Germany halts Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline after Russia sends troops into eastern Ukraine

Published February 22, 2022 at 8:06 AM EST
A car drives past the receiving station of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline near Lubmin, Germany. German Olaf Scholz said the pipeline "cannot go online" with Russian troops in eastern Ukraine.
Sean Gallup
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Getty Images
A car drives past the receiving station of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline near Lubmin, Germany. German Olaf Scholz said the pipeline "cannot go online" with Russian troops in eastern Ukraine.

Good morning, and happy 2-2-22 Twosday!

We're following these top stories today:

Nord Stream 2: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that the pipeline "cannot go online" with Russian troops in eastern Ukraine and that Germany is assessing other ways to secure its energy needs. The U.S. has said that Europe would be too dependent on Russia for its energy needs should the project come to fruition.

China's awkward Ukraine position: China and Russia have drawn closer together, developing an unusually close partnership despite a history of military and political conflict. But Russia is ignoring China's appeals for a diplomatic resolution in Ukraine.

Soccer equal pay settlement: The U.S. Women's National Soccer team has settled its class action equal pay lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation for $24 million. The 28 players sued the federation in March 2019, alleging that female players were consistently paid less than their male counterparts despite superior performance on the field.

🎧 Also on Up First, our daily podcast, Donald Trump's new social media app encountered technical glitches shortly after launching.

— The Morning Edition live blog team

(Carol Ritchie, Rachel Treisman, Nell Clark and Chris Hopkins)

Just In
Russia-Ukraine crisis

Russia lawmakers authorize Putin to deploy troops outside of the country

Posted February 22, 2022 at 12:20 PM EST

Russia’s Federation Council formally granted President Vladimir Putin the power to deploy forces outside the country’s borders — a move the upper chamber linked to the deployment of what the Kremlin describes as “peacekeepers” to separatist territories in east Ukraine on Monday.

The move follows a decision by Putin to recognize the independence of two Ukrainian separatist territories — the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics — and provide security guarantees. Yet the right of deployment gives Putin further legislative cover to possibly expand the Russian military’s action beyond the two “independent” republics in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

Speaking at a news conference in Moscow on Tuesday, Putin insisted that Moscow’s recognition extended to the entire boundaries of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions — including large swaths of territory currently controlled by Ukrainian government forces.

Western governments have repeatedly raised concerns about Russia expanding its force and scope of their operations under the guise of a humanitarian mission. The Kremlin has routinely — and falsely — compared the plight of Russian speakers in Ukraine’s Donbas to "genocide."

The U.S. and other European countries slapped partial sanctions on Russia for its recognition of the two enclaves — while promising additional punishing sanctions should Russian invade Ukraine any further.

Media

Lauding vaccines, Fox's Neil Cavuto says a 2nd bout of COVID nearly killed him

Posted February 22, 2022 at 12:02 PM EST
Neil Cavuto, in a suit and blue tie, sits at a desk in front of a blue background with an American flag on a screen.
Richard Drew
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AP
Neil Cavuto of the Fox Business Network told viewers he had fought a second, more serious bout of COVID-19 and credited the vaccine for his survival.

Veteran Fox Business host Neil Cavuto's extended, unexplained absence from the network over the past five weeks has raised questions for many viewers — some wondered whether something sinister was afoot, others feared he had suddenly died.

Upon returning to his show Cavuto: Coast to Coast on Monday, the anchor said the latter guess was nearly correct: A second bout of COVID-19 landed him in the intensive care unit, where he said things were "touch and go" for some time.

Cavuto, who has multiple sclerosis and survived stage 4 cancer and open-heart surgery, counted himself among the roughly 3% of Americans who have a weakened immune system and "cannot sustain the full benefits" of the COVID-19 vaccine. But he said some defense was better than no defense.

"Let me be clear," he told viewers. "Doctors say had I not been vaccinated at all, I wouldn't be here."

A Fox spokesperson confirmed over email that Cavuto addressed his absence on Fox News Channel’s Your World with Neil Cavuto as well as FOX Business Network’s Cavuto: Coast to Coast.

This was the second bout of COVID-19 for Cavuto, who received death threats last October when he disclosed his diagnosis and urged viewers to get vaccinated to protect themselves and vulnerable members of their community.

Cavuto said this time around was a "far, far more serious strand, what doctors call COVID pneumonia" and that he was in the ICU for "quite a while."

He said that he had asked Fox to keep the illness private — because he didn't want to become the story — but felt he owed viewers an explanation for his prolonged absence. He also appeared to dismiss claims that his hospitalization was due to the vaccine itself, calling that a "grassy knoll theory."

"Some of you who've wanted to put me out of my misery darn near got what you wished for," he added. "So, sorry to disappoint you! But no, the vaccine didn't cause that ... My very compromised immune system did."

Cavuto was careful to stress that he was "not here to debate vaccinations for you, just offer an explanation for me."

Some of Cavuto's Fox colleagues have similarly urged viewers to take COVID-19 seriously — for instance, the network released a public service announcement last February recommending masking, social distancing and getting the vaccine.

But he is a relative outlier, as the network has long criticized vaccine and mask mandates (despite its own stringent company policies) and prime-time hosts like Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham have repeatedly promoted false and misleading information about COVID-19 vaccines.

Unvaccinated people were 97 times more likely to die from omicron compared with those who were boosted, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said earlier this month. Some 64% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, according to NPR's vaccine tracker — check on your state here.

Just In
Racial injustice

A jury unanimously found Ahmaud Arbery's killers guilty of federal hate crimes

Posted February 22, 2022 at 10:50 AM EST
A person wearing a colorful sweater and tall brown boots walks on a sidewalk holding a painting of a Black man with the words "Justice for Ahmaud Arbery."
Sean Rayford
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Getty Images
A woman carries a portrait of Ahmaud Arbery outside the Glynn County Courthouse as the jury deliberates in November in the state trial in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

A jury in Brunswick, Ga., unanimously found defendants Travis McMichael, his father Greg McMichael and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan guilty on all counts in a federal hate crimes trial.

The jury deliberated for four hours.

At the heart of this case was a question of whether race was the reason the three white defendants chased and shot Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, as he ran through their coastal Georgia neighborhood in February 2020. Last month, in state court, the three white men were sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of chasing down and murdering Arbery.

In closing arguments in the federal case, prosecutors recapped evidence of prior racial animus by the defendants, saying they targeted Arbery based on racial assumptions, racial resentment and racial anger.

Defense attorneys argued the men were hypervigilant about protecting their neighborhood and went after Arbery not because he was Black, but because he had been seen on surveillance video entering a home construction site without permission.

Judge Lisa Godbey Wood gave the defendants 14 days to file an appeal. The federal charges carry a maximum life sentence. A date for the sentencing hearing has not been set.

Read more here.

Log off (just kidding)

Slack isn't loading for some users

Posted February 22, 2022 at 10:42 AM EST
A sign on a shot brick wall displays the name and logo of Slack.
Stephen Lam
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Getty Images
Slack, the business communication software, became glitchy shortly after 9 a.m. ET, with many users still unable to access the platform more than an hour later.

It is our duty to report the three words that send a shiver down the spines of many a remote worker: Slack is down.

The business communication software became glitchy shortly after 9 a.m. ET, with many users still unable to access the platform more than an hour later.

"We’re investigating the issue where Slack is not loading for some users. We’re looking into the cause and will provide more information as soon as it's available," the company said in a status update at 9:25 a.m. ET.

About 20 minutes later, it said it was still working toward a "full resolution" and would return with another update soon.

A Slack spokesperson told NPR that its teams are "aware of and are investigating the issue" and pointed users toward status.slack.com and Slack Status for updates.

Down Detector has reported a spike in outages, and many Twitter users are posting about the glitch and its impact on their workday — and, in some cases, calling it early.

Social Media

Truth Social, Trump's social media site, hits the app store a year after he was banned from Twitter

Posted February 22, 2022 at 10:37 AM EST
A smartphone showing a screen with the Truth Social app up and a red error message at the top.
Chris Delmas
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AFP via Getty Images
Some users have experienced glitches on former President Donald Trump's new social media app Truth Social as it launched Monday.

Truth Social, the fledgling social media platform created by former President Donald Trump that bills itself as "free from political discrimination," launched Monday. The app shot to the top of Apple's most-downloaded list — but complaints quickly rolled in, from a buggy registration process to long wait lists to sign-up glitches.

NPR's Bobby Allyn reports Trump created the app after he was kicked off a number of social platforms last year over his incitement of the Capitol riot.

The app is Twitter-like in its features and design, allowing users to build custom profiles, follow others and create posts, which the app calls "Truths" and "Re-Truths" instead of tweets and retweets. It will differ from mainstream social media, however, in its plans for content moderation.

Truth Social joins a growing field of so-called alternative social media sites that say they'll protect free speech and allow users freedom to post what they like, with less moderation than Twitter and others.

Smaller social sites with conservative bents like Gettr and Parler are drawing some conservatives away from social media behemoths like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, as Big Tech continues to confront how to moderate misinformation and hate speech on their sites — to mixed success.

In a statement last October, Trump derided how he was silenced by what he called "a small oligarchy of tech titans" and explained how Truth Social would differ from other sites.

"Unlike with the Big Tech platforms, there will be no shadow-banning, throttling, demonetizing, or messing with algorithms for political manipulation. We will not be treating users like lab rats for social experiments, or labeling alternative views as 'disinformation.' We will not silence our fellow citizens simply because they might be wrong — or worse, because we think that Americans 'can’t handle the truth,' " Trump said.

Trump's site has a strong publicity machine pushing its message, with Trump allies like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz publicly praising the app, reports Allyn. Greene has been suspended multiple times from Twitter, including earlier this year when the site permanently suspended her personal account for "repeated violations of our COVID-19 misinformation policy." In 2020, Twitter restricted a tweet from Gaetz that the company said glorified violence.

Professor Jessie Daniels, who studies online extremism at Hunter College, says Truth Social may struggle to dominate the political discourse like Twitter does because Twitter's some 300 million users are varied, while Truth Social may attract mostly like-minded users.

One thing Truth Social may be planning to moderate on its site: disparaging Trump.

"I will note here that I checked out the app’s terms of service, and there is one thing that is prohibited on Truth Social: to 'disparage, tarnish or otherwise harm' the backers of the site," Allyn reports. "I imagine that means Donald Trump."

Happy Twosday

Today is 2-22-22 ... and a Tuesday. Here's how to celebrate the rare date

Posted February 22, 2022 at 10:19 AM EST

Today's date is 2-22-22, aka "Twosday."

The extremely rare date is full of opportunities for palindrome enthusiasts as well as wedding chapels, eateries, all sorts of businesses and — of course — regular people going about their (did we mention numerically extraordinary?) day.

Aziz Inan, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Portland, tellsMorning Edition that it's worth celebrating however you can.

"These symmetric dates have what I call magic power," he says. "It's amazing how when you share, you know, you have to wait a hundred years to experience this again ... I can't imagine it doing anything else but spread positive energy and make people have fun."

He points out that if you write the date in full according to the calendar system in which the day goes before the month, it comes out to 22-02-2022: another rare, eight-digit palindrome date.

"Such full dates do not repeat," he adds.

As neat as the numbers on the calendar are, they don't necessarily signify anything on their own.

Barry Markovsky, a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of South Carolina, says finding meaning in today's date says more about humans' ability to find patterns than anything else.

The capacity to recognize animals' footprints and distinguish predators from prey could mean the difference between life and death in primitive times, he explains. Today is not exactly about that, though.

"There's nothing of consequence, really, associated with the day itself," Markovsky adds. "Our calendar itself is kind of arbitrary and so those dates don't necessarily signify anything on any particular day, but it is just kind of a fun thing to notice."

It's also a fun day for weddings, discounts and other celebrations — especially because today happens to fall on National Margarita Day in the U.S. Here are some events and suggestions for how to mark the day.

It'll make for a great anniversary date

Today is a popular day for weddings.

Sacramento, Calif., is holding what it calls its "biggest, once-in-a-lifetime collective wedding event" at the State Capitol, in which 222 couples will tie the knot in a ceremony concluding at 2:22 p.m. local time.

In Las Vegas — where county officials just issued its 5millionth wedding license — wedding chapels are reporting limited availability for services due to heightened demand. Officials say Feb. 22 is likely to be Nevada's busiest wedding day in recent history, especially considering the drop in demand during the pandemic.

In fact, the Clark County Marriage License Bureau decided to keep itstemporary popup facility at the Harry Reid International Airport (which is traditionally available for travelers coming to get married around Valentine's Day) open through Feb. 22 to accommodate the surge.

The Contra Costa County Clerk's Office in Richmond, Calif., says it's performing 22 weddings today — almost double the number of ceremonies it typically offers.

And for East Coast couples looking for something a little lower key: Kindred Spirits Weddings, a justice of the peace service, is offering $22 deals for anyone eloping in the Seacoast, N.H., region today.

Hotels and airlines are offering limited-time discounts

Hotels and airlines are capitalizing on the rare date, offering limited discounts for people who book travel plans today.

Among them: The Great Wolf Lodge family of resorts is offering rates as low as $222 for a two-night stay in a standard suite booked today for any date before May 26. And Atlantis Paradise Islands Bahamas is offering a 22% discount, starting at $222, for guests booking a Caribbean getaway in the next two days.

Australia's low-cost carrier Jetstar is slashing fareson 22,000 tickets to just $22 one way for certain travel dates in October and November. And United Airlines is offering discounts to United MileagePlus members who book flights today on any of its 22 nonstop routes between the U.S. and London from March 1 to Nov. 15. The flights are just 22,000 miles each way plus taxes, according to The Points Guy.

Fast-food chains and delivery apps are also getting in on the deals

Between Twosday, Taco Tuesday and National Margarita Day, many eateries and food delivery services are offering limited deals, too.

For example, Burger King is giving rewards members 22% of purchases of $2 or more through the end of the week, while participating Krispy Kreme stores are giving customers a dozen glazed donuts for $2 when they order any dozen donuts or a 16-count of minis.

Chili's and Ruby Tuesday are offering discounted margaritas for restaurant diners. Those who favor takeout can get 22% off their Grubub delivery today.

Here are lists of deals from Thrillist and USA Today.

Celebrate with a simple Google search

The simplest and most immediately gratifying way to celebrate is right at your fingertips. Just google 2/22/2022 into the Google search bar and keep your eyes on the screen.

The audio version of this story was produced by Lindsay Totty and David West, and edited by Danny Hajek.

Russia-Ukraine crisis

The U.S. plans to announce sanctions today in response to Russian troops entering Ukraine

Posted February 22, 2022 at 9:49 AM EST

The U.S. and its allies plan to announce sanctions against Russia later today in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin sending troops into Ukraine's separatist regions, said U.S. deputy national security adviser Jon Finer.

President Biden signed an executive order preventing Americans from doing business in the separatist Donbas region that borders Russia.

The sanctions to be announced Tuesday "will be significant steps in response to this significant action," Finer toldMorning Edition. "Russia has taken away from the prospect of resolving this conflict diplomatically and towards further conflict, which is frankly something that we have been predicting would be the case for some time now, even while offering Russia a diplomatic path, should it choose that."

Read the highlights of the interview below, including what Finer thinks are Putin's broader intentions and whether a full-scale invasion of Ukraine is now more likely.

On whether these sanctions are enough to help Ukraine feel secure

We believe this step that we will be taking a bit later today is a clear and direct response to the actions that Russia has taken. We will stay in close touch with the Ukrainians going forward and continue to provide them support as they face this very difficult situation that Russia is imposing on them.

On whether a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine is more or less likely

I think we've been saying for quite some time ... that we believe that Russia was moving down the path toward war. The step that they took yesterday was a continuation of that course. We have said that there is a diplomatic path ... that would avoid what we think will be a catastrophic war of choice. Catastrophic for the Ukrainian people, for security in Europe, and ultimately for Russia as well. But every indication we see in terms of what we can actually observe on the ground ... suggests that they are on a very different course.

On Putin’s broader intentions

We cannot get inside the mind of President Putin, but we do know a lot about what he has said his intentions are. Yesterday [during remarks] he described essentially the history of Russia and Ukraine as indicating to him that Ukraine is not actually itself an independent country ... He has also said many times, during the course of his tenure as leader of Russia, that the greatest tragedy that has ever befallen the world was the collapse of the Soviet Union. So I think his ambitions go much beyond the step that was announced yesterday, and that is one of the reasons why we are so concerned. In addition, obviously, to the significant troop presence that Russia has amassed — more than 150,000 forces on the border of Ukraine — about how far exactly he wants to take this.

On whether the U.S. has been able to assure Germany that it can support its gas and energy needs without Nord Stream 2

The gas situation in Europe is complicated. The prices have been elevated now for quite some time, and we believe that we have been effective at determining alternative sources of energy — including natural gas — in the event that this conflict unfolds and that situation gets worse.

On whether Russia might have some legitimate concerns about security in their region

Leaving aside the question of which concerns are and are not legitimate, there are legitimate ways that countries in the world can pursue their security interests, and that includes pursuing them diplomatically, talking to other countries and negotiating. Instead of going down that path, Russia chose to put 150,000 troops on the border of a sovereign country, issue a set of demands, and then indicate that if all of their demands are not met, they are likely to take military steps to impose the situation as they see it. That is not a responsible way or a legitimate way for countries to pursue their interests, and that's why we are preparing to impose severe consequences on Russia if it goes down that path.

Sports

Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit stripped of 2021 title after failed drug test

Posted February 22, 2022 at 9:31 AM EST
John Velazquez rides Medina Spirit across the finish line to win the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., in May 2021.
Jeff Roberson
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AP
John Velazquez rides Medina Spirit across the finish line to win the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., in May 2021.

The 2021 winner of the Kentucky Derby, Medina Spirit, has been disqualified from his win last May and his trainer Bob Baffert has been suspended, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission announced Monday.

Medina Spirit, who died in December, failed a drug test after finishing the Kentucky Derby last year.

Baffert has been under scrutiny for his historyof training horses who fail drug tests. In the case of Medina Spirit last year, he denied any wrongdoing and said the horse had never knowingly been treated with the drug betamethasone.

While the drug is commonly used to treat pain and inflammation in horses, it's an illegal substance on race days.

The commission said in its ruling that lab testing at the University of California, Davis, confirmed that Medina Spirit had betamethasone in his blood.

Baffert's suspension will last 90 days and he has been fined $7,500.

Churchill Downs, which hosts the Kentucky Derby, released a statementMonday recognizing Mandaloun as the winner of race last year.

"Winning the Kentucky Derby is one of the most exciting achievements in sports and we look forward to celebrating Mandaloun on a future date in a way that is fitting of this rare distinction," the statement said.

Chess

A 16-year-old from India has beaten world chess champion Magnus Carlsen

Posted February 22, 2022 at 9:05 AM EST
Indian chess prodigy Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, shown here in 2018, has beaten world champion Magnus Carlsen.
Arun Sankar
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AFP via Getty Images
Indian chess prodigy Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, shown here in 2018, has beaten world champion Magnus Carlsen.

At just 16 years old, Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa is now the youngest chess player ever to defeat Magnus Carlsen in his long reign as world champion. The two faced off in an online tournament that had featured 16 elite players.

Praggnanandhaa is a grandmaster from India who is commonly referred to simply as Pragg. The chess prodigy said after the game that he was glad to improve on his play from the tournament’s first day -- and to avoid a draw in his game against Carlsen, which included 39 moves.

“I’m just really happy,” he said in an interview from Chennai, India.

Pragg is the youngest person to defeat Carlsen since he became world champion — a streak that extends back to 2013, as World Chess notes.

For Carlsen, it was another disappointing game in a tournament that has seen him make uncharacteristic blunders. The Norwegian said he’s feeling the effects of COVID-19, after tested positive for the coronavirus before the tournament.

"It's been pretty bad. I played a couple of decent games, but the rest of them have been poor. I need to do a lot better than that,” Carlsen said, according to the International Chess Federation website.

"It's been a little bit better today,” Carlsen said Monday, “but the first couple of days I was feeling like I'm OK, but I didn't have the energy, which made it hard to focus because every time I tried to think I blundered. It was a little bit better today, but still pretty bad."

Before running into Pragg, Carlsen had notched three straight wins, showing signs of returning to form after a rough start. In contrast, Pragg was bouncing back from three losses.

Because of the time difference involved in playing the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour 2022 online tournament, the teenager is required to stay up late at night to face the world's best chess players. After his win, Pragg was asked whether he would get some rest or take time to celebrate with a nice dinner.

“It’s about just going to bed, because I don’t think I will have dinner at 2:30 in the morning,” he said.

Coronavirus

Queen Elizabeth has canceled her virtual engagements as she recovers from COVID-19

Posted February 22, 2022 at 8:50 AM EST
Queen Elizabeth II, pictured wearing a pink jacket and matching hat.
WPA Pool
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Getty Images
Queen Elizabeth II is canceling her virtual engagements for Tuesday after testing positive for COVID-19.

Queen Elizabeth II is canceling her virtual engagements for Tuesday due to COVID-19 symptoms, according to royal officials.

"As Her Majesty is still experiencing mild cold-like symptoms she has decided not to undertake her planned virtual engagements today, but will continue with light duties," said a Buckingham Palace spokesperson, according to The Guardian.

"Light duties" may include working on state papers, the BBC explains. It has yet to be determined whether she will proceed with other engagements over the course of the week, the palace added.

The 95-year-old monarch — who celebrated 70 years on the throne earlier this month — tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday. Officials said at the time that she is triple vaccinated and planned to continue working from Windsor Castle despite mild symptoms.

Her diagnoses followed a string of cases among the royal family, with her son Prince Charles and daughter-in-law Camilla Duchess of Cornwall contracting the virus earlier this month. There are believed to be several recent virus cases among staff at Windsor Castle, according to The Associated Press.

The AP notes that the queen is scheduled to attend several in-person public engagements in the next few weeks, ahead of her 96th birthday in April.

Those include a diplomatic reception at Windsor on March 2 and the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey on March 14, as well as a remembrance service for her late husband, Prince Philip, later in March and public celebrations of the Platinum Jubilee in early June.

Her diagnosis prompted well wishes from leaders across Britain's political spectrum.

"I’m sure I speak for everyone in wishing Her Majesty The Queen a swift recovery from Covid and a rapid return to vibrant good health," Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted on Sunday.

The following day, he announced the end of England's coronavirus restrictions, phasing out the provision of free COVID-19 tests and mandatory self-isolation for people who test positive.

Sports

The U.S. national women's soccer team wins $24 million in equal pay settlement

Posted February 22, 2022 at 8:35 AM EST
A group of women wearing black t-shirts pose on a parade float, surrounded by red, white and blue confetti.
Johannes Eisele
/
AFP via Getty Images
Members of the U.S. women's soccer team take part in a ticker-tape parade in New York City after winning the World Cup in 2019.

The U.S. Women's National Soccer team has reached a proposed settlement in its class action equal pay lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation.

"We are pleased to announce that, contingent on the negotiation of a new collective bargaining agreement, we will have resolved our longstanding dispute over equal pay and proudly stand together in a shared commitment to advancing equality in soccer," both parties said in a joint statement on Tuesday.

U.S. Soccer has agreed to pay a lump sum of $22 million in back pay to the players, ESPN reports, which will be distributed in a manner proposed by players and approved by the court. The federation will also put $2 million into a fund for USWNT players' post-career goals and charitable efforts, with each player able to apply for up to $50,000.

The federation has also promised to provide an equal rate of pay between the men's and women's national senior teams in all friendlies and tournaments, including the World Cup.

The settlement is contingent on the ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement by the USWNT Players Association. The players and the federation are operating under a "memorandum of understanding" that runs through the end of March, The Athleticreports. The district court will be able to schedule final approval of the settlement once the agreement has been ratified.

"After the parties finalize the settlement agreement, they plan to advise the district court of the settlement, and then seek a limited remand from this Court under Federal Rule of the Appellate Procedure 12.1 so that the district court can consider the settlement," the parties said in a joint motion filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Tuesday.

That will bring an end to a lengthy legal dispute, which dates back to a federal equal pay complaint filed by five high-profile members of the women's national team in 2016. They said each member of the women's team was paid thousands of dollars less than the men at nearly every level of competition.

Twenty-eight players then sued U.S. Soccer in March 2019, alleging that female players were consistently paid less than their male counterparts despite superior performance on the field.

The lawsuit came months after the U.S. men's soccer team failed to qualify for the World Cup in 2018 — and just before the women's team went on to win its second consecutive tournament in 2019, to the crowd's celebratory chants of "Equal pay!"

But "getting to this day has not been easy," as the parties noted in their statement.

A federal judge dismissed the women's claim that they were paid less for the same work — along with other key parts of the suit — in May 2020, pointing to differences in the structure of the men's and women's contracts (which they had agreed to in collective bargaining). Other aspects of the suit related to working conditions were settled out of court in December.

Several of the players filed an appeal on the equal pay claims in July 2021, saying the judge had not looked at rates of pay and the fact that women had to win more often than men in order to receive bonuses.

ESPN reports that settlement talks accelerated in recent weeks, ahead of a scheduled March 7 hearing (which the parties have asked the court to postpone while they finalize the settlement agreement).

It falls short of the more than $66 million that the players had sought in back pay but still amounts to a significant victory for the team.

“We feel like this is a huge win — obviously contingent upon the ratification of the CBA — but it will have equal pay on everything moving forward," Megan Rapinoe, captain of the Seattle-based OL Reign and the women's national team, told The Athletic. "It’s honestly kind of surreal. I feel like I need to take a step back. We’ve all been in the trenches of it for so long. I think I honestly don’t even understand how monumental this is.”

In their statement, the team and federation honored the legacy of USWNT leaders who helped make this moment possible as well as those who will follow.

They said they look forward to continuing working together to "grow women’s soccer and advance opportunities for young girls and women in the United States and across the globe.”

International Dispatch
From Beijing

Russia's aggression toward Ukraine puts its ally China in an awkward position

Posted February 22, 2022 at 8:11 AM EST
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives at the Opening Ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Carl Court
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Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives for the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics at the Beijing National Stadium on Feb. 4. He was one of the few leaders to attend.

China has had a consistent stance on a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine: Don't do it.

Various Chinese officials have repeatedly urged Russia to use diplomatic means to scale back tensions with Ukraine.

“The sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of any countries should be respected and safeguarded because this is a basic norm of international relations,” said China's foreign minister Wang Yi at the Munich Security Conference earlier this month. “Ukraine is no exception.”

China has also urged Russia to follow a complicated cease-fire agreement called the Minsk II, so Russia and Ukraine can head off any potential for war.

“Why can't all parties sit down together to have in-depth discussion to come up with the road map and timetable for the implementation for the agreement?” asked Wang at the security conference. “I believe that this is what all parties need to focus on.”

The problem is, Russia's Vladimir Putin has done the exact opposite of China's suggestion. This week, it sent military troops that it calls "peacekeeping forces" into two separatist regions of Ukraine, blowing up the cease-fire truce in place.

This action has put China in an awkward position.

“There's no real trust between Russia and China,” said Jakub Jakubowski, a senior fellow at the Center for Eastern Studies, a Polish state think tank.

The two countries have a history of military and political conflict. Yet, they have drawn closer together and developed an unusually close partnership.

Putin was one of the few global leaders who attended Beijing's Olympics Opening Ceremony this month; right before, China and Russia published a sweeping joint statement that demonstrated a strong, though informal, partnership. They both agreed they felt threatened by U.S. democracy. China signaled it would help Russia should the U.S. sanction it, and Russia promised to sell China natural gas.

But it's a friendship of convenience

“This constant fear of being overthrown by a democratic revolution is something that really binds them. And the end of the day, that's to the very deepest fundament there is for this relationship, as it's not only a state-to-state strategic alignment but also an alliance of two authoritarian regimes that stand back to back,” says Jakubowski.

China is a strong proponent of national sovereignty because it has long said the island of Taiwan is part of its country, though Taiwan would beg to differ.

China is in a bind: It finds Russia's threats useful because they distract the United States and its allies. However, supporting Russia would contradict Beijing's own key political principles. Finding a way through will be a fine line to walk.

Aowen Cao contributed research from Beijing.

International Dispatch
From Berlin

German chancellor halts Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Russia

Posted February 22, 2022 at 8:02 AM EST
A view of part of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in Germany.
Sean Gallup
/
Getty Images
The receiving station of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline near Lubmin, Germany, will be idle for a while.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that he has informed Germany’s economy ministry to withdraw a key document needed for certification of the country’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Russia, which was due to come online this year.

The move comes hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops and armored vehicles into the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Scholz said in a press conference with the Irish prime minister on Tuesday that the pipeline “cannot go online” under the current circumstances. He said that the pipeline will not be certified and that he has instructed a new assessment of how Germany’s energy supplies can be secured.

Nord Stream 2 is an underwater twin pipeline that would transport natural gas from Russia directly to Germany under the Baltic Sea. The $11 billion pipeline would have an annual capacity of 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas, and Russian energy giant Gazprom is the project’s sole shareholder.

The pipeline has, for years, been the target of fierce criticism from the U.S. government, which says Europe would be too dependent on Russia for its energy needs should the project come to fruition.

President Biden warned earlier this month that the pipeline would not become operational if Russia invades Ukraine, though didn't elaborate on how the U.S. would ensure that.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted that the administration welcomed Scholz's move.

Here's more on why natural gas plays such a key role in the Russia-Ukraine crisis.