iStock(LONDON) -- Christopher Steele, the author of the controversial "Steele dossier" and a central figure in the Justice Department inspector general's report on the Russia investigation, says the report included "several serious errors and misstatements."
The former British intelligence officer said in a statement released by his legal team on Tuesday that he was previously given "highly redacted" portions of Inspector General Michael Horowitz's report, which contained "numerous inaccuracies and misleading statements." Steele said his firm Orbis raised objections and provided suggestions but only some of them were reflected in the final report.
Steele also said in the statement that his firm Orbis was informed by the Inspector General's Office late Sunday night that the previously redacted material in the report -- which included some "negative information" about Steele, such as negative assessments related to Steele's primary source -- had been unredacted and that Orbis was given no opportunity to review or comment on the material before its release on Monday.
"Orbis Business Intelligence and Christopher Steele have cooperated voluntarily and fully with the OIG’s investigation," Steele's legal team said in the statement, referring to the Office of the Inspector General. "Orbis also provided the OIG team unprecedented access to Orbis internal company documentation, including contemporaneous memoranda of meetings with the FBI."
Steele, who was hired by the firm Fusion GPS to conduct opposition research on then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, was thrust into the Russia scandal when his infamous "Steele dossier," a compilation of his reporting that included claims that then-Trump campaign aide Carter Page and other Trump campaign officials were colluding with Russians, arose as an important material in the FBI's early investigation to Russian meddling into the 2016 presidential election.
The IG report's apparent suggestion that Steele's reporting on Page is not corroborated is inaccurate, Steele said, as well as the report's labeling of Steele as a "confidential human source."
Horowitz, whose review looked into the role that Steele's dossier played in the FBI investigation, determined that the FBI did not rely upon Steele's reporting in opening the investigation, according to his report released on Monday. However, Horowitz noted that the FBI relied heavily on Steele's reporting for its FISA applications to conduct surveillance on Page.
The report also shed light on a new detail about Steele's relationship with a "Trump family member," who ABC News has identified as Ivanka Trump, according to a source familiar with their past contacts. As reported by ABC News, the two met at a dinner in 2007 and corresponded about the possibility of future work together, though it never came to fruition.
Responding to the IG report, which questioned the reliability of Steele's reporting and reprimanded the FBI for failing to reassess the validity of the information, Steele said releasing information about sources is "highly risky" for their safety and for others involved, and that if they had been given an opportunity to respond to interviews in a private manner, the statements would be "put in a very different light."
Steele's team also alleged in the statement that contrary to the IG report's "apparent suggestion" that none of his reporting about Page has been corroborated, Page's own statements as well as special counsel Robert Mueller's report, released earlier this year, supported some of the key aspects of his firm's research.
Steele also refuted the IG report's description of himself as a confidential human source -- in other words, an FBI informant -- saying that though he had provided investigative work for the FBI as a contractor, he is prohibited from serving as a confidential human source for the FBI because of his obligation to his former government employer -- the British government.
Attorneys for Steele added that the FBI never asked Steele to not disclose information to the media and that Fusion GPS retained ownership and copyright of all of Steele's material, and that the FBI had "no control over what Fusion or Orbis did with those reports."
In the IG report, Horowitz concluded that despite significant allegations of wrongdoing and missteps in the process, the FBI's Russia investigation was launched with an authorized purpose.
StphaneLemire/iStock(NEW YORK) -- A new mobile app could help members of the Inuit indigenous community to navigate the effects of climate change.
Named after the Inuktitut word for sea ice, Siku provides tools and services for ice safety, language preservation and weather, according to its website. It also allows users to share ice and weather hazard reports and hunting stories, and provides alerts for land, marine and ice weather in the area.
"The weather's changing, the ice conditions are changing, and when we're driving a snow mobile or walking we have to think before we get on that ice," Inuit hunter Puasi Ippak said in a promotional video for the app.
Siku, developed in conjunction with the Inuit Arctic Eider Society, combines ancient knowledge with modern technology, according to UNESCO.
The project was born after Inuit elders expressed a desire to document and share oral history with young people, Joel Heath, executive director of the Inuit Arctic Eider Society, said Wednesday during the app's launch at the ArcticNet conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, according to The Canadian Press.
"Oral history has been a big part of Inuit tradition," another Inuit hunter said in the video. "Nothing was written, so everybody just had a good memory."
The community used to get its information from five different websites before the creation of the app.
Siku addresses unique needs for the Inuit that other modern forums for community gathering like Facebook and Twitter don't, Lucassie Arragutainaq, manager of the Sanikiluaq Hunters and Trappers Association, told The Canadian Press. Its main types of posts are social, wildlife, sea ice and tools.
The Siku project was awarded $750,000 in funding after it won the 2017 Google.org Impact Challenge in Canada.
Inuit is a term used to characterize native peoples inhabiting arctic regions of Canada, Alaska and Greenland.
The Inuit Arctic Eider Society did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.
Albertem/iStock(OSTRAVA, Czech Republic) -- At least six people have been killed and two others seriously injured in a shooting in a hospital in Ostrava, Czech Republic.
The shooting happened Tuesday morning at the University hospital and was confirmed on Twitter by Interior Minister Jan Hamacek.
Czech Police also tweeted about the incident saying that they were notified of gunfire at 7:19 a.m. and that the first responders arrived at 7:24 a.m. in Ostrava, about 220 miles east of Prague and close to the borders of Poland and Slovakia.
Police said the suspect fled the scene in a silver Renault Laguna. The suspect later shot and killed himself.
The motivations for the shooting are currently unknown.
Echinophoria/iStock(WELLINGTON, New Zealand) -- At least six people have now died in the wake of volcanic eruptions that occurred on a small island in New Zealand on Monday, officials said.
All those who died had been rescued from White Island on Monday, with the sixth person succumbing to their injuries at a hospital on Tuesday, according to the New Zealand Police. Their nationalities and identities have not yet been released.
Another eight people are missing and presumed to be dead, police said. Their nationalities were also unknown.
"We can never say 100%, but I would strongly suggest that there is no one that has survived on the island," New Zealand Police Deputy Commissioner John Tims said at a press conference Tuesday.
Authorities are working to confirm the identities of the deceased as well as the injured.
"The nature of the injuries that people have suffered is severe and means identifying them is a complex matter," the New Zealand police said in a press release Tuesday.
The country's national police force has also launched an investigation into the circumstances of the deaths and injuries on White Island.
"To correct an earlier statement, it is too early to confirm where there will also be a criminal investigation," the New Zealand Police said.
Nine Americans were among the dozens of tourists who were visiting White Island, also known as Whakaari, when the volcano there erupted multiple times on Monday afternoon, spewing steam, ash and debris into the air. There were also 24 Australians, five New Zealanders, four Germans, two people from China, two people from the United Kingdom and one person from Malaysia on the volcanic island at the time, according to police.
The U.S. Department of State is aware that Americans were among those affected, a spokesperson told ABC News.
"We are providing all appropriate consular assistance and are in close communication with local authorities who are conducting search and rescue operations," the spokesperson said. "The Department extends our sincerest condolences to the families of those lost. Out of consideration for those involved, we have no further information at this time."
Some 30 passengers from the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship were among those visiting the volcanic island, according to New Zealand Cruise Association CEO Kevin O'Sullivan.
“Our hope is that everyone will be recovered quickly and unharmed, but at this time we have no further information," O'Sullivan said in a statement Monday.
Dilip Patel, a passenger on the Ovation of the Seas, said the crew has been providing updates on the situation. He said there's a somber mood among the passengers aboard the vessel, which remains docked at New Zealand's Port of Tauranga.
"I think they all share the same pain," Patel, a South Carolina resident, told ABC News on Tuesday. "It could have been us. It could have been out family."
Thirty-four people have been rescued from the island via helicopters and taken to hospitals for injuries. Three people have been released from hospitals in the capital, Wellington, while another 31 remain hospitalized, with "a number in critical condition," according to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Of the injured, 27 have burns over at least 30% of their bodies.
Ardern told reporters that "no signs of life have been seen at any point" as aerial reconnaissance flights continue over the island.
White Island, located 30 miles offshore from mainland New Zealand, is home to the country's most active cone volcano. The uninhabited island has had regular eruptions for years but has become a widely popular tourist destination, accessible only by boat and helicopter.
Peter Buttle said his family has owned White Island for over 80 years and are devastated by what happened there.
"We are all shocked by what has occurred on Whakaari yesterday and our thoughts are with everyone affected by this tragedy,” Buttle, spokesperson for the Whakaari Trust, said in a statement Tuesday. “That we now have had a tragic event with devastating consequences leaves us absolutely heartbroken. Our thoughts are with the families of those affected."
The Buttle family has asked that the public respect a new prohibition restricting access to the ash-covered site, which police say is still too dangerous to search on the ground for the missing. Steam was still rising from the volcano more than 24 hours after the initial eruption.
"It is unsafe for us to go onto that island," Tims told reporters Monday night. "I've got to also consider the safety of our people and emergency services staff."
A 5-mile no-fly zone is in place around White Island, along with a 5-nautical-mile maritime exclusion zone, as there is still "unpredictable, ongoing volcanic activity," according to Judy Turner, mayor of Whakatane, the closest mainland town just south of White Island.
Those who cannot get in touch with a friend or family member in the wake of the volcanic eruption are urged to register them by visiting the New Zealand Red Cross website or call the New Zealand Police.
Fredex8/iStock(PARIS) -- Russia and Ukraine agreed on Monday to several steps for improving the situation around the war in eastern Ukraine at a major peace summit in Paris, but did not make any major breakthroughs for ending the conflict.
The summit was held in the so-called "Normandy Format," with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel mediating between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. It was the first time high-level talks have been held between Russia and Ukraine about ending the war in almost three years, raising hopes that the summit could signal a willingness to move to a new phase in the war that has killed over 13,000 people and displaced more than two million since 2014, according to the United Nations.
After almost eight hours of negotiations at the Elysee Palace, the four leaders issued a communique laying out new commitments, including a full ceasefire and an exchange of all prisoners held by both sides by the end of the year. They also pledged to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from three new areas along the front line and open new crossing points for civilians.
Macron, who had overseen organizing the summit, announced there would be a second meeting in the Normandy Format in four months. Speaking at a press conference following the talks, Merkel said the next task will be to establish the security and political conditions for local elections to happen in the territories held by rebels. Zelenskiy agreed that he thought "within four months we will be able to continue the discussion and therefore the results."
The four heads of state commended each other for attending the meeting, saying it was a positive sign.
Macron said afterward that "no miraculous solution" had been found, "but we made it possible to go forward."
But in regard to the disagreement at the center of the peace talks, it was clear the two sides were still at loggerheads. Large-scale fighting ended in eastern Ukraine in early 2015 after Ukraine and Russia agreed to the so-called Minsk 2 agreement. Under the agreement, which was negotiated when Ukraine was in a far weaker position, Ukraine will regain some control over the separatist territories after local elections are held there. The two sides though disagree on the sequencing of that plan. Ukraine insists it needs to first regain control of its border with Russia before the elections be held and wants Russian troops and their proxy forces to withdraw. Moscow insists on the reverse, saying the vote should happen first and then Ukraine will retake control.
Kyiv fears that if the election happens before regaining control of its border Russia will be able to dictate the vote, producing a puppet region that Ukraine will then have to reintegrate. That would result in Russia effectively having a permanent lever inside Ukraine with which to block it from joining NATO or the European Union.
In Paris, Putin and Zelenskiy admitted they still disagreed on the issue, despite an expression of support in the communique for incorporating the so-called "Steinmeier Formula" into Ukrainian law. The formula holds that Ukraine should hold elections first and a day after it will receive control of its border. But Zelenskiy has already made clear he is unwilling to hold the vote while Russian troops remain in Donbass and wants to discuss the issue.
Putin reiterated that he did not consider it up for negotiation, repeating that Russia believes the Minsk agreements must simply be completed in full.
"If we start to unpick one, then the rewriting of all the others will start and ... we all create a situation in which we basically can’t do anything," Putin said at the press conference.
Both leaders nonetheless were eager to paint the meeting as productive and repeatedly said they believed it was a step forward.
Zelenskiy called it a "big step toward peace."
“Has there been some kind of warming, I think yes," Putin said.
The summit was largely the result of a push by Zelenskiy, who was elected in a landslide in April in part on a pledge to end the war. Since then he has eagerly sought a meeting with Putin, making several concessions before the summit to obtain it.
At home he faced a strong backlash from those who fear he will sell Ukraine out to Moscow. On Sunday, 7,000 gathered in Kyiv ahead of the summit to criticize Zelenskiy’s concessions, including his signing of the Steinmeier Formula.
The summit was viewed as a major test for the new Ukrainian president, who was a comedian who played the president on TV before he was elected. In Paris he was facing Putin, one of the most experienced politicians in the world, negotiating from a position of strength.
The contrast in styles was marked in the arrival of the two leaders -- Zelenskiy entered the Elysee courtyard in a Renault sedan, while Putin drove up in a behemoth armored Russian-made limousine. The two held bilateral talks for an hour and a half, before again meeting with Merkel and Macron and having a working dinner.
If the ceasefire holds and the prisoner exchange goes ahead, they will be significant achievements. All previous ceasefires have collapsed quickly with continued shelling. In 2019, five to 15 people were killed along the front line every month and Donbass is one of the most heavily mined areas in the world.
An agreement on the prisoner exchange had been expected before the summit. A major trade in the summer saw the two countries trade 35 captives from each side, including several very high profile figures. The new exchange would be far larger, based on the principle of "all-for-all." In theory that could mean hundreds, though the communique did not set a number.
"What counts for me is human life," Zelenskiy said. "We agreed on before the end of the year ... so that they can spend the end-of-year holidays with their families and with their children, with their close ones."
The renewed push has been supported strongly by Macron, who is eager for a diplomatic victory, and has spoken of the need to reconcile with Russia.
RonTech2000/iStock(THE HAGUE, Netherlands) -- Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar, will appear at the United Nations' International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague to defend the country against accusations of genocide committed against the Rohingya ethnic minority.
Suu Kyi, who became a global icon when she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and spent 15 years under house arrest, will lead the national delegation contesting the charges of genocide at the Peace Palace in the Dutch city.
The Gambia, a small West African country, filed the lawsuit in November on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a coalition of countries with significant Muslim populations, asking the ICJ to investigate whether Myanmar's government has violated the Geneva Convention.
Suu Kyi is expected to address the court on Wednesday morning.
Over 700,000 Rohingya, a Muslim-majority ethnic minority, have fled Myanmar since a campaign by the country's military to push them out and raze their villages began in August 2017. Myanmar, previously called Burma, has denied any wrongdoing, saying that the campaign was against an Islamist extremist group.
As well as being investigated by the ICJ, a separate investigation has been opened by the International Criminal Court into allegations of crimes against humanity committed against the Rohingya people.
A 2017 report by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Myanmar found the treatment of the Rohingya appears to “bear the hallmarks of genocide.” A further U.N. fact finding mission in 2018 said the human rights violations were “principally committed by the Myanmar security forces,” and recommended that they “should be investigated and prosecuted in an international criminal tribunal for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.”
The majority of the Rohingya who have fled the country have ended up in Bangladesh, where officials have been seeking to work with the Myanmar government to repatriate them. The U.N.'s independent investigator has said it is not safe for them to return.
The Trump administration has stopped short of describing the situation as genocide, although the United States’ top official for foreign aid issued a strong warning about the lack of progress being made in an interview with ABC News in September.
Suu Kyi’s appearance at the Peace Palace is a remarkable climb-down for the State Counsellor, who is the de facto head of state. Having been hailed as a beacon of hope for democracy in Myanmar for decades, and winning the Nobel Peace Prize in the process, she has been accused by human rights groups’ of being complicit in the military’s human rights violations against the Rohingya. However, her presence at the court has proved popular back home, where she is seen to be defending the national interest.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum rescinded the Elie Wiesel Award, a recognition for confronting genocide, given to Suu Kyi in 2018.
“There is a mountain of evidence that the Myanmar military has committed atrocities against the Rohingya population, yet the government of Myanmar – including Aung San Suu Kyi – has continued to dismiss, downplay or otherwise deny these accusations,” Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International's Regional Director for East and Southeast Asia, told ABC News. “Aung San Suu Kyi may think she is serving the national interest by going to The Hague, but if all she does is deny or defend the military’s actions, the only interest she will be serving is theirs.”
StanRohrer/iStock(SANTIAGO, Chile) -- The Chilean Air Force announced Monday evening that a C-130 Hercules aircraft has gone missing after taking off from an air base in Puntas Arenas, Chile. The C-130 was bound for the Eduardo Frei Montalva air base in Antarctica.
The Chilean Air Force said that the plane went missing at 6:13 p.m. local time and it is now presumed "wrecked." According to a release, officials continue their search operations where the plane lost contact in the hopes of rescuing survivors.
However, an official with the Chilean Air Force said they were considering the flight lost at sea. With the frigid waters, he said there was little hope anyone survived.
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera tweeted that he was en route to Cerrillos to monitor the situation with the country's defense minister.
There were 38 people on board the Chilean Air Force plane -- 17 crew members and 21 passengers. Most of those on board were from the Air Force, but two private contractors and a university student were also on the flight, the official said.
The plane was on a logistical support mission, with the crew set to revise a floating fuel supply pipeline and work on anticorrosive work on different national facilities on the base.
The C-130 took off at 4:55 p.m. local time. The flight generally takes about three hours.
DNY59/iStock(MOSCOW) -- A Moscow court has upheld a decision to release an American man who spent almost two years in a Russian jail after he was put on trial over a cleaning product he bought online.
Gaylen Grandstaff, a 54 year-old English teacher from Texas, was arrested in 2017 and spent 608 days in pre-trial detention in Moscow as prosecutors sought to jail him on drug smuggling charges. One of the few Americans to spend so much time in a Russian prison, he was held in grim conditions, harassed by guards, severely beaten by other inmates and denied medical assistance. ABC News chronicled Grandstaff and his Russian wife, Anna’s ordeal in a short film earlier this year.
In March, Grandstaff was unexpectedly freed after a judge suddenly acknowledged serious problems with the case. In the ruling, the judge found the prosecution had failed to gather basic evidence and sent the case back for further investigation. Grandstaff was released in the courtroom and was allowed to return to the apartment where he and Anna live in Moscow.
The prosecution, however, appealed the ruling, leaving the threat that Grandstaff could be returned to jail. With the case still open, he has been unable to leave Russia, left instead in limbo for 9 months while authorities ignored deadlines to hold a hearing.
On Monday, Moscow's highest appeals court rejected the prosecutors' request. The judge at Moscow’s City Court upheld in full the March ruling to keep Grandstaff free and confirmed that the case lacked basic evidence to go forward.
Monday’s ruling removes all charges against Grandstaff and returns the case to the stage of preliminary police investigation. That means the while the case is still not formally closed-- investigators now must decide whether to formally drop it— it at last clears a path to him finally being able to go home.
“I feel quite spectacular right now,” Grandstaff said outside the court. “It’s a very good feeling. I didn’t really let myself entertain much of the idea of going home. Right now it seems like a step closer.”
In Russia, less than 1 percent of criminal trials end in acquittal, making Grandstaff’s release extraordinary. Inherited from the Soviet Union, the Russian judicial system is most often a conveyor belt of convictions, where evidence is routinely fabricated and defendants are essentially treated as presumed guilty.
When Grandstaff will be able to leave Russia is still not clear. Grandstaff’s Russian visa expired while he was in jail and was never renewed, meaning he has been in an immigration gray zone where it is simultaneously illegal for him to work in Russia but is also impossible for him to leave. The next step is for the Grandstaffs to try to receive a visa to exit Russia. It also still unclear that he might not be stopped at the border because the police investigation is still on the books.
“Legally I think I should be able to leave but whether or not they would actually let me leave may be another,” Grandstaff said on Monday.
The case against Grandstaff held serious problems from the beginning. The cleaning product he bought from the Chinese website Ali Express turned out to contain gamma-butyrolactone or GBL, an industrial cleaner that is sometimes used as an illegal party drug or more rarely as a muscle-builder and which is banned in Russia and many other countries as a narcotic. Grandstaff said he had been upsold the cleaner by the Chinese vendor while he was shopping online for medication for his Crohn's disease and had had no way of knowing it contained the banned substance.
Police though charged Grandstaff with large-scale drug smuggling, a heavy offense that carries a maximum prison sentence of 10-20 years and is intended to prosecute major traffickers. But the case made little sense-- first they accused Grandstaff of buying the cleaner to sell, but then switched to alleging he intended to use it for personal body-building. Despite that, they continued to press the serious drug smuggling charge while arguing Grandstaff had bought the GBL for his own fitness. Needing to paint Grandstaff as a fitness obsessive, they then appeared to use crude tactics to do so, including distorting a testimony according to one witness. A judge continued to prolong Grandstaff's detention for months, despite the evidence provided by the prosecution remaining mostly unchanged.
Ultimately, rights advocates and legal experts said even if Grandstaff had known what he was buying the charge brought against him was excessively severe, likely driven by prosecutors seeking to appear effective on drugs cases and unable to reverse once charges were brought. Grandstaff’s long detention and then legal limbo after his release are typical of the Russian justice system, where prosecutors have little incentive to drop charges and are permitted to let cases languish for months.
JadeThaiCatwalk/iStock(ATLANTA) -- Sunday saw the Miss Universe crown go to South Africa's Zozibini Tunzi. She bested 90 other women competing in the annual pageant that was filmed by Tyler Perry Studios.
People reports that Tunzi is a 26-year-old public relations professional and a gender-based violence activist. While ecstatic about her win, she's more excited how dark-skinned girls will feel when they see her wearing the iconic tiara.
"Society has been programmed for a very long time that never saw beauty in a way that was black girl magic, but now we are slowing moving to a time where women like myself can finally find a place in society, can finally know they’re beautiful," she told reporters.
She also hopes her new title will help bring "a new, fresh and different perspective of what South Africa is."
Tunzi is being credited for her inspirational response to a question from host Steve Harvey about the most important thing we should be teaching young girls today.
"I think the most important thing we should be teaching young girls today is leadership," she said. "It’s something that has been lacking in young girls and women for a very long time. Not because we don’t want to but because of what society has labeled women to be. I think we are the most powerful beings in the world and that we should be given every opportunity, and that is what we should be teaching these young girls, to take up space."
With Tunzi's win comes South Africa's third Miss Universe crown, having won in 1978 and 2017. Miss Puerto Rico Madison Anderson was runner-up while Miss Mexico Sofía Aragón came in third.
It also marks a milestone: for the first time, black women simultaneously hold the titles of Miss Universe, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA and Miss America, with Tunzi, Cheslie Kryst, Kaliegh Garris and Nia Franklin reigning, respectively.
Derek Brumby/iStock(HELSINKI, Finland) -- The world's youngest prime minister is a woman.
Sanna Marin is expected to be confirmed this week as prime minister of Finland by the country's Parliament.
The 34-year-old was named prime minister by Finland's ruling Social Democratic Party after its leader, Antti Rinne, stepped down from the position, according to the BBC.
Marin has been a lawmaker since 2015 and was most recently the minister of transport and communications of Finland. She also served as deputy chairwoman of the Social Democratic Party that elected her.
In addition to her age and gender, Finland's new leader is a new mom. She gave birth to her daughter Emma last year.
The prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, who is also in her 30s, last year became only the second elected world leader in modern times to give birth in office, joining the late Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who in 1990 gave birth to daughter Bakhtawar.
One of Finland's former prime ministers, Alexander Stubb, posted on Twitter that Marin's appointment “shows that #Finland is a modern and progressive country.”
Finland was one of the first countries in the world to give women full political rights, in 1906, according to UN Women, which calls the country a leader on "issues of gender equality and the empowerment of women."
The country was named the third most gender-equal country in the world in 2017 and the second-best country in the world to be a female in 2016, according to the International Gender Equality Prize, an award established in 2017 to mark Finland’s 100th anniversary of independence and the country's focus on gender equality.
Fredex8/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Russia and Ukraine will hold peace talks at a summit in Paris on Monday, the first time in three years there have been high-level talks between the two countries focused on ending the war in eastern Ukraine.
The talks are taking place in the so-called "Normandy Format," with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angel Merkel mediating the negotiations. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will meet for the first time at the summit.
The Normandy group has not been held since October 2016, a reflection of how efforts to end the war have stalled, with the conflict essentially unchanged for years as soldiers and civilians continue to be killed. The war began after Russian annexed Crimea in 2014 and then seized control of two large eastern regions of Ukraine using pro-Russian separatists as proxies. Since then, 13,000 people -- about a quarter of them civilians -- have been killed more than 2 million displaced, according to the U.N.
Major fighting in eastern Ukraine has been halted since February 2015 when the sides accepted the so-called "Minsk Agreements." But shellings and exchanges of fire along the front line have never fully stopped as the Ukrainian army and Russian-backed rebels are dug into their trenches.
The summit is an effort to break the bloody stalemate and is as a result of a push by Zelenskiy, who won a landslide election in part on a pledge to end the war. While he has had to walk a tightrope after being thrust into the impeachment scandal around President Donald Trump, finishing the war has been Zelenskiy’s top priority since the election. France’s Macron has also pushed for talks -- eager for a diplomatic win with Russia.
That the summit is taking place at all is significant. The decision to meet reflects that perhaps both Russia and Ukraine are willing to bring the fighting to a complete stop.
Ahead of the meeting, though, few believe a major breakthrough toward resolving the conflict is likely. Officials in Kyiv, Moscow and Donbass -- the traditional name for the region of eastern Ukraine -- have all recently downplayed expectations.
While Ukraine has urged ending the war, most observers have said it seems impossible the sides will be able to reconcile competing objectives.
To clear a path to the summit, Ukraine and the Russian-controlled rebels did take significant steps. Driven mostly by Zelenskiy, the sides traded of dozens of prisoners, including some of the most high-profile political prisoners held by Russia. Ukraine and then the rebels pulled troops back from front-line areas around three key towns.
But it is unclear where the two sides go after those concessions to actually bring the war to its conclusion.
One of the Kremlin’s conditions for holding the summit was that Ukraine commit to the "Steinmeier Formula." Named after Germany’s former foreign minister who proposed it, the formula holds that elections be held in the separatist regions and then Ukraine would regain control of the territory.
The formula is favored by Moscow and has been highly controversial in Ukraine, because it would mean holding elections while Russia controlled the rebel areas and Russia would therefore be able to dictate the vote.
The dilemma is at the heart of what is preventing Ukraine and Russia from resolving the war. Russia’s objective has been for Ukraine to reincorporate the separatist regions as part of a federation, giving them broad autonomy. In practice, that would mean leaving two Russian puppet regions in Ukraine, giving Moscow a permanent lever to block the country from joining NATO or the European Union.
That situation has been unacceptable to Kyiv and there is no sign it isn’t still. Zelenskiy, having signed onto the Steinmeier Formula in October in order to obtain the summit, immediately said elections would not be held until Ukraine regains control of its border with Russia in the rebel territories. Russia, meanwhile, has insisted on elections first.
Kremlin officials and Zelenskiy himself in the past two weeks have both said publicly they believe the difference will likely not be resolved in Paris. Zelenskiy has said he also wants to discuss Crimea, which the Kremlin has said is non-negotiable.
"On the whole Russia and Ukraine are going to the summit in Paris with such contrary positions on keys aspects of resolving [the conflict], that serious progress in the 'Normandy Format' should not be expected. Not one of the sides has taken the decision to make strategic concessions on the status of Donbass. And they don’t have a plan B, apart from freezing the conflict as a result of the troop withdrawal," Vladimir Frolov, an analyst and former Russian diplomat, wrote in the Russian magazine, Republic.
With a final resolution to conflict looking deadlocked, the sides instead appear to have been preparing some smaller deals that they can present as results of the summit. Another large prisoner exchange is possible. Both sides have also seemed to be gathering further bargaining chips. Ukraine detained a Russian politician on Wednesday, while Russia’s FSB security service arrested a woman in Crimea it accused of spying for Ukraine two weeks ago. On Saturday, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev threatened Russia and Ukraine will not be able to agree on gas transit.
Macron’s office has said it believes the summit can help consolidate a ceasefire, define new areas of disengagement and allow for a new prisoner exchange.
An official at the Elysée Palace briefed reporters this week and said Macron thinks the summit can achieve the elections in the order proposed by the Steinmeier Formula and that Ukraine will take full control of its territory, except Crimea, the day after the vote.
Ukrainian officials have publicly said if the summit shows Russia is unwilling to make any genuine steps toward a final end to the conflict, they will essentially abandon the rebel areas as a lost cause and leave them to Russia.
Andriy Yermak, a top aide of Zelenskiy, told an audience at a Chatham House event in London this week that if Ukraine finds Russia will not take steps toward fulfilling the Minsk agreements we’ll be "building a wall" around Donbass.
In practice though it will be difficult to simply write off the conflict. It’s also unclear what it would mean for the hundreds of thousands of people Ukraine currently still provides pensions and social payments to in the rebel zones.
Some Ukrainian officials have privately said the Zelenskiy administration’s position is that it must maximally meet its side of the Minsk conditions to show its Western partners it is willing to end the war and force Moscow to show it isn’t.
Some observers in Ukraine are concerned Zelenskiy's inexperienced team -- looking to make a deal -- will inadvertently concede too much to Russia. At home, Zelenskiy’s acceptance of the Steinmeier Formula prompted a protest by 10,000 people in Kyiv and threats from nationalist groups.
Some also worry that Ukraine might find itself pressured into concessions by Macron and Merkel, who are both eager to improve relations with Russia and to ease some sanctions on it.
"The risk is real that in order for the Paris summit to become a 'success' from a Franco-German perspective, Mr. Zelensky will come under great pressure to be 'reasonable' and to agree to compromises that will lead to 'lasting peace,'" Willem Aldershoff, a former head of unit at the European Commission, wrote in an op-ed in The Financial Times on Saturday. In practice, he wrote that might mean holding elections without Ukraine regaining control of its border or Russian and separatist troops withdrawing.
In the long-term, a freeze of the conflict seems like the most likely outcome, with the rebel regions essentially left as unrecognized states controlled by Moscow. This has been the case in Georgia following Russia’s invasion in 2008, as well as Moldova.
"They don’t have a plan B, apart from freezing the conflict as a result of the troop withdrawal," Frolov, the former Russian diplomat, wrote in Republic.
iStock(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) -- A third teenager, who was among the four which escaped from a juvenile detention center in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, has been captured -- leaving only one escapee on the loose, police said Saturday.
The teenager was arrested Friday night at a gas station with his mother, Tewanna Keesee, and brother, Rashon Keesee, according to the Metro Nashville Police Department.
The suspect's relatives were charged with being accessories in helping the teen evade authorities, the police said.
The quartet ran out of the Davidson County Juvenile Detention Center at around 10 p.m. on Nov. 30, officials said.
Brandon Caruthers, 17, remains on the lam, according to authorities. He was arrested for an August 2018 armed robbery case in south Nashville, according to police.
Two of the three inmates who were captured are murder suspects -- in different cases. The third captured escapee is charged with armed robbery -- a separate case from Caruthers.
ABC News does not normally name juveniles, but are doing so with Caruthers because police say he is a dangerous individual. Police have released his names and photos in hopes for his capture.
Anyone with information about the remaining two escapees are asked to call Nashville's Emergency Communications Center at 615-862-8600 immediately.
iStock(NEW YORK) -- An American graduate student who was jailed for more than three years in Iran is headed home after a prisoner swap.
Xiyue Wang, 38, a Princeton University student, was exchanged for Iranian scientist Professor Massoud Soleimani early on Saturday as part of a prisoner exchange brokered by the Switzerland government. Wang had been held in Iran's notorious Evin prison since August 2016 on charges of espionage.
President Trump said Wang had been held under the "pretense" of espionage."
"The highest priority of the United States is the safety and well-being of its citizens," the president said in a statement. "Freeing Americans held captive is of vital importance to my Administration, and we will continue to work hard to bring home all our citizens wrongfully held captive overseas.”
A senior administration official said Switzerland had been negotiating for Wang's release for more than three weeks. Wang, who is currently in Germany, is in good spirits, the official said.
Wang, who is married with a son, was a Eurasian history scholar. He traveled to Iran in 2016 to study Persian and conduct research for his dissertation.
Before traveling, Wang wrote to the Iranian Interest Section at the Pakistani embassy in Washington, D.C., which issued his visa. He also wrote to the libraries in Iran he planned to visit, according to Princeton University.
He was transparent about what he wanted to study and why, according to the university, and about his desire to access documents housed at Iranian libraries and archives.
“He was not involved in any political activities or social activism; he was simply a scholar trying to gain access to materials he needed for his dissertation,” the school said in a statement about his case.
Wang's wife, Hua Qu, tweeted that their family was "complete once again."
"Our son Shaofan and I have waited three long years for this day and it’s hard to express in words how excited we are to be reunited with Xiyue," the tweet read. "We are thankful to everyone who helped make this happen."
In exchange for Wang's release, Professor Massoud Soleimani, who was arrested at a Chicago airport last year and charged with violating trade sanctions against Iran, was headed home, too.
A stem cell researcher who had been working in Minnesota, Soleimani was charged after he was reportedly seeking to transfer biological material back to Iran without a license.
His lawyers argued that he was innocent, saying the sanctions law was ambiguous.
Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, was there to greet him at the airport; he flew with Wang from Tehran to Switzerland.
In a tweet, Zarif said: “Glad that Professor Massoud Soleimani and Mr. Xiyue Wang will be joining their families shortly. Many thanks to all engaged, particularly the Swiss Government.”
iStock(NEW YORK) -- Today’s highly anticipated rematch for the heavyweight champion of the world will take place in a location that has shocked fans and caused controversy: Saudi Arabia.
New York City's Madison Square Garden and London's Wembley Stadium were among the arenas that fought hard to host the fight. Saudi Arabia has never hosted a heavyweight bout, and neither of the boxers have a connection to the country -- so to lure the fight, Saudi Arabia built a new 15,000-seat stadium in the desert in just six weeks. And the fighters' purse is reportedly upwards of $60 million.
Critics say all the money is not about promoting sports; it’s about rehabilitating Saudi Arabia’s global image given the country's spotty human rights record.
Eddie Hearn, the fight’s British promoter, says the fight will make heavyweight history despite its controversial location.
“The ‘Thrilla in Manila’ in the Philippines ... and the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ in Zaire at the time -- the whole world watched those fights and they went down in the history of our sport," Hearn said. "This will do exactly the same.”
Dubbed the “Clash on the Dunes,” the fight is a rematch of June's bout between Mexican-American Andy Ruiz Jr. and Britain's Anthony Joshua that ended with one of the great upsets in boxing history as Ruiz, a last-minute substitute, stunned the boxing world by knocking out Joshua, the Olympic gold medalist and defending heavyweight champ who entered the fight 22-0.
Ruiz became the first heavyweight champion of Mexican descent, and his Cinderella victory -- 11 years after failed to make the Mexican Olympic Team -- swiftly made headlines and landed him on the Jimmy Kimmel show.
Saturday's fight will air exclusively on sports streaming service DAZN at 2:30 p.m. EST.
Over the past two years, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has publicly pursued a campaign aimed at convincing the world that Saudi Arabia was changing for the better. The kingdom launched a campaign to highlight new rights for women. Movie theaters opened for the first time in more than 35 years, and women gained the right to drive.
As part of his Vision 2030 economic development program, Saudi Arabia decided to prioritize sports -- particularly ones that would make headlines.
In October, the country hosted the WWE’s Crown Jewel event in a multimillion dollar deal. February will mark the debut of the Saudi Cup, a horse race with a $20 million purse -- the richest on record. A Ladies European Tour golf tournament and a Formula One race are also in talks to be held on Saudi soil.
“They have a plan to stage the biggest sports events in that region -- and they've been very, very aggressive,” said Hearn. “We can't ignore the influx of money and power into the sport that's coming [from] that region.”
“I'm going out there to fight,” Joshua told ABC News. “From a fighting aspect, I know the country is making progression towards different things, and boxing is a great way to kind of showcase their country.”
But the kingdom's kinder, gentler makeover was shattered last year when news broke that the Saudi government was responsible for the murder of Washington Post columnist and outspoken Saudi citizen Jamal Khashoggi. Since then, the country has been offering even more lavish deals to Western entertainers and sports figures.
“I didn’t coin the phrase -- but this is ‘sportswashing,’” Minky Worden, Director of Global Initiatives at Human Rights Watch, told ABC News. “The world heavyweight championship is just another example of Saudi Arabia’s PR attempt to gloss over human rights abuses.”
Saudi Arabia’s attempts to cultivate Western sports and entertainment has been met with both success and failure. In July, rapper Nicki Minaj withdrew from a music festival following an outcry from critics of Saudi Arabia’s ban on homosexuality and its treatment of women. Earlier this week, Tiger Woods reportedly turned down a multimillion-dollar offer to play in the Saudi International tournament.
For all its efforts, the country remains a monarchy ruled with firm adherence to a strict interpretation of Islamic law. A Human Rights Watch report published last month claims that numerous women’s rights advocates continue to be detained, charged with criminal offenses, and tortured for speaking out.
“There have been important reforms that loosen the chokehold on women in Saudi Arabia, but women still find themselves as targets, along with dissidents and critics of the Saudi government,” said Worden.
But Hearn, the boxing promoter, says those concerns can’t compete with the lure of Saudi millions.
“Every promoter over the last few years has been talking to not just Saudi Arabia, but other countries in the Middle East,” he said. “Our job is to provide the best opportunities for our clients, our fighters -- the most amount of money.”
Tasos Katopodis(NEW YORK) -- As the U.S. assumes the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council for December, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft said Friday she would focus members on "credibility through assessment and resolution."
"We do face a credibility problem in the eyes of the world when we're talking without acting, but at the same time, we argue that we are essential to global peace," she said at a news conference at the U.N. she held to explain her goals. "We have to prove that by our actions within the council."
Craft, a longtime GOP activist from Kentucky, who along with her husband is a major donor to Trump and other Republicans, was the U.S. ambassador to Canada before being confirmed U.N. ambassador in a 56-34 vote in July, but not before several lawmakers questioned her experience.
On Friday, she outlined the council's schedule for December -- from meetings on Afghanistan, Yemen and South Sudan to inviting members on a first-of-its-kind overnight retreat in Kentucky. But one item she said the U.S. has not yet decided on is whether to hold a council meeting on Dec. 10 to specifically address human rights abuses in North Korea.
"I care about human rights around the world," Craft said, fielding several questions on North Korea. "I can promise you that the council is very unified in the fact that we are all very concerned. It doesn't matter whether it's Christmas or it's tomorrow or it's February."
Craft's remarks come ahead of North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un's end-of-the-year deadline to President Donald Trump to show more flexibility in nuclear talks -- or else it will end all diplomacy -- and on the heels of several warnings by North Korean officials directed at the U.S. this week.
On Wednesday, North Korea’s U.N. ambassador Kim Song warned the council in a letter that a discussion of the country’s human rights situation would be a "serious provocation" and Pyongyang would "respond strongly."
"I have read the letter. We care about human rights," Craft responded, "None of us can stand by and allow human rights to be abused."
At least eight members of the 15-member council support a meeting on North Korea -- but Craft emphasized that the council does stand united in its concern over the country's ballistic missile program.
Craft also stressed U.S. support for the council's mission to find a political solution to the crisis in Syria as opposed to a military one. The council has scheduled meetings on Dec. 19 and 20, the final day of the U.S. presidency, devoted to Syria.
"Over the next 12 months, the council's best efforts should be directed toward keeping the entry points through which the humanitarian agencies is delivered. This is essential to creating peace for the people in Syria," said Craft, referring to a U.N.-mandated cross-border aid delivery scheme operating from Turkey which is set to expire in January. "There is no Plan B, so this has to happen. There is no alternative."
When asked about reports of Turkey engaging in ethnic cleansing of the Kurds in Syria, Craft avoided criticizing the Turkish intervention. Instead, she thanked Turkey for opening a new fifth crossing to deliver humanitarian aid to the Syrian people and repeated that her primary concern is with people of Syria.
"We support Turkey adding the fifth border," she said. "That is very important in order to access the growing number of humanitarian needs."
Regarding Iran, Craft said that the country's problems of instability are due to the actions of oppressive leadership and blamed the government for supplying weapons to Houthi rebels in Yemen. Subsequently, she said the U.S. will continue its maximum pressure campaign on Iran and hold a session on Dec. 19 related to its non-proliferation and the implementation of Resolution 2231.
"Iran has not changed its behavior, as it is interfering in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. What concerns me is the well-being of the Iranian people and the rejection of the Iranian state’s actions to offend its people and the peoples of the region," she said. "I confirm that we have many means and we will use these means with Iran."
And in a first for the council, Craft confirmed she will host members in her home state of Kentucky next weekend. Activities on their agenda include dining at the governor’s mansion, attending a University of Kentucky basketball game and bottling bourbon.
Craft echoed the sentiments of her boss when asked about the potential for the U.S. to help cover outstanding debts of other nations.
"Whether it be NATO paying their two percent or whether it be the U.N. burden sharing, we are the number one donor, the number one contributor both to the NATO and the U.N., she said. "We expect countries to pay their fair share."
She also said Israel has "no better friend that Kelly Craft" and vowed to continue the efforts of Trump's first ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, by fighting against anti-Israel resolutions.
"I'm not going to accept the status quo where Israel is the subject or relentless and one-sided criticism," she added on Friday. "That is not okay with me."
One of the first events under Craft's Security Council presidency was a group visit to the White House and working lunch with Trump on Thursday.
Craft said she promised their work would conclude by Dec. 20, so they can all can return home for the holidays.