As the conflict in Ukraine escalates, EU foreign ministers agreed to extend existing sanctions against Russia until September, but stopped short of imposing new restrictions.
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, meanwhile, warned that the conflict could escalate into a “hot war” between Russia and the West. Testifying at the Senate Armed Services Committee, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said caution should guide the next steps by the US. “I’m uneasy about beginning a process of military engagement without knowing where it will lead us and what we’ll do to sustain it,” he said.
This week’s Economist looks at the position of current Russian President Vladimir Putin, who “upgraded the war into a Russia-NATO conflict just as Standard & Poor’s, a rating agency, was downgrading Russia’s credit rating to junk.”
The annexation of Crimea and the war in Ukraine have thus helped Mr Putin to consolidate power at home. But as the economy deteriorates, he cannot afford to let go of eastern Ukraine and seems trapped by the logic of escalating conflict.
Separately, the British government has summoned the Russian ambassador after Russian military aircraft were intercepted operating near UK airspace, apparently disrupting commercial aviation. The Foreign Office said the incident was “part of an increasing pattern of out of area operations by Russian aircraft.”
(image: RAF/Daily Telegraph)
* WORLD * With the passing of Thursday’s deadline for the possible exchange of a Jordanian pilot and a convicted female terrorist, the fate of the two hostages purportedly held by Islamic State remains unclear. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said only that efforts were being made in cooperation with other governments to free journalist Kenji Goto.
In Egypt’s Sinai region at least 25 people, mostly military personnel, were killed in attacks claimed by a group allied to IS.
On Friday, the UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia will hand down a final verdict in the cases of five men convicted in connection with the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.
* POLITICS * UPDATE 9.30 AM FRI: Mitt Romney is to provide reporters with an “update” on his plans for the upcoming election cycle via a conference call at 11am ET. The Daily Beast says he’s running. NBC’s Chuck Todd says he has to decide now, as the “ground is crumbling” under his feet.
The White House appears set for its first clash with the new Republican-controlled congress after the Senate passed a bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline, which President Obama has previously signaled he would veto.
Meanwhile, the White House has also threatened to veto eight bills taken up by the House of Representatives.
The only Republican senator who didn’t vote on final passage of the Keystone bill was Marco Rubio, who was wrapping up a fundraising swing through California, prompting more speculation that he is preparing a Presidential bid.
John McCain’s “illegitimate son“, Senator Lindsey Graham, meanwhile, formed a political committee called Security Through Strength – with deliberate Reaganesque echoes – and said he is “testing the waters” on a run. “I’m tired of just complaining,” he said. Such a move would certainly force foreign policy into a higher profile in any primary contest.
* BUSINESS * Music streaming service Spotify is looking to raise about $500m, potentially delaying an IPO for one of the most highly-valued startups.
Disneyland has big plans for the 60th anniversary of its Anaheim park. Meanwhile, a top CDC official said the recent measles outbreak centered at the park likely came from overseas. It’s a small world after all.
Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack restaurant sold 5million shares at $21 in its IPO, higher than initial indications. The company starts trading on the NYSE on Friday, with the symbol SHAK.(image: ShakeShack.com)
* MEDIA * In light of new VC funding deals for Mashable and Business Insider, GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram analyses whether new media can scale or not. He writes:
When it comes to showing that they can scale to a size that would make them a competitor for existing major-media brands, only Vice has arguably achieved that, with a business that covers news on a global level, produces entertainment and drives a lot of advertising revenue, all based on a valuable millennial audience.
At the same time, however, advertising is also part of the problem.
Headline of the day (and no, it doesn’t come from your spam inbox): ‘You can earn $13,000 a year selling your poop’.
* SPORTS * Nominations closed on Thursday for the presidency of Fifa, world soccer’s governing body. Despite a slate of several challengers, it seems unlikely that current incumbent Sepp Blatter will be seriously threatened.
The story gives us a chance to revisit John Oliver’s item ahead of last year’s World Cup (and gives him a chance to revisit his favorite Blatter clip):
* CULTURE * The future of Downton Abbey could be in doubt, with creator and writer Julian Fellowes apparently yet to commit to a seventh series.
Kenneth Ireland, who was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for rape and murder and spent 21 years in jail, was awarded $6m by the State of Connecticut. He becomes the first person in the state to be compensated for a wrongful incarceration claim since a law was passed seven years ago. Ireland was released in 2009 and in October last year was appointed to Connecticut’s Parole Board.
Finally, Microsoft founder Bill Gates believes humans should be worried by the threat of artificial intelligence. In his third Reddit AMA, Gates said he didn’t understand “why some people are not concerned” about the implications of super-intelligence.
Meanwhile, a surgical robot with multiple arms – admittedly operated by doctors, at least for now – carried out its first operation in England, removing a cancerous tumor.