South Africa’s “Teflon President” Might Be Finally Be Kicked Out Of Office. This Is Why.

Embattled South African President Jacob Zuma is facing mounting pressure from within his own party to step down amid years of allegations of corruption.

The ruling political party of South Africa has finally asked its president to resign, potentially breaking weeks of deadlock.

The ruling political party of South Africa has finally asked its president to resign, potentially breaking weeks of deadlock.

Known as the “teflon president,” the 75-year-old Jacob Zuma was first elected in 2009.

Sumaya Hisham / Reuters

Zuma’s future as president plunged into uncertainty when mounting tensions from various opposition parties prompted him to postpone his State of the Nation speech last week.

Zuma’s future as president plunged into uncertainty when mounting tensions from various opposition parties prompted him to postpone his State of the Nation speech last week.

It was the first time a president has had to make such a move since former President Nelson Mandela’s inaugural speech in 1994.

Wikus De Wet / AFP / Getty Images

Zuma’s tenure over the African National Congress (ANC) will probably be remembered for epic allegations of corruption — and the continuing downward spiral of Nelson Mandela’s party.

Zuma’s tenure over the African National Congress (ANC) will probably be remembered for epic allegations of corruption — and the continuing downward spiral of Nelson Mandela’s party.

While he did champion lifesaving AIDS drugs that his predecessor mocked, the allegations stacked against Zuma are plentiful enough to drag down his reputation. His connections to the wealthy Gupta family have drawn particular scrutiny, with reports alleging that the Indian family profited from his presidency. (Both Zuma and the Gupta brothers have repeatedly denied these reports.)

He also has long-standing allegations of corruption dating back to before his presidency looming over him.

There have also been accusations of rape, with one of the more notable testimonies coming from Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo, who wrote a book about her experience, and died in 2016.

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters

Despite all this, Zuma survived his sixth no-confidence vote last August.

Despite all this, Zuma survived his sixth no-confidence vote last August.

But after more than a decade of his rule, many in the ANC want Zuma out ahead of the 2019 presidential elections, desperate to avoid another experience like the 2016 election. The once dominant party experienced its worst performance since the end of Apartheid in 1994, losing to the Democratic Alliance in the capital Pretoria.

Gulshan Khan / AFP / Getty Images

The opportunity to remove Zuma was set in motion in December last year, when party members voted to replace him at the top of the party with South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The opportunity to remove Zuma was set in motion in December last year, when party members voted to replace him at the top of the party with South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Mujahid Safodien / AFP / Getty Images

South African First Lady Tobeka Madiba Zuma posted a controversial caption to an Instagram photo of herself with the president, warning “don’t fight with someone who is not fighting you.”

The Zuma family quickly issued an apology for the first lady’s post, but it's been viewed another example of the family’s attitude that many in the ANC – and the country – now see as toxic.

Instagram: @tobeka_madiba_zuma_is_her_name

Earlier this week Mmusi Maimane, leader of the DA who triumphed over the ANC in 2016, called for the immediate removal of Zuma and his “cronies.”

Earlier this week Mmusi Maimane, leader of the DA who triumphed over the ANC in 2016, called for the immediate removal of Zuma and his “cronies.”

“We reject any amnesty deal as an insult,” he said.

Mark Wessels / AFP / Getty Images

Now, following today’s ballot, Zuma has 48 hours to respond to the ANC’s call for his resignation.

Now, following today’s ballot, Zuma has 48 hours to respond to the ANC’s call for his resignation.

If he accepts, Ramaphosa will be the party's pick to take over. If Zuma refuses to accept the party's call, he will force parliament to initiate a vote of no confidence – the seventh in his presidency.

Ahead of the vote on February 22, Maimane has called on South Africans to “flood the streets.”

Marco Longari / AFP / Getty Images

Turns Out That UN Vote Against The US On Jerusalem Cost Nations Nothing

UN Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.

Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / AFP / Getty Images

Donald Trump swore in December to withhold “billions” of dollars of US aid from countries that supported a United Nations resolution condemning the administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“Let them vote against us,” he said. “We’ll save a lot. We don’t care.”

On Monday the Trump administration made public its proposed 2019 budget, and here's the news: not a single country lost funding on the basis of voting against the US at the UN.

In fact, the budget specifically carves out money for many of the countries that voted against the US in the UN General Assembly, such as Zimbabwe, Somalia and Nigeria.

“If you look at our budget it is focused on where we think the most appropriate assistance level should be based on where our security needs are,” Hari Sastry, the director of the Office of US Foreign Assistance Resources, told reporters at the State Department.

When pressed about whether any assistance was cut due to the vote at the UN, Sastry said “there’s nothing specific just tied to that because that is only one factor.”

Trump’s apparent lack of interest in following through on his own threat could cause foreign powers to doubt his sincerity when issuing ultimatums in the future, and the same goes for his ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley.

In the run up to the December vote, Haley warned that she would be “taking names” of the nearly 200 member states voting on the resolution addressing Trump’s move to upend US policy.

“As you consider your vote, I want you to know that the president and US take this vote personally.” she said. “The president will be watching this vote carefully and has requested I report back on those countries who voted against us.”

Only nine countries voted with the US, while 128 voted against it. iAnd yet, the budget proposal specifically requests hundreds of millions of dollars for countries that voted against the US, including Nigeria, to support democratic governance and agriculture sector productivity, Somalia, to support “critical state-building processes” and “reduce corruption,” and Zimbabwe, for “promoting good governance” and “respect for human rights.”

Still, advocates of foreign aid aren’t breathing a sigh of relief.

The proposal allocates $41.17 billion for the International Affairs Budget, a bucket that includes the State Department and the US Agency for International Development. Advocates say that request amounts to a 30 percent cut to foreign assistance.

“That’s where our heads at. Not an overt mention of the UN vote,” said Christy Delafield, a spokeswoman for Mercy Corps, a global humanitarian aid agency.

In any event, the main battle for funding will reside in the halls of Congress which will merely view the Trump budget as a political messaging document rather than the outlines of an action plan.

Trump acknowledged Congress’s authority over the purse in his State of the Union speech, when he asked lawmakers to pass legislation limiting US aid to America’s “friends.”

But just like last year, Congress is already showing a desire to forge a budget that bears little resemblance to his request.

“A strong, bipartisan coalition in Congress has already acted once to stop deep cuts to the State Department and Agency for International Development that would have undermined our national security. This year, we will act again,” Republican Rep. Ed Royce, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement.

Rep. Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the committee, promised that the proposal was “dead on arrival.”

The President Of The Philippines Said His Soldiers Should Shoot Rebel Women In The Vagina

Rodrigo Duterte.

– / AFP / Getty Images

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte last week told soldiers under his command that when engaging with rebel women, they should shoot them in the vagina.

Duterte, a former mayor of Manila who has made numerous incendiary remarks since taking office in 2016, made the comments while speaking to former rebels at a private event on Feb. 7.

During his speech, he described an imaginary conversation between a general and a solider: “'Are there any women holding guns?' 'Sir, she's a fighter.
An Amazon.' 'Shoot the [slang term for vagina].'”

The official transcript of Duterte's comments released by his office replaces the word “vagina” and the slang for it with a set of dashes. According to the transcript, the male audience laughed.

“Tell the soldiers. 'There's a new order coming from the mayor. We
won't kill you. We will just shoot your vagina so that…” If there are no vaginas it would be useless,” he said, according to local media reports.

Duterte went on to wonder aloud why any woman would join the communist New People's Army (NPA).

“We have pills for free,” he said. “Why would you give birth six, seven times and you're an NPA? Then you'd go to war, you leave your family behind. I feel pity for the person.”

Duterte's comments went mostly unnoticed until a Facebook post on Sunday from feminist group Gabriela condemned them. The president's “latest nasty remark openly encourages violence against women, contributes to the impunity on such, and further confirms himself as the most dangerous macho-facist in the government right now,” the post read.

View Video ›

Facebook: GabrielaWomensParty

Human Rights Watch on Sunday issued a statement, calling Duterte's comments “the latest in a series of misogynist, derogatory, and demeaning statements he has made about women.”

It's been one inflammatory comment after another from Duterte, who has been frequently compared to US President Donald Trump for his penchant to say exactly what runs through his head. Much like Trump, when confronted with his statements, Duterte's office insists that he was joking. Last week, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said that women were overreacting to Duterte's attacks on women, saying “I mean, that’s funny. Come on. Just laugh.”

Trump has praised Duterte on more than one occasion, drawing scorn from human rights advocates who point to the ongoing war against drug users in the Philippines. That war has compelled the International Criminal Court to open a preliminary investigation into whether crimes against humanity have taken place under Duterte's orders.

Still, Duterte's popularity hasn't waned among his electorate. A poll released in late January showed that 79% of those surveyed were satisfied with Duterte's performance, compared to just 9% who were dissatisfied. Another poll showed 82% of the populace trusts him. Both numbers represent all-time highs in the country.

A Former UN Ambassador Says Russia Made Him A Target. Now He Wants To Warn The US.

UN Photo

A former ambassador to the United Nations claims he was improperly removed from his post last year following repeated pressure from Russian officials.

Vlad Lupan, who served as Moldova’s ambassador to the UN from 2012 until he was asked to leave in June 2017, told BuzzFeed News that he was the subject of years of attacks by Russia through diplomatic channels and others means, including a fake news campaign in 2014 that contributed to a vote of no-confidence in parliament against the ruling coalition in Moldova, a country that has long wrestled with Russian influence.

Lupan told BuzzFeed News in an interview that shortly following a visit to Moscow in early 2017, Moldovan President Igor Dodon told a meeting of foreign diplomats that removing Lupan from his post at the UN was a priority. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also made complaints against Lupan to Moldova’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrei Galbur at a meeting in December 2016, according to a confidential document reviewed by BuzzFeed News. BuzzFeed News was not able to independently verify Dodon’s comments about removing Lupan.

Moldova, which is wedged between Ukraine to the east and Romania to the West, was part of the Soviet Union until its fall in 1991, and Western observers have long warned against turning a blind eye to Russian influence in the country. Transnistria, in the eastern part of the country, has been in a state of frozen conflict since a 1992 civil war, when Russia sent troops to support the separatist movement there. “Geopolitics here, unfortunately, sometimes play a bigger role than they are supposed to,” said Stanley Vartanian, a representative of the Socialist Party. “That’s how the politics work here.”

The fake news campaign against Lupan revolved around a speech he gave at the UN on March 27, 2014 as the General Assembly was preparing to vote on the “territorial integrity of Ukraine,” following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Russian-language media reported that Lupan had argued that Russia should lose its veto on the UN Security Council because of the invasion. However, video footage of the speech and the UN’s official record of the meeting show that Lupan never mentioned Russia in his comments.

“I never, never said that. Because this is impossible,” said Lupan. “For all of the implications that Russia had in Ukraine, this is impossible. Because there are certain rules in the UN that prohibit that.”

The UN vote that preceded the false reports was tense — Russia was accused of threatening Moldova and other countries with retaliation if they voted for the resolution. As the false reports spread, Moldova’s pro-Russian Communist party called for a vote of no-confidence in the government leadership and raised Lupan’s supposed statements in support of their case. Lupan was also later told that Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov demanded an apology from the Moldovan government.

Gheorghe Brega, who was Moldova’s acting prime minister from October 2015 until January 2016, accused Moldova’s current president of instigating the the 2014 fake news incident, saying that Dodon, then a member of parliament, was acting on “the Kremlin’s instructions.” Brega also told BuzzFeed News he suspected the pro-Western Democratic Party of collaborating with Dodon in 2017 to oust Lupan, saying the Democratic party “would prefer someone [at the UN] who would play both cards.”

As the US continues to grapple with the specter of fake news and Russian election meddling, Lupan says the the former Soviet satellite state offers important lessons for Americans concerned about Russian interference and the rule of law.

“Moldova is a testing ground, and Eastern Europe generally, is a testing ground for whatever technologies that Russia is using,” he said. “All the fake news, all the involvement in elections. We’ve had them…If you want to learn our experience, please do come ask us. We can share with you a lot of technologies that will be used in the United States later.”

“It’s a media environment that suffers a great deal from a frequent lack of connection to reality,” says Dr. William Hill, a Global Fellow at the Wilson Center and former Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova.

In January, the Moldovan government passed a law aimed at prohibiting the broadcast of Russian news programs in Moldova. Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Ukraine have also pursued measures to limit the influence of Russian media in recent years, and in September the US Department of Justice asked Moscow-based RT to register under the Foreign Agent Registration Act.

“With Moldova having its own parliamentary election at the end of this year, we’ve seen Russia become more and more active in Moldova this year,” said Timothy Fairbank, a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council. “This is, I think, a very necessary step that Moldova has taken to make sure that there’s not inappropriate foreign interference.”

The law was ratified over opposition from the country’s president, who has publicly aligned himself with Moscow. Vartanian, of the Socialist Party, disputed that President Dodon was pro-Russian, but acknowledged that Dodon campaigned on a platform of restoring good relations with Russia in 2014 and Dodon made his first state visit to Moscow in 2017.

There is already substantial resistance to the law from some parts of the country. In the autonomous region of Gagauzia, pro-Russian Governor Irina Vlah has said she would not recognize the new law and would continue to permit Russian broadcasting.

Such regulations have also raised concerns among free speech advocates. The office of OSCE’s Representative on Freedom of the Media said the impact of the Moldovan law remains to be seen, but that it would follow the implementation to ensure that the changes “do not affect freedom of the media in the country,” and added that the answer to propaganda “must be in quality of information, support to ethical journalism, pluralism, and media literacy, not in censorship.”

With elections in November, however, many see the law as a play to consolidate power by the oligarch and politician Vlad Plahotniuc.

“You have to look at who is actually pursuing policies that benefit Moldova,” Hill, of the Wilson Center, said.

Plahotniuc, who currently controls 70% of the Moldovan media market according to report from Freedom House, leads the Democratic Party and has positioned himself as pro-Western, though various analysts have speculated that Plahotniuc and the Democratic Party occasionally collaborate with Dodon. Brega, from the Liberal Party says that, for him, the Democratic Party and the Socialist Party are “one and the same.”

Andrian Candu, Speaker of Parliament and a member of the Democratic Party, told BuzzFeed News that Lupan was recalled because he was a political appointee of the previous government and that his term limit was up. Candu also denied any association with Dodon and the Socialist Party saying, “It is nothing related to Dodon, because these decisions are taken by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the government.”

Lupan said he found out that he would be dismissed in February after reading an article in the Moldovan press that stated as much. He said he made multiple inquiries about his dismissal and tried to fight it, but didn’t receive a reply until getting the official notice of his recall on May 12.

Lupan, who first joined Moldova’s foreign ministry in 1996, reflected on the 2014 fake news incident, saying: “You throw a lot of mud, eventually some will stick. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s true, your image is damaged anyway.”

24 South Koreans Say What They Really Think About North Korea

“Dangerous and naughty but family.”

“North Korea, who are you guys? Can we be friends?”

"North Korea, who are you guys? Can we be friends?"

BuzzFeed

“NK & SK: We love each other, I guess…”

"NK & SK: We love each other, I guess..."

BuzzFeed

BuzzFeed

“Now we seem far away but I hope we can be friends later on.”

"Now we seem far away but I hope we can be friends later on."

BuzzFeed

“NK: Dangerous and naughty but family.”

"NK: Dangerous and naughty but family."

BuzzFeed

“We were one. Now we are two.”

"We were one. Now we are two."

BuzzFeed

“So scared.”

"So scared."

BuzzFeed

“The situation is very uncomfortable, uncertain, and dark. I hope spring comes soon.”

"The situation is very uncomfortable, uncertain, and dark. I hope spring comes soon."

BuzzFeed

“Kim Jung-un.”

"Kim Jung-un."

BuzzFeed

“Now we are enemies but in the future can we be family?”

"Now we are enemies but in the future can we be family?"

BuzzFeed

“We definitely need more cultural interaction and less military conflict.”

"We definitely need more cultural interaction and less military conflict."

BuzzFeed

“The reality is kind of sad. The joint entrance and the flags (at the opening ceremony) was moving.”

"The reality is kind of sad. The joint entrance and the flags (at the opening ceremony) was moving."

BuzzFeed

“It’s heartbreaking that our country is divided. I love the North Koreans with all my heart. We are one.”

"It's heartbreaking that our country is divided. I love the North Koreans with all my heart. We are one."

BuzzFeed

“Although it seems dangerous right now, I think there will be reunification one day. Go team Korea!”

"Although it seems dangerous right now, I think there will be reunification one day. Go team Korea!"

BuzzFeed

“Enemy state.”

"Enemy state."

BuzzFeed

“I hope we can step away from political ideology and be reunited peacefully.”

"I hope we can step away from political ideology and be reunited peacefully."

BuzzFeed

“From PyeongChang Olympics to reunification!”

"From PyeongChang Olympics to reunification!"

BuzzFeed

“It’s hard to answer because it’s a sensitive issue. It’s hard to trust North Korea and what they are doing. It’s quite worrisome. I hope that they stay truthful.”

"It's hard to answer because it's a sensitive issue. It's hard to trust North Korea and what they are doing. It's quite worrisome. I hope that they stay truthful."

BuzzFeed

“We are one. We marched in the parade together 11 years ago and it’s very moving to see it happen again.”

"We are one. We marched in the parade together 11 years ago and it's very moving to see it happen again."

BuzzFeed

“Let’s see each other soon! Go Pyeongchang Olympics!”

"Let's see each other soon! Go Pyeongchang Olympics!"

BuzzFeed

“We hope for reunification. We are one. Passion. Connected. Go Pyeongchang Olympics!”

"We hope for reunification. We are one. Passion. Connected. Go Pyeongchang Olympics!"

BuzzFeed

“I hope we can become closer through the Pyeongchang Olympics.”

"I hope we can become closer through the Pyeongchang Olympics."

BuzzFeed

“There were some countries that originally said they weren’t going to participate because of North Korea provocations, but now that they are participating I think it’s going to be a peaceful Olympic games.”

"There were some countries that originally said they weren't going to participate because of North Korea provocations, but now that they are participating I think it's going to be a peaceful Olympic games."

BuzzFeed

BuzzFeed

Syria’s Civil War Is Ending. But The War For Syria Is Just Beginning.

Syria Civil Defence volunteers try to extinguish a fire in Maaret al-Numan in the rebel-held Idlib province following reported regime air strikes.

Amer Alhamwe / AFP / Getty Images

ISTANBUL – Seven years after it began, Syria's messy, bloody civil war could finally be nearing its end. But a conflict that has left half a million people dead — and displaced nearly 13 million more — is being replaced by something even more dangerous.

Despite the heavy involvement of the UN and the international community, chances of a lasting peace between the government of Bashar al-Assad and the rebels fighting him seems more distant than ever, even as some governments begin denying fleeing Syrians shelter in the belief the conflict is “winding down.”

“The Syria war seems to be just getting started”

Russia has taken on a key role since its direct intervention in the conflict in 2015, launching decisive air strikes and expanding its military footprint to support Assad's regime, but it has failed to quell the conflict on a number of fronts, and questions remain about its ability to ever do so.

Supported by Russia and Iran, and an assortment of allied militias, Syrian dictator Assad appears close to triumph in his battle to fend off an armed rebellion — having inflicted horrific punishment on civilians in territory still controlled by his adversaries — while a US-led coalition is on the verge of stamping out the last traces of ISIS’s self-proclaimed caliphate.

But those two major developments only appear to have hastened the next chapter in the conflict, as local, regional, and global powers vying for influence and turf scramble to assert themselves and shape Syria’s future.

“While the Syrian civil war may be winding down,” Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies, told BuzzFeed News. “The Syria war seems to be just getting started.”

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in a Russian air base in Northwestern Syria last December.

AFP / Getty Images

In less than a month, a number of extraordinary events have catapulted Syria back into the headlines and heightened a sense of dread across the Middle East.

  • Turkey launched its Operation Olive Branch in Afrin on Jan. 20, pummeling a corner of Syria controlled by a Kurdish militia loyal to imprisoned separatist leader Abdullah Öcalan with air strikes and artillery as troops and allied Syrian fighters fought fiercely on the ground.

  • Syrian rebels formerly tied to al-Qaeda shot down a Russian Sukhoi fighter jet on Feb. 3; its pilot parachuted to land alive, only to die in clashes with fighters.

  • The regime stepped up air strikes and alleged chlorine gas attacks against remaining pockets of rebel-held territory, apparently targeting hospitals, triggering warnings of a spike in civilian deaths that UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein condemned as “one of the bloodiest periods of the entire conflict.”

  • Pro-Assad forces attacked US-backed Syrian Kurds in the country’s northwest on Feb. 7, prompting retaliatory American air strikes that reportedly killed at least 100 regime military personnel.

  • Early on the morning of Feb. 10, Israelis said an Iranian surveillance drone — reportedly of the same design of a US drone downed by Iran in 2011 — crossed into Israel from Southwest Syria. Israel downed the aircraft and launched a retaliatory air strike on a trailer, where it said the drone was being operated. During that operation, an Israeli F-16 fighter was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft guns, its pilots ejecting to safety. Israel responded with a wave of air strikes on what it described as joint Syrian and Iranian military outposts in Syria.

  • That same day, Turkey reported that one of its T129 ATAK helicopters was downed by Syrian Kurdish forces in the mountainous border region adjacent to Afrin, Northwest Syria, killing both military personnel aboard. Nine other Turks died in fighting elsewhere in Afrin.

The warfare highlighted a dangerous phase in the Syria conflict, a potential new normal where international powers fight each other to establish red lines and spheres of influence inside the country.

“We’re really reaching an endgame in terms of different stakeholders starting to carve their spheres of influences,” said Randa Slim, a scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “The intra-Syrian fight is finished. It’s about Iran. It’s about Israel. It’s about Turkey. It’s about Russia. It’s about the US. They are now involved in waging the fight on the ground.”

Emile Hokayem, a Middle East expert at the Institute for International and Strategic Studies in London, said, “You had four foreign powers in the last few days that have lost helicopters, drones, or planes over Syria. This is not a contained conflict. This is a fully regionalized conflict.”

A man walks in the dust following regime air strikes on the rebel-held besieged town of Douma in the Eastern Ghouta region.

Hamza al-Ajweh / AFP / Getty

Making that conflict all the more dangerous, most of the diplomatic attention given to Syria so far has focused on the war between the regime and its people. Diplomats have devoted little attention to the burgeoning conflicts between Israel and Iran and its proxies; Turks and Kurds; and the US and its allies against pro-regime forces. In fact, in an illustration of Syria’s complexity, any impending political deal between the regime and the opposition could actually exacerbate the country’s other wars.

“Always, when a political solution approaches, we see a military action on the ground from all sides – Israel, Turkey, Iran, Russia,” said Mona Ghanem, one of the pro-regime delegates who attended a largely failed peace conference in the Russian resort city of Sochi this month. “It is a bone-breaking game. Each side wants to preserve its interests before the agreement takes place.”

“The situation is so messy that the Russians can’t deliver for anyone”

Russia intervened in Syria to help prop up a longtime ally and undermine the credibility of the West. The assumption that Russia now owns Syria and was in control of the battlefield has given policymakers in Western capitals a way of putting the conflict on the back burner. Even opposition figures who once scoffed at any communications with Moscow now accept its role.

“We are aware that the Russians are the strongest in the Syrian crisis, and we are keen to communicate with them because we have reached the stage of dividing up power in Syria,” said Alice Mufrih, a Syrian opposition activist now based in Germany. “This war is no longer the war of the Syrians now.”

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, likely to urge him to rein in Iran, which has become a junior partner in the Kremlin’s Syria gambit. Netanyahu has accused Iran of deploying allied militias along its Syrian frontiers and establishing missile factories aimed at producing weapons to target Israel.

But the idea that Moscow will bring about a settlement in a multilayered conflict as tangled as Syria may be illusory. Moscow’s track record on enforcing red lines in Syria has been poor. Russia failed to ensure Assad would stop using chemicals, failed to rein in Iran’s influence as requested by Israel and Moscow’s own Arab allies, and failed to deliver on in its own plan to work with Iran and Turkey to establish so-called de-escalation zones meant to draw down the war. The Sochi conference this month was also largely regarded as an abject failure.

“Russia is the central actor, they are the architect,” said Hokayem. “But the situation is so messy that the Russians can’t deliver for anyone. There’s a question of Russian will and competence. But they’re the only ones in the game at this point.”

From left: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at November's Sochi summit.

Mikhail Metzel / AFP / Getty Images

None of the regional and global powers involved in the Syria conflict are seeking to provoke an all-out war with their rivals over Syria, say diplomats and experts. But as casualties and rhetoric escalates, so does the risk of an all-out confrontation between these powers.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is headed to the Middle East this week to meet with leaders in Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey in likely attempts to ease tensions. One European diplomat focused on Syria said the emergence of a plan from the Sochi conference this month to create a 150-member body to write up a new Syrian constitution could give peace efforts some life.

“The idea is to come up with a pool of candidates for a constitutional committee to look at how constitutional reform could lead to a process of reconciliation and eventual transition,” said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“There was a time to shape this. But we lost it”

But others argue that the Syria conflict has become so complex and volatile that it will require more than just parachute diplomacy, sparsely attended occasional peace conferences, and secretive backchannels like the ones that likely exist via Moscow between Iran and Israel. Joost Hiltermann, the Middle East director at the International Crisis Group, says the Syria conflict appears so intractable because it has come to embody all of the major Middle East crises of the last 100 years: the Israeli-Arab conflict, the Arab Spring uprisings, the rise of Iran and Hezbollah, the aspirations of region’s ethnic Kurds, and the emergence of jihadist groups.

There is no single solution,” said Hiltermann. “We must look at the various layers of conflict, and make sure if we address one conflict layer we don’t aggravate another. We need to look at all of them individually and with extreme care.”

Such delicate diplomacy seems unlikely. For now, most players understand that diplomacy will take a back seat to air strikes and rockets. Diplomatic platforms serve as occasional brakes on escalation. “[All sides in the conflict need to] understand that one party can't dominate Syria, and develop enforceable ground rules through deescalation to implement ceasefires,” said Tabler.

Just a few years ago, Western policymakers imagined Assad’s victory would be the worst-case scenario for Syria. That now seems quaint. Among the potential disasters now are an all-out war between Israel and Hezbollah that would encompass parts of Syria, or a shooting war between Turkey and Assad regime forces.

Other new dangers include clashes between US and Russian military personnel on the ground, or fighting breaking out between NATO partners Turkey and America over Kurds that Washington considers allies and Ankara regards as terrorists.

“There is a recognition by policymakers of how bad the situation is, and how complex, and an acknowledgement that the tools to deal with this are no longer present,” said Hokayem. “Even some kind of dialogue is not going to make a difference. People are set on capturing whatever territory they can seize. There was a time to shape this. But we lost it.”

Civilians flee the aftermath of air strikes in the rebel-held town of Jisreen, in the besieged Eastern Ghouta region.

Abdulmonam Eassa / AFP / Getty Images

As The Olympics Deal With A Cyberattack, All Eyes Are On Russia

Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

Hackers have disrupted the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, and the world’s security experts are trying to determine if Russia is the culprit.

For about 45 minutes on Friday night, some Olympic computers and networks, including Wi-Fi systems, were hit with malicious software that targeted users with a @pyeongchang2018.com email address.

“We can confirm that the technology issues experienced on Friday night were caused by a cyber-attack,” Jihye Lee, a spokesperson for the 2018 games, said in a statement. No systems were affected, and organizers are still investigating, she said.

That the attack didn’t do more significant damage appears to be by design. Researchers at Cisco Talos who analyzed dozens of samples of the malware that affected Olympic computers called the software a “wiper” — malicious software designed to wipe a computer’s files — but that it intentionally holds back from inflicting maximum damage. Instead of deleting all the files on a computer, it only deleted those related to booting up, meaning an average tech could fix it with relative ease. Researchers have never seen that sort of restraint before from that kind of malware.

“This could have been as destructive as this attacker potentially wanted it to be,” Warren Mercer, Talos’s technical leader, told BuzzFeed News.

“It’s a very interesting change of pace from other types of wiper malware,” said Craig Williams, the company’s senior technical leader. I read this as the attacker was trying to send the victim a message — they’re clearly saying ‘I could have wiped your data, and I have full access to your systems, and i could have destroyed it, but instead i just kinda turned off your services, deleted your boot record, and turned your machine off.’”

Any hack during the Olympics has as its a prime suspect Russia, which was formally banned from competing in the 2018 games for its widespread, state-sponsored conspiracy to let its athletes get away with blood doping.

Lurking in systems for espionage purposes is common for countries with significant cyber capabilities, but one advanced hacker group, popularly called Fancy Bear or APT 28, has been involved in much more visible attacks and has in recent years hacked and leaked files from both the Democratic party and the Olympic World Anti-Doping Association. The US intelligence community and a number of cybersecurity companies around the world assert that Fancy Bear is run by Russia’s GRU, its primary foreign intelligence service.

While there isn’t yet concrete evidence, there’s indication that Fancy Bear was responsible for the most recent attacks, said Adam Meyers, vice president of intelligence at CrowdStrike, the cybersecurity company that in 2016 originally identified the Russian government as behind the hack of the Democratic National Committee.

The malware that hit the 2018 Olympics was written on Dec. 27th, Meyers said, and his team observed a Fancy Bear campaign in November and December that stole credentials of users with @pyeongchang2018.com email address and mapped out their owners’ networks. His team noticed other hackers targeting Olympic targets in recent weeks, but only Fancy Bear had conducted such a campaign before that malware was written.

“There is a Fancy Bear campaign that lines up with the time frame, but we don’t necessarily have any conclusive evidence,” Meyers said.

“We have anticipated an attack of some nature on the events for quite a while, particularly by a Russian actor,” John Hultquist, the director of analysis at cybersecurity firm FireEye, said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. “Actors like APT28 have unceasingly harassed organizations associated with the games, and the Russians have been increasingly willing to leverage destructive and disruptive attacks.”

Still Hulquist said, this firm wasn’t prepared to attribute the malware to any known group.

In a preemptive statement on Wednesday — before the Olympic cyberattacks had actually taken place — the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied responsibility.

“We are aware that the Western Olympic Games in the Republic of Korea are based on pseudo-investigations that reveal the ‘Russian trace’ in hacking attacks on information resources,” the ministry said. “One gets the impression that a number of states have already grown accustomed to attributing all of their domestic political problems to Russia's alleged cyber interference.”

A Top Oxfam Executive Has Resigned Over The Charity's Prostitution Scandal

Andy Buchanan / AFP / Getty Images

Oxfam's deputy chief executive Penny Lawrence has resigned following revelations of a sex scandal involving the charity's staff in Haiti and Chad.

Lawrence said she took “full responsibility” for the behaviour of staff at the international aid charity and that she was “deeply sad” about her decision to resign.

“Over the last few days we have become aware that concerns were raised about the behaviour of staff in Chad as well as Haiti that we failed to adequately act upon,” Lawrence said.

“It is now clear that these allegations – involving the use of prostitutes and which related to behaviour of both the country director and members of his team in Chad – were raised before he moved to Haiti.”

Lawrence, who was programme director at the time, said she was “ashamed that this happened on my watch and I take full responsibility”.

“I am desperately sorry for the harm and distress that this has caused to Oxfam’s supporters, the wider development sector, and most of all the vulnerable people who trusted us,” she continued.

“It has been such a privilege to work for such an amazing organisation that has done and needs to continue to do such good in the world.”

The resignation follows an investigation by the Times that alleged Oxfam covered up the use of prostitutes by senior aid workers in 2011.

The paper reported three men were allowed to resign and four were sacked for gross misconduct after an inquiry into sexual exploitation, the downloading of pornography, bullying, and intimidation.

Oxfam denies a cover-up: Officials from the charity met with the international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt, today to try to prevent government funding from being cut.

This morning, Michelle Russell, director of investigations at the Charity Commission, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme officials had been “assured” Oxfam had investigated the matter “fully”, but that, in fact, the watchdog had not been aware of all the details.

Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam, said he “deeply respect[s]” Lawrence's decision to take personal responsibility for the scandal and step down.

“Like us, she is appalled at what happened and is determined to do what is best for Oxfam and the people we exist to help,” Goldring said.

“I would like to place on record my sincere thanks for the years of dedicated service that Penny has given to Oxfam and the fight against poverty around the world.”

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About What It Takes To Be A K-Pop Star

We got to sit in on a class at one of Asia’s premiere K-Pop training centers and oh my god was it intense.

Well, it turns out, across Asia there are actually tons of K-Pop schools and training camps that can turn aspiring stars into legit idols.

Well, it turns out, across Asia there are actually tons of K-Pop schools and training camps that can turn aspiring stars into legit idols.

Rachael: Hi, that's me. I did dance every week from when I was three to 18. And when I stopped I realized how damn hard it is to get back to that level. I still have rhythm and can pick up moves *fairly well* but really lack the stamina to jump on the spot for an hour and not to lose the use of my legs for a week afterwards. And I like K-Pop but I've never gotten close to being a stan. I did get kind of obsessed with CL last year, though.

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We thought we’d give K-Pop school a go. You know, for journalism.

We thought we'd give K-Pop school a go. You know, for journalism.

Ryan: And this is me, Ryan. I was once in a middle school production of Anything Goes and the director told me it wasn't worth me trying to dance and that I should just do box steps the whole time. Since then, most of my dancing has been at Warped Tours. I'm not a diehard K-Pop stan either, but I've really gotten into the Korean rapper Zico while I've been here in Seoul.

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Kassy: I'm not a die hard K-pop fan, but being from Taiwan — where K-pop is very popular — I'd say I'm pretty familiar with the music, as well as just how competitive the training and industry is. So yeah, that's me on my phone, counting down the minutes until I get to watch Ryan embarrass himself and Rachael completely kill it. Sorry Ryan, I'm just stating the facts.

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Welcome to The Global K Center. It’s a K-Pop academy where students come for a few weeks to sharpen their K-Pop skills.

Welcome to The Global K Center. It's a K-Pop academy where students come for a few weeks to sharpen their K-Pop skills.

BuzzFeed News

We were told when we got there that the area had originally been built for English expats, but the idea didn’t really catch on.

We were told when we got there that the area had originally been built for English expats, but the idea didn't really catch on.

Rachael: You can totally see it from the buildings — very strong “this is definitely what all of England looks like” vibes.

Ryan: It's basically just a Hogwarts for K-Pop. Which, of course, would make me the Harry Potter of the Idol world. New kid in town. Destined for superstardom.

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It even has its own City Hall.

It even has its own City Hall.

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Also, it’s right next to the North Korean border.

Also, it's right next to the North Korean border.

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The school has everything an inspiring Idol would need. There’s a broadcasting studio.

The school has everything an inspiring Idol would need. There's a broadcasting studio.

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Personal training rooms where students practice in between classes.

Personal training rooms where students practice in between classes.

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And of course, dance classes.

And of course, dance classes.

Rachael: The inside of this place was *intense*. Studios with professional lighting, private singing booths, dorms. People who come here are entirely immersed in K-Pop.

Ryan: We might be amateurs, but the kids that pay the roughly $2,000 to come here and hone their skills are not.

Kassy: Everything looked and felt really professional here, from the equipment to the kids rehearsing before the class begun. It felt like you could actually spend some time here and come out of it a star. Oh wait, that happened! I'm told this is where the K-pop boy band Wanna One trained.

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The nice folks at Global K Center agreed to let us sit in on a class.

The nice folks at Global K Center agreed to let us sit in on a class.

Rachael: A very accurate depiction of our moods going into the class.

Ryan: This is my face realizing I'm actually going to have to dance — sober.

BuzzFeed News

First, we had to stretch.

First, we had to stretch.

Rachael: Warm up was pretty much the same kind of thing you'd do before any dance class. However, considering it's been five years since I attended any sort of class, I was pretty wiped by the end of it.

Ryan: This was probably the last time I felt confident during this entire process.

Kassy Cho / BuzzFeed

Turns out that after the warm up, there was more dancing! Who knew.

Turns out that after the warm up, there was more dancing! Who knew.

Ryan: If you look closely you can actually pinpoint the exact moment I realize I am old and death is just around the corner.

Rachael: I knew was doing better than Ryan, and after realizing that I wasn't even going to come close to being good at this class, being better than him was all I had.

Kassy: I don't think the warm up was that intense to be honest, so I have no idea how Ryan is already covered in sweat and saying he wants to die.

Kassy Cho / BuzzFeed

That guy in the hat was our instructor. He was very cool and very patient with us.

That guy in the hat was our instructor. He was very cool and very patient with us.

Kassy: The instructor was probably my favorite person to watch in that class. He was really enthusiastic and genuinely seemed like he was having a lot of fun teaching everyone. It was also cool to see a class that was an even mix of boys and girls.

Kassy Cho / BuzzFeed

Also, the class we were sitting in on was for beginners, so learning some basic steps was pretty easy (at first).

Also, the class we were sitting in on was for beginners, so learning some basic steps was pretty easy (at first).

Rachael: You know those brief moments when you become aware that your body is slowly getting weaker with age and now everything hurts the next day? That's how trying to put the arms and leg parts together felt.

Ryan: As you can see, by this point I had pretty much mastered the form. I was elegance, I was grace, I was poetry in motion.

Kassy Cho / BuzzFeed

Rachael: I think I found it a bit easier than Ryan overall.

Ryan: You may not like it, but this is what peak male performance looks like, lads.

Kassy: All I wanted throughout the class was to hold the camera steady on Rachael and do a “you're doing amazing, sweetie,” but it was honestly really hard to because I was struggling not to laugh at Ryan the whole time.

Kassy Cho / BuzzFeed

Rachael: I actually think Ryan actively tried to get worse as the class went on.

Ryan: Here's my problem with this whole thing. Once we learned one part of a dance move, we had to learn another part, and then another. And then after that, we had to put them all together, really fast. What's the deal with that?

Kassy Cho / BuzzFeed

Rachael: I believe this as the moment we found out we were 20 minutes into a FOUR HOUR class.

Ryan: That's my “I'm cool, I don't want to die” face.

Kassy: Just to be clear — this is only after 20 minutes of the *basic* routine. We haven't even gotten to the complex routine at this stage. But Rachael and Ryan both did their best, and I'm proud of them, even if we didn't manage to make it through the whole four hours.

Kassy Cho / BuzzFeed

But enough about us. We also talked to a few of the kids that come to Global K Center to chase their K-Pop dreams. People in the class we were sitting in on were from Taiwan and they were all super cool.

But enough about us. We also talked to a few of the kids that come to Global K Center to chase their K-Pop dreams. People in the class we were sitting in on were from Taiwan and they were all super cool.

This is Winnie Lee, 17, and Vivian Chang, 18. They both grew up loving Korean music and are super excited about getting a chance to learn at Global K Center.

“I’ve watched a lot of Korean entertainment shows since primary school so I wanted to become a trainee,” Chang said.

But the days here are long. Lee said you're pretty much practicing any time you're not sleeping or eating.

“You have to take the initiative to practice on your own for dancing, singing and everything else,” she said. “After you finish dinner, you have to come and practice. Then you go back, shower and sleep, and get up early in the morning and come practice again. They've organized classes for us, but you have to decide what you want to do in your free time, so if you want to work hard, then you will come and practice.”

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Shawn

Shawn

Shawn Wang, 21, said that he was shocked to find out that there was an entire school just for K-Pop training.

“I wanted to see what it was like overseas and how it is different from Taiwan,” he said. “I wanted to see what the trainees do here and where they train.”

Huang actually doesn't want to be a K-Pop star, he wants to run the boards in studios and at concerts. But he thought that going to a K-Pop academy would be a good way to better understand the music industry.

“I’ve never danced before,” he said.

BuzzFeed News

Ding Yao

Ding Yao

Ding Yao Huang, 20, said he came to Korea because he wasn't happy with the type of dance classes he was getting in Taiwan.

“In Taiwan, I only went to a few dancing classes. I want to keep dancing in the future and become a K-Pop trainee.”

He said that the center treats the men and women performers the same, but he does have trouble with some of the moves for the women.

“Some dance moves are different,” he said. “There are some moves that are a bit sexy that guys can’t pull off. No one is not very good but we all are working hard.”

He said the hardest thing about taking classes is the singing. “I can’t sing in tune,” he said.

BuzzFeed News

So what did we learn from this whole thing?

So what did we learn from this whole thing?

Rachael: I'm still absolutely astounded by the fact that that class was going to be four hours long. These kids are really committed to K-Pop stardom at a level you don't really see in other genres of music, I think. I just hope for them this isn't the be-all-end-all. Success in any industry is hard, let alone entertainment, but especially K-Pop. But hey, if they're enjoying it and get a short glimpse of how their idols live, that's pretty awesome.

Ryan: I agree with Rachael, basically. This shit is intense and these kids eat, sleep, and breathe K-Pop — literally. Everyone we spoke to talked about how much it meant to them to even have the dance to do something like this. Good luck future K-Pop superstars! God knows I don't have even an iota of what it takes to do something like this.

Kassy: I knew that training for K-pop was intense, but witnessing it in person for even just a few hours really took it to a whole other level. I really admired just how driven all the kids were, despite how exhausting it evidently was. But like the kids themselves told us, if you work hard, you'll be able to achieve your goals, and it's not highly unlikely we'll be able to say in the future that we were once in the same room with a K-pop idol (who is definitely not Ryan).

Kassy Cho / BuzzFeed

24 Incredible Pictures From Early Years Of The Olympics

Opening ceremony of the 1896 Olympic Games in the Panathenaic stadium in Athens, Greece.

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Women competitors in the Archery event of the 1908 London Olympics.

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An elephant performs at a garden party hosted for Olympic athletes by Britain's Lord Michelham in 1914.

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American track and field athlete Howard P. Drew on his way to the 1912 Summer Olympics.

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The Danish women gymnastics team practicing at the 1908 London Olympics.

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American gymnasts practice their stunts in July 1924.

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England defeats the United States during the Tug of War event in 1920.

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The Irish and German national teams compete in the Bicycle Polo final during the 1908 London Olympics. The Irish team won 3-1.

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Isao Fujiki and Takeshi Kuyama, members of the Japanese team, train for the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics.

J. Gaiger / Getty Images

The commencement of the 1908 London Olympics Marathon at Windsor Castle.

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Actress Fay Wray and aviator Amelia Earhart attend the opening of the tenth Olympics in Los Angeles on Aug. 1, 1932.

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Left: Olympic champion weightlifter Roger Francois poses for an undated photograph. Right: An unidentified Olympic Woman fencer poses for a portrait, circa 1900.

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Wrestlers train for the Olympic games, circa 1930.

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A fleet of vans with their drivers pose for a portrait before transporting competitors between the various sporting events at the 1948 London Olympics.

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A group of women compete in the 800-Meter Sprint in 1922.

Ullstein Bild Dtl. / Getty Images

Left: American swimmer Johnny Weissmuller prepares to compete in the the 1928 Olympics at Amsterdam. Right: Canadian athlete Ethel Catherwood poses for a photo after winning the women's High Jump in the 1928 Olympics at Amsterdam.

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Track and field star Percy Williams of Canada is treated by coach Bob Granger at the 1928 Olympics.

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Czechoslovak long-distance runner Emil Zatopek kisses his wife after winning during the 1952 Helsinki Summer Olympics.

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Mexican athletes pose for a photo before boarding their ship to participate in the 1924 Olympics.

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Olympic gold medalist swimmer Duke Kahanamoku, fourth from left, stands with other swimmers in 1921.

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Andreas Oustler and Lorenz Nieberl share a kiss after they scored in the 2 man Bobsled Event at the 1952 Olympic Games in Oslo.

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Young fans run along beside the American Olympic sprinter Jessie Owens as he takes his early morning run in London. England, 1936.

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