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The US president is hardly unique in saying the risk of a nuclear “Armageddon” is higher now than it has been since the Cuban missile crisis – or as it is known in Russia, the Caribbean crisis.

Anyone who has thought for more than five seconds about Vladimir Putin’s nuclear threats given the geopolitical state of play would conclude the same and indeed, it is a staple comment across Russian state TV.

And though the Russian president’s assertion that “this is not a bluff” is the kind of statement you make when you’re bluffing, Russia’s nuclear arsenal should be taken seriously. That is why it’s there.

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Clearly, US officials are, which is why they have reportedly been making firm comments behind closed doors to their Russian counterparts that a nuclear strike is the worst of all possible ideas and that retaliation would be decisive.

At their core, the power of nuclear weapons lies in their ability to persuade the opposing party to do or not to do something, that is the very nature of deterrence.

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Russia ‘keeping nuclear debate going’

Actually putting them to use in any capacity, tactical or strategic, has undeterminable benefits and escalation risks which are in all likelihood impossible to control and potentially catastrophic for all concerned.

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At a very basic level, the wind might blow in Russia’s direction, Vladimir Putin would lose his friends in China and India, and a Western conventional retaliatory strike might knock out Russian infrastructure President Putin needs to keep his country going and his people on side.

The question is whether Vladimir Putin, who celebrates his 70th birthday this Friday, is thinking rationally about any of that.

Russia’s nuclear doctrine allows for a first-strike nuclear attack only if the very existence of the state is deemed at risk. It is a high bar. Ukraine has already struck targets in illegally annexed Crimea and in the Russian border town of Belgorod.

The Kremlin seems to have preferred not to make too big a deal out of it. Although this latest round of annexations means that Russia can claim these four territories of Eastern Ukraine as its own and therefore that any Ukrainian attack is a strike on the Russian state, it is a stretch to claim that as existential and a road that Russia has so far chosen not to travel.

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What is a tactical nuclear weapon?

Nor does Russia appear to have moved to take any of its nuclear warheads out of central storage and unite the payload with the means of delivery.

So far, its nuclear threats are just that – threats. There is still a long way to go in the way of signalling and warnings before we reach actual Armageddon.

And although Russia may be losing ground on the battlefield, it does still have other options beyond continuing to hammer it out in Donbas and Kherson.

Why hasn’t it taken out targets in Kyiv, for example, since the early days of the war? What about other forms of hybrid warfare (continuing to) target energy infrastructure in Ukraine and beyond? Vladimir Putin is a master of those dark arts. A nuclear strike, one would hope, would be his weapon of last resort.

Read more:
Biden warns world is facing biggest threat of nuclear ‘Armageddon’ since Cuban missile crisis

Russian RS-24 Yars ballistic missiles roll in Red Square during the Victory Day military parade in Moscow, Russia, June 2020. Pic: AP
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Russian RS-24 Yars ballistic missiles roll in Red Square during the Victory Day military parade in Moscow, Russia, June 2020. Pic: AP

The talk now in Russia is moving increasingly towards the Kremlin’s willingness to talk. The proposition seems to be – let’s discuss ending this now with Russia claiming a huge chunk of Eastern Ukraine as its own and there is the threat of tactical nuclear weapons if you don’t or if NATO troops get involved.

Ukraine’s president is understandably not convinced. Volodymyr Zelenskky wants his country back, whole. He is not the one thinking about potential off-ramps for Vladimir Putin, he’s thinking about winning.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy poses for a picture after an interview with Reuters, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine September 16, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
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Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskky
At least two people have been killed after Russian forces shelled Ukraine's southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia, the region's governor Oleksandr Starukh has said.
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Ukraine’s southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia

Which is why it is so important that the US president is.

As Joe Biden put it in comments overheard by reporters, he’s trying to figure out where Mr Putin finds a way out where he “does not only lose face but lose significant power within Russia”.

Read more: What nuclear weapons does Russia have?

The trouble is it is incredibly hard to determine what that is and by raising the rhetorical stakes, Vladimir Putin appears to be backing himself increasingly into a corner. The prospects are deeply worrying.

In an interview with Sky News, Russian lawmaker and TV host Evgeny Popov insisted Russia would never make the first strike.

“Using a nuclear weapon in the 21st century is an insane decision. We are not insane and we hope you are not either.”

Let’s hope Vladimir Putin feels the same.

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Ireland, Norway and Spain recognise Palestine as independent state

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Ireland, Norway and Spain recognise Palestine as independent state

Ireland, Norway and Spain have officially recognised Palestine as a separate state, prompting Israel to recall its ambassadors from two of the European states.

Speaking on Wednesday, Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris said: “Today Ireland, Norway and Spain are announcing that we recognise the state of Palestine, each of us will undertake whatever national steps are necessary to give effect to that decision.

“I am confident that further countries will join us in taking this important step in the coming weeks.”

What is the two-state solution?

The Irish government argues that recognition supports a two-state solution, which it said is essential for lasting peace in the region, which has been at the centre of Israel’s offensive against Hamas since October.

Mr Harris continued: “It is a statement of unequivocal support for a two-state solution, the only credible path to peace and security for Israel, for Palestine and for their peoples.”

The protests during the semi-finals. Pic: Reuters
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Norway and Spain said they will recognise the Palestine state from 28 May. File pic: Reuters

Shortly after Mr Harris’ statement in Dublin, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Norway’s foreign minister, Espen Barth Eide, said both countries will recognise a Palestine state from 28 May.

Mr Sanchez said it is clear is that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not have a project of peace for Palestine, even if the fight against the terrorist group Hamas is legitimate”.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store added: “There cannot be peace in the Middle East if there is no recognition.

Taoiseach Simon Harris speaking to the media during a press conference outside the Government Buildings, Dublin, as the Republic of Ireland recognised the state of Palestine. Picture date: Wednesday May 22, 2024.
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Taoiseach Simon Harris said recognition of Palestine as a state is the only credible path to peace. Pic: PA

“The terror has been committed by Hamas and militant groups who are not supporters of a two-state solution and the state of Israel,” the Norwegian government leader said.

“Palestine has a fundamental right to an independent state.”

‘Terrorism pays’

After the announcement, Israel’s foreign minister ordered Israel’s ambassadors from Ireland and Norway to immediately return to Israel.

IDF stills

Posting on X Israel Katz said: “Today’s decision sends a message to the Palestinians and the world: Terrorism pays.”

He said that the recognition could impede efforts to return Israel’s hostages being held in Gaza and makes a ceasefire less likely by “rewarding the jihadists of Hamas and Iran”.

Read more:
Israeli minister denies there is a famine in Gaza
Israeli officials shut down Associated Press broadcast

“Israel will not remain silent in the face of those undermining its sovereignty and endangering its security,” he added.

It comes as Israeli forces have led assaults on the northern and southern edges of Gaza and sharply restricted the flow of aid, raising the risk of famine in the enclave.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the recognition of a Palestinian state and called on other countries to follow.

In a statement carried by the official Wafa news agency, Mr Abbas said the decision will enshrine “the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination” and support efforts to bring about a two-state solution with Israel.

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Singapore Airlines: Passengers describe chaos of fatal turbulence flight

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Singapore Airlines: Passengers describe chaos of fatal turbulence flight

A passenger travelling on a plane where a man died after the aircraft hit extreme turbulence has said she was “thrown to the roof and the floor”, while another said he “won’t be flying again for a while”.

A 73-year-old British man died from a suspected heart attack and dozens more were injured after “sudden extreme turbulence” on a London-Singapore flight.

Singapore Airlines flight SQ321 left Heathrow Airport on Monday night but was forced to make an emergency landing in at Bangkok, landing at 3.45pm local time.

Passengers have said seatbelts spared people from injury and passengers were “launched into the ceiling” of the jet.

Australian Teandra Tukhunen, who had her left arm in a sling in Bangkok’s Samitivej Srinakarin Hospital, said she was asleep and “was woken up because I was thrown to the roof and then to the floor”.

The interior of Singapore Airline flight SQ321 is pictured after an emergency landing at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Thailand, May 21, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer REFILE – CORRECTING FLIGHT NUMBER FROM "SG321" TO "SQ321
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Pic: Reuters

Sandra, from Melbourne, said she 'was woken up because I was thrown to the roof and then to the floor'
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Sandra, from Melbourne, said she ‘was thrown to the roof and then to the floor’

Ms Tukhunen, 30, said when the seatbelt sign came on “pretty much immediately, straight after that I was flung to the roof, before I had time to put my seatbelt on unfortunately.

“It was just so quick, over in a couple of seconds and then you’re just shocked. Everyone’s pretty freaked out”.

Asked if it was scary, she shrugged: “Life happens. Things happen. The pilots saved our lives, that’s all that matters in the end.”

Passenger Josh said 'I don't think I'll be flying again for a while'
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Passenger Josh said ‘I don’t think I’ll be flying again for a while’

Passenger Joshua said “I don’t think I’ll be flying again for a while” after the incident which he called “quite scary”.

Lying on a trolley in the same hospital, he described hearing “one huge loud noise, things were coming through the ceiling, water everywhere, people crying… it wasn’t a fun end to the journey”.

He said he was in “a lot of pain” and felt a lot worse after the news of the passenger’s death had “sunk in”.

British passenger Andrew Davies said “anyone who had a seatbelt on isn’t injured”.

Mr Davies said the seatbelt sign came on, but crew members didn’t have time to take their seats.

“Every single cabin crew person I saw was injured in some way or another, maybe with a gash on their head. One had a bad back, and was in obvious pain,” he said.

The interior of Singapore Airline flight SQ321 is pictured after an emergency landing at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Thailand, May 21, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer REFILE – CORRECTING FLIGHT NUMBER FROM "SG321" TO "SQ321
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Pic: Reuters

Passenger Dzafran Azmir described the chaos on board after the plane rose, then fell.

Mr Azmir said: “Suddenly the aircraft starts tilting up and there was shaking so I started bracing for what was happening, and very suddenly there was a very dramatic drop so everyone seated and not wearing a seatbelt was launched immediately into the ceiling.

“Some people hit their heads on the baggage cabins overhead and dented it, they hit the places where lights and masks are and broke straight through it.”

Kittipong Kittikachorn, head of Bangkok airport, described the disorder he found when he boarded the aircraft after the most critically injured passengers and crew had been evacuated.

Mr Kittikachorn said: “I saw things lying everywhere and many air crew injured.”

He said it’s believed the turbulence hit while people were having breakfast and that an “air pocket” was to blame.

Mr Kittikachorn said most of the passengers he had spoken to had been wearing their seatbelts.

A spokesperson for Samitivej Srinakarin Hospital said: “Seventy-one people needed treatment and six of them had critical injuries”.

Read more:
Images show damage in plane after one killed in turbulence
Is flight turbulence getting worse – and what types are there?

However, Singapore Airlines seemed to contradict those numbers and said only 30 people had been taken to hospital.

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Singapore Airlines said the pilot declared a medical emergency and landed in Bangkok after “sudden extreme turbulence over the Irrawaddy Basin at 37,000 feet about 10 hours after departure”.

In a statement, the UK Foreign Office said it was “in contact with the local authorities”.

Forty-seven Britons were among the 211 passengers and 18 crew onboard the plane, a Boeing 777-300ER.

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Singapore Airlines: Is flight turbulence getting worse – and what types are there?

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Singapore Airlines: Is flight turbulence getting worse - and what types are there?

Severe turbulence struck a Singapore Airlines flight from London Heathrow earlier today, with one man killed and many others “launched into the ceiling”.

Authorities believe a 73-year-old British man, who had a heart condition, likely died from cardiac arrest, with at least 30 others injured as a result of the turbulence.

Deaths from turbulence are extremely rare, and the US’ Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said 146 passengers and crew have been seriously injured by turbulence between 2009 and 2021.

Read more:
Images show damage in plane after one killed in turbulence

But what could have caused the incident, what types of turbulence exist, and are the events getting worse? Here’s what experts have said so far:

The interior of Singapore Airline flight SQ321 is pictured after an emergency landing at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport.
Pic: Reuters
Image:
Pic: Reuters

What does the flight data show?

Flight data shows a spike in altitude of around 275ft (84m) at 2.49pm local time. Shortly after, the plane returned to a cruising altitude of around 37,000ft (11,277m).

According to Flightradar24, “the flight encountered a rapid change in vertical rate, consistent with a sudden turbulence event”.

At 3.03pm local time, the flight changed course and began its diversion to Bangkok.

Around 20 minutes later, at about 3.25pm, the flight declared an emergency – a Squawk 7700 – before landing in Bangkok at 3.45pm.

Source: Flightradar24. All times are local
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Source: Flightradar24. All times are local

What could have caused the turbulence?

Tim Atkinson, an aviation consultant and pilot, told the Sky News Daily podcast he believes “it’s fairly clear” the Singapore Airlines flight “encountered atmospheric turbulence”.

He noted that the area – called the Intertropical Convergence Zone – where the Boeing 777 plunged 6,000 feet is “renowned among pilots, and I dare say passengers, for turbulence”.

“Despite abundant caution occasionally, there’s turbulence ahead which can’t be identified, and the unfortunate result of an encounter is injury and, very rarely, fatality,” he said.

Mr Atkinson also noted that the larger the aircraft, “the worse the atmospheric perturbation, the disruption in the smoothness of the atmosphere, needs to be to cause major problems”.

He then said the 777 is “one of the largest and, I daresay, most solid airframes widely flying around the world”.

The interior of Singapore Airline flight SQ321 after an emergency landing at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport.
Pic: Reuters
Image:
Pic: Reuters

What types of turbulence are there?

Sky News’ weather producer Jo Robinson notes there are a few forms of turbulence – where there’s a sudden change in airflow and wind speed.

Turbulence can often be associated with storm clouds, which are usually well forecast and monitored, allowing planes to fly around them.

Clear-air turbulence (CAT) is much more dangerous as there are no visual signs, such as clouds.

This invisible vertical air movement usually occurs at and above 15,000ft and is mostly linked to the jet stream.

There are clues on where CAT may occur, but generally it can’t be detected ahead of time, which means flight crews can be caught unaware with no time to warn passengers and put seat belt signs on.

It is unclear what type of turbulence the Singapore Airlines flight went through.

How common is an incident like this?

Chris McGee, a commercial pilot for more than 20 years, said in her experience the plane did encounter CAT which is “almost impossible to predict” and comes “out of the blue”.

Ms McGee said turbulence is not in fact that rare, but to experience it to this degree is “phenomenally rare”.

“In my career I’ve experienced one incident of severe turbulence,” she said, adding that she has heard of maybe “two, possibly three incidents of something that extreme” from fellow pilots.

The reported 6,000-ft drop in under five minutes is quite normal in a controlled descent instigated by the pilot, she said.

However, what they experienced was not a nice smooth, controlled descent, but an “absolute maelstrom of the aeroplane flinging itself around all over the sky”.

“It’s awful what happened to those on board, one death is tragic, other people were injured, but something like that is incredibly rare,” she said.

“We do train in the simulator every six months at least where we practicse things we can’t practise in the real aeroplane. Things like emergency procedures, abnormalities and unusual weather conditions like this, for example.

“We are taught how to fly the aeroplane through these extreme events and how to recover them should the plane depart from its normal flight mode.”

Her best advice for any passengers concerned about their safety on the flight is to follow what the cabin crew “strongly suggest and keep their seatbelts loosely tied at all times. On the flight deck that’s what we do. It will protect you”.

Pic: Reuters
The interior of Singapore Airline flight SQ321 is pictured after an emergency landing at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport, in Bangkok, Thailand May 21, 2024. Obtained by Reuters/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
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Pic: Reuters

Is turbulence getting worse?

It’s been understood for some time that climate change is increasing turbulence during flights, and the trend is set to worsen according to reports.

In June last year, a study from Reading University found that in a typical spot in the North Atlantic – one of the world’s busiest routes – the total annual duration of severe turbulence increased by 55% from 17.7 hours in 1979 to 27.4 hours in 2020.

Moderate turbulence was also found to have increased by 37% from 70.0 to 96.1 hours, and light turbulence increased by 17% from 466.5 to 546.8 hours.

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Professor Paul Williams, an atmospheric scientist who co-authored the study, said at the time: “My message from this is we need to do something otherwise flights will become more turbulent in future [as global heating increases further].”

Professor Paul Roundy, from the University of Albany, said on X on Tuesday that the 55% increase in “a very infrequent signal gives a real, but small, change in absolute risk”.

He noted that “it’s not something a randomly selected passenger should worry about,” before adding: “Airline travel of the future won’t be fraught with wings ripped off planes, or have thousands of dead or injured passengers.

“It will mostly look like it does today.”

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