World News

Italy expected to elect its first female prime minister, a conservative firebrand

ABC News

(ROME) -- Giorgia Meloni, leader of Fratelli d'Italia (Brothers of Italy), could become the first female prime minister in the history of Italy in an anticipated right-wing surge to the polls on Sunday.

Europe's attention is trained on Rome, where this potential first is joined by fears that Meloni would restore an ideology not seen in Italy since World War II. Pollsters expect the Sunday vote to deliver a conservative coalition to parliament, with the government guided by Meloni as premier.

The archconservative of Italian politics, Meloni entered politics at age 15 in 1992, joining the neo-fascist Social Movement, a group with pronounced sympathy for Benito Mussolini, the country's dictator from 1925 to 1945. Fratelli d'Italia's party imagery evokes Italy's fascist past, but Meloni has rejected the associations, framing her proposed conservative coalition as a nationalist project that would recover power from Brussels.

A Meloni government would represent a major change in tide from the technocrat government held together by former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi. Meloni's party was the only opponent to Draghi's coalition, which fell in July after maintaining a hardline on consensus issues in the European Union – including sending arms to Ukraine and sanctioning Russia.

Observers say EU battle lines may be realigning, with Italy, one of the bloc's founders and its third-largest economy, cozying more to Hungary and Poland than Germany and France.

The collapse of Draghi's government in July threw Italy into a familiar political tumult, and a splintered left wing, including the center-left Democratic Party and the populist Five-Star Movement, has not coalesced with a pre-election pact. The Democratic Party leader, Enrico Letta, has trailed consistently in polls and is expected to split ballots cast by liberals with voters for Five-Star and a "Third Pole" coalition.

The right wing, though, has joined forces. Polls indicate Meloni will be the leading conservative finisher on Sunday; her government's junior partners would be Matteo Salvini, leader of the League, and Silvio Berlusconi, the head of the center-right Forza Italia. Berlusconi, the media tycoon and conservative firebrand, rose to power in 1994 and won three stints as prime minister, in total the longest serving premier in the post-war era. Salvini has been seen as the conservative in the wings of Palazzo Chigi, while Meloni had led the smaller Fratelli d'Italia, distant from the mainstream.

Analysts credit Meloni's surge past them to her resolute anti-Putin, pro-NATO posture. Berlusconi, a longtime Putin friend, has outright echoed the Kremlin's war narrative. Salvini has wavered on continuing to send arms to Kyiv.

In the two-month campaign sprint, Meloni has worked to settle fears over the conservative coalition, including those of her own making. If more pugilistic toward Brussels than her recent predecessors, Meloni does not propose a divorce with the EU or an exit from the euro, which is supported by more than 70% of Italians. She has tempered her past hostile tones toward LGBT rights and abortion rights.

Amid rising energy costs hitting Italians particularly hard and long-stagnant wages in the country, Meloni has made her message economic, focusing on tax cuts and investment in nuclear energy.

Anticipation for a far-right surge in Rome, which would follow closely behind Tuesday's stunning electoral victory for the Swedish Democrats, a party with neo-Nazi origins, has already provoked barbed remarks from Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission chief. Von der Leyen was not keen to veil Brussels' posture toward a government that could move to subvert democracy.

"If things go in a difficult direction, I've spoken about Hungary and Poland, we have tools," von der Leyen told students in the United States on Thursday. The Commission has recommended exercising an internal sanctions measure on Hungary over corruption it alleges.

Potential clashes with the EU will not be the first order of business should the right-wing coalition win a majority of votes on Sunday. Before it can govern, conservatives will have to organize a government behind Meloni in a process that could take weeks.

Fratelli d'Italia won 4.4% of the vote in the 2018 parliamentary elections, the last time Italians went to the polls. After votes are counted on Sunday, barring a major break from polling, it's poised to be the nation's leading political party.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Fiona updates: Much of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island without power as Fiona hits Canada

NOAA via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Nearly 80% of Nova Scotia and the entirety of Prince Edward Island are currently without power as Fiona, now a post-tropical cyclone, continues to lash the east coast of Canada with strong, gusty winds. It is the most intense landfalling system Canada has ever seen.

While it has lost its tropical characteristics, Fiona is still producing hurricane-force winds over a large area. Wind gusts over 85 mph have been recorded in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada.

While winds are sustained at 80 mph, the wide range of Fiona’s wind field is resulting in a long duration of strong winds across a vast geographical area.

Hurricane warnings are in effect for all of Prince Edward Island and parts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. High wind alerts have been issued for much of Maine, showing the far-reaching impacts of this storm.

Fiona made landfall in Nova Scotia early Saturday morning. While the storm is no longer a Category 3 hurricane, it still brought powerful winds gusting at over 100 mph.

The storm will now continue to weaken as it heads further north toward Canada. After dropping below hurricane strength Saturday it is expected to continue north toward Greenland.

Rare hurricane warnings and tropical storm warnings are in effect. Fiona was forecast to become the strongest storm, in terms of pressure, to hit Canada.

Fiona is expected to bring high winds, dangerous storm surge, up to 10 inches of rain, flooding and large, destructive waves.

Power outages and widespread damage are possible.

The biggest impact in the United States will be high winds gusting up to 55 mph in Maine expected on Saturday and an increased threat of rip currents, with 10-feet waves, along the East Coast.

This comes after Fiona barreled through Bermuda Friday morning.

About 70% of Bermuda woke up without power, according to the local power company.

Conditions on the island improved by the afternoon.

ABC News' Melissa Griffin, Chris Donato, Riley Winch and Max Golembo contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Russia-Ukraine live updates: US privately warns Russia against using nuclear weapons

Anton Petrus/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin's "special military operation" into neighboring Ukraine began on Feb. 24, with Russian forces invading from Belarus, to the north, and Russia, to the east. Ukrainian troops have offered "stiff resistance," according to U.S. officials.

The Russian military has since launched a full-scale ground offensive in eastern Ukraine's disputed Donbas region, capturing the strategic port city of Mariupol and securing a coastal corridor to the Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Sep 24, 1:55 PM EDT
Putin signs criminal code amendments raising penalties for looting, desertion, surrender

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law with amendments to the Russian Criminal Code imposing more severe punishments for the crimes of desertion, looting and surrender during periods of mobilization and martial law, according to the official portal of legal information.

The law introduces the notions of "mobilization," "martial law" and "wartime" and adds a number of new articles to the Criminal Code.

This comes days after Putin announced a mobilization expected to draft more than 300,000 Russians with military expertise. Anti-war protests have broken out in response to news of the draft and many have tried to flee Russia.

The article criminalizing "looting" has been amended to provide for up to 15 years of imprisonment. Commission of the crime "during a period of mobilization or martial law, in wartime" is deemed an extenuating circumstance.

Failure by a subordinate to obey an order issued by a superior in due manner during a period of martial law, in wartime or in conditions of an armed conflict or the conduct of hostilities, as well as a refusal to participate in military action or combat, will be punished by imprisonment of two to three years. If severe consequences ensue, such actions will be punished by three to ten years of imprisonment.

Furthermore, reservists will be criminally liable for arbitrary abandonment of a unit or base and for failure to report for duty in due time without a good reason during their recruit military training. This acts will be punishable with up to 10 years of imprisonment, depending on the severity of the act.

The law also introduces a number of articles regarding a failure to execute a state defense order and a violation of the terms of a state contract.

Sep 23, 6:18 PM EDT
Biden vows to impose 'swift and severe economic costs on Russia'

President Joe Biden issued a statement Friday evening again calling the referendums in Russian-controlled Ukrainian territory a "sham."

"The United States will never recognize Ukrainian territory as anything other than part of Ukraine," he said in his statement.

Biden added that the U.S. "will work with our allies and partners to impose additional swift and severe economic costs on Russia."

He said the U.S. will join with other nations "in rejecting whatever fabricated outcomes Russia will announce."

-ABC News' Ben Gittleson

Sep 23, 4:44 PM EDT
White House responds to Russia's nuclear threats

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to comment on reports that the U.S. has sent private warnings to Russia over its nuclear threats.

During her on camera briefing with reporters, Jean-Pierre she said the threats still haven’t given the U.S. reason to adjust its own nuclear posture.

“We obviously take these threats very seriously,” she said. “But we have not seen any reason to adjust our own nuclear posture at this time."

Jean-Pierre also declined to say if the President Joe Biden would support providing asylum to Russians fleeing conscriptions.

“What we're seeing in Russia, especially with the protests, and what we're seeing with Russians leaving their country is that this is an unpopular war,” she said.

-ABC News' Ben Gittleson

Sep 23, 9:39 AM EDT
Russia begins 'sham' referendums on whether to join Russia in occupied Ukrainian territories

Russia began holding its "sham" referendums in four Ukrainian regions it occupies on Friday, asking people to vote on whether they want to join Russia in an effort to legitimize its annexation of the regions.

The referendums are being held in Donetsk and Lugansk in the Donbas region and occupied territory in the southern Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions.

The referendums, announced three days ago, will be held for five days, with in person voting taking place on Tuesday. The majority of voting will be done at peoples' homes or remotely.

Russia had previously done this in Crimea in 2014, but this vote is expected to have even less legitimacy.

Western countries have already rejected the referendums as illegal shams and only a tiny handful of authoritarian countries are likely to recognize them.

Sep 23, 8:47 AM EDT
US has been warning Russia privately about consequences of using nuclear weapons

The United States has been sending private warnings to Moscow about the consequences of using nuclear weapons, a U.S. official told ABC News.

President Joe Biden has also made the warnings publicly, most recently in his address to the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday.

The warnings have been vague, a deliberate strategy designed to keep Kremlin officials guessing on what the U.S. response would actually be in the event of a nuclear strike, according to The Washington Post, which was the first to report on the private warnings.

It is not clear who has been delivering the messages to Moscow, or whether a message was sent after Russian President Vladimir Putin's most recent nuclear threat.

-ABC News' Sarah Kolinovsky

Sep 22, 6:25 PM EDT
Zelenskyy: Russian citizens being 'thrown to [their] death' with mobilization

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke directly to Russian citizens in his latest nightly address in response to President Vladimir Putin's partial mobilization of troops to fight in Ukraine.

Switching from Ukrainian to speak in Russian, he remarked that people are protesting the war across Russia because they "understand that they were simply thrown -- thrown to [their] death."

To those who are silent, "You are accomplices in all these crimes, murders and torture of Ukrainians," he said, wearing a black T-shirt that said in English: "We Stand with Ukraine."

Russians options to survive, he said, are to "protest, fight, run away or surrender to Ukrainian captivity."

Sep 22, 2:04 PM EDT
Russian foreign minister accuses Ukraine, West of falsely changing the 'narrative' of the war

In an address to the United Nations Security Council on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov fought back against what he described as a "propaganda operation" by Ukraine and its Western allies to change the "narrative" in the war.

“There’s an attempt today to impose on us a completely different narrative about a Russian aggression as the origin of all the tragedy," Lavrov said.

He alleged that such a move comes after eight years of Ukrainian forces killing the inhabitants of the Russian-backed Dunbas region of eastern Ukraine "with impunity."

Lavrov's address to the Security Council came shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called planned referendums to allow residents of the Dunbas and other areas under Russian control to vote on joining the Russian Federation a "sham." Blinken said it is part of a "diabolical" Kremlin plan to annex more Ukrainian territory.

Lavrov also accused Ukraine of treading on the "rights and freedoms" of residents in the Dunbas, including the right to speak Russian.

“They declared all those who don’t agree there as terrorists and for eight years the Kiev regime has been conducting a military operation against the peaceful civilians," Lavrov said.

He then accused Ukraine's Western allies, including the United States, of being a "party to the conflict" by supplying Ukraine with weapons.

“Their goal is obvious. They are clearly stating (it is) to drag out the fighting as long as possible in spite of the victims and destruction, in order to wear down and weaken Russia," Lavrov said.

"The intentional fomenting of this conflict by the collective West remains unpunished," Lavrov said. "Of course, you won’t punish yourselves."

Sep 22, 11:42 AM EDT
Blinken calls referendums in Russia-backed regions of Ukraine 'diabolical'

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday told the United Nations Security Council that referendums in Russia-backed regions of Ukraine are part of the Kremlin's "diabolical" plan.

Blinken alleged that Russia plans to bus in Russians to replace Ukrainians in the eastern and southern regions still under its control and call for a vote. He warned that Russia will "manipulate the result to show near unanimous support for joining the Russian Federation."

"This is right out of the Crimea playbook," Blinken said of Ukrainian territory Russia annexed in 2014. "As with Crimea, it's imperative that every member of this council, and for that matter every member of the United Nations, reject the sham referenda and unequivocally declare that all Ukrainian territory is and will remain part of Ukraine."

He said no Russian claim to annexed territory "can take away Ukraine's right to defend its own land."

Sep 22, 10:52 AM EDT
Images emerge of POWs released in Russia-Ukraine swap

Images are emerging showing Wednesday's prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russia.

According to Ukrainian officials, the photos and videos surfacing Thursday show the prisoners of war exchange that occurred in Chernihiv, in northern Ukraine.

The prisoner exchange included two Americans who were being held captive by Russian-backed forces after volunteering to fight with Ukrainian forces, their families said.

Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, both military veterans from Alabama, were reported missing by their families following a fight in the Kharkiv area of Ukraine in June.

Drueke and Huynh were among 10 foreign prisoners of war released following a mediation by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi foreign ministry said.

"We are thrilled to announce that Alex and Andy are free. They are safely in the custody of the US embassy in Saudi Arabia and after medical checks and debriefing they will return to the States," the families of Drueke and Huynh said in their joint statement.

Other images released by State Security Service of Ukraine showed Ukrainian soldiers smiling after they were released in the Chernihiv region.

Meanwhile, the Russian defense ministry press service released an image from a video of Russian war prisoners walking off a plane in an unspecified location in Russia. Russia said 55 of its troops were released in a prisoner exchange.

Ukrainian officials said 215 of its soldiers and foreign citizens were freed from captivity in Russia.

Sep 22, 8:00 AM EDT
What Blinken plans to say at Friday's UN Security Council meeting

During Friday's United Nations Security Council meeting in New York City, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to urge all members to send a clear message of opposition to Moscow over Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent threats of nuclear warfare, according to a senior official with the U.S. Department of State.

The State Department official previewed what Blinken will say at the upcoming session, which his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov is expected to attend. While Blinken plans to tell the council that the United States takes Putin's nuclear threats seriously, he is not expected to urge any specific action, given the obstacles that the council's makeup presents. Rather, the official said Blinken sees Friday's meeting as an opportunity to further shine a spotlight on the impacts of Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine.

Furthermore, Blinken is expected to hit on the latest developments out of Russia, including the partial military mobilization and referenda. He also plans to reference evidence of atrocities uncovered in recent days, specifically in the eastern Ukrainian city of Izyum, stressing that these are not the actions of rogue units but a clear pattern emerging across Russian-occupied territory and must be met with accountability.

While Lavrov is expected to attend Friday's meeting, there is of course no guarantee he will be in the room when Blinken speaks. Blinken, however, is expected to remain through the entirety of the session, where both Russia and China will also have an opportunity to address the room.

Sep 21, 6:27 PM EDT
Zelenskyy demands punishment for Russia in UN remarks

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy demanded punishment for Russia in his remarks to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday.

"A crime has been committed against Ukraine, and we demand just punishment," he said in video remarks, the only state leader allowed to appear virtually this year.

Zelenskyy spelled out the alleged atrocities discovered in Izyum after Russian forces retreated. "The bodies of women and men, children and adults, civilians and soldiers were found there -- 445 graves," he said.

Zelenskyy vowed to other world leaders that Ukraine's forces would ultimately emerge successful -- and claimed any rhetoric from Russia about negotiating peace was a façade.

"We can return the Ukrainian flag to our entire territory. We can do it with the force of arms, but we need time," he said. "Russia wants to spend the winter on the occupied territory of Ukraine and prepare forces to attempt a new offensive -- new Buchas, new Izyums."

He warned that Russia's warfare near nuclear plants meant no one was safe and again made an appeal for Russia to be branded as a state sponsor of terrorism by all nations -- something the Biden administration has so far said it is against.

"We must finally recognize Russia as a state sponsor of terrorists, at all levels, in all countries," Zelenskyy urged. "This is the foundation for restoring global security."

-ABC News' Shannon Crawford

Sep 21, 6:15 PM EDT
More than 1,400 people detained at antiwar protests in Russia

More than 1,400 people were detained at antiwar protests that have erupted across Russia after President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization of reservists to fight in Ukraine, according to the independent Russian human rights monitoring group OVD-Info.

At least 1,408 people have been detained at mobilization protests in nearly 40 cities on Wednesday, OVD-Info said in its latest update. Most were reported at protests in St. Petersburg and Moscow.

The protests followed a televised address Wednesday morning during which Putin announced the start of the first mobilization in Russia since World War II. The measure is expected to draft more than 300,000 Russian citizens with military experience, according to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Protesters could be seen holding "stop war" signs. One man shown being taken into custody in Novosibirsk had shouted, “I don’t want to die for Putin or for you,” according to Russian independent media outlet Mediazona.

Russia has criminalized protests against the war, and demonstrations held following its invasion have been met with a heavy police response.

Sep 21, 9:32 AM EDT
White House reacts to Putin's partial military mobilization

Russian President Vladimir Putin's partial military mobilization for his ongoing war in neighboring Ukraine is "definitely a sign that he's struggling," according to the White House's National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.

"And we know that," Kirby told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos during an interview Wednesday on Good Morning America.

"[Putin] has suffered tens of thousands of casualties. He has terrible morale, unit cohesion on the battlefield, command and control has still not been solved. He's got desertion problems and he's forcing the wounded back into the fight," Kirby added. "So clearly manpower's a problem for him, he feels like he's on his back foot, particularly in that northeast area of the Donbas."

Some 300,000 Russian reservists are expected to be conscripted, which Kirby noted is "a lot."

"That's almost twice as much as [Putin] committed to the war back in February," he said.

Kirby said Putin's latest nuclear threats are "typical" but something the United States and its allies still take "seriously."

"We always have to take this kind of rhetoric seriously," he added. "It's irresponsible rhetoric for a nuclear power to talk that way, but it's not atypical for how he's been talking the last seven months and we take it seriously. We are monitoring as best we can their strategic posture so that if we have to, we can alter ours. We've seen no indication that that's required right now."

And if Russia does use nuclear weapons, "there will be severe consequences," according to Kirby.

While Moscow appears poised to annex Russian-held regions in Ukraine and attempt to politically legitimize it with sham referendums in the coming days and weeks, Kirby said the United States will still consider those areas Ukrainian territory.

"We're going to continue to support Ukraine with security systems and other financial aid, as the president said, for as long as it takes," he added. "That is Ukrainian territory. It doesn't matter what sham referendum they put in place or what vote they hold, it is still Ukrainian territory."

Sep 21, 7:47 AM EDT
Putin orders partial mobilization, says he won't 'bluff' on nukes

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a partial mobilization of reservists in Russia, in an apparent admission that his war in neighboring Ukraine isn't going according to plan.

In a seven-minute televised address to the nation that aired on Wednesday morning, Putin announced the start of the mobilization -- the first in Russia since World War II. The measure is expected to draft more than 300,000 Russian citizens with military experience, according to Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu.

The move comes as Moscow is poised to annex all the regions it occupies in Ukraine in the coming weeks, with plans to hold sham referendums this weekend to legitimize its actions. By declaring those areas officially Russian territory, Putin is also threatening that any continued efforts by Ukraine to retake them will be seen as a direct attack on Russia. In his speech Wednesday, the Russian leader raised the specter of using nuclear weapons if Ukraine continues to try to liberate the occupied regions.

"In the event of a threat to the territorial integrity to our country, for the protection of Russia and our people, we of course will use all means in our possession," Putin said. "This is not a bluff."

"Those who are trying to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the wind can turn in their direction," he added.

It's an attempt to regain the initiative after disastrous setbacks in Russia's war against Ukraine.

Russia has been suffering severe manpower shortages in Ukraine after months of heavy losses, mainly because the Kremlin has pretended it is fighting not a war but a "special military operation." That, in part, allowed Ukraine's spectacular counteroffensive in the country's northeast two weeks ago, which led to the collapse of Russia's frontline there.

Military experts and Russian commentators themselves had acknowledged that without a mobilization, Moscow is not capable of anymore offensive operations in Ukraine and in the longterm might well be unable to even hold the territory it has already taken.

Putin has balked at ordering a mobilization, until now, because of the huge political risks it carries for him at home. Russians have proved relatively supportive of the war while they have not been ordered to fight it, but this carries much bigger risks now of domestic unrest. It will bring up dangerous memories of the Soviet disaster in Afghanistan and Chechnya.

Yet Putin has clearly decided he must take the risk, with losing the war in Ukraine seen as an existential danger to his regime.

The mobilization order has profound implications for not just Russia and Ukraine, but also for Europe and the United States. It means Putin is expanding the war in Ukraine even further, ready to throw hundreds of thousands more people into it -- making the fight harder again for Ukraine, while also raising the threat of nuclear strikes on it. And at home, Putin is going to enter uncharted waters.

Sep 20, 3:50 PM EDT
US and Ukraine bolster efforts to prosecute Russia for war crimes

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland met Tuesday with Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin and signed a memorandum of understanding to strengthen their investigative partnership in pursuing prosecutions against Russians accused of committing war crimes in Ukraine.

"America and the world have seen the horrific images and the heart-wrenching reports of the brutality and death caused by the unjust Russian invasion of Ukraine," Garland said following the meeting at the Department of Justice in Washington.

Garland said the DOJ's War Crimes Accountability Team has provided Ukraine with a "wide variety" of technical assistance on criminal cases, including collecting evidence and forensic analysis.

The memorandum of understanding, Garland said, will allow the two countries to "work more expeditiously and efficiently" in their investigations of Russian war crimes.

Kostin also delivered somber remarks on war crimes uncovered by Ukrainian investigators since the start of the Russia's invasion. He said that two hours before his meeting with Garland, a prosecutor in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine informed him of a village "where about 100 graves" were just discovered.

"This place is not safe at the moment since it needs de-mining," Kostin said. "But this is a new example of mass atrocities by the aggressor. This is a sign that Russia uses not only prohibited means and methods of warfare, but this is a clear and intentional policy of Russia."

-ABC News' Alexander Mallin

Sep 20, 2:49 PM EDT
Ukraine conflict could increase food prices, food insecurity: Study

The impact on crop production due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine will likely continue to increase global food prices and food insecurity, though not as much as initially feared, according to a new study.

The price of corn and wheat are expected to increase by 4.6% and 7.2%, respectively, and crops such as barley, rice, soybeans and sunflower are also anticipated to rise, according to a study from Indiana University published this week in Nature Food.

Nations with current existing food insecurity will be most impacted by the conflict, according to the study.

Other countries, including Brazil, have stepped up their production to fill the gap left by the lack of exports coming out of the region, offsetting some of the impacts on world food prices and food insecurity, the study found. Clearing more land and vegetation to grow crops could increase deforestation and carbon emissions, the study said.

-ABC News' Tracy Wholf

Sep 20, 2:35 PM EDT
White House slams referendums in Russia-backed regions of Ukraine

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said referendums planned for this week in Russia-backed areas of eastern and southern Ukraine are a "sham."

"Russia is throwing together sham referendums on three days notice as they continue to lose ground on the battlefield and as more world leaders have distanced themselves from Russia on the public stage," Sullivan said in a briefing Tuesday at the White House.

He also slammed legislation being pushed through the Russian parliament to lay the ground for a general mobilization of men aged 17-27 as "scraping for personnel to throw into the fight."

“These are not the actions of a confident country. These are not acts of strength, quite the opposite," Sullivan said. "We reject Russia's actions unequivocally."

-ABC News' Ben Gittleson

Sep 20, 12:24 PM EDT
Kremlin says referendums to be held in separatist regions of Ukraine

The Kremlin made a series of dramatic announcements Tuesday, signaling its response to its failing military campaign in Ukraine.

The Kremlin said referendums will be held later this week in Russian-backed regions of eastern and southern Ukraine for people to vote on whether to join Russia.

Dmytro Kuleba, the Ukrainian minister of foreign affairs, called the proposed vote "sham referendums" in a post on Twitter.

"Russia has been and remains an aggressor illegally occupying parts of Ukrainian land," Kuleba said. "Ukraine has every right to liberate its territories and will keep liberating them whatever Russia has to say."

Depending on the results of the referendums, which critics say is a foregone conclusion, Russia will suddenly consider territory it has occupied in Ukraine as its own.

Meanwhile, legislation is being rushed through the Russian parliament, laying the ground for a general mobilization of men aged 17-27, an age range that could be expanded.

Russian state media reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his minister of defense will address the nation Tuesday night.

According to a Moscow-based military analyst, even parts of Ukraine's eastern Donbas, which are not currently controlled by Russian forces, will be considered Russian territory.

After its apparently successful offensive in northeastern Ukraine, the Ukranian military now appears to be pushing further east and is contesting areas of the eastern Donbas region.

In a highly symbolic moment, Ukrainian forces claim they have retaken a village in Luhansk, in the northern part of the Donbas, an area the Kremlin took control of in July.

Sep 18, 4:01 PM EDT
Zelenskyy says preparation underway to liberate all of Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly address Sunday that he interpreted a lull in fighting after a series of victories by his country's military forces as preparation for the liberation of all of Ukraine.

“Maybe now it seems to some of you that after a series of victories, we have a certain lull," Zelenskyy said.

He went on to say, "this is not a lull. This is preparation for the next series. To the next series of words that are very important to us and must sound. Because Ukraine must be free … all of it."

Ukrainian troops made good on Zelenskyy's call to take back lands claimed by Russian forces with an aggressive counteroffensive over the past week in the country's northeast region.

Ukrainian officials said their forces drove out the Russian in two key areas in the Kharkiv region and are not going to let up.

Sep 18, 1:59 PM EDT
Biden says China not supplying Russia weapons to use in Ukraine

President Joe Biden said in an interview with CBS' 60 Minutes that it does not appear China is sending weapons to Russia to use in Ukraine.

“Thus far there's no indication that they've put forward weapons or other things that Russia has wanted,” Biden said in the clip from the interview released Sunday.

That’s consistent with the message his administration has repeatedly shared for months. But it doesn't mean China has stopped helping Russia in other ways, including purchasing Russian oil.

Biden recounted how he had previously told China’s President Xi Jinping that if he thought “Americans and others are gonna continue to invest in China based on your violating the sanctions that have been imposed on Russia, I think you're making a gigantic mistake. But that's your decision to make."

Biden also said he does not think there’s currently a “new, more complicated cold war” with China, as the interviewer, Scott Pelley, put it.

-ABC News' Ben Gittleson

Sep 18, 12:06 PM EDT
'True face of aggression': Ukrainian ambassador condemns Russia over mass grave

Ukraine's ambassador to the U.S., Oksana Markarova, accused Russia on Sunday of committing "war crimes of massive proportions" after a mass grave was discovered in Ukraine.

"It's tortures, rapes, killings. War crimes of a massive proportions," Markarova claimed in an interview with ABC "This Week" co-anchor Jonathan Karl. "That's why we need to liberate the whole territory of Ukraine as soon as possible because clearly Russians are targeting all Ukrainians. Whole families. Children. So, there is no war logic in all of this. It's simply terrorizing and committing genocide against Ukrainians."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an address on Thursday that a mass grave was found in the recently recaptured territory of Izyum. Over 400 bodies could be buried in the site, according to Ukrainian officials.

Markarova said the majority of the bodies recovered from the site are Ukrainian, including entire families. She also said most of the remains showed "clear signs of torture."

She said an investigation of the mass grave is underway and that with the assistance of the United States her country is continuing to prepare national and international criminal cases against Russia.

Russia has repeatedly denied targeting civilians, despite evidence otherwise.

"It's so important for everyone to see the true face of this aggression and terrorist attack Russia is waging," Markarova said.

-ABC News' Kelly Livingston

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

What to know about 'referendums' announced in Ukraine 'republics' to join Russia


(KYIV, Ukraine) -- A so-called "referendum" to join Russia announced by pro-Russian authorities of the Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic in eastern Ukraine has raised alarm bells globally as experts and leaders see it as a manipulative farce by Russia to force control over parts of Ukraine as Ukrainian forces are pushing back on Russian forces.

U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink referred to the referendums, as well as increased military mobilization, as "signs of weakness, of Russian failure," echoing many opinions that Russia is acting out under pressure in response to Ukrainian advances.

"The United States will never recognize Russia's claim to purportedly annexed Ukrainian territory, and we will continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes," Brink tweeted Tuesday.

The voting is planned for Sept. 23 to 27. Self-appointed Kremlin-backed officials of the occupied parts of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions also announced they would hold referendums on the same dates.

"We believe it is more timely than ever to make a strong-willed decision on the immediate holding of a referendum on the unification of the Kherson region with the Russian Federation," the local so-called Public Council said at a meeting Tuesday.

The Russian Central Elections Commission said it would set up polling stations in Russia. Voters would be presented with one question: "Are you in favor of the secession of the Zaporizhia region from Ukraine, the formation of an independent state by the Zaporizhia region and its entry into the Russian Federation as a subject of the Russian Federation?"

This decision of the Kremlin's proxies to stage sham referendums marked a significant escalation of the conflict and has been widely condemned by world leaders.

The office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called Russian statements a "sedative" for the Russian audience.

"There is global consensus and international law," Mykhailo Podolyak, the adviser to the head of the office of the president posted on Twitter. "It is unambiguous: Donetsk, Luhansk and Crimea are Ukraine. Any attempts to repaint flags are a fiction that will not change anything for us nor for our partners."

The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that any referendum in Russian-occupied territories will not have any legal consequences.

"No matter how much the Russian Federation holds illegal votes in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, the result will be the same: all Ukrainian territories will be freed from Russian occupation, and the Russian leadership will be brought to the strictest responsibility for organized terror, war crimes and crimes against humanity on Ukrainian soil," the statement said.

U.S. President Joe Biden also criticized what he called Russia's "outrageous acts" in a speech at the United Nations on Wednesday.

"Just today, President Putin has made overt nuclear threats against Europe and reckless disregard of the responsibilities of a nonproliferation regime," he said. "Now, Russia is calling up more soldiers to join the fight and the Kremlin is organizing a sham referendum to try to annex parts of Ukraine, an extremely significant violation of the U.N. Charter."

The eastern part of Ukraine has been occupied by Russian proxies since 2014. In late February 2022, right before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the "independence" of the so-called DPR and LPR. Since then, the leaders of the unrecognized republics have called for integration with Russia, but Moscow has reiterated that such a decision is not timely.

Parts of southern Ukraine were occupied by Russian forces during the 2022 invasion. The occupational authorities there have tried to hold unofficial referendums to proclaim "independence" following Russia's 2014 invasion of the Donbas region. The efforts have so far failed and the referendums have been postponed several times.

Now, such a possibility looks much more realistic.

In a speech Wednesday, Putin said Russia would support any decision the electorate makes and provide security for the referendums.

Meanwhile, the Russian leader announced partial mobilization across the country that would draft up to 300,000 men to be sent to war in Ukraine, according to the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

The timing of the referendums and mobilization, is not a coincidence, experts say. Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War believe Ukraine's ongoing northern counter-offensive is panicking proxy forces and some Kremlin decision-makers.

In early September, the Ukrainian Armed Forces astonished the world with its lightning counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region, moving the Russians more than 30 miles east in just a few days. Videos showed Russian soldiers running away, leaving behind vehicles and ammunition.

In all, the Ukrainian Armed Forces says it has liberated more than 3,700 square miles of territory so far, according to the Deputy Minister of Defense Hanna Maliar. This also includes some areas in the southern Kherson region, where Ukrainians are moving forward slowly but steadily, liberating village by village.

Russia's retreat from the Kharkiv region sparked not only praise of the Ukrainian Army in the West, but also criticism of Russian authorities even amid the Russian propagandist media. Some military bloggers expressed the idea of "freezing" the war in Ukraine, which they claim would be beneficial to Russia itself.

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Iranian women drive protests targeting regime after suspicious death of Mahsa Amini

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(TEHRAN, IRAN) -- While Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was holding up Gen. Qassim Soleimani's photo on Wednesday at the United Nations General Assembly podium grieving over his killing by the U.S., Soleimani's picture was being torn down in his home city of Kerman and set on fire by protestors.

Protests against the Iranian regime started across the country last Friday following the suspicious death of a young woman was arrested and detained for allegedly wearing a hijab improperly by hijab police three days earlier.

Mahsa Amini, 22, was on a trip to Tehran with her 16-year-old brother when the hijab police, also called the "morality police," arrested her for not wearing the outfit that fully matched the Sharia-based hijab laws of the country. Despite her brother’s resistance, she was taken into custody only to be announced dead at a hospital three days later, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency

The head of the Forensic Medicine of Tehran said Amini was suffering from a background condition. Her father denied those claims in an interview with the BBC.

With the news of Amini's arrest going viral, criticism against hijab laws and the confrontation of the morality police against women intensified on social media.

Protests soon developed beyond the morality police after her death and addressed a long list of the Islamic Republic’s actions over the past four decades.

The first big protests broke out on Sept. 17 during Amini's funeral in Saqqez, her home city in northwest Iran.

Pictures of the burial protests went viral. The hashtag #MahsaAmini and her name in Farsi got 18 million mentions on Twitter and about 150 million on TikTok, making it the biggest trend on Persian Twitter, BBC Persian reported Thursday.

Amjad Amini, Mahsa Amini's father, said Tuesday in an interview with Iranian news website Emtedad that the police did not let the family see Mahsa Amini's body. Only he could briefly check her daughter’s legs and saw they were bruised.

“The person who hit my daughter should be put on trial in a public court,” Amjad Amini told the outlet.

While the news program of Iran's state-run TV announced Thursday that 17 people had been killed in the protests, the Iran Human Rights group, IRH, reported that at least 31 killed had been killed through Thursday.

Videos shared on social media from the protestors show many women burning their headscarves on the streets. Many celebrities have removed their hijab and shared the clips on social media.

In an act of solidarity, many men and women from different countries have also shared videos of themselves cutting their hair short and expressing their anger over Mahsa Amini's death.

President Joe Biden said America supports the growing protests in his address to the U.N. on Wednesday.

"Today we stand with the brave citizens and women in Iran who right now are demonstrating to secure their basic rights," Biden said.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control designated Iran’s morality police "for abuse and violence against Iranian women and the violation of the rights of peaceful Iranian protestors.”

"Mahsa Amini was a courageous woman whose death in Morality Police custody was yet another act of brutality by the Iranian regime’s security forces against its own people," Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen said in a statement Thursday. "We condemn this unconscionable act in the strongest terms and call on the Iranian government to end its violence against women and its ongoing violent crackdown on free expression and assembly."

However, to many Iranians, western countries who negotiate with the Islamic Republic over the nuclear deal are giving the country a chance to buy time and continue its oppression, such words and moves are “too little, too late.”

"I have given up hope from the West. They have proved they only care about the nuclear program not the human rights,” Nina, a 35-year-old protestor, told ABC News. Nina did not want her real name mentioned for safety reasons.

"All I want from people in the West is not to forget us, especially now that the internet is either cut or very slow," Nina added. "Seeing the people in the world hear and celebrities help us to be heard makes up keep up our spirit."

Sarah, 39, a protester from Tehran, said there is a huge "mix of anger, hope and fear" in the protests. "But no matter what, we will stay on the streets," she said.

Referring to the main slogans of the protests in different cities, "woman, life, freedom," and "death to dictator," Sarah, who is also not using her real name over fears for her safety, said the movement does not merely address restrictions on women.

"Slogans target the very bases of the regime. They address the leader himself calling him a 'shame' to the country,” she said. 'What matters the most is that these slogans are heard by the world.'

While the Internet was throttled from the beginning of the protests, it was cut or severely slowed down in the country on Wednesday, according to NetBlocks. In addition, WhatsApp and Instagram --the last social media outlets that were still accessible in Iran-- were filtered in an attempt by the regime to restrict the circulation of information even more severely.

"Our anger is definitely overgrowing their power," Sarah said. "I hope people in different countries recognize this anger and their government joins them and stop negotiating with this regime."

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Record flooding, drought part of range of weather extremes in US this summer

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(NEW YORK) -- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released its 2022 Summer Climate Report, which outlines the extreme weather events from June to August in the U.S.

The report also describes where this year ranked compared to previous summers, using data from dozens of weather stations in each state.

US record temperatures

The summer of 2022 ranks third-warmest on record, with an average temperature across the contiguous United States at 73.9 degrees, according to the report. That’s 2.5 degrees above average, coming in only 0.01 degrees behind 1936 (when the dust bowl was in full swing) for the No. 2 spot. The hottest summer on record was in 2021.

It wasn’t just the highs that were sweltering, it was often the lows. The average minimum temperature across the country hit a record of 62.3 degrees this August, meaning there wasn’t much relief during the overnight hours. Houston broke several records for warmest low temperature, only bottoming out at 86 degrees after reaching highs above 100 degrees on multiple occasions. Without any cooler temperatures at night, the cumulative heat can be dangerous.

Heat is the No. 1 weather-related cause of death each year, and communities have recently taken it more seriously by opening cooling shelters to those most at-risk during heat waves.


While some parts of the country suffered from serious to exceptional drought, others dealt with major flooding. Taking the whole country into account, the precipitation turned out average, but how much rain you saw heavily depended on which region you were in. For example, Arizona had its seventh wettest summer, while Nebraska came in at third driest, according to NOAA.

Monsoon season in the Southwest is a typical occurrence during the summer months, but it started earlier than normal this year and brought flash floods to highly populated areas at times. Las Vegas experienced major flooding across the city in late July and again in early August, flooding casinos and leaving two dead.

August also brought a relentless surge of rainfall to northern Louisiana and Mississippi.

The several-day deluge caused major flash flooding in Jackson, Mississippi, where cars were submerged and people were left standing on their roofs waiting for rescue. More than 153,000 residents didn’t have clean drinking water for weeks after the water treatment facility went offline in the flood.

1,000-year floods

A 1,000-year rainfall event means that there is a 1 in 1,000 chance that a flood of that magnitude will occur in any given year. Three such events happened in August.

On Aug. 2, southern Illinois picked up a foot of rain in only 12 hours. Near Newtown, Illinois, an incredible 14 inches fell in those 12 hours, according to the National Weather Service.

Death Valley isn’t known for its rainfall, but on Aug. 5, the National Park was drenched with 1.70 inches of rain, leading to damaging flooding and trapped visitors. That rainfall broke a record that had stood for more than 34 years.

Then, on the morning of Aug. 22, the rain began in Dallas and didn’t stop. Hefty downpours led to catastrophic flooding across the city, with many nearby towns recording more than a foot of rainfall.

The governor declared a disaster for 23 counties in Texas due to the rainfall. Although it was destructive for many, it was bittersweet because it helped alleviate the exceptional drought that plagued that area for months. Water reservoirs rose significantly after being at record low levels just a week before, and the U.S. Drought Monitor noted major improvement in its update following the flood event.


Even though there were several drought-busting rain events across the country, the U.S. finished up the summer with 45.5% of its land mass in drought conditions, the NOAA report said.

The northeast was one region that saw the drought ramp up during the summer months. Lawns that were a healthy shade of green in May were crunchy and yellow by August, as the rain stayed away for weeks. As a result, Massachusetts saw extreme drought spread across the eastern half of the state, and severe drought expanded to Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Meanwhile, the intense drought set the stage for a supercharged wildfire season in the west. Gusty winds helped easily spread these fires that had no resistance from the weather.


In the tropical Atlantic, there was only one word to describe the situation: quiet. From July 3 to Sept. 1, there were no named storms in the Atlantic basin. That stretch of 60 days was the longest stormless stretch since 1941, according to the National Hurricane Center.

In September, the tropics began to heat up. Several named storms formed right around the historical peak of hurricane season in the Atlantic. The strongest of which was Hurricane Fiona, which peaked as a Category 4 storm after dropping catastrophic rainfall on Puerto Rico.

Roasting in Europe

Across the pond, records were just as prevalent as they were in America this summer. Europe experienced its hottest summer on record, with several countries roasting in a mid-summer heat wave that shattered long-standing records. It peaked on July 19, when dozens of weather stations across the U.K. topped 100 degrees. London soared to an incredible 104 degrees that day, according to the U.K. Met Office.

Around the world

Globally, the June-August period tied for the fifth warmest in the 143 years of records.

"The five warmest June-August periods on record have occurred since 2015," according to NOAA,

Both hemispheres came in above average, and while June-August is winter in the Southern Hemisphere, temperatures were not nearly as cold as they typically are. Antarctic sea ice during that time frame ended up at record low levels, according to climate scientists at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab.

In terms of rain, Pakistan dealt with some of the worst floods in recent history. Extreme monsoon rainfall in August is estimated to have killed more than 1,500 people and destroyed more than 1.7 million homes.

Connection to climate change

While not every weather event can be attributed to climate change, some are undoubtedly enhanced by our warming world, as explained in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2022 Assessment.

An example of this is the extreme flooding rain events. With ocean temperatures significantly higher than average, there is more moisture in the air due to evaporation. Also, higher temperatures can hold more water content, so the likelihood of heavy rain events rises with the temperature.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Women affected disproportionately by Russia-Ukraine war: UN report

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(UKRAINE) -- Woman and girls in Ukraine and around the world have suffered disproportionately as the men of the country fight against the invasion by Russia, a new report by the United Nations has found.

The policy paper, published as the U.N. Security Council meets to discuss the war in Ukraine, reveals how the war and its global impacts on food, energy and finance have caused women in Ukraine and globally to suffer numerous hardships.

The report states that 265,000 Ukrainian women who were pregnant when the war broke out in February either had to flee or give birth in a time of conflict.

It also highlights how the crisis in Europe is exacerbating existing inequalities around the world, especially surrounding the scarcity of food.

The war-induced food price hikes and shortages have widened the global gender gap in food insecurity, the report shows. Many women have even reduced their own food intake to provide for other household members.

The report states that spiraling energy prices have caused families to return to using less clean fuels and technologies, exposing women and girls to household air pollution, which already kills 3.2 million people per year -- the majority of whom are women and children.

Women-headed households in Ukraine were already more food insecure prior to the war, with 37.5% experiencing moderate or severe levels of food insecurity, compared to 20.5% of male-headed households, according to the report.

The fate of women in rural territories occupied by the Russian military remains dire. The women are increasingly unable to perform agricultural work due to high insecurity and lack of resources, but they continue to rise to the challenge of accommodating and feeding internally displaced people, which then multiples their unpaid care and domestic work responsibilities, according to the report.

In addition, school-aged girls are even more at risk of being obliged to drop out of school to get married for dowry or bride-price income for desperate families, officials stated. The report shows that there are alarming increases in gender-based violence, transactional sex for food and survival, sexual exploitation and trafficking, and early child marriage and forced marriage as a result of these worsened living conditions in conflict, crisis and humanitarian contexts worldwide.

"Systemic, gendered crises require systemic, gendered solutions," Sima Sami Bahous, the executive director of U.N.-Women, said in a statement. "That means ensuring that women and girls, including from marginalized groups, are part of all the decision-making processes. That is simply the only way to be certain that their rights and needs are fully taken into account as we respond to the clear facts before us."

The policy brief calls for solutions from the international community to prioritize women's and girls' voice agency, participation and leadership in conflict response, recovery and peacebuilding as well as to enhance gender statistics and sex-disaggregated data to build the evidence base for gender-responsive policy.

The U.N. also recommended that international communities promote and protect the right to food by targeting the specific nutrition needs of women and girls and accelerate the transformation towards more equitable, gender-responsive and sustainable food systems, equitable access to access to inputs, technologies and markets by women.

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Fugitive 'Fat Leonard' caught in Venezuela

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(CARACAS, VENEZUELA) -- The military contractor known as 'Fat Leonard' – real name Leonard Francis -- has been caught, the U.S. Marshals Service told ABC News late Wednesday night.

He was found after an Interpol notice went out and was found in Caracas, Venezuela, while trying to board a flight.

The arrest was made by Venezuelan authorities based on a "Red Notice" from Interpol. The arrest was made on Tuesday but is just now becoming known.

"A Red Notice is a request to law enforcement worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest a person pending extradition, surrender, or similar legal action," according to the Interpol website.

Leonard was set to be sentenced on Sept. 22 after being found guilty in 2015 for bribing Navy officials with lavish gifts, prostitutes and cash. Authorities say he cut off his ankle monitor last week and had not been seen since.

In one instance, according to the Justice Department, Francis was able to have a ship moved to a port he owned in Malaysia.

To date it remains one of the biggest naval scandals in United States history.

On Sept. 6, U.S. Marshals showed up at Francis' home after being alerted that his GPS ankle monitor was being tampered with, according to a press release from the agency.

Since 2013, there have been more than 30 U.S. Navy officers charged in connection with his case. A judge ruled that Francis had to forfeit the $35 million he was convicted of defrauding the U.S. government by when he over-billed government contracts and bribed naval officials.

The Marshals were offering a $40,000 reward for any information leading to Leonard's arrest.


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Hurricane Fiona latest: Bermuda braces for impact

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(NEW YORK) -- Hurricane Fiona, now a monster Category 4 storm with 130 mph winds, is taking aim on Bermuda as hard-hit Puerto Rico looks to recover.

Latest forecast

A hurricane warning is in effect for Bermuda, where tropical storm conditions are expected to begin Thursday evening.

Hurricane conditions are possible overnight, depending on how closely Fiona passes the island.

On Saturday morning, a weakened Fiona will make landfall in Nova Scotia, Canada, bringing powerful, gusty winds to Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and New Brunswick.

The East Coast of the United States could see an increased threat of rip currents, along with choppy surf.

Devastated Puerto Rico looks to recover

As Fiona charges ahead, Puerto Rico looks to recover after the storm barreled across the island this week, killing several people, knocking out power and demolishing water service.

The flooding was catastrophic, with Fiona dumping up to 30 inches of rain.

President Joe Biden has approved a disaster declaration for the U.S. territory.

Next potential storm

A tropical wave known as Invest-98L has a 90% chance of development over the next five days.

It'll move into the western Caribbean this weekend where conditions will be ripe for tropical development. The tropical wave is heading to the warmest water source in the Atlantic Basin, which gives it the potential to become a significant hurricane.

After this weekend, models are split on its path. Most of the models take the storm into the Gulf. Some models predict a strong storm moving through Cuba and off Florida's east coast, while a few models track a weaker storm into Central America.

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Prince William, Kate make first appearance since Queen Elizabeth II's funeral

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(LONDON) -- Prince William and Kate, the princess of Wales, have made their first in-person public appearance since attending Monday's state funeral for Queen Elizabeth II.

The royal couple traveled to Windsor on Thursday to meet with volunteers and staff who helped support the queen's committal service at St. George's Chapel, where she is buried alongside her husband Prince Philip in the King George VI Memorial Chapel.

William reportedly told attendees that he still gets caught by moments of sadness following his grandmother's death, but said the outpouring of support from the public has buoyed the royal family amid their grief.

William and Kate both dressed in black for the engagement, following the guidelines for the royal family's period of mourning, which will last until Monday, one week after the queen's funeral.

Members of the royal family were not expected to attend in-person engagements during their extended period of mourning but William and Kate as well as Anne, the princess Royal, took time Thursday to thank people for their support.

Anne, the late queen's only daughter, visited two military bases to thank military personnel who supported the queen's funeral and other events last week during the national period of mourning.

William and Kate attended their engagement at Windsor Guildhall without their three children, Prince George, 9, Princess Charlotte, 7, and Prince Louis, 4, who all now attend school nearby at Lambrook School in Berkshire.

The family moved this summer from Kensington Palace in London to Adelaide Cottage, a four-bedroom cottage on the grounds of Windsor Castle.

Windsor Castle was a special place for the queen, who spent much of her time there, especially in her later years.

Thousands of people lined the Long Walk in Windsor on Monday as the queen's coffin was escorted in a procession to St. George's Chapel following her state funeral at Westminster Abbey.

The 96-year-old queen, Britain's longest-reigning monarch, died on Sept. 8 at Balmoral Castle, her residence in Scotland.

Elizabeth's eldest child, King Charles III, and his wife Camilla, the queen consort, took on their new titles immediately upon the queen's death.

Charles and Camilla have not made any in-person public appearances since the queen's funeral.

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Putin 'on the ropes' as Ukrainians continue counteroffensive


(NEW YORK) -- As Ukrainian forces continue to mount a counteroffensive against the Russian Army and reclaim the country's invaded land in the northeast, Russian President Vladimir Putin has upped his military mobilization and rhetoric against Ukrainian officials.

ABC News Foreign Correspondent Tom Soufi Burridge, who is in Kharkiv, spoke to ABC News' "Start Here," Wednesday about the latest developments.

START HERE: Ukraine’s continuing to push Russia out of some of its strongholds…and we’re just beginning to see what life was like for residents there, right?

TOM SOUFI BURRIDGE: Yeah, exactly. We've been into areas of the newly liberated territory. It took us about three hours to drive down there from Kharkiv City to the southeast of here. And we went to a city called Izyum, and it might be a name that's beginning to register with people right now. In the forest, by the city, we visited what is a newly discovered mass burial site and what the Ukrainian authorities have now been doing over the last few days, and we witnessed them working [with] these forensic teams in their white overalls. I mean, really digging with care down into the ground, into kind of sandy ground below this pine forest to dig up these bodies, remove them from the ground, [and] exhume them so that they can really identify the victims.

Now, I think what people might not realize about this when they've watched this on the kind of news headlines is that some of the people in this forest have died of natural causes. Now, they might have died prematurely because of lack of food, lack of water [and] lack of medicine in these Russian-occupied territories during the war. And more disturbingly, I think, some of the victims being pulled out of the ground, according to Ukrainian officials, are showing signs of torture.

We also met a guy called Sergei living still in Izyum. We met him by his apartment block, which was wrecked in a Russian missile strike. More than 40 of his friends and neighbors were killed during that attack and most of them are now buried in that burial site in the forest.

We met relatives going up to those graves. They're going there to try and find relatives to try and identify where their relatives are. And we actually met one lady who had a piece of paper and she had the number of the grave of her husband. She knew where he was. He was killed in a Russian airstrike or shelling, but she had two numbers for her mother-in-law. And she had no idea which of the two graves, that were numbered, was the correct grave for her mother-in-law.

START HERE: Well, so then you think about these towns that have been under Russian control for several months now, not weeks, but months. And does that help us explain what's happened in the last 24 hours? Because I heard Russia is now organizing referendums in some of the pockets of Ukraine where they do control. And these referendums would be like a vote, like do you want to be part of Russia? To which I would have said, like, duh, these can be sham elections. I'm sure Russia is going to say, "Yep, everyone wants to be Russian now" - it doesn't mean it's true. So like, why was that announcement such a big deal?

BURRIDGE: I think it's a massive deal because…I'm pretty confident they will not be free and fair. This will not be a vote that will be recognized internationally. In the White House and the Pentagon [they] are saying it's a sham. And I think most people around the Western world would agree with that.

And now we're effectively seeing Russia saying, "OK, we're going to say that all of that territory in our command in the south and the east is actually Russian property. We're going to officially recognize that that is Russian land." And the reason this matters is because in the war going forward, it raises the stakes a bit and it raises the possibility that if Ukraine with Western-supplied weapons is attacking those territories, Russia might try and claim that that is a direct attack on Russia and you get more.

START HERE: So now all of a sudden the response is as if they attacked St. Petersburg or if they attack some border town in Russia. That's how they're going to react.

BURRIDGE: Now, that's, I think that's the principle they're laying down in their rhetoric. Now, obviously, I think some analysts are already saying, well, wait a minute. And actually you hear this from U.S. officials already. They're saying, "This is grandstanding by the Russians. This is part of their information game."

They're trying to raise the stakes. Putin's on the ropes. He's massively weakened after he lost huge amounts of territory in northeastern Ukraine, up around Kharkiv, where we are. And he's in trouble. He's being increasingly isolated internationally. In recent days it's been really interesting at home. It's hard to read right back in Russia. We don't know what public opinion's like.

The media is very controlled. There's no freedom of expression, etc. For example, a megastar Russian singer came out recently on Instagram and basically, and really came out for the first time against the war. And that is a figure that really is massively popular among the generations, like someone who really stretches back to the older generations as well, who are traditionally quite a sort of fans of Putin. So Putin's in trouble and he's in a corner and now he's coming out with these kinds of tactics to raise the stakes on the battlefield. And it feels like a slightly dangerous moment.

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James Webb Space Telescope captures Neptune's rings in new images


(NEW YORK) -- NASA released new images of Neptune from the James Webb Space Telescope on Wednesday, showing off some of the planet's rings.

This is the clearest view of Neptune's rings in over 30 years since NASA's Voyager 2 photographically captured the rings during a flyby in 1989, the agency said.

NASA said that the telescope's advanced technology captures some of Neptune's usually hard-to-see rings.

"It has been three decades since we last saw these faint, dusty rings, and this is the first time we've seen them in the infrared," Heidi Hammel, an interdisciplinary scientist for the James Webb Telescope Project, said in a statement.

Neptune, the furthest planet in the solar system, is known as an "ice giant" alongside Uranus because the interior consists of denser chemicals than the gas giants, Jupiter and Saturn, according to NASA.

Usually appearing blue in images from the Hubble Space Telescope, Neptune appears more visible with the Webb telescope because it uses infrared technology that makes it easier to identify objects in space.

The James Webb Space Telescope also captured seven of Neptune's 14 moons, with its largest moon Triton, which orbits the planet backward, appearing with diffraction spikes, which are seen in many pictures from Webb, NASA said.

According to the agency, the "ice giant" is located about 30 times farther from the sun than Earth, orbiting a remote dark region of the solar system. Neptune is so far from the sun that noon on the planet is like a dim twilight on Earth, NASA said in the press release.

First launched in December, the Webb telescope has been releasing pictures of deep space since July, offering millions of people a better look at galaxies and planets.

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Russia releases two Americans captured fighting in Ukraine

Drueke family | Joy Black

(NEW YORK) -- Two Americans who were being held captive by Russian-backed forces after volunteering to fight with Ukrainian forces have been released, their families said.

Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, both military veterans from Alabama, were reported missing by their families following a fight in the Kharkiv area of Ukraine in June.

They are currently in the custody of the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia, their families announced in a joint statement on Wednesday.

"We are thrilled to announce that Alex and Andy are free," the families said. "They are safely in the custody of the US embassy in Saudi Arabia and after medical checks and debriefing they will return to the States."

"We deeply appreciate everyone's prayers and especially the close communication and support of our elected officials, Ukrainian Ambassador Markarova, and our members of the US embassies in Ukraine and Saudi Arabia and the US Department of State," the statement continued.

The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday that "mediation efforts" on behalf of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman led to the release of 10 prisoners of war -- among them U.S. nationals -- as part of an exchange between Russia and Ukraine.

The prisoners of war also included Moroccan, U.K., Swedish and Croatian nationals, the ministry said.

Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., said in a statement that his office is working to get more information from the U.S. State Department on the health of the men and how soon they will be back in the U.S.

"I want to say how thankful and relieved I am that they have been freed," he said. "I know we all look forward to seeing them back safely, on American soil."

Drueke's family told ABC News they were able to speak with Drueke on the phone for about 10 minutes on Wednesday from Saudi Arabia, during which Drueke said he and Huynh were at a hospital being evaluated and were then going to be taken to an apartment to sleep.

Drueke, an Army veteran, and Huynh, a former Marine, both left Alabama for Ukraine in April and met there. After their families reported that they had lost contact with them in early June, photos started appearing online via Ukrainian and Russian social media that showed the men in captivity.

Russian state-controlled news outlets also released videos of the two men in captivity.

During calls with his family, Drueke read statements that identified his captors as forces from the Donetsk People's Republic, a Russian-backed region in Ukraine, his family said.

The Kremlin claimed that the Americans were mercenaries and had "committed crimes."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had previously called both men "heroes" and said he would fight for their release.

"We'll fight for them and get them back, and of course they will come back to their families," he said in June.

A senior State Department official told ABC News their freedom is the result of months of negotiations by Ukraine, and in recent weeks the U.S. had been pushing Kyiv to include the Americans in their dealings.

The official confirmed Prince Mohammed had played an important role in ensuring the success of the swap.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken thanked Saudi Arabia and Ukraine for their roles in freeing the two American citizens.

"The United States is appreciative of Ukraine including all prisoners of war, regardless of nationality, in its negotiations, and we look forward to these U.S. citizens being reunited with their families," he said in a statement.

The senior State Department official said the two men were in the care of the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia and would be on their way home "before too long."

ABC News' Shannon K. Crawford contributed to this report.

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Tropical Storm Gaston, 3 more systems form in Atlantic as Hurricane Fiona heads toward Bermuda

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Regions along the Atlantic basin likely won't see relief once Hurricane Fiona passes, as four more systems follow in the Category 4 hurricane's wake.

Tropical Storm Gaston is the newest named system to form in the Atlantic. The storm currently carries winds of 65 mph and is located off the Azores, the archipelago in the mid-Atlantic.

The storm will strengthen as it drifts to the east but is forecast to perform a loop-de-loop and head west-northwest, eventually transitioning into a post-storm system.

Meteorologists expect Gaston to remain a "fish storm" because it will only affect marine life, other than some ships that will redirect their routes to avoid the storm.

It is unclear whether the same will apply to three more systems that have formed off the west coast of Africa.

At least one of the systems is likely to strengthen into a named storm as it heads toward the Caribbean in the coming days.

The next named storm will be Hermine, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The succession of storms threatening the Caribbean comes after Hurricane Fiona wreaked havoc on islands such as Guadalupe, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico -- where the majority of utility customers lost power as a result of the storm. At least two fatalities have been reported.

Fiona is now heading north toward Bermuda as a strong Category 4 storm with winds at 130 mph -- prompting a tropical storm warning and hurricane watch there and an increase in rip current threats along beaches on the East Coast of the U.S. Fiona is not forecast to hit Bermuda directly but is expected to pass just west of the island.

The recent uptick in activity comes after a record quiet stretch in July and August.

The Atlantic hurricane season ends on Nov. 30.

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Prince William, Kate's kids George, Charlotte and Louis use new last name after Queen Elizabeth II's death

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(LONDON) -- Princes George and Louis and Princess Charlotte, three of Queen Elizabeth II's 12 great-grandchildren, have taken on a new last name in the wake of the late monarch's death.

George, 9, Charlotte, 7, and Louis, 4, are now using the last name Wales, a change from the name they've each used since birth, Cambridge.

The siblings, whose parents are Prince William and Kate, now go by the titles Prince George of Wales, Princess Charlotte of Wales and Prince Louis of Wales.

The children's new titles were used in the Order of Service released by Buckingham Palace for the queen's funeral Monday, which George and Charlotte attended alongside William and Kate.

The change comes after their parents received the titles of the Prince and Princess of Wales from William's father King Charles III.

Charles made the announcement in his first address as king on Sept. 9. With the title change, Kate becomes the first person to use the "Princess of Wales" title since Williams' late mother Princess Diana. Charles' wife Camilla, now the Queen Consort, was referred to previously as the Duchess of Cornwall.

With the queen's death, William is now the heir to the throne and George, Charlotte and Louis are second, third and fourth in the line of succession, respectively.

Additionally, as heir to the throne, William inherited Charles' prior title of the Duke of Cornwall and now oversees the duchy of Cornwall, the private estate that was established in 1337 to provide financial independence for the heir and their family.

William, Kate and their children were formerly known as the Cambridges, as the couple previously held the titles of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

The new last name for the family of five comes just as George, Charlotte and Louis begin classes at a new school.

The siblings had their first day at Lambrook School in Berkshire the week of Sept. 5, the same week their great-grandmother died.

George, Charlotte and Louis moved to the preparatory school in Southeast England after their family moved this summer from Kensington Palace in London to Adelaide Cottage, a four-bedroom cottage on the grounds of Windsor Castle.

In school, the siblings will be known as George Wales, Charlotte Wales and Louis Wales.

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