Russian captivity.  

“They were tortured, beaten and used as punching bags,” Kryvtsov said. “Russian special forces trained on them. They beat them like meat. She lost a lot of weight. When she came home, she weighed 77 pounds.”

Along with other relatives of prisoners, Kryvtsov asked the U.S. and its partners for sanctions not only against the leadership of Russia but also against prison personnel.

“Putin is not personally torturing these people,” he said. 

Andriy Yusov, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s military intelligence and a member of the KSHPPV, told VOA that Ukrainian officials understand that the U.S. can’t force Russia to comply with the Geneva Convention treaties, which establish standards of humane treatment for people affected by armed conflicts, including POWs. 

But he said the U.S. can help by locating the whereabouts of Ukrainians in Russian prisons so they can be included on the prisoner exchange lists.

The Red Cross has confirmed the identities of 5,000 Ukrainians in Russian captivity. But tens of thousands of people, both civilians and prisoners of war, remain missing, Ukrainian officials say. 

Yusov also emphasized the importance of rehabilitating released prisoners and assisting their families. 

“Thousands of family members of our defenders who ended up in captivity, as well as thousands of Ukrainians who’ve returned from Russian captivity, need social, psychological and medical support, and all this is a subject for our cooperation with partners,” he told VOA.   

Russia does not differentiate between civilians and military captives, considering both to have been “detained for counteracting the SVO,” a Russian abbreviation for special military operation – Moscow’s official designation of its invasion of Ukraine – Ukrainian human rights lawyers told the BBC. 

Lawyers at the Center for Civil Liberties, the Ukrainian organization that received the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, told the BBC that they believe there are about 2,000 Ukrainian civilian prisoners in Russia and the occupied territories.

According to a report by the U.N. Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine published in March, at least 32 Ukrainian servicemen were executed in Russian captivity between December 1, 2023, and February 29, 2024.

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На міжбанку поновилося падіння гривні проти долара

Станом на 16:00 котирування на міжбанківському валютному ринку становили 39 гривень 22–27 копійок за долар, це на 18 і 21 копійку відповідно більше за рівень закриття торгів 10 квітня

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Top US general warns Ukraine on brink of being overrun by Russia

WASHINGTON — The tenacity of Ukrainian troops will soon be no match for Russia’s manpower and missiles should U.S. lawmakers fail to approve additional security assistance for Ukraine, the top American general in Europe told lawmakers, part of a stark warning about the direction of the more than two-year-old conflict.

U.S. military officials have warned repeatedly in recent weeks that Russian forces have been able to make incremental gains in Ukraine and that without renewed U.S. backing, Ukraine’s forces will eventually falter.

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday, the commander of U.S. European Command described the battlefield in blunt terms.

“If we do not continue to support Ukraine, Ukraine will run out of artillery shells and will run out of air defense interceptors in fairly short order,” said General Christopher Cavoli, explaining that Kyiv is dependent on the United States for those key munitions.

“I can’t predict the future, but I can do simple math,” he said. “Based on my experience in 37-plus years in the U.S. military, if one side can shoot and the other side can’t shoot back, the side that can’t shoot back loses.”

Cavoli also said the failure of U.S. lawmakers to approve a $60 billion supplemental security package is already giving Russia a significant advantage.

“They [Ukraine] are now being outshot by the Russian side 5-to-1,” he told lawmakers. “That will immediately go to 10-to-1 in a matter of weeks.

“We are not talking about months. We are not talking hypothetically,” Cavoli said.

Multiple U.S. officials have warned that Ukraine’s military has been forced to ration artillery and air defense capabilities as Kyiv waits for U.S. lawmakers to approve the supplemental assistance.

“We are already seeing the effects of the failure to pass the supplemental,” Assistant Secretary of Defense Celeste Wallander told the panel, testifying alongside U.S. European Command’s Cavoli.

“We don’t need to imagine,” she said, blaming the lack of U.S. provided artillery for why “the Russian attacks are getting through.”

That supplemental defense package passed in the U.S. Senate back in February, but leadership in the House of Representatives has so far refused to bring the legislation to the floor for a vote.

During a press conference on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Republican House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson said lawmakers were continuing to “actively discuss our options on a path forward.”

“It’s a very complicated matter at a very complicated time. The clock is ticking on it, and everyone here feels the urgency of that,” Johnson said. “But what’s required is that you reach consensus on it, and that’s what we’re working on.”

House Democrats, however, have voiced frustration with Johnson’s refusal to call a vote.

“The House has waited months now to approve the security package to help protect Ukraine,” said Representative Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. “Weeks ago, we were too late. And now every day is at an extreme cost to our ability to deter Russia.”

Another Democrat on the committee, Representative Elissa Slotkin, scolded Johnson, saying he needs to call a vote despite opposition from a small group of House Republicans.

“We do need to get it over the finish line,” she said. “I accept that he’s at risk of losing his job over that choice, but that’s what leadership is — it’s the big boy pants and making tough choices.”

Some Republicans, though, chastised Democratic lawmakers for what they described as misguided priorities.

“We’ve got hundreds of thousands of Americans who are dying, fentanyl overdoses, child and human sex trafficking, not to mention 178-plus countries that are crossing our border,” said Republican Representative Cory Mills.

“But, oh wait, that’s not the priority. Let’s secure Ukraine’s borders,” he said.

VOA’s Katherine Gypson contributed to this report.

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EU lawmakers approve an overhaul of migration law, hoping to deprive the far right of votes

BRUSSELS — European Union lawmakers approved Wednesday a major revamp of the bloc’s migration laws aimed at ending years of division over how to manage the entry of thousands of people without authorization and depriving the far right of a vote-winning campaign issue ahead of June elections.

The members of the European Parliament voted on the so-called Pact on Migration and Asylum, regulations and policies meant to help address the thorny issue of who should take responsibility for migrants when they arrive and whether other EU countries should be obliged to help.

The proceedings were briefly interrupted by a small but noisy group of demonstrators in the public gallery who wore shirts marked “this pact kills” and shouted “vote no!”

The 27 EU member countries must now endorse the reform package, possibly in a vote in late April, before it can enter force.

The plan was drawn up after 1.3 million people, mostly those fleeing war in Syria and Iraq, sought refuge in Europe in 2015. The EU’s asylum system collapsed, reception centers were overwhelmed in Greece and Italy, and countries further north built barriers to stop people entering.

But few have admitted to being happy with the new policy response to one of Europe’s biggest political crises, and even the lawmakers who drafted parts of the new regulations are unwilling to support the entire reform package.

“I’m not going to open a bottle of champagne after this,” Dutch lawmaker Sophie i’nt Veld, who drew up the assembly’s position on migrant reception conditions, told reporters on the eve of the plenary session in Brussels. She said she planned to abstain from some of the votes.

In’t Veld described the pact as “the bare minimum” in terms of a policy response, but she does not want to torpedo it by voting against. “We will not have another opportunity to come to an agreement,” she said.

Swedish parliamentarian Malin Bjork, who worked on refugee resettlement, said that the pact does not respond to “any of the questions it was set to solve.”

She said the reform package “undermines the individual right to seek asylum” in Europe because it would build on plans that some EU countries already have to process migrants abroad. Italy has concluded one such deal with Albania.

“We cannot have a situation where people systematically, in their thousands, die on their way seeking protection and refuge in Europe,” Bjork told reporters.

The new rules include controversial measures: facial images and fingerprints could be taken from children from the age of 6, and people may be detained during screening. Fast-track deportation could be used on those not permitted to stay.

“The pact will lead to more detention and de facto detention at the EU’s external borders, including for families with children, which is in clear violation of international law,” said Marta Gionco from Picum, a network of migrant rights defense organizations.

Mainstream political parties want to secure agreement on the pact ahead of Europe-wide elections on June 6-9. Migration is likely to be a campaign issue, and they believe the new reforms address concerns about an issue that has been a consistent vote-winner for far-right parties.

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Russia, Kazakhstan evacuate 100,000 people in worst flooding in decades

ORSK, Russia — Russia and Kazakhstan ordered more than 100,000 people to evacuate after swiftly melting snow swelled rivers beyond bursting point in the worst flooding in the area for at least 70 years. 

The deluge of melt water overwhelmed scores of settlements in the Ural Mountains, Siberia and areas of Kazakhstan close to rivers such as the Ural and Tobol, which local officials said had risen by meters in a matter of hours to the highest levels ever recorded. 

Late on Tuesday, levels of the Ural River in Orenburg, a city of around 550,000, reached 9.31 meters (30.54 feet) exceeding the critical level of 9.30 meters (30.51 feet), the regional governor said. He urged residents in areas at risk to evacuate. 

“I am calling for caution and for those in flooded districts to evacuate promptly,” Denis Pasler said on Telegram. 

City residents paddled along roads as though they were rivers. Dams and embankments were being strengthened.  

Upstream on the Ural, floodwaters burst through an embankment dam in the city of Orsk last Friday. 

Regional officials said water levels in Orsk had subsided by 21 centimeters (.68 feet) and now stood at 9.07 meters 29.75 feet), still well over the official danger level of about 7 meters (22.96 feet). Russia’s Emergencies Ministry said water levels had declined in a number of areas but described the situation as “still difficult.” 

The Ural is Europe’s third-longest river, which flows through Russia and Kazakhstan into the Caspian. 

Evacuation order 

Sirens in Kurgan, a city on the Tobol River, a tributary of the Irtysh, warned people to evacuate immediately. Regional officials said floodwaters would continue to rise for three days and predicted a “difficult situation” until the end of April. 

A state of emergency was also declared in Tyumen, a major oil-producing region of Western Siberia, the largest hydrocarbon basin in the world. Russian news agencies said Emergencies Minister Alexander Kurenkov had arrived in the city as part of a regional tour assessing flood danger. 

“The difficult days are still ahead for the Kurgan and Tyumen regions,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “There is a lot of water coming.” 

Tyumen is about 200 kilometers (124.27 miles) north of Kurgan. 

President Vladimir Putin spoke to President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan, where more than 86,000 people have been evacuated because of the flooding. Tokayev said the flooding was probably the worst in 80 years. 

The most severely hit areas are Atyrau, Aktobe, Akmola, Kostanai, Eastern Kazakhstan, Northern Kazakhstan and Pavlodar regions, most of which border Russia and are crossed by rivers originating in Russia such as the Ural and the Tobol. 

Russians beg for help

In Russia, anger boiled over in Orsk when at least 100 Russians begged the Kremlin chief for help and chanted “shame on you” at local officials who they said had done too little. 

The Kremlin said Putin was being updated on the situation but had no immediate plans to visit the flood zone as local and emergency officials were doing their best to tackle the deluge.  

In Kurgan, a region with 800,000 residents, drone footage showed traditional Russian wooden houses and the golden kupolas of Orthodox Churches stranded alongside an expanse of water.  

Russian officials have said some people ignored calls to evacuate. Kurgan Governor Vadim Shumkov urged residents to take the warnings seriously. 

“We understand you very well: It is hard to leave your possessions and move somewhere at the call of the local authorities,” Shumkov said. “It’s better that we laugh at the hydrologists together later and praise God for the miracle of our common salvation. But let’s do it alive.” 

In Kurgan, water levels were rising in the Tobol. Russia said 19,000 people were at risk in the region.  

Rising waters were also forecast in Siberia’s Ishim River, also a tributary of the Irtysh, which along with its parent, the Ob, forms the world’s seventh-longest river system. 

It was not immediately clear why this year’s floods were so severe as the snow melt is an annual event in Russia. Scientists say climate change has made flooding more frequent worldwide. 

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Peter Higgs, physicist who proposed the existence of the ‘God particle,’ dies at 94

LONDON — Nobel prize-winning physicist Peter Higgs, who proposed the existence of the so-called “God particle” that helped explain how matter formed after the Big Bang, has died at age 94, the University of Edinburgh said Tuesday.

The university, where Higgs was emeritus professor, said he died Monday following a short illness.

Higgs predicted the existence of a new particle, which came to be known as the Higgs boson, in 1964. He theorized there must be a subatomic particle of certain dimension that would explain how other particles — and therefore all the stars and planets in the universe — acquired mass. Without something like this particle, the set of equations physicists use to describe the world, known as the standard model, would not hold together.

Higgs’ work helps scientists understand one of the most fundamental riddles of the universe: how the Big Bang created something out of nothing 13.8 billion years ago. Without mass from the Higgs, particles could not clump together into the matter we interact with every day.

But it would be almost 50 years before the particle’s existence could be confirmed. In 2012, in one of the biggest breakthroughs in physics in decades, scientists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, announced that they had finally found a Higgs boson using the Large Hardron Collider, the $10 billion atom smasher in a 17-mile (27-kilometer) tunnel under the Swiss-French border.

The collider was designed in large part to find Higgs’ particle. It produces collisions with extraordinarily high energies in order to mimic some of the conditions that were present in the trillionths of seconds after the Big Bang.

Higgs won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work, alongside Francois Englert of Belgium, who independently came up with the same theory.

Edinburgh University Vice Chancellor Peter Mathieson said Higgs, who was born in Newcastle, was “a remarkable individual – a truly gifted scientist whose vision and imagination have enriched our knowledge of the world that surrounds us.”

“His pioneering work has motivated thousands of scientists, and his legacy will continue to inspire many more for generations to come.”

Born in Newcastle, northeast England, on May 29, 1929, Higgs studied at King’s College, University of London, and was awarded a doctorate in 1954. He spent much of his career at Edinburgh, becoming the Personal Chair of Theoretical Physics at the Scottish university in 1980. He retired in 1996.

One highlight of Higgs’ career came in the 2013 presentation at CERN in Geneva where scientists presented in complex terms — based on statistical analysis unfathomable to most laypeople — that the boson had been confirmed. He broke into tears, wiping down his glasses in the stands of a CERN lecture hall.

“There was an emotion — a kind of vibration — going around in the auditorium,” Fabiola Gianotti, the CERN director-general told The Associated Press. “That was just a unique moment, a unique experience in a professional life.”

“Peter was a very touching person. He was so sweet, so warm at the same time. And so always interested in what other people had to say,” she said. “Able to listen to other people … open, and interesting, and interested.”

Joel Goldstein, of the School of Physics at the University of Bristol, said: “Peter Higgs was a quiet and modest man, who never seemed comfortable with the fame he achieved even though this work underpins the entire modern theoretical framework of particle physics.”

Gianotti recalled how Higgs often bristled at the term “God particle” for his discovery: “I don’t think he liked this kind of definition,” she said. “It was not in his style.”

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Коваль: Фонд держмайна отримав в управління арештовані активи Дмитра Кисельова

Голова ФДМ також анонсував аукціони квартир російського олігарха Михайла Шелкова та співробітника російської окупаційної адміністрації Володимира Сальдо

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US top military leaders face Congress over Pentagon budget and questions on Israel, Ukraine support

Washington — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Charles Brown Jr. testified on Capitol Hill on Tuesday about the Pentagon’s $850 billion budget for 2025 as questions remained as to whether lawmakers will support current spending needs for Israel or Ukraine.

The Senate hearing was the first time lawmakers on both sides were able to question the Pentagon’s top civilian and military leadership on the administration’s Israel strategy following the country’s deadly strike on World Central Kitchen humanitarian aid workers in Gaza. It also follows continued desperate pleas by Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy that if the U.S. does not help soon, Kyiv will lose the war to Russia.

In their opening statements, both Austin and Brown emphasized that their 2025 budget is still shaped with the military’s long-term strategic goal in mind — to ready forces and weapons for a potential future conflict with China. About $100 billion of this year’s request is set aside for new space, nuclear weapons and cyber warfare systems the military says it must invest in now before Beijing’s capabilities surpass it.

But the conflicts in Ukraine and Israel are challenging a deeply-divided Congress and have resulted in months of delays in getting last year’s defense budget through, which was only passed by lawmakers a few weeks ago.

Austin’s opening remarks were temporarily interrupted by protesters lifting a Palestinian flag and shouting at him to stop sending weapons to Israel. “Stop the genocide,” they said, as they lifted their hands, stained in red, in the air.

The Pentagon scraped together about $300 million in ammunition to send to Kyiv in March but cannot send more without Congress’ support, and a separate $60 billion supplemental bill that would fund those efforts has been stalled for months.

“The price of U.S. leadership is real. But it is far lower than the price of U.S. abdication,” Austin told the senators.

If Kyiv falls, it could imperil Ukraine’s Baltic NATO member neighbors and potentially drag U.S. troops into a prolonged European war. If millions die in Gaza due to starvation, it could enrage Israel’s Arab neighbors and lead to a much wider, deadlier Middle East conflict — one that could also bring harm to U.S. troops and to U.S. relations in the region for decades.

The Pentagon has urged Congress to support new assistance for Ukraine for months, to no avail, and has tried to walk a perilous line between defending its ally Israel and maintaining ties with key regional Arab partners. Israel’s actions in Gaza have been used as a rallying cry by factions of Iranian-backed militant groups, including the Houthis in Yemen and Islamic Resistance groups across Iraq and Syria, to strike at U.S. interests. Three U.S. service members have already been killed as drone and missile attacks increased against U.S. bases in the region.

Six U.S. military ships with personnel and components to build a humanitarian aid pier are also still en route to Gaza but questions remain as to how food that arrives at the pier will be safely distributed inside the devastated territory.

Lawmakers are also seeing demands at home. For months, a handful of its far-right members have kept Congress from approving additional money or weapons for Ukraine until domestic needs like curbing the crush of migrants at the southern U.S. border are addressed. Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson is already facing a call to oust him as speaker by Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene because Johnson is trying to work out a compromise that would move the Ukraine aid forward.

On Israel, the World Central Kitchen strike led to a shift in tone from President Joe Biden on how Israel must protect civilian life in Gaza and drove dozens of House Democrats, including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to call on Biden to halt weapons transfers to Israel.

Half the population of Gaza is starving and on the brink of famine due to Israel’s tight restrictions on allowing aid trucks through.

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Simon Harris installed as Ireland’s new prime minister

LONDON — Lawmaker Simon Harris was elected Ireland’s prime minister by a vote in parliament Tuesday, becoming at 37 the country’s youngest-ever leader. 

Harris takes over as head of Ireland’s three-party coalition government from Leo Varadkar, who announced his surprise resignation last month. Harris, who served as higher education minister in Varadkar’s government, was the only candidate to replace him as head of the center-right Fine Gael party. 

Lawmakers in the Dáil, the lower house of Ireland’s parliament, confirmed Harris as taoiseach, or prime minister, by 88 votes to 69. 

Harris was first elected to parliament at 24 and has been nicknamed the “TikTok taoiseach” — pronounced TEA-shock — because of his fondness for communicating on social media. He faces challenges including a strained health service, soaring housing costs and an exodus of Fine Gael lawmakers, more than 10 of whom have said they will not run for reelection. 

“I commit to doing everything that I can to honor the trust that you have placed in me today,” Harris said. “As taoiseach I want to bring new ideas, a new energy and a new empathy to public life.” 

Varadkar was the previous youngest-ever premier when first elected at age 38, as well as Ireland’s first openly gay prime minister. Varadkar, whose mother is Irish and father is Indian, was also Ireland’s first biracial taoiseach. 

Varadkar, 45, has had two spells as taoiseach — between 2017 and 2020 and again since December 2022 as part of a job-share with Micheál Martin, the head of Fianna Fáil. 

Varadkar officially stepped down on Monday when he handed in his letter of resignation to President Michael D. Higgins. 

Varadkar told the Dáil on Tuesday that his time in politics had been the “most fulfilling and rewarding time” of his life. 

“But today is the beginning of a new era for my party, a new chapter in my life and a new phase for this coalition government,” he said. 

Harris has said he plans to keep the Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Green Party coalition government going until March 2025, when an election must be held. 

Opposition parties argued that the Irish public deserves an early election. 

“Another Fine Gael taoiseach is the last thing the people need,” said Mary Lou McDonald, leader of left-wing party Sinn Fein. “We need a change of leadership, we need a change of government.”

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Vatican’s top diplomat visits Vietnam, looks to normalize relations

HANOI, Vietnam — The Vatican’s top diplomat began a six-day visit to Vietnam on Tuesday as a part of efforts to normalize relations with the communist nation. 

Richard Gallagher, the Holy See’s foreign minister, met his Vietnamese counterpart Bui Thanh Son and expressed the Vatican’s “gratitude” for the progress that has been made to improve ties. The visit took place after Archbishop Marek Zalewski became the first Vatican representative to live and open an office in the Southeast Asian country. 

“The visit is of great importance,” said Son. 

Gallagher will also meet Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and visit a children’s hospital in the capital, Hanoi, state-run Vietnam News Agency reported. He will hold Mass in Hanoi, Hue in central Vietnam, and the financial hub of Ho Chi Minh City in the south. 

Gallagher is the Vatican’s No. 2 and his visit to Hanoi was an “important moment” that showed that the relationship was continuing while the sides wait for an upgrade to full diplomatic relations, said Giorgio Bernardelli, the head of AsiaNews, a Catholic Missionary news agency. 

Relations between the Vatican and Vietnam were severed in 1975, after the Communist Party established its rule over the entire country following the end of the Vietnam War. Relations have been strained ever since, although the sides have had regular talks since at least the late 1990s. 

The agreement to appoint the Vatican’s permanent representative in Vietnam was signed in July 2023, during former President Vo Van Thuong’s visit to the Holy See. Thuong also extended an invitation to Pope Francis to visit Vietnam. But Thuong has since resigned, becoming the latest victim of an intense anti-corruption campaign. 

Bernardelli said that the pope’s potential visit was likely to be discussed, adding that it also depended on the political situation in Hanoi following the president’s resignation 

He said that an improvement in ties with Vietnam could also have implications for the Holy See’s ties with communist-ruled China. The relationship with Vietnam had always been a “point of reference, but with important differences,” since unlike China, Vietnam has been keen to improve relations with the Vatican and the West. 

Beijing severed diplomatic ties with the Vatican in 1951, after the communists rose to power and expelled foreign priests. 

Catholicism is officially the most practiced religion in Vietnam, with 5.9 million or 44.6% of the 13.2 million people who identified as religious in a 2019 census saying they were Catholic. That works out to more than 6% of the country’s population. 

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