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EXPLAINER: Russia’s military woes mount amid Ukraine attacks

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EXPLAINER: Russia’s military woes mount amid Ukraine attacks

Even as the Kremlin moved to absorb parts of Ukraine in a sharp escalation of the conflict, the Russian military suffered new defeats that highlighted its deep problems on the battlefield and opened rifts at the top of the Russian government.

The setbacks have badly dented the image of a powerful Russian military and added to the tensions surrounding an ill-planned mobilization. They have also fueled fighting among Kremlin insiders and left Russian President Vladimir Putin increasingly cornered.

Here is a look at the latest Russian losses, some of the reasons behind them and the potential consequences.

STRING OF DEFEATS IN THE NORTHEAST, SOUTH

Relying on Western-supplied weapons, Ukraine has followed up on last month’s gains in the northeastern Kharkiv region by pressing deeper into occupied areas and forcing Russian troops to withdraw from the city of Lyman, a key logistical hub.

The Ukrainian army has also unleashed a broad counteroffensive in the south, capturing a string of villages on the western bank of the Dnieper River and advancing toward the city of Kherson.

The Ukrainian gains in the Kherson region followed relentless strikes on the two main crossings over the Dnieper that made them unusable and forced Russian troops on the western bank of the Dnieper to rely exclusively on pontoon crossings, which also have been repeatedly hit by the Ukrainians.

Phillips P. O’Brien, professor of strategic studies at the University of St Andrews, predicted more Russian failures in Kherson, noting that it’s “hard to stabilize a line when your logistics are stretched, your troops are exhausted and your opponent is much, much smarter.”

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Pressed against the wide river and suffering severe supply shortages, Russian troops face a looming defeat that could set the stage for a potential Ukrainian push to reclaim control of the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014.

MILITARY SHORTAGES AND COMMAND WOES

Military reporters and bloggers embedded with Russian troops in Ukraine have painted a bleak picture of an ill-equipped and poorly organized force under incompetent command.

With the war in its eighth month, the Russian military suffers from an acute shortage of personnel, lack of coordination between units and unstable supply lines.

Many Russian units also have low morale, a depressed mood that contrasts sharply with Ukraine’s well-motivated forces.

Unlike the Ukrainian military, which has relied on intelligence data provided by the U.S. and its NATO allies to select and strike targets, the Russian army has been plagued by poor intelligence.

When Russian intelligence spots a Ukrainian target, the military engages in a long process of securing clearance to strike it, which often drags on until the target disappears.

Russian war correspondents particularly bemoaned the shortage of drones and noted that Iranian-supplied drones have not been used for maximum effectiveness due to the poor selection of targets.

KREMLIN CALLS UP MORE TROOPS, ANNEXES TERRITORY

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Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to the Ukrainian counteroffensive by ordering a partial military mobilization, which aims to round up at least 300,000 reservists to beef up forces along the 1,000-kilometer front line in Ukraine.

At the start of the invasion, Ukraine declared a sweeping mobilization, with a goal of forming a 1 million-member military. Russia until that moment had tried to win the war with a shrinking contingent of volunteer soldiers. The U.S. put the initial invading force at up to 200,000, and some Western estimates put Russian casualties as high as 80,000 dead, wounded and captured.

While the hawkish circles in Moscow welcomed the mobilization as long overdue, hundreds of thousands of Russian men fled abroad to avoid being recruited, and protests flared up across the country, raising new challenges to the Kremlin.

Fresh recruits posted images showing them being forced to sleep on the floor or even in the open air. Some reported being handed rusty weapons and told to buy medical kits and other basic supplies themselves. In a tacit recognition of supply problems, Putin dismissed a deputy defense minister in charge of military logistics.

The mobilization offers no quick fix for Russia’s military woes. It will take months for the new recruits to train and form battle-ready units.

Putin then upped the ante by abruptly annexing the occupied regions of Ukraine and voicing readiness to use “all means available” to protect them, a blunt reference to Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

RIFTS OPEN UP AT THE TOP

In an unprecedented sign of infighting in the higher echelons of the government, the Kremlin-backed regional leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, has scathingly criticized the top military brass, accusing them of incompetence and nepotism.

Kadyrov blamed Col. Gen. Alexander Lapin for failing to secure supplies and reinforcements for his troops that led to their retreat from Lyman. He declared that the general deserves to be stripped of his rank and sent to the front line as a private to “wash off his shame with his blood.”

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Kadyrov also directly accused Russia’s top military officer, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, of covering up Lapin’s blunders — a pointed attack that fueled speculation that the Chechen leader might have forged an alliance with other hawkish members of the Russian elite against the top military leadership.

In a blunt statement, Kadyrov also urged the Kremlin to consider using low-yield nuclear weapons against Ukraine to reverse the course of the war, a call that appeared to reflect the growing popularity of the idea among the Kremlin hawks.

In a show of continuing support for Kadyrov, Putin promoted him to colonel general to mark his birthday, a move certain to anger the top brass. And while Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described Kadyrov’s statement as overly emotional, he strongly praised the Chechen leader’s role in the fighting and his troops’ valor.

In another sign of intensifying dissent at the top, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a millionaire businessman dubbed “Putin’s chef,” lashed out at the governor of St. Petersburg, charging that his failure to provide assistance for Prigozhin’s Wagner private security company amounts to supporting Ukraine.

Some other members of the Russian elite offered quick support for Kadyrov and Prigozhin, who have increasingly served as frontmen for the hawkish circles in Moscow.

Retired Lt. Gen. Andrei Gurulev, a senior member of the lower house of Russian parliament, strongly backed the Chechen leader, saying that the Russian defeat in Lyman was rooted in the top brass’ desire to report only good news to Putin.

“It’s a problem of total lies and positive reports from top to bottom,” he said.

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli leaders on Sunday credited an international military coalition with helping thwart a direct Iranian attack involving hundreds of drones and missiles, calling the coordinated response a starting point for a “strategic alliance” of regional opposition to Tehran.

But Israel’s War Cabinet met without making a decision on next steps, an official said, as a nervous world waited for any sign of further escalation of the former shadow war.

The military coalition, led by the United States, Britain and France and appearing to include a number of Middle Eastern countries, gave Israel support at a time when it finds itself isolated over its war against Hamas in Gaza. The coalition also could serve as a model for regional relations when that war ends.

“This was the first time that such a coalition worked together against the threat of Iran and its proxies in the Middle East,” said the Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.

One unknown is which of Israel’s neighbors participated in the shooting down of the vast majority of about 350 drones and missiles Iran launched. Israeli military officials and a key War Cabinet member noted additional “partners” without naming them. When pressed, White House national security spokesman John Kirby would not name them either.

But one appeared to be Jordan, which described its action as self-defense.

“There was an assessment that there was a real danger of Iranian marches and missiles falling on Jordan, and the armed forces dealt with this danger. And if this danger came from Israel, Jordan would take the same action,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said in an interview on Al-Mamlaka state television. U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday.

The U.S. has long tried to forge a regionwide alliance against Iran as a way of integrating Israel and boosting ties with the Arab world. The effort has included the 2020 Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab countries, and having Israel in the U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East and works closely with the armies of moderate Arab states.

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The U.S. had been working to establish full relations between Israel and regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack sparked Israel’s war in Gaza. The war, which has claimed over 33,700 Palestinian lives, has frozen those efforts due to widespread outrage across the Arab world. But it appears that some behind-the-scenes cooperation has continued, and the White House has held out hopes of forging Israel-Saudi ties as part of a postwar plan.

Just ahead of Iran’s attack, the commander of CENTCOM, Gen. Erik Kurilla, visited Israel to map out a strategy.

Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, on Sunday thanked CENTCOM for the joint defensive effort. Both Jordan and Saudi Arabia are under the CENTCOM umbrella. While neither acknowledged involvement in intercepting Iran’s launches, the Israeli military released a map showing missiles traveling through the airspace of both nations.

“Arab countries came to the aid of Israel in stopping the attack because they understand that regional organizing is required against Iran, otherwise they will be next in line,” Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s military intelligence, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said he had spoken with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and that the cooperation “highlighted the opportunity to establish an international coalition and strategic alliance to counter the threat posed by Iran.”

The White House signaled that it hopes to build on the partnerships and urged Israel to think twice before striking Iran. U.S. officials said Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington would not participate in any offensive action against Iran.

Israel’s War Cabinet met late Sunday to discuss a possible response, but an Israeli official familiar with the talks said no decisions had been made. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing confidential deliberations.

Asked about plans for retaliation, Hagari declined to comment directly. “We are at high readiness in all fronts,” he said.

“We will build a regional coalition and collect the price from Iran, in the way and at the time that suits us,” said a key War Cabinet member, Benny Gantz.

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Iran launched the attack in response to a strike widely blamed on Israel that hit an Iranian consular building in Syria this month and killed two Iranian generals.

By Sunday morning, Iran said the attack was over, and Israel reopened its airspace. Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, claimed Iran had taught Israel a lesson and warned that “any new adventures against the interests of the Iranian nation would be met with a heavier and regretful response from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The foes have been engaged in a shadow war for years, but Sunday’s assault was the first time Iran launched a direct military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran said it targeted Israeli facilities involved in the Damascus strike, and that it told the White House early Sunday that the operation would be “minimalistic.”

But U.S. officials said Iran’s intent was to “destroy and cause casualties” and that if successful, the strikes would have caused an “uncontrollable” escalation. At one point, at least 100 ballistic missiles were in the air with just minutes of flight time to Israel, the officials said.

Israel said more than 99% of what Iran fired was intercepted, with just a few missiles getting through. An Israeli airbase sustained minor damage.

Israel has over the years established — often with the help of the U.S. — a multilayered air-defense network that includes systems capable of intercepting a variety of threats, including long-range missiles, cruise missiles, drones and short-range rockets.

That system, along with collaboration with the U.S. and others, helped thwart what could have been a far more devastating assault at a time when Israel is already deeply engaged in Gaza as well as low-level fighting on its northern border with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran.

While thwarting the Iranian onslaught could help restore Israel’s image after the Hamas attack in October, what the Middle East’s best-equipped army does next will be closely watched in the region and in Western capitals — especially as Israel seeks to develop the coalition it praised Sunday.

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In Washington, Biden pledged to convene allies to develop a unified response. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would hold talks with allies. After an urgent meeting, the Group of Seven countries unanimously condemned Iran’s attack and said they stood ready to take “further measures.”

Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel’s war in Gaza. In the Oct. 7 attack, militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, also backed by Iran, killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials.

Hamas welcomed Iran’s attack, saying it was “a natural right and a deserved response” to the strike in Syria. It urged the Iran-backed groups in the region to continue to support Hamas in the war.

Hezbollah also welcomed the attack. Almost immediately after the war in Gaza erupted, Hezbollah began attacking Israel’s northern border. The two sides have been involved in daily exchanges of fire, while Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched rockets and missiles toward Israel.

___

Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Michelle L. Price in Washington; Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Samy Magdy in Cairo; Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan; and Giada Zampano in Rome contributed to this report.

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

New York lawmakers are proposing rules to humanely drive down the population of rats and other rodents, eyeing contraception and a ban on glue traps as alternatives to poison or a slow, brutal death.

Politicians have long come up with creative ways to battle the rodents, but some lawmakers are now proposing city and statewide measures to do more.

In New York City, the idea to distribute rat contraceptives got fresh attention in city government Thursday following the death of an escaped zoo owl, known as Flaco, who was found dead with rat poison in his system.

City Council Member Shaun Abreu proposed a city ordinance Thursday that would establish a pilot program for controlling the millions of rats lurking in subway stations and empty lots by using birth control instead of lethal chemicals. Abreu, chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, said the contraceptives also are more ethical and humane than other methods.

The contraceptive, called ContraPest, is contained in salty, fatty pellets that are scattered in rat-infested areas as bait. It works by targeting ovarian function in female rats and disrupting sperm cell production in males, The New York Times reported.

New York exterminators currently kill rats using snap and glue traps, poisons that make them bleed internally, and carbon monoxide gas that can suffocate them in burrows. Some hobbyists have even trained their dogs to hunt them.

Rashad Edwards, a film and television actor who runs pest management company Scurry Inc. in New York City with his wife, said the best method he has found when dealing with rodents is carbon monoxide.

He tries to use the most humane method possible, and carbon monoxide euthanizes the rats slowly, putting them to sleep and killing them. Edwards avoids using rat poison whenever possible because it is dangerous and torturous to the rodents, he said.

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Some lawmakers in Albany are considering a statewide ban on glue boards under a bill moving through the Legislature. The traps, usually made from a slab of cardboard or plastic coated in a sticky material, can also ensnare small animals that land on its surface.

Edwards opposes a ban on sticky traps, because he uses them on other pests, such as ants, to reduce overall pesticide use. When ants get into a house, he uses sticky traps to figure out where they’re most often passing by. It helps him narrow zones of pesticide use “so that you don’t go spray the entire place.”

“This is not a problem we can kill our way out of,” said Jakob Shaw, a special project manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “It’s time to embrace these more common sense and humane methods.”

Two cities in California have passed bans on glue traps in recent years. On the federal level, a bill currently in committee would ban the traps nationwide.

“It ends a really inhumane practice of managing rat populations,” said Jabari Brisport, the New York state senator who represents part of Brooklyn and sponsored the bill proposing the new guidelines. “There are more effective and more humane ways to deal with rats.”

Every generation of New Yorkers has struggled to control rat populations. Mayor Eric Adams hired a “rat czar” last year tasked with battling the detested rodents. Last month, New York City reduced the amount of food served up to rats by mandating all businesses to put trash out in boxes.

While the war on rats has no end in sight, the exterminator Edwards said we can learn a lot from their resilience. The rodents, he said, can never be eradicated, only managed.

“They’re very smart, and they’re very wise,” he said. “It’s very inspiring but just — not in my house.”

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A small earthquake shook the Southern California desert Saturday near Coachella, where the famous music festival is being held this weekend. No damage or injuries were reported.

The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 3.8, hit at 9:08 a.m. about 8 miles (13 kilometers) northeast of Borrego Springs in Riverside County, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The epicenter was about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Coachella. It struck at a depth of about 7 miles (11 kilometers), the USGS said.

A dispatcher with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said there were no calls reporting any problems from the quake.

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