A virtual summit between Biden and Putin, a damning account of the UK's response to the fall of Kabul, a fascinating argument for sovereign immunity, and an unexpected pardon in Myanmar.
Below is today's audio version of the newsletter. Enjoy!
WHAT'S THE LATEST?
Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi had her jail sentence commuted to two years, just a day after being sentenced to four - two years for incitement, and two for breaching pandemic restrictions.
Her supporters have always argued the charges are illegitimate. The military leader announced the pardon, and Aung San Suu Kyi will serve the two years under house arrest.
Read our recent piece for more, Myanmar: The constant struggle for democracy.
A damning account by a former British diplomat turned whistleblower documents the chaotic reaction of the Foreign Office to the Taliban's return to power in Afghanistan in August.
Raphael Marshall said then Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, was too slow to act. He also said the government's "dysfunctional" handling of the situation was compounded by confusion over emails, and a culture of working an eight-hour shift five days a week, no matter the urgency.
Marshall went on to say he estimates around 5% of those who sought help in evacuating the country actually received assistance, adding "some" of those people have since been murdered by the Taliban.
Remember: Dominic Raab was moved to Justice Secretary on September 15, exactly a month after the fall of Kabul.
What's Going on in Ukraine?
A video summit is planned today between US President Biden and Russian President Vladmir Putin, as tensions escalate over the perceived Russian threat to Ukraine.
What’s going on? The US believes Russia may be preparing to invade Ukraine, and possibly as soon as next month. Russian troops are gathering along the border - totalling somewhere between 90,000 and close to 100,000 military personnel - conducting training drills nearby.
The US shared intelligence with western allies to convince them of the threat. A coordinated response of sanctions and countermeasures is being prepared to deter Moscow - the specifics of which are still under discussion. Russia is denying any intention of invading.
Why is this happening? A former Soviet republic, Russia has much in common with Ukraine, and the two countries share a border. However, since Ukraine became independent in 1991, it has sought closer ties with western powers.
Putin is keen to prevent western influence there - particularly in the form of NATO and the EU. Analysts have described the current situation as a “geopolitical flashpoint” - and part of a renewed rivalry between western powers and Russia.
“Russia has deep cultural, economic, and political bonds with Ukraine, and in many ways Ukraine is central to Russia’s identity and vision for itself in the world” - Council on Foreign Relations
Previous Conflict: In 2014, Russia covertly invaded and annexed Crimea - part of southern Ukraine. To date, more than 14,000 people have died in the conflict.
Worth noting: While there are mounting concerns, it is not clear what Putin's plans actually are. As CNN noted, this "could be a way for Russia to leverage concessions from the West".
Lawyers for the former King of Spain, Juan Carlos - who abdicated in 2014 - are seeking immunity over a UK High Court case taken by a former mistress.
Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein alleges Juan Carlos - who was king at the time - used Spain's spy agency in a campaign of harassment and intimidation.
In one instance documented in The Guardian, Corinna claims a book about the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, was left on her coffee table following a break in.
What did Juan Carlos want? Corinna's legal team allege he wanted gifts - including art and £65 million in cash - returned.
What are his legal team saying? The report is a bit confusing. While his legal team appear to strongly deny the accusations, they also say if he did do it he had the right to, as monarch.
"Such alleged conduct, even if abusive or unlawful, would have been in His Majesty’s official capacity."
We'll keep an eye on this story. For anyone who wants to know more about Juan Carlos, here's a recent piece we published: Juan Carlos - a King in Exile.
- From today, anyone in Italy who is not vaccinated cannot go to theatres, live music venues, sports events, or the cinema.
- New York City's Mayor, Bill de Blasio, announced a vaccine mandate for the private sector, which is to be implemented from December 27.
- As The Times wrote, Omicron cases in the UK "double every three days", with epidemiologists warning it could become the "dominant strain" within weeks rather than months.
- BBC News: US boss fires 900 employees over Zoom
- The Guardian: Dominic Cummings: 'very unwise for No10 to lie' about Christmas parties
- The Financial Times: China is faltering, but the world is not feeling the effects
- Al Jazeera: Endless pandemic? Asia's Omicron retreat shows COVID is political
- The Irish Times: Grandmother again jailed after shopping without face mask
The UK's Education Secretary's tweet was widely circulated yesterday, after he called out The Telegraph for wrongly putting a photo of him in a post about Health Secretary, Sajid Javid.
Just last month, a Conservative MP received backlash - and reportedly lost his role with a charity - for mixing up the ministers.
80 years since Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor - a US navy base in Hawaii. In total more than 2,300 military personnel were killed - and the event precipitated the entry of the US into WWII.
ON A LIGHTER NOTE...
I feel seen.